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.