My name is David and I’m a plug-a-holic.
I must admit I have a hard time unplugging from the modern world.
A few weeks ago, I went to St. Meinrad Archabbey in the rolling hills of southern Indiana.
The Catholic monastery, about six hours from Toledo, is set deep in the heart of nowhere. The town of St. Meinrad (population 850) has just two retail outlets -- an appliance store and an appliance-slash-furniture store.
If you want to buy groceries or dine at a restaurant you’ll have to drive to Jasper, Ferdinand or Santa Claus.
And don’t forget to fill up your gas tank at the Possum Junction general store. You might not have another chance for a while.
St. Meinrad Archabbey is one of the most peaceful, restful and reverent places I’ve ever been, where spiritual people of all traditions – not just Catholics – are welcome.
This time I sought to heed the advice of Archabbot Justin DuVall, a Toledo native who heads the Benedictine community, to come for a visit and leave my notebook behind.
I set two goals for this trip:
1. Unplug for a few days from my typically wired, hectic, I-need-more-than-24-hours-in-a-day pace of life.
2. Spend time with my friend, Brother Francis de Sales Wagner.
I didn’t do as well as I hoped on No. 1, but I did enjoy some great conversation and laughter over meals and while walking the campus with Brother Francis.
An intelligent, learned, spiritual and funny person, Brother Francis quit his job at a daily newspaper six years ago, sold his home in Maumee and became a novice monk at St. Meinrad.
Two years ago, he professed his final vows of obedience, stability, and fidelity to the monastic way of life.
Brother Francis can carry on a conversation about Scripture, modern media, the Desert Fathers, the meaning of life, or the adventures of canines and the Cincinnati Reds.
He and the other 87 monks of St. Meinrad do not take vows of silence, as people often ask.
They do, however, honor and respect silence – a rare find in today’s head-pounding world -- and refrain from unnecessary conversation between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
The rest of the day, however, while outside of the walls of the church, monks have much to say. The ones I have met are deeply spiritual, obviously, but they also are highly educated, interested in world events, and incredibly hospitable.
On a previous visit, for example, two monks with whom we were dining began a fascinating conversation about the possible demise of print media. They debated whether an iPad that is used to read the Bible could be consecrated as a sacred object, since, with the touch of the screen, it could be used for something profane. (That scenario may require an official church ruling someday if, God forbid, paper books become obsolete.)
While monastic communities may vary in their practices, the monks of St. Meinrad read e-mail, use the internet, and watch TV (mostly the news) in common areas. A few monks have their own Facebook accounts. They can leave the monastery on occasion, and their family can visit any time.
Some hold outside jobs as seminary professors, psychologists, pastors, chaplains, artists, etc. Brother Francis, in addition to pursuing his studies and leading retreats, works at the monastery’s world-famous Abbey Press.
But prayer, above all else, is the focus of the monks’ daily lives.
Five times a day, they put everything else on hold and gather in the choir stalls of St. Meinrad Archabbey Church.
Morning prayer starts at 5:30 a.m., Mass is at 7:30 a.m., followed by Noon Prayer, Vespers at 5 p.m., and Compline at 7 p.m. Services last from 15 minutes to an hour. (Sunday's schedule is slightly different.)
Monks also spend 30 minutes each morning and afternoon in lectio divina -- reading inspirational or sacred texts.
The mission of a monastery is “to clear out an open space for God,” Brother Francis said, citing the writings of Dominican friar Timothy Radcliffe.
It’s hard to clear space for anything, let alone the Lord, while we are racing through our daily routines, juggling a travel mug full of coffee in one hand and a smart phone in the other.
A group of retreatants at St. Meinrad once told me that it takes several days to unwind from our routines and get into the rhythms of the monastery.
Despite attending all the prayer services I could, avoiding TV and other distractions, and spending much time in quiet reflection, I felt as if I was just getting ready to unplug and unwind when my three-day, two-night visit came to an end.
But I left rejuvenated, with a renewed respect for peace and quiet and a determination to pursue reverence in the midst of my daily whirlwind.
And to plan a longer visit next time I head to St. Meinrad.