January 2014: My first visit to the Vina Monastery: Abbey of New Clairvaux, Vina, California.
The Monks of Vina, a movie documentary, takes us inside–really inside the walls, past the formal structures of the monastery. The movie delves into the thinking of some of the monks–several times over. Their personalities emerge, the joyful, the quiet, the contemplative, the artist, the potter, the unsure novice–monk in training, and so forth. It is enjoyable to watch the story of young men and older men who wrestle with the Calling to monastic life, to become a monastic. It is to give up everything material in order to gain everything in God. For three years those on the journey serve as novices until the time of their vows. It is a time of searching and learning. We learn that it is a cultural shock for each one as they leave the outside world for the simple life. One of much prayer and quietness.
We listen to an older monk who shares the difficulty he had in coming to a place of peace before he took his vows. Once it came, he was settled and at peace. That sense of peace lasted around ten years before another period of unsettled feelings surfaced and were addressed. He had played semi-pro baseball in his younger years. There was a picture of him pitching a ball at eighty-one years of age. It looked like he still could smack it right-nicely into the catcher’s glove. Amazing.There is very little talking in a trappist monastery. They work and eat mostly in silence. Upon entering the monastic society, the monks give up their worldly possessions. There is a place where a few of their former possessions are stored away. It reminds me of what we do with our garage items. It was emphasized that one cannot join a monastic community to run away from yourself or your problems. Self will need to be addressed.
It was one of the first showings of the documentary held at the State Theater in Red Bluff, California. I was way up in the back at the top along with my brother and sister-in-law. Afterwards, there was a question and answer time. I listened as the abbott of the abbey, the winemaker, and the movie director, fielded a wide range of questions. For me, the culmination of the evening was a spiritual thought. It came when the abbot answered a question during the Q & A session after the showing of the movie.
The question was asked, “Why do you bless the grapes? What do you expect it to do?” The abbot’s response was beautiful. It went something like this, “As monks in a monastery, you would expect us to believe in the spiritual, to follow God. We believe our lives are influenced by God and we want to be all God would want us to be. Not only are we blessed by God, but many things in the world are a part of the blessings of God. We bless the grapes that they might bring blessings to the people who enjoy what they produce, as they drink the fruit of the vine,” he answered with a smile, and then continued on, “And if they drink enough of it, they’ll be happy, too!” The audience responded to his comment with smiles and laughter. I had to agree. He was right. All we have comes from God and is a part of the blessing and the grand scheme of things.
A blessing is a prayer of grace toward others.