Abiquiú, New Mexico
Pictures by Justin Kaneps
On the Monastery of Christ within the Desert, a distant abbey beside the Chama River in northern New Mexico, some two dozen Benedictine monks start their days in darkness.
At 3:30 a.m. one Sunday this previous winter, a bell summoned the monks to vigils, the evening prayer. Below a transparent sky stuffed with stars, they made their manner in silence from their cloister cells to an adobe chapel. Seated in wood pews, the brothers, most in black habits, started chanting the primary of 12 psalms. They used the traditional Gregorian melody, however with English phrases: “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth shall proclaim your reward.”
The sky was nonetheless darkish when a second bell rang, simply earlier than 6, calling the monks to the daybreak prayer, lauds. Again within the chapel, now carrying white cowls over their habits, they chanted once more. As they started Psalm 150 — “Reward God in his holy place” — the tall home windows above the sanctuary turned from black to midnight blue, the primary trace of dawn.
The solar rose over the subsequent hour, illuminating the chapel’s backdrop — the Mesa de las Viejas, whose 500-foot rock partitions pale from purple to shades of sand and cream in a glowing gradient. Save for the faint rush of the Chama River, a sage inexperienced tributary of the Rio Grande, the canyon was soundless.
The setting was fastidiously chosen. The Rev. Aelred Wall, who based the monastery in 1964, had scoured the nation for a spot the place he and his brother monks might “return to the sources” — to the quiet and isolation essential for his or her contemplative vocation. Passing via New Mexico, he heard about an outdated ranch home on the market 75 miles northwest of Santa Fe — 115 acres alongside the Chama, surrounded by nationwide forest.
Father Wall discovered the property on the finish of a 13-mile dust highway. He despatched an ecstatic letter to his pals on the Mount Saviour Monastery in Elmira, N.Y., waxing poetic in regards to the river valley and its “nice sentinels” of colourful cliffs. “Then got here the cathedrals in stone, a few of them Romanesque, a few of them Gothic,” he wrote.
Father Wall purchased the ranch home. He requested his pal George Nakashima, the grasp woodworker and architect, to design a chapel.
The chapel was constructed of adobe within the form of a Greek cross, with arms of equal size, utilizing clay from the location. Hand-carved doorways have been introduced from Mexico, the bell from an outdated church within the northern New Mexican village of Questa. The artist Ben Shahn, a pal of Mr. Nakashima’s, contributed two giant stained-glass home windows. Georgia O’Keeffe, who lived 25 miles away, in Abiquiu, served as a creative advisor.
Set in opposition to the towering cliffs, the adobe chapel seems to be otherworldly. The Cistercian monk and author Thomas Merton, who visited the monastery in 1968, as soon as likened its bell tower to “a watchman on the lookout for one thing or somebody of whom it doesn’t communicate.”
Shortly after 9 a.m., the bell rang once more, for Mass. About 20 guests settled into chairs at the back of the chapel. Abbot Christian Leisy, in purple vestments, walked across the altar, swinging a thurible of smoldering incense. Smoke swirled and billowed within the gentle because it rose.
A monk learn from the Ebook of Baruch: “Take off your gown of mourning and distress; placed on the splendor of glory from God endlessly.” The second studying was from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The Gospel was from the third chapter of Luke, through which John calls on the individuals of Judea to repent and be baptized and “put together the best way of the Lord.”
Abbot Christian’s homily famous that the primary strains of the Gospel located us in historical past — “the fifteenth yr of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea.” Luke, he stated, needs us to grasp that these occasions actually occurred. The passage can also be a reminder that God typically surprises. God intervenes on the margins, talking not via Caesar or Pontius Pilate, however via John — “somebody unknown, somebody dwelling within the desert, consuming wild honey and bugs.”
Abbot Christian closed by studying a Jewish folks story from the thinker Martin Buber. It instructed of a Rabbi Eisik, in Krakow, who desires thrice that somebody suggests he search for treasure below a bridge in Prague. The rabbi travels to Prague, solely to be taught that the treasure was at dwelling, buried below his range.
After Mass, a lot of the monks retreated to personal quarters. A boisterous group from the Washington Nationwide Cathedral migrated over to the reward store and loaded up on wares made by the brothers: goat-milk cleaning soap; scented candles; their newest album of Gregorian chant, “Blessings, Peace, and Concord.”
Shortly after 11 a.m. the bell rang once more, calling the monks. Because the guests drove off in a caravan, sending mud clouds into the blue sky, the brothers filed again into the chapel. — Abby Aguirre