I’ve spent time in three Trappist monasteries—the order made famous by Thomas Merton and known for its commitment to silence. Actually, I’ve found that the monks are rather eager to talk. They are commanded in the Rule of St. Benedict, the guidebook for all western monasticism, to “receive every guest as Christ.” Or, to use Kathleen Norris’ paraphrase in Cloister Walk, they are formed to think: “Hot damn, it’s Jesus again!”

I’ve felt that sort of generosity during my visits. One monk prepares a guestroom for me. Another toddles out of his choir stall to open my worship book to the right page. Another cooks the food, another cleans. Another finds work for me to do so I can participate fully in the monastic practice of ora et labora, prayer and work.


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