What I learned at the Monastery

7 Oct
  For the past few summers I’ve worked grounds-keeping at a local Catholic monastery. In addition to what one might expect to learn about prayer and such at a monastery, one thing in particular took me by surprise. One of my jobs was to stain the aging wood siding of the hermitages. Now, I should explain the physical arrangement of the monastery: lining the central garden each monk has a private hermitage (small 1-room cabin) where he sleeps and spends time in private prayer. In front of each hermitage is a small private garden (about 10’ x 10’) that the monk maintains and designs as he wishes.

As I was in these private gardens day after day while staining the siding, I began to notice little details that would otherwise escape notice. Some were symmetrical, others had mis-matched patches of herbs, many had a cherry tree in the center, and one even was starting to grow grape vines. The order and beauty (some of them rather more wild than tame) of these little plots really began to make an impression on me. One day I realized that each of these hermitage gardens was in its own way the monk’s personal plot of paradise on earth for which he was responsible. These little gardens fulfilled each monk’s God-given desire and command to bring order and peace to the earth. Even though he will never leave this monastery, he is bettering the Earth in the small way apportioned to him.

This consideration led me to realize that the same applies to all of us, albeit in a less obvious way. We each have a small little bit of earth (house, apartment, dorm room, or community garden) that we are responsible to bring peace and order to. By improving this little bit of turf we have into a tiny paradise, each of us, in our own small way, is increasing peace and order in the world as a whole.

This applies not only to the ground we plant and maintain, but also to our very selves. The monks understand this in their own lives. They’ve dedicated their lives contemplative prayer so that by uniting themselves to God, they more deeply unite all humanity to God. Each of them – each of us as a human person – stands in the place of all humanity. We are all connected in our humanity. When one of us is filled with malice and sin, all humanity suffers. When one of us prays and receives the Love of God, all of humanity is drawn into that encounter with the Divine.

-Cameron Thompson
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2 Responses to “What I learned at the Monastery”

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