I’m back from my weekend retreat at Mount Angel Abbey. It was a wonderful, restful time for me. I prayed a lot and I got a lot of work done. Ora et labora (prayer and work): the Benedictine motto.
This was my fourth trip to the abbey, and for this visit I tried a little experiment: I dispensed with clocks. I left my phone in the room—I don’t wear a watch so my phone is my watch—I took the clock off the toolbar on my laptop, and I attempted to follow the rhythm of the monastery.
My one exception: I set the alarm clock so I would be up early enough to pray with the monks. But I hid the clock behind my computer and did my best to ignore it the rest of the day.
So how did I manage? Quite well. The bells told me when to go to the Abbey Church to pray, and meals were conveniently scheduled after Lauds, Noon Prayer, and Vespers. The rest of the time was my own—to write, to read, to browse the Abbey Bookstore, and to walk the Abbey grounds. And like any good Benedictine, I stopped whatever I was doing when the bells rang and hurried to the church for the next celebration of communal prayer.
I was amazed at how much my day opened up when not dictated by a clicking second hand (or a set of blazing red digits). I fell into a rhythm almost immediately and everything seemed perfectly balanced. I gained a new appreciation for the life of the monks. It felt more natural, more human, than the clock driven life I (and almost all of us) usually lead.
It made me wonder what we’ve lost in our submission to clicking hands and blinking lights, and if we might find a way to get some of it back.
I’m not sure of the answer, but I do know one thing. After I came home yesterday, I spent part of the afternoon playing with my daughter. And I didn’t look at the clock once.