Thursday, November 1, 2007

My week with the monks

I’ve just packed up and am ready to end my time at the St. Benedictine Monestary in Atchison, KS. It’s been a unique and helpful time. Besides the emotional and spiritual renewal that I already blogged about, it’s also been a very productive time. It’s amazing how much work you can get done when you’re pulled out of your regular environment.

I’ve taken these couple days to plan out my sermons for 2008. The KC pastors were trained by our DS, Jeren Rowell, a month ago on how to do one of these retreats and I think that for my first time, it went really well. I came with some ideas for 2008, one of which was to preach through the Sermon on the Mount but after some more thought, I started kicking around the idea of staying in Matthew’s gospel all year. The two conclusions that got me thinking that way were that (1) the Sermon on the Mount would take about 1/3 or more of the year and (2) if I ever decided to preach through Matthew later, I’d have to skip the entire Sermon on the Mount. So what if I just stayed in the gospel all year?

I ran the idea by several pastor friends to make sure I wasn’t crazy, one of which was my Jeren and they all thought it was a good idea. Jeren was pretty excited about the idea. One of Jeren’s suggestions was rather than preaching through Matthew in order of chapter/verse, to preach through the book in themes. So I went through every section of the book, trying to find it’s central idea and then grouping passages by themes. The themes I’ll be covering in 2008 are the following: Community, Advent, Discipleship, Evangelism, Faith, Forgiveness, Jesus, Healing, Holiness, the Kingdom, Pharisees (Jesus vs. the Pharisees), Politics, Prayer and the Resurrection. I think my scholarly skills have increased during the past two year’s worth of preaching. I don’t know if I would’ve been able to do this two years ago.

The time with the Monks was interesting, too. I set my alarm, but didn’t get up this morning to join in the early morning prayers. I did however, sing Vespers with them one night and join in the afternoon prayers. There is a schedule in our room that the Abby follows every single day, for who knows how many years.
6:00 – Arise6:20 – Vigils and morning prayer
7:00 – Breakfast
12:00 – Midday prayer
12:15 – Lunch
5:05 – Bell
5:15 – Community Mass
5:55 – Supper
6:40 – Bell
6:45 – Vespers
8:00 – End of Recreation

During the evening meal, the head Abbot reads from a 3 volume commentary on the orders of Benedictine monks. I found it surreal, the first time I was eating in their meal hall with a bunch of guys in monk robes. I got used to it, but it felt like I was in a movie or something. This is a very foreign world to a guy like myself who grew up in a very low-church environment. There is a lot to be admired about this monastery but also some things I find a bit strange. I also felt pretty dumb sometimes, not knowing when to sit or pray or bow, just another reminder of how people new to a church feel.

I think the Monk that I ate meals with, whose in charge of the guest house, thinks I’m an idiot when I shared two facts with him that I learned on my trip to Europe: that Constantine was crowned in York, England and that the Westminster Abby is no longer affiliated with the Church of England. He muttered under his breath, “I doubt that” which made me feel like of small. I’ve experienced just a tad bit of the guilt and arrogance with which Catholicism leads their people and the world’s Christianity.

On the good side, I saw a lot of people walking around campus and the abbey that I can tell passionately love Jesus. It was neat to see college kids coming to Mass and midday prayers the same way MNU students go to chapel (probably without the chapel fine, though). I wouldn’t have been able to experience this week several years ago, back when I was still living under the unspoken, yet very real, assumption with which I’d been raised – that Roman Catholics aren’t real Christians. Thankfully, I’ve moved way past that. Sometimes I wonder if I’m a real Christian, after hanging around a Catholic campus. Strangely, the campus didn’t celebrate Reformation Day yesterday as they’re celebrating All Saints Day today.

I also felt a bit strange walking around the campus and hanging out in the library of one of my alma matter’s biggest rivals. I hated Benedictine when I was in college, they were quite the football powerhouse (although MNU has basically taken their place in the conference). But thankfully, I’ve matured enough to appreciate the campus and students and didn’t even flinch too badly when I walked by the football field where BC beat us in a close (JV) contest.
This has been a very peaceful and reflective time. I’m excited about the journey through Matthew that we’ll be taking in 2008.

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