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On monasteries and solitude
© 2020 Bruce W. Green
If I had not married my wife – which of course was divinely appointed – I think I might have made a monk. I am quite sure I would have been a bad one but a monk nonetheless.
For a very long time, I have been attracted to the strict schedule of hermitic life called an horarium, with its intensely busy life of prayer, meditations, study, physical exercise, household chores, and gardening, all centered in silence and solitude.
It’s certainly not for everyone but withdrawing from the world to better serve God and the world has always made sense to me.
It is a fact of history that some men – and women – have exerted a greater positive influence over the lives of others from their monastic enclosures than they ever would have had they remained in the hustle and bustle of the world.
But I am likely romanticizing this rewarding but austere way of life. I may be a bit like Flannery O’Connor who said she thought she could be a martyr if only her persecutors would kill her quickly.
Similarly, I might have made a monk as long as it was easy, and I could live in solitude fiddling with books, cows or horses in the Western desert.
Be that as it may, there is something to this idea of the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening, tucked away for a while from our noisy and word-saturated society.
But in a world that doesn’t favor meditation or quiet, the art of listening is learned only with difficulty.
I am not talking about unregulated idleness. I am talking about the regular and disciplined practice of retreating from the gaudy trappings of the modern world to shake the dust off our souls and to think on higher things.
So, I am an advocate of creating your own little monastery wherever you can. All you will need is a place where you can practice solitude.
You don’t need absolute separation from all people but a place where you can be separate for a time from the clamor and temptations of the world. No evening news, no Facebook, no tweeting.
But, in keeping with the traditional concept of a monastery as a place of work, you’ll need at least a vegetable or flower garden, a library and, I recommend an oratory (small chapel area).
I have a friend whose monastery is his farm in East Texas and one whose monastery is his sheep ranch in the Panhandle Plains.
Many years ago, I retreated at least twice a year to a ranch in the remote Missouri Breaks of Montana, where I spent countless hours in the saddle without seeing another human being during calving season. I went there to think and study.
My wife and I have created our own little monastery where we live. It even has an enclosed courtyard, an oratory, a flower garden, and a gate at the driveway that can be closed to symbolically shut out the world for a time.
We do a lot of thinking, reading and praying in this little monastery. My wife works on flowers there and I re-think the values of the modern world – all the things I was told were important but which now seem like sawdust in my mouth.
I know some who read this column may have no interest in quiet chapels, prayer or religion. I understand that. In this utilitarian modern age saturated in materialism, it is hard to see the importance of anything that can’t be seen, touched and eventually become bored with.
To those readers, I simply ask that they consider the fact that society itself depends for its well-being on an ability to make use of its latent moral and mental resources when it needs them.
In hard times, like the present, society must tap those latent resources in order navigate through the dark. In other words, it must reach deep down where it stores the moral and intellectual resources to deal with crisis and pull them out.
If there are no latent moral and mental resources stored in reserve, then society may find itself up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
I am simply suggesting those latent moral and intellectual resources are developed in solitude – in the monasteries of our own making.
And it appears to me that before this world as we know it comes to an end, our society is likely going to need the latent resources we should have been developing and storing long before now.
Which brings me to a fitting announcement that won’t make Fox News, but I share with my friends in the Panhandle and Panhandle Plains.
This is my last Between the Lines column.
The demands of other work don’t allow me the time to spend in The Last Best Place I would like these days. And my own little monastery is calling.
I have enjoyed my one-way conversation with all you folks, most of whom I will never meet. I hope you value what you have, that you keep your common sense, that you stay away from Austin, and that you spend some time in solitude. Email Green at [email protected]