The Hiding Place

Visiting St. John’s Abbey for the first time years ago just before noon, one of the Benedictine monks invited the guest to join the monks for mid-day prayer.

Abbey Church, St. John's University | Collegeville, MN | Marcel

St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Moments after declining the offer, I changed my mind. Risking the embarrassment of unfamiliarity with the Benedictine rite, I quietly made my way up the right side aisle toward the Chancel choir loft where the monks were gathering.

St John's Abbey hurch

Interior of St. John’s Abbey Church, Collegeville, Minnesota

Anxious and wanting to be as invisible as possible, I slid up the steps of the choir loft like a cockroach and found a suitable hiding place, the seat in the far corner of the top row (far right in the photograph).

I felt a tug on my left shirt sleeve. “I don’t think you want to sit there,” said the kindly Benedictine Brother with a twinkling eye, “unless you want to be the Abbot!”

Any early childhood protestant prejudice that monasteries are places where people of lesser faith go to hide came tumbling down! There is no hiding place in a Benedictine monastery. No one is a cockroach.

During a crisis years later, I returned to St. john’s for spiritual guidance and took a more lowly place in the choir loft.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, July 12, 2017.




Verse – We never saw the stars

In memory of Rev. Milton Carothers

As two Protestant pastors, we had no
desire to become eremites, but went
to the monastery  to try to slow
our hectic campus lives in a retreat.
The Benedictine Retreat Master split
us quickly.  I was sent to spend the week
with an old monk–a former architect–
who now designed the gardens for his work
(all of the men must sweat as well as pray.)
We carried rocks; he talked incessantly.
Inside the borders made of stone, each day
we’d pull the sinweeds (never silently.)
At all the common  meals there was no talk
allowed–and in our cells, we were alone,
of course.  At 3 a.m. the bells would wake
us for a walk inside the walls (of stone
also) to sing, to pray the Psalms each night.
We saw no sky:  stained glass kept out starlight.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana IL

Editor’s note: I know Milton only through Steve’s tribute to him, but those who have served as campus ministers intuitively understand each other in ways that are unique t those who minister within the walls of the ivory tower. Milton, Steve and I share that history. Milton served in North Carolina, Steve in North Carolina and Champaign-Urbana, IL, and I in Wisconsin, New York, and Ohio. Like Milton and Steve, I have known the need to retreat to the Benedictine retreat center to restore my soul in the solitude and rhythms of Benedictine community.

Although I’ve never risen to pray the Psalms within the walls of stone at 3:00 a.m., I’ve often found myself awake within the starless walls of stone my hardened heart has built. Sometimes at 3:00 a.m. I’m lost among the sinweeds. A Psalm rises up within me to melt the stone, release me from the inner prison, remove the starless plastered ceiling. “When I consider the works of your hands, the moon and the stars which Your fingers have made, what is man that You think of him… and yet” and yet.