To be a founding member of a small monastic community such as we are at Holy Trinity Monastery, East Hendred, is not for the faint-hearted. It is, however, a wonderful opportunity, given to very few, to discover anew the freshness and power of St Benedict’s teaching. We have to live without the grand buildings and exquisite liturgies of older-established communities; we lack the financial security and numbers they often enjoy; but against that, we can experience a little more fully, a little more directly, what it means to live every day by the mercy of God, to be converted anew every day.
Of course, we have to work hard to make ends meet, but there is such zest about everything. My favourite time is early morning before Vigils (said at 6AM) when all is dark and silent. That is when prayer comes most naturally. That is not to say it is easy or consoling (Benedictines, by and large, especially English Benedictines, are rather chary of “consolations” : the one big no-no in community life is writing one’s spiritual autobiography) but without that half-hour or so spent on one’s knees, and the hour of reading that follows, the whole day would be out of sorts. Grappling with the work of our design company or the audio books we make for the visually impaired would become burdensome, to say nothing of the difficulty of always being ready to welcome people to the monastery.
Benedict saw Christ in everyone and wanted his disciples to do the same, but especially in guests. We do not get many poor people at the door, but spiritual poverty is widespread. It is our duty, as it is our joy, to try to meet the spiritual needs of all who come. This makes huge demands on community energy and time, and although the “apostolate of the internet” is not mentioned in the Rule of St Benedict, our web site visitors have become another major call on us.
Throughout the day the various liturgical Offices or services said or sung in common, in Latin or English, provide a sustaining rhythm and backdrop to all our activity, while afternoon or evening provide a further opportunity for private prayer. We grow our own vegetables, do our own repairs and generally live a much simpler life than many are able to do. This simplicity carries with it a weight of responsibility, however. There is the duty of prayer; there is also the duty of learning or scholarship. Monasteries today need to be resource centres for the rest of the Church, places where people can obtain rest and refreshment, certainly, but also places where they can be challenged to think about Faith and explore its demands. We are less engaged with inter-Faith dialogue than we once were because we are small, but monasticism is found in most of the world’s major religions and offers shared insights which may, ultimately, prove to be a way towards the “healing of the nations”. Perhaps the fact that we are always becoming, that every day we begin again, is the most important of all.