There is nothing like 3 days at a monastery for making you appreciate the comforts of home. Even the simplest things suddenly take on a new depth and sheen like having more than one light bulb in a room, a comfy mattress, an indoor bathroom and wifi. But this experience has also profoundly effected me in ways I didn’t imagine. I am not sure why I originally had the idea to come to a monastery. Probably an abiding curiosity about the spiritual power of silence, trying to parse my own religious beliefs and having watched Audrey Hepburn in The Nun’s Story one too many times. What I do know is that this monk-ish existence isn’t for me. I’ve already spent a large part of my life living quietly (often alone) and spending long hours in silence writing. Now I am greedy for life, connection, joy and adventures. So it is no surprise that my back gave out on the second day here. I simply couldn’t sit through one more bit of liturgy.
To me the monks singing the psalms sounded beautiful, but when I told this to one of the older monks he groaned, ‘Oh no, we’re terrible,’ (which I guess proves I’m tone deaf). The psalms are among my favorite passages in the Bible, but hearing them over and over I became acutely aware of the difficult passages I usually skip, like petitioning God to; ‘Let me look in triumph on my foes. God kill them lest my people be seduced.’ Yikes. When I mention how horrifying I find these words to Wendy, a visiting Mennonite minister, she says: ‘Well there is a lot of anger in some of the psalms. They were written by humans after all.’ What I struggle with about organized religions (even Buddhism) is the sectarianism and all the talk of ‘we are the true way’ (which implies a put down of other religious groups). Surely there are as many paths to God as there are people on the planet and surely compassion, acceptance, love and understanding are our most important attributes and surely, surely, surely, we all get to rest in the heavenly arms at the end of the day. To my great surprise and delight every guest I talked to at the monastery (including the clergy) agreed.