Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Monastic Life

In a recent post, I wrote about my days at the monastery and there seemed to be a lot of response to that. So, I’ll write about it some more.

Like I said, I really do look back on that time with a lot of nostalgic fondness. Yes, there are reasons why I left and, sure, I have some regrets over doing that.

Life is like that.

Would I go back? No.
Am I glad I did it? Very much.

We weren’t cloistered monks. The monks there were all teachers, either at the prep school they operated or at the nearby Catholic university. Since I was to become a priest, I attended classes at the university during the day. Our schedule went something like this:

5:30 am: A horrible-sounding buzzer went off in the hallway, signaling it was time to get up. In the old days (circa 1100 a.d) the monks had to poo in the river, preferably downstream from the drinking water intake. Nowadays, we had our own bathrooms with aqua tile, circa 1956.

6:00 am: Morning Prayers (Lauds) This consisted of chanting Psalms back and forth. "Praise be to the rabbits in the rills. . . . "

6:30 am: Mass (it was open to the public)

7:00 am: Breakfast. I would usually make some mush consisting of whole wheat shredded wheat, hot milk, prunes and butter.

12:15 pm: Mid-day prayers followed by lunch

2:30 pm: Illegal naps were taken. Usually by me.

5:00 pm: Evening Prayers (Vespers)

5:45 pm: Dinner. The food was actually quite good. Each of us could have a cold beer with our evening meal. Unfortunately, I don't like beer.

6:30 pm: Night Prayers: (Compline) Some of this was done in Latin which was kind of cool.

7:00 pm: Recreation. This consisted of visiting with each other in the library and drinking herbal tea. Let the mayhem ensue. . . .

We did not observe strict silence all the time like in a lot of monasteries. However, we did observe the “Grand Silence”, not speaking to each other from 10:00 pm until after breakfast. I’m a grouch in the morning, so eating breakfast in silence was highly preferable.

We followed this schedule every day. I remember wishing that I could sleep in just one day, just occasionally. If only, just one day a month, I could sleep in!
But no.

The only way you could sleep in was if you were really sick. But then you’d have to deal with that monk who was really into dousing everything in holy water. He would come in your room and sling your sick self with a vial of the stuff, just like in The Exorcist.

I wanted to hurl pea soup at him.

There were stages to becoming a monk. The first three months, you were a “postulant.” That’s when you just lived there, observing the life. Then, you became a “novice”. That’s what I called “monk boot camp” when you were really cloistered away from the world for a whole year.

There was a ceremony in becoming a novice called a “clothing.” That’s when you got your monk-clothing which was all white. One careless spaghetti dinner would send the white habit to the cleaners.

Also, when you became a novice, you received a new name. Really!

Before the “clothing” you would submit three names of saints who you admired to the Abbot. He would select one of the names and announce it at the “clothing.” Afterward, that’s what everyone called you.

One of the names I submitted was St. William who was pretty obscure. I’ll admit, I didn’t really give two hoots about St. William. I just liked the fact that ‘William’ would sound nice with my last name which also begins with a W. Very alliterative.

The other two names were St. John (a nice name) and St. Dunstan, the patron saint of organists.

The Abbot chose William. So, for the next three years, I was Br. William. It was weird.

After you completed the novitiate year, you took vows for three years. That's when you got the really cool black and white habit.

Here’s a pic of Br. William after taking vows and getting the black and white habit.

Don’t let the holy look fool you. I was probably thinking, “Gosh, I really miss Will and Grace.”

Oh, and I was often asked what we wore underneath the habits. I hate to disappoint you, for there were no holy undergarments. Simply black Levis and a white undershirt.



At 6:22 AM , Blogger Speck said...

Doing the same thing every day sounds rather like "Groundhog Day" but without scoring Andi McDowell at the conclusion. It sounds hellish. I could groove on the no talking before breakfast rule though.

I do envy you the education. Now *that* sounds heavenly.


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