September 26, 2005

Skinny dipping at the monastery

On the Saturday afternoon of my long weekend at the monastery, NurseFriend and I grabbed water bottles and headed for the trail that leads down to the river. We had perfect weather for a walk: cool and sunny. The leaves on the trees were just starting to turn yellow, some edged with gold and orange. A gorgeous fall day.

The first part of the trail is steep, dropping about 800 feet in less than half a mile. We hiked down through a hardwood forest into a valley created by glaciers, a gorge older than ourselves, older than the monastery, older than Christianity. I love the services at the monastery - the incense, the chanting, the music of the harp, the row of monks in their dark robes - but my spiritual life needs this kind of prayer too, a descent into a landscape that can make me feel small and humble.

At the bottom of the trail, we walked from the cool shade of the woods onto piles of flat rocks, a river bank in the sun. The monastery river is a quiet, sleepy river with a gentle current that moves a leaf slowly down stream. Parts were so calm that I could see the reflection of the sky, the trees. Using my fleece as a pillow, I curled up in the sun, nestled onto warm rocks, and took a nap. I couldn't help but think of the two weeks I spent this summer on the Colorado River, listening to the river day and night, living on its banks. Few things in life are more relaxing than napping on a river bank in the sun of a fall day.

When shade from the woods moved across me, I woke up and moved over to the sunny spot where NurseFriend was sitting with her feet in the water. "I'm thinking of taking a swim," she said.

The cool green water was tempting. I find a river hard to resist. Quickly, I kicked off my shoes, then pulled off my pants, my shirt, my underwear. NurseFriend hesitated for just a moment and then started taking her clothes off too.

The water was cool at first, but once my whole body was in, it felt wonderful. After the icy, churning Colorado River and the deep cold Saint Lawrence River, it felt soothing to surrender my body to this sleepy sun-warmed river that pulled me along with only the gentlest of motions. We swum to the middle, and let the current pull our floating bodies along. I tried to keep my limbs stretched out in the warm top layer of water. We talked as we floated along lazily, swimming upstream once in a while, keeping even with the pile of clothes on the river bank.

NurseFriend joked about how she was going to react if a monk or one of the monastery guests suddenly appeared on the path. I argued that what we were doing was a spiritual practice: stripping off layers, all the petty annoyances and obsessions, the temptations and jealousies, the zippers that get stuck, the buttons that cause me to fumble. I like myself best naked -- the river touching my bare skin, warm water soothing sore spots, the landscape of shale and trees rising about me, my limbs drifting across the reflection of sky.

24 comments:

Yankee T said...

It must have been wonderful to feel so free.

listmaker said...

I haven't been skinny dipping in years, unless you count naked hot tubbing. It must have been a wonderful afternoon.

Friday Mom said...

That does it. I'm going on retreat with you sometime. I absolutely love the idea of skinny dipping as spiritual practice!!

jo(e) said...

Friday Mom: I'd love to on a retreat with you. When are the RevGalBlogPals having a retreat? Wouldn't that be cool?

BTW, the book I was reading this weekend was Sue Monk Kidd's The Dance of the Dissident Daughter and that was what got me thinking about spiritual practices that are embodied and empowering for women.

Songbird said...

I love the idea of a retreat. Where? When?

jo(e) said...

Well, someplace warm if we want to include skinny dipping.

kyra said...

That sounds absolutely wonderful! Welcome back from your retreat.

By the way, I would love to hear about other books you have read, especially relating to women and spirituality. I just looked up Sue Monk Kidd's book and I think I'm going to pick it up.

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Using my fleece as a pillow, I curled up in the sun, nestled onto warm rocks, and took a nap.

Are you, like, part cat or something? Do you sleep at night? Are all these vacation naps built up over months of looking after three children in the house and one at college?

jo(e) said...

Kyra: Other books that I would recommend would include Kathleen Norris' Cloister Walk and Linda Hogan's Dwellings. The anthology Storming Heaven's Gate is a collection of spiritual writings by women. The anthology That's What She Said is a book of poetry by native women. On retreat, I often bring any of the books of essays by Adrienne Rich or Audre Lorde. Two good anthologies about ecofeminism are Reweaving the World edited by Diamond and Orenstein and Healing the Wounds edited by Judith Plant. I find books like Ursula LeGuin's Always Coming Home or Susan Griffin's Women and Nature inspiring as well. I also think that books that critique our culture, like Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth important to women's spirituality. I think you might also like reading about labyrinths (several new books out on that topic) because that is a spiritual practice dependent on the metaphor of birth.

jo(e) said...

Rob: Knowing how to take a nap in the sun like a cat is an important life skill, something I perfected as an undergraduate on the banks of the Grasse River. Do SLU professors still take students there?

Mona Buonanotte said...

I've never gone skinny dipping. Is it too late to start?

ccw said...

This sounds like a perfect way to spend a day!

jo(e) said...

Mona: Are you serious? You've never gone skinny dipping? That seems way out of character for you ....

It's never too late to start. But of course, the thing about skinny dipping is that it is never planned. It happens when the weather happens to be right and you have a sudden urge to strip off your clothes and leap into a lake or river or pond .... when the water is so inviting that you just can't resist.

Running2Ks said...

You do the most glorious things in your life. Thanks for letting me have a peek in :)

Sue said...

How wonderful. Every retreat should be so fulfilling for body, mind and soul. I'm all for a RevGalBlogPal retreat. sign me up!

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Jo(e): I go with Caroline to the Grasse river three or four times a week, but I have never taken my students there. For some reason I always come up with field trips like the one I am doing today to a factory farm and manure lagoon.

I do know plenty of other professors who take students to some of the nice places in the area though.

Did you take any courses with my friend Baylor Johnson while you were here?

jo(e) said...

Rob: Baylor Johnson? I took a course from him the semester I spent in London (fall of 1982). We mainly hung out in pubs and talked about philosophy. I remember it fondly. I still like to hang out in bars and talk about deep philosphical stuff ....

Sergei C. said...

I am, of course, thinking nothing but pure, clean, and spiritual thoughts about your experience. Just in case you were wondering.

Mona Buonanotte said...

Maybe it's the whole 'stripping spontaneously' thing that gets me. But one o' these days...yes...my bare bodkins will meet the water, and I'll think fondly of you, jo(e)!

kyra said...

jo(e), wow, thanks for the book suggestions. I look forward to reading these, I feel like I've fallen by the 'spiritual wayside' lately. And hadn't heard about the labyrinths, thanks for the tip!

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

but my spiritual life needs this kind of prayer too, a descent into a landscape that can make me feel small and humble.

Exactly! Thanks for that.

arendtian said...

am new around these parts, but just wanted to say, as a tired phd student, your post prompted me to do something i've been thinking about for a long while - contact a monastery an hour or two away to plan a little retreat of my own.

No Chaser said...

Wow! I feel refreshed just reading about your retreat.

Lorna said...

oh oh oh

wonderful :)