Slowing Down“Everything is at a snail’s pace …”
by Brother Francis Wagner, OSB
Recently my mother visited the monastery along with some other guests from my hometown. My mother has been to Saint Meinrad Archabbey many times, but it was the first visit for many of the other guests on the trip. At dinner one evening after Vespers, I listened to them share their impressions. As many guests are, they were overwhelmed by the beauty and simplicity of the Psalms chanted in unison by the monks at Vespers. Several mentioned how unique it was for them to experience public prayer in a way that is measured and unrushed, yet still joyful and exuberant.
“Yes, that’s right,” affirmed my mother. “No one is in a rush around here. Everything is at a snail’s pace. It’s really nice.”
It is a keen observation, and says a lot about how much our hurried, distracted culture today hungers to hear God’s “tiny whispering sound” (1Kings 19:12).
A number of years ago, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe told the World Congress of Benedictine Abbots that monasteries feed that hunger for the transcendent by simply becoming an open space where God’s word can be heard and encountered in silence and peace. “The glory of God always shows itself in an empty space,” he said. “The ultimate throne of glory is an empty tomb, where there is no body … We have to make a home for the Word to come and dwell among us, a space where for God to be.”
This, I think, is what those guests at Saint Meinrad Archabbey (and at so many other monasteries around the world through the centuries) have discovered—an open space that reveals God’s universal and eternal presence. The Benedictine charism is more than a way to slow down, catch your breath, and recharge. It is a way of life that witnesses to the value of measured listening and responding to God’s Word, just as two sides of a monastic choir alternate with one another in chanting the Psalms before the day’s work begins or after it ends.
Ultimately, such a “snail’s pace” is what invites real Christian transformation, just as the slow and steady spring rain alternating with periods of sunshine produces the growth that sustains the earth.
The challenge, of course, is to maintain the attentive disposition that allows such growth. It is a process. Being attentive requires time, a concept that is countercultural in a rapidly changing world that values instant communication and overnight success. Email, satellite television, and cell phones are not bad things. Used wisely and attentively, they can help foster much good. However, when we allow them to become our masters rather than our tools, then that open space for God’s word suffers from poor reception. Many speak, but few say anything, and those listening cannot truly hear.
Was my mother correct? I think she was, probably more so than she realized. Many monks may laugh when told their lives appear to be so ordered and peaceful, but we do well to listen to the observations of guests such as those recounted above. In my case, I know that I am far busier now than I ever was before coming to the monastery. However, the way of life here has provided me with a purpose, rhythm, and prayerful fulfillment that I had previously lacked. That is something I appreciate even when I fail to be completely attentive to it.
Mercifully, slow and steady wins the race, while God’s whisper echoes throughout every available open space, urging us all to victory. And that is really saying something.
Click here to see our YouTube video featuring Br. Francis' thoughts on "Benedictine Life and Slowing Down."
Click here for Br. Francis' blog, The Yoke of Christ.