Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Some thoughts about reality II.

The purpose of this post is to transcend the limited view on reality portrayed in the prior post. The following are thoughts from my visit, though not presented in a particular order.

--One of the main things that I noted about the Monastery of Our Lady of the Annunciation at Clear Creek was that there existed a curious blend of tradition and technology in the life of the inhabitants. The monks had use of electricity, running water, clocks, tractors, and other equipment. However, they used that equipment; technology served them, and they were not its slave. Thus, though I rode in a tractor driven by a young monk with a huge smile and what would be cheerful insouciance in a layman, the tractor was basically a replacement for a horse and cart. Indeed, were the property not so large, the monks could do much of the management with horses and carts. However, they need tractors to keep up roads, till fields, etc. The property is huge, and they have very limited time in which to wrest food or anything else from the rocky Oklahoma hills. The monks also use a wood-mill in helping them make furniture and in building the monastery. I also witnessed a monk herding a cow with a pick-up truck, and a gang of monks in work habits riding in a back of a truck like a gang of laborers. Other technology, such as electricity is sparingly used. The lights, for example are only lightly used, mostly in the crypt, their only place to chant the hours and say mass. The rest of their life closely resembles that of their medieval predecessors, with regular observance and the dual life of "Ora et labora." Life closely relates to the day, with them rising just before dawn, and retiring soon after sunset. The hours have been moved back and forth slightly from the original times, but not in an unusual way. The day is structured to make the most use of the time, with usually a half hour of recreation a day, consisting of a walk and conversation.
The work part of the Benedictine ideal results in their making most of their furniture, their habits, their shoes; they cook food that is donated or grown on the property, and they make and sell various goods, such as rosaries, prie-dieus. (The habits, by the way, are so much better than those of any other order I have seen. Most orders of religious wear habits that resemble halloween costumes, not religious habits). They rise at 5:15 every morning (earlier on feasts and Sundays) to chant Matins and Lauds, and chant the other hours at scheduled times. All told, their chanting occupies a good four to five hours of the day, not even including daily high mass, which is another hour's worth. The meals are also traditional, perhaps a bit more substantial than in ages past, due to the more extreme climate. Breakfast, after a minimum of an hour and a half of chant (Matins, Lauds and Prime) takes on a new meaning, though it scarcely totals a meal, being perhaps cereal or toast with milk. The guests do get coffee, though, a real need after getting up so early. Lunch and dinner are community-wide occasions, with everyone sitting down. After a reading of Scripture (lunch) and the Rule of St. Benedict (dinner), the community eats, but without conversation. Instead a designated reader reads from instructive and inspirational books. So, I had the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the life of Padre Pio read to me as I ate the excellent and humble fare the monks put before us. They were so efficient that three monks could serve all twenty nine brothers (about half priests, with five or so postulants), two new postulants, and ten guests. In fact, since I am not a frequent diner at high-class restaurants, the service was the best I have had in a very long time.

--As a guest, I had very little to do besides pray and read. I did go to all the meals, and helped in the garden every day save Sunday. Yet all told, that only totalled six hours of labor. The breaking of the day into parts by the chanting of the office resulted in a very easy flow of work, rest, and reading, punctuated by mass, meals, and the hours. I took relatively long walks along the paths the monks had made, or along the roads they used to travel to job sites. They have their own cows, sheep, goats, and garden. Unfortunately, the climate and soil are poor, and food is hard to grow. They may have grapes in a year or two, perhaps wine, if all goes well. A small orchard is in experimental stages with special hybrids. Their milk, however, is delicious, as is their butter and cheese. Anyway, to return to my stay, it was remarkably easy after the first day of adjustment. I could recommend it for anyone, though I am not sure how women would find it, since they cannot live the life of a monk as a guest. The other guests there were of varied backgrounds, and I noticed that one tended to bond quickly. I suppose we all had a good deal in common, since we had all heard of Clear Creek and had visited. I met a TAC graduate and CUA Master of Philosophy who entered as a postulant while I was there. I met an ex-army sergeant, several seminarians, and a graduate of Notre Dame from the bad old days of the seventies. Anyway, the last thing I can think of directly pertaining to the monastery was the wide variety amongst the monks. Some were very practical (one reminded me of a mix of Han Solo and Obi Wan in a Benedictine habit), some impractical, some good singers, others not so good. They had very individual characters, but one common aim, and it showed in their movements, prayers, and life in general.

--One quick note about the chant-- it was excellent for the most part. At times, I would notice them going flat, especially after a hard work period before lunch. I did make a recording, but they were having a bad day, by my own ear and the schola master's admission. They did a very good job of reproducing the Solesmes sound, but with only a few of them having been trained at Fontgombault, the French nasal/back-of-the-throat sound was minimal. Apparently, they have doubled (or more) in size since they came to the United States. Once they reach seventy monks, they will become their own foundation, the Abbey of Clear Creek. At the rate they are going, that would happen in under ten years. They will have barely enough room even in the gigantic church they are building. Currently, it will have a huge sanctuary, a choir section as large as the congregational section, and seating for about four hundred laymen. Construction is planned for next spring, as the capital campaign hits its stride.

--Concerning water: It really does symbolize grace. It carries everything before it, everything on it, shapes all things. All this it does at its own pace. Like Providence, it sometimes interferes with our plans, but is always needed. Sit and watch a creek sometime and think about it.

--Gardening/farming provides one of the richest metaphors for the spiritual life or life of the soul. Our Lord certainly thought so! All I can say is that in reflecting on this makes me realize that the world is in trouble. It is overgrown with weeds, and does not even realize it. But the weeds are not the worst. The grass is the worst. If weeds symbolize the sins or real flaws, they are hard to get out, but grass is worst. Weeds have a tendency, like bad habits, to break off before the roots, but to grow back quickly. Grass, however, seems innocuous, like modern culture in some of its aspects. It quickly gains control of the garden, and is so prevalent, you do not know where to begin to eliminate it. Eradicating grass or weeds is very difficult without tools (virtues?), but a lot, and I mean a lot of rain will really help. If water represents grace, this too makes sense. Try gardening, and thinking about this. The Gospels make so much more sense after a while.

--My flight for Colorado leaves soon, so I must go. One last thought: everyone should read or cover the material in Josef Pieper's The Four Cardinal Virtues and Only the Lover Sings. This material is essential to knowing who we are as humans and how to live life well as such. Until next post, farewell.

Bats in the belfry

Well, to be perfectly honest, there is no belfry at Clear Creek Monastery. There were, on the other hand, bats. Currently, the crypt is the only finished part of the church that the community plans to build, but it was very interesting. Having bats flying around before Compline was great, making you feel a little like a medieval monastery. I recently concluded my five day visit with the Benedictine monks at Clear Creek. My concluding thought is that self-cannibalism rarely pays off.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


To the readers of this blog, a warning: I will be offline for the next two weeks as I travel to Clear Creek Monastery for a retreat and then home to Colorado for a surprise visit. Thus, I will not have any posts, but you can expect some at the end of the month.