This year, three exceptional young people took part in the Monastic Internship Program at Grafton House, living, worshipping, and working together for nine months. We asked them to reflect on what they will take away from the experience.
Above all I have been completely and utterly overjoyed by the people with whom I’ve shared this internship experience. We only have six people living here on the Emery House property: three Brothers and three Interns. It’s a much smaller community than at the Monastery, more like being part of a tight-knit family.
One of the greatest surprises of this experience has been just how close I’ve become with the other two interns, Rachael and Dave – in large part because we didn’t start out this way! We come from different backgrounds. We operate with different perspectives. All three of us have a completely different view of life. And, honestly, at first it seemed just awful; it seemed insurmountable. Having already moved away from my home and the security of everything I knew, into this whole new life, it seemed too much to ask that I find a way to live with these other people who were so utterly different from myself. I was already on edge and, in the beginning, I often felt that this friction in our little community was too much.
Living in community, you don’t get to choose the people you live with, and it can be hard to deal with people who rub you the wrong way. But what I’ve learned from this experience – and what I appreciate so much now – is that it’s not them who are actually driving me crazy. The people who irritate us are teaching us about who we are.
I will value everything that I’ve experienced here with the two other Interns – probably for the rest of my life – because they were my greatest spiritual teachers. We’ve become a real community: We communed with each other. We were there for each other when we were struggling. We lightened the load when we could or did some task for the other that they couldn’t get through alone. When I look back now, I just see all these moments of pure affection and joy. We’ve forged a lifelong bond from so much shared experience – the kind of experience you might accumulate in ten years in the more ordinary way people make friends. I just can’t imagine this experience without them, because every day brings a new joy. – James Dunford
While I’ve always loved nature and being outdoors has always given me life, I’ve never truly lived in the country. I grew up in a small town and I enjoyed that more than living in large cities, which is where I was for the two years leading up to my time at Emery House. I was surprised at how much more alive I’ve become since starting this internship. Becoming part of the community at Emery House, being constantly surrounded by the beauty of nature, has really helped me live into my true self. It’s been rejuvenating in a way beyond description. I don’t go through a day without being grateful for the nature that surrounds us here.
Being outside in the country hasn’t changed the way I pray, but it does change how often I pray and how much I’m filled with gratitude. It has also fostered a deeper relationship with God through the constant awareness that this is God’s beauty, God’s art, God’s creation and gift to us all. It is hard not to see God all around us, unlike my experience in cities surrounded by brick walls, where it has often been difficult for me to see God. It’s an incredibly intimate spiritual connection for me to be alone in the woods or working in the garden with the earth, God’s creation, at my fingertips. Living in the country, I have become more intimate with God.
Nature has always been a truly sacred place for me, but now I’ve actually lived in that sacred space. Any place where a person connects with God is sacred for that period of time; my father, being an outdoorsman at heart, taught me that at a young age. This internship has given me the gift of living that truth. It’s our connection with God that creates sacred space. For some people that might happen most easily in a city; God isn’t confined to one type of place. I count myself extremely blessed to have had this experience, which has revealed to me new ways to connect with God by giving me the natural space to open up to God.
I have also been transformed by living in this community through praying the Office together and having Eucharist daily. It has really changed the way I look at living overall. More than a few times I’ve gone into service in a foul mood and through reflecting on God with everyone, I see things in a different light and my mood lifts. Our focus here is always on serving God, even when we’re doing mundane tasks. This has helped me to see that living into myself, living into my passions and what makes me alive, being fully alive, is praising God. Looking at life through that lens has changed a lot of my criticisms of life into gratitude. – Rachael MacLagan
Something amazing is taking place in the gardens at Emery House. Whoever has done the gardening is just phenomenal: Flowers are constantly showing up. There’s something really remarkable about how there are always new rounds of flowers just showing up in the perennial gardens, taking the place of the old flowers and presenting a whole new kind of beauty. I don’t know much about gardening, or perennials, but this makes me want to learn, because I want to do more of this. I want to create that kind of surprising experience. I’ve come to care for the flowers in a way that is really a blessing, by seeing how land can be maintained in a way that’s actually quite beautiful. It’s inspired me and it’s something I want to take away with me when I leave: this desire to create beautiful landscapes around where I live.
I also hope to keep going to church. The liturgical life was something I hadn’t really experienced before, because I hadn’t been attending church before the internship began. In the beginning, it was so foreign to me, I had to rely on the other Interns to help explain what was going on. But now, after months of meeting in the Chapel three times a day, I love going to church! I don’t necessarily know what I believe about what’s going on in there, but I’m really into it. We’ve had weeks where we’ve been “off” from chapel services, and I’ve found I really missed them. I’m hoping to keep going to church when I leave here. On the whole, I hope to take things less seriously. You know, I had some ideas about the spiritual life coming in, and now they have a softer feel to them – which I think is good.
The most transformative thing about this whole experience has been being able to escape into my own space, wandering the grounds, being on my own. I’ve been doing a lot of work pulling up invasive plant species in the area: starting with Bittersweet, now a little bit of Japanese Knotweed. Just going out and getting into my own rhythm, trying to clean up the property, has been a real joy for me. I think there’s something profound about making a choice to actually kill some plants in order to give space for others. I’ve found it really powerful, this work of cleaning up space, creating space to let something else breathe. When I pull up the invasive species, I feel that I am giving the native plants more space to show up and thrive.
I think there’s a part of me that wants to be more free or more expansive, to feel less crowded out by invasive and stifling thoughts. Maybe it’s healing in that way. There’s also a growing desire to provide a more balanced or clean environment for the people who come here after me and for the future. I know I can leave the place more open for them. And in the process, I feel more open, too. – David Anick