St. Meinrad’s Archabbey sits on the line between Eastern and Central time. As we hurry from the fifteen passenger vans inside to the bathrooms, I notice my phone goes back and forth. It’s 3:45. It’s 4:45. It’s 3:45 again.
We’ve driven four hours to get here, through heavy traffic around Indianapolis and through miles and miles of dry yellow cornfields, flat farmland giving way to rolling hills as we near the Kentucky border. The thick green forest, splatter-painted red, bends over us as the road winds up to the abbey, encasing us for a moment in hushed shadow, a tunnel of leaves.
After practicing lectio divina by the parking lot, we search for our guest rooms. “I don’t think this is it,” a student says, hesitantly pushing through an unlocked door (all the doors here are unlocked: St. Meinrad was known as the martyr to hospitality). We enter a deserted basement hallway marked “Health Center.” There’s a place you can drop off urine samples for test results. There’s a stairwell.
Eventually we find our rooms, several floors up. Mine is on the same quiet hallway as some of the monks’ offices. Their doors are closed, but labeled with nameplates: Fr Eugene, OSB. Fr Jeremy, OSB. Other doors are decorated: on one, bubbly rainbow letters spell “welcome”; another displays posters advertising the Honor Your Inner Monk App and asking me to “like” St. Meinrad’s on Facebook. One door is open, piano music spilling into the hallway. As I pass I can see nothing inside but a white teddy bear seated on a loveseat.
Outside, children fish at the pond, calling for their mother. Three men speaking Spanish and carrying bags of food enter the guesthouse. I see a tall white man with a shaved head, wearing a black t-shirt with skulls (memento mori, anyone?), and a group of middle-aged and elderly women wearing matching breast cancer t-shirts (another memento mori, I suppose). Here and there I see the students I brought, sitting cross legged on a park benches, curling over open journals, staring into space. Their faces are unlined, their skin elastic; I think death is the last thing on their minds.
Not all of them came on this trip, but the ones who did are serious about using the silence to explore their vocations. She is expectant, she told us earlier. He is thankful for some time to focus on the Lord. She is afraid of the memories silence will allow to emerge.
They are high achieving sophomores, honors students at the school named (for six years running) the best liberal arts college in the Midwest. They are leaders and scholars. They have travelled internationally. They craft plans for law school and teaching and world-changing. We nurture their talents and we call them to excellence. We expect much of them: they have been given much.
And yet we’ve brought them here to give them a taste of another truth, a truth from the second half of life. Everything in their daily lives right now tells them that they need to achieve, that they need to be good stewards of their time and their gifts, that they need to help the less fortunate and share the gospel with the lost.
These things are true.
But these things are equally true: They matter, despite what they do or don’t accomplish. They are loved regardless of what they achieve. They need to listen as much as they need to speak. They need to be still as much as they need to act. They can succeed or fail, and God’s kingdom will still prevail. They are dust.
We have brought them here for silence, for a chance to slow down and listen to their lives instead of being ruled by the frenetic pace of college life that always asks for more, that demands that they prove themselves over and over again. We have brought them here to remind them that they were created for kairos, time outside of time: that regardless of what they do with their lives, their vocation is simple: to be made new.
To be. To live into the identities they already have. To be who they are.
The chronos we live in, temporal time, is fading away; but we are all being made new, eastern and central time zones alike.