History of the Forest

Sister Pascaline Coff was inspired by the charge of the second Vatican Council to “go back to the sources”. When she read a magazine article about an English monk;  Fr. Bede Griffiths; a Benedictine,  living in India at an ashram called Shantivanam (shanti; peace, vanam; forest), something clicked inside.

It was June of 1977.  The Benedictine Sister wrote and received a welcome from Fr. Bede and so set off in June of 1976 with another;  Sister Maurus Allen for southern India. They spent a year in India and returned to America with unimagined and deeply appreciated gifts from the Spirit. They were exposed to the ancient sacred teachings of Mother India and learned meditation.  Fr. Bede’s  teachings and his love for the East, were a gift everyone carried away from Shantivanam. In 35 years his ashram became known as a center of Hindu-Christian dialogue.

On return to the West,  Sister Pascaline nurtured  the seeds that had been sewn in India.  In June of l979 the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration purchased 40 wooded acres in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, near the Arkansas River.  Deep in the green country of eastern Oklahoma, in the diocese of Tulsa the Sisters were led to create a sacred place of prayer which they named Osage+Monastery – Forest of Peace.  The ‘forest’ deed was signed only two days before the auspicious visit of Fr. Bede, who offered Eucharist on the forest floor, prior to any building.  The new monastic ashram was dedicated on the Feast of Corpus Christi in June of l980, the sesquimillenium anniversary of Benedict’s birth.

This new ‘ashram in the West’ reflected respect for the Osage Indians, among whom the Sisters now lived.  It is located off Hwy #64,  20 miles west of Tulsa and 4 miles west of Sand Springs.  OM, the initials of this monastery are also the Sanskrit word intoned for God;  a primordial sound, literally AUM; each letter symbolizing an attribute of God;  Sat, Chit, Ananda; truth, wisdom, bliss.  To speak or chant this sound is to bring the Divine present in all creation into the world of form.   One of the goals of the community is to bring a communion of East and West into all hearts.  The letters were formed so as to embrace the cross of Christ as a sign of His centrality,  O+M.

The design of the main building considered  various spiritual traditions. A sunken area in the center of the chapel reflects the Sundance Circle of American Indians .  Above the pit, or Sundance Circle, was a large cosmic wheel, with the eight-fold Buddhist noble path in the supporting spokes: right view, right thought, right speech, right behavior, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration.  The mesquite altar was a gift from Tucson, AZ. together with the driftwood monstrance used during the weekly holy hour.

In 1989 another building was constructed in the Forest of Peace which provided space for the annual Christian/Zen retreat the community has hosted from its beginning in 1980.   Ruben Habito, the Sisters’ teacher, studied under Yamada Kuan Roshi in Kamacura, Japan.

The five original Benedictine nuns and their Trappist Chaplain agreed on four goals which they reviewed annually:

Monastic life is highly structured.  Ashram life is mostly unstructured. To live these two lifestyles and spiritualities at the same time was highly challenging, as one or the other from time to time attempts to become the center.  But in the coincidence of opposites, a cross is formed and Christ is always found at the center, if one searches.

The Sisters enjoyed ‘satsang’ (literally a gathering to hear Truth) while in India.  Sacred texts from many traditions were read.  In Oklahoma the Sisters  were blessed with guests and visitors from many parts of the USA and other countries, religious traditions and cultures; Buddhist monks and nuns, Islamic teachers, Hindus, and Zen Buddhists found themselves in communion here.

At the end of an ordinary day at O+M, as the sun set in the sky, the community came together one last time to sing compline, the official night prayer of the Church, and Mary’s anthem.  Then each one returned to his or her cabin in silence, the great monastic “night silence” as the stillness of the Forest began to play while the Lord of the Dance continued His Dance.