TBT: Benedictine Spirituality

In January, I did a two day spiritual retreat at a Benedictine Monastery and came back invigorated for the coming season.

I’ve done many spiritual retreats before, but never one so structured and “other” than what I was used to.  The Benedictines practice the daily office – a rhythm of 7 worship gatherings a day (starting at 4:50am!  Youzers) and they sing Gregorian chant style.

A few observations:

– Monastic life has no parallel in the protestant tradition.  It is distinctly Catholic and was a reminder of just how wide and diverse God’s Kingdom is.

– 4:50am.  Are you kidding me?  It felt crazy, until I came into a beautiful candlelit chapel, chanted 3 psalms in a row and sang inviting God’s guidance, protection and presence this day.  It was the right start to avoid the usual mental “to do” list.

– Benedictine spirituality incorporates repetition and physicality that protestants lack.  3 or 4 times per service, 7 times per day, we bowed and sang, “Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen.”  We sang this at the end of every Psalm and every Hymn.  We sang it in a bowing position to show our subservience to God.  A powerful experience, proclaiming allegience well over a dozen times a day, while bowing down.

– The Nuns sit up front, across from each other and sing to each other antiphonally.  The rest of us (sometimes just two or three of us) sit in the pews, and sing with our side of Nuns.  So for about half a service we listen and for half we sing.  I loved that.

– The Benedictine worship service is 100% for God.  The Nuns could care less that a couple of us were in the pews, stumbling along trying to chant.  I was struck by just how much our protestant worship gatherings consider the needs of the worshipper in contrast to this fully God centered offering.

– Holy water, candles, incense, kneeling before the cross: I’m in. Catholics really know how to use the five senses, physicality and space to help us worship

– Listening to serene and cheerful nuns singing Psalms of violence and despair is a highly surreal experience. The Pathos of the Psalms are amplified by the chant style of singing.

–  These chants are 1300 – 1700 years old.  Someone back then really knew how to connect spiritual well being with simple melody.  I LOVE our modern worship music, but we protestants could do to learn from music and style that has lasted nearly two millenia.

– 7 worship gatherings, and 3 meals.  Not much time left for “work.”  The Nuns work VERY hard and long hours, but their primary work is worship.  In classic moron style, I asked the Mother Superior, “with all these worship services, when do you get your work done?”

Awkward pause as she tried not to bury me.

“Worship IS our work.”


I greatly appreciate the hospitality of the monastery – I met some wonderful people, – met God and God met me.

Glory be to the Father, to his Son Jesus and to the Spirit who resides in our hearts. Amen

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