Moments in the life of a Pastor

Walking with God

Moments in a Monastery – Part 1

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Imagine stepping out of the rush and roar of this world to spend a week living in a monastery. For some being surrounded by silence and solitude might sound like heaven, where others may see it as a sentence. For me stepping away from the world for a week and living with monks in a medieval monastery in Scotland was made even more interesting as it came, somewhat unplanned, on the heels of a week in an all inclusive resort in Mexico. Mexican resort vs religious Monastery a very interesting contrast to say the least. From an environment of care free comfort and convenience to one of contemplation, from pampering to prayer. One designed to revolve around self the other around the Savior, from its about you to its about Christ. A day after leaving Mexico and unpacking my clothes of comfort, I packed to board my next plane, bound first for Britain. From London I traveled up to Aberdeen and then by train on to Elgin Scotland. Where the following day I would travel the last six miles to Pluscarden in Moray Scotland. Its amazing how much your world can change and where you can end up in just 24 hours of travel. Pluscarden Abbey is the only medieval monastery in Britain still inhabited by monks and being used for its original purpose. It owes its foundation to King Alexander II of Scotland in the year 1230 where at the same time grants were made to two other sister houses, Beauly in Ross, and Ardchattan in Argyll. The community that served these churches was one of Valliscaulians, a little-known order that shared some of the strictness of the Carthusian discipline with the spirit of fellowship that existed among the Benedictines, and only at these three places was this order represented in Scotland or England. The original parent house in France, the Priory of Vallis Caulium, had been founded just over thirty years earlier. Today Pluscarden Abbey is home to a community of Catholic Benedictine monks, nestled at the foot of a steep and densely forested hill. The original brethren from France, who bravely ventured out to start it must surely have found in Pluscarden, an echo of their former home, which lay in a deeply wooded valley in Burgundy. After arriving at the train station in Elgin I chose to stayed overnight at a local hotel as it was to late to join the monks at the monastery, which ask guests to arrive before 6pm. The next day after strolling through the town and picking up a few needed items I left for Pluscarden. Arriving while the monks were in service I found myself alone to figure out where to go and what to do. Not being sure I chose to leave my bags at the front door and head off to explore my new world. It was an interesting sensation to leave my stuff and feel safe after being in a world, where one has to be so weary, keeping a constant eye on their things. It was freeing to no longer be bound by my belongings and it made me wonder how preoccupied are we with our possessions? So there I was free from my baggage yet still trying to figure our what I needed to do. Its funny to me now looking back how I spent those first few moments worried about figuring it out, when I wasn’t there to do but simply to be. Again here was another lesson I needed to learn and a question I needed to ponder, “how much of my time is focused on doing instead of being, trying to figure it out instead of seeking Him out?” Somewhere in the need to figure it all out I simply stopped, surrendering to the stillness and silence of this secluded glen. Instead of trying to figure out where I needed to be and what I needed to do I left and went for a walk, trading doing for being. How often do we miss time with the Savior, to sit with His in silence and soak in the stillness, simply because of our restless pace and relentless need to figure it all out? It was refreshing to let go of the stuff and the need to know and just wonder. I did eventually run into a monk, which as it turned out I happened to share a name with, Father Giles. As he told me his name I was reminded that God not only has a handle on things but also a sense of humor. Funny how we spend so much time worrying and trying to figure things out when He already has it planned out. I wonder if our really struggle isn’t so much the need to figure things out as may be it is the need to constantly be in control? I will never forget the caring and comforting smile of Father Giles, a man molded by this monastery and at peace with his place. A man I had the privilege of later sitting and spending several hours with, of which I will expound upon at a later date. Father Giles showed me to a sparse room designed to cover my basic needs instead of my comfort, a bed, desk and a sink. There were no pictures on the wall to decorate the room only a single sheet of paper showing the schedule of service for each day, which included seven services:

4:30am Lauds (90mins)

6:30am Prime (35 minutes after Lauds) (10mins)

7:30am Breakfast

9:00am Mass & Terce (50 mins)

12:35pm Sext (10 mins)

12:45 pm Lunch

2:15pm None (10mins)

5:15pm Vespers (30mims)

6:35 pm Supper

7:50pm Compline (15mins)

It was in this atmosphere of quiet reflection that I would experience a routine revolving around work dedicated to the glory of God. Where among the beauty of the architecture I would discovered a restful atmosphere of devotion. A devotion which has so deeply permeated this little corner of Scotland in a life that is much the same now as it was in the thirteenth century, when a community of monks first came to this part of Scotland. These were my first moments in a monastery, moments filled with freeing life lessons. Lessons not taught in an academic classroom stuffed with knowledge, but lessons more caught than taught. That first evening as I reflected on my journey from the hustle and bustle of business to one of being, I was reminded that we are all just a moment away from stillness, if we will but take the first step. That as we step into the stillness of being we are enveloped not in a life of performance but one of prayer.

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