Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BE Canterbury

My travels have kept me from doing any blogging for a couple of weeks now. I had a firm intention to get something written while I was in England, and even had a time set aside - Sunday afternoon. But alas, things turned out otherwise. In fact, that afternoon Tay and I went off in search of the oldest pub in Canterbury, The Parrot, built in 1350. And of course once we found it, it would have been discourteous not to stay and sample some of their wares. So writing had to be postponed.

But now I'm in Kansas City and just about to start the series of Meditation workshops that I'm doing, and I do have a little bit of free time this afternoon, so I'll get at least a small amount written.

The Benedictine Experience in Canterbury was, in short, splendid.

First there was the Cathedral. It turns out that it makes quite a difference having a 12th century cathedral in the back yard. We stayed in a conference center on the cathedral grounds which was very nice, and my room looked out over the cathedral. And every morning and every afternoon we were there for prayer, and many members of the group did some helping out there in the afternoons during our work period, either in the Shop, or with the "Holy Dusters". I've been in Canterbury and in the Cathedral a number of times, but I never had the time to take it for granted. I could explore little nooks and crannies, I could sit in odd corners and just feel the centuries roll over me. The years of prayer are clear: the present prayer is just building on centuries of practice and that makes it an extraordinary place. Having the time to just let the place reveal itself gradually was a grand experience, and not one that the pace of travel usually permits.

Next, there was the group. There were 35 of us, which is large for forming a community, but it worked. We had people who are serious about their spiritual journeys and very hard working. I led them in a consideration of how one goes about working towards the living of a balanced life, and the quality of the discussions, both during the classes and at meals, was frequently extraordinary. As the week went on, the conversation turned towards to the relationship of this practice of living in a balanced way to the development of compassion, and it was very rewarding to me to see things move in that direction. And yes, we did form a community. By the end of the 8 days, we could feel how far we had come.

And the music. What a part of things the musical tradition of the Cathedral was! Evensong every afternoon. The Sunday morning service on the Feast of St Benedict, in the cathedral nave with somewhere between 750 and 1,000 people present, and the organ growled and thundered and the choir pierced the vaulting with song. There was an evening concert featuring the Bach Magnificat and the Mozart Requiem. There was ancient music, medieval music, English choral music of the 17th and 18th centuries, and some very modern and surprising music. And in the evenings after the cathedral had closed for the day you could still hear the sounds of rehearsals coming from inside the Cathedral while strolling through the grounds. For someone who lives a life of prayer by music, as monks do, it was a very great privilege to have that week of being soaked in the richness and variety of it.

There was also a day for visiting with the nuns of St Mary's Abbey in West Malling, a village about an hour's drive away. This was a really nice change of pace from the intensity of the program, and it was wonderful to be in a place where the Office is sung in such a simple and pure way and where the Monastery Church, the grounds and the buildings are all so very obviously reflective of the prayer of the community.

And of course there was a lot more, and I wish time were longer this afternoon, but now I have to get to St Michael's for supper and then my first workshop, so this will have to do. But it should be enough to give at least a taste of that wonderful week, and to urge anyone who has a chance to experience Canterbury or a place like it to do so. The time in such a place is so richly rewarding.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Flying Monk

My bags are packed. The plants are watered. My presentations are done. All seems in order. The plane leaves at 9 pm (this is written on Sunday) and by tomorrow I'll be in Canterbury, where it's predicted to be 73 degrees. I'll have a day to recover and do necessary planning, and then the program begins on Tuesday with Evensong in the Cathedral. Bliss!

It will be quite nice to have a week with a 12th century cathedral in the back yard.

I'm very excited to see how the experience unfolds. The plans for the program look really wonderful, and I'm eager to see how the group evolves as a community begins to form. There will be 35 participants, I think, and that's the largest Benedictine Experience I have ever participated in, so no doubt there will be some differences to this one. But I'm ready to experience whatever it turns out to be.

I don't know exactly when I'll be able to do any blogging next, but I'll endeavor to find some time - even if just to share a few tidbits.