Westmont Magazine A Promise to Pray
By Caylie Cox '21
Why was I, a sensible American college student, getting up in what seemed like the dead of night to go pray with Irish monks? As I stumbled out of bed and piled on layers of clothing to combat the bitter cold, I thought back ruefully to the promise I had made myself: unless I was sick or absent, I would attend every single morning prayer or worship service offered each day for the whole semester abroad. While I still wonder why I made that commitment, I’m immensely glad I did. My growing faith and cultural experiences during England Semester became more important to me than anything else.
Morning prayer usually looked like 20 minutes of contemplative prayer with our group of professors and students. However, as we traveled, we occasionally joined in local worship services. In Rostrevor, we attended Lauds at the Holy Cross Monastery at 6:30 a.m. (the dead of night). At Woodbrooke Quaker Study Center in Birmingham, we participated in the Quaker silent morning worship. We even went to traditional Anglican morning services at several cathedrals, including Canterbury Cathedral. Participating in other worship traditions regularly gave me a much richer sense of the spiritual life of European Christian communities. Emotionally, I felt calmer, more adaptable to change and more able to exercise self-restraint. Spiritually, I had more peace, patience and joy. The credit belongs entirely to God, because I couldn’t have survived the semester on my own strength alone.
While abroad, I strove to prioritize God over absolutely everything else, even academics. I learned quite a lot about literature and English during the academically rigorous semester. Along with reading great books and poetry, we wrote papers that incorporated what we read with the places and cultures we experienced. The cultural learning, amazing experiences, and opportunities to grow in faith mattered much more than the grades I received.
I’ve sung Christmas carols in Trafalgar Square and Irish folk songs at a traditional Ceili music night. I’ve shoved my way through a London Christmas market and the audience on the floor of the Globe Theatre. I’ve taken a Chunnel train to Paris and a double-decker bus to the London Eye. No matter where I was—in England, Ireland, Scotland, or France—I learned about people and lifestyles other than my own. I came to understand not only the differences between myself and others but also what draws us together. Though I’ll never be able to completely comprehend other life stories and cultures, I can join wholeheartedly in the shared language of Christian prayer and worship no matter where I am.
Years in the future, I will remember the books I read, the churches I worshipped in, the mistakes I made, the friendships I developed, and the ways I grew closer to God. This made England Semester worth the time, money, stress, and sleep deprivation. I took a step outside my usual life and saw a vast world which, though it may groan under the burden of sin and suffering, is still suffused with the brilliant love and majesty of God.