One mile south of Georgia O’Keefe’s beloved Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, thirteen miles down a cliff-hugging dirt road in the heart of Chama Canyon, you will find Christ In The Desert. The Benedictine Monastery is cloister to about twenty monks.
I’d fantasized about retreating to the remote monastery for about fifteen years. And when I finally made the white-knuckling drive to the end of the long road and saw that adobe-anchored cross kissing the sky, I felt… Home.
The peace. The humility. The sheer devotion. Getting to Christ In The Desert was a pilgrimage that my cells thirsted for. It’s worth mentioning here that I considered being a nun when I was about six years old. Then I learned what celibacy was and heard that there was a lot of cleaning involved in convent life, and I asked Jesus for his forgiveness because I just knew I wasn’t going to make the cut. I decided I wanted my own variety show, like Cher. Religion, cabaret… it’s all a kind of intense theater of passion.
I arrived just in time for prayer. The monks sing their prayers.
Glorious Gregorian chants echoed against the baked clay walls. My heart swelled. Tho’ the heavy sin-trip of the Psalm wasn’t lost on me, I was swept away by the beauty of it all. And I so needed to be swept away.
When the chants concluded and the monks filed out behind the tabernacle, I was able to be alone in the chapel for a long, sweet time. I thought about hope–which I have a very cantankerous relationship with. And I thought about priorities of the most divine kind. My priorities have been bumping against each other for a while now–clanking around and grinding down my heart. The focus of my trip was to put my so called priorities on the altar. Smash few. Polish some. Reorganize them to sync with my soul.
“Above all, prayer holds the first place in the monk’s day and nothing must be preferred to this activity. Prayer involves coming into contact with divine life, in openness to the mystery of love which is written in our hearts.” The monks are encouraged to stop their chores if they feel inspired to pray. The passion to pray comes before work and all other tasks. The Brothers pray seven times in day in collective chanting and in solitude. Seven times a day.
So many mornings I have chosen email over meditation. I let deadlines rank over a stretch or a cuddle or a glass of water swallowed slowly and appreciated. I override the call to feel myself–the call to pray, or meditate, or be fully awake. Prayer comes in all forms and each one spoken brings grace to the day.
Thank you. Yes. Have mercy. Keep them safe. How lovely. Courage, please. I love you.
Our hearts are the altars. Our days, when lived awake, are another chance to know the joys of what matters most.
Attend first to the divine and the work at hand becomes art.
Tune in tomorrow for Part II of my monastery adventures…