Tuesday, May 31, 2011

St. John's Abbey Highlights with Some Randoms at the End

Well, I just got home from a wonderful week at St. John's Abbey where I went for a spiritual retreat. I could write and write and write about all the many things, but I will just give a top ten of the highlights:
1. The hospitality. I know the Benedictines have to be hospitable; it's part of their vows. Yet, everyone seemed to do it so naturally. Maybe that is part of living into your vows, forming these habits through intentional choices until they become part of your character. All I know is that everyone I asked a question to, chatted with, traded small talk with - all of these people treated me wonderfully even though they probably have to deal with spiritual retreatists like me every day.
2. Worship. Four worship services a day with monks. What more could a guy ask for? The most striking part of the worship service was the slow rhythm, the pace that allowed for silence and meditation, for the words to sink deep and take root. There is no hurry, no clockwatching, simply gathering as a community to recite the words that have been the foundation of the faithful (mainly the Psalms) for millions of people over thousands of years.
3. Woods...wonderful Minnesota woods. There is a mile and a half hike around the lake to the Stella Maris chapel and another mile and a half loop through the St. John's arboretum (where the carpenters use the maple for all their beautiful woodworking). So, I spent the day walking through one of them and then running through the other at night, and then switching it the next day.
4. The beauty of the university. Even their electrical building has a plaque listing it as a Minnesota historic sight! Seriously.
5. Self-sustaining beauty. At St. John's they're committed to both beauty and simplicity. Chapter 57 in the Benedictine Rule states, "If there are artisans in the community, let them practice their craft with all humility...". And this is exactly what they do. The woodworking is simple and stark with wood harvested from the arboretum. The pottery is made from clay dug just off the campus, refined with recycled water, and decorated with natural glazes made from soybean leaves (and other types of leaves).
6. The food. It was simple, amazing, and I think mostly organic.
7. Liturgical Press. One of the best publishers of liturgy in the world is at St. John's. It was hard to leave without spending a few bucks, which I did happily.
8. St. John's Bible. St. John's Abbey commissioned the Queen's calligrapher Donald Jackson to produce a hand-written, hand-illuminated Bible. It is partially on display at the library at St. John's and is absolutely breathtaking. I got teary-eyed just watching a video about the making and seeing someone write text with such beauty and skill. Here's a picture of it:

That picture doesn't do it justice. Visit this site.
9. The writings of Howard Thurman. As one of my classes was winding down this spring, a classmate asked a professor what books she would recommend for those in ministry, the "must haves" if you will. She listed off a couple and then recommended Thurman. By chance, our church happened to have one of his books on the shelf, so I grabbed it. I'm glad I did. He is a very wise and poetic man, this Howard Thurman. I think my favorite quote was, "[waiting] is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then to continue one's journey in the darkness with one's footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance is to know courage of a peculiar kind - the courage to demand that light continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelops, and surrounds is to wait on the Lord. This is to know the renewal of strength. This is to walk and faint not." I like that very much.
10. Mahtowa! After the retreat was over, I drove up to Mahtowa, MN to hang out with friends from seminary. It is a town about 30 miles south of Duluth, and we happened to be there for its annual "Wurst Days," which celebrates Mahtowa and bratwurst (it is sponsored by the local general store that specializes in encased meats). I ran the annual 4 mile "Brat Trot," but decided not to take part in the brat eating contest. The winner apparently ate 7 brats in 5 minutes (excuse me while I gag a bit thinking about it). I got to visit Covenant Park Bible Camp, Duluth (the Brewhouse, my grandma, Luke and Chelsey, Canal Park), and even some time in Jay Cooke Park. I love that place.

So, that is my highlight reel. I realize now that I still ended up writing a fair amount more than I planned. If you made it to the end, congratulations!

One more thought: After seeing facebook posts on Memorial Day, it made me hope that one day evangelical Christians will celebrate All Saints' Day with at least the same fervor that Memorial Day is often celebrated. Shouldn't we honor those who lived and died to pass on our faith, who faced prison, torture, and even martyrdom so that we could find our own freedom in the liberating message of Christ?

I wonder where Sarah Palin is going to stop next on her mysterious bus tour? And by "wonder" I mean "don't care" and by "?" I mean "!". That's all. Time to do some studying.

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