Occasionally I am asked about this thing we call monastic immersion here at Holy Cross Abbey. Seldom does someone ask because they are ‘against it’ or question its validity; it’s more that people want to hear why people WANT to be immersed in monasticism? What is it about monasteries and the Rule of St. Benedict that attracts laypeople who will never live in a monastery?
I think there are three things about monastic life that are attractive to people outside the cloister: (there are many, but here’s three that I find are mentioned often)
1. Everybody, but everybody seeks some silence and solitude in their lives. We’re bombarded with information, messages, noise, too many pictures… we have ways now to know when our cousin has gone to the grocery store, for goodness sake. And we are addicted to the stuff that brings those messages. But like a true addict we also all seek respite from it sometimes. We put down the ‘needle’ or the ‘bottle’ long enough to enjoy the peace and tranquility of no communication. This is what we experience at the monastery. A stop, if you will, a pause in the hectic life we live.
2. Monasteries are about a balanced life and few of us have that. Our lives today are often off kilter, some things we have too much of, others not enough. This means money, food, exercise, relationships, nature… you name it and most of us have some of everything, not enough of some things and way too much of a few things. If monastic life is about anything–and the bell and schedule are reminders–it is about balance, a life that is designed to provide just enough of each thing and not too much or not enough of other things (see below, however; for the ‘all is not perfect caveat’).
3. Finally we seek the monastery because it is about community and as Christians (most of us) we know our faith is to be lived in community. It’s the reason we also belong to parishes. Monastic life is about living with others in community. Which, we remember, is the way Jesus called us to live… the Acts of the Apostles clearly defines the early church as a community in the strictest sense. Monasteries are Christian Community from the Acts of the Apostles lived out. This community of monks (or nuns) gives us confidence it can be done and comfort in our walk with Christ.
Of course another reason to come to be immersed might be a false reason: we believe this is a perfect life and community full of perfect men. Sorry to burst your bubble, but this monastic community–as with EVERY monastic community–is full of people with all the strengths and weaknesses of those outside the monastery. They are just like us. They are as imperfect as us…
Our Monastic Immersion Weekends offer something a little bit more than an average retreat. We do immerse, we do sit in choir, we do live the life for 48 hours. But we don’t make believe we’re monks. We know we have to return to the world after the weekend.
But the weekend of immersion helps us make that reentry in a different way for having experienced the silence, balance and community of the abbey.