Always Surprises


We drove east on 412 out of the city, leaving behind the orange barrels, the smart boards in the classroom, the noise and clamor of a high school hallway. Our cell service became spotty, and the AM radio station to which I am devoted turned to static.

A stream of busses and cars wound our way onto a slim country road and over a one lane bridge. We turned onto a gravel road that seemed to stretch for wild miles. The trees stood bare and forlorn in the grey December sky.

When we pulled into the Clear Creek Monastery, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how to chaperone the freshman. I didn’t know how the students would react or what the monks would share.

A line of students emerged from the busses using their inside voices. That alone is impressive. They queued up and we entered the church for a Terce mass in Latin. The roof is temporary since the church has been under construction for a few years. The students wore the silence of nervousness. In dim morning light, we sat on wooden benches and we were quiet.

This was as simple and as beautiful a worship as I have ever seen. The only requirements were the monks and their voices. There was no sound system, no power point, no praise team. There was no passing the peace or report from the missionaries. There was a lovely, unintelligible to me, service. And in the moments between the chanting and the praying, there was pure silence.

Silence like you wish you could put into your ears on the busiest, most hectic of days.

Later, in the visitor’s courtyard, our guide explained the Benedictine order to the students. He had the soft and studied voice of one who lives a quiet life. I liked him. I wanted that kind of voice. Where his words had meaning because he used them like a ration. He was clear, “This is hard,” he said about the monastic life. He talked about leaving close family ties and taking the vows. About missing funerals and family celebrations. And of the busy-ness of life. He said “your way of life is incompatible with ours.”

He said, “We are talking of human things, here. And there are always surprises with human things, even here.”