Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
I have managed to remain quite detached about the Presidential election this time around; not because I don't care, but because we made the fortuitous decision to schedule a family trip to Oregon for next week. We'll be spending a week at Mt. Angel Abbey to get away from it all, spend a lot of time in prayer, and to visit my cousin, iconographer Br. Claude Lane. We scheduled this visit months ago, not thinking about its proximity to election day, but it's worked out well since the herculean task of getting myself and a gaggle of young children ready to fly over 2,000 miles and be on the road for a full week has kept me too maxed out to glare at my computer for hours on end while thinking uncharitable thoughts like I did in 2008.
I'm writing this in the early evening on Election Day, so I don't know the results. By the time you read this I'm sure that, like a lot of folks, I'll either be happy, deeply disappointed, or not-so-patiently waiting for a clear answer about who our next President will be. Despite how busy I am, I'm sure my reaction to the results will be intense; I'll undoubtedly find time to sneak a peek at blogs and social media, and I'll encounter more than a few statements that drive me crazy. And that's why this is the perfect time for me to be spending a week at a Benedictine monastery. As I recall from the last time I was at Mt. Angel, there's nothing like spending some time on the grounds of a place centered on prayer, set apart from the world, to put it all in perspective.
The Order of St. Benedict dates back to the sixth century, and you can feel the sense of its deep history simply walking through the grounds of a place like Mt. Angel.
The Benedictines have had monasteries all over the world for over a thousand years. Whenever I think about the upheaval that their houses have seen over the millennia, all the dramatic conflicts they've witnessed in so many different times and so many different places, it gives me a fresh perspective on the turmoil of our own age.
The Benedictines are also known for their appreciation of beauty. Their monasteries are often located in magnificent settings, and are usually some of the most beautiful structures for miles.
From the Mt. Angel website: "Beauty is one of the attributes of God, along with truth and goodness. For this reason monks are naturally attracted to it, and through the centuries have preserved it in their monasteries."
One of the things I love most about staying at a monastery is the ever-present bells. No matter where you are on the grounds, you can hear the musical announcements of Mass and prayer times. Whether or not you make it down to the chapel, hearing those sounds is a chance to pause, and reflect on the fact that life here is a life centered on prayer.
The last time I was there I spent a long time sitting in the cemetery, praying and reading the names of the brothers, both the recently deceased and those who lived and died in this place back when it was still a wild frontier.
I wish I could go somewhere like this every time I'm feeling anxious, whether it's about the fate of our nation or just how to stay on top of the laundry. The careful attention that the monks give to the simplest aspects of daily life remind us that our smallest actions do matter, and that the events of our age are not unimportant; yet the timeless beauty, the rhythmic calls to prayer, the sense of connectedness to a 1,500-year-old Order and a 2,000-year-old Church, all serve to remind us that the cares of our day -- both the triumphs and the tragedies -- are only a very small part of God's grand plan.