A Monastic Life Experience: Steve Fawver
By Steve Fawver
What gifts this community has given to me — gifts that will continue to emerge and grow for the rest of my days. I have been a pastor at Newberg Friends (Quaker) Church for 25 years, and over those years I have driven out to Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey almost every week for some time of prayer and meditation. When I was considering a plan for my four-month sabbatical there was no doubt that I wanted to spend the first month with this community. What a privilege it was for me to join the brothers for the first 30 days of my sabbatical as a participant in a Monastic Life Retreat (MLR). Little did I know that they would offer me so many gifts during my stay with them.
The gift of embrace. One might wonder what it would be like as a Quaker to step into a Catholic community. I simply and deeply felt embraced. Never did I feel like my faith experience was lesser or “other,” but centering on Christ brought us into a freedom that was powerful and beautiful. As I talked with Father Francis we considered the different expressions we each have and yet also the similar love of Christ that reaches out to us both. He said, “It seems like at the heart we have much in common.” Yes, I was offered the gift of embrace.
The gift of deep silence. Even as I write, it may seem fairly obvious that spending time with the monks would create space for silence, but this gift was more rich, deep, powerful, life-altering, and challenging than I expected. To be in a space where I was lovingly invited into silence provided fertile ground from which the seeds of God’s presence and Spirit grew and deepened. At times it was challenging to embrace the silence. At times my inner being craved the noise I had become so accustomed to in everyday life and yet the rhythm of prayer, meditation, community work, and shared life gave me the safety to let go, stop striving, and open my hands and heart to the Spirit. Silence flowed gently and freely over and through me like a cleansing flood.
The gift of laughter and celebration. These monks know how to live into the joy of the Lord. On my first Sunday I felt a bit anxious about Mass as I joined the other brothers up front, still trying to get acclimated as to when to bow, use the sign of the cross, sing, pray out loud, or sit silently. Although I knew it was worship and that I wasn’t performing, I still felt a bit unsure. I prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, I offer you myself, help me to rest in you….” God has a beautiful sense of humor. Without missing a beat, God sent Brother Brian (who just moved to this Abbey from Ireland a few years ago) to help ease my soul. When he came and sat down he leaned over and whispered, “Steve, just so you know, we start Sunday Mass with a little liturgical dance, and you get to go first.” The twinkle in his eye and the joy in his voice (mixed with his deep Irish accent) brought a moment of quiet laughter to us both and a settling of my heart. The joy of the Lord is strong in this community. I was able to celebrate the Paschal season, and it was a gift to fully celebrate the risen Christ and not quickly move on to some other focus as I so often experience in Protestant settings. Christ is here and worthy of celebration!
The gift of a deepening awareness of God. Rubbing shoulders, spreading bark-dust, eating meals, and worshiping with the brothers created many opportunities for me to not just “hear about God” but to be invited to experience God with my whole being. Daily Lectio Divina came to life as I was ushered into palpable encounters with the living God. I found myself with a growing desire to be aware of God and grateful to God:
… with every breath
… in every moment
… in every experience
… for every person
… in every day
I have continued to be challenged to ask the question, “How can I live in a way that expresses gratitude at all times as I notice God’s presence and love?”
The gift of the power of prayer. My home is about ten minutes down the valley from the Abbey. As I was on my MLR I found myself visualizing the prayers of these men flowing over the hill and down into our community of Newberg, the prayers moving across this area and spreading all around the world. I wonder how often these men have been carrying me as they pray and praise God all day long. As the morning song says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised. Glory be to the Father and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” This song and these prayers are not confined to the walls of the chapel or the beauty of the Abbey grounds but spill out into our area and splash out into all the ends of the earth. The gift of prayer is continual and it brings life and love to so many.
The gift of humility. To close, I would like to say thank you to this community for being living expressions of humility and for the willingness to serve the needs of others. Reading about the monastic way over the years, I recognize that humility is often one of the attributes regarded as central to the monk’s life. While I don’t know how it is in other communities, I do know that this was a gift given to me by these brothers. A simple example was in Brother Scott. I had the wonderful opportunity to stand next to him in choir, and he was very helpful in navigating the maze of different prayer books, liturgical patterns, and even when to stand, kneel, and sit. For the first week or so I relied heavily on his cues as to when to turn the pages of the different books in front of us. Midway through week two I realized that during Compline (evening prayer) Brother Scott was no longer turning pages. Then it hit me … since Compline is the same pattern every other week he has the songs, scriptures, prayers, and meditations memorized. But that wasn’t the most profound thing for me. What spoke deeply was the simple and humble gift he had given me by showing me the way for the first week as I fumbled along. He never said, “I will turn my pages for you, Steve, even though I really don’t need to; I have this all memorized and can do it by heart, but I will do it for you….” But instead, he simply humbled himself and honored me by this simple task. It might sound trite, but the gift he gave was deeply moving and represents the heart of these new friends. They give, serve, and love without fanfare or accolades. What a gift!