The Monks at St. Paul’s Church

This past week a group of monks of Drepung Gamang Monastery visited the Keys and constructed a Sacred Sand mandala in the nave of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. They worked on it for an entire week, building the mandala a grain of sand at a time. All could come and watch, and many did. The monks stated mission was to spread a message of peace, loving kindness, wisdom and compassion and to share Tibetan arts and culture.

The tradition of creating a sand mandala is said to bring healing and blessings to those who view it and to the environment in which it is made. While making the mandala, monks chant and meditate to invoke the energy of the deities. The sand is applied through special metal tubes and funnels. St. Paul’ s mandala took a week to complete. The word mandala is a Sanskrit word meaning “world in harmony.” The monks start by drawing an intricate geometric design on a large board and filling in the design with colored sand grains.

Here is a photo of the completed mandala at St. Paul’s Church (click on the photo to zoom and see the incredible detail).IMG_0391

Last Saturday, there was a community songfest at the church celebrating the completion of the mandala. The church was packed. I was waiting for the concert to start when I heard a band coming down the street. We waited for it to pass before starting the celebration. Then the band started coming into the full church. It was about 25 people of the Key West Community Marching Band. They marched around the church, and ended up in the nave to “When the Saints go Marching In” and everyone clapping and singing.IMG_0191 Then a local Gospel choir sang some gospel numbers, a seven-year old girl on a piano with a drummer accompanied a vocalist singing John Lennon’s “Imagine” and then St. Paul’s choir (or at least one bass and one tenor) did some French four-part Taize songs. The local Rabbi wearing a Prayer Shawl and a Monk demonstrated blowing the Jewish Shofar (ram’s horn) and the Buddhist Ceremonial Horn ending with what could very loosely be called a horn duet. In fact, they sounded quite alike. Speaking of Harmony, the Rabbi mentioned that when the Key West Jewish Temple was burned down by arson, St. Paul’s invited the congregation to meet at St. Paul’s while their Temple was being rebuilt. It was obviously very much appreciated. Finally the monks came up and did two chants, which included one monk chanting in the impossibly low guttural tone for which some monks are trained from childhood. The best comparison is to the sound of an Australian aboriginal Didgeridoo.

It was quite a joyous occasion and when the ceremony was over, everyone took pictures of the Sacred Sand mandala with their iPhones. IMG_0193The whole evening was Key West eclectic, impromptu, well attended and with only voluntary donations. The next afternoon, there was an ending ceremony at St. Paul’s at which the mandala was swept up and the Sacred Sand released into the ocean at the foot of Simonton Street. This whole undertaking was to show the impermanence of things in this life.

Which reminds me of a poem we all learned in high school English class:


I met a traveller from an antique land

Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,

Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown

And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.

And on the pedestal these words appear:

`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:

Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,

The lone and level sands stretch far away”.

Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

6 thoughts on “The Monks at St. Paul’s Church”

  1. Joanne, great post and lovely photos. My sister and bro in law who are at Sparky’s right now – falling in love with KW also went to see the monks. How can I include them as more of your followers? BTW: monks were here in Nov.
    Thanks – Deb

  2. Stan and I are so glad to be back on the list!!
    What an interesting piece this is, Joanne. Wish we’d been there with you to see the mandala and to be part of the congregation.
    Your memory is amazing — Shelley’s poem is one I don’t remember ever having read. It’s time to revisit his works!

  3. Not only interestingly composed, but, reported in the most professional manner. You are getting kind of dangerous, girl. Will you be going political on us soon?
    Love ‘n’ Stuff,

  4. I knew we were missing something but with all the activities and visiting our boys, somehow your blogs just didn’t pop to mind. I’m sorry we didn’t get that fixed sooner. I was great to see your musings again, Joanne. I’ll need to catch up over the next few days. The sand art is incredible and I thought the Navajo sand paintings were something.

  5. So glad you blogged on the mandala and provided pictures. The colors are so vivid. I didn’t image anything this detailed. Words just don’t do it justice. I visited Sherry H. on Saturday, and she was fascinated. I’m trying to think of a way to share it with her.

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