Ten years ago, I'd have been spending this week-end at Mepkin Abbey, the first time I went to Mepkin Abbey. I had an idea of what to expect, since the friends who went there with me had gone a few months earlier. I knew that we wouldn't be staying in the Abbey itself, and we might be in a trailer. We were. I knew that the meals would be vegetarian and that we'd only have a fixed amount of time to eat the midday meal. Because I'd read Kathleen Norris, I had a sense of the schedule of worship.
I was not prepared for how that brief visit would transform me. I went home with Plainsong ringing in my years and yearning to return. And so I have returned for 10 years now. I do some of my best writing and revising while I'm there, and some of my best poems have been inspired by my time there. I have seen how a schedule that returns us to our center can be both calming and invigorating.
Maybe I will write more later on all the ways I've been transformed, but for now, let me remember that first week-end. For more secular details, go to this blog post.
--I expected to feel a certain holiness in the chapel, which I did. But I also experienced that return to God throughout the grounds. I loved how there were statues throughout the grounds, some traditional marble statues, and some carved out of wood. I felt like I was always happening upon a treat and a reminder to return my attention to God.
--We were there during a liturgical shift, from Ordinary time to All Saints, which was celebrated on the actual day of November 1, the morning we left. I was surprised by how the chapel seemed to change from service to service. Different flowers, different candles, different art, different focuses.
--On All Saints, there was a picture lit by candles. It was "Festival of Lights," by John August Swanson. I was struck by how the changing art helped me think about the difference in the church calendar--the changing art called my attention back, in the way that banners rarely do. But would they, if we changed them more often?
--I loved the rhythm of chanting the Psalms, the way that the simple music got into my brain. For weeks afterward, I'd hear that music running through my brain.
--The words of the Psalms got into my brain as well--much better than what is usually running through my brain.
--Compline service was my favorite. I loved ending the day with the simple, underlit service, with the Abbot splashing us each with water from the baptismal font.
--I bought a prayer book so that I could try to do what the monks do. It's not as good, praying the Psalms alone. But because of the experience of different prayers for different feast days and non-feast days, I eventually decided I wanted more. That brought me to The Divine Hours, the 3 volume set by Phyllis Tickle.
--I loved the natural flower arrangements, some of them in big stone jars. And not so natural. I recognized a garland of colored leaves made out of fake silk that one can get at Michaels. And yet, it worked.
--We were there during the week-end that the time changed back to Eastern Standard--interesting to see how the light changed during services from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard.
--The various changes in the chapel over just a week-end made me wonder what it would be like to be there a whole year to see the changes. And then I wondered, if a monk spent his whole life there, at some point, would he stop noticing the changes? And of course, I'm always wondering about the lessons for our church interiors and for our own living spaces.
--Is it Mepkin itself that makes me mindful? Or just the time away? How can I bring that Mepkin mind home? These are the questions that I asked that first year that I continue to ask.
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