Thomas McKenzie
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Monastery Retreat, Post Five: Weeds

Last week, I was on retreat at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in northern New Mexico. While there, guests can not contact the outside world through any normal means. Therefore, one does not blog from the Monastery. However, I did take along my handy AlphaSmart NEO and did write several posts. I will be uploading these posts over the next several days in order to let you in on my retreat.

It is now my third day at the monastery. My days consist of services in the chapel, meals in silence in the refectory, long walks in the desert, and much prayer and reading.

I have been reading Brennan Manning's book "the Signature of Jesus." Every year I ask the Lord to show me a book through which he might speak to me, and many times Brennan Manning's books come with me. This one is like many of his others, spotty and rambling. But filled with deep insight and helpful in-my-face reminders of the love of Christ and the hard road of discipleship.

Today I awoke on my own at 5:20 am. Stirring so early probably has something to do with going to bed around 10 pm. There is really nothing to do here once the sun sets, and I am exhausted by the end of the day.

Getting up that early meant I made it to Lauds (the second service of the day), followed immediately by Mass. There are few moments of worship more beautiful than the Abbot standing near me, leading a quartet in a Latin chant to the Lord. And there are few moments of worship more irritating then watching Eucharist happen and knowing I am not invited. Watching only priests receive bread and wine while everyone else takes only the bread is also highly annoying. Oh well, comes with the territory.

Today I worked. Working is requested of all guests, and lasts about 4 hours. I presented myself with one other man, a deaconal candidate from a Catholic congregation named Pat. You never know what you will get with "work." My favorite is to mind the giftshop, which means I can browse and read. Today, though, I got my nightmare assignment. Not sweeping, moving things, cooking, or cleaning. Those would have been fine. No, I got weeding.

I hate weeding. And this was no ordinary weeding. There is a large cloister garden in which the monks have sown wildflowers. Well, now the place has been taken over by one particular flowering weed that they don't want. So, Pat and I were sent to remove these intruders. And there were tons of them. And we had to do it without stepping on all the good flowers that were trying to come up. It was back breaking.

I got to know Pat, which was nice. He is a retired electrical lineman, and is about to be made deacon. The father of three grown to almost grown boys, he is a native of this area. The only thing I didn't like about Pat is that he grew up, and still lives on, a farm. Therefore, he was twice as good at this weeding thing. His stacks of weeds kept dwarfing mine. I will say this for him, at some point he started just putting all the piles together. Perhaps he did it out of a sense of order, but I'm going to believe he was trying not to shame me.

I worked this morning instead of reading because a large part of Brennan Manning's word to me in this book has been about service. About looking outward and putting your faith into action. Early this morning, I read something like: "put down this book and go serve someone." So, I thought I had better comply.

Weeding was a good service for me. I prayed during it. I find it humbling, to the point of humiliating. My parents used to send me out to weed, and it was just about the worst thing I could imagine doing. That said, humility is an essential gift, one that I would prefer to choose for myself rather than have God press on me.

The great meal of the day happens after work. Boy was I ready for it. But I think I will talk about meals in the next post.