On my recent time at a spiritual retreat, Benedictine Monastery near Erie, Pennsylvania.
1. The three “hermitages” are named for Scholastica (twin sister of Benedict), Walburga, and (mine) Hildegard. Hildegard von Bingen was a twelfth century mystic who shared her visions through music and written imagery. She spoke for God and was proactive in her faith. The hermitage was stocked with books about Hildegard and music contemporary musicians recreated from her compositions.
2. Benedictines pray as a community several times a day and guests are welcome. Their liturgy includes burning incense, Scripture reading, antiphons (responsive chanting), and praying the Psalms. Sisters sit facing each other on either side of the chapel, choirs that alternate verses. Hearing the Psalms prayed as a community showed me an involvement with the Word I haven’t considered. We Protestants emphasize private, individual devotions but praying the Psalms with the Benedictines revealed the communal aspect of the Word.
3. The Benedictines have a beautiful library stocked with material it would take a lifetime to absorb. Windows face the woods, and a couch and reading lamps provide comfortable reading areas. I read in many traditions, both monastic and apostolic. Materials can also be signed out.
Speaking of, beauty is another Benedictine emphasis. Sisters told me of the painstaking care of carpenters and tradesmen installing stained glass windows and pulley systems for plants enabling easier care. Everyone sees themselves as serving God in their work, and takes great pride in fulfilling their part of the call.
4. I fellowshipped with the sisters at meals, enjoying lively give and take. Benedictines receive guests as they would receive Jesus, and it shows. One night I arrived early for Evening Praise and several sisters, including the Prioress, offered a warm hand. Another sister made sure I had the right prayer materials.
I wandered freely through the monastery (except for private quarters.) The main chapel (worth visiting for the stunning stained glass windows) and smaller one nearby are open for prayer and meditation.
The stained glass in the smaller chapel counsels “Let nothing be preferred to the work of God.” (Rule of St. Benedict 43:3.) Sounds like a good way to close: concentrating on the work of God.