Student - November 10, 2010

Slowing down at the monastery

What with all its indispensible features – such as twitter, zumba, Facebook, supper dates, parties and hangovers – the pressures of student life can get a bit much. Luckily, the student chaplaincy has a solution: a therapeutic weekend in a monastery. The inspiring peace of an enclave of internet-free silence provides the student brain with a bit of healthy R&R. Doesn’t it? Our Resource reporter went along last weekend, to the St Adelbert Monastery in Egmond.

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The late afternoon sun falls through the tall windows in the monastery hall where monks in black habits stride soundlessly towards the chapel. The bell has just rung for the fourth prayer session of the day. I do my best to walk as slowly as the monks at my side. To no avail: I get to the chapel long before they do.

Seven students have descended on the St Adelbert Abbey in Egmond to spend a weekend following the routine of a monastery. This is the first retreat organized by the student chaplaincy this year. 'It is enough to be interested and prepared to meet people with a different attitude to life', says student chaplain Yuri Saris. 'So I never ask about a student's background. Everyone is welcome.' For Carolien Wegstapel (23), who has just graduated in Forest and Nature Policy, this is her first visit to a monastery. 'I wanted to take some time out to reflect.'  

The chapel is large and empty. Apart from the crucifix above the altar, there is not much to look at. The monks always sit in the same place near the altar, where they gather day in day out to sing the same psalms. They have hymn books but they hardly ever need to glance at them. Most of the monks are elderly. Now and then one of them gives a big yawn. Mirjam Tolkamp (27), student of Forest and Nature Policy: 'I don't relate particularly to the texts, but there is something meditative about the singing that I find very beautiful.'

Brother Adrie is one of the monks who fill their days with prayer and bible study. 'But we have been known to slam doors too, you know', he readily admits with a twinkle in his eye. Almost twenty years ago he opted for a monastic life after leaving secondary school. He is still the youngest of the monks. 'I have sometimes wondered if I will be the one who will end up having to put the light out.' Mirjam thinks it's great that he speaks so frankly about life in the monastery. 'The more he tells the more human he seems.'  The monastic life quite appeals to her. 'But not celibacy,' she laughs, 'I have a boyfriend.'

After a couple of days in the monastery, the autumn colours seem that bit brighter, the words that bit more meaningful and the silence that bit deeper. 'Spending some time in silence sharpens your senses', remarks Caroline, and the other students agree. Mirjam: 'I notice all the beauty around me more.' Personally, I notice that this gives me some peace of mind: my thoughts are no longer rushing all over the place. I still walk faster than the monks though. Is that just my age?

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