ONCE OR TWICE
A YEAR, I travel 275 miles to spend a few days with the monks
at Mount Saviour Monastery, a Benedictine community near Elmira,
New York. The routine of chanting the psalms seven times a
day, listening to the bleating sheep on the farm and hiking
hills that rim the horizon always soothes the soul. As I head
back to New York City, I take along notes reminding me of
new resolves gleaned in listening to the homilies at Mass
or from the quiet time spent in prayer, reading and walking
the woods. Once back in the
bustle, however, I don't have much success incorporating these
insights and practices into my everyday life.
But I was
shocked one day to find a new aid in the effort to tap
into monastic spirituality, with its powerful sense of
God's presence in everyday life. The monks at Mount Saviour,
so resolutely low-tech as they live out the rule St. Benedict
wrote in the sixth century, have started a Web page on
the Internet (www.servtech.com/~msaviour).
I could look
again at the steepled church, the terraced pastures dotted
with sheep or the candle-lit, 14th-century statue of Our Lady
Queen of Peace before which the monks sing each evening. I
could read reflections from Brother Pierre, a monk who tends
to the flock and is pictured on the site playing his harp.
I could read the monastery's monthly newsletter, which always
includes some spiritually calming remarks from Father Martin,
is Mount Savior's Webmaster, a title which sounds like one
St. Benedict himself would have used for a monastery's Internet
gatekeeper. Brother Pierre also includes a set of links to
other monastic Web sites. (A link allows the user to go to
another site on the World Wide Web by clicking the computer's
mouse, avoiding the need to type in a cumbersome address code
called a "URL.") Like some medieval traveler who sought hospitality
at monasteries along the road, I was soon on a cyberspace
journey from one monastic community to the next.
journey led to peaceful wellsprings in the middle of hectic
workdays and to restful breaks in the evening. There were
bits of wisdom to be found in the words of abbots and ancient
writers, new perspectives to be experienced, even if only
vicariously, by following a monk through a day of prayer and
praise. There were paintings and poems by monks and nuns,
pictures of monasteries in mountain valleys, deserts and forests.
are opening the doors to their treasures in a new way. In
the past, they spoke to the world largely through books written
by the few authors who'd truly gotten to know them. Now they
are speaking for themselvesnot just a few well-known monasteries,
but communities large and small throughout the world.
For the monks
and nuns, the Internet has opened a new window to the world,
allowing monastic hospitality to be extended around the clock
without excessive intrusion on their lives of prayer and contemplation.
to bring a taste of monastic life to the world in an unprecedented
way is helping to bring the world to the often-isolated
doorways of monasteries. "Already we have women who have
come to us seeking to join us in community, who found
us via the Internet," Sister Diana Sebago of Mount St.
Scholastica in Atchison, Kansas, wrote in an e-mail interview.
"We have had volunteers come and live with us for two
months from as far away as Slovakia. They found us on
the Internet" (www.benedictine.edu/mount.html).
interested in understanding monastic spirituality, I recommend
starting with a visit to the Abbey of the Genesee (web.lemoyne.edu/~bucko/genesee.htm)
because of its excellent description of the Liturgy of
the Hours, the heart of a monk's daily activity. By singing
the psalms seven times a day, the monks hope to sanctify
the passage of time with continuous prayer. "It consecrates
to God the cycle of night and day, the liturgical seasons
and the whole gamut of human activity," the monks explain.
"It is also the chief means for achieving incessant prayer,
mindfulness of God and transformation in Christ."
of compline, the last common prayer before sleep, is well
worth a visit to this site: "Compline may be understood as
a daily exercise in the art of dying. For what is sleep if
not a little rehearsal for death?"
Web site also shows another good point of some monastic offerings
on the Internet: strong homilies. Time spent contemplating
the Word and reading the Church's great doctors and mystics
gives the monastic homilists a special perspective.
of this can be found at www.frontiernet.net/~johnbamb,
which features homilies from Abbot John Eudes Bamberger,
O.C.S.O. "It is a way of sharing and I see it as part
of monastic hospitality, extended to those who cannot
get to the monastery but can profit from the information
put on the Web," the abbot wrote in an e-mail interview
when asked how his monastery's Web site fits with monastic
The Abbey of
the Genesee, a Trappist monastery in upstate New York, updates
monastic tradition with an online guest book. Much as they
would at a monastery, visitors can scan the remarks left by
other visitors and see how far they've traveled. "I never
saw such a meaningful explanation of the Liturgy of the Hours,"
one visitor said. "As a grandma new to the Web, I'll encourage
my grandchildren to look you up. And I shall return to this
Chanting and Illustrations
of Christ in the Desert, a Benedictine community in New
Mexico, offers brief sound clips of the monks' chants,
including the first 12 seconds of the "Salve Regina."
This Web site (www.christdesert.org)
offers some of the most beautiful pages on the Internet.
The monks at Christ in the Desert design Web pages in
much the same way their ancient predecessors illustrated
scrolls. Visitors are welcomed with a colorful yellow
and red drawing of the monastery's Spanish-style bell
the link "Seeking God" is worthwhile, even for the "S" in
the title: The hand of God extends from the upper loop and
a monk curls up with a book in the lower loop.
This site also
offers an informative section on monastic spirituality as
a response to Matthew 6:33, which says, "But seek first the
kingdom [of God] and his righteousness, and all these things
will be given you besides." And in a playful touch, the aging
"Brother URL" leads visitors on a tour, noting that in St.
Benedict's day a monk too old to do physical work would handle
the task of greeting newcomers.
Merton and Fruitcakes
Many of the
monastic Web sites offer a good overview of a monk's or
nun's day, focusing on the Liturgy of the Hours. One of
the best can be found at www.mepkinabbey.org,
Web site for Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South
Carolina. Click on "walk a day with us," starting with
a description of vigils at 3:20 a.m.
also offers a link to other Trappist and Benedictine Web
One link leads to Mepkin Abbey's parent community, the
Abbey of Gethsemani (www.monks.org),
which dedicates a page to the monk whose writings made
this Trappist community so famous: Thomas Merton.
And yes, you
can order Gethsemani's fruitcakes through their Web site.
Most of the monasteries with Web sites have online stores
that offer books as well as products made in the community.
Most also offer details on how to visit for retreats.
entry point to the cyberworld of monastic wisdom can be
found at http://www.valyermo.com/,
Web site of St. Andrew's Abbey, a Benedictine community
in Valyermo, California. The monastery's lovely view of
snow-capped mountains in the southern California desert
greets the visitor, and the information that follows is
set against a grainy, beige background, suggesting it
is printed on a scroll.
an article about lectio divina offers another good
gateway to exploring the monastic life. The visitor can read
an excellent article by Father Luke Dysinger about this practice,
which he calls "a slow, contemplative praying of the Scriptures
which enables the Bible, the Word of God, to become a means
of union with God." The article offers a step-by-step explanation
about reflecting on a short passage or word in Scripture,
followed by prayer and contemplation. It offers a welcome
caution against striving for any particular goal, saying that
lectio "has no other goal than spending time with God
through the medium of His word."
prior of St. Andrew's Abbey, wrote via e-mail that the monastery's
Web site has proven to be helpful: "We have had guests to
the retreat house...who first found out about the monastery
through the Web site, and one of our observers [postulants]
first discovered us in that way."
about monastic spirituality are offered by St. Benedict's
a Trappist community in Snowmass, Colorado. It offers
The Loving Search for God: Contemplative Prayer and
the Cloud of Unknowing, by William A. Meninger, and
a link to Thomas Keating's The Method of Centering
a Llama Ranch
One of a monastery's
roles has been to serve as a repository for Christian culture
and learning. This tradition is being carried on in fine style
by the nuns at Sacred Heart Monastery in Richardton, North
Dakota. Sister Jill Maria Murdy, O.S.B., has pulled together
a virtual library under the theme of "Prayer and the Internet."
She says, "The media are very fond of playing up the evils
of the Internet....We may place a block on the Internet to
protect our children. But we definitely should not ignore
the Internet and hope it goes away. It will be with us for
a long time."
offers a history of prayer and communication going back
to Babylonian cuneiform, and then suggests links on such
subjects as centering prayer, mystics, the rosary, social
justice and Church documents.
Monastery's Web site also has an endearing link to pictures
of the monastery's llama ranch. "You might be wondering, what
do a group of Benedictine sisters and a group of llamas have
in common?" the narrative asks. "Lots! We have put benches
by our pasture just to sit and watch the llamas." That image
of the nuns setting out their chairs in the evening to watch
their llamas at play in the fields of the Lord is one that
other sites that reflect the gentle humor found in monastic
communities. The New Melleray Abbey, a Trappist monastery
near Dubuque, Iowa, for example, greets visitors to its
Web site (www2.csbsju.edu/osb/cist/melleray)
with this message: "It is a fine clear day in summer;
the puffy white clouds tumble slowly across the sky, the
wind is sighing gently in the pines, and there is a small
sign: 'This way to the Guesthouse.'"
that "sign" leads to New Melleray's "Guesthouse on the World
Wide Web," which offers a photo tour of the grounds, answers
to some of the questions visitors have asked by
pictures and biographies of many of the monks.
Order, with its focus on such powerful spiritual writers
as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresa of
Avila and St. John of the Cross, also features some interesting
Web sites. The Carmelite nuns of Eldridge, Iowa, offer
a way station to the Web pages of other Carmelite communities.
And their Web site (www.netins.net/showcase/solitude)
offers links to "Prayers of the Carmelite Mystics." For
those who'd like a more in-depth look at Carmelite spirituality,
this site provides a link to articles that have appeared
in Carmelite publications.
province of the Teresian Carmelites (www.ocd.or.at/eng/ocd.htm)
also offers links to online literature and connections
to other sites dedicated to St. Thérèse
also publishes a monthly "e-zine" about Web sites it considers
interesting on Carmelite topics. This site also provides
links to Carmelite writers.
Like many of
the monastic communities with Web sites, the Carmelites of
Eldridge offer to pray for the intentions of their Internet
visitors. Just click on "Send e-mail," and the power of the
Internet becomes a tool to reach toward the Highest Power.
is an editor at Newsday, a New York City newspaper,
and is active in his parish, St. Columba in Brooklyn.