It's a Benedictine monastery, a small cluster of buildings set on a hillside high above a small river that winds through the valley. The first thing you notice is the chapel, with its steeple reaching toward the sky and its four doors that open north, south, east, and west. But the more memorable sight is the barn, a massive structure, centuries old, with a big white cross painted on the side of it. Benedictine monks are self-supporting; these monks raise sheep, and the sheep pastures stretch in all directions, hugging the buildings against the hill.
Two little guest houses are snuggled up to the barn. I will sleep in the first of these cabins, sharing it with two friends. For five days, we will talk and read and write in our journals. No television. No computer. No radio. No telephone. No housework. No children. No teenagers. No husbands. No students.
The chapel bells will ring six days times each day, calling us to prayer, if we choose. We will eat meals at the guest house, joining in that intimate chatter that happens whenever a small group of women share a meal. I'll take a hike, perhaps, down into the woods or head out on a snowy trail with my cross-country skis. Sunday afternoon, Brother Beekeeper will likely join me, and we will wander through the barns, with him telling me funny stories that go back fifty years or more.
When I want to be by myself, I will climb down the stone stairs to the crypt, descending into a dark, quiet octogan-shaped room, where a hundred or more candles, flames in pools of liquid, burn on a stone altar. I'll sit on the floor of the crypt, cross-legged, staring into all that fire, and I'll stay there for hours, thinking of all the things in my life I am grateful for.
I know what to expect from my trip to the monastery because it is a place that does not change much. Day in and day out, year after year, the rhythm stays the same. The monks, dark robes pulled over farm clothes, gather to pray at the same times every single day. The lovely woman with the British accent who makes the meals at the guesthouse is sure to complain about the winter and all the snow they've had. The chapel will have that same musky smell, filled with incense and candle wax. The sheep will be gathered in the same places in the west pasture.
After we arrive Thursday evening, my friends and I will go to Compline, the last service of the day. The chapel with be dark, lit only by candles. Brother Tractor will play the harp, the same songs he has played every night for thirty years. Brother Beekeeper will wink at me from across the room, smiling to show that he's happy I'm there. I'll breathe in the spicy, musky smell of the chapel and feel my muscles begin to relax.
A simple quiet life with no interruptions. So peaceful that I will be able to hear myself breathing.