A Clear Creek Abbey Documentary, Part II: The Call To Prayer

St. Benedict

If you have not been keeping up with my mini-documentary on Clear Creek Abbey, a remnant of medieval Europe in the heartland of America, then you might not be aware that something historically and liturgically extraordinary is happening in the most unexpected of locales: the hills of Oklahoma.

And it all began with St. Benedict.

Maybe you have heard of the legendary St. Benedict, or maybe you have not.

Either way, the annals of history remember him as the ancient father of monasticism who helped discover a way (unbeknownst to him) to save the west when it was plummeting into the hands of wild barbarians, determined to destroy all that they could find.

Inspired by God, St. Benedict created a religious rule of life, and taught his followers an innovative way to go from living as independent, self-sufficient hermits in the lonely regions of the earth, to men and women coming together for the sake of supporting one another while privately seeking God.

The many structures, and differing religious orders, that emerged out of his groundbreaking system of Benedictine monastic life eventually, over the centuries, became thriving cultural centers, as bald-headed monks clad in long, simple robes painstakingly preserved rich treasures of both biblical and secular works throughout the Middle Ages.

Not only did they preserve, however, but they created as well.

Soaring monasteries, sometimes rich in color and art (who says the Middle Ages were the “dark ages?” They were an explosion of light and texture) began to appear all across the continent of Europe, as well as in the distant border lands.

There, hidden within, holy men (and women too) became the heart of a thriving culture, filled with:

  • Art
  • Music
  • Liturgy
  • Scholarship
  • Prayer
  • Penance
  • Catholicism
  • God
  • Angels
  • Saints
  • Heaven…

Everything combined into a fantastic flurry of faith and beauty that probably seemed as if it would never end.

But it did.

A point came when people began to lose their faith – jaded by the jaded themselves (often with reasons provided by those who had failed to live up to their noble call).

These jaded souls nailed their arguments to cathedral doors, protesting their loyalty in the midst of chaos, only to ultimately become worse than those they had turned against.

As a result of their sometimes insightful, but generally misguided efforts, and the efforts of others with varying agendas, time saw a decline – slowly, steadily – until much of the cultural epicenters of the past were nothing more than stone remnants…dead, save to a few photographers, tourists, and the occasional blessed historian on a travel grant.

So who would think that at the beginning of the 21st century, a monastery based on such a forgotten way of life would sprout roots in the very center of the United States – far from Europe, on a continent synonymous with the epitome of modernity?

There, in a state so varied – where farmers see the American sun combined with the Oklahoma heat taking its toll, and city slickers drive through modern pollution and growing congestion to and from work every day – a group of men began to establish their lives in a secluded location, based on the ancient ways.

And what else is at the heart of this forgotten life, than prayer – both private and communal.

While I cannot take you into the minds of the monks and show you what it is like to be them (for that even I do not know), I can at least take you with me for a brief space of time and show you what it is like to step back in time – back into the highly symbolic, public prayer lives of our ancestors – and show you a little remnant of medieval Europe in the heartland of Oklahoma.

Photographing the Past – Limitations

I fell in love with the historic liturgy, and all of the different ways of prayer and life that it entails, not through attending modern services that still use those inspiring rites, but partially by looking at images of the past.

While my ancestors could not offer me photographic prints to look at on internet sites, they did leave behind spectacular paintings and frescoes on crumbling stone walls.

Artists such as the incredible Lorenzetti brothers, Simone Martini, Giotto, and other countless names captured for me a world that seemed so lost to the madness of our own chaotic time.

I wanted to step into that world – to be apart of it any way that I could, even if the closest I could get was sitting in front of a fresco for hours on end, or dreaming in my heart.

I wanted it not just because it was beautiful (for that it certainly is) – but because I knew that it provided a much-needed window – a window into God.

In photographing the communal life of prayer at Clear Creek Abbey, I have tried to allow my images to become one such window in any way that they can – like those that were once offered to me.

Sadly, however, I am not a professional photographer.

I do not own a “real” camera, and neither can I claim ownership to professional editing software.

For me, all that I know how to do is set my camera to automatic, point – and shoot.

To make things even more complicated, the interior of Clear Creek Abbey is wonderfully, pensively, romantically dark, with a very strong back light.

All of these things are great for the eyes – but not so great for the lens.

Plus, given that the Abbey is still a work under construction, it is currently simplicity in the extreme – which can be poignantly affective when turning to prayer, but difficult when trying to capture unique shots.

Finally, I had no permission to photograph from the best of spots (i.e., up close and personal), but had to work from the back of the church so as to avoid disturbing anyone, keeping my small zoom lens fully extended at all times (which greatly impacted the quality, as shooting with a small zoom lens, at long distances, in conflicting light makes for questionable results).

This meant the angles that I could obtain were very – extremely – limited.

I have therefore tried to do the best that I can with the little that I could draw from.

  • As a result, I decided to be creative, and mix the concept of images from the past with images from the present – editing some shots to look as though they could be a still image from a vintage album (something like the paintings that once inspired me so), and others to reveal their modern, true-to-life reality.

Keeping all of this in mind, I hope that you will enjoy my little labor of love – documenting Clear Creek Abbey.

The Liturgy of the Hours

Before attending Mass, the monks welcome all visitors to pray with them as they chant the timeless, rotating prayer of the Church (in Latin, no less!) – the Liturgy of the Hours.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Monks gather together for the Liturgy of the Hours, absorbed in solemn, heartfelt prayer.

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Clear Creek Abbey

A single monk pauses to lift his eyes and heart to heaven, while those around him symbolically fade from his awareness.

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Clear Creek Abbey

A common sight for the Liturgy of the Hours – deep, reverent bows.

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An Ordination and the First Mass of a New Priest

During my time at Clear Creek Abbey, I was blessed to be apart of both an Ordination, and the first Mass of the newly ordained priest.

The following images are from both the Ordination, the Mass of the Ordination, and the very first Mass of a new son of Mary – a new priest!

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Clear Creek Abbey

There is nothing like an ordination. To think that one moment, a mere mortal man is just another one like us, and the next, God is willing to work through him to bring souls grace. It awes me on so many levels, and I hope that this picture captures something of that awe, which looks beyond.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Laying prostrate is highly symbolic. Only one of these men was to become a priest that day – the other two were being invested into one of the lower orders I think. Yet regardless, each is a step no one can ever be worthy of on their own – it is all a grace of God.

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Clear Creek Abbey

While the monks on the left side of the church stand in prayer, another in white fills the air with incense that intermingles with the rays of light.

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Clear Creek Abbey

This image is similar to the one a few images up, but different as well. I love the altar rail in the picture covering them – like a barrier, each step separating them further and further from the world that they know. I tried to create the image to look like something from another time – it could be from your great-grandparents photo album, before the madness of our era. Yet it is here – now, and anyone can be apart of it.

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Clear Creek Abbey

This picture needs little commentary – his pose of deep prayer is striking in itself.

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Clear Creek Abbey

When I used to study paintings from the Middle Ages, I somehow recall seeing this man in them. Not the exact same person, of course – but nonetheless, that same striking, relaxed solemnity, the white robe, the calm gaze…this image deserves to be one from another era, for he has the look of someone who thinks deeper than ours.

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Clear Creek Abbey

“Right now, there is a young man awakening to a new day unlike any other of his life, because while he will spend his morning like everyone else, he will end his day with a mark on his soul that will last forever. He will walk in that church one person, and walk out a priest. Wow!” Thoughts like that soar through my mind before an ordination, as I think of all the graces that will happen as Heaven touches earth. That is what I wanted to convey in this moment – a sense of brilliant light, almost like the supernatural event happening behind what our mortal eyes can see. Sheer brilliance!

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Clear Creek Abbey Ordination

Not only did I want to capture the importance of the two involved in the laying on of hands (the older priest and the new one) but I also wanted to capture a sense of the supernatural event happening behind the visible world.

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Clear Creek Abbey Ordination

For this moment, I wanted to really capture a sense of everything else fading away, save for the supernatural grace being bestowed upon the priest.

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Clear Creek Abbey Ordination

The vesting process begins.

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Clear Creek Abbey Ordination

The new priest stands before the altar, the new robe that he has been vested in folded to his waist. Later in the ceremony, the robe will be let down so that it extends to its full length.

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Clear Creek Abbey

As the community of monks and the community of the faithful sing, the new priest bows before his superior, his green robe folded halfway up. There is a symbolism behind that, and I am guessing that it probably has to do with his not having taken yet taken every step in the journey of becoming a priest (but please let me know if I am wrong, because I really am only guessing here).

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Clear Creek Abbey

A view of the church from the back, as the ceremony unfolds.

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Clear Creek Abbey Ordination

The newly ordained priest kneels, flanked by two monks (one on each side) who have been raised to one of the lower orders. His robe, which was earlier folded to his waist, is now fully extended. I believe that may be a symbol that he has now participated in con-celebrating a Mass, and has thus taken all the steps to being a priest, although he has not said his first Mass yet. (This is just my guess though, so please let me know if I am wrong. Also, this moment occurred after the Mass was celebrated – I just put it here. But you will see during the Mass the priest is con-celebrating, and his robe is still half folded.)

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Clear Creek Abbey

I left the container of incense in color – everything else is black and white.

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Light

Light playing off incense and a dangling white altar cloth, with candles flickering – such images are as wonderful as any symbolic representation of heaven.

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Clear Creek Abbey

A little head of curly fluff hangs out over the edge of one of the pews to the right, napping on her mother’s lap, while the ceremony continues in the background. Such an image should always convey to the priest the sense that while the great significance and beauty of the liturgy must always be maintained, the God he worships has sent him to take care of all – even the weakest and most frail amongst us. Being a servant of God is not just beauty and light – it can often be messy, and even difficult. But if he fails in that, and cannot stoop to the weak, he has forgotten the true greatness of his call.

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Clear Creek Abbey

As the priest prepares the altar, a selection of monks leave their choir seats on either side of the church and take to the center to sing.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Like a choir of wingless angels in long robes, before the throne of God, the monks sing their worship to their divine King.

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Clear Creek Abbey

The words pouring from his lips, the one monk reminds me of someone I have seen in a painting somewhere in the past.

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Clear Creek Monks

A little glimpse of Heaven – white robed figures bearing candles attend to the altar, while the monks fill the air with heavenly strains.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Only the celebrating priest, and the cross are in color – to highlight the unique importance of the priest acting in the place of Christ at this moment, as the consecration nears. Soon the truly important One will answer the call of His servant – a call that He directs in the end – becoming flesh and spirit under the appearance of simple bread.

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Clear Creek Abbey

The host is held before the cross – this is our faith. We worship to God – we do not eat just a meal with each other. It is so much more than a simple table – it is the altar of Heaven. That is why we do not look at each other during such a profound event – we save our mortal face time for later. Now, it us and God – face to face.

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Clear Creek ABbey

This same image was taken the next day I believe, at the very first Mass of the newly ordained priest. Alone, at the altar – his new journey had begun. He had the “newbie nerves” as he handed out the Eucharist later to each soul, during communion. Slow, extremely cautious – I could only imagine what awe was going on inside of his mind, to finally bring God to souls! I would have held everyone up all day if it had been me.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Mass has ended – go in peace. As the monks process out, for a moment many must be aware that they have touched the edge of Heaven, and a spiritual, unseen power that no other faith can profess. Forget rocking out to Gospel – we have the sublime heights of Heaven to admire, in profound, silent awe.

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Clear Creek Abbey

They remind me of soldiers of Christ, marching off to the daily battle of life.

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Clear Creek Abbey

The look on the lead man’s face is priceless – “you better get out of my way with that camera, because I am marching on through!” Just kidding, I have no idea what he thought. But I like how he looks so determined. His head is bowed, but he looks up with dead-set eyes.

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EndofMassDSC05810~*~

Eucharistic Adoration

From time to time, perhaps after a service, the monks welcome all to join them for Eucharistic Adoration.

This is yet another way, besides the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass itself, where souls visiting Clear Creek Abbey can come together to worship God both privately, and together.

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A monk faces God - and God faces him. Along, yet visible to all.

A monk faces God – and God faces him. Alone, yet visible to all.

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Clear Creek Abbey

A monk with the weight of the world on his shoulders – and perhaps in his mind.

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Clear Creek Abbey

Together, the community prays. If the family that prays together, stays together – these monks have one powerful, unique “family” which, now that it is on American soil, may never end!

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In the Silence of Clear Creek Abbey

After all was said and done, I lingered on until all were gone.

There, alone, I could appreciate the still silence of a place that fluxuates daily between communal heaven and solitary, forgotten peace.

The life of a monk is, after all, meant to be forgotten.

Forgotten from the world, forgotten from the camera, forgotten even from us – save for God alone.

As long as God remembers him, and he remembers God, the monk has all that he could ever need.

Forgotten.

Silent.

Still.

But remembered.

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Clear Creek Abbey

The choir of the monks, silent now that all are gone – save for God alone, hidden in the tabernacle.

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Clear Creek Abbey

The altar and the monks choir – abandoned for now, until the next time…maybe your time?

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Life After Public Prayer

If you are anything like me, now that prayers are over and the day is still young, you might be wondering, “is there anything more to explore?”

Yes, there is a lot more!

Join me next time, as we do everything from visit the gift shop for hand-made crafts, wonder the fields laden with sheep, get stuck in our path by curious cows, see the monks at work, an artisan at his craft, nuns moving to their new location…and more, so much more!

Clear Creek Abbey is a world unto itself, as we will soon see.

To be continued…

~*~

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19 Comments on “A Clear Creek Abbey Documentary, Part II: The Call To Prayer”

  1. 8kidsandabusiness Says:

    The pictures are beautiful, Isabella Rose. Thank you. I’m enjoying this series of posts immensely. Looking forward to the next installment. Still *sighing*

    Reply

  2. Me Says:

    Thank you for this segment of your visit! It was beautiful and you did a wonderful job with the photos despite being limited in how/where you could shoot from. I think the golden curls are my favorite. :) God bless!

    Reply

  3. 8kidsandabusiness Says:

    It’s awards time, Isabella Rose. To start the new year, I’d like to give you 3 blog awards. Details on my blog: http://8kidsandabusiness.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/better-than-the-oscars/

    Reply

  4. Ponder Anew Says:

    Sister, this is kind of fun. See and claim if you wish: http://kasseybarker.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/relishing-the-not-freshly-pressed-award/ Happy Christmas weekday! :)

    Reply

  5. Marc Says:

    In your Missouri travels, did you ever stop here?

    http://marcsviewonstuff.wordpress.com/2012/11/19/an-afternoon-with-our-lady/

    I went there alone shortly before I took the family and experienced the “loudest” silence I’ve ever heard. I was praying at the Lourdes Grotto and the wind stopped and not a single leaf was rustling. It was so peaceful…so much that I did not know what to do! :) it was the grace needed at the time as much was weighing down my soul regarding work and such.

    It sounds like your silence at Clear Creek was similar.

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      I just went over to your site to look – I was never there. But wow! That first one is like a doll house!

      That last church has a great remnant of the top of a medieval rood screen. I love when I see a church that has one of those.

      “Loud” silences are always good. :-) I can understand needing that.

      Reply

      • Marc Says:

        The shrine is a must-see if you’re ever passing this way again. Certainly one of the most traditional shrines I’ve seen within 90 min of STL. October is the best time….the drive there from here is very beautiful with the fall colors, etc.

        Reply

  6. Jenny H (Plain Grace) Says:

    I have visited Clear Creek on a couple of occasions and your photos absolutely do as much justice to the monastery as any photos could. A place that must be experienced first hand if at all possible.

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      Thank you so much! I am glad you were able to visit Clear Creek. Yes, first hand is definitely the best way to experience it – and with enough time to really linger and gain a sense of the place from a prayerful viewpoint. God bless you, and thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Reply

  7. Ponder Anew Says:

    Sister, today is February 23, 2014. I miss you. KIT soon. :)

    Reply

    • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

      You are so kind – thank you for thinking of me! I hope that all is well with you. Anything exciting? I appreciate that you thought of me, and maybe one day I will be able to finish my series. :)

      Reply

      • Ponder Anew Says:

        hello! same ol, same ol with me. All is well, staying busy in other areas of life too, and I know what you mean- my blog is often in waiting as well. It is wonderful to hear you are well. Have a blessed lent. :)

        Reply

        • Reclaiming the Sacred Says:

          You too! I am glad to hear that all is good. Ah, the blog! Maybe I should change the title of my blog to “Reclaiming the Sacred: A Journey So Secret that I cannot write it.” :-) Just joking. God bless you!

          Reply

I am glad that you are here, and I would love to know your thoughts! Please leave a comment, and politely join the conversation. I look forward to hearing from you! :)

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