A Final Reflection from Collegeville

This is the fourth and final of a series of occasional posts from Jamie Howison’s retreat week at the Collegeville Institute at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota

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maylakehis is my final full day here in Collegeville, before I catch the morning bus home to Winnipeg tomorrow.  Then after a week living according to a wholly “other” rhythm of life, I’ll hit the ground running… or maybe not.

For one thing, my main commitment on Thursday is to attend an afternoon-long session with the local clergy and bishop.  That’s more a case of “walking-in-and-sitting,” than it is hitting the ground running.  Besides, I feel like this week has really gotten into my bones, such that I’m not interested in looking at my  ministry as if it were a constant case of running.  I already knew that, of course, but it is great to have a lived week in which to be so powerfully reminded of it.

So just a few random things:

  • I’ve been really taken by the slow, steady communal praying of the psalms, probably moreso this time than in any other time I’ve spent in a monastic community.  The other day one of the psalms for vespers was Psalm 49, and it was set up so that a leader read the first six or eight verses before the rest of us joined in, alternating from side to side of the choir area.  I closed my eyes to listen as he read, and I thought to myself, “I wonder what he’s reading?  I don’t think I’ve ever heard this before; it can’t be the psalm.”  But sure enough it was the psalm, in the Grail edition used in many monastic communities.  Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm, which sounds notes not unlike those of Ecclesiastes, yet ultimately it is of a more grace-filled and mercy-soaked character than is that oftentimes bleak book.  And because of the way it was read aloud – prayed aloud – I did hear it as if for the first time.
  • A couple of times I’ve gone to the 5:00pm eucharist rather than to 7:00pm vespers.  The first time I was quite surprised to discover that the sermon was all of two or three minutes long, but on reflection I realized that to say something both thoughtful and helpful in just a couple of minutes is a real art.  Yesterday when I was at that service, the monk who preached – a man named Fr Wilfred, with whom I had shared lunch with on Sunday – offered an extraordinarily focused meditation on the episode in the Acts in which Peter first shares a meal with gentiles.  “Humans keep trying to close doors,” he said, “and God persists in pushing them open.”  Along the way he was positively subversive in his reading of any church hierarchy that has forgotten that there is a major distinction between raw power and life-giving authority.
  • Finally, I had the opportunity to share one last meal with Father Kilian McDonnell, the octogenarian monk/poet/theologian/priest.  He invited me to have supper with him so that he could hear more about how saint ben’s came to be, which was a delight to be able to do.  After I’d told our story, I asked him, as someone who has lived the Benedictine life for close to 60 years, to tell me the one thing to which our church community should pay attention.  Without missing a beat, he said lectio divina, a practice of praying with and through scripture.  “Just thinking about God or the bible isn’t prayer, you know,” he said.  “Your church would benefit richly by giving people a chance to pray the scripture.”  He wants me to connect with someone in Winnipeg who has real familiarity with this practice, and to set about making it a part of our church life.  Hard to argue with him.

So, it is now about 2:30, and my plan is to revisit some of what I have written during my time here, read a bit more, head up the hill for supper and vespers, read a bit more… and avoid packing for as long as possible.

I do look forward to seeing everyone in and around saint ben’s, but I have to confess that it would not be too hard to stay on here for a while yet.  Oh well, there will be another time to visit I’m sure.

Jamie

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