A few weeks ago I spent a long weekend in retreat with some Friends at a Benedictine monastery here in Vermont called the Weston Priory. The monks live under the Rule of Saint Benedict which was written circa the year 500. The motto of the Benedictines is Ora et labora meaning “pray and work”, which refers to two major components of a monastic life: first prayer and then work to support the community and its charities.
As part of our time together with the brothers we worked, ate and prayed with them throughout the day. Silence is observed from 8pm to 8am and at meals (although traditionally spiritual literature is read by a brother to the diners at dinner (lunch) and supper (dinner). Breakfast is silent.
Work; Having arrived too late in the season to help press the apple cider, we saw to other tasks. We turned the earth over and weeded the monastery gardens in preparation for the coming winter, all the while speaking with the brothers about the land and history of the Priory, which was founded in 1953 on an abandoned 300 acre hill farm. The original farmhouse and barn are incorporated into the Monastery structures. The rhythm of the workday was interrupted by the Monastery bells sounding, calling all to prayer in mid-afternoon. When the bell tolls, the brothers drop their worldly work and go to worship together.
Prayer; Tom and I walked the half mile gravel road in the pre-dawn darkness to attend the morning vigil worship. The forest on either side of the road was dripping in the light rain. As we came into view of the lights from the chapel, we heard the monastery bell toll softly, calling the monks from sleep to worship. This ancient way of life is all about submission and obedience; submission and obedience of the self, submission and obedience to the rule, submission and obedience to the Spirit.
I went to this retreat seeking clearness if I would accept the nomination for the position of presiding clerk of my Quaker Meeting. With the help of my three Friends, I did come to clarity to accept this nomination like a call of a bell in the spirit of service to the Meeting.