Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Monastic Experience Weekend - Summer 2013

This summer Redwoods Monastery hosted a weekend geared especially for young women (ages 18-40) who were interested in learning more about monasticism and contemplative prayer. 6 women attended – most in their early twenties. Some were interested in a religious vocation but most came just to experience a deeper level of prayer. This was the second year we hosted this event and we now hope to make it an annual event.

 Our guests followed our monastic schedule of prayer, spiritual reading, and manual labor. They got up and joined the sisters for meditation first thing in the morning. For some, this was a stretch. But all believed they benefitted from the experience. Coming from a busy world of work, school, and social life into the silence of the redwoods can be a dramatic transition. Cell phones don’t get reception here; there is no texting or wifi for internet connection. Without these distractions, we hoped there would be space for each participant to enter deeply into her heart and soul and listen for God’s voice. This is the intent of the weekend.

 For morning work, they helped Sr Ann Marie in the garden and constructed a frame for the pole beans. Working with the hands, being in touch with the earth and collectively creating in community is a foundational monastic practice. Community life is a very simple joy and one that may well be hidden in today’s competitive work and study environments.

 There were three conferences during the weekend. The first was of a very introductory nature, explaining our prayer practices and giving suggestions for morning meditation. In the second conference, we showed a DVD we recently filmed about our life at Redwoods. Sisters also shared their own vocation stories and impressions of monastic life. This conference is usually the most meaningful to the participants. They want to hear about our personal journey to the monastery and the commitment to God that keeps us here. One woman commented that though our life is restrictive, we seem happy, free, and emotionally balanced. She didn’t expect the joy she saw in us.

 The final conference was on the monastic practice of Lectio Divina. This is a very traditional practice where scripture is read very slowly and intentionally, listening for the voice of God in the reading. What is God telling me personally through this reading? How do I connect this scripture with my life? We read silently and then shared about the text. The conference gave the participants the opportunity not only to explore scripture, but also to open up new vistas and insights into their personal lives and experiences of God.

 The impact of the Monastic Experience was reciprocal. The Redwoods community was enriched by seeing young people really “get” our life. They entered into it with “beginner’s mind” and reflected back the treasures of monastic life that we sometimes take for granted.

 Of course no experience of Redwoods would be complete without walks in the woods, animal watching, and star gazing. And nature did not disappoint us. A doe gave birth under right outside the cloister windows and the mother deer proudly showed off her newborn twins to our guests.

On the evaluation for the Monastic Experience Weekend, we asked the question, “What did you find most beneficial to you personally?” Here are some of their responses:
To be given the chance to step into the life here. For me it was really valuable to experience for myself how a life of prayer actually works… not just the Office and Mass… but work and living in the surroundings here are a part of the holistic life style.

The joyful openness everyone fosters here. I felt free to explore the forest, which I know gives me life, but also invited to interact with everyone because of the joy with which you life.

It was the common prayer - when prayers were offered, sung with beautiful voices, profoundness could be felt. I felt inspired as prayers were offered amidst beautiful nature reflected on the glass (in the church)

To join in the gardening as a group is something I did not expect, but it was fun, meaningful when we ate something that we grew.