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At 5 A.M., I woke to this curious dream:

I’m healthy, enthused by my entrance into an ancient monastery located in a mountainous region surrounded by virgin forests. I’m wearing the long brown homespun robe and belt of the monks as I follow them toward an open meadow for a meeting with the Abbott. Everyone receives a paper, printed in green that outlines today’s activities including the reminder to sign up for the Covid vaccine.

In the dream, I’m very fit, eager to participate in my new lifestyle among hundreds of monks in this ancient monastery, symbol of enclosure with the Sacred. With them, I expect to practice balanced disciplines of prayer, study, and work, within the rule of silence. Further engaging my whole spirit is the natural beauty of this setting: varied snow-covered peaks, scented pines, wild flowers, and birds songs, and so much more.

That I am the only woman, garbed in the long brown homespun robe and belt of the monks, seems to make no difference to this large community. It never occurred me to request more feminine attire; the robe I was given scratches my shoulders.

In the dream, I do not see the Abbott, but feel his presence through the paper, printed in green, with his directives: The Covid vaccine gives me pause.

The dream’s intent eludes me, given my return to health. On the one hand, there’s my enthusiastic response to this new way of living; on the other, its patriarchal underpinnings—their rules of silence and orders of day—do little to enhance my relationships with the Sacred and others.

Despite increased symptoms, perhaps I’m not to let go of my writing altogether.

A significant story is still related in the village of Fleury, France, never rebuilt after the artillery and trench warfare of World War I. In the vicinity still stands the Benedictine Abbey, established in 640 A.D., and only shuttered by passing warfare over the centuries; with the withdrawal of Hitler’s menace, it was refounded in 1944 and thrives today.

This significant story, I mentioned, began in the monastery chapel, on the first day of the Christmas octave, in the early 640s. The Abbott, his advisors, and the community of monk and priests were chanting the Hour of Vespers, or evensong.

Anticipation mounted among the consecrated men. A new short prayer or antiphon of the promised Messiah would precede their chanting the Magnificat, the pregnant Mary’s song of praise and joy in her God.

Moments passed. Then, within shivered breathing exploded sacred words drawn from the prophet Isaiah:

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,

reaching from one end to the other,

mightily and sweetly ordering all things:

Come and teach us the way of prudence.

As Vespers concluded, the Abbot and his assistants began distributing small gifts to his community and then returned to their Order of Day. Six new antiphons would follow in succeeding days during Vespers and quickly spread throughout European monasteries.

This is one version how The Great “O” Antiphons of Advent came into being, its author’s anonymity purposely veiled. Created in a chaotic world, they speak to ours. There is release, into the sunshine and peace.     

Winter’s dark shrouded St. Meinrad Archabbey Church and chilled its cruciform interior where I stood huddling in the shadows, with others. It was 1984, Advent, southern Indiana. Black-robed Benedictines had chanted the hour of Compline from their stalls, stashed away their Office books, then processed toward a side altar illumined by thick beeswax candles. Here stood a carved statue of the Black Madonna and Child, a replica of the one in Einsiedein, Switzerland, from which this foundation had been made in 1854. Before retiring, the monks always bade her good night—they were her faithful sons.

 

 

Strains of the eleventh-century antiphon, Alma Redemptoris Mater, sweetened the air, our hearts quickening with hope. Here was the crux of the Christmas mysteries we would shortly celebrate.

Then it was over. Everyone scattered within the shadows as I returned to the Guest House, still marveling at the experience. Clearly, this Madonna, also called the Gateway to Heaven and Star of the Sea, had power to help “…the fallen people striving to rise.” With my arthritic knees, I was among them.

Her presence continues heartening me during my end-time. When stung by fears, I ask her to wrap me within the folds of her copious mantle, then cling to her. Arms entwined, we hug and breathe in the darkness. The madness does leave, slowly.

 

 

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