My Week As a Monk

Belmont Abbey

Yes, you did read that title correctly, I actually did spend a week as a monk. Within my role at the Bible Church, I’m granted one week of the year to be out of the office and away from email and other forms of communication to simply read and study. This is something that I am exceedingly grateful that CHBC grants to its pastors and ministers.

So, this last week I traveled down to Belmont Abbey and stayed with the monks at the monastery on the campus of the college. I joined them for prayers, worship, singing of hymns, as well as an occasional frisbee toss (yes, the monks like to have some fun, too!). Overall, the time was extremely refreshing, and I was able to read through several books that I believe will make me better able to minister to students in regard to pastoral care and counseling. But, alongside my reading, I learned a lot of other things while on this little trip as well. Here are a few highlights:

A look at the inside of the area where I stayed.
  1. Prayer isn’t only about communication, but formation as well. Each day we began praying at 6 am, and through the course of the day, 2-3 hours were spent in prayer. We prayed Psalms, prayed for the rest of the world, for our government, the sick, for educators, missionaries, healthcare providers, the Church, the impoverished, for students, and so on. I found that this worked to shape my practice of prayer in significant ways. It wasn’t only about expressing to God what is on my heart, but Him working in me to become someone who allows the discipline of prayer to reshape my thinking and my perspective on the world. Pray wasn’t just me trying to change God’s mind, but God changing my own.
  2. Hospitality requires risk. When I arrived at the Monastery the Guest Master (Bro. Edward, a solid tosser of frisbees) gave me a key to the monastery. They didn’t know me beyond one or two emails that were exchanged, and I could have been an undesirable guest in a number of ways without their foreknowledge. Yet, they gave me a key to their home and said I’m welcome to go where I please. They showed me the kitchen and pantry and they said to take whatever I needed at any time. They opened the doors of their church and said, “come and go as you please, the place is yours.” They opened all that they have in this world to me and that takes a significant risk. However, their hospitality was a perfect example of Christ’s love for us, and for this, I am extremely grateful.
  3. Hospitality requires sacrifice. Oh, by the way, the Monastery hosted me entirely free of charge. Food, lodging, all of it, was completely covered. They could have asked for a donation, or requested a nightly fee, or taken account of what I took from the pantry, but they didn’t. Instead, whatever they had to offer they gave to me freely (doesn’t that kinda remind you of grace/mercy/forgiveness?). It takes a great cost to truly welcome others in the way that Christ has welcomed us and the monks at Belmont Abbey were a tremendous example of what this looks like.
  4. I don’t need my phone constantly. While staying in the Monastery I kept my phone in my room on airplane mode. Using the “Screen Time” function on my iPhone, I calculated my total screen time for the week to be about 75 minutes (something I usually exceed on a daily basis). Do you know what I missed? Not much. Did I see everything going on in the world? No. Did I care? Not really. Was I much more present to those around me? Absolutely. Now, I’m not advocating for a life of complete isolation from the world, but a brief reprieve can be quite healthy. Furthermore, I was still able to stay in touch with those I needed to and it didn’t require looking at my phone every few minutes to do so.
  5. There is beauty in rhythm. Each day was highly structured and that structure was built into every single day. We prayed, ate, read, studied, and took recreation at precisely the same times every day. I found that when I didn’t constantly have to think about what was next I was able to enjoy the small things. Making my bed or taking a shower became moments where I could commune with God instead of thinking about an email that needed attention or a meeting I had coming up. I could simply… “be,” and that’s something we don’t find too often in this life.
One of my favorite spots to enjoy solitude and study.

So, am I ready to forsake my role here at the Bible Church and take a vow of poverty and put on a robe? No, I am not. However, I am truly grateful that I got to take this time to grow in my role as a minister. Perhaps we should all find simple ways to slow down, to appreciate the smaller moments that have as much potential to orient us towards God as the mountain top experiences.

If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths–doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology–rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.

(Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren)