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Every other January since she came to teach at Central, President Molly T. Marshall has taken a group of Central students to Conception Abbey, the Benedictine Monastery in northwest Missouri, for a weeklong immersion experience in the liturgical rhythms of Benedictine Spirituality. Having gained an appreciation for the practices of a Benedictine community during sabbatical and other personal retreat times herself, she sees the value of introducing the Benedictine way of practicing silence, lectio divina (prayerful reading of scripture), daily prayer, and community building for the formation of Central learners. Participants pray with and learn from the monks, meet the Abbot, learn the history of St. Benedict and his Rule, practice the disciplines of Benedictine spirituality, and have personal instruction with Central’s President. The goal of this week of study and prayer will be for these learners to gain an understanding of how similar practices might deepen their own spiritual journey and ministries. It also cultivates an appreciation for another branch of the body of Christ
Each year the group begins by checking in at the Guest Center (St. Raphael’s Hall), a lovely new facility that includes the Abbey’s book and gift shop. The monk on duty distributes keys and gives directions to St. Gabriel’s Hall where they settle into their rooms. Soon they will trek across the campus to the Basilica for the Opus Dei, the work of God in prayer. Brother Cyprian, Abbey Guestmaster, greets them at the door and guides them to the shelves of service books for the prayer time, walks them through the service – how to find the right page to begin, instructions about singing (not too loud so it doesn’t throw off the monks with the echo), when to stand, how to return the books to the shelves at the end. Learners begin to get a sense of Benedictine hospitality at the very beginning of their time at the Abbey.
The course occurs during the season of Epiphany, and the scriptures read during the prayer times throughout the week tell of the early life and baptism of Jesus. As the monks like to say: “We are just getting a good start on Christmas!” The Basilica is adorned with the season’s greenery, lights, and ribbons, as well as a lovely large crèche near the entrance.
After chanting the Psalms with the community, it is time for the evening meal, and Brother Cyprian accompanies the group to the dining hall – the other brothers will eat together in their own refectory – and again guides the guests through the line and to the tables for a hearty meal and lively conversation. One can expect to gain about 5 pounds with all the great food served.
Gracious hospitality, an integral component of Benedictine Spirituality, permeates the experience of the week of study and prayer. Students, who gather from several of Central’s campuses (and other interested learners who want to deepen their spiritual life as auditors) to take the class the first week of January this year, will develop their own Rule to sustain their spiritual formation upon their return home. Having been immersed in Benedictine hospitality, they will likely continue the practice with a greater sense of intentionality. As they reflect on their experience at the Abbey and as they encounter others along their life’s journey, they are likely to hear the echo of the words of Saint Benedict, “All are to be welcomed as Christ.”