Each morning a bell tolls, summoning me and other monks to prayer. The moon still shining brightly, the sun yet to rise, my day begins.
I am often asked: “Why are you a monk?” My answer is always the same: “To seek God.” The life of a Benedictine monk is one of searching – searching for God. As monks, we are searching for something greater than ourselves, and this is what calls me out of bed each and every morning. Yes, I could go back to sleep, but my desire for sleep is overpowered by my desire to know God more intimately.
Within monastic tradition, there exists a holistic approach to the development of the individual and how the individual relates to the environment around him. The monastic life focuses on body, mind and spirit; being truly one with yourself, with God, and with those around you. This is easier said than done. Luckily, Benedictines have a Rule to live by, The Rule of St. Benedict, written by Saint Benedict of Nursia in 529AD. This Rule was intended to govern the life of individuals who escaped the trappings of society and wanted to live a more austere and secluded life, under the obedience of an abbot, or superior. To this day, monastic life has provided an atmosphere of solitude for those seeking the stillness and silence that monastic life provides. Thousands of retreats are made at monasteries every year in hopes to regain this silence that modern society so easily drowns out.
As St. Benedict states in his Rule for Monasteries, “Let him regard all the vessels of the monastery and all its substance, as if they were sacred vessels of the altar.” RB 31:10.
Historically, this duty was not intended for everyone, but for one particular brother who was entrusted to care for various items of the monastery. This brother’s example was to be followed and respected, and if another monk was to misuse an item, he would be held accountable. However, looking deeper into its meaning, I think it stresses great concern in regards to how we use the resources around us. Essentially, the focus of monastic life is the ability to live simply and in harmony with nature, respecting all created things unconditionally. This cosmic understanding of how we live is vital to our spiritual life as monks. In every action, monks are to be mindful of this harmony with nature, stewarding creation with prudence and compassion.
St. Theresa of Calcutta said it perfectly: “They (animals), too, are created by the same loving Hand of God which created us…it is our duty to protect them and promote their well-being.” Monastic life, over the centuries, has emphasized the message of simplicity. As the bells toll, calling me to prayer, I pray that you may experience the silence of each moment, and allow that sacredness to flow within you and from you. May you find the extraordinary in the ordinary.
**My name is Novice Derrick Elkins, O.S.B (Order of St. Benedict) and I am a monk at Subiaco Abbey, in Subiaco Arkansas. Born and raised in South Louisiana, Cajun Country, I was brought up with a basic understanding: waste not, want not. Struggling with weight my entire life, let’s just say, I never wasted and just kept on wanting. When I entered the monastery, I was morbidly obese and decided that it was time for a change, not just in how I looked and felt, but in how I made a difference. It was this desire that lead me to live a cruelty-free lifestyle. Each and every day, I am heading towards a healthier weight and my overall health has drastically improved. Personal health, along with a deep appreciation and love for animals and the environment, were my main motivations for living a vegan lifestyle. As monks, we are not known for our global ministries, fashionable style or charming wit, although we try! Monks strive to find the extraordinary within the ordinary of everyday life. Each day is a new adventure to experience, a new hurdle to climb and a new opportunity to see God in our lives.