The community gathers five times a day for prayer, interspersed with meals, work, and other bits of daily life. For most of the week, the schedule (I prefer “rhythm”) goes something like this:
6:00am – Rising Bell
6:30am – Vigils
7:00am – Lectio Divina/Meditation
7:30am – Morning Praise followed by Eucharist
8:15 – Breakfast
Noon – Midday Prayer
12:15pm – Lunch
5:00pm – Vespers
5:30 – Supper
7:30pm – Compline
Woven into this daily rhythm, marking its movements through a gentle piercing of my attention, is the bell. It rings out with simple clarity, marks the nearly seamless transition to the next movement of the day. At rising, about ten minutes before each appointed time for prayer, and at specific moments during those gatherings of the community – like when we pray the Hail Mary three times at the start of Midday Prayer, there comes the kind and trusty voice of the bell. Now, when I say the bell rings at such-and-such a time, it really does ring at exactly that moment. Thanks to this particular grace, I’m able to put my cell phone (which functions as wrist watch in everyday life) away for most of this week. But, again, it’s taking a couple days for me to release the habit of always having the device in my pocket, of checking it with inordinate frequency to make sure I’m not late for prayer (even though I can easily make it to prayer even if I’m at the furthest corner of the path that fringes the meadow when the bell rings). I’m looking at the time, I watch it change to 11:50am and at that very moment, the bell rings for Midday Prayer. The person behind this faithful punctuality is Brother Shawn.
The first time I met Brother Shawn was on my first visit to the monastery, in the summer of 2008. It was my first experience at a monastery ever and my stomach was in cold, hard knots. I walked through the front doors and was greeted by a little man, no taller than myself, in a white monk’s habit, who reminded me of Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God). He carried my bags and showed me to my room, down the same hall where I happen to be staying on this retreat. His friendliness was a light that warmed and loosened the knots in my stomach and became a sort of homey presence during my stay. Brother Shawn has a gift of hospitality. This is a precious feature, as I understand it, of the Benedictine Order as a whole (and I’m hoping to return to that theme later on), but Brother Shawn glows with it. He stands in the front lobby with monastery guests as we wait to be invited up to the dining room. When it’s time, Brother Shawn stands at the bottom of the creaky stairs to speak welcome with his eyes, his mouth, his hands, to each person. We enter the dining room and stand as the priest blesses the meal. Bowed heads rise, and Brother Shawn sees to it that we are invited to the buffet line before he takes a plate for himself. During the meals, it’s Brother Shawn who offers to take empty plates and refill drinks. I wonder if every person who visits this monastery leaves with some heart-warming tale of an encounter with Brother Shawn? Stories like Micha’s. It wouldn’t surprise me!
But back to the bell. As I was saying, the cadence of the day is kept by this bell and the hands pulling the rope are those of Brother Shawn. Tuesday evening (“afternoon” if we’re measuring by the clock back home), walking down the hallway towards the chapel, early so as to find some quiet in my heart before Vespers, I see him. He is often outside the chapel just before prayer, always with a warm greeting. But this time he is facing the opposite direction, eyes closed, hands wrapped around the rope, ready to sound the bell for prayer. Maybe Brother Shawn, like the rest of us, has days when he rings the bell and is thinking of other things – but that’s not what I’m seeing now, in this moment. Every bit of his attention, his devotion, is set on this one task at hand. But “task” seems too harsh a word, charged with connotations of duty, chores, dull drudgery. What I see is the simple embrace of an expression of his vocation. There is faithfulness, prayerful attention, and a certain quiet joy.
What if I did laundry and dishes the way Brother Shawn rings the bell? What if I served the people I live with they way Brother Shawn serves his guests? What if I welcomed with that kind of gentle and fiercely sacred hospitality the parts of my own self – all the little Barbaras running around in me, making demands, and trespassing on my time and attention?
(Monastery Summer 2010, post 3)