On the bank of the Rio Chama in Abiquiu, New Mexico, in the Chama Canyon wilderness, sits a beautiful Benedictine monastic community – The Monastery of Christ in the Desert. The monks in this community have the goal of living the contemplative life which St. Benedict, whose Rule is followed, envisioned as a life free from all attachments so that a relationship with God is the central, and even exclusive, relationship. The monastery is a rich part of Abiquiu’s fabric, and welcomes guests and visitors from around the world.
Our Discover Abiquiu blogger interview series starts this month with Br. David Bryant, O.S.B - #thedesertmonk - from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. Br. David Bryant is a spiritual, vibrant, interesting, and hardworking soul, and also is the face behind the “TheDesertMonk” channels on YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Through his lens, we find insight into the life in the Monastery, blended with his entertaining anecdotes and bright, peaceful stories, photos and videos. #TheDesertMonk allows us to connect with the Monastery in a beautiful way.
Discover Abiquiu: Br. David Bryant, O.S.B – thank you for taking your time to Zoom with me and share a bit about you, and your life, and The Monastery of Christ in the Desert. We have such love for the Monastery and have a desire to understand more. Can we start with learning a bit about you - who are you, where are you from, your childhood?
Br. David: Well, that’s a long story but I will try to make it brief for you! To understand how I got to this place in my journey, you have to start back when I was about eight years old. At eight years old, living in Tennessee, I went to church on Sundays and lived the Christian life, nothing special or out of the normal. However, silence was an important part of my life. I felt strongly that monastic life was where I was meant to be, without really understanding what it meant. I was seeking an idea but didn’t know what it was.
As a child, I was very involved in Boy Scouts, earning the rank of Eagle – outdoor wilderness, survival skills. I enjoyed sailing, being outdoors, singing and music. As I became a teenager, I was actively involved in music, plays, sound, lighting. It was through singing and music that I learned a lot about faith. Back then, I was a Baptist, then Methodist.
In high school, I met a wonderful friend who is still an influential force in my life today, David. Now Father David, he plays a role in how I ended up here at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert. But that story is for another question.
Following my calling to live a monastic life, and to spread the news about faith, I converted to Catholicism and became a monk in 2000.
How long have you been at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert? Was this your first Monastery?
I’ve been at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert for six years. Before that, I was at a Monastery in Alabama. That Monastery was located close to EWTN, a well know Catholic TV station, and they also supported a school. Teaching brings a different perspective and environment, and I was seeking a quieter life than was possible at that Monastery. So, I “discerned”, which means you choose, to find a quieter life, a quieter monastic life.
How did you find The Monastery of Christ in the Desert?
This is where my high school friend, Father David, comes into the story, again. Father David had visited The Monastery of Christ in the Desert – A parishioner at his church in Tennessee has a cabin in Colorado, and on a trip to the cabin, they also visited the Monastery. During Father David’s visit, he knew I should be there. He drove me to the Monastery for my first visit some time after.
What did you think the first time you drove down that bumpy 8-mile road to the Monastery?
Actually, it is a 13-mile road. I love that road, I know every turn, every bump, every twist. I’ve named the sections of the road.
I have always enjoyed travelling, I’ve spent time in England, but this was my first time in the desert. When I got off the plane in Albuquerque and started the drive to Abiquiu, I wasn’t so sure. But as soon as I reached the Chama River Valley and crossed the Abiquiu dam, I got a taste of the beauty here. The red rocks. The lake and river. It’s so beautiful.
Although I was raised Catholic, I’m not sure I understand exactly what is involved in the monkhood. Can you explain? Are all monks male? Catholic?
Yes, monks are male. The female role is a nun and nuns live in a cloister. Benedictine monks are Catholic. You don’t have to be a Catholic to consider entering our Monastery, but you must be aspiring to be Catholic, and after being a Catholic for three years, the process may officially start.
Religious community members live under the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. A Benedictine monk lives under those vows, plus two additional ones: stability and conversion, which basically means moving towards God. So, we live under those five vows. A monk is meant to be in a monastery, living a life of prayer and work - Ora and Labora. Monastic life is not something you wake up in the morning and decide to do, it takes years, formation is never ending.
(Ora et Labora means pray and work — the motto of the Benedictine order.)
Is that why members of the Monastery of Christ in the Desert take a vow of silence?
That is a misinterpretation that seems commonplace in Abiquiu. We do not take a vow of silence. Silence is our preferred way of life; a promise to be quiet. The purpose of a monastery is to pray for people, to be quiet and contemplative. That is the environment we enjoy and protect, which is why we don’t have contact with quests. That is why the monk working the gift shop and the guest master are the two that break the Silence - we call it “Breaking the Silence” - and do speak. We have special rooms where talking takes place in order to keep the environment quiet. The Monastery goes against what the world calls for – silence is an important part of our life.
How long has the Monastery been on the Rio Chama? How large is the community at The Monastery? Are monks able to relocate between monasteries?
The Monastery was founded in the mid-1960’s. In the beginning, the community lived in tents on land which was given to them. The Monastery was built from there. There is a great book on Amazon called “Brothers of the Desert” which I recommend.
There are 35 monks living at the Monastery. Choosing a monastery is a life commitment, although you are able to “discern” to a different location to pursue a closer connection to a monastic life.
So, you’ve been at The Monastery of Christ in the Desert for about six years now. What aspects of life bring you the most joy?
We live a traditional, monastic life here. The best part is our prayer. Vespers and chanting, this is the glue that holds the community together. “Those that pray together stay together” and “He who chants, prays twice”. We chant the “office” – all the psalms – in our daily prayers in the church about eight times a day. We pray for Abiquiu and the local church daily.
What does a typical day look like?
You can view our full schedule on our website (https://christdesert.org/about/the-monastic-day/) but we begin with our first gathering, Vigils, at 4:00 am. We have Lauds, Mass, Chapter Meetings, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline, and The Grand Silence. The Grand Silence - this is where the “Breaking the Silence” comes from, the first words out of our mouths in the morning will be “O God, Come to My Accents”, said three time at the beginning of Vigils. And, we have many projects.
What projects are you working on? From your blogs, it looks as though you are doing everything from caring for the sheep, to fixing roofs, to cooking!
I wear many hats! I’m the Choir Master. Choir Master is an honor because the prayers, which are all chanted, are such important parts of our lives here. I tend to cook for all the big feasts and solemnity, like Christmas and Easter. I’m a Candle Maker. And, I do many maintenance projects - I know how to fix “stuff”. Right now, I’m designing irrigation for the fields; the irrigation system will be a solar, system – it is beautiful.
I also help tend the sheep. We have 16 sheep and we have brothers learning to weave, to use the wool. I enjoy websites and programming, so I am working on a virtual chapel. We also want to expand our Candle Shop and soaps. We have started bee keeping, too.
Isn’t there also a brewery? Monk’s Beer?
Yes, we have a small place to brew beer at the Monastery, but we don’t brew onsite. It is brewed off site and managed outside of the Monastery.
Well, you also seem to be the public “face” of the Monastery, with your social media posts. I love these posts because it allows us to be connected with the Monastery.
I started the Desert Monk social media channels because I really don’t like talking, so I forced myself to be creative and write the blog. The Desert Monk does allow us to create a connection with the community. I post on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
What about the guest experience? Guests can stay at The Monastery and participate in the community?
Along with prayer and work, Ora and Labora, hospitality is key in our life, so guests are very important. Guests are part of the experience and life at the Monastery. Guests are invited to attend any or all of the liturgical events that take place in the church, and they are encouraged to assist us with efforts around the property. Guests are encouraged to be involved. When we finish our greenhouse this summer, guests will be welcome to help in the greenhouse and with the garden. We encourage guests to help card wool. Expanding the guest experience is important to us – we are working on more offerings for guests: an outdoor chapel, meditation walks. There are wonderful things coming for our guests to enjoy – the irrigation system in the mornings, it is beautiful to see.
I know the Monastery is closed now due to COVID. Any idea when you might reopen to visitors and guests?
We follow the Bishop’s orders, which includes no guest houses. My guess is we will re-open to visitors and guests when there is no longer a need to wear masks.
How can the community assist the Monastery?
The best way to help us is to spread the word. We are undergoing a lot of changes, we are growing, there are exciting things happening. Please visit us when we open and consider staying in our guest house. Your presence and help is appreciated. We welcome your talents – can you help us or teach us how to stucco? Do electrical? Plumbing? Weaving? Sharing your skills and talents would be a wonderful gift!
Of course, monetary donations are perfectly fine. As you know, our boiler recently went out and we are trying to collect $30,000 to purchase a new boiler. We have a Go Fund Me page set up at https://charity.gofundme.com/o/en/campaign/new-boiler2
We are praying for the Monastery, for the church in town and for the people of Abiquiu daily.
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I feel so blessed to have had this time with Br. David Bryant OS.B. and am so appreciative of his time and the sharing of information. If you would like to follow him through social media, you may find him online at:
And, if any of our readers want to donate a great phone to Br. David Bryant O.S.B. for his video blogging, it will be a gift that will keep on giving for all of us as he shares through social media channels.
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