By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published September 3, 2020
CONYERS—As the pandemic drags on, people spend days largely isolated. So, who better to teach how to have a healthy balance in this strange time than people who isolate by choice—monks.
That’s the goal of Brother Michael Lautieri. He’s adjusted his retreat and counseling ministry by using Zoom to connect with people on a spiritual level.
He said he wants to help people “cultivate the monk within” to show them “how they can make this isolation they see as negative, how they can make it positive.”
Brother Michael and his brother Trappists at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit are using technology after the Conyers landmark shuttered due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Another retreat center in Atlanta, the Ignatius House Jesuit Retreat Center offers in-person retreats with limitations.)
For more than two decades, Brother Michael has followed the daily rhythms of prayer and labor at the monastery some 25 miles east of Atlanta. He shared insights from his vocation with the 30 people who joined him recently for a day of reflection on Zoom.
The day was called “The Monk Within.” Brother Michael offered participants pointers on how to live like a monk in their own homes, from cultivating silence and building community, to introducing prayer, both for themselves and their families.
As he talked about the monastic values, Brother Michael offered how participants could incorporate them into their own life. The retreat goers drew a wheel with spokes to represent the day, then they broke the day into different parts of a monk’s life: times for silence, solitude, prayer and work.
“I told them now put this on your refrigerator, and go off every day and practice it,” he said.
Brother Michael, 76, came to the monastery after working in his native Rhode Island as a travel agent and teacher. He made his solemn vows in 2001. In addition to being a spiritual director and an addiction counselor, Brother Michael called himself the monastery’s social media monk, sharing uplifting quotes and updates on Facebook and other platforms.
Zoom, however, was new for him. He admitted to a learning curve as he just discovered the whiteboard feature so he no longer must awkwardly hold papers to the computer camera.
By going virtual, he’s seen the opportunity for more people to participate. Brother Michael said his workshop’s 30 attendees had people from Michigan and New Mexico who would have been unlikely to come to a retreat house in Georgia.
But being on a computer screen misses the enriching experience of visiting the monastery grounds, he said.
“They like the whole experience of being here in the monastery and enjoying the quiet of the place and the peace,” said Brother Michael.
Even though the monks live on acres of land with a life of social isolation, they are not immune to what’s happening outside the monastery gates, he said. The day begins still with 4 a.m. prayer, but now groceries and medicine are delivered, he said.
He suggested for this pandemic to make it a spiritual exercise so to speak and ask yourself questions.
“God not only speaks through the Bible but he speaks through the events in our lives and right now he’s speaking to us through this pandemic,” said Brother Michael. “It’s for us to discern what he is trying to say to me, and to us.”
Details of virtual and in-person retreats can be found in Bulletin Notes at georgiabulletin.org.