March 08, 2009
It was early afternoon when I arrived at the monastery in Southern State Where It's Easy to Get Lost Because There are a Million Streets Named Peachtree. The retreat house itself was a big old building, nestled up to a church that was cathedral in size. I walked into a little lobby, where a woman with a Southern accent gave me a room key and gave me complicated directions to my room. I nodded as if I had some clue as to what she was talking about, and then I set off to explore the building, which was a cross between a college dorm and a medieval castle.
I passed a sitting room with a couch and a cherry coffee table. I found a dining room with tables and chairs for about fifty people, and a balcony outside filled with tables and chairs, and a conference room that had windows on three sides. Through keen detective work (I looked at the signs on the bathrooms), I figured out that the third floor was where the men stayed and the second floor was all women. I kept losing my way, because there seemed to be an unusual number of corners, although I have to say that the the design certainly did maximize the number of windows. Even the stairwells were filled with sunlight. Chairs and bookshelves and plants filled nooks and corners. My room was at the very end of a hallway on the second floor, the farthest possible spot from the front door. It was a clean, cream-coloured room with a bed, a desk, and a chair.
About ten feet away from my room was a door with a white paper sign that said "church."
I opened the door and suddenly, I was inside the church -- a huge church with gothic arches and a very high ceiling. Two long rows of wooden monk stalls faced each other in the main part of the church. My footsteps on the shiny stone floor made an echoing sound. There was nothing ornate, nothing decorative anywhere -- a simple design. Blue light spilled from the rows and rows of stained glass windows high above my head. I was standing right near the front of the church, just to the side of the sanctuary.
Whoever designed these buildings had spent time studying and thinking about light. Because my room was so close by (I was sleeping closer to the sanctuary than anyone -- even any of the monks), I walked through the church whenever I went outside, and I walked through at all times of day. And always, light was falling -- sometimes, the blue and purple patterns would light up the rows of columns. Other times, the yellow windows in the sanctuary would be glowing. Or red light would spill from the round window at the front. It was sort of like rafting through the Grand Canyon; I couldn't help but admire the reflections and shadows and colours that kept changing as the day went on.
Townspeople who come into the church are asked not to go past the wooden rail in the top picture. But because I was staying at the monastery, I could go sit in the wooden stalls with the monks or walk through the church to get to my room. I loved that.
Posted by jo(e)