Monastery of Christ in the Desert: Lessons about Faith & Life, Not Just for Monks
The simplicity of Benedictine monasticism is alive and well in the Rio Chama Canyon of Abiquiu, New Mexico. The area is perhaps best known through the works of artist Georgia O’Keeffe. Christ in the Desert Monastery is nestled at the end of Forest Road 151, 13 miles off the main highway, in the heart of O’Keeffe country, with its sandstone cliffs and inspiring landscapes.
Amid towering rock formations, pinon pines, brush and other vegetation nourished by the Chama River, the Monastery’s architecture is stunning yet simple, and fits beautifully with its natural surroundings. The Brothers share a communal life of prayer, study, labor, work, silence, praise and song.
Even as a momentary visitor, sitting in the humble chapel or mindfully walking the Outdoor Stations of the Cross along the meandering path, one feels the worshipful spirit, and deep peace of this high desert sanctuary.
As Thomas Merton wrote, these monks are living their faith, “…in the silence of the desert where the word of God has always been best heard and most faithfully understood.”
That I felt thoroughly at home is not surprising. The harsh, wild expanse of breathtaking beauty is similar in many ways to the mesa-top I call home, 75 miles south of the Monastery. The absolute silence, the quality of stillness, the wildlife and the sense of wonder is the same. There, where I too listen and hear and seek to understand.
The monks meet seven times a day for the canonical offices and have daily Eucharist, (their Mass) which is mostly sung. They chant the 150 Psalms each week, and the music is Gregorian, both in the original Latin as well as some chants which have been translated into English.
Each day consists of about four hours of common prayer and an equal amount of time for private prayer and reading.
In additional to devotional time, work is also considered another way of glorifying God and a means of earning their living. Saint Benedict’s followers are charged to be self-supporting.
Christ in the Desert Monastery offers accommodations (the rate is a suggested donation) at its Guest House for those seeking to stay on site and enter into the life of the community on retreat; it has a lovely gift shop with many hand-made items, where they sell CDs of their chants and many other items including their hand crafted gifts; they have two stores in Santa Fe, The Monk’s Corner and the Community Thrift Store; and they now also have a delicious enterprise which helps support their communal life, Abbey Beverage Company, which produces beer.
According to the Monastery’s Summer 2012 Newsletter, “By the middle ages, Benedictine monks were in the forefront of crafting beers in their cloisters. As every monastery must seek a source of income, beer production was a “natural” and suited the rhythm of the cloister.”
In the same tradition and spirit, these Northern New Mexican monks have planted an assortment of hops that will be used to add to their selection of ales. Currently their signature brew, Monks’ Ale is in the Belgian-style, and a second selection, Monks’ Wit, is a German style wheat beer. I must confess that I like the idea of drinking their beer as a way of supporting the Monastery! And hope that you will consider it, too.
Christ in the Desert is a place I will certainly visit again. I loved photographing the grounds, buildings, wildlife. It is a place that offers rich experiences of faithful solitude and hospitality in the harsh beauty of desert wilderness. It exemplifies not only a way of life, but a way of being.
As Fr. Christian Leisy, O.S.B. wrote in the same Newsletter, “We monks recognize that the life we have chosen in response to God’s call in the monastic life is a hidden life, recounting what Saint Paul so beautifully expressed to the Colossians, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col. 3:3). What does this mean? It means that ours is not a life of self-glorification, but a life of compassion, kindness, lowliness, humility, patience, forbearance and forgiveness (see Col. 3:12). Of course that is for all of us, not just monks.”
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