I’ve just returned from a few days at a Benedictine monastery. As I headed there on the train I decided it would good to inform my many Twitter followers, all no doubt waiting poised with their smart phones to receive my latest tweet, that I would be absent from Twitter for a few days. Naturally the culture of Twitter encouraged me to discover whether Worth Abbey, where I was headed had a Twitter account. It did not.
Nor, I found when I arrived, did it have a reliable mobile signal. Without heading out of my room to the top of the car park I was cut off from the world. This, as many of us will likely agree, is a state of acute anxiety.
Resigned to this reality however, with an air of spiritual piety, I declined the offer of a Wifi code and settled into off-grid life in the company of a dozen or so elderly monks. Life at the monastery is a rhythm of prayer, silence and meals (also in silence). 5 times a day the community assemble in the Abbey church to chant the psalms, read Scripture and pray. In the gaps between these services they are often required to pray privately. I looked at the packed timetable and wondered where on earth I was going to get time to do any of the reading and writing I had brought with me to do.
However as this rhythm embraced me, and I embraced it, free from the constant distractions and lazy industry of social media and email, I began to discover that there was a vast amount of time to be enjoyed. The services and meals, rather than filling up time, seemed to free up time to be used wisely, greedily, lovingly, instead of blandly and reactively in a blur of tweets, texts and updates. I focussed on what I had brought to do with a clear intensity I rarely do. Creativity welled up within in this atmosphere of limited distraction. I felt bourn restfully along by a gentle undertow of prayer and timelessness.
Monks have been living by the rhythm of Rule of Benedictine life for over 1500 years. Their lives of insignificance, commitment, apparent irrelevance can be easily dismissed as outdated, dusty, unenlightened. We use the language of time and history to sneer at the ancient, in contradiction to the present, the new, all that is future. We have lost our value for wisdom, for the kinds of lives that are proved valuable over centuries rather than the minutes between one trending hashtag and the next. We would do well to follow these faithful monks, somehow integrating this great wisdom into our time starved lives. We will not however be able to follow them on Twitter, which, for their sake I am grateful.