Explaining monks is a little like explaining to someone who wasn’t a teenager in the 1980s why The Breakfast Club deserves a place in the respected canon of film. That is to say, you had to be there.
Nevertheless, because I recently spent two wonderfully peaceful days at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, I’ll make an attempt.
Monks are not saints and will be the first to tell you so. They are men who have chosen to dedicate themselves to a certain way of life. That sentence contains three difficult concepts: choice, dedication, and way of life.
Looking at what monks provide their guests may help with understanding those ideas; they give you exactly what you need and nothing more. One frying pan, a large saucepan, a small saucepan, a colander. Four each of cups, glasses, large plates, small plates.
No unnecessary choices are offered to distract you from the most important choice: to spend some time with God. Monks are like that—focused on what’s important.
That is not to say their minds don’t wander. The monastic days that I’m familiar with contain at least four communal prayer services precisely because monks know they need a lot of reminding.
They know they’re likely to get annoyed with the guy in the next cell because of the way he gargles or his ridiculous opinions about the way the church should be run, and they’ve accepted that those irritations only pull them away from their center. They’ve chosen what’s important to them and structured their lives around it in a way that takes their humanity into account.
The result is this amazing capacity for love. Love for each other, love for their visitors, love that flows out and fills the chapel and the entire valley.
I think we could all do this if we chose what was important to us and mustered up enough dedication to build a way of life around whatever we chose. It helps to have a few people around who will hold you to it.