Project Conversion

Project Conversion


Field Trip with my Mentor: Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina

posted by abowen

I love the monastic life. Ever since I stayed with the Buddhist monks at their monastery in Bolivia, North Carolina, I’ve contemplated their lifestyle, their values, practices, psychology, and devotion. In another life, I may have been or will become one, but in this life, it’s one of my most passionate interests.

It’s rare that I meet someone with my level of energy and geek-like love for religion/theology/philosophy…it’s even rarer that I come across another soul who loves the monastics the way I do. In fact, it’s never happen before.

Until now.

“Hey Andrew,” my Mentor said over the phone. “Want to go hang out at a monastery?! I’ve always wanted to go, I knew you liked monks, I think we should go. Let’s go!”

This was at about 11:00 p.m. Monday evening.

I laughed and said “Heck yeah, man!”

The idea had manifested ex nihilo that evening. We left for the monastery the next morning.

Welcome to Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist community of Roman Catholic monks in Monck’s Corner, South Carolina.

Mepkin Abbey Church

 

There are many orders of monks in Catholic Church. None of these represent a splinter group or breakaway from the Church, but only a unique way of service to God and mankind, or avenue of prayer life. For example Franciscan monks are more involved with serving the poor and/or sick while Dominican monks are typically more involved with teaching/preaching the faith. The Trappist monks of Mepkin Abbey are more contemplative and prayerful. Monks wake around 3:30 a.m. every day and spend most of their time in silence, meditating on or praying to God, working/caring for the land, and attending Mass. Monks grow their own food and thrive on their own labor and the donations of others.

Jason, my Mentor, once told me that what he loved about Catholic Churches is that someone could walk inside and learn about Jesus without anyone saying a word. Visit your local church and just study the artwork inside and along the walls. In my church, one can seeing the life and mission of Christ illustrated on the very walls. The liturgies themselves–especially the Eucharist (we’ll cover that later)–convey the gospel in a very interactive way.

I was reminded of this while at Mepkin Abbey, but to a whole new level. Walking along the gorgeous botanical gardens and fields, meditating while looking out on the Cooper River, listening to the birds and the wind…I had the same encounter. The grounds itself, was the Church speaking, teaching the mysteries of Christ.

The heavens declare the glory of God;
   the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
   night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
   no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voicegoes out into all the earth,
   their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun.
 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
   like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens
   and makes its circuit to the other;
   nothing is deprived of its warmth.
–Psalms 19: 1-6

Ancient oaks drapped in Spanish moss.

It began in “The Labyrinth”, a field of tall grass with winding paths. Each path led to a circle with small, wooden seats for reading or meditation. Jason and I walked the paths and eventually settled down for about 20 minutes of silent reflection. I prayed the rosary and for the first time, really contemplated the life of Christ and what each stage meant.

Praying the rosary, considering Christ

The rosary helps you see Christ clearly by meditating on his life. It isn’t an exclusive Catholic tool, anyone can use this as a contemplative device.

Artwork around the property continued to inspire us. These sculptures, created out of entire tree trunks, completely blew us away.

Christ coming down from the cross

 

A giant oak, with the power of life twisting toward the sky. This is literally the largest tree I've ever seen in person. We stared and marveled at this thing for 30 minutes.

 

A tower outside the church which honors every soul--from Native Americans and slaves, to the plantantion owners, and the monks themselves--who've worked, lived, and died on this land.

 

Inside the abbey church.

A welcome and meditation

Of all the beauty, of all the deep conversation between Jason and me, nothing was perhaps more profound for me than this statue of Mary and the baby Jesus.

Holy Mother, Holy Child, in tender embrace.

This was my moment of Catholic satori. When I approached this giant statue and just meditated upon, spent time with the articulated meaning gushing forth from this sculpture, Mary and her relationship to both Jesus and the Church makes perfect sense. I no longer questioned the Catholic reasons for treating her so well–so highly. I felt sorry for all those years of criticizing the Church over their adoration of this woman and her station with Christ. Had I but taken the time to study this as a short-sighted, judgmental, closed-minded so-called Christian in high school, my entire future might have changed forever. I’ll go over more of these thoughts on Mary and her position in the Church later.

The road home.

In a real way, Mepkin Abbey gave us a slice of Eden, of what our existence was meant to be like. The monks work with the land and act as its custodians in a beautiful way which illustrates a symbiosis, not an act of dominance. Taking only what they need and giving any surplus to those around them, tenderly caring for the land and ushering in its inherent beauty, using the grounds as an amplification of God’s glory…this is real. So often we think of monks as living outside of reality–of how society is supposed to be. I beg to differ that the correct view is the other way around. Monastics from all faiths seem to live exactly as we are meant to: with nature, not against it.

We spent all day at Mepkin Abbey, but it wasn’t nearly enough. The drive itself was about 2 1/2 hours one way, but the intense conversation on the way there and back, the revelations and rejuvenation we received while there was well worth the fatigue. I saw things, realized things about myself and about the Church that books and lectures could have never shown me. I am literally changed forever. This proves once again that experience is all too often the best teacher.

After leaving, Jason and I swore that we’d make Mepkin Abbey a place of personal pilgrimage. The abbey offers retreat times for only a few days or up to a month. Heather saw the twinkle in my eye when I mentioned the month-long retreat and said no, she’s burnt out on my 30-day experiences.

I hope you’ll find a place of retreat for yourself, somewhere that pushes the boundaries of your expectations. This is where the most intense and deeply affecting learning occurs.



Advertisement
Comments read comments(4)
post a comment
abowen

posted December 10, 2011 at 11:53 am


Jeremy,

Thanks!



report abuse
 

Jeremy

posted December 8, 2011 at 3:36 pm


Just a little note of correction. We discussed brother vs. monk and sister vs. nun, but Franciscans and Dominicans are generally called Friars…one more new term!



report abuse
 

abowen

posted December 8, 2011 at 1:26 pm


Kayla,

Thank you. It was indeed beautiful. And many blessings upon you!



report abuse
 

Kayla

posted December 7, 2011 at 3:33 pm


So glad you got to check out Mepkin Abbey – I’ve been down twice, most recently for the Creche Festival a few weeks ago. It’s such a beautiful place, I’m hoping to make it down for a 4/5 day retreat sometime this spring. Many blessings on this last month of your journey!



report abuse
 

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the beliefnet.com terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to beliefnet.com and may be used by beliefnet.com in accordance with the agreements.



Previous Posts

Another Blog To Enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Project Conversion. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Religion 101 Happy Reading!

posted 2:34:58pm Aug. 02, 2012 | read full post »

Is God an Immersionist?
In the world of faith, folks often point out the obvious fact that God does not belong to a particular creed, religion, race, or school of philosophy. This sentiment establishes the divine as one which transcends divisive terms of affiliation. But I am here to announce that a brief exploration of

posted 7:00:59am Jul. 12, 2012 | read full post »

Immersion in Relationships: Five Ways to Bring your Relationships to Life
I did something last night with my wife that we haven't done in a very long time... Okay, not from that far back, but it certainly feels that way. Last night, we had a date night. N

posted 10:58:33am Jul. 10, 2012 | read full post »

The Path of Immersion: An Introduction and How Entering the Path Leads to a Deeper Sense of Self
Today marks my official declaration of fidelity and discipleship to the Path of Immersion. Along with that declaration, I also invite you to join me in whatever capacity feels the most suitable. The Path of Immersion is not one which demands conversion, evangelism, worship, or exclusivity. Along th

posted 6:00:19am Jul. 09, 2012 | read full post »

Farewell, Project Conversion: The End of an Adventure
When I converted to Christianity at the age of 15, I assumed the faith with a passionate resolve. Despite the positive instruction from my pastor and others, I (for reasons I cannot explain) transformed into a fiery evangelist, launching Christianity at friends and strangers like salvos of religious

posted 12:49:25pm Jul. 05, 2012 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.