Experiencing God Aesthetically: Loneliness, Monks and Gungor
This week was an interesting week for me emotionally and spiritually. Hillary and the girls spent some time with her parents in Roswell, New Mexico while I took part of the week to experience life at a monastery. My motto for the week was, “Expect Nothing.” Everything I had heard about spending time at a monastery warned against expecting a major spiritual experience. As I now look back on this week, while drinking some amazing coffee at Intelligentsia Coffee, I can describe it in four chapters.
With two young girls who are very expressive, our home is never quiet. But Monday night it was quiet. I actually went to the public library because I didn’t like being in my quiet house. That night as I lay in bed it was almost impossible to go to sleep in the quiet house. Again Tuesday night, I had a hard time sleeping. I felt lonely. Ronald Rolheiser talks frequently about loneliness and the danger if it is not worked through correctly. Laying in my bed alone did not feel good. My emotional state was not in a healthy place.
On Wednesday morning I was ready to leave Champaign and head to the St. Gregory Abbey in Michigan though I didn’t know quite what to expect. I left my iPhone and computer in my van and only brought my journal, a few books and my Bible to occupy myself for the next day and a half. From 3 pm Wednesday through Friday morning I only spoke twice with another person. Thursday I did not talk to anyone and immersed myself in the scheduled worship and prayers of the Benedictine monks.
I imagined myself resting in God’s arms and enjoying his presence without having to speak. I slept. I walked the paths of the property. I prayed but I mostly listened. I sat in the contemplative aloneness of my thoughts. But I did not feel lonely. By 6 pm Thursday my soul was rested and I was ready to interact with people again. After a day and a half of being alone it was confirmed that I am an extrovert. I could not have survived another day alone at the monastery.
With job interviews and decisions coming up, I needed this soul rest and contemplative aloneness. The time was very restorative.
Friday I headed to Chicago to connect with Ben Miller, a close friend from my Taylor days. He’s one of those friends who I can pick up with right where we left off. I’m not that good at keeping up with people over the phone but love sitting with a friend who truly knows me and my history. In life we don’t get many friends like this but Ben is one of a few guys from Taylor who I can connect with on this level.
Friday night we headed to Wheaton to hear The Brilliance and Gungor in concert. Both bands showed a emotive beauty that is missing from mainstream Christian worship music. Gungor told the story of God’s interaction with humankind in a beautifully narrated and composed worship set. It was near the end of the show that it was confirmed to me again that I experience God aesthetically. When I look back to the moments when God showed himself to me it was through experiences. Whether it was at a U2 show hearing “Where the Streets Have No Name” or walking to work through our downtown neighborhood, I hear from God when I am experiencing beauty and creativity.
Even though I said I wasn’t expecting anything from my time with the monks, I was expecting something. What I didn’t realize is that though I needed the solitude of the monastery, God was going to show himself through conversations with a close friend and through experiencing the beauty of creative music.
In a few hours, I pick up Hillary and the girls from the airport and re-enter life as a husband, dad and youth pastor. My soul is ready for the decisions that will come in the next few weeks. The Lord showed himself to me but like so many times before, it was in ways that I least expected it.