I used to go on weekend trips to Mount Angel Abbey in Oregon often while attending Protestant seminary. I was dating a Catholic at the time, (I’d go on to marry him) that along with the clarity I was receiving at Mass made me consider converting. So I started visiting the Abbey.
It’s been a long time since those weekends. I am a Catholic now, married with two kids. I decided it was time to return and spend the weekend working on a big writing project. This time I book a weekend with the Benedictine Monks at St Martin’s Abbey in Lacey Washington. It is connected but no longer associated with the University here. Benedictines, follow the order of St Benedict and have a core value of hospitality. All over the world, this order offers rooms to those who need a place to stay or go. An internet search let me know that at one point this Abbey had 100 monks. Today it’s numbers are in the mid-20s, most of which are in their 60’s or older but there were a handful around my age or younger.
The first thing you notice is just how quiet is it. You become self-conscience, aware how loud every thud of your foot hitting the pavement. You are an elephant in a monastery. You take smaller, quieter steps reminding yourself you are not in a rush.
There is a bridge to the 2nd floor of the building which sits up against a hill. The 2 floor is where the guest rooms are located. The first floor hosts a counseling center. I enter using my key and notice a small lounge on the left with tea and coffee service set up and an office on my right. I walk down to the room number I was given #35-St Edmund, the Anglo King martyred by the Vikings for refusing to denounce Christ in the late 800’s. I just finished watching the series The Last Kingdom, depicting this period with my husband, so this is perfect.
My name is on the door and I open to a clean, simple, comfortable room with two twin beds, a small desk, a comfortable chair and a sink. Two bathrooms with showers are down the hall are to be shared with the entire floor of 10 guest rooms, yet I am the only one in the entire building the whole weekend.
The schedule for prayers, mass and meals are posted in your room. A bell will sound 5 minutes before each one to remind you if you’d like to join. You don’t have to but I do. My host monk, Brother Bede is waiting for me when I enter the church and shows me how to use the prayer books. As the bell tolls monks start entering the church, slowly, unhurried in their long black robes. It is otherworldly, sacred, the closest we have to a Holy of Holies. I feel honored to be there. Each prayer is 15-30 minutes. The longer ones right before meals times. Each include praying through psalms and the longer ones include a song and a read reflection.
You may take care of your own meals or eat with the monks. Breakfast was a silent meal. The only sound was that of forks clanking and morning sniffles. Other meals were lively with lots of chatter. I so enjoyed the silly banter of some of the younger monks I was sitting with.
“I am very particular about meatloaf”
“Why do they always wrap bacon around meatloaf?”
“Why wouldn’t they?”
“I prefer the Franciscan meatloaf”
“Ugh! Brother ___ always has to make things theological!”
“I can’t eat meatloaf after having cows as friends”
“You know cow eyeballs are huge”
“Larger than a golf ball?”
“Oh yes, definitely larger than a golf ball”
I felt like taking a picture and putting it in US Magazine. “Monks are just like us!”
I’ll be back.
To see more pictures from the trip click here