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Reflections on a Weekend with the Trappists

Posted on August 18th, 2008

This was my fifth retreat with the 70+ monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Massachusetts. Maybe since it was the end of my 6 weeks away from the responsibility of leading New Life, but I entered into a deep calm, silence and rhythm with their life almost immediately. One of the highlights of the weekend was a conversation with Father Kizito Kwame, a West Indian who has been with them for 49 years. He joined at the age of 17 when the monastery was at its height (1958-1960) of 200 monks. He recently returned from 10 years of serving among the 25 Trappist monasteries in Africa. A part of me so longed to remain on the mountaintop with God and not leave return to checkbooks, house, problems, needs, noise and traffic of NYC, that I complained to him for a while, shared with him this inner compulsion I often feel to be a monk, etc. He shared the following that I found rich and helpful: 1. God calls everyone to a contemplative life, to be a monk. Like Jesus we all need a place apart and distance from the rush of sounds, distractions, etc. That longing is in each of us. I believe he is right on that one. 2. The key issue is that each of us do God’s will. He, along with many others at the monastery, has many gifts. They could be doing many other things besides cleaning toilets and making jelly. He would like to be more active than he is, yet this is God’s will for him and that is all that matters.  He is content. 3. His primary ministry is intercession, to stand before God and to pray for the world. That is tough to argue with. His understanding is that we all have our place in the body of Christ, in the larger church. I think many of us leading active evangelical churches can learn a lot from the Trappists, even though we differ in our traditions and in some of our theology. What do you think of the recommendation that more pastors spend a few days with them each year for centering and perspective?

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