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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Carmelite Monks in Wyoming #3

Below is an article from the Billings Gazette about the Carmelite Monks is Wyoming

Clark monks release chant CD
Gazette Wyoming Bureau

CLARK - In winter, the vast, scenic countryside around the tiny foothills community of Clark is serene and quiet. The frigid air and lingering snow cover seem to compress any sound before it is swept away on the Wyoming wind.

On a morning walk down one particular gravel road, one might hear the screech of a distant hawk, or perhaps the crunching sound of deer cautiously stepping through frozen brush.

A trip to the far end of the road might reward early risers with a surreal auditory delight: the medieval melody of Gregorian chant, borne on the wind from behind a high wooden fence.

For the past two years, the Carmelite monks of Clark have risen at 4 a.m. to begin each day in prayer, often performing the centuries-old chants in worship.

And now they've recorded a CD to share their chants with others in hopes of raising funds for a host of ambitious projects. "The Mystical Chants of Carmel" features 14 traditional prayers and hymns in Latin.

"We wanted to make a CD where people could listen to it and meditate or pray," said Father Daniel Mary. "Chant has that very peaceful, soothing quality."

Father Daniel - who was born Daniel Schneider, but like all monks in his order, has adopted Mary as his surname to honor the Blessed Virgin - smiles broadly as he discusses the transcendent power of chant.

"Some of the chants, like 'Audi Filia,' you can tell the soul that created it was totally inspired, totally immersed in God and prayer," he said.

Ancient music

Codified in the ninth century by St. Gregory, Gregorian chant was adopted from Jewish temples and developed over the centuries into a cornerstone of Roman Catholic Mass, Father Daniel said.

Father Daniel and the other six monks in his monastery spend up to eight hours a day in prayer, with much of that time devoted to chanting.

"Our prayer life is quite active," said Father Daniel. "All day long, you have times you come together in the chapel as part of that process.

"The chant CD is mostly the prayers we do from the Mass. All of our prayer in liturgy and Mass is chanted in Latin," he said.

Father Daniel, a native of Clark, founded the monastery two years ago with Michael Wright, who is now Brother Michael Mary.

They had been living in a Minnesota monastery that was more hermetic and isolated, and wanted to establish an order in Wyoming rooted in the Carmelite tradition of an agrarian lifestyle.

The Clark monastery opened in October 2003, in a ceremony at which the bishop of the Archdiocese of Wyoming symbolically closed it off from the world of profane cares outside.

"When Bishop Ricken shut the gates, at that moment, there was this extraordinary peace and sense of God's presence," Father Daniel said. "And that's the way it remains - very much a peaceful environment."

Brother Michael said he felt freedom, rather than isolation. He said his life before he was cloistered was filled with worldly distractions.

"Then, all of a sudden, the doors were closed," he said, "and I had this freedom of my soul to just waste myself in prayer, with nothing holding me back."

Father Daniel acknowledges that the monks' presence in Clark has raised a few eyebrows.

"We're an exotic species here," he jokes, saying people often observe through binoculars as the monks hike to a cross at the top of a hill behind the monastery.

"We sometimes wear a hunting jacket to let them know we're human," he said.

Word of the Wyoming monks spread, and their numbers have grown from two to seven. One young member learned of the Clark monastery through Google, an Internet search engine.

"He just loves it here," Father Daniel said of 20-year-old Brother Simon, who hails from New York. "To him it's like a foretaste of Heaven.

"And for all the other brothers, it's the same thing," he said. "It's amazing how God calls them. It seems deeply rooted in their soul to give their life to God with prayer. That's why they come."

The monks accept prayer requests from nearby St. Barbara's Catholic Church in Powell, and from other sources across rural northwest Wyoming.

Some leave phone messages asking for prayers, while others - sometimes two or three people a day - trek to the remote monastery and ring a bell outside the walls to summon a monk.

"People realize monks are there to pray for the world," Father Daniel said. "We want to intercede before God, to be channels of grace for the world."

No distractions

The monks enter the monastery on a six-year journey culminating in a vow of lifelong commitment to the order, pledging poverty, chastity and obedience to the church.

The telephone is used mainly to accept calls requesting prayers. Radio, TV and Internet are forbidden as unwelcome distractions. Outsiders are not allowed within the confines of the cloister.

Monks typically leave the monastery only for special reasons, like a medical emergency or the death of a relative.

Next to the monastery fence is a tiny cottage, which visitors enter through an outside door while the monks enter from within the monastery. Father Daniel jokingly calls it "the neutral zone."

Food and other necessities are brought by outside "runners," much as it has been done for centuries.

Applicants to the monastery, who come from all backgrounds and walks of life, are carefully screened by Father Daniel, who must be sure they are well-suited to the monastic discipline before accepting them into the order.

He said he has heard from more than 100 serious, qualified applicants, and expects to add another seven or eight new members over the next year.

The converted summer home that serves as their monastery can host a maximum of 15 men, making plans for expansion a top priority and a chief reason for the CD fundraiser.

"We can't turn anybody down," Father Daniel said. "If they're meant for us, we have to take them in. That's why we're already thinking about where we're going to found the next monastery."

Big plans

Father Daniel said the monks have reached an agreement with a benefactor to acquire 110 acres near Heart Mountain. Their hopes for the land now rest on raising money for its purchase, which he says they're working to accomplish, and finding well water on it, a goal whose success will depend on God.

Father Daniel hopes to build a monastery there with room for 30 monks, along with a church big enough for 500 worshipers and a hermitage, where visitors can sample for a few days or weeks the cloistered life of the monks.

Beyond that, he and Brother Michael have discussed plans to establish a monastery in Montana, somewhere between Billings and the Wyoming state line, which is just a few miles north of Clark.

As Father Daniel pages through a coffee table book of photographs of European cathedrals - talking of his plans for a gothic church in rural Wyoming - he displays a quiet, steady confidence born from a life of singular purpose and unquestioned commitment.

"It might be five years down the road, but we're going to do it," he said. "We have some people that could really finance this whole thing already behind us. They want to see us do our part, but we have no doubt it's going to happen."

For now, Father Daniel and the Carmelite monks of Clark are focused on a few simple agrarian goals, such as acquiring livestock and perhaps some chickens.

While the monks don't eat meat, tending to the animals and gardening - along with other work like making their own sandals or woodworking - are a large part of the discipline of monastic life.

Manual labor is one of the four pillars of a monk's daily routine, Father Daniel said, along with recreation, scripture study and prayer.

In prayer, the monks will continue to chant, he said, because chant "has a power to it that is out of this world, and it draws souls into transcendence."


The monks' CD can be ordered online at www.carmelitemonks.org/chant.html. CDs can also be ordered by sending $15 plus $3.95 shipping and handling to Carmelite Monastery, P.O. Box 2747, Cody, WY 82414

1 comment:

Lorie said...

This site mentions Fr. Daniel (Schneider). Does anyone know, is this the Dan Scnider who attended Mt. Carmel Seminary in niagara Falls, Ontario? If so, could Fr. Dan please contact me.

Thank you

Lorie Loretto