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Monk in World Guest Post: Kirsten Keppel

I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Kirsten Keppel’s reflection on living the Liturgy of the Hours.

I find that living the Liturgy of the Hours through short yet consistent practices of paring and pruning, offering hospitality, and praying briefly can transform a day from an endurance ride to a chance to live and create in God’s garden. One day can hold such power to touch a life.  I learned to do this through a friend’s parting gift to me in spring 2015. 

It was the one Saturday morning that May when the two of us could meet. I tried to make it seem less urgent, saying, “We could do this in June – we don’t have to do now.”            

“No!” Jade[1] insisted. “We’re meeting this Saturday. This is your spiritual growth we’re talking about!” This from a friend who could, and did, easily and routinely forget that we had planned to meet at Starbucks. “So sorry! Slept in! Forgot all about it!” Her text would land in my phone as I stood outside on M Street in Georgetown, Washington, DC, the sunbeams drizzling down my face along with the slow and unfolding realization: Oh. She isn’t going to be coming around that corner soon, after all.              

Regrouping with Jade was never difficult. She was an anam cara. Soul friends may skip the occasional Starbucks, yet remember when to insist on divine appointments.  The last Saturday in May, Memorial Day weekend, of 2015, Jade was for me Dylan Thomas’ “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” She insisted that we meet so I could untangle an inner bramble. My landlady wanted to come when the phone company came to examine a phone jack, and I was struggling with having to allow that many people in my home at once.            

I am an artful monk in the world, exactly 50/50 extrovert and introvert on the MBTI, a French teacher, a writer, and a filmmaker. Without community, I could never do my heart’s happiest work.  Saint Benedict’s rule of hospitality is clear. In Chapter 53 of his Rule, “The Reception of Guests,” he sets no less than the highest of bars for welcoming others: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matt 25:35). Proper honor must be shown to all, especially to those who share our faith (Gal 6:10) and to pilgrims.”[2] Every time I visit the Abbaye Saint Benoît du Lac in Québec, hear the monks’ Gregorian chants and taste their other-worldly maple syrup pie, I feel their honor coursing through Lake Memphremagog’s waters.            

In 2015, I was a pilgrim to the new-to-me space of allowing others to enter more intimate places, while still keeping hold of my center. Jade welcomed me on a bench in a blooming garden of a Georgetown neighborhood church. Like Saint Benedict, she got straight to the point.            

“Look at those flowers,” she said, and then locked my eyes in her gaze. “They didn’t ask to be born.  Something made sure that they grew.”            

The silence brought in birdsong.

The sun’s slipstream pushed beneath the petals.            

“It’s unbecoming, isn’t it,” I said, “When I don’t also provide limits. When I don’t also state my needs.”            

“Exactly! And this is all about your becoming,” she smiled. “It’s about becoming more of all that is you. Becoming more Kirsten. All we have is this one day ahead of us! Become more of you in it.”            

I had never considered until then that to become, we might also first have to unbecome. Paring down and pruning are nothing less than God’s own gardening practices. “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:1-27).            

I walked home and crossed the threshold with levity. Both the phone tech and my landlady were gracious and respectful. The task took 15 minutes. No one scolded me for anything. I offered lemonade and meant it. I texted Jade, “Now this is done and I can start planning Vermont! I am already driving in the mountains, windows down, soul to the air, wild, rugged, alive.”            

She texted back, “Wild! Rugged! Alive!”            

Two days later, Jade’s sister called to tell me that Jade had passed away out of the blue. The words were bewildering; her now-echo vivid.  “All we have is this one day, Kirsten. We just have the next 24 hours and only ever did. This is all about your becoming.”            

Every day, I do what I can to live my worldly version of the monks’ Liturgy of the Hours.  I write morning pages for Matins. The Serenity Prayer becomes Lauds. Because I teach in a Catholic school and can start every class with a short prayer in French with my students, our prayers become Prime, Terce, Sext, and None. I light a candle for Vespers and often also for Compline, where I review the day in my planner, appropriately named the Monk Manual. Keeping to these “short practices” yields a more abundant creative output than the “when I’ll have time” mirage.  It’s harder to remember to pare and prune. One day can hold such power to touch a life. “Wild! Rugged! Alive!” is a mantra offered in gift, a daily reminder to offer hospitality, a strengthener in becoming and unbecoming, and an encouragement to keep to the “little things” that make the hours blessings.

[1] Jade is not her real name; names have been changed to protect privacy.[2] Monastery of Christ in the Desert. “Chapter 53: The Reception of Guests.” Study the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict, Monastery of Christ in the Desert, 2021.

Kirsten Keppel teaches French at Georgetown Preparatory School in Maryland, USA. She contributes regularly to Ambassador magazine of the National Italian American Foundation and was a 2017 Russo Brothers Italian American Film Forum semifinalist.  She earned her Master of Arts with a concentration in Transformative Language Arts from Goddard College.

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