I’ve had the odd experience this year of being able to answer the “what do you do” question with “Oh, I’m interning at a monastery”. Sometimes it comes off as a rather flippant answer–one of those I’m-doing-something-really-unusual/cool-and-I-know-it answers.
But after having lived this experience, 24/7, for the past nine months, I must confess that it isn’t really that unusual or glamorous most of the time. Most of the time, you’re just trying to work as best you can in community with others, with a little sleep and a lot of prayer. There are joyous times, and there are difficult times.
It’s an experience of living in close quarters with people who you would have never chosen to hang out with, or would have liked to know as friends, but not as roommates. But there’s something intimate about an experience of sharing prayer and worship in common that manages (despite everything) to unite us. It is a new experience of the Eucharist. Instead of just coming to church on Sunday to receive the sacrament, it is a sacrament that I receive every day… every minute of every day, in all of its glory, pain, transcendence. When I join the circle around the altar with my community, receiving the Eucharist becomes not just an individual act, but a common bond. I put out my hands to receive the bread, lift the chalice to my lips in a sub/conscious realization that despite everything, we are all here, sharing these gifts.
Perhaps this is something that you can relate too, perhaps not in the Eucharist, maybe not in a church or religious sense at all. The difficult times, broken by a moment of realizing the potential of what it all might be, might mean, how it might transcend the gritty dirt of day-to-day existence.
This passage from Hebridean Altars has helped me a lot this year, and I share it now with you:
“Seven times a day, as I work upon this hungry farm,
I say to Thee, ‘Lord, why am I here?
What is there here to stir my gifts to growth?
What great thing can I do for others–
I who am captive to this dreary toil?’
And seven times a day, Thou answerest,
‘I cannot do without thee.
Once did my son live thy life,
and did by His faithfulness did show
my mind, my kindness, and my truth to men.
But now He is come to my side,
and thou must take His place.'”