Monking Friend and I have been going to the monastery together for more than twelve years. Sometimes another friend will join us, but often it is just the two of us. Her friendship is part of my monastery experience. We know each other's husbands and kids, we read many of the same books, and we can talk for hours about our lives. Monking Friend and I are opposites in many ways: she's an introvert, and I'm an extrovert. She's never posed naked for my blog. She's always giving me a perspective that I wouldn't have thought of.
Usually, we spend the whole car ride talking — and most of the first evening as well. But we are good at giving each space as well. We read a lot while we're on retreat, and we know how to give a respectful silence to someone who is engrossed in a book. In fact, the first thing we do when we arrive at the monastery is dump out our books (we each bring about a dozen) to see what the other person brought. Monking Friend will say, "Hey, I thought you'd like this." By the next day, I'll have read one of her books, and soon we'll be deep in conversation about it. Monking Friend introduced me to authors like Sue Monk Kidd and Kathleen Norris, and to concepts like the Enneagram.
We had rainy weather for our fall retreat this year, but we spent it cozily in the living room of our guesthouse, reading books and writing in our journals, drinking hot tea and talking.
But the misty rain is great weather for walking too. One morning, I left the warmth of the old stone farmhouse, and hiked up along the sheep pastures. Billowing fog drifted back and forth along the hills. When I looked back at the little clump of buildings, I could just make out the barns, the guesthouses, the bookstore, and the spire of the chapel. I kept on going, following the fence line. The damp, soft world seemed peaceful as I hiked along, my jeans getting soaked as I climbed through pasture grasses towards a treeline that was just beginning to change colour.