4:50 am. I wake up as usual, a little before the rising bell. My body clock has its own alarm, but that doesn’t stop me feeling far from fresh. I always have to struggle in the mornings.
I take my jug down the dimly lit corridor to the hot water tap, to fetch water for washing and shaving. I then return to cell and washstand and basin.
Still not truly awake, I stumble down the main staircase and brave the sharp morning air of the cloister on my way to church. Another day has begun.
5:30 am. VIGILS The first service of the day breaks the silent darkness. “Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall announce your praise.” The psalms flow from side to side of choir, long psalms, telling the story of God’s chosen people, telling of the long centuries of watching, of vigil, before the dawning of God’s light, of his coming into a world darkened by ignorance, malice and sin.
6:20 am. A bowl of tea, and a piece of bread, butter and marmalade begins to introduce some life into my still sluggish body. And my mind is clearer by the minute.
7:00 am. LAUDS The second service of the day begins as the new born light breaks through the sanctuary windows, and sets the pink and orange bricks ablaze. Praise God, the Creator of Light! Praise Christ, the Son of God, who has risen, Victor over Satan, sin and death! In the words of the canticle, the loving-kindness of the heart of our God has visited us like the dawn from on high.
7:30 am. I return to cell for “lectio divina”, that basic monastic practice of reading the scriptures. I read the scriptures, or rather, I listen to them, trying to catch the voice of the Spirit, who is trying to get through to me, trying to tell me something of how he sees things, of how he wants me to respond to the Father.
I can’t hear much this morning, but never mind. Sooner or later, the word which is received in quietness will come alive. How often has the memory brought forth the living Word and offered encouragement, correction or a challenge.
“Lectio divina” flows naturally into prayer. Some prefer the church for personal prayer, but I stay in cell – there are fewer outward distractions. But that does not stop the distractions from within. Waves of thoughts come on, by turns funny and fantastic, foul and fascinating. But they bring me face to face with something of my own darkness and need for God. I try to put myself before him just as I am; He can cope with all that is within me, even if I cannot. And then deeper, much deeper than all this, I become aware of the roots of my being reaching out, seeking nourishment, seeking a source of stability in the midst of the turbulent void. Mysteriously, a certain confidence is born.
9:00 am. TERCE and MASS The third service of the day, consisting of three short psalms only, is joined with the Mass, the very heart of the monastic round. Who can grasp the mystery of Christ’s body and blood? We receive the signs, the tokens of his love for us, and we enter into the great mystery of his passion, death and resurrection, to be united with the very source of our salvation. And we go out to share his peace with all around us.
10:00 am. After Mass, the monastic day comes down to earth. Today I have been given the job of varnishing the teashop floor. The teashop is closed for the day, and I take the things I need across an empty tea garden on a beautiful, if cold, spring morning. I move the furniture outside, and sweep the floor, before throwing the windows open, and then rollering the sickly smelling varnish onto the pine boards. A robin hops in through the open door to see what is going on, but he doesn’t stay for long. Then an elderly couple arrive looking for a pot of tea. They didn’t see the closed sign, but they are very understanding, and in fact only too delighted for the opportunity to meet and talk with a monk. How extraordinary the monastic life seems from the outside, and yet how ordinary from within – just basic human activities, encompassed by faith and prayer.
1:00 pm. SEXT The fourth service of the day is very short: a hymn, three short psalms, a reading and a prayer. But we are reminded of the Creator when our own affairs are liable to be uppermost in our minds.
1:15 pm. DINNER We process from the church to the refectory, and after singing grace, we all sit down together. No voice but the reader’s is heard as we begin our soup. I’ve never had much difficulty in attending to both my food and the reading, especially if the book being read is an interesting one. Today, my mind picks up the story of Victorian ladies finding biblical manuscripts in Sinai, while my stomach busies itself with battered fish, chips and peas.
1:45 pm. After dinner we can relax a little as a community. It is true that the brethren are not always relaxing company; building community is ever one of life’s greater challenges. But mostly it is peaceful over a bowl of coffee, and today is no exception. Talk turns on Quarr Abbey’s drains and their problems, and soon one of the older brethren is happily asleep by the fire.
2:20 pm. NONE The fifth service of the day, like Sext, marks the passing hours, and recalls our minds and hearts to the Creator of time. He fills every moment with his watchful and loving presence. How watchful are we, and how loving?
2:30 pm. Back to work again. In the laundry this afternoon a small mountain of linen, from kitchen, guesthouse and monastic cells, awaits me. The washing machine and tumble drier are working continually, and I am kept busy ironing aprons, napkins and pillow cases. I like the laundry room – it is an isolated place where few people come, and has a little window overlooking the farmyard and workshops. As the ironing progresses, and I ruminate on the morning’s reading, my attention is caught by a sound from outside. I look over to where the two carpenters we employ are hard at work: a man and a young woman: he has worked at Quarr for many years now, while she has just returned from maternity leave and the birth of her first child.
4:30 pm. Afternoon work over, the community meets again, for tea. But the guestmaster has no sooner filled his bowl and taken his seat than he jumps up and runs off to receive an unexpected guest. However regular the monastic day may seem, the Spirit is always ready to unsettle us if we start getting too comfortable in our routines.
5:00 pm. VESPERS The sixth service of the day is an evening sacrifice of praise. We offer to God all we have received in the course of the day, and all we have done, or tried to do with his all-powerful help. “Let my prayer rise like incense before you, O Lord.”
5:30 pm. After Vespers, I had planned to prepare a class on the liturgy for the novices, but Fr Prior has called a chapter meeting. Class preparation must be postponed until after supper, and I make my way down the steep stone steps to the chapter house. I profess to dislike meetings of every kind, but I have to admit that community discussion on matters of common concern does build community. And, just occasionally, my tongue does seem to take delight in keeping the discussion going on and on.
7:00 pm. SUPPER We sing grace again, we sit down together again, and again we listen to the voice of the reader, first telling of the saints we will commemorate tomorrow, and then reciting a chapter of Saint Benedict’s Rule. Finally our minds are taken back to Sinai and meet once again with Victorian lady adventurers in search of biblical treasures, only this time our stomachs are concerned with scrambled eggs and toast.
8:00 pm. COMPLINE The seventh and final service of the day, brings the monastic day to its close. “Now Lord, let your servant depart in peace.” We sing the song of Simeon, the old man, whose life was prolonged by the Lord until his eyes had seen the salvation prepared for all peoples. We give thanks for the mercy we have received today, and pray for a quiet night and a perfect end. And with a final antiphon sung to Mary, Queen of heaven, and confident of her protection, we take our leave. “Farewell, O fair Lady, and pray for us to Christ.”