“If there are artisans in the monastery, they are to practice their craft with all humility, but only with the permission of the abbot” (Rule of St. Benedict, Ch. 57).
Last week, I spent an extraordinary week at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. This Benedictine community on the banks of the Hudson River was the location of a Classical Guitar Master Class with guitarist Jason Vieaux, of the Cleveland Institute of Music. I was one of eight guitarists and the juxtaposition of praying the daily offices, with periods of intentional silence as well as guitar pedagogy, created an experience I could not have imagined or hoped for. Had there been just the slightest bit more encouragement, I would have presented myself to the abbot for admission to the novitiate. But I am a man of prior vows!
It’s difficult to describe my experience at the Monastery in any other words than, “life changing.” I have long been steeped in the core values of the Rule of St. Benedict (e.g. community, prayer, silence, hospitality, formation, mission), but there is no substitute for living the Benedictine rhythm in community with others. Add to this, the opportunity to “practice one’s craft with all humility” as Benedict puts it, six or more hours per day with an inspiring musician like Jason Vieaux, and it becomes difficult not to believe that earth at times is overlapped with heaven.
During my time on sabbatical, I have been exploring how music and the creative arts can serve as a regular part of our spiritual practice, and the classical guitar has been a specific focus for me during this period of rest and renewal. When I explained this exploration to one of the brothers, he smiled and said, “one can pray with their hands as well as their heart.” Imagine that training the flexor and extensor muscles associated with the right and left hand to produce a clear and warm musical tone can be considered an act of prayer!
That has certainly been my experience recently, summed up in Benedict’s rule as “ora et labora” (pray and work), though I suppose for my purposes it might be adapted as “ora et excerceo” (pray and practice). What creative gifts or artistic resources might serve as an act of prayer for you?
If you would like to explore more about Holy Cross or Jason Vieaux, here are a few helpful links: