The last of my journal entries I’ll share about my time at the monastery. I hope you enjoy!
Saturday, February 9th, 2013, 7:00am
Could you imagine living the monastic life? Silence from 7:45pm to 8am. Sleeping from 8pm to 3am. Four worship services, including a Eucharist Mass, before 9am. And we (absolutely and without exception including myself) can’t even manage to get to the 11am service on time!
The monks have a dress code, though I’ve yet to totally figure it out. One robe for Mass; another for the other services, sometimes with a white cloak, other times without it. Those who are still in the novitiate don’t get a black umm, …apron(?) to put over their robe. Father Victor, who as far as I can tell is not a monk but a bishop who has retired to the monastery, does not wear the robes but wears simple gray or khaki tunics and pants.
Footwear appears unregulated. The Abbot wears spiderwebby sneaker-sandals over socks, many wear sneakers, some clogs, others brown leather or suede sandals over black or white socks. Rings on the right hand can be spotted, which surprised me. Most heads shine with a bald skull or at least a patch. Father Christian wears a flat black hat, maybe about 8 inches in diameter, that sits on the crown of his skull. It’s very endearing.
Most of the monks walk around at a very solemn, slow pace– as a monk ought, it seems. Father Christian, though, at 98, speeds around on his walker like a racehorse. I have only seen him walk slowly when trying to keep his walker’s wheels from making too much noise when he sneaks (“sneaks”) into prayer five minutes late.
During Eucharist Mass this morning he sat in his seat after it ended and said, over and over, “Thank You. Thank You. Thank You. Thank You.”
This is the same Catholic priest of a man who, last time I was here, prayed for female clergy, and this time for female soldiers and for immigrants. He has two PhDs and a flat, sort of angry-looking face, but when he smiles you can hear angels.
Sunday, February 10th, 2013, 11:45am
I’ll tell you this for free– you’ve not seen much of anything until you’ve seen a white-bearded monk in a red-blue flannel, jeans, sneakers, and a blue ball cap riding a bicycle down a gravel lane. It’s like looking a God on Her day off.
Sunday, February 10th, 2013, 4:04 am
Picture this: There I trudged, puddling through the rushing rain, laden with Bible, journal, and Barbara Brown Taylor, a flashlight in one hand, umbrella stem planted in the other, instantly rubbing blisters on naked feet within my sneakers because the socks I’d washed and put outside to dry had only gotten wetter through the rainy night, lamenting and frankly worrying about the fact that I’d forgotten to brush my hair…. and all this was going on at 3:12 am.
And then, because ours is a God who loves to put things like unkempt hair in perspective and who also loves to laugh, just as I drew near to the steps of the church, out of the bushes ambled a large, ugly possum. Mercifully, and by some miracle, I was somehow kept from swearing aloud– this being a monastery, after all, and also still well within the hours of the Great Silence.
But I suspect there rose a great laughter Up There at the spectacle I was. And I had to laugh, too. Because what else is there to do, really?
Sunday, February 10th, 2013, 8:20 pm
On the first day of our retreat we (the retreatants) all, independently of one another, gave ourselves over heartily to despair. We gazed upon our sin and greed, so frankly juxtaposed by the holiness and modesty of the monks, and we were duly ashamed. So we wallowed. There was frowning and deep penitential prayer, and of course weeping– although I suspect the weeping was more from the shame of not feeling more penitent than from the penitence itself. Isn’t that just always the way?
Some of us withdrew to secret places in the gardens, hidden by bricked-up hollow trees or separated by creaking footbridges. Others laid flat on the banks of alligator-laden rivers and ponds, as though welcoming a toothy attack as part of their penance.
When we all showed up the next morning at 3am bitten only by the cold night air, a sense of giddiness filled us all. The night of weeping was over, and here fast approaching was the morn of song! We were reborn, resurrected, no longer slaves to our self-imposed punishments. We were free.
The scene in the gardens all that day was of frolicking, gamboling. We basked in the warming sun, daring the alligators to touch us in our new skin. We rolled in the grass, collected flowers and set them to sail on the still waters, and skimmed our hands along the tall grasses as we wandered through wide meadows. The prayers of the monks shot through us with fresh meaning, the Psalms flashed like jewels from our lips. We smiled at one another across the church and winked at the monks as they strolled past us.
We walked in the pitch darkness without our flashlights, happy and unafraid under the shelter of the stars. We drank orange tea and felt mystical and wise. At once we were newborn babies soaking up as much love and knowledge as we could, and also old women, dispensing and receiving wisdom from the ancient throats of the trees.
Tomorrow we will head out into the wilderness again, leaving this Eden guarded from us by the flaming swords of space and time. We will do all we can to carry this place with us, to be this place for those we love and those we meet. But it will not be the same. We will not be the same.
The Abbey, however, will remain the same. It is one of the most constant things in the world. After we are gone, the monks will have their services without us. After we are gone, new guests will fill our beds and our stalls in the church. And the monks will watch, amused, as these too suffer and do penance and are freed. I hope it gives them joy, the monks, to watch the endless parade of pilgrims longing and receiving in their presence. I know if it were me, I would be irritated by it. But they are better, they are kinder, for they wink back at me and they smile.