Choir Stalls

Today is Ash Wednesday. That means that Lent is here. The fact that it is Lent means that I get to go to a local monastery to pray almost every day. I love monasteries. They are peaceful and wonderful. You don’t need to be at all religious to appreciate the great beauty of silence and the holy rhythm of community life.

While I love monasteries, I don’t typically have much time for religious ecstasy or meditation when visiting. I am too busy thinking about things like choir stalls and how much I hate them.

I would not hesitate to sign up as a monk were it not for three things: I am a woman, I am married, and choir stalls make me contemplate hyperventilation rather than God. Seriously, have you really looked at those things? Something about the little walls on the sides of each stall makes me feel claustrophobic, and I don’t even get claustrophobic unless I’m hiding in a coat closet with at least six siblings squished in on top of me.

Tell the truth: what part of monastic life keeps you from signing up? And what are you really thinking about in situations where others might imagine that you’re being very holy or intellectual, or otherwise superior?

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19 thoughts on “Choir Stalls

  1. Maggie

    Oh I know what you mean about those choir stalls! I’ve sat in them before… and I just feel “squished.” And I doubt people think I look holy when I pray or contemplate. I usualy have a glazed-over look on my face because I’m so distracted or going off into la-la land. I REALLY need to work on my prayer life!

    And totally random- I usually read your blog through a reader so I don’t get to see your actual page, but I LOVE your blog header!

  2. Jackie

    Oh good, I’m glad I’m not the only one whose mind is all over the place.

    I’m terrible. Usually I’m thinking, “that girl looks bored. Do I look bored during mass? I hope not. I don’t want people to think I don’t care. Why do I care what people think? Well I still don’t want to look pissed off at the world like she does. How do you have a neutral looking face when you’re just sitting here?”


    “Ooh baby behind me screaming. I want to turn and look because I think babies are cute even when screaming. I don’t want the mom to think I’m turning around to glare at her for not shutting the baby up. How can I look at the baby in a friendly way?”

  3. Sarah @BeatenCopperLamp

    I rather like choir stalls, but then again, I’ve never really sat in one.

    A dear friend from high school just entered a Dominican convent, and of course she described it as an amazing opportunity to draw closer to God through prayer, silence, and even loneliness. If not for the loneliness and lack of contact with loved ones, I might enjoy it. I like the idea of enforced structure and community, but let’s be honest. I love to stay up late and sleep in. A monastic schedule and I would not get along.

  4. Tina

    I kinda wish I had choir stalls at my church – it would cut down on the chatter!
    Our choir is up in a loft – away from the congregation so everyone (and I’m guilty as well) whispers back and forth with one another.

    I’m currently discerning religious life. Going to visit the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville this weekend. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be able to spend time with the sisters, and with God. The only thing that doesn’t appeal to me about religious life is the lack of sleep…never being able to sleep in…or just lay around in sweats all day!

  5. Michelle

    I have never seen choir stalls before your picture in this post! But I’m fascinated…not sure if it’s a “good” or a “bad” fascination…just very curious. Do you only find these in monasteries? I have never seen them and I have been in new-agey, post-Vatican II churches, in “traditional” pre-vatican II churches, but have never been in a monastery.

    Two of my reasons would be two of yours…I’m female and I’m married. :) I pray that one of my children might be called to serve God completely in religious life or priesthood…but I know it’s not up to me. :)

  6. Kathleen

    What keeps me from joining a monastery is my husband and kids. :)

    I think about all kinds of things at church, other than what I’m supposed to be. Most of them judgmental, which serves as a constant reminder that I really do need to be there. :/

  7. Kristy

    I think it’s mostly that I’m a woman. And that I’m married. I also have a hard time keeping quiet for long stretches, so even if I could go, they’d probably kick me out for being too loud. (Especially when I laugh – I’m a Loud Laugher.) I’m also not Catholic, so I’m sure that’s another mark against me.

    And related to claustrophobia in choir stalls: have you been in those old churches with the family boxes? (The Old North Church in Boston comes to mind.) Talk about walls and claustrophobia! Or a nice nap, depending on your state when you get there.

    1. Rae Post author

      Oh, no kidding, I would HATE the family boxes. Especially with trying to squeeze a large family into a small box since it’s not like you’d rent two, right? When I visited a church that still had the boxes I was quite glad to have a whole one just to myself and probably would have flipped had anyone else sat down beside me. And yes, I’m quite aware that I’m far from holy. :-)

  8. Kathleen

    I’ve never visited a monastery but I’d love to! Therefore I’ve never seen choir stalls before, but looking at them I don’t think they’d bother me. Is that where the monks sit during worship? (I am ignorant on this.) Anyway, the idea of life in a monastery sounds really good to me, but I love being married and I’m really looking forward to having kids and raising a family. That’s just something I couldn’t give up.

    1. Rae Post author

      You’re exactly right. Depending on the type of monks, they gather together to pray & worship something like 9 times a day. The monks that we currently visit do so 4 times a day as well as their individual prayers!

  9. Preston Yancey

    I’m too medieval to be a monk. ;-) But seriously, several early monasteries allowed marriage, so if it weren’t for those Gregorian reforms …

    But more seriously, I don’t have the inclination toward the privacy of the cloister. I appreciate it deeply, but I don’t have the spiritual gifting that draws me to it. I fall more in line with the regular canons, or perhaps more the friars, desiring a place in the world.

    I could retreat to a monastery, but I’ve made my consecrated spaces in the world.

  10. stephen m bauer

    I am fascinated by monks and monasteries. I have always had a head full of romance about them.There was a monastery in the town that I grew up in. They were Augustinian Recollects. Strictly speaking, they are friars not monks but close enough. But part of me shuddered at the rigidity and narrowness of the lifestyle. The AUTHORITARIANISM. But as I got older, I realized that if you were going to become a priest, a community oriented order, like the Augustinians are a good deal. The community life can be very sustaining compared to the life style of diocesan priests who are basically alone. Parish priests in the same parish are not a community! They are really just house mates. But ultimately I did not become
    a priest because of the celibacy requirement. Ultimately, I concluded
    that I was not called to be a priest, but there is much more to it than that. In hindsight, my interest in the priesthood was based on the wrong reasons.

  11. felicemifa

    I struggle so with pride and the desire to be recognized. I have written a bit about how brave I think it is for people to decide that leaving a worldly legacy doesn’t matter and that they can quite simply ‘go away’ and have that – and their ‘legacy’ of prayer – be enough for them.

    And don’t ask what it is I think of when it looks like I’m being holy. You don’t want to know. But sometimes that is exactly where the prayer happens for me. As the Jesuits say, “The world is your cloister”.

  12. elleblue

    It really depends on how they are constructed. Most of them I’ve used helped me to feel contained and “taken care of.” I love doing meditation in them. It’s almost as if the world is blocked out just enough to focus and pray.

    We had beautiful ones at the Good Shepherd Provincialate at Peekskill, NY.

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