I recently was able to travel to Washington, DC for a speaking engagement. I always enjoy a chance to visit our nation’s capital. Every time I get within sight of the city, I get anxious to see the monuments that I know well. Usually the first sight on the urban horizon is the Washington Monument. As anyone knows who has been to DC, there are no skyscrapers. The Washington Monument appears as a slender, white-yellowish structure reaching to the sky. For me it is the signature piece of architecture in the city.
As I get within the city itself, I like to head to the Mall where the Monument stands. Memories from my own life cascade through my mind. No one my age can forget the marches of the 1960s that occurred on the Mall in DC. There were countless anti-war rallies against our involvement in Vietnam. Those were complex days. We all knew friends who were soldiers in that far-away Asian country. The deserved our support, regardless of how we felt about the war.
And no one can forget the famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered that August day in 1963. Martin Luther King, Jr combined the witness again war and racism. Those were my college years and life seemed complex. It was. Being in DC in those days was a good reminder of the nation’s past. I could hear MLK, Jr. And it was easy to link him and his words to the sixteenth president of the nation, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite one in DC.
That Memorial moves me every time I visit it. While it is not a sacred site in the church-sense, it still has a kind of sacred feel every time I walk in to see it up close. Anyone who has stood there looking at the figure of Lincoln cannot avoid those eyes. They seem to look straight to my soul and ask if I am doing my part to make this land and this world better? For me it is not simply a historical memorial site.
As I drove through the city on my recent visit, I did drive past the Lincoln Memorial. I did not stop to visit, but I have been there so many times, I experienced the effects of a visit nevertheless. And I drove on past the Washington Memorial and felt the gratitude for my good fortune to live in this country. With that privilege, I believe, comes responsibility.
This trip through the city was not a tourist trek. I was headed to the Benedictine monastery on the far northeast side of the city. I had visited the monastery once before, but I never spent much time there. I looked forward to spending a little more time there. When I go to a Benedictine monastery, I both know what to expect and I expect to be surprised.
I arrived shortly before noon. Since they were expecting me, the woman at the reception desk said she would take me to my room. I was at the monastery to speak to a gathering later in the afternoon and had planned to spend the night there. As we walked down the hallway, we encountered Brother Isaiah, who was ready to take me to the second-floor room reserved for me. But I interrupted his plans when I asked if there were a noon worship occasion.
He informed me Midday Prayers would start in 5 minutes. I asked if we could first go there? I could get to my room later. So he and I twirled around and headed for the Chapel. Someone new to the Benedictine monastery would not know that I already was experiencing a full dose of hospitality. I knew Brother Isaiah was following the Rule of St. Benedict in receiving me and welcoming me into the community. I know the sixth century Rule fairly well. Chapter 53 of that Rule states, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ…” Brother Isaiah had received me as if I were Jesus himself. That’s powerful.
Middday Prayer last about twenty minutes. Then Br. Isaiah led me to the Refectory (dining room) with the invitation that I could eat with the monks. I had to smile. I had barely been there a half hour and had worshipped and was now eating a splendid meal of salmon, etc. Jesus would have been proud of his disciples! I finished my meal and left to be by myself.
I realize almost no one who comes to DC knows about this monastery and wouldn’t care if they did know. Most visitors are content with history---Washington, Lincoln, MLK, Jr and the rest. The history is powerful and palpable. But the monks are living it. I realized they did not simply tell me some Jesus story. They enacted it. They welcomed me, shared with me, cared for me and made me feel as if I mattered. I am sure this is what Jesus wants for every person on this earth.
The monks remind me I can do this, too. I don’t have to be a monk to do it. In fact, I can follow their lead as I am and where I am. What if I were to receive every guest as if he or she were Christ? If I did it and you did it, then the world would become a peaceful, loving place. Hosted by a monk…to act like the monk.