The following is an editorial I wrote that will appear in the local paper tomorrow. -The Archer
"Things You Can Learn From Monks."
I was saddened earlier in the week when I learned that Blue Cloud Abbey, the Benedictine Monastery and Retreat Center in Marvin, South Dakota, had announced that is was closing due to a lack of vocations. Blue Cloud Abbey is a truly neat place to which I often go for retreats if I ever felt like I needed to recharge my batteries. Many people think of monks and monasteries as being very austere and joyless places. While some monastic communities are like that, what endeared me so much to that place is the joy and humor that I always felt emanating from the residents of that community.
On my first visit to Blue Cloud Abbey some years ago, I was out wandering the magnificent grounds there. I came upon one of their very large ponds. Being a retreat center, they had a canoe and a kayak on the shore for visitors and retreatants to use. Having used a canoe many times in my youth, I thought I would expand my horizons and attempt to use the kayak, having never used one. It was fine September day, and the water was calm. What's the worst that could happen, right?
After fitting myself into the kayak, off I tried to paddle into the pond. I think I must have gotten about twenty feet off shore when I suddenly realized that using a kayak was a substantially different balancing act than is canoeing. I began wobbling and over I went into the cold water with a resounding splash. Luckily, the pond is relatively shallow, so I managed to wiggle my way out of the kayak and simply stand up, albeit soaking wet. A monk who had been in ear shot came running to check on me because of my floundering commotion. After assuring him I was fine, I gathered up what was left of my pond soaked dignity and dripped my way back to my room in the retreat center.
As is common in all small communities, religious or otherwise, news of the humorous variety travels fast. I had a parade of the brothers coming to check on me throughout the afternoon to make sure I had survived my ordeal. After dinner, I had returned to my room to find on the desk a book left for me by one of the brothers. The book was the Rule of Saint Benedict, the original rule of life that guides Benedictine monks to this day. The book was carefully and meticulously opened to the chapter entitled, "On Humility." Needless to say, I had a good laugh over that bit of humorously applied monastic wisdom.
Saint Benedict himself taught that "the second degree of humility is that a person love not his own will nor take pleasure in satisfying his desires, but model his actions on the saying of the Lord, 'I have come not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me' (John 6:38)." The closing of Blue Cloud Abbey, though a sad loss to the whole South Dakota community, is just such a practical lesson in humility in that there is dignity in admitting that a person or community can simply not go on forever. So many communities and individuals cling perpetually to the memory of the good old days, never leaving room for the new directions, ministries, or blessings that God might be calling us to explore. We have to, in sincere humility, acknowledge that only God is eternal.