Monasticism and a Mountaintop School


Student and Chaplain Contemplate Their Experiences in Monasteries
High atop Lookout Mountain, Georgia, sits Covenant College, the denominational school of the Presbyterian Church in America. Still prominent on the campus is its original building: an old resort hotel, called the Castle in the Clouds. Its architecture reminds one of medieval times. And the fog that often enshrouds the mountaintop creates an ambiance of mystery and isolation-not unlike a monastery.
The images evoked may now be even more apt. For Covenant College people, over the past year or two, have experienced the mystery of monasteries.

Protestants and Catholics Together
An autobiographical article in the October 16, 1998, edition of the college newspaper speaks of a student's experiences in a French monastery. Written by Jeanne Faucheux, the Bagpipe article is entitled, "'Taize' sheds new light on the body of Christ."
Miss Faucheux writes: "I think Catholics are cool. My grandparents are Catholic. Most of my aunts and uncles are Catholic. And some of the best friends I made in Oxford last spring were also Catholic. I might go so far as to say that Catholicism runs in my blood. Now, before any of you start worrying, I can assure you that I am reformed in my convictions as were the parents who raised me. But there is a part of me that searches for a connection to the tradition they left behind. This quest for a link to my own heritage led me to many different places while I was traveling in Europe this spring. In April I found myself in Taize, a small ecumenical monastery in the region of Burgundy, France. Here, the question of my Catholic roots being reconciled with Protestant convictions found a sort of answer, although I am not sure that words can really express it."
Her companion for the week she spent at Taize was Therese, a young lady from a charismatic Catholic family who was also studying in Oxford. The Covenant College student recounts that "[a] previous trip to Ireland had secured our compatibility as traveling companions and as partners in the search for religious reconciliation."
The mountaintop community of Taize, says Miss Faucheux, is similar in many ways to Covenant College. Even "practical work" (volunteer labor for the institution) is a parallel experience.
She recalls the wonderful times of fellowship with people from a variety of countries, of both Catholic and Protestant faiths. "As a team, we laughed and sang and worked our way into relationship with one another. God was with us and we were all sure of that."
She continued: "The prayers of Taize are songs, simple chant like melodies sung in repetition. They sing of the love of Christ in every language. They sing of his role as the light in our darkness. They are prayers for illumination, prayers of adoration, prayers from the depth of our longings for God.
"Three times a day we filled the large building and waited for the fifty or so white robed brothers to file into the sanctuary. Once they all arrived, we sang and listened to the day's scripture reading and sat silent for long moments in contemplation and meditation." One of the songs which she and Therese shared between them was "Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est" ("Where love and charity are, there God is").
Miss Faucheux wrote: "It is hard to express the desire for simplicity that the music and this fellowship evoked in me and in my faith. But I found myself untroubled as to whether or not I was transgressing the laws of Martin Luther and John Calvin. Instead I was excited to be experiencing first and foremost a sort of fulfillment of the law of Christ to love my neighbor-. . . the one standing next to me-whether French or German, Protestant or Catholic."
She concluded: "I cannot say that this week at Taize answered the questions I had about my Catholic family background. I suppose I have to talk more with my family about that. But I do know that it opened my eyes to the body of Christ in a new way. My friendship with Therese and with the others I met at Taize and Oxford has proven to me one thing. The Holy Spirit does live in the hearts of Christians of all kinds all over the world-yes, even the Catholics. Scotland is a small place, you know, and Covenant is even smaller. But if our hearts are big, and we have courage to love beyond the dogma, the world may open up to us in ways we never expected. It was a risk to do so, I admit. But as true believers, I think every day should be."

College Chaplain Spends Part of Sabbatical in Monastery
Miss Faucheux's experience in a French monastery was preceded by the spiritual journey of the Covenant College chaplain to a monastery in South Carolina. As recounted by Byronie Rayburn in a September 19, 1997, Bagpipe article, Dr. Donovan Graham spent several weeks of his sabbatical in spring 1997 at a Benedictine monastery outside of Charleston. According to the article, this opportunity came through Dr. Graham's pastor at Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church. Among the monks' activities each day are seven worship services. Only at the celebration of the mass is there a sermon. The other times, writes Miss Rayburn, are given over to "singing psalms, reading the Scriptures, and meditation. . . . The monks eat, work, and study in silence-yet there is a strong sense of community stemming from their common bond of worship and service."
The trip to South Carolina was not the only one which Dr. Graham took that semester. The same Bagpipe article states that during the spring break, he led a group of Covenant College students to Alabama to visit L'Arche, a home for mentally retarded adults founded by the Catholic Church. Miss Rayburn writes: "Dr. Graham often serves as a counselor to Covenant students. Now that he's returned he desires [to] be even more available and to counsel in an even more Christ-like way. The few days at L'Arche went a long way in answering Dr. Graham's persistent question about what it means to be a shepherd. There he saw true shepherds at work: people following the example of Jesus."
In the fall of 1998, representatives of L'Arche traveled to Covenant College in order to do a chapel presentation.

Chaplain Encourages Another Student to Experience Monastery
Sam Glaser, another Covenant College student, almost took the same journey to South Carolina as had Donovan Graham. A senior from Charlotte, N. C., Mr. Glaser has been interested in monasticism. He cited "solitude" and "an imposed self-discipline structure" as reasons why he would want to go to a monastery. He added: "I enjoy liturgy."
In 1998, while taking off a semester, he was going to include in his sabbatical a four week sojourn at Mepkin Abbey-the same monastery where Chaplain Graham had been. According to Mr. Glaser, Dr. Graham encouraged him in this intention, saying, "That'd be a great experience for you." The student had in the past thought about experiencing a monastery, but, he says, he received more direction in this regard through talking with the college chaplain.
Mr. Glaser stated that he would have participated in the mass, and that Dr. Graham neither encouraged nor discouraged him from doing so. Participation in religious exercises, such as the mass, is not requisite for a stay in the abbey. In the monastic guest program, said Mr. Glaser, the monks "don't force you to participate in anything." He added that Dr. Graham told him that "they're not going to push anything on you."
During his semester away from college, Sam Glaser found solitude in the deserts of the American West, but was unable to take that trip to the monastery. However, he remains interested in the monastic disciplines.
A member of Matthews (N. C.) Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Mr. Glaser interned in a youth ministry at Christ Covenant Presbyterian Church, a PCA congregation also in Matthews. While at Covenant College, he has mostly attended Lookout Mountain (Tenn.) Presbyterian Church. Occasionally he has attended a local Episcopal Church, as he is fascinated with a reform movement within that liberal denomination.
Questions for Donovan Graham
[P&R News posed several questions for Chaplain Graham, which relate to this article and more broadly to his work as college chaplain. Unfortunately, as we approached press deadline, he had been providentially hindered from responding. We hope to publish his replies in a subsequent issue of the newspaper.--Ed.]