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Yearly Sabbatical with the Trappists

Posted on August 8th, 2008

For the last few years I have approached my vacations as ‘mini-sabbaticals”, seeking to structure my time according to Sabbath principles – Stopping (work), Resting, Delighting and Contemplating God. Part of what this has meant for me the last few years, besides thinking through vacations much more purposefully so that my soil gets fresh nutrients from God through doing holy “nothing”, has been to take a few days alone with the Trappists in St. Joseph’s in Spencer Massachusetts. When this blog is posted, I will be there. Why and what will I be doing? The 60-70 monks, who live as a strict Benedictine community on a 1 by 3 mile plot of land, have taken vows of stability, poverty and conversion of life (celibacy and obedience to the authority of the Abbot). Their lives are so far from contemporary American Christianity that I find my days with them drive me to Jesus, to simplicity, to the goal of purity of heart that I may see God (Matt. 5:8), to submit my stubborn will to His, to think about my leadership in a fresh way. I will get up with them at 3:15 am for vigils and sing psalms and pray. Then, I too will return to my “cell” for 2 hours of lectio divina around Scripture until Lauds (the 2nd Daily Office of the day) at about 6 a.m. I will then have breakfast in silence with the other 6 retreatants, after which we will clean up and then probably take a nap (while the monks go to work).  We will meet at twelve noon, two p.m., 6 p.m and 7:30 for structured Daily Offices. I will probably sit in a chair if it is a nice day overlooking the expansive fields of their property. At some point, I will check out the bookstore. Large signs “Monastic Enclosure:Do not Proceed Beyond this Point” are around the property so our movement and interaction with the monks is restricted. We will have a couple of sessions, however, with one of the monks. It has generally just been okay, but I love listening to their stories of how they sensed God call to that place. Since I am moving our church to a Rule of Life this coming September, I hope to meet with one of their leaders in order to listen to any additional counsel that they may have as we go forward as a local church. I do know they have helped two other monastic communities in developing theirs (Community of Jesus and the Jerusalem Community). Our urban, multicultural, missional, local church world in Queens is quite far from theirs, but who knows? Why might an experience like this be helpful for the church in the 21st century West to root us in Christ, even though it is a tradition quite different from our own?

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