Have you ever stayed at a Benedictine monastery before? No, I’m not asking if you’ve visited one—have you actually stayed at one?
I never had before last month. While I have stayed in other places (including a national shrine) on retreat before, there was something special about my stay at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, Oklahoma (a.k.a. Clear Creek Abbey).
So, what was it like being a guest at the beautiful traditional Clear Creek Abbey? Do they really live out the the ora et labora motto?
I’ll admit that I didn’t go to Clear Creek Abbey just for fun or simply for a retreat. I actually went to make my final promises as a Benedictine Oblate attached to the monastery. Although I had anticipated attending Mass and getting plenty of prayer time, I didn’t think I would be able to pray most of the daily Divine Office hours with the monks!
Except for Matins, Lauds, and Compline, all the other hours are open to the public. Since I went during the summer (when it’s very hot and humid), the hours of prayer and the Masses were all chanted and celebrated in the crypt. While that may sound a bit gloomy to those who haven’t visited Clear Creek before, let me assure you that it was anything but. All of the hours are chanted in Latin (this is a traditional monastery after all) by the monks and all of us in the pews are able to follow along and pray with them.
The crypt reminded me of a very cozy church where you felt the closeness to the monks, even if you sat all the way in the back pews. While the crypt didn’t get full, there were still a good number of people praying the Hours, some of whom I saw at most, if not all, the Hours.
Since we were there for the feast of the Queenship of Mary, we were able to experience a beautiful solemn High Mass in the Extraordinary Form. The men were able to participate in a procession through part of the monastery as well. On my last day at Clear Creek, I was blessed to attend a private Mass offered at one of the side chapels. It was just me, two monks, and another young woman—the two of us ladies on a small (but epic) pew, only a couple of feet from the altar. Never had a Mass truly felt like Heaven on earth as it did during that Mass.
Of course, you can’t leave out the labora part of the Benedictine motto. While I did my own form of labora staying at one of the guesthouses—more on this in a bit—the monks at Clear Creek embrace hard work on the property. As a self-sustaining monastery, there are animals and gardens to tend, as well as other work to be done. While it was not a possibility for me to partake in the manual labor as both a visually impaired person and as a young woman, I have heard that men who are guests at the monastery as well as those who live nearby have often offered their time and energy to help the monks with whatever is needed.
As I said, while it was not possible for me to do any work with the monks, I’m grateful that I was not deprived of the labora that made me feel like part of the monastic community. It was part of my duty as a guest to keep my “cell” (room) clean. I shared an adjoining bathroom with another female guest and the St. Mary’s guesthouse with a large family (the family of a dear friend of mine with whom I traveled to the monastery with). We all did what we could; doing the dishes, sweeping, cooking, cleaning, and helping others with their self-appointed chores. Yes, even the guys pitched in! It was a lovely experience that made us understand why community and hospitality are important to the Benedictine order.
Perks for male guests
While I was not fortunate enough to partake in some of the activities open to male guests, I did hear about it from those who were able to participate in them. Understandably, there some parts of the monastery that are off-limits to female guests. It is, after all, an all-male monastery. One of the activities male guests are invited to participate in is the monks’ meal time, specifically lunch. While the monks live up to the Benedictine pillar of hospitality in how they treat their guests, male guests get a sample of what it’s like to live as a monk at the monastery since they include the guests in their daily routine. No, I did not feel slighted or upset at not being able to partake in it as we ladies had a chance to get to know each other better while the men ate with the monks. It was a beautiful experience.
Why you should go, too
While the trip might’ve been my first one, it will certainly not be my last. I keep telling friends that I left my heart at Clear Creek because that’s what it feels like. Not because it’s now my spiritual home as a Benedictine Oblate. Not because of the blessed silence we experience at the monastery, something that has become increasingly rare in our overstimulated and hyper-connected world.
The reason why I loved my time at the monastery was because I was able to reconnect with God after a long spell of spiritual aridity and live my life in a way that truly emphasized doing everything for God and the greater glory of His kingdom. Everything you do is done for the love of others, keeping the commandment to love others as God loves us (John 15:12). You balance that with the greatest commandment; to love God above all. When you participate in praying with the monks during the Divine Office hours and are at Mass, you feel like you’re transported out of this world and get a glimpse of heaven. You cannot help but feel a wonderful peace of mind and heart that this L.A. born and bred city girl had never experienced before.
If you’re looking for a place to get away and reconnect with God on a deeper level, I highly recommend a visit to a Benedictine monastery. While it’s true that not all monasteries are follow the same rules—each monastery has their particular charisms and devotions, they all ultimately follow the Holy Rule of St. Benedict and have the reputation of incredible hospitality and spiritual nourishment not found everywhere.
Of course, I’m partial to Clear Creek for obvious reasons but I can honestly say that I would’ve loved my time there even if I wasn’t a part of their family. If you’re in the area or would love to take a trip to the monastery, I cannot recommend it enough! Just spend a day with the monks and you’ll understand why I’m not the only person who has visited Clear Creek and hasn’t stopped raving about it.
Side note for my fellow internet-addicted and big city “what is ‘roughing it’?” folks: be prepared to make some necessary “sacrifices.” There is no cell service (except near the bookstore) and the wifi in the guesthouse is very spotty so you will have to turn off your phone and other devices. But, of course, that shouldn’t matter because the point of visiting is to enrich the spiritual life, not to continue to be bogged down by worldly affairs. So, what are you waiting for? Look for the nearest Benedictine monastery (or look into Clear Creek Abbey) and plan a visit. You won’t be sorry!
Featured image: taken by Melissa Guerrero