A Monastic Retreat, in Moments

The website for the Retreat House at St. Benedict’s Monastery isn’t perfect. Everything I need to know is there, but it is not the most beautiful design or the most efficient layout.

But I don’t need it to be beautiful or efficient.

Sometimes, the real thing is so full of glory that no matter who is telling you about it, or how, the glory will seep through. This is that sort of thing, where nothing earnest can be misrepresented, where even the blurriest picture will cause us all to gather around.

 

I fill my arms four times and carry food and suitcases and books to my room. I know there are mountains outside, here in Snowmass, Colorado, but it’s too dark to see them. I stack my books high, and there are too many for one pile.

This is the day after Easter, or rather the night, and the Retreat House is empty except for me. Everyone came for Holy Week, and the second of April isn’t Ordinary Time, but it seems it may as well be to everyone else.

 

I fill my journal with the past and the future, with remembrances and visions. I truly pray for the first time in a long time. And as I fill in the rocks and plants and other features of a labyrinth in my coloring book, At Play in God’s Creation, my eyes fill with tears, and the decision I had come here to make, and indeed thought had been made, turns into grief and I let myself grieve.

Mount Sopris as seen from the Retreat House
The view from my room (Mount Sopris)

It isn’t always the story about the story, but it sure seems that way to me. I awaken to dreams and hopes, and then I fall asleep and sleepwalk through the grid laid before me. And then one day, when the sleepwalking starts to take a nightmarish turn, I wake long enough to remember and cup my chin in my hands as I take in the beauty in the distance, the beauty I could be a part of.

I want to come awake long enough to do good in the world, a good I can sustain because it bubbles up from the truest, deepest parts of me.

 

I only leave the Retreat House for Vespers (I thought about going to Mass, but I don’t know whether or not I’m allowed to take the sacrament, so I skip it). I try to take in the details of what I see and hear, not just what I feel. One monk sits on a cushion. Blue jeans poke out at the bottom of their robes, ending in sandaled feet. Sometimes I turn to the right page in the book and can follow along, but sometimes I lose my place and can only listen.

The services end in darkness and quiet, but the silence is not absolute. The monks greet us on the way out, and I find myself shy.

The church, as seen from the guest chapel
The church, as seen from the guest chapel/meditation room

I meet Sarah and Pat at Vespers, and they invite me to drink tea with them in their hermitage, a separate guest accommodation. It is the best tea I’ve ever had, a tea that actually tastes as good as it smells. And we talk about wistful things and tangible things, wise men and meaningful stories and standing in unfrequented spiritual spaces. And I know I am talking about my life as I wish it to be, my time as I would like it to be spent, not as it is.

We only have so much time in a day, time to decide what we will fill ourselves with and what we will spend ourselves on.

 

I pad across the thick carpet and lay on the floor of the Prayer Hall. The low lights make wondrous shapes and so do the wooden beams far above me, and the silence is deep. I take pictures and I walk back and forth, alone and at peace.

Lights and shadows in the Prayer Hall
Lights and shadows in the Prayer Hall

I feel like I am on holy ground. On my way out, I stop at the bookstore and pull objects to myself, trying to bring this place with me:  a book about this monastery, a CD of Gregorian chants, beeswax candles, cards made of pressed flowers that aren’t perfect in form, but are perfect for having been made here.

 

I keep craning my neck to see Mount Sopris, and looking hungrily in the rear view mirror. The mountain was before me three days ago when I was arriving, but in the dark I hadn’t known, hadn’t seen. And now I am stealing glimpses as I come down off the mountain.

In which introversion is like a blanket

blanket on the beach
photo by annaink on sxc.hu

Having the introvert’s “rich, inner thought life” is like having a thick, beautiful blanket with you. It serves all sorts of purposes, of carrying and covering, of beautifying and reminding.

It is the blanket you gather yourself into for warmth and comfort in the peace … and to find the peace. You let it envelop you, all the way up to your chin, and you close your eyes.

It is the blanket you tuck behind your back or under your bum to keep from letting the aches and pains of ordinary overwhelm.

It is the blanket you run your hand and your eyes over to remind yourself there is still softness and beauty in the world.

It is the blanket you stuff in cracks and in that thin line between the door and the ground to keep out the cold.

It is the blanket you once used to carry your dolls and stuffed animals and plastic toys with you wherever you went. The blanket transformed them.

It is the blanket that covers your bedridden body, making a time of immobility bearable.

It is the blanket you lie on while gazing at clouds and stars.

It is the blanket you spread over that bare-bones chair to give it beauty and color.

It is the blanket you wrap your burdens and your treasures in, and which is inseparable from both.

It is the blanket you once carried with you in public without a thought, it was so natural. And then you started worrying about what people would think, so you left it at home (or at least tried to hide it). Now you bring it with you again, unapologetic and unafraid.

It is the blanket you were given as a baby, or maybe even before birth. You could never part with it.

The blanket is your most treasured possession and the greatest gift you can give to others. When they are cold, alone, or confused, your blanket is there. You are there. To listen, to share, to muse over the possibilities, to empathize, to dive deep together, to be still together.

That is my gift to you.