Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Cloistered Life

During August I spent two weeks in the Kansas City area and northern Missouri related to my work with Central Baptist Theological Seminary.  Seven of those days were at Conception Abbey, a Benedictine monastery, located on a beautiful site in the middle of rolling farmland. 

The monks pray in the Abbey Church (minor basilica) five times a day—vigils, lauds, daily Eucharist, vespers and compline.  At the center of their worship is chanting of the psalms.  We regularly joined in at least three of those times of worship daily.

For a Baptist, the worship is both alien and familiar.  The style and theological emphasis is definitely different, but the central place of Scripture brought new life to familiar texts.  Underlying the worship, however, is the commitment of the brothers to prayer and service.

This was my third time at the Abbey, but I learned a lot more this time about the life of the brothers.  Their monastic life may be immersed in contemplation, but they do not deny the world around them or ignore its needs.  In addition to their ministry of prayer, they are involved in teaching (at the Seminary College on campus), publishing, and parish ministry among other things.  All get two weeks vacation a year and some have Facebook accounts.

The life of a brother is centered in contemplation but he does not ignore the world.  He seeks a proper balance between the two.  Prayer does not lead to indifference.  In fact, true prayer leads one into involvement with the needs and people of the world.

Those of us who are immersed in the world might consider adding contemplation to our own lives as a counterbalance to the things in which we are involved.  The monks deny themselves certain things in order to devote their lives to God, but they realize they live in the world but not of the world.

The challenge for the rest of us is to understand how we can live in the world and still show our devotion to God.  Prayer is a key to such understanding.  Can we practice a life of contemplation in some way without becoming cloistered?  This is one of the challenges of the Christian life.

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