Silence in Egmond Abbey

IMG_5685From Monday January 12 till Friday January 16 I stayed at the Egmond Abbey or St. Adalbert’s Abbey (Dutch: Abdij van Egmond, Sint-Adelbertabdij). A Benedictine monastery at Egmond-Binnen in the Dutch province of North Holland. Founded in 920-925 and destroyed in the Reformation, it was re-founded in 1935 as the present Sint-Adelbertabdij, under the Diocese of Haarlem (source: wikipedia).

My room
The reception is very welcoming. I have a private room (called a cell in the monastery), with bathroom.

Three icons in my cel
Three icons in my cel

No radio and TV but a speaker broadcasting the services from the church (at least that’s what I expect, of course I was in church every service ;-). The room has a bed, table, chairs and wardrobe (mostly IKEA) and some icons and a crucifix. Although the abbey offers all kinds of programs I choose a week without any (special) program, just the daily routine of monastic life. One of the monks is responsible for the guests and he is also available for private conversations.

The prayers
Before my first service starts, brother Simon introduces me in the liturgy and psalmbook. These vespers are the start of a week of psalm singing.

The monastery has a daily routine of 6 services:
7:00 morning prayer (Lauds), followed by breakfast
9:30 eucharist (Terce), followed by coffee
12:30 midday prayer (Sext), followed by lunch
17:00 Evening prayer (Vespers), followed by supper
20:00 Night Prayer (Compline)
21:00 Office of Readings (Matins)

The church of the abbey

In one week all 150 psalms are sung (Gregorian chanting, psalms translated from Hebrew by Ida Gerhardt and Marie van der Zeyde).
For me the prayers are very relaxing. The way of singing is like breathing, very calm and respectful.
Although I have heard the psalms in church from childhood, I now hear the psalms as if it is for the first time.

Protestants are very welcome to receive the communion (the bread and wine). This demonstrates the ecumenical character of this monastery.

In the monastery silence is kept. Although it’s quite pragmatic. The brothers do speak if it is required for work or teaching. We have breakfast and supper with the other guests (five in total) in silence. It is interesting to see how silence helps to look after each other. You don’t have to ask for bread because you get it already presented. We have lunch with the monks. During lunch one of the monks reads a biography of a Dutch journalist (Kees Fens). It’s sometimes quite amusing literature.

In between the prayers the monks work for their income. They publish a Benedictine Magazine, make beautiful candles, run a nice store (candles, books, music, beer, etc), work in the kitchen, etc. There are 14 monks and some staff and they can host up to 16 guests.

70 steps to my cell (elevator available)

My experience
On Monday when I enter the monastery my head is spinning with loose ends from all sorts of activities and plans and ideas for my week in silence. I need a day to get accustomed to the daily routine and to empty my head. In my cell I find a book “First aid for visiting monasteries”. It explains all sorts of interesting details of monastic life.
After one day the silence and services with psalm singing have a very calming influence.
My head is getting clear and I can better focus on reading. I read some articles about sustainability.
And I have time to think about life, faith, work, ideas, plans and make a walk in the dunes nearby.
One night I find my heart rate is at a very low level (for me). Silence works even physical.


Internet, Facebook, Cell Phone, Texting
“Are you allowed to use your cell phone?” is one of the questions I get. There are no brothers in my room checking my behavior all day. And it is not forbidden. In the guest library a shared PC is available and the abbey runs a website (sorry, no WiFi in the rooms). However I experience that it is very good to turn the phone off for a couple of hours. It’s good for concentration and focus on the things you are working on.
But I do use my phone to send an email and some pictures each evening to Marleen and of course to read her replies.

Back home again
On Friday I cycle back home again. After a week with a lot of rain and thunder the sun is shining and the headwind was not too strong. A good way to make the change from silence to the busy world.
However, I hope and pursue to keep some of the silence, to have it integrated in my daily routine.

In fact I learned and experienced that I have options:
to read the morning paper or some psalms,
to automatically turn on news radio, or to dwell in silence for a while,
to check my email and facebook every couple of minutes, or to be aware of my own thoughts and feelings.

Anyway, this was a very good way to start my sabbatical!