Contemplative Spirituality, Cloistered in San Miguel
SMA: Faith Is Culture
By Joseph Toone
Ever consider simply walking away from the world to join a cloistered community, no longer having to deal with the world at large? Is it a selfish act, or an attempt to align the world with the Divine through prayer and actions?
Surprisingly, San Miguel offers two options to pursue a cloistered existence. One is a centuries old order of nuns at Las Monjas (the nuns) temple of the Immaculate Conception. You may see these ladies in and around the temple preparing flowers for weekend weddings or placing their crafts in the on-site shop. The more recent (1990) option is the Monastery of Solitude outside of town by Atotonilco. Although the monastery is primarily for monks, recently women have joined seeking the quiet life. Why would anyone even seriously consider a cloistered life? The concept was started after Christ’s death by St. Benedict (patron saint of students), along with his sister, St. Scholastica (where the word scholar comes from). The two established the spiritual and administrative rules for monasteries that are still in use today, including here in San Miguel. The siblings later died days apart.
Benedictine rules focus on a climate of silence divided between prayer and work. Here the work is caring for sheep and gardens, cooking, crafting, and building maintenance. Each cloister community has their own primary line of work like winemaking, raising German shepherds, or for the nuns in Centro, baking cookies.
Once I had a friend who took a weekend retreat focused on silence at a Benedictine monastery. A carpenter by trade, he spent two days very bored and mentally drawing blueprints for future projects. Suddenly, on the final morning, for about 30 seconds he experienced the complete bliss of a mind at peace. So stunned by the sensation he now understood why people seek out this way of life to achieve longer moments of such bliss.
On her talk show Oprah Winfrey once tried talking her gal pal, Gayle King, into joining her on such a contemplative retreat. Gayle steadfastly refused, stating that with utter silence, “How could I ask for seconds?”
You can visit the monastery during set hours of 10am to noon and 5 to 6pm, or normally on Sunday for 10am mass. Be aware that the service is wildly popular, attracting several buses of faithful each Sunday. One of the monks is renowned for his healing touch and it is not unusual to find bed-bound infirm people been carried into church in hopes of being touched and cured. Perhaps a life of silence isn’t for you, but for several here in San Miguel it is a profound way to express faith.
As the number-one-rated local tour guide on culture by TripAdvisor, I provide tours Thursday and Friday at 9am from the Oratorio church. To learn more about faith and culture in San Miguel visit CatholicSMA.com; it benefits children’s library and art programs.