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seven days of long walks, thir teen monks, ritualistic feasts and a monastic way of living

Minseong Wang

Noon, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Zaterdag October 1st, 2011

The last few days were a mix of expectation and apprehension. It was an uneasiness that I have never experienced before, and so it is difficult to put into words. Even as I was painting my new apartment with my house mate yesterday afternoon, and especially in the evening while we where having a drink in our backyard with some friends, I was definately distracted. Later in the night I felt like cutting my hair, and ended up trimming it a bit shorter then I would have preferred. I got on the train in Eindhoven Station at 12:02, half an hour later then I had planned. I slept quite well, but neglecting to pack for the trip on the previous evening made me much more rushed than I would have liked. Also a pit stop to Motta to pick up a couple of books that I had ordered last week secured my late departure. To think I had the whole week to get the books, and to go there this morning despite the fact that I would be late for my train. The fact that I had to get off at Weert, then get on a bus to Sittard, and then take another short train ride to Maastricht didn’t help with my uneasiness. Even though I have traveled quite a bit, I must admit going on an unknown route always gets on my nerves. Throughout my trip I could notice a lot of people going out; it was Saturday and the weather was unusually hot and sunny for this time of year. On my final bus to Lemiers, I was seriously doubting my decision. I half expected some


people to get off with me at my stop Benedictusberg; it is a rather famous cloister, but a glance at how the people were dressed told me likewise. I got off the bus alone, half an hour late for my appointment. As I walked up the sloping road to the abbey, the landscape of rolling pastures told me that I was in the far southern part of the Netherlands. But instead of appreciating the beautiful weather and surroundings, I found myself talking to myself again as I have been for the last few days. For heavens sake, what am I doing here? I’ve left behind so many stuff to do for school and decided to invest four days in a place that I have nothing to do with. Yes, of course, it will be an experience by itself, and yes Sint Benedictusberg is a fascinating place to visit in terms of architecture and crafts as well. And yes, I am positive it will be a pleasant stay. But was this the time for it?

Walking up the road I discovered the modern part of the abbey by Hans van der Laan greet me. A guest entrance was not apparent, so I walked up to the only entrance I could see. It was a set of huge doors, quite uninviting and probably locked as well. After a tug at them I discovered that they were. To the right side of the doors there was a window, and since the day was quite bright it was difficult to make out what was inside.

I was practically pressing my face to the window, and discovered a monk talking to a woman. The monk seemed surprised, or at least mildly amused to see me peering in. He opened the door from me, and we exchanged greetings. There was a bit of confusion in terms of what language to use, and with my limited Dutch I could tell he thought I had come to see the architecture. When I told him that I had an appointment for a guest stay, he led me into a small room right next to the room he was sitting in, and went to get the guest father for me. I found myself in a waiting room; wooden floor, a wooden bench , a small table, and a couple of chairs. I could immediately recognize the touch of modernism from the simple modestly of the interior space. While I was sitting on the bench savouring my first moment of contact, I was also seriously doubting about whether of not to take out my camera for a snapshot. The guest father turned out to be as courteous as he was in our email correspondences. He gave me a warm welcome, and told me I could call him Brother Mark when I asked how should I address him. After our introduction, he guided me to the guest quarters. Along our way he gave me a quick guide to the space we were passing by; the voorhof leading to the kerk, where the old building meets with the new architecture from Hans van der Laan, and finally the guest quarter were I will stay for the next few days. There are eight guest rooms in total, and for today there were three guests including myself. One of the first things Brother Mark asked me was if I was Catholic. Even though it was a question to be expected, I found myself stuttering my response. With an assuring smile, Brother Mark told me that it doesn’t


matter for my stay. He guided me through the daily routine; telling me the two early morning prayers are not obligatory, and that I am expected to attend the prayers in daytime. Breakfast is served in the guest hall, and the Lunch and Dinner is with the monks. He told me there will be a brief welcoming gesture, a washing of hands from the head monk tonight at dinner, as it is for all of the new guests. As I explained the intention of my visit to Brother Mark, I also told him I wasn’t sure on how to ‘make the most out of’ my stay. We agreed to try it out first, and Brother Mark reassured me that we will talk regularly, and that he will be available if I needed help. As I settled myself into my new room, I admitted to myself that I am under a self imposed pressure to make something out of my stay. A concern on how to be effective and efficient in an environment were I can’t run around freely asking questions and taking pictures or footage whenever I wanted. And at the same time I feel this constant pressure would deprive me from fully recognizing the moment I am experiencing now. A few days ago I had a talk with Robert, one of my Forum teachers about my concerns of this stay. He gave me some tips on how I could use rapid mapping as a way to document my experience, and how it would immensely help to jog my memory later on. He also suggested that I could participate for starters, and then later withdraw from the daily cycle and take the role of an observer. For the rest of the day and also for tomorrow, I plan to follow the daily routine and familiarize myself to the surroundings. No fancy camera work or audio recordings. I will focus on what I am doing at the moment, and try to write it down as I am doing now or in my dummy. I know I can never be free from my tasks,

and I will not try to pretend that I am not encumbered by my assignment. But since there is no way to know of what is to come, I shall try to live the moment that is given to me here. I already feel that light and time will be a fascination during my stay. The duration of daylight and the life cycle here in the monastery are closely related. I can already feel how the brightness changes with time sitting in my guest room, probably more acutely due to how this building was built. I hope to be able to reflect on this aspect more abundantly during my stay here. I just realized that I didn’t bring my charger for my phone. This troubles me, for I do not have a watch to keep time. Also I would prefer to keep in touch with school during my stay here. I could think I’ve involuntarily rid myself of a distraction. But honestly I can’t decide whether this will be to my advantage or not.

Vespers, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Zaterdag October 1st, 2011

After settling down, I found out that I had some time before the evening prayer. Brother Mark mentioned that there will be coffee in the guest hall at 16:30, so I found my way there in hopes of meeting the other two guests here. The guest hall was on the far end of the guest hallway. It was a round library built in one of the old towers that resembles that of a castle. On entering the hall, I found a pot of tea, a pot of coffee, some bread and a two sets of utensils for the tea. Because of the large windows surrounding the circular space, and the extremely high ceiling there was an abundance of light. Some small bookshelves here and there with books, and again the modern wooden furniture. Despite the minimalist interior it was a warm and inviting space due to the openness and bright afternoon light. But there were no people. I waited for a few minutes, wondering what to do. But my patience didn’t last too long, since I didn’t have anything to eat since leaving Eindhoven. It was a queer feeling; there was an empty trolly near the entrance clearly for preparing this tea time for the guests, and since the warm drinks were quite fresh it was prepared quite recently, but there was no sign of the person who prepared it for us. Sitting in this big empty room alone, I brushed through a few books, had a cup of coffee and a couple slices of bread with butter. In the end no one


showed up. Vespers, or avondgebed. My first prayer here in the abbey. Also my first real look at the chapel space by Hans van der Laan. Due to the early evening light coming in from the left back side of the building, the space looked exactly like some of the pictures I’ve seen in books and on the Internet. The way the space captured light was truly magical. Even the particles of dust floating around emphasized the straight forward flow of light within the space. There were around 15 people in the chapel, most of them elderly. I barely sat down myself before the monks started to entered. They entered from a separate entrance from the guests, two in a row. All of them were clad in black robes, and solemnly bowed to the alter in the center before taking seats on either side of the alter. And my first Gregorian mass, recited in Latin. The prayer book was in Latin, with the Dutch translation. The service itself wasn’t that long. But I found myself busy with mimicking the others when they stood up, when they suddenly bowed, and when they sat down again. It didn’t take that long to loose track of the prayer, and found myself distracted not knowing what to focus on. The meaning of the ritual was of course totally lost to me. I could recognize some fragments from the prayer; but not enough to make any sense out of it. What captivated me was the amazing acoustics. The sound of the Gregorian chants resonating in the space had an intense but clear quality to it. It was beautiful by itself, not because it was something the monks rehearsed perfectly for show, but because it was a living dialogue that they were practicing daily. The chants, the postures, the smoke of incense and how its scent

travelled throughout the space, and the spray of light pouring in from above. The monks left the space, again in a somber double file, but this time chanting as well. Even after they left the chapel and closed the door behind them, I could here the sound of their chant getting distant as they returned to where ever they came from. At the evening mass I noticed there were less monks then I expected to see, about 10 of them. Then again, I’m not sure what I was expecting in the first place. The abbey seems to be quite big in terms of space, so maybe that’s why I felt there’s more space for people. Brother Mark told me dinner is at 19:30, and that he would shepherd the guests into the refter to have the meal with the monks. When I went to the waiting point, I found one of the guests already waiting. We exchanged greetings, and surprisingly found out that he was from Eindhoven. His name is Max, and he seemed to be quite well acquainted with the abbey. Before long Brother Mark came to us and led us to the refter. I got to meet the head monk, and had a chance to briefly introduce myself and the reasons of my visit. Afterwards he helped us through the hand washing, which involved dipping my hands in a bowl of water and then drying them with a towel. The refter, or dining hall was were the monks had their common meals. The rectangular space was also filled with the simplistic array of furniture, in this case shaped into long dining tables appropriate for the feasts. Apart from the tables in the center of the room with benches, there were higher dining tables surrounding the whole room, and the benches were placed on the wall side so that everyone sitting would be facing toward the center of the room.


After my hand washing I discovered everyone was standing in front of the perimeter of tables, waiting. I blindly followed Max’s footsteps to find my self standing in front of a table as well. He picked up a small card on the table; so did I. It was a prayer in Latin, along with its Dutch translation. To one side of the room, closer to a door that leads to the kitchen, there was a wooden stand with a seat. A monk positioned there started to lead the prayer, the others followed. It was a brief prayer, and soon everyone took their places to eat. I found out that a note with my name was on the table, so everyone had a reserved seat. The dinner menu was bread and tea. It resembled my mysterious tea party in the empty guest hall a couple of hours ago. Only this time we had a bowl for the tea, some more variations of spreads, and proper cutlery to eat the slices of bread with dignity. I also soon realized that the monk sitting in the stand was going to chant through our meal. This time he was reading, or rather chanting through a Dutch book. As far as I could tell he was chanting about the history of the Netherlands, not a variation of prayer. It was clear that in the Benedictine tradition they transformed the consumption of food into a ritual, and lived by it daily. It was truly an extension of the prayer exercised within the church. It was a solemn moment, a thoughtful atmosphere flowing through the meal. I wasn’t sure whether I would end up only eating slices of bread during my stay here. The have beautiful Swiss cutlery, so I guess they most eat other things as well. Maybe they preferred their dinner light. Or maybe they keep Sabbath in the weekends and do not cook anything. I didn’t dare ask at the moment, and I was having enough trouble trying to figure out what to do with my slice of bread while spying on the others to see what they

are doing. Eventually the humble dinner ended, and everyone stood once again in front of their tables and shared another short prayer of thanks. Afterwards their was a brief recreation time in the guest hall; in other words a Brother sat down with us to have a chat before the Completen, or the final prayer to end the day and enter into complete silence.

Prime, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Zondag October 2nd, 2011

Last evening I realized that not being able to use my phone for the duration of my stay would prove to be a bigger problem than just not being able to make phone calls. First of all I don’t have a watch, so my phone is my main means of keeping time. But the biggest problem was the alarm. If I can’t use my phone as an alarm, how on earth am I supposed to wake up at 04:40 in the morning? I seriously considered keeping my phone on all night, but eventually I decided not to. There are amazingly loud church bells ringing before every prayer time; it’s just since the guest quarters are in the far back of the cloister you can barely here them at all. I really wanted to make some audio recordings of the prayers later on, so I decided to save the batteries for now and try my luck with the bells. Of course I slept right through Metten, or night wake. I somehow managed to wake myself at 06:20, ten minutes to Lauden, but failed to crawl out of my bed due to sheer laziness. I could hear the bells calling in a distance, and the sound of a few people moving about, but I just tucked myself deeper into the blankets. By this I proved that just sleeping in a monastery doesn’t automatically change your life. Prime was from 07:45. Officially the day started a couple of hours ago, and this was already the third prayer of the day. But catching a few yawns from the monks told me it was still an early time of day, even for

them. Now I felt a bit more comfortable with the ritual; more secure than yesterday even though I still can’t understand a thing. The tip from Max that standing and bowing mainly occurs around the phrase Gloria Patri et Filio er Spiritui Sancto helped immensely. There were a few exceptions, but nothing I couldn’t cope with by peeking at others from the corner of an eye. I could decide not to follow the ritual like this, since at best I am just mimicking what they are doing like a parrot. And Brother Mark and Max made it clear that it is not a problem at all, that I don’t need to feel obliged to follow everything. But it is a conscious decision for now to follow their lead. The postures in rituals also have meaning by itself, and I believe copying the movements will help me understand the experience. In my room there were four books on the desk. I found out that three of them contained the prayers of each ritual; the last one is still a mystery. I think it has prayers for special occasions. Of the ones I’ve figured out, one book was for the two early morning sessions, a separate thin book for Prime, and a smaller but thicker book containing the prayers for the daytime rituals. So it was the first time to open my book for Prime, and found that someone has kindly subtitled each chapter with the time that this prayer starts; (7.45u.-). The books themselves are quite interesting, they are old and worn, but not carelessly handled. Here and there are underlines and footnotes, marks of the numerous people who have used the very room I am staying right now since each book is specifically designated to my room,gastenkamer 7. After Prime the silence is broken, and we could greet each other with words. There was a simple breakfast prepared for us in the guest hall afterwards, again with bread but this time an apple as well. The other


guests were talking in Dutch, and I couldn’t find myself engaging in the conversation for some reason, so it was a pretty silent breakfast on my part. I was peering into a book of photography with pictures from Catholic churches all around the world. And the Brother who came to tend to our breakfast found a picture of someone who frequents to this abbey, and seemed to be quite amused to see a familiar face in a book from Germany. The Holy Mass. Following the church bells back to the chapel, I found out that there were a lot of people waiting for the Mass. There were nearly 50 people in the church, well dressed, a majority of them over the age of 50. There were some youngsters who came with their parents or grandparent. It reminded me that today was actually Sunday, and that this was actually a ‘going to church’ moment. The monks were wearing different robes this time! The robes were now snow white, and some of them had a long draping, green tinted over layer with a few stripes that resembled the veins on a leaf. Since I got used to the somberness, the change of attire left a strong impression. In a sense it seemed to make a ritualistic statement, and give a distinctiveness to this specific prayer time. Ritualistic pace, light, scent, and gestures. Everything seemed to stand out more. It was a long ceremony, around an hour and a half. Coming from a Protestant tradition and studying religion I could recognize most of the sacraments and symbolism. The Latin chants were performed in a mindful manner. There were much more movement and gestures from the monks compared to the other rituals. The light traveled in from the right back side of the building, illuminating the left side wall, and slowly finding its way deeper into the space

as time passed. The burning and swinging of incense is always an unfamiliar scene for me since this is a thing that is not found in a Protestant church; later on Max said he thinks it as a symbolic blessing since it was one of the gifts presented to baby Jesus. The smoke, which started from the alter slowly found its way throughout the building carrying its scent. The Eucharist was the centerpiece of this moment, the monks spent a lot of time consecrating the bread and wine before sharing it with the communion. There was a moment of offering as well, which reminded my once more this is the time of worship for most Catholics. I found myself finding it more difficult to follow this ritual, since it is a shared moment of the communion and its faith. So instead I took the privilege of observing and making notes. Afterwards there was some more tea in the guest room. I asked a few questions, and talked about my thoughts of the ceremony. I was able to talk with another guest who noticed that I was taking notes during the Mass. I told him I was trying to capture my thoughts in notes and scribbles, he told that he too does that. He also told me he comes here once in a while, and appreciates the calmness and solitude this abbey offers, and sometimes volunteers to work in the abbey. He explained that the guest who visit here are somewhat multinational, mostly Dutch, but from Germany and Belgium and France as well. Sometimes even from Spain, he said. He informed me that the monks themselves are quite good with these languages. We were talking about how one could communicate even when there is a language barrier when we discovered that we had a quarter of an hour left until Sext, the midday prayer. Fragmented time. It didn’t take me too long to


understand that when the church bells start to ring you have to stop whatever you where doing. It gave me a fresh perspective about church bells, since I have never experienced them in this manner. This tightly scheduled routine is making me very conscious about time in a specific sense. It is important to keep track of which point of time I am in within the day, and be aware of what I am doing, how long it will take, and decide if it is possible to execute it within the given time.

Vespers, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Zondag October 2nd, 2011

Sext starts a little past noon. The light was still coming in from the right hand side, but has found its way into the center of the chapel. Now the altar and the center isle were illuminated. After the relatively brief prayer, Brother Mark summoned me to follow the monks and the others guests through a separate exit. It seemed as if we were going straight for lunch. Contrary to my past assumption that the monks only eat bread in the weekends, I could smell the heavy scent of cooked, hot food. It was a welcoming change, since the total of the things I have consumed since my arrival were 6 slices of bread with various spreads, an apple, one bowl of tea, one normal cup of tea, and two cups of coffee. Oh, and a biscuit. Once again the dining hall maintained an atmosphere of intensity. The soberness was not only about the interior. I could also see it in the way they mapped out the cutlery and in how they served the food. Everything on the dining table; a dish, bowl, utensils, cups were placed in an efficient and orderly manner. A large handkerchief was rolled and inserted in between a wooden ring, along with my name tag. The monks tucked the clothe under their chin, while I just put in on my lap. Surprisingly there was a bottle of beer and a large glass for everyone. The soup was already waiting for us. Afterwards came the main course; steamed rice, some sort of meat dish, and some sort of vegetable dish. I


couldn’t quite name the food, but they were quite hearty. Dessert was a piece of cake and some chocolates. Everything had an order, and whenever you were finished with a dish you had to place it on the far end of the table so that the monk that was serving food could remove it immediately. In this way the food was consumed systematically, and the table was always maintained in an orderly way. You would never dare call the refter of the St. Benedictusberg abbey a mess hall. And honestly, this was the most challenging moment for me up until know. The food was definitely good and welcoming. And I was hungry. But it was not a moment to dig in. In between trying to figure out how to eat, second-guessing the tempo of the meal(Am I eating to slowly?), with a monk continuously chanting a critic on democracy, and with the solemn atmosphere of the dining hall weighing down on me, I could nearly choke. I kept on imagining myself suddenly bursting into a coughing fit and utterly breaking the ceremonial sternness of the dinner ritual and adding a lot of chaotic colors to the sterile dinner table. Seriously, I could make head or tails of what I was eating. But eventually I survived the meal, and I must admit I did not enjoy the pie and chocolate at all because I was in such a hurry to get rid of it. The final step of the meal was to re-roll the handkerchief and place it back into the wooden ring. It was a mark that your meal was finished. And once everyone was finished we stood in front of our places for a final prayer of thanks. I believe the dining ritual guides you to be mindful about the food you are eating, and also keeps you from eating in a gluttonous manner. And that it takes time to get used to. I also noticed that the food that the monks eat were quite rich in quantity and flavour, and that

they do not restrain from having access to savoury foods and sweets. It guess it is more about how you eat the food then what you don’t eat at all. I must also mention that the beer was quite nice; it had a smooth taste and a rich scent to it, which in my opinion fit the taste of the monastery quite well. Though it was peculiar to smell a hint of beer in my breath on my way to prayer.

I recalled Max mentioning that on Sundays Noon will be a bit earlier then usual. And he was right, the church bells started to ring about a quarter of an hour earlier than the schedule I had with me. I ended up rushing back to the chapel to be on time. Now the light had traveled to the back of the chapel; the light beams came in through the hind windows and poured over the midsection of the chapel. It is stunning to be able to be so aware of the flow of time. This is possible because of the periodical prayers making me come to the same location repeatedly, and secondly because of the extremely blunt attitude of how the architecture utilizes the natural light. Even I could tell which part of the day it was just by looking at the shadows now, and I’ve been here just for a day. Because there are less things to be distracted by in this environment, it is possible to focus on what is essential in terms of the prayers and rituals. No icons and sculptures in every corner and column. No stained glasses playing with the light and colors. Max told me that one of the older monks did say that he could use some more


distractions in that sense, but I can safely assume that this monk must have been living here for a very long time. Sometimes religious rituals speak for itself in spite of language barriers, and this abbey is definitely such a space. At 16:30 I went to the guest hall for tea. This time there was 6 sets of tea cups, and this time I wasn’t alone. This time there were Max and another guest. Max told me about his work as a medical doctor and how he was currently in a transitional phase in terms of professions. We also talked about the possibilities of doing some work within the abbey tomorrow.

Soon it was time for Vespers, and so I returned to the chapel. Now the light was hanging for the left back side, illuminating the right side of the church just like it did in the previous evening. During the prayer I though about how I was being obsessive about documenting my experience. I am here for a relatively short period of time, and I know I will not be able to visit here for a stay like this for the remainder of this semester. Maybe in the future on a different occasion, but there are things that I must focus on in Eindhoven for the time being. I was doubting about the duration of the stay before I got here; now I know it is a very brief visit in terms of the tempo this community

is living in. “Yes, of course you can’t know everything in three days”, Brother Mark told me. I feel in a sense that being preoccupied documenting is making me rigid. The fear of missing something important may be keeping me back. And I realize that this is something that I must work with, not only here but within this line of work. After Vespers there was still plenty of light, so I decided to take a walk behind the abbey. The hill which is in fact called Benedictusberg gently rolls toward the north west. I know if I ventured far enough I would end up in Germany. While I follow a path circling the meadows I think about what I wanted to do here, in a creative sense. As I walk through the silent grounds I realize I would love to capture the silence I am experiencing here. How the emptiness of space could actually be resonating with beauty and life; that in some cases it isn’t a cold empty void. If you exit from the main entrance and just walk 5 minutes down the hill you would end up at the bus station were I got off, so you can actually here the cars passing by at high speeds in a distance. But still there is an enchanting stillness within this cloister, and I have come to appreciate it immensely. Once again at 19:30 the guest gathered to join the monks for dinner. Now we were a total of five. As we were eating the bread, I felt that the lightness of the food fitted the dining ritual much better than the plentiful lunch I had experienced today. Also it was my third time, so that also made me much more comfortable with the experience. This time the monk chanted passages from the Bible. After dinner, Max told me that the Communion was having recreation on their own, so it was up to us guests to decide on whether or not to have some


recreation amongst ourselves as well. The two of us ended up sitting in the guest hall having a conversation. I could tell that Max was being very thoughtful, for he remembered our previous conversations and gave me additional information on topics he thought that wasn’t thoroughly explained. We talked about the Catholic faith and the Benedictine order. He told me more about himself and why he is planning to stop being a practicing doctor and work within the creative field by utilizing his knowledge of medicine. I also talked about myself, on what lead me to study design and why I came to the Netherlands. When I told him about my experience in Kenya, and how it contributed in shaping my decision to embrace who I am as I am and be a creative worker, even though the world seems to be in the immediate need of more doctors and engineers. Max found my thoughts intriguing and told me about a meeting he had yesterday. He told me there are a group of people who are not monks themselves, but are associated with the monastery and the monasterial way of living. Max himself is one of them, and while they were having their annual meeting they were talking about the exact same topic. He told me that he does not believe in the hierarchy between professions, that Saint Benedict himself recognized the role of artists 1400 years ago. And he encouraged me on my decision to study what I am passionate about. Coming from a doctor this was quite special. Once again the church bells told us to finish our conversation and summoned us toward the chapel for Completen. Although I have missed the two early morning prayers, I have been following the prayer times closely and was being aware of the movement of light. And because of that I found myself enthralled

by the darkness of the chapel, a quality that I did not even notice the previous evening. Only with the aid of a few lights hanging from the ceiling the space was dimly lit. As the darkness got deeper the stillness slowly intensified; as the final chants resonated deep into the abbey finally there was silence. And so my second day in the abbey was concluded. As I reflect on my past two days, I feel the approach I have taken to document my experience has helped me to familiarize myself to the environment and routines. And now I feel that I will be able to move on to other methods of observation and documentation. Tomorrow I will engage in some work that will be provided to me by the Brothers. Since prayer and labour together represents the balance of the spiritual vocation that is pursued here, I believe it will help me gain a fresh perspective as well. In terms of documenting I expect less writing since there will be less time for that and more short notes, mapping and doodles. The camera is for later as well. To get the most out of such a short term I feel I am rushing myself. But as I have mentioned already this is the reality of this trip, and the question of how I will make use of the given time can be both applied to the monasterial life and to design.

Metten, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Maandag October 3rd, 2011

By some miracle I managed to wake up at 04:45 due to the sound of a door closing in the distance. Again I seriously considered staying in my bed, but this time I actually managed to drag myself out. I just changed into the cloth a wore yesterday, put on a jacket for it was a bit chilly, and grabbed my dummy and the larger prayer book that I have not yet used before and left the room. Waking up and getting out didn’t even take 5 minutes. I could here all of the sounds I were making resonate and echo throughout the hallway. Turning the handle, the squeaking of the hinges, closing the door. Locking the door made an especially distinctive sound when the lock clicked into place. In my mind it made such a loud noise I imagined that every other guest would know when I was going somewhere. Since I can’t really recall hearing this sound from the other guests it made me wonder if they even bothered to lock their doors at all. Because of the way this abbey is built, you can here the sound of movement in the corridors even though when it is impossible to see the source. As my footsteps echoed along the hallway I could also notice the squeaking sound my sneakers were making, since I was the only person in this whole facility who had such shoes this was also one of my unique sounds. Since it was still quite dark there was this feeling that the sounds I made were much more acute. I stepped into the church, and found two monks and


two guests amongst the darkness. It was a different kind of darkness from Completen, a much colder and stale atmosphere. Two more monks joined to one side, so there were three monks to the right side of the alter and one monk to the left. And soon a dialogue between the four monks commenced. The night wake was a calm sort of prayer, much less movement apart from the occasional standing up and bowing. The lone monk to the left chanted, the others replied in unison. Once in a while the monk sitting in the middle of the three would blow a small whistle to make a quite timid sound to signal the start of a new chapter. This Gregorian chant constantly went on, slowly breaking through the darkness and waking the abbey. When I finally retreated back into my room, I found out it was a quarter past 06:00, 15 minutes before Lauden. Soon enough the church bells start to ring, and I found myself heading back to the church right away. There was one more monk on the left side in Lauden. The ritual started with a bit of an abruptness compared to the other prayer times. It was almost as if the two early morning prayers were actually one, and the brief break in between was an interlude. It had a similar rhythm to the previous prayer. The difference that I could tell was that it was a bit shorter (but still quite long, about three quarters of an hour), and that you could see the first rays of the sun slowly brushing through the treetops outside. But the light couldn’t find its way into the chapel yet, that was for later. After finishing my first early morning prayers I returned to my room to wash up properly. It wasn’t easy for me, it was too early to begin with and not being able to understand felt like a heavier burden on me in such a

minimal ceremony . Since there was nothing but the prayer itself to hang onto I found myself often drifting away half awake, half asleep. It was possible to have breakfast afterwards, but it was a silent meal since the silence is not to be broken until after Prime. But I found this more enjoyable then yesterdays breakfast; it’s just I’m really bad at early morning conversations.

Noon, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Maandag October 3rd, 2011

I now see that Prime is the formal starting point of the day. It is a brief and concise ritual, especially compared to the early morning prayers. All of the monks who I saw normally at the prayers were present, and all of the guests were expected to be there as well. Dawn has retreated, the light of day has once more started to find its way into the church, and I realize for the third day in a row I am being blessed with beautiful weather. As a guest I find the experience of scheduled prayer fascinating. And the fragmentation of time is making me reflect on what I took for granted in terms of utilizing time. But to imagine to live like this for years and years to come, it is a scary thought. I would picture myself developing a hysteric reaction to church bells, and dream of them chasing me through dark hallways. To briefly observe and taste is one thing. To live it is another. I am coming to respect the lives of the monks here. A can imagine when a monasterial life becomes a reality you adjust and find your own way within that context. Earlier this morning I felt something familiar from the scent of the crisp dawn air. I just realized it reminded me of the scent of the training camp I was in at the beginning of my military career back in Korea. I remember being greeted by a fragrance of clarity every morning, a formula between the time when the sun is still to rise, the rural countryside and the disciplined


institution. Even in the strictest societies there are trifles and joys, and here on the hill of Benedictusberg I feel that is also the case. What the monks do with their private time is a mystery, and honestly I am quite curious. But I have come to realize to uncover what is behind those forbidding doors is not the focus of my visit, that now is not the time for that, and most importantly that it is a trivial matter for me. Those sort of approaches have been done by many researchers, and I am slowly finding my own way, though it is hard to put it into words yet. Next to the main entrance there is a rack with post cards with beautiful pictures of the abbey, CD’s with Gregorian chants and some books about the abbey as well. Everything I need in terms of visual and audio material are already there. One of the books I found was about the brothers of the Communion, and it had some wonderful behind the scene pictures of the daily life of the brothers. If it is not too expensive for my purse I am considering obtaining a copy. What I wish to do with the reality of being here and the time I am given will be from my perspective as a visiting stranger, that is not of the Communion and not of the ethnicity. I am building up a strong conviction that in this way my design will be personal and unique. The sense of displacement is the strongest during Terts, the Holy Mass. The Eucharist welcomes the community and binds the body as one. At the same time it draws a exclusive line between an insider and an outsider. The Mass was briefer then yesterday; there was no Dutch sermon. And there were much less people, 15 at the most. But the essence of the ritual was firm; it was a sacrament of bonding through the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. As I observed the solemn

ceremony, I could not help but admire the simplicity and straightforwardness of the space, and how it made the ritual all more intense and pure. I suspect this is coming from my Protestant ego, but just to be honest that is how I felt. Once again the light was touching the left side walls and columns of the chapel, gently finding its way down into the church.

Max told me that after Sext and lunch, it is a rest time for the monks. I didn’t know that up until know. He said that we will get our work after finishing Noon. My job turned out to be vacuuming the dreaded refter, or dining hall. Even though the weather was nice, it seemed the monk who was in charge of the ‘small work’ didn’t have anything on that tab. So Max guided me to the equipment and gave me some tips on how to get the work done. At first I was too preoccupied struggling with the electrical extension cord and trying to figure out the smartest way to navigate through all these heavy wooden furniture, to realize that being alone in the rafter was actually a privilege. As I was trying my best to


suck up all of the tiny bread crumbs and to get rid of the cobwebs, I could observe details that I could have never captured if it where not for this job. First of all there were a lot of bread crumbs. At first glance the dining hall looks extremely tidy. Honestly when I got the job I thought to myself “Isn’t it clean enough already? Don’t they have anything better to give me?” But it turned out to be an illusion from the uniformity of the dining tables and benches, and the dark woodwork that conceals minor grime. There were a lot of dust and tiny food particles hidden between corners and edges. This made me realize that although the monks are extremely organized, that doesn’t mean that they are obsessively antiseptic as well. It seemed to tell me that although the orderly tidiness plays a big part of the vocation, it is never practiced just for the sake of being hygienic and that it is merely a means to achieve a greater goal. But in a practical sense it also told me that the abbey was quite short in hands. I remembered my initial feeling of a lack of monks, and now I believe it was a fair judgement. I believe the abbey could accommodate more monks in terms of space, and with the handful of monks that reside here it must be a tight management. I’ve talked with numerous guests about the volunteer work done here, and that a helping hand is always welcome. In the end just being in the room all alone and being able to admire it was a reward by itself. During meal times I was too busy making heads and tails, and I wouldn’t dare stare at the monks or look around. Now I could see the space as it was; it was a room that had a logical harmony to it, in the way it was arranged spatially, in the unity of the objects within it, and in

the manner of which the space was used daily. In that sense it resembled the church, even though the rafter was in the older part of the building that was build in the 1920s. It was a space of concept. And it was a dining room filled with bread crumbs. Max and I couldn’t determine what type of detergent the monks use on their floors, so we called it a day. Afterwards I took a stroll outside. The weather has been extremely kind to me for the last few days. As I walked I thought about my projects, and felt that some points were becoming clear to me. At this point I am not going to claim that just because I vacuumed a dining room I have discovered the balance between the material and spiritual, between working with your hands and prayer. It was just refreshing to empty my mind from my current preoccupation. Richard Sennett said in his book The Craftsman that “the obsession with getting things perfectly right may deform the work itself.” I believe this is the threat I am posing to myself. And anyway, I think I prefer working over praying.

Vespers, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Maandag October 3rd, 2011

At 16:30 Max and I talked about my plans for my projects over tea. I told him of this journal, and that I will make a book out of it including my scribbles and some photos. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to use my camera to make some films on the stillness and sounds that I am fascinated by. Also I plan to request an audience with a monk to have a half hour recorded conversation. It would be a talk about the life in the monastery and the reflections from my short stay. And also if it were to be possible I would like to have a peek in the bookbinding workshop, and hopefully be able to talk to the monk there as well. It’s a long wish list, and most of it I’ll have to talk to Brother Mark to get permission. Also I had this sudden though about making a lamp shade that would share the ‘language’ of this world. All together I made it sound ambitious, but in the end I feel it shows that my stay here is paying off. Vespers was simpler than the previous two evening prayers I have experienced. I guess there is a difference in terms of which day it is of the week. Once again the sun was leaning to the left side, and was going towards the end of its journey of illuminating the chapel. After experiencing the Holy Mass of Sunday and the two early morning prayers, I have come to acknowledge when a prayer is short, And this evenings Vespers was short. There was still light, so I went on another stroll behind the abbey. Actually I was buying some time to bump


into someone, for I could not find a way to contact Brother Mark. It was a queer quarter of an hour, for I could not find anyone at all within my reach of the monastery, no one at the main entrance, no monks, no guests. Incidentally Brother Mark was walking the pass from the opposite direction, so I was fortunate enough to bump into him head on. He seemed to be busy, and told me we could talk after Completen. “Aren’t we supposed not to talk after that?” “We’ll make it an exception,” Brother Mark told me. Dinner was light as usual, and I was secretly admiring my vacuuming job. The guests are now a total of 6, half the number of the monks present for the common meal. I noticed some African monks that I have never seen before. Their attire was different from the black robes of the monks. They turned out to be a group of three monks from Senegal. The way our host monk for our recreation was speaking about them hinted the fact that these people were rare guests indeed, something exciting even for the monks. Completen was overseen by the monks of St. Benedictusberg and the monks from Senegal together. One of the Senegalese monks introduced a new instrument into the Gregorian chant; something that looked like a cross between a harp and a banjo. The chapel was maintained a bit brighter than usual, I suspected this was for the guest monks. After the prayer while I was returning I could see some of the monks gathered by the entrance exchanging greetings. Brother Mark knocked on my door just before 21:00. In all of my stay this was the first time I answered my door. I remembered that on the day I arrived here, there was a small prayer book left in front of the door for me. And yesterday a monk knocked to summon


me for coffee when I was in the hallway. I told Brother Mark briefly about my stay, and then of my wishes. He himself found some time to talk with me after Terts. We agreed to meet at my quarters again at 11:15. He told me I was free to use my camera as long as I do not take pictures of the monks. And he told me that although the book binding workshop is closed for the time being, he would see if I could meet the monk who does the stone masonry. So with the help of Brother Mark, my last day here promises to be a busy day.

Prime, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Dinsdag October 4th, 2011

Despite my ambitious plans the last day of my stay started off quite slowly. Once again by some miracle I opened my eyes at the sound of distant movement in the hallways at 04:30. But already in the back of my mind I decided not to go, and ended up listening to the church bells and the people moving about from under my sheets. I though I might go to Lauden, but then ended up doing the exact same thing as I did for the first prayer. As time crept by I realized what I needed was some cold water on my face, and with that I was able to get myself prepared for Prime. The morning hue had come upon us, and the chants of the monks resonated with a crispness throughout the space. At breakfast I talked with a new guest who had joined us the previous day. He told me that though he is Catholic, he doesn’t agree with everything the Pope says, and that he comes here for the quietness and retreat once or twice every year. He also said that seeing the monks helps him realize that one does not need so much in life. Today particularly I felt like I needed a lot of things, especially time to fulfill my wishes. In a sense I have been preparing myself for today, and up until now I have been trying to organize my plans as best as possible. In that sense the time I have spent here to familiarize myself was not in vain. I knew the premises, and also my boundaries as a guest. I knew the flow of activity and could map the general movement of the


community. And most importantly, the people here have become somewhat used to my presence here. At every opportunity I shared my motivations and objectives, so most of the people who reside here knew why I was hanging around. The thing that I had to cope with was of course the limited amount of time and the limited resources I had at the moment. Not bringing my charger, for instance, was quite a blunder that I was able to cope with up until now. By giving up on phone calls I have been saving the batteries for the audio recordings. In terms of time and batteries the power supply for my camera was a bigger problem. It doesn’t last for extensive periods of time, and I frequently have to recharge it. If I am working at a slower pace it would not be a problem, but I am pretty certain that the battery will attempt to quit on me prematurely. And of course there is the issue of quality. Continuously working with visuals and audios have improved my skills and my standards as well. At special moments like this, I would appreciate equipment appropriate for the job. But one thing I am doing at the current moment is making do with what I have and train myself to improvise within the process. Another thing that I must mention is that the weather finally changed its’ mood. It is mostly cloudy, and the light looks like it will be very soft today. I must admit I am upset by this, for most of my plans were related to specific locations and space, and strong light. The last three days were a parade of amazing lights and shadows. Having to swallow the fact that I will not be able to capture these moments today was, and still is the most painful part of my stay. I barely took a few frames of the guest hallways when it was already time to have a talk with Brother Mark. He

showed up promptly, and we sat down in my quarters and had a half hour talk. It was an immensely fruitful talk; we talked about the brother himself, the abbey, of my thoughts and so forth. I am extremely happy to have a recording of the talk, and will script it out shortly. It was that good.

Minseong Brother Mark Ok, Hello... (Light laughter) Um, could we start by, maybe, you briefly telling me about yourself? Just to start our conversation. Um hmm. Ok. I’m brother Mark. I come from Belgium. So it’s near from here. Eh, I was born in 1960, so I’m 51 now. And I entered here in the monastery in 82. So it’s nearly 30 years, the time here. I was born on the year 82. Ok. (Laughter) So I entered when you came into the world. Yeah, so... now, I’m a monk, also a priest in the Catholic Church. I first made some years of study in Medicine before I entered, two years, and since I’m a monk I did a masters in philosophy. Yeah, that’s my intellectual information. So, then you’ve been living here since the year I was born? Yeah. (Laughter) Wow, that makes it an easy count for me to, (figure out) how long you were here. I’ve heard from the other people that this abbey has some unique qualities. But for me since this is the only abbey that I have actually been on a short term basis, I can’t really tell what is unique, because everything is unique to me. (Brother Mark nods) Maybe you can tell me about this abbey a bit? Yeah. (Pause) Unique, or specific? Well, anything that comes to mind. So, I think, eh, it’s Benedictine monastic life, as it is in some many monasteries. I think the specific things here in our monastery is the Latin liturgy. It’s, ah, very specific.

The building is also, eh, very specific, Van der Laan, has a very architectural way of building. Um, it’s a rather, classic? Not only the building but also the way of life. It’s classic in the sense of.... yes, we are, for example Roman Catholic, and the royalty to the Catholic Church is one of our characteristics, I think. Yeah. ‘Cause if I have my history correct, isn’t most of Western monastic life, in terms of the Roman Catholic Church tradition, right now, based on the Benedictine Rule? Most, yeah. (It has) different branches, so we have also the Cistercians branch, the Trappists, they are nephews of the Benedictines. They also have the Rule of Saint Benedict, as their rule, but there are some details (that differ). So I think that most of the monasteries of monks are Benedictine. There is a historical cause of that, at 800 Charles... Louis of Aachen, so the emperor used the rule to create an unification of his empire. So it was political, but the consequence is that you have an unity in monastic life in Western Europe. Yeah, and also in the States and so on. How did this abbey come to use Latin, I’ve heard it’s unique here in Holland. Um, it was a question of Pope Paul the sixth. He asked our Congregation, so a Congregation is, uh, different monasteries together, we are of the Congregation of Solesmes, in France, and he asked our Congregation to hold on, to preserve the Gregorian chant. While it’s a treasure in the Catholic Church, you have to, to... transfer it to the next generation in a living form. So you can put it in books, but that’s not living. So you have to entertain it, to practice it. When was that? In the sixties. And while we don’t have a pastoral

responsibility, we don’t have a parish, so we can do that. I think you can’t do that if you have a parish, while people, to take people who needs to participate, and Latin is not so easy to participate. And while we are contemplative, we don’t have pastoral activities outside, we can do it. And we do it with pleasure.


I did notice that you had a Dutch sermon in the Holy Mass on Sunday. Yeah, that’s for the people who are in the neighbourhood. And isn’t the sixties when the church from Van der Laan was finished? Yeah, ‘62 for the crypt, and ‘68 for the upper church. Does a part from having, um, a very monumental, kind of, architectural meaning by itself, (Um) well how, ‘cause you were here, no you weren’t... um, does it have some sort of special influence? It has, yeah. Positive and negative. (Laughter) Ok, can you tell me about that? It’s a, very strong way of building, and I think the principles are very strong. So to create harmony you have to respect some proportions, and lines and surfaces, and volumes. And that is a very positive aspect of this architecture. (Pause) The point that is difficult for me, is that it is very masculine. So it’s a very rational, only straight lines, so you don’t have curves. And I think that rational way of building with lines is very masculine. Curves, the ‘phi’, (takes a pencil and scribbles) that’s irrational. That’s a number that never finishes. That’s typical feminine. (Chuckle) No, it’s a way of saying it. But if you are a man or a woman you both have those two dimensions, a feminine and a masculine dimension. Also we as men have those two dimensions. And it is as if the building says, you... that the feminine dimension doesn’t

have the right to exist. Within this... When you live here. No, when you come to visit it that’s different. When you have to live in it twenty four hours a day, there are certain moments that, yeah, it can cause problems. And we see that in, different young people came and tried to live this monastic life, eh, didn’t proceed because of the building. They blocked the (young people)... so I ask father Van der Laan, I was here when he died, in ‘91, I asked him if it was possible to, to create an architecture, building in a feminine way. (Mobile phone starts to ring, and brother Mark silently quiets it from under his robes while continuing to talk.) He says “Yes, it would be possible, it would be possible but I would need a second life to create it.” So he was conscious of the problem. And, yeah, so think there is a challenge for us to... To live, Yes, and also to reflect on what to do with it, the building. To respect it, but to search a complement. I can also feel that in a way in the furniture here. Yes, also. Um, who did the furniture? Also him. Oh, it was also him, because I thought there were some other... Everything’s Van der Laan here. (Laughter) Everything... So it has also a very, totalitarian character. For me, I, um, I’m a Christian in a Protestant tradition, and uh, even though I cannot understand the language, it made me sort of


regret that I did ancient Greek when I was in college when I should have done Latin, it would have helped me here immensely on my short stay. But, um, for me it helped me to focus on the essentials. Because if I would normally be in a cathedral, there would be so many visual, and audio, um, input, information, that I would be actually lose my focus very easily. But during my short stay for me, um, that kind of straightforwardness in the architecture, and also the prayers that are practiced here, just helped me to, see what is actually, um, try to see what is actually important, (what is) essential, and um... A lot of it was due to the architecture. That’s the way... I noticed how the sun travels from the east, to the west side, and each prayer time just by looking at how, where the sun rays are you could tell when you are in the day. And especially yesterday, I did attend Matins, and it was also, quite, a phenomenal experience in itself. Because it was the first time, I could imagine if you do it everyday it would get so challenging, but it was also very very interesting to see, in a kind of waking the day, kind of moment, out of a few monks and a few people praying, how the sound travels within the dark empty space. So for me it was very, quite enjoying the architecture. But you... Me also. But I, yes, (there are) different aspects. So I appreciate the very simplicity, so you can focus on the essential things. But, also Latin, even if you don’t understand it, you, if you don’t understand it you have to, to... search other levels in your personality to communicate, to connect. So you can’t connect anymore with your brain while you don’t understand it, but understanding is here (Brother Mark makes a gesture toward his heart.), so we have other possibilities to connect with the sacred, with your heart. So if you don’t understand it you are obliged, you are forced to search other levels in your personality. But I think it can be to your advantage. As you said, if you were to live here it would be a totally, there are other dimensions of that comes into reality. I was under the

impression that this abbey could actually have much more monks here. Is that a proper observation? Yeah, yes of course. So when I entered here in ‘82 we were 36 monks. Now (it is) 13. So I did see most of... (the monks). And the capacity of this building is 45. So the proportions there are, eh, we lost proportions. 13, 13 monks. But, I entered in ‘82 and still I am the youngest here. So we had 37 candidates, but all leaved again. Is it just a common thing of this, um, European society, or is there something here... I think it’s very, there is a common aspect, so if you look to the other monasteries they all have problems of recruitment. But other monasteries have some young people, (and here) we don’t have any more. I think there is... there rises big questions. What’s happening? Why, people come to see, but don’t give their life to this monastic way of life. The problem is we are too, we don’t have enough distance to look at it. Distance... So we are in the problem. And to analyze you need a certain distance to look at it, to try to understand what is happening there. Why aren’t people trying to live this... way of life. But it’s certain if nothing happens in five or ten years we won’t exist anymore. Is it that much of a serious problem? Yes, so we have a, an average of 70 years old, the age here. So, now it’s a major problem for the younger monks, they have to do everything, we have four or five, to entertain. Everything. Yeah, it’s not in balance anymore. So at this moment we

are really concerned about these questions, what to do in the future.


Since we’re short of time I’ll just ask one more question, also from my experience here. Remember I mentioned my experience of the fragmentation of time, and I also know that in theory working and prayer comes together in the spiritual vocation. Can you tell me a bit about that? Because, I kind of wrote in my journal, half joking, if I would imagine myself staying here for a long time I would have nightmares of churchbells chasing me around. And um, just tell me about that part. (Cough) I think,(pause) time for monks is not a quantity, but a quality. So we don’t experience our time as fragmented, but as ordered. So it’s an another way to look at it. That makes it possible to live time as a quality, in an intensive way. If you want to forget time, as quantity, when I do something, I do it, and I don’t try to do as much as possible. So ‘time is money’, that is quantity. So (in that case) then I try to work as much as possible, as much as possible in money, and I don’t obey anymore my proper rhythm. So for us it’s especially important to obey it. Everybody has their own proper rhythm. And this depends on the way of looking at time. So I think eternity, it has a certain resemblance to eternity. Eternity is not a duration, so many years and so on, eternity is above duration. Duration is quantity. And if you live ‘now’, this moment, and not yesterday or tomorrow, you can forget time as duration, as quantity. You can live ‘now’, and at that moment of ‘now’, you can connect to the eternal. It’s so important, the way of, way of living time. For us it has a spiritual dimension, an essential spiritual dimension. So now I’m here and I forget time. You don’t forget it. (Laughter) I can’t forget it. For me it’s important to be present. It’s important to

forget time. But it’s also important to have a program. So we made an appointment, at 11:15, that’s important, as a condition, it makes it possible to forget time. It’s a paradox. (Laughter) It’s a paradox, uh... So I forget time, and at a certain moment I hear the bell, then I say “Ok, I have to stop.” Hm. I forgot, but now I hear it and Ok, I go to church, and yeah. So... we are children of our time, in the form of our idea. So we get unstressed, if you are living in your proper rhythm. You don’t have to be stressed anymore. (Laughter) I find it difficult to say it in English, more words in Dutch to explain it. I guess that’ll also take time, to... Well, I’m keeping time (Laughter) Um, the daily rhythm? I noticed that in terms of the clock, it’s uniform, but even with just four days being here I, actually it was today, during the, do you call it the Mass? The Mass. The Mass, um, that there is a certain dynamics, that everyday is different. Because the first day I got here was Saturday, and (I though) “Ok this must be the prayers”, but what was happening on Sunday and Monday and today, they had this subtle differences. And I feel that is making some sort of dynamic. So everything seems uniform, but is different. Is, is that true? Yeah. There is both a uniformity, and then every day is unique. But also in a day (there is) a curve, beginning with Matins, that’s a contemplative start of the day, and after Mass you have the work time, so that’s a more active part of the day, and then in the evening, again a moment of recollection, then silence. Everyday has the same structure, but then (for instance) today we have Saint

Francis of Assisi, so it’s a feast of a saint, so it’s unique for the 4th of October, Saint Francis. Tomorrow it’s Bruno, and so on. So you have a certain color of the day that makes that day unique.


I also remember reading about one of the essential parts of Saint Benedict’s rule, that it’s a monastic life, but it also connects with the calender, so it’s not about being totally secluded. That it still has a balance between contemplation and community. Yes. I could imagine if I was here at a different period of time, or for a longer duration, I would be able to see and experience much more, of course. (Laughter) You’re welcome. Thank you so much for your time.

Noon, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Dinsdag October 4th, 2011

What a rush, what a mess, and what a rush. Today the afternoon might have been productive, but it felt like I was trying to force a piece of Eindhoven into this realm. In between taking pictures, making videos, making audio recordings, keeping track of the time, and being frustrated about the weather it was even worse than the lunch. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the lunch with the monks. In fact I needed it more than ever today. Lunch is the primary source of nutrition for the monks so it is very important to feed yourself properly, and lunch is a moment for me that I feel I am truly sharing a part of life with the monks. It’s just that the guests eat too quickly. Just trying to keep up with them is trying for me, and I have come to realize that this was the prime source of my discomfort. It felt like I was stuffing myself when that is exactly what I shouldn’t be doing at these meals. The older monks take their time eating, and I truly wanted to follow their lead. The problem is they are sitting in the opposite corner of the dining hall, and if I kept to their tempo I would still be busy with my salad when everyone near me is cleaning out their bowl of vla. So in a today was fast-forwarded. The only thing I wasn’t doing was actually running around; that would be too inappropriate. And I was quite mindful about every picture I took and every clip I made; I definitely


wasn’t swinging around my camera at everything I saw and actually took my time with every shot. This was possible because of the plans I could make through the past few days, but still my mind was rushing ahead of me. There was this moment today that was unscheduled and quite spontaneous. I had my eye on a few books the abbey was selling at the postcard stand next to the main entrance. Right after Noon I went there quickly to buy some books before running off again. Brother Anthony, or rather Brother ‘Tony’ as he is called in the abbey, was the porter sitting in the room next to the main entrance. He was the monk who opened the door for me the first day I arrived, and was the person who answers the phone when someone calls the abbey. On entering his room to make the payment for the books, I noticed he had an impressive array of phone lines on his desk. Every outside call goes through him, and he had the ability to connect with a touch of his fingers. It also meant that the calls get through only when he was present; which was between Prime and Sext, and between Noon and Vespers. The payment had to be done through an Internet transfer because I was short on cash, so I had to ‘run’ to the guest hall were they actually had a Wifi signal. When I came back I obtained my books because he took my word for the transfer, there was no way for him to check and he seemed to be perfectly content about it. At this point we somehow started a conversation, and I was smart enough not to rush away from him just to keep to my schedule. It was a talk of various topics, and once in a while we were interrupted by a phone call that he had to ‘operate’. We talked about Asia for he had an interest in Oriental culture. From under his robes he pulled out a handy

Chinese dictionary, telling me that he finds the language difficult but fascinating. He also showed me a small book that I had already seen amongst the books they sell, it was a book about Lao Tzu, which I did find queer to see it in a Benedictine abbey, but didn’t give it much more though. It turned out Brother Tony was the one who edited it, making comparisons between the teachings of Taoism and of the Church. It included drawings from a Chinese ‘boy’, and the bookbinding was done in the abbey as well. With a smile Brother Tony also added that it sells quite well. He pointed out a photograph of himself in one of the books that I had just obtained, telling me it was from around 5 years ago. While we were talking about the Chinese characters and the meanings behind Asian names, he told me that in the Benedictine order you where allowed to keep your given name from before becoming a monk, unlike some orders that require you to abandon it completely.

Completen, Abdij Sint Benedictusberg Dinsdag October 4th, 2011

After talking with Brother Tony for about half an hour, I ran of to secure more material for my project. Mostly it was footage of empty spaces and recordings of the resonance. Most of the work went as planned, but I was definitely behind schedule, and keeping an eye on time I realized I wouldn’t be able to do all the things that I had planned. But there was one thing that I absolutely wanted, and that was footage from the refter. Basically the dining hall is off limits. It is a part of the living space for the monks, and the guest are allowed to accompany the monks during the meal times. So I had to find the right moment to sneak in and steal some shots. And when the bells for Vespers started to ring throughout the building I realized I had my moment. My original plan was to finish my work before Vespers and attend the prayer for one last time, and say goodbye to the other guests afterwards. Instead I waited briefly in my room for everything to settle down and then found my way to the dining room. Even though I knew that nobody was nearby, my heart was pounding and I could feel the rush of adrenaline within me. It was like sneaking into the kitchen to get my hands on the cookie jar when I was a kid, only this time I had I big camera in my hands and the prey was the space itself. I was pleasantly surprised that the settings for dinner were already there. I took pictures and clips, having a closer look at the artifacts thought


the room. The late afternoon light in the room was amazing, and within a quarter of an hour I left the room knowing I had what I wanted. Packing my things, taking some final footage, and saying goodbye to Max was what came next. By the entrance I picked a few postcards and left the ‘contribution’ in the wooden plate on the postcard rack. When I was leaving the entrance hall was completely empty. Throughout the last phase of my stay I did not bump into any of the monks. I have already said goodbye to Brother Mark after lunch; we knew that would probably be the last moment we would cross passes for the remainder of the day. It turned out that Brother Tony was the last monk I have spoken to. Silently I departed the space, with no hasty goodbyes or farewells. I took a bus back to Maastricht, and eventually a train directly to Eindhoven. The familiar surroundings of the Netherlands slowly crept back to me; no more hills, chants or silence. I couldn’t help myself imagining what it would have been like for Alice in Wonderland when she crawled back out of the rabbit hole. In the train I noticed it was time for Completen, and even before I arrived in Eindhoven I knew that the day in St. Benedictusburg has already ended, that it would be embracing the silent interlude until the coming morning. The world seemed to go one regardless, busy and talkative as ever.

“How do you live with your time being so fragmented? Being interrupted constantly by prayer time.” I have asked Brother Mark once. “You may call it fragmented, but I do not,” he replied, “for here you see time as quality, not quantity. As I sit here with you, I forget time, and am completely here for you. And when the bells ring, that is when I know it is time to stop, and it is time for prayer.”

Another Visitor, Groningen Zondag November 27th, 2011

“Make it beautiful.” Erik said. “Don’t spend to much time in one spot, but have a look around first to see what’s possible.” So I have a stroll around the premises. After a brief look around, I quickly find out that I will need a good pair of working gloves, a sturdy broom and a garbage bag. Yesterday I asked Erik if he could give me some work for this morning, and today he requested that I clean up the surroundings of the building. The front of Wongema needed some sweeping. The right hand side and the back of the building needed an intense cleanup. It was a task that wouldn’t be possible to pull off in just one morning working alone. So I decided to just start from the front, the part of the building that most people will see. My biggest problem was with the piles of sand scattered all around, and with the wind that was messing with the dust I swept. I could have used a shovel and trolly to do a proper job, but just sufficed to move the piles around to less noticeable corners. Wongema had a fresh feel to it, inside and out, as if its interior and exterior was just finished a few days before. The fresh coat of paint, the scent, the emptiness. And the construction material laying all around the building. The bricks


and sand made it feel like Wongema was awaiting the finishing touches before its official opening on the 2nd of December. One thing I noticed was the gap between the building and its brick driveway. It was attracting an awful lot of leaves and debris. Was it the result of a good old fashioned DIY job? Or from a lack of time? It was hard to tell, although it definitely made my job of sweeping much more difficult, and it was a detail that was calling out for attention. But a job for another day. It was nearly 11 o’clock before I was happy with my work of the front. I estimated if I would spend a couple of more hours in the back and side of the building I would be able to do an ‘amazing’ job there as well, but since I wasn’t going to spend that much time I decided to just touch it up a bit. In contrast to the orderly interior of the building, the back and side was a chaotic mess of construction leftovers. “It feels even monastic,” Christiaan said yesterday, when we were comparing the interior of Oosterhouw, Wongema and Vaals. From the inside Wongema is a neat, well organized and still quite empty space. But outside there were heaps of sand, bricks, tiles, wood, beams of all sorts, tubes. A steel kitchen table carelessly positioned upside down. A bathroom sink. A wooden chair. A bucket full of heavens-knows-what, rain water, and sad looking apples afloat. And a Dutch flag just laying around amongst the disarray. It felt like a painter’s palette, jumbled with the materials from the work from Erik and his crew; evidence and traces of their devotion, care and time. Enough was enough, and before lunch I retreated from my work. While I put back the tools I have used and tried to get the dust out of my sweater, I realized that I wouldn’t have noticed the mess behind the building if I hadn’t done this job. Later on while I was sitting

in the cafe organizing my thoughts Eric passed by and we talked about my task. “I could see your traces,” was his parting remark. “It’s a good thing.” Later during lunch he revealed his future plans for the front yard; to completely redo it next spring into a decked space with trees where people can sit and enjoy.

A Transition, Groningen Maandag November 28th, 2011

The transition from being a guest into becoming a host is an interesting phenomenon. It starts with an invitation. Then comes the preparation. And the care, the providing, and the support. To be a host means you are responsible within the given context, and it means you are offering a part of yourself to another. I believe that when someone, for instance a guest, starts to seize these qualities, that person is becoming a host. There must be various ways for a visitor to impart such qualities in order to undergo this transition, but in this case my approach was “to be engaged through working.” Working is a solid starting point towards commitment. Working puts you in a situation outside ‘the stage’ of being a guest. It gives you a chance to see and feel things that would have never been revealed likewise. It helps you to start build up an understanding and attachment towards the environment, both physically and metaphysically. You realize how things actually work, find out where things are, and feel more comfortable within the given environment. And from the host’s point of view you are a person who has offered him(her)self. The host starts to see the person not only as a guest, but someone who is interested and wants to be engaged. It starts to creates a dialogue between the two, and the guest is treading his(her) first steps towards becoming a host.

A Journey, Groningen Dinsdag November 29th, 2011

But there is a question that precedes such a transition; Why would someone want to become a host in the first place? My answer comes from a journey between two extremes that are both the same and different. Although not intentional, my visits to Vaals and Groningen together have taken me on an interesting voyage. I have enjoyed the rolling pastures of Benedictusberg and endured the overwhelming wind along the dijk of Hornhuisen. I have experienced the somber ritualistic feasts of the monks and the elaborate hearty cuisine amongst friends. I have appreciated the monumental simplicity and straightforwardness of Dom Hans van der Laan, and was enthralled by the abundance and warmness of Oosterhouw. And from both places I have experienced the spirit of generous hospitality. Christiaan described the hospitality that he had experienced in the monastery, and how it is still an important part of his life. To see and experience such spirit of generosity being manifested in different realities has inspired me to take my own initiative towards a life of sharing. Ora et Labora. As a response to a question on why choose to work as ultimate leisure brings me back to the basic doctrine of the Benedictine way of living. As I was pondering on what Christiaan meant when he said that for him being a monk is the ultimate leisure, I discovered for me that being in school is the ultimate leisure. To be in an environment that I can be carefree and creative, to

be protected and encouraged so that I may be carefree and creative is definitely leisure in its ultimate form. To ask a boy if he would like to have some sweets when he already has a handful of delights is confusing. Too much of a good thing makes it go bad and even harmful. I believe there is an instinctive inner urge for balance between leisure and work. And I can imagine from what I have seen in Benedictusberg and Hornhuisen that the ultimate balance between the two is in a form where they come together that they are no longer divided but rather coherent. But until that moment comes one must be conscious about the division between work and leisure and the two must be balanced individually. For myself, this is a time where I am searching facets to use the skills I have been honing within school in the world. It will be through working that I find connections with the world, and I believe when the balance between work and leisure is found I will be able to appreciate the richness of the ultimate leisure that I am already experiencing.


seven days of long walks, thir teen monks, ritualistic feasts and a monastic way of living

Essays and Photos by Minseong Wang

NL-5614 ED Eindhoven

+ 31 06 8181 4477 Š miwanins, Eindhoven 2012

a journey  

A story that took me from Limberg to Groningen, experiencing the Benedictine way of living.

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