As I prepared for my journey to Saint Paisius Monastery everything in my life seemed to scream, “You cannot go to the monastery even for 24 hours!” My wife’s car is having transmission trouble, one of my kids is sick, my church is under re-construction after our flood, my other kids have homework and voice lessons, etc., etc. And to be perfectly honest, I have been experiencing some unusually high anxiety of late. I had to talk myself back into going to the monastery 3 times just yesterday. I am a little like King David telling his own soul to praise the Lord. I had to point a finger at my soul and say, “get on with the Monastery Reconnaissance.” The Lord was gracious, just starting to drive was a blessing. I love road trips and I needed these 24 hours away very badly (see above).
3 ½ hours later I pulled up to the gates of an industrious, joyful and ordered monastic sisterhood. After vespers, and what felt to me like a very early dinner, one of the sisters toured me around 15 of their 300 acres. I saw the beginnings of apple, olive and pomegranate orchards next to enclosures of goats, chickens and a guard donkey. I learned that no self-respecting coyotes mess with donkeys! While showing me around we came upon a Mojave snake. These sweet sisters are snake experts. The non-threatening snakes are left alone but the aggressive and dangerous rattlesnakes are a different matter. The snake we came upon was hissing and rattling something fierce. Turns out these Mojaves are ill-tempered bad boys.
- Start the clock: We see snake. 10 seconds.
- Sister #1 walkie-talkies Sister #2. 10 seconds.
- Sister #2 shows up with a shovel and long grabber tongs. Sister #2 grabs the snake near the head. 2 minutes.
- Sweet Sister #1 calmly uses shovel to separate that hissin’ part from the rattlin’ part. 10 seconds
- Time elapse: 2 ½ minutes.
After watching the Sisters take care of snake business I am convinced that this is a perfect parable of what is necessary to spend your life praying and working for hours everyday in the Eastern deserts of Arizona (or anywhere for that matter). The spiritual life is for those with self-control who can face danger with courage, bravery and heart.
A brother priest recently said to me, “Without the monasteries we are dead.” I now know more fully what he means. He was speaking about those of us who need to spiritually refuel. A monastery visit is for those of us who feel drained by the speed of life, the passage of time, the weight of responsibility and the pressure resisting temptation (or our failure to resist). Christians have been visiting monastic communities for 1500 years ever since the first men and women ran out in the Egyptian deserts seeking the Lord. Monastery visits have not been something I have practiced in any regular way. But watching these Sisters work and praying with them (beginning at 4:30 this morning) went a long way to putting me right again. I will be going back because without the monasteries we are dead.