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The monks are praying Lauds, (morning prayer), a little after 6:30 a.m., and with some gusto are singing: “Your deeds, O Lord, have made me glad; for the work of your hands I shout for joy!” O.k., Brother Simeon is not just singing loud – he is shouting. The man is shouting. We are supposed to be praying the psalms.
The monastic community at New Melleray Abbey and the world wake up together . . .but we don't wake up the same way. You know when the world has awakened – you hear cars. For a while, in the early morning darkness, Monastery Road is silent. There is not a sound of a traveler except the occasional gusting wind. Then, around 4:00 a.m.
It is 6:30 in the morning and Morning Prayer is about to begin. Actually, it has already begun – the initial offering of myself to God in prayer began the moment I entered the South door of the chapel, dipped my finger in the holy water font, crossed myself and bowed to the Lord, present in the Blessed Sacrament behind the altar. I bow, straighten myself, do an about-face . . .
Just before Morning Prayer begins at 6:30 a.m., monks are entering the chapel one by one through the wide door at it's East end near the steps leading up to the high altar. Our liturgical behavior as Trappists reflects the “Cistercian Rite” employed at mass and some of its provisions effect our behavior outside of mass. Trappists do not genuflect. We bow.
At 6:25 a.m., the tower bell rings out its call to prayer with a brightness that I relish each morning. The sun is up and joins in the jubilant song intoned by the bell. They are singing the same song, harmonizing; complimenting one another as I emerge from the second floor on to the back stairwell and draw into my lungs a fresh draught of crisp morning air.
Something squeaks: it is the sliding of a metal door, then – a thud as it closes on the steamy interior of the machine; a groan of metal parts are set in motion, followed by a hissing sound. It is the end of the Great Silence at New Melleray Abbey. At 6:20 a.m. the monk's observance of night silence is coming to its inevitable conclusion.
At last – I am with Him. At about 6:00 a.m. I am seated in my reading chair, with the scriptures open in my lap as on every other morning at this time. Every object in the room looks just as it did yesterday – and the day before that, and yet I am ravished by awareness of the startling newness and specialness of every created thing at this moment.
It is 6:00 a.m., that time of morning a monk devotes to the practice of “Lectio Divina”, (divine reading), and I feel as if I were entering a moment outside of time. The monastery is especially quiet now. All the monks, having prayed Vigils together and had a bite to eat, are settling down for the long early morning “interval” before Morning Prayer at 6:30.
“Teacher – we know you are a man of integrity . . .” I am seated now in my reading chair. The clock says 5:35 a.m. Through the open window behind me come sounds of a day just stirring to life, but these sounds do not distract me from a living Word that is drawing me inward and closer to Truth.
At a little after 5:00 a.m. each day I arrive in my study on the second floor of the monastery. This is where I do my meditative reading, the exercise monks call “lectio divina”, or divine reading. There is a commotion outside: gusting winds creating a clamor among the rich green Spring foliage outside my window.