St. Francis of Assisi suggests when we take time to pray and contemplate—to connect with our Inner Beauty—we discover wholeness. We become God’s prayer.
Here at the Abbey of Gethsemane tucked in the rolling hills of rural Kentucky, I spend a week of silent retreat. Here, in the tranquil pace of monastic life, I experience glimpses of what Francis meant.
Rising at 3 a.m. to join the monks in prayer, their Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, chorus resonates in my body as I close my eyes, hum the words, and hear my heart’s response:
Alleluia (I am alive).
Alleluia (God loves us).
Alleluia (I feel Your Presence).
The monks’ daily rhythm of praying, chanting psalms, and reading scripture seven times a day rubs off on me. Like salt that flavors midday soup, the rituals nourish and shape me. Morsels of the choruses sing in my head throughout the day. The rhythm sinks into my bones. The tunes echo throughout my body. My pace slows. Gratitude fills me.
I also notice a yearning for something I can’t quite grasp—a desire for solitude in my life, daily space to pray, write, and read. Time to be alone with God and connect with my Inner Self.
I wish I could bottle the solitude I’m experiencing at the Abbey, put it in my backpack, and take it home with me. But at the end of the week, I must leave this sacred place, knowing that solitude can’t be packaged, it can only be nurtured.
When it’s time to leave, I suspect part of me will wish to stay, don a white robe, pull out a hymnal, and join the monks in a vowed life of solitude, prayer, and contemplation. Perhaps then I couldbecome God’s prayer.
Another part of me will be glad to return to my wife and children. It’ll be good to re-engage with the full life I have outside these stone walls.
Arriving home, there’ll be joy and laughter. I’ll hug my wife and children whom I’ve missed dearly. I’ll share pictures of the Kentucky knobs I climbed, the dazzling sunsets that awed me, and images of Thomas Merton’s hermitage that graces this holy landscape.
In the weeks that follow my return to ordinary life, my heart will crowd with noise. The din of work, the barrage of emails, the tugs at my life’s garment will creep back into my day.
I fear the slowness of monastery life will soon be replaced with fast-paced distractions and interruptions. My morning quiet-time will be interrupted by the dog pooping in the house. The office calling. The smoke alarm going off again. I’ll leave my squeezed-in solitude to clean up the mess, answer the phone, and meet the fire department knowing it’s dust that’s causing the chaos.
My usual response to these disturbances is a terse, bull-like snort, an angry foot stomp, and a sarcastic rant. For God’s sake, I’m trying to have a spiritual experience here! Such behavior evidences how quickly my spirituality fades in the “real world.”
As I sit here at the monastery, I wonder if I could change my perspective about the distractions and interruptions I’ll face when I return home?
What if between the constant conflict of striving for deeper solitude and the bombardment of daily interruptions, I allowed God to help me see that our busy lives are in reality a Liturgy of Interruptions, a daily ritual we perform to express love and devotion.
With this reframing, cleaning up the dog’s mess expresses my love for my dog’s unwavering loyalty; responding to the office smoke alarm conveys gratitude for the firemen and women who protect us; and answering emails becomes an invitation to relish that I’m an important part of others’ lives and they of mine.
Perhaps that’s what St. Francis meant in suggesting that through prayer and contemplation we become God’s prayer. By taking time for solitude each day, to sit in the quiet and connect deeply with God and ourselves—we seek the Spirit of Love that nourishes and guides us. Then, we take that love into the world as the hands, feet, and heart of Christ.
This new perspective is easy for me to imagine as I sit behind the protected walls of the Abbey. Upon returning home, the challenge will be to gift my daily schedule with the right balance of solitude and prayer to allow God to renew me and fill me with peace.
I know it’s God’s abiding presence that will help me nurture the human need for solitude. And I pray he will give me the gentle discipline when I return home to protect the quiet time that nourishes our souls.
With this desire in mind, I offer this small prayer for myself and for those of us who live in a world unprotected by monastery walls:
May we hear and follow the gentle nudge to find peace through solitude.
When the world feels overwhelming and the noisy din consumes us, pushes us off balance, may we know it’s the Creator’s invitation to find him and ourselves in the quiet.
From that place of pause—where we seek connection with God and ourselves—
may we live faithfully into the Liturgy of Interruptions and know, we are God’s prayer.
—brian j plachta
Abbey of Gethsemani
Can you forgive yourself for being perfectly human?