The Keweenaw: A Monk's Perspective

A local priest once asked us if we had come to the Keweenaw for penitential reasons. There was a certain validity to Father's question. Penitence for one's own sins and for those of the whole world has always been an important factor in the monastic calling. Certainly, our own age - rife as it is with sins of the flesh, with economic and social injustice, with the snuffing-out of innocent life - has no less need of penitence than times past. The monk, by his life of hardship and self-denial, seeks in some small way to make reparation for this mountain of sin. He hopes to save his own soul from damnation and perhaps, through his prayer and witness, to turn the world from its headlong rush to destruction.

For this reason monasteries have usually thrived in difficult places - in deserts, in swamps, on mountain crags. The monk seeks the hard life for the discipline it imposes on mind and body, for the ascetic opportunities it offers. Monastic life seems to thrive in adverse physical surroundings; when life becomes too easy, it often grows lax. We, too, sought a hard place. It was its harsh aspects - its long snowy winters; its rocky, broken terrain; its distance from society's conveniences and distractions - that first suggested that we investigate the Keweenaw Peninsula as a possible location for our monastery.

Jacob's Creek

The ensuing years have born out these original expectations in more ways than we could have imagined. This is indeed a difficult place, and life here is often something of a penance. But it was the sheer beauty of this land that convinced us. We came looking for Purgatory; we found Paradise.

From our first view of it, one bright February (1982) morning, we were struck with the rightness of this place. The snow, brilliant with its pristine whiteness, lay heavily on everything. It weighed down the branches of the pines and spruces, festooned the naked limbs of the maples and oaks, and turned the twiggy birches into lace. In the towns it hid the houses behind high banks and buried more than a few in its drifts. In the country it blanketed the fields, draped the hills, and powdered the face of the cliffs. Even the roadway - scraped smooth and hard, and sprinkled where needed with sand - was white with snow.

Lake Superior in winter

Everywhere there was peace. The wind was still. We were the only ones on the road. The deep snow muffled the forest sounds. Even the great Lake, its bays choked with ice, was chilled into silence. It seemed the perfect place for the silent life of monks, and on every hill and crag we could envision towers and cloister walls rising above the serene whiteness.

The Divine Office corraborated the vision:

Cold and chill, bless the Lord... Frost and chill, bless the Lord. Ice and snow, bless the Lord...
(Dn. 3:67, 69-70)

Praise the Lord from the earth... fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy winds that obey His word.
(Ps. 148:7-8)

How great is your name, O Lord our God, through all the earth!
(Ps. 8:10)

From the rising of the sun to its setting, praised be the name of the Lord!
(Ps. 113:3)

The decision was made.

Subsequent visits the following summer and fall confirmed the first impression. We wrote to the Bishop on All Saints Day and spoke with him at Thanksgiving time. We visited again in February and began looking for property. We came twice in June and, on the second visit, began negotiations for the property at Jacob's Falls. By the end of August, we had come to stay.

Fall on the Ridge

The ensuing rounds of seasons have proven the wisdom of the choice. Each has its own beauty and offers its particular delights. Be it in crashing waves or silent winter nights, in pounding storms or gentle breezes, in narrow, rocky gorges, or in broad upland expanses, God's light pervades this land. He is manifest in the blizzard's fury and in the gentle rain. The blossoms and wild flowers speak of His love, and the berries proclaim His providential care. In the ever-different sunsets we catch glimpses of His glory.

All these intimations of divine beauty are perhaps reserved as consolations for those who commit their lives here. But visitors, too, from time to time may perceive them. We share them with guests and reteatants when we can. We often invite them to join us on walks through the woods or along deserted roads. We take care to make them aware of the less apparent wonders. The small marvels , too, be they budding arbutus or the stalks of wild asparagus, proclaim the glory of God.