Of all my cloistered retreats, one was particularly fruitful - which could have been surprising given the circumstances. The monastery was not in mountains or meadow, but situated right in the middle of a bustling city. That was okay with me. There was a lush cloister garden, and it was separated from the streets by high walls. My plan was to sit with Bible and journal and gather together scattered threads of thoughts and prayers. The sounds of traffic around? No problem. I looked upon those as bits of minor background noise. I would spend the day with God, in peace. An ideal set up for serenity.
That is, until the band.
From a campus nearby, there were sudden sounds of an outdoor concert. A LOUD outdoor concert. I sat in the garden surrounded by trees, holy statues, birds, and THUD THUD THUD THUD THUD. Perhaps it would have been less unsettling if I could have heard ALL of the music; as it was, I only heard the thuds. Thud thud thuds out of context, setting my nerves on end. Suddenly, ordinary street sounds began to unsettle me. How long had there been planes flying overhead, one after another, and so close-by? The city seemed filled with sirens. Voices shouted, just outside the enclosure walls. Hmmpppf, thought I. However could I pray?
And then it was time for Midday Prayer. A bell rang, the Sisters gathered. As a retreatant, I joined them. We began the chant. One Sister quietly closed shutters to hush metallic thuds. That didn’t help, but the nuns sang on undaunted. “O Lord, open my lips”THUDTHUDTHUD“and my mouth shall proc” THRUMP THUDTHUMPTHUD “…laim your praise…”
I was suddenly struck by the incongruity of it all. Sirens, traffic, shouting, planes, THUDs, chant.
But more than that: I was astonished by beauty. By the intense, amazing beauty I was witnessing all around. One Sister said, just before I left, that she was sorry I’d been there at such a noisy time. Oh no, I assured her; I had been there at the perfect time.
I had seen the analogy of “the cloistered heart” in a whole new way, not in spite of the noises, but because of them. No matter what went on outside, the nuns were there to praise God, and they would do it undaunted.
Probably the Sisters didn’t “feel” very prayerful as they chanted praises they could barely hear, but they were singing to Another, and He could hear them.
Surely there are days when any one of them doesn’t “feel prayerful,” but she comes at the sound of the bell and she praises God. Why? Because He deserves it. He deserves praise and worship with the whole of one’s being.
No matter the noises, no matter the weather, no matter the situations around any of us, God is worthy of praise. Period.
God is present, and He is worthy of praise. Period.
(this is a slightly edited version of a post from this blog's archives)