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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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What can a Lutheran learn from visiting a monastery?

The experience includes worship, hospitality, balance and commitment

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
Hospitality is an essential element of monastery life. The Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, Ky., has welcomed visitors since its founding in 1848.

Worship

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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