Written by Kara S. Anderson
Last Friday, I jumped in my car and headed north about an hour and a half from home to stay at a monastery.
My plan was to finish a book I’ve been working on, and also, maybe learn a bit about monastic life.
I wish now that my intention hadn’t been to finish my book, because it was such an incredible experience; I wish I could have immersed myself more fully instead of spending most of my time on my computer typing. (Still, I did finish! Yeah!)
But I had time for communal meals, a few hikes around the grounds, silence and prayer, and I realized during my time at the monastery that there were a lot of things I could take home and apply to my life as a homeschool mom.
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I’ve always been big on wanting rhythm and routines, but they just don’t come naturally to me. So here are a few things I want to adapt:
One thing I noticed almost immediately after I checked myself into my dorm room was the chimes. At the monastery where I stayed, bells chime on the hour, the half-hour and 5 minutes before prayer.
I would have thought that maybe the prayer bells would have been the quietest, but it was just the opposite – every bell chimed again and again to call the sisters and guests to the oratory.
It felt like they were announcing a celebration.
I used to have an app on my phone that chimed to signal the hour, and I think I’ll reinstall it. For me, hearing the monastery chimes became a reminder to take a few deep breaths, stretch, and move for a minute. I think that could be helpful in my life at home with my kids.
Tea time is every time
I actually brought a tea kettle from home, because tea is important to me, especially when I’m writing. But there was no need – there was a simple kitchen on each floor, and in the main kitchen, there was hot water available at all times and a selection of tea bags.
We were also presented with pitchers of fruit-water at each meal.
I quickly realized how easy and tempting it was to stay hydrated at the monastery, and how cozy it felt to have tea so available.
I think this would be helpful to adapt for home, especially as we enter the cold, dry winter months.
Inside the dorm, phones, radios and televisions are not allowed, so there was plenty of silence, which was actually very comforting. I tend to be sensitive to sounds, so the quiet was welcome.
They also silence the chimes between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m.
I think eliminating electronics here between 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. could be lovely!
The monastery meals were prepared by a chef, using ingredients grown right on the grounds. They were simple, but nourishing and delicious. Each lunch and dinner included a fresh green salad.
All the meals were served buffet style, which I soon realized meant everyone could take as much of what they wanted, and it eliminated trying to deliver hot plates to the sisters and guests all at once.
Even though we are a small family, meal times often feel stressful for me because of the “last minute rush” to get everything plated. I think I’m switching to buffet style from now on.
I stayed at a Benedictine monastery, and one of the principles of Benedictine life is hospitality, so the meals were a time to connect with the sisters and my fellow guests. I enjoyed the pace of the meal – this was one of the things that made me wish I hadn’t given myself a deadline – it was nice to eat slowly, converse, and just be together.
In fact, the four characteristics of a monastic community are:
- Common prayer
- Common work
- Common meals
- Common dialogue
That reminds me of many homeschooling families, I know, actually!
Also, those who work within the monastery are encouraged to find a healthy balance between prayer, work and leisure. Yes, please!
Finally, I was really inspired by the simple spaces I saw in the monastery. Everything had a purpose and a place, and nothing felt cluttered.
It sort of made me want to come home and PURGE. But luckily, I was reminded that work (even housekeeping) is just one part of a balanced life.
So I will purge soon, but I’ll also read, and pray and study and be, and each time I hear a chime, I’ll try to remember to breathe.
Have you every had a trip that transformed you? What ideas did you bring home?
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Caroline Starr Rose
I read Kathleen Norris’s The Cloister Walk last month and have been thinking about it ever since — especially this quote:
“The Benedictines, more than any other people I know, insist that there is time in each day for prayer, for work, for study, for play. Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than always pushing to ‘get the job done.’”⠀
Ooh. So good. 🥰
I’ve always wanted to do this for all the reasons you stated.
It was so wonderful.
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Was this the Siena Retreat Center in Racine? I used to live in Racine and I loved going their for quiet moments. Sometimes you just need to step away for a second and to see things in a new light. Thanks for the good reminders!