Outside, the trees are bare and the air is brisk and cold in the mornings. I like to take a walk on the monastery grounds especially here where quiet rules in the back fallow fields of Winter Iowa. The walk is a metaphor for my retreat journey, and for my life’s journey. It seems I’m always on the way somewhere.
The chapel looks cold when you walk in. Where is all the religious art? The altar of sacrifice is way back near the far wall. It’s a simple table. The dark wooden stalls of the Trappist monks face one another across the nave, lined up for choral recitation of the Divine Office, the monks’ prayers for the world. That’s the Trappist way of warming up their souls and ours, too. It feels great and heart-warming to join the rythym of morning song and evensong with the chanting monks. “Retreat” is a good word for taking a step back and rediscovering prayer.
I prayed with the monks as they sang the Office at morning, noon and night. at other times, too. Reverently, deliberatively, they prayed. I sought reverence as they sang but most of all I loved the silence, the unhurried pace of the life of the monks. There can be no retreat for me without quiet.
Someone told me recently that he likes cats as pets because they are peaceful. To watch them undulate through their lives effortlessly in your home can bring healing to a harried soul. However, I don’t like cats much. I do like monks.
The Trappists who read the sacred scriptures during the Mass were deliberate and spoke full-voiced without being loud. The scriptures seem so much richer when pronounced with understanding and affection. My roots soaked up this welcome rain.
I’m home now. My retreat with the Trappists is over, but I’ll be back again next season. Meanwhile I’ve taken the monks and the monastery home with me, here in the midst of the noise of my life.
I am still inside, though, a place within me where I want to live. The monks sing and bow there and wake to pray in the night.