A gentle, smiling group gathers for simple fare at lunchtime. They have just completed noon prayers. Scriptures have been meditated upon, Psalms have been read and sung, and you have been prayed for. Yes you.
I've made it a habit to spend some time away with cloistered communities throughout my sojourn. I've visited them in deserts, mountains, in the sweltering south and in the Midwest. Each time, whether a community of nuns or priests, I find myself surrounded by welcome and peace. My spirit is invited to rest and pray.
In my book, The Runaway Pastor, the lead character visits a Catholic monastery for a time of prayer and reflection. The reason I chose not to mention a protestant one? I don't know of any. We don't have a similar long-standing monastic tradition. I encourage people of my congregation to go to such Catholic retreat facilities because there is no comparable place to go and pray within my tradition.
I've had a few critiques about this. "There are protestant campgrounds and retreat sites that welcome people to go on retreats," they say. "Why not go there?" And they are right, these places exist. But they are not the same. What one experiences in these cloistered communities I speak of is an atmosphere which has known continuous praying for the world and singing of the Psalms throughout the cycle of hours, days, weeks, months, years, decades and sometimes centuries or more. Prayer isn't retreated to for these people. It is their atmosphere...the air they breathe. This is the kind of holy place they share with us.
Yesterday for only two hours, I sat, shared stories, prayed and ate lunch with a Catholic sister whom I've known for twenty four years. Today is her eightieth birthday. Sixty seven of her years have been spent in community praying daily. And while she ventured out to teach school, serve in soup kitchens, jails, homeless shelters or as a speaker in retreat settings for literally thousands over the years; this sister has operated out of the strength drawn from roots deep in prayer and scripture--deep in God's presence. And yesterday, I enjoyed that place of peace and strength, and began a few days of vacation with prayer as my starting place.
You may not be aware of these places around you. Such communities are in countrysides and cities. And the people who find their home there work hard like you and I do. But they also have espoused themselves to prayer in community. And when they pray, they pray for you and your world. I would not want to see the world without such leaven.