It begins—my long-awaited three-week writing residency with Collegeville Institute, located on Ecumenical Drive on the campus of St. John’s University, Minnesota. I’m here with about 10 other residents (theologians, pastors, artists, professors—you know, the general trouble making type.) I haven’t met anybody yet, as we have all been instructed to STAY INSIDE if we can help it. (When I finally ventured to the abbey yesterday, even the monks were missing in action.)
The last time I was here, over six years ago, it was July and sunny. As I write it is -30 degrees.
Saint John’s University is a liberal arts college for men. (The women’s college, College of Saint Benedict, is about four miles from St. John’s.) St. John’s is also a Catholic seminary for priesthood candidates. The Abbey and University Church is one of the most visually interesting abbey’s I’ve ever seen. You can take a virtual tour of the campus here: http://virtualtour.csbsju.edu
Liturgical Press, a publisher of liturgy and worship resources, also resides on campus, as well as a co-ed graduate school of theology. St. John’s is also known for its role in commissioning the Saint John’s Bible, the first illuminated, hand-written Bible in more than 500 years. As soon as this polar vortex passes, I look forward to seeing several of the original pages on exhibit here.
And then there is Collegeville Institute, the residential ecumenical/theological center where I am staying.
Collegeville was founded by a monk of Saint John’s Abbey, Father Kilian McDonnel. Today Collegeville is an autonomous part of the St. John’s campus/community. Its mission is to bring together a variety of people (writers, scholars, artists, professionals, corporate leaders, etc) for the purpose of study, prayer, reflection, writing, and dialogue across religious and faith experiences.
Krista Tippett, whose “Becoming Wise” book I’m currently reading, writes about her time at Collegeville in the mid-1990’s:
“I began to learn an art of conversation about undergirding truths from the Benedictine monks of St. John’s Abbey of Collegeville…These Benedictines had founded a quiet but mighty institute for ecumenical and cultural research in the 1960s, when the notion of Catholics and Protestants in relationship was a now unimaginably daring move. It became a seedbed of cross-religious ferment for the latter half of the twentieth century.”
That’s because, as Tippett describes, at Collegeville the focus in on storytelling, conversation, and asking questions. “In Collegeville,” she writes, “discussion about a large, meaty, theological subject began by framing it as a question, and then asking everyone around the table to begin to answer the question through the story of their lives: Who is God? What is prayer? How to approach the problem of evil? What is the content of Christian hope? I can disagree with your opinion, it turns out, but I can’t disagree with your experience. And once I have a sense of your experience, you and I are in relationship, acknowledging the complexity in each other’s position, listening less guardedly. The difference in our opinions will probably remain intact, but it no longer defines what is possible between us.”
I don’t know how much storytelling and dialogue I will participate in this time around at Collegeville. I do plan to attend daily prayers at the abbey, but other than that I might be a lone glove of sorts, hanging out reading, writing, and reflecting. Oh, and taking pictures.
So with that, I’ll sign out with these photos.
Missing Rainbow, and yet so grateful for this time at Collegeville.