6 Ways to Create a Portable Monastery

I’m a husband. I’m a dad. And I’m confident in my vocation.
 
But that doesn’t mean I’m not drawn to the monastic life. The rhythms of prayer and work, silence and liturgy, study and service beckon like an enchanting voice from another world. I’m sure part of it is the whole “grass is greener on the other side” phenomenon, but I think there’s something else, too. Many of us uncloistered folk yearn for the silence and spiritual depth which seem to elude our hyper-active world, riches we think are only attainable within a priory.
 
For a long time, I thought it was impossible for the ordinary layperson to cultivate regular times of deep, undistracted prayer. With office jobs and bills and dinner and bath times there was simply no room for that.
 
But then something changed.
 
I realized that I already had space for it, I just wasn’t using it well. I already had a sacred period every day when I was alone with my thoughts and open to prayer.
 
My commute.
 
My daily drive to work takes about twenty minutes, and I began to see how much I wasted it. It was usually filled with cell phone chats, banal news, or irrelevant commentary, and through all those things I was giving up some of the most sacred time in my day.
 
This is probably true for you, too. Whether in a car, a train, or a bike, your commute offers a Benedictine cell, a place cut off from the demands and noise of the world.
 
What if you began to see it this way? What if you decided that your commute would be your sacred space? What if you turned your car into a monastery or your train into a convent?
 
Here are six ways I’ve sanctified my own commute:
 

1. Listen to Catholic audiobooks and podcasts.

Instead of screaming at political commentary or zoning out to music, use your commute to strengthen your faith. Download an audiobook from Audible.com or Ignatius Press. You can also find plenty of free public domain titles from Librovox.org. For example, here are fifty free Chesterton audiobooks (you’re welcome.)
 
If you don’t want to commit to an audiobook, podcasts are great alternatives. I listen to several every week, including many Catholic shows. These are some of my favorites (all of them are free through iTunes):

  • Fr. Robert Barron’s Word on Fire podcast –Here you’ll find Scripture commentary from one of the Church’s most brilliant minds. Fr. Barron reviews the upcoming Sunday Mass readings and offers his typically profound insights. The best part is that he usually posts each homily on Friday, which allows you to listen and prepare for Mass a few days in advance.
  • Catholic Answers Live – The most popular Catholic radio show in the country with a strong focus on apologetics and evangelization. Most episodes are open Q&A, with calls from Catholics, Protestants, and even atheists. If you want to become better at defending and explaining your faith this will help.
  • The Sacred Page – Dr. Michael Barber takes modern Biblical scholarship and breaks it down into simple digestible chunks, helping you to understand complex topics like the canon, covenant, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. Dr. Barber’s podcast helps explain why Scott Hahn calls him, “one of the most promising Scripture teachers in the Church.”
  • The SaintCast – Dr. Paul Camarata is on a recording sabbatical, but his podcast is still the best way to study the saints. Here’s his own description: “With profiles of these holy heroes, interviews, and through ‘soundseeing’ tours, Paul takes the listener from the catacombs of Rome, to the Areopagus Hill in Athens, to San Giovanni Rotondo, and to churches and holy places frequented by the saints all over the world. Taking a light-hearted approach to recounting these stories, he helps bring stories of the saints alive in our daily lives.” Even though new episodes are rare, you can browse the 141 archived episodes and listen to any you choose.

 

2. Stream an audio Bible.

If you have trouble finding time to study Scripture, this is a great solution. Most modern audio Bibles are more than dry, monotonous reading. They use music, aural effects, and professional voice actors to draw you into the text.
 
My favorite version is the Truth and Life Audio New Testament. It uses the RSV-Catholic Edition, and features several award-winning actors. It’s also endorsed by the Vatican and boasts an Imprimatur. I’m listening to the Book of Acts right now and find it completely absorbing. To get a feel, listen to samples at their website and download the Gospel of Mark for free.
 
(Side note: I’ll be giving away three copies of the Truth and Life Audio New Testament next week at The Thin Veil, so be sure to enter!)
 

3. Reflect through sacred music.

Nothing soothes the soul like Gregorian chant, or stirring lyrics from Audrey Assad or Matt Maher. Melodies like this can soften your heart before the day and relieve it on the way home. I find it so much easier to pray and reflect with sacred music streaming in the background, and you may too. It provides the perfect atmosphere to center your mind and place yourself in God’s presence.
 
Also, just a personal preference, but film soundtracks also affect me the same way. My current favorite is the work of Hans Zimmer. He’s the master composer for movies like Inception, Batman Begins, The Lion King, Gladiator, and Pearl Harbor. When I crank up Zimmer during my commute, I’m swept into new worlds where beauty and joy hold sway.
 

4. Pray the Rosary.

Now this one’s a little tricky. Fingering the beads while driving is tough, though I’ve yet to see a car crash attributed to Our Mother. Like many people I keep a Rosary draped over my rear-view mirror. It’s a constant reminder to pray and I typically pull it down for a decade or two. You can pray the Rosary quietly, out loud, or, if you would like accompaniment, there are several guided Rosary CD’s which feature beautiful music and helpful reflections.
 

5. Embrace silence.

This might seem to contradict the first four recommendations, but the key is to alternate each strategy. Some days you need to feed your mind with podcasts. Others you can lose yourself in song. But other times you need nothing but quiet.
 
In our world, silence is rare. It’s tough to find amidst screaming kids, chatting co-workers, and blaring televisions. Your car, however, is a sanctuary—the one place where you can roll up the windows and block out the world.
 
Deep down we all know how valuable this silence is, especially in the spiritual life. As Mother Teresa says, “God is the friend of silence.” Remember it was the quiet, contemplative Mary whom Jesus praised—not the busy, audible Martha.
 
As an added bonus, your creativity will flourish. Most of my best ideas have come during a silent commute. If you’re a writer, blogger, speaker, or creative, sit quietly for thirty minutes and your mind will bubble over with ideas.
 

6. Talk to Jesus.

This might sound crazy, but instead of silent prayer I often talk to the Lord as if he was sitting in the seat next to me. It’s really helped the relational aspect of my faith. If you’re like me you pray plenty of formal and elegant prayers through Mass and other devotionals. And these are good. We need kingly language when speaking with royalty.
 
But Christ is not just Lord; he’s also Brother and Friend. Your commute is the perfect time to build this type of intimacy. When I drive to work, I confess what I’m worried about and I tell the Lord all that excites me. On the way home, I review the day with him, asking forgiveness where it’s needed and giving thanks everywhere else. In other words, your commute is perfectly suited for a daily “examination of conscience.” If you have trouble squeezing it in before bedtime, try it on the way home.
 
 
These are just six ways I create my portable monastery, but you probably have more. However you do it, though, don’t waste your commute. Take control and transform it. Turn it from a boring drive into a monastic cell, a place to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
 
It may have four wheels instead of four walls but it can be just as sacred.
 

Do you have any car-time spiritual practices?

 
 
(Image Credit: Word on Fire, Excerpts of Inri)
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://www.ignitumtoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/Brandon-Vogt-e1313148635944.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Brandon Vogt is a Catholic writer and speaker who blogs at The Thin Veil. He’s also the author of The Church and Media: Blogging Converts, Online Activists, and Bishops Who Tweet and the top hit on Google for “greatest evil in the world”.[/author_info] [/author]

(Image Credit: Squidoo and Tumblr)

39 thoughts on “6 Ways to Create a Portable Monastery”

  1. Avatar

    They do not pay me (hint hint, if anyone there is reading this!! ha ha) but Lighthouse Media has a Catholic CD of the month club that costs only $5 a month. I have belonged for a couple of years now and, while I occasionally get things that don’t interest me, I have been consistently amazed by how exciting and interesting Catholic topics that I didn’t think would be interesting have turned out to be fascinating. For instance, a recent one about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which I thought would be dull, was just electrifying. The presentations range from conversion stories, to book excerpts, to lectures, to talks about different ministries and programs around the world. If you are looking for low-cost, high quality audio for your portable monastery, by all means check them out! http://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/cdclub/refer/43482

  2. Avatar

    I listen to Fr. Barron lectures while I’m working at my computer, but since I’ve begun to run out of his videos (the horror!) I’ve taken to listening to Peter Kreeft.
    ~Ink

  3. Avatar

    I have prayed the rosary on my 30 minute commute every day. I recently moved into the 21st century and purchased an IPhone. My first task was looking for Catholic apps and came across the Divine Mercy App. Listening and praying along to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy will be a new one for me.

  4. Avatar

    Ink and Quill: Ha! I’m in the same boat, but facing the other direction. I’ve listened to all of Dr. Kreeft’s lectures and have them saved on my hard drive. I actually listed his podcast in my list above, but took it down once I realized that the site now charges $2 per lecture. Still worth it, in my opinion, but not free.

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  6. Avatar

    Another great podcast is Fr. Mike Schmitz, the chaplain at UMD’s Catholic student center. He posts his Sunday homilies and they are available free on iTunes. I also found a beautifully sung Divine Mercy chaplet album by Donna Cori Gibbson on iTunes for $9.99. Totally worth it!

  7. Avatar

    Since there was a monastic tilt to the blog entry, for those interested, the Monks of Norcia (a Benedictine monastery at the birthplace of St. Benedict) have recorded their prayers (Lauds, Mass, and Vespers) daily. Since they’re in Italy (but pray in Latin), when you’re driving to work in the morning, Lauds and Mass are usually already posted. When you’re driving home from work, Vespers is usually already posted.

    http://www.osbnorcia.org/blog

  8. Avatar

    I’ve been praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet on the way to work, which fits with my 10 minute commute. Hey, it’s 3 o’clock somewhere!

    In about 6 months, I’ll have a 30 minute commute. Much more time for prayer!

  9. Avatar

    Once I realized that I didn’t really absolutely need physical beads to do a rosary, I also realized how many different places/situations I could say the rosary in – including driving (not so tricky if you use your fingers to count), as well as during long meetings that really don’t pertain to me, long lines at banks etc, waiting rooms, doing dishes, any time I have to wait for something.. Using the beads is now like taking bath over a quick shower – its a treat, but I can do without beads if needed. And it makes waiting times much much less of a chore, for a bonus.

  10. Avatar

    Brandon: Darn it, they charge? That’s so not fair. What are poor college students to do? I certainly wouldn’t like Dr. Kreeft’s web site to turn me into an internet pirate…
    ~Ink

  11. Avatar

    I usually pray the rosary during my morning commute. Most Catholic book stores sell a small one decade rosary that is much safer (I have gotten my rosary caught in the stering column before!). I usually use the rosary cd’s because it helps keep me on track when my mind starts to wander. I also listen to Catholic Radio (Immaculate Heart Radio) in the afternoon which is available in my city. Usually Cathoic Answers is on, which I really enjoy. I agree that sometimes silence is also nice.

  12. Avatar

    Yes, I have found that the commute is a great time for prayer as well! I’ve learned to count on my fingers and use an actual rosary! That time in the morning is so precious.

  13. Avatar

    I bought a number of audiotapes (tapes of lectures) of Thomas Merton years ago. I wish these were available as MP3’s or CD’s, they were very interesting talks between him and people entering the monastery where he was.

  14. Avatar

    The rosary is easy to pray while driving – forget the beads.
    With both hands on the wheel, you gradually raise one finger for each Hail Mary until all five of left hand are lifted (first five) then, closing left hand fingers, repeat process for right hand (second five). It’s easy to keep count.

  15. Avatar

    Brandon:

    Thanks for this article. You have a gift for writing. Since you presented a creative way of forming a Benedictine monastery while commuting to work each day, let me suggest this from our Benedictine tradition: lectio divina. Lectio divina is Latin for divine reading. You may want to select a brief section from divine reading before you begin your commute. Through the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the divine reading you select can give you material for your reflection, meditation and prayer while on your commute. The purpose of Lectio Divina is to provide food and nourishment for the soul. Many lay people have turned to Lectio Divina to maintain and deepen their spiritual lives.

    If you want to get started on Lectio Divina, go to this Benedictine website: http://www.osb.org Click on “Lectio Divina” The web page will give you links to reading material that you may find helpful.

    One reason why I suggest that you consider Lectio Divina while on commute is that some folks find listening to recorded messages as a distraction while driving. This reminds of a bumper sticker that I saw one day: “Honk horn if you love Jesus. Text message while driving if you want to meet Jesus.”

    Father Hugo, OSB

  16. Avatar

    I don’t have a rosary hanging from my rearview mirror as I don’t want anything to impede my view or distract me while driving. However, I have a small crucifix affixed to my dashboard within reach so that I may touch it while driving. I like saying the Rosary and Divine Mercy Chaplet along with CD’s. That way I don’t have to worry about counting the Hail Mary’s.

  17. Avatar

    Rosary Army (.com) has all twenty decades as podcasts, handy at the gym on an mp3 player. For automotive monasteries, burn it onto a CD and you’re hands-free and ears unplugged.

  18. Avatar

    Oh, to travel by myself in the car. I am at home except when I drive the kids to school. Last year, after much fighting amongst them between the front door and the car door, I was wore out before I started the ignition! One morning, I found the Prayer of St. Francis in the center console. “Everybody quiet! Whoever is behind me, lead us in this!” It was a great way to start the day,(after the initial, frustrated drive) and the kids felt like it gave them a “boost” before entering the schoolyard. We did it everyday until my hubby and I switched vehicles.

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  20. Avatar

    Great post, thank you! Gail Finke, no need to hint! Contact us through the website you posted and we’ll put you to work in your area and pay you. We’re always looking for help spreading this ministry.

  21. Avatar

    Great article and it really spoke to me as a Benedictne Oblate. I find ways to cultivate silence and NOT turning on the radio (even Sirius’ The Catholic Channel)is the main opportunity. And BTW if you think the silence and atmosphere of the monastery look so good now, wait til the house is full of teenagers…You might become convinved at that junction of family dynamics that you missed your “true” monastic vocation. 🙂

  22. Avatar

    I think it is very true that one can make the time in the car a prayer time. HOWEVER, in the part of the country where I live, drivers are absolute maniacs, and make it very un-cloister like experience. Instead, it is a daily test of charity. They all speed, even the old people! No matter how fast you drive, they tail you and I mean dangerously. And they constantly cut you off with no signal. And so on. So if I pray the rosary, sometimes what happens is this, “Hail Mary, full of grace–for crying out loud, are you trying to kill me? Lord, please forgive me, I have no charity. Blessed Mother, I’m sorry!” If I can make it through a whole week remaining at peace while having to go through this gauntlet every day twice a day (and I have a short commute!), then I will know I have reached holiness!

  23. Avatar

    Great article, Brandon. I am very much a ‘my car is my sanctuary’ — even when the kids were smaller (they are all adults now) – the classical music station has always done the trick for us — so much of it was meant to be sung at Mass anyway 🙂 Soothes the kids — even now — as I now drive to/from college with the the youngest.

    I also like to talk to Jesus when no one is in the car with me — I even turn to Him as I imagine Him in the passenger seat. So what if people think I am crazy/

    Because I teach several religious classes during the week and weekend, I often just prefer to drive in silence and let myself praise God for my students, my family, my Church, and the loveliness of nature.

  24. Avatar

    @Nonna: LOL!
    I have the same experience while trying to drive in my crazy city. Forget about getting through a rosary or any other kind of meditation (lectio divino? forgetaboutit!) without without having uncharitable thoughts about other drivers, unless it’s early on a Sunday morning. It is indeed a daily test of charity.

  25. Avatar
    Pepin the Short

    @NONNA

    🙂 I think I know where you hail from, Nonna. If my hunch is correct, then I too come from the same geographical area and the driving is just as chaotic! The best (and most fun) way of dealing with the driving is to treat your commutes as an insertion into a real, live computer arcade game. That, or to pretend that you’re in a road stage of a rally… 🙂 But you are right; praying or meditating is next to impossible. The most I can manage is to listen to a sermon or talk on one of our Catholic radio stations (Radio Maria). Or to say the rosary if one of these stations happens to be broadcasting it.

  26. Avatar

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    maby this won’t go thru either..umm, web sight? Same as e-mail add. ? Anyway, so enjoyed reading yur great insight and lesson’s and suggestion’s.
    My husband and I love to be apart of your web..and ”love serious Catholic’s”…no doubt, also, EWTN constant viewers !
    Thank you , in Mary, Jon David and Deanna Bintner..Exira, Iowa..sm. town USA!..+JMJ+

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