October 25, 2015

Sheep may safely graze

Monastery in fall

The Benedictine monastery is set amidst sheep pastures. In this photo, you can glimpse the steeple of the chapel, the old white farmhouse that serves as a guesthouse, and the big barn that has become a landmark to local people. But mostly, the buildings of the monastery are hidden behind trees: that seems appropriate because the monks who live there are not ones to call attention to themselves.

It was dark when my friends and I arrived for the weekend. We carried our bags into the women’s guesthouse and set about making ourselves at home. I choose the smallest room, the one we jokingly call the closet. It just barely has room for a single bed, shoved tight between the walls. I pushed my bag under the bed and changed into sweatpants. When I sat on that bed to write in my journal, I could look out the single window. I like small rooms, especially on dark nights: there are no places for monsters to hide.

My friends and I had spent the car ride talking, and we all went to bed early that evening. That’s the first thing I need before I can be contemplative: a good night’s sleep. When sunlight through the window woke me, I grabbed my winter coat and went off for a walk. The monks had already been up, praying: their first service of the day is at 4:45 am. But still, the monastery grounds were mostly quiet as I roamed about, checking out familiar spots: the sheep barns, the apple orchards, the sheep pastures, and the stone bench in the oblate cemetery. The sheep turned to look at me curiously as I walked along the pasture fences.

The wind was chilly despite the sunshine, so it felt good to enter the chapel. It would be empty, I knew: the monks were at breakfast. As I pulled open the heavy wooden door, the musty smell of incense met me, triggering memories. I kept thinking about my visit a year ago, when I knew that my oldest sister was dying. I can’t believe, actually, that it will soon be a whole year since her death. My sneakers made soft noises against the stone floor as I walked into the chapel.

The long stone staircase to my right led down to the crypt, which is my favourite place at the monastery. In the middle of the dark room stands a fourteenth century stone statue of Mary, holding baby Jesus, lit by dozens of flickering candles that visitors have placed at her feet. In this candle-lit room, which smelled of melting wax, I sat cross-legged on the stone floor – to meditate, to pray, and to think about all that has happened in my life since my last retreat.

  Monastery sheep

16 comments:

DJan said...

You reminded me of the years when I would go off to a Benedictine monastery outside of Boulder for retreats. It has since moved to a quieter place, but I remember how much I needed it in those days. Beautiful serene pictures. :-)

Cathy said...

Sounds like a lovely place.

EG CameraGirl said...

I bet it has been a tough year for you. In addition to losing a sibling you've probably thought a lot about your own mortality. A retreat sounds like it would be very good for you right now.

jo(e) said...

EG CameraGirl: Exactly. It's been a tough year. Luckily, I have a really wonderful support network of friends and family. And a retreat is a beautiful place was exactly what I needed.

Gail said...

Your description made me want to be there.

Enjoy.

Elephant's Child said...

It sounds as if your return was bitter-sweet, triggering memories, but so very necessary.
A beautiful and serene place, which could only help.

Rummuser said...

I envy you your experience. And the photograph is perfect. Possibly the reason for my envy.

Far Side of Fifty said...

It sounds so peaceful, I hope you enjoy your time there:)

Linda W. said...

Lovely photos of the fall colors and sheep.

Martha Spong said...

I love the sheep pictures, as always. Thank you.

Jeanie said...

It sounds like the perfect spot for a retreat. Quiet, peaceful, uncomplicated and very thoughtful and spiritual. I didn't know you are coming up on the anniversary of your sister's death. That's a very tough anniversary -- one thinks there is closure, only I'm not sure there is such a thing. But it does mean you have been through every "annual" family occasion -- birthdays and holidays -- and you came through it. You did it once; you'll do it again and again and it will get a little easier each time.

I hope the retreat brings you the time for contemplation, for solace, for reflection and all that you need.

jo(e) said...

Jeanie: I guess we *have* been through every holiday, but it really doesn't feel like it. I think that's because last year, the holidays came so soon after the funeral. The idea that it's been almost a whole year feels unreal to me.

Annette G said...

Joe. If this was for Columbus Day weekend than I want to share that Bruno double booked us! We were going to go. But it all worked out as it is suppose to since instead we were able to run to New York and be 20 ft from Papa Francesco in Central Park. I am hoping it is that weekend because Lisa usually chooses the closet (as it is "her" room as well) and knowing that you all were there will really seal the joy! Also, what I was thinking making reservations when my oldest would be home from college, I have no idea! Anyway, I felt the need to interject just now. I feel quite connected to it when you share it on the blog.

jo(e) said...

Annette: We were there last weekend -- so not Columbus Day. But I did think of you and wonder if we'd run into you. Whenever I light candles in the crypt, I say a prayer for all the women I've met at the monastery over the years.

Annette G said...

Thank you! That made my day! We are considering a winter visit. Have yet to do that.

readersguide said...

Still so sorry about your sister, Jo(e) --