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Monk for a Weekend

Updated on January 14, 2012

The Christ in the Desert Monastery


A few years ago I had the honor and the privilege of meditating and spending time with some visiting Tibetan monks. I have been fascinated by the monk lifestyle since as far back as I can remember. I don't quite know what the fascination is exactly; perhaps it's that I find their strict dedication and discipline to the lifestyle enlightening. My second fascination in life obviously is writing. Recently I came across a story that combined the two passions.

I was wrapping some household items in old newspaper when I came across an article about a new book which had been released about a monastery located 75 miles away within the canyon walls of Abiquiu, New Mexico. The monastery is surrounded by miles of government-protected wilderness, as to ensure the solitude and quiet for the monk’s cenobitic life.

The monastery was founded in 1964 and in 1968 through his writings and photographs the Trappist monk Thomas Merton brought the secluded monastery to the attention of those seeking sanctuary and spiritual inspiration. Most recently the monastery of “Christ in the Desert” has been bought into the limelight by the photographs of photojournalist Tony, O'Brien and the poetry and writings of Christopher Merrill in their book “A light in the desert".

Talk about creative writing! After covering stories about drug addicts and prostitution in America he was offered an Assignment to cover the struggles of Afghan. While on assignment for "Life" magazine in 1989 he was captured and became a prisoner of war. Once released and back in his home town of Santa Fe New Mexico, Tony O’Brien turned to the Christ in the Desert Monastery in 1994 to restore his spirit. He spent a full year within the monastery, living the life of a monk while wife and daughter remained at home 75 miles away!

The Christ in the Desert monastery allowed him the rare privilege to document their daily activities and rituals, both contemplative and secular. As a practicing member of the community during his year-long residency, O'Brien was also granted rare access to photograph the monastery and its daily activities. The black-and-white images which he was able to capture during his visit are exquisite to say the least. The peace and serenity of everyday life can be felt in each and every still image. It is almost as if we have been allowed to eavesdrop on this life of solitude and seclusion. In taking the daily photographs O’Brien’s camera became the instrument of personal spiritual healing. Accompanying his photographs are the essays of the wonderful poet Christopher Merrill as he weaves the threads of history and spirituality.

The primary means of financial support for the monastery is through contributions made by guest accommodations. Guests are permitted to stay on the grounds in either the main guesthouse or the ranch House. The donations help the monastery earn its living and each guest must decide what he or she can afford for the minimum stay of two nights which includes the room and all meals. Guests are allowed access into the inner workings of the monastery, as well as the quietude, silent and collective prayer, and chanting of all 150 Psalms.

Another form of revenue comes from the gift shop located on site for those taking day trips to the monastery and the sales from the Abbey Beverage Company which produces Monks' Ale and Monks' Wit. Both beverages are available in Arizona, Colorado, Louisiana, eastern Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

A normal day at the monastery begins with Vigils at 4:00 A.M. Which last an hour and the day ends with a 7:30 P.M Compline, which lasts about fifteen minutes, followed by Nightly Silence. I can only try and imagine what a day at the monastery would feel like. How enlightening and spiritual a weekend stay must be. I love the fact that sounds carry far into the canyons, so all conversation need to be kept as quiet as possible. No loud chatter, no cell phones, no stress and no worries. Plenty of quiet reflection time to contemplate where you've been in your life and where you’re headed. After checking out the book and viewing the photographs there is no doubt in my mind that there would be no better gift that I can give my soul this year than a weekend stay at the monastery of Christ in the Desert. Thanks to Toni, O'Brien and Christopher Merrill Perhaps I might be able to find my own light or enlightenment in the desert.

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