Staying at a monastery is no small task. It takes planning, know-how, adaptability, and most of all social tact. But despite all my awkward moments, by the end of my stay, I got a handle on how things ran: the worship schedule, meals, the layout. After the first day, I stopped joining them for their services, but still, I appreciated the way they tried hard to accommodate me. And my visit was successful mostly because when I wasn't embarrassing myself, I was pushing into God: reading, journaling, praying, thinking about my life and God. He was there. I was there. It was good.
My greatest realization, however, was that I don't need a monastery to do what I did there. In fact, the place was, in many ways, a distraction. Sure the ambiance was nice, the food was good, and one didn't have to worry about taking care of those little life details while there, but still, I could have locked myself in my apartment for a day or two and made time for God without the travel, expense, or social insecurities. I certainly don't want to be a monk. Not a literal one, at least. Their life is way too rigid and, in my opinion, unnecessarily so. It seems like in an effort to mortify the flesh, they kill off a lot more than what's required. If they find fulfillment, so be it, but I love the freedom I have in Christ, freedom to really enjoy the life He died to give me. And by the end of it all, I had to wonder if God really cares if you pray five times a day, chanting in unison and saying the same words over and over, if that somehow makes a difference to the heart of God.
Will I go back to a monastery? Definitely not that one, but maybe another. One can't get away from what atmosphere does with your time with God. Candles; icons; crosses; incense; still, dark places; all add to the sense of one approaching an ancient god, that you've come away to someplace special just to meet Him. That's not a bad thing, but it isn't a necessary thing. God is still ancient, whether or not you feel Him to be so, and, if you are a Christian, you can meet Him wherever you may stand.
If I go to a monastery again, it will be one that's in the country. If you're going for atmosphere, I discovered that even a monastery needs to exist within an appropriate one. Mine had been in the middle of a city, and by the second night I was going a little stir crazy. I had to get out, so I took more than a few distracting walks in the midst of all the hubbub. I people-watched, window-shopped, and ate at cafes. It wasn't the most successful fray into a life of stillness, but I tried the best I could. The city was just too tempting right outside the monastery gates. If instead of city there had been country, I could have gotten out into field or forest, into nature, where I've always sensed the presence of God. In a city, too much man-made noise threatens to drown Him out.
All in all, I'm glad I went there, glad I stepped out and did something different. The Way of the Monk lives on, but only in my own monastery, otherwise known as home.