Every other January thoughtful learners and I head to Conception Abbey for a weeklong immersion in Benedictine spirituality. Always made welcome by the monks, we will share times of prayer, table fellowship, lectures, respectful conversation, and the Great Silence each evening at bedtime.
Most will get up earlier than usual and, thankfully, be able to go to bed earlier. We will linger over meals getting to know one another better. We will be shepherded kindly (with much humor) by Brother Cyprian, guest master. He will help us find our way through the worship books and the practices of the community. He will make sure we don’t sing too loudly during the liturgy of the hours, duck when the holy water comes our way, or sneeze when there is incense—sure give aways that Baptists are present!
Usually we are blessed to have a personal conversation with Abbot Gregory, the spiritual father of the monastery. He embodies the graceful presence of Christ in winsome ways and engages our seminarians with tenderness and care.
I have often been asked what prompted me as a Baptist theologian to design this learning opportunity among Benedictines. Why have I made a pilgrimage there with Central students for nearly 18 years now?
It is because we have so much to learn from the common pre-Reformation heritage of the church. Ancient rituals call us to depth, and the wisdom of our spiritual forebears is enduring.
Something inviting happens as we open ourselves to the presence of God as we chant the Psalter. Something transforming happens as we experience being received as Christ. Something healing happens as we offer the hospitality of attentive listening to fellow learners. Something liberating happens as we observe life loosened from grasping consumerism. [The monks do not worry about what they will wear on a given day!] These are holy happenings.
While there, we will study the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide to humble living in community that has lasted over 1500 years within monasteries. Its principles have also proven useful outside the cloister for persons desiring to follow its pathway. Known for its brevity and clarity, it encourages such behaviors as listening, service, seeking counsel, and the humility of obedience.
One of the main goals of the time at the Abbey is to cultivate attentiveness—to Scripture, to the voice of God who breathes Holy Spirit through us, and to the insight that comes through others. Often persons find greater clarity in vocational discernment because of the rhythms of worship and prayer; even more often spiritually weary persons find Sabbath and refreshed perspective for healthy balance in their lives.
We will sojourn at the Abbey during the season of Epiphany, a time of reflection on the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. The texts call us think of his baptism and his first miracle at the wedding of Cana, which signal God’s delight in the Son, the instrument of grace for the world. I look forward to this time of personal renewal in which the summons to follow Jesus are heard afresh.
Molly T. Marshall
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