Mt. Angel Abbey/Photo by Eric Blauer - SpokaneFAVS

How regular pilgrimage has made me commit to a people, practice & place

By Eric Blauer

Every year I go on a few small pilgrimages, one is to the brothers at Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, the other is to the sisters at St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, Idaho. I recently returned from our four day retreat at Mt. Angel, where we follow a schedule of prayer, eating meals together, group times and set times for rest and silence. The monks pray six times per day in the church and anyone is welcomed to join in that daily rhythm of set prayers.

Mt. Angel Abbey/Photo by Eric Blauer - SpokaneFAVS
Mt. Angel Abbey/Photo by Eric Blauer – SpokaneFAVS

There is usually about eight-12 Christian leaders and pastors from Spokane, Portland and a few from other states that do this together. This year there were six churches represented, three generations, men and women, conservative to progressive, all Protestants, gathered together in Christ at a Catholic monastery. It’s a rich experience of place, people, practice and presence.

This annual practice has become a deeply nourishing rhythm in my spiritual life. I am challenged, encouraged and expanded by my years of exposure to the people, practices, teachings and witness of the lives of the brothers of Mt. Angel and the sisters of St. Gertrudes.

I read this explanation of the ethos of a monastery in a small book describing the history of Mt. Angel Abbey:

“The promise of fidelity to monastic life is a commitment to pursue the goal of Christian monasticism, a spirit inspired life of Christian love; in the presence of God the father and to use the monastic means to this goal: celibacy, simplicity, holy reading, hospitality, community work, and prayer. The history of any monastic community will be the history of a place—chosen, cultivated, hollowed and fashion by the community. It will be the history, too, of an obedience– to a tradition, a rule, an Abbot, a community. This obedience has nothing to do with absolutism; it is not reducible to efficiency and good order; it does not exclude conflict and controversy.”
-Mount of Communion/Mount Angel Abbey 1882 to 1982

I resonate with a vision of living a life shaped and moved by presence, people, practice and place. There’s a level of purposeful rootedness that I have found very healing in a world that is constantly, dividing, fragmenting, denouncing and divorcing. Being present in a place where serious vows of commitment are practiced has often challenged by own idolatry of self, freedom, privacy, transient tendencies and unaccountable individualism.

Mt. Angel is a Benedictine order founded and shaped by The Rule of St. Benedict’s. One part of the rule stood out to me on this trip:

“Fourth and finally, there are the monks called gyrovagues, who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites.” -The Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 1:10-11

This type of monk isn’t a retreater like ourselves, the monastery has a retreat house where they practice their well known tradition of radical hospitality. This person is a unrooted and unavailable person. Someone who can’t or won’t commit to a people, place and practice. It’s a subversive resistance to the communal dynamic of faith that calls for us to be connected to the head of Christ and his body. Each member is connected and responsible for the other and the health of the whole is directly determined by the unity and function of that body. There is a reality to this that is historical, local and eternal. It’s a practice that is modeled in the biblical scripture and lives of the early followers of Jesus.

“They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” -Acts 2:42

I have a rhythm of arrival and departure from the monastery but I am looking to cultivate the faith realities I encounter there into my daily life, church and relational commitments.

“A monastery can never be merely an escape from the world. Its very purpose is to enable us to face the problems of the world at their deepest level, that is to say, in relation to God and eternal life. Everything in the monastic life down to the deepest level has to be viewed from this angle.
-Bede Griffiths, The Golden String: An Autobiography

I am realizing that my monastery doesn’t have walls, it’s a neighborhood, a gathered and scattered people and the person and teachings of Christ. I too have an invitation to experience and engage the presence of God in a particular people, through an ancient practice in a specific place. I too have made personal and vocational vows that call me to limit my choices, say no to other good things and people. It’s a life of purposeful narrowing, choosing to say yes to only a few things. It’s a sacred act of giving oneself in meaningful ways that prohibit me from somethings, in order to cultivate other things.

In a culture that is caught in the undertow of addition, the idea of subtraction is anathema to many, but for me it’s been a sacred and fruitful multiplication of meaning and mission.


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