Sunday, October 9, 2011


Last Saturday at the monastery was the kind of crisp fall day that tempts you to curl up in bed for an extra hour, but the schedule of the monastery had me up and out of doors while the chill was still strong enough to creep into my bones.  I loitered about the monastery in the morning, attending my first catholic mass and browsing the gift shop before finding the keeper of the maps.  She handed me a photocopy of a hand-drawn map and wished me luck.

I set out across the road, awkwardly juggling the map and my day pack while trying to turn my head all directions at once.  I was ill prepared for the sudden downturn in temperatures, so I alternated holding the map and tucking my hands into my sweatshirt.  The grey clouds marched in full state across the sky, pierced only now and then by a warming shaft of sunlight, so that I would be chilled right down to the bone one minute only to be rescued by a brief break in the ranks.

Across the road there was a nicely mown path through a field to the top of a hill where a statue (I assume of Jesus) stood.  Several people walked up to it or sat on benches nearby.  The possibility of following a wide, well-populated path was tempting, but I was far too cold for a leisurely stroll and too anxious to get  lost in the woods, metaphorically speaking.  So I headed a hundred yards or so down the road where a small trail led through the woods to a vague marking on the map labeled "statues."

Now I'm quite timid about heading off into the woods by myself.  Contrary to my what my last post might indicate, I'm actually not nearly as afraid of getting murdered as I am of getting hopelessly lost and missing lunch.  So I actually considered staying in my room all weekend and reading, taking short walks to the gift shop whenever I felt the need to sample fudge.  My timidity, combined with my stunning lack of directional sense, pretty well convinced me that I was doomed to die of starvation if I set one foot off the road.  Whether out of stupidity or simple need, I forced myself onward, traveling well-worn paths that morning and venturing further into the knobs (that's what they call the hills around the monastery) as the weekend wore on.

Leaving other people behind at various benches or statues, I kept pushing onward until I finally broke into my own private clearing, slightly off the trail.  The dew had already soaked through my shoes, and I paused to bask in one of the rare shafts of warming sunlight and listen to what first sounded like torrential rain but turned out to be the wind crashing through the trees across the clearing.  Slowly, I felt loose wisps of hair begin to dance around my neck.  Suddenly I found myself swallowed up by the wind as that small piece of sunlight was once again obscured by clouds.  Here would be a nice place to talk about how I was similarly swallowed up by the spirit of God, yadda, yadda, yadda, but really, all I could think was, "man, I hope it doesn't rain.  I'll probably get lost AND get hypothermia."

I wandered around for another hour or so that morning, getting my bearings without wandering too far, choosing to defer adventures requiring any more courage until the afternoon.  I felt particularly uninspired and morose, and of course I was afraid of missing lunch, so I made my way back to the monastery gardens and found a place where I could read and write that was sheltered from the wind but warmed by the temperamental sunshine.  So I read for a while, and then I wrote:
I wake up to God every morning, his name in my heart and on my lips.  I hide his word in my heart and chatter to him throughout the day as if we were old friends, and still I feel the depths of my inadequacy, an impossible distance between us.  Like a child playing house, so I play at keeping religion.  And instead of feeling closer to God, I begin to wonder if I ever knew him or if he has been to me nothing more than a paper doll to dress up and and keep me company wherever I go.  In this I envy the birds around me, the insects and wildlife: to just do, without thought or reflection, that which you were created to do.  And perhaps in doing what is to us the mundane, simple task of living, others will hear music that, like a birdsong, lifts the spirit and points heavenward.


  1. Wen, so glad you got a retreat. Thinking of you often, and hoping I get to hear more about Gethsemani one day!

  2. I love this post. I did a similar experience years ago. I remember walking away being so frustrated with my inability to focus- but after that weekend of silence and pursuit God shifted me- not in big noticeable ways but in little ways that in reflection I think started in the willingness and obedience to sit still. Praying that same for you. Thanks for the reminder than I need it.