Yesterday's post made me think of places where silence is savored and maintained: monasteries. It reminded me of a poem I wrote years ago after I first went to Mepkin Abbey, near Charleston, South Carolina.
I also thought it was worth posting, since this has been a month of many prayer requests. Almost everyone I know has someone close to them who is sick, some of them quite severely.
I've heard people scoff at the idea that prayer can do any good. And I've heard people snort at the idea that monks and nuns pray as part of their mission.
When I was younger, I, too, would have been snorting derisively. Get out there and work for social justice, I would have said. Now that I'm older, I'm aware of how many religious orders are out there, working much harder for social justice than I ever have.
I leave you not only with a poem, but with my favorite quote from Kathleen Norris. On page 145 of The Cloister Walk, she writes, "Deep down, people seem glad to know that monks are praying, that poets are writing poems."
Liturgy of the Hours
The monks rise while the rest of the world sleeps.
In the darkness, they pray.
The single mother stares at the clock and calculates
costs. The newspaper carriers start
their rounds. Truckers cross
state lines, and a woman writes poetry by candlelight.
The farmer feeds the animals as sunrise
stains the horizon. Early morning exercisers lace
their shoes and retrace their steps. Parents prepare
breakfast, and the monks pray again.
Students rush from class to class.
The housekeeper starts another load of wash.
Frazzled workers everywhere break
for coffee while the monks celebrate the Eucharist.
At noon the world eats lunch.
The monks pray, and then they eat, and then they pray again.
No one leaves work early these days.
As the dark grows close, everyone sits alone
in their cars watching the pavement
and concrete barriers. The monks pray.
The world watches bad television chosen from a host
of options—hundreds of stations beamed
from satellites, and not one satisfies.
Children chat on phones and stare
at screens. Adults wonder
how they got so far behind. The pets settle
into their sleeping spaces.
The monks gather again in darkness pierced
with candle light. Watched by statues
of Mary and the Crucified Christ, they chant Compline.
The Abbott sprinkles each man with holy water
and sends them to sleep in their cells.
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