Some days you do things that you will remember for a long time. Not that they are so spectacular or special, but simply because you get to do something you normally don’t do. Today was such a day. Already planned for a while, but now it finally happened. A visit to the St. Willibrordsabbey. More specifically, one of the few abbeys in the Netherlands that still have an active community of monks that follow the order of Benedict of Nursia.
Confessio et Pulchritudo
Confession and beauty. It’s the motto you see when you open the website of the brothers, however I never really noticed it until now. I think it is because of the personal explanation that brother Henry Vesseur, who is the abbot of this particular community. He received us after the service to talk to ask. We could ask him questions and talk to him about what it means to live in a monastery in the twenty-first century. Sunset, the prayer around sunset. The silence, the order, the meditation. Somehow it gets me and intrigues me.
The abbot spoke about making radical choices. His way of living is drastically different from the way everyone else lives. There is no such thing as personal possession, because everything belongs to the community. There is no such thing as a career, because decisions are made all together and there is no voice more important. There is not such thing as marriage, because your commitment is solely to seek God above all.
Of course, this life style, which is more than 1500 years old, can be criticised. It might be too exclusive, even though the door is always open for guests. It might be too selfish, because you are hiding away behind a wall of brick, even though it is experienced as a place of refuge and healing by many. It might be considered unhealthy not to engage in a sexual relationship, however the level of intimacy with God and the community is something that many people in relationships might envy. The abbot spoke to the question if life in- and outside the abbey haven’t become too different from each other. He said that even though there is a very large gap, this life still gives him a joy that in no other way could be fulfilled. People in this day and age might loose interest in the church as an institution, but still hunger for relationship, community and spirituality. The study of God, the theology, which plays a central role in the daily life of these 13 men, wouldn’t be valuable without the mystical and spiritual dimension that is hard to express in words.
Confessio et pulchritudo. Confession and beauty.
I asked him how we can take a little bit of that monastic life home with us, while we are seeking God in our every day life with Facebook, studying and beer. He simply answered with referring to the ancient old rule of Benedict: pray with discipline. Make it a habit to study to Word of God and then let it carry you through the day like breathing does. Take your church home and create a space which is for you to silence yourself and just simple are in the presence of God.
I don’t think you need the walls of an abbey that was built with the remains of bridges bombed in World War II. Yet it does symbolise that whatever is destroyed in times of war, can be rebuild with peace. I am sure this abbey will remain standing as a beacon of stability and safety for years and years to come. I hope that men and women will be brave enough to take a step in faith and decide to radically change their lives inspired by these brothers. Whether it be inside or outside the walls of the abbey.
Today’s picture isn’t my own. It was too dark. I found this one somewhere on Google. So credits belong to however who took the picture.