Most people never set foot inside a monastery. I'll venture more than a few have imagined living in one. There is a lot of practical appeal in this, not just some frustrated notion to "stop the world and get off."
Who hasn't gone through a rough episode on life's journey when the solitude, order, peace, and pace imagined in a monastery not only seem appealing, but needed (see page 15).
When 19, an age when it is possible to imagine not only saving the world but actually trying to do so, I lived for a brief time in a small Benedictine monastery outside the city of Morelia in the state of Michoacan, a mountainous corner in southwest Mexico.
A community of men lived secluded from the world living out their religious vows. The monks grew their own food, cooked their own meals. They spoke infrequently, yet communicated easily with each other. During the day, each stopped to pray at liturgy or alone in sparse quarters. They helped the poor who knocked daily at the large wooden doors.
Benedict started his monastic way of life in the 6th century. For more than 1,500 years, a book he wrote, a slim volume, "The Rule of St. Benedict," has governed the simple life he sought. The rules foster practical love. One example: everyone, no exceptions save for the sick, prepares and cooks meals at some time for everyone else.
The Census 2000 indicates that more Americans are living alone and living in large metropolitan areas than ever before. Combine a desire to retreat from the urban rat race, the practical expression of community that monasteries represent, and the innate desire to find spiritual meaning in one's life, and it is easy to see the appeal in a monastery.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor