You can find a directory of monasteries in Monastery Guest Houses of North America: A Visitor’s Guide by Robert J. Regalbuto (Countryman Press, 2010). Or go online:
• The Order of Saint Benedict: Geographic Search Form .
• Monastic Communities of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America .
• Make your reservations early. Many monasteries are such popular destinations that you should make your reservation a year in advance.
• Your lodgings might be sparse or rustic. You’re going to a monastery, not a spa.
• You will likely need to be self-sufficient unless you’re going on an organized retreat. Bring books, paper, pens, whatever you might need.
• It’s unlikely you’ll have Internet access, cell phone service or a television. Most monastic orders have periods of silence and some are committed to not talking if unnecessary. Expect a certain amount of isolation. Although you can avoid some of that feeling by bringing a friend with you if you want.
I'm not the first person to read the works of poet, author and Benedictine oblate Kathleen Norris and find myself longing to visit a monastery. But as I've gone on monastic retreats over the years, I've consistently been asked: "What can a Lutheran learn from a visit to a monastery?"
Well, many things: worship, hospitality, work-life-worship balance and commitment.
|Hospitality is an essential element of monastery life. The Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky., has welcomed visitors since its founding in 1848.|
Monastic people know how to worship. Traditional orders do so at least three times a day. Many communities worship seven to nine times throughout the day, from early morning (4 a.m. or so) to a compline service at night.
Not all services are church events in the way that Sunday parishioners experience worship. Some services are quick collections of prayers. Others take the community through the Psalms, singing them throughout the day and week. Many orders celebrate the eucharist once a day, which is often a more liturgical service with elements Lutherans might expect.
During my first visit to a monastery, I was surprised that I didn't miss hearing a sermon. I loved how the Psalms and other Scriptures sank into my bones as we worshiped. I woke in the middle of the night with the plainsong Psalms ringing in my head. For the first time in my life, the biblical language was enough.
At home, I've tried to replicate this monastic wisdom by praying the liturgy of the hours throughout the day. I'm partial to the work of author Phyllis Tickle, but spiritual pilgrims can choose from a variety of breviaries.
I do miss the experience of praying with others in a chapel but take comfort in remembering that communities across the world are praying with me.
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