Retreat to Advance!

Some reflections on my stay in a Benedictine Monastery
– In words and pictures –s8001447.JPG

To see a slide-show of pictures from my stay, please click on the link below:
St Michael’s Abbey

From Monday 17th to Wednesday 19th November I spent some personal retreat time at St Michael’s Abbey in Farnborough, Hants. It is home to a Benedictine community of about 7 monks who live in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict – working and praying – as many others have done over the past 1500 years. My intention was to live alongside the monks, following their pattern of prayer, and to begin to understand something of their spirituality.

The first thing I needed to grasp was the way in which their life revolved around prayer. This becomes apparent when you realise that community prayer is said 8 times a day at various times…

Matins – during the night
– Morning prayer
– The First hour (or 6am)
Terce – The Third hour (or 9am)
– The Sixth hour (or 12pm)
– The Ninth hour (or 3pm)
– Evening prayer
– Night prayer
In addition, the various ‘hours’ were sung in beautiful Gregorian chant, and the setting was the church building you can see below.

Manual work also plays an important part in the monk’s life – in fact the monks are encouraged to see no difference between work and prayer. The monks at Farnborough keep bees, operate a small farm, run a bookshop and welcome guests who wish to visit the monastery.s8001475.JPG

One of the most important things I’ll take away from my stay is the importance of putting God first – in a very practical way – before everything else that needs to be done, no matter how urgent or important it may be. This means putting time aside during the day to stop and turn my thoughts to God – this is not easy and I certainly can’t pray all of the ‘hours’ a monk does, but I’m beginning to find that a rule and rhythm are a good starting point.

Helpfully, the monks at Farnborough have produced a prayer book called the Monastic Diurnal (or the day hours of the monastic breviary) to support those who want to pray in the ancient Benedictine tradition. I have been using this book for a few months now and I find it encouraging to be praying in common with many people around the world in the fashion prescribed by St Benedict. Interestingly, St Francis also urged his Brothers to keep the ‘hours’ for prayer, with the additional instruction that they should offer it up for the ‘failings and negligences’ of others. For Francis, even this sometimes solitary activity can become a vehicle for another’s salvation.

I have been inspired to dig more deeply into Benedictine spirituality and I’m sure I’ll be writing about this again in the near future!


To see a slide-show of pictures from my stay, please click on the link below:
St Michael’s Abbey