The Episcopal monastery of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist is not on a remote mountaintop but in the heart of Cambridge, Massachusetts, home to Harvard and M.I.T. – hardly a tranquil haven from the world. Which is exactly the point.
Originally founded with a social justice ethic to serve a working class Cambridge, today the monastery meets different needs of a different constituency: those who are, as the order’s superior states, “ambitious and intellectual, enmeshed in the material world, yet craving some way of detaching long enough from the cosmopolitan cacophony to hear the whisper of God.”
He goes on to reflect: “People are drowning in words and drowning in information. Words are bombarding us from every side — to buy things, to believe things, to subscribe to things. We are trying to build a place to be still and silent. So many voices around us are shouting. God tends not to shout.”
Graduate students and harried professionals come to the monastery on short visits for contemplation, silence, worship, and even confessional meetings with the monks.
“Many of the college students who come here are trying to make sense of the disconnect they feel between what they study and what their inner life is — their prayer, if they have one,” Brother Hackett said. “They sense this is a safe place for ambiguity. There’s room for the mystery. There’s room for the unquantifiable. There’s room for transcendence.”
In schools, summer is also intended as a time for reflection, contemplation, and distance from the cacophony of school life. A time to get away, reflect and take distance; to re-connect with parts of ourselves that lay fallow or untended during the school year; to renew and refresh. Summer is, in some way, the “monastic moment” of the school year.
But, like the world at large, life for educators is busier and more frenetic than ever – and so is summer.
So if you are reading this from your office (as am I as I write!), be sure to take time to create a Saint John’s monastery of your own this summer: especially school heads and rectors, administrators and staff who are working “year round,” and teachers who are leading the summer camp, teaching in summer school, or taking on other work to make ends meet.
And as we make final preparations for the new school year ahead, can we create and defend moments and experiences for students and adults alike that allow summer’s reflection and contemplation to carry into the school year, that detach us from the cacophony of school life and allow us once more “hear the whisper of God.”
We all need monastic moments.