Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Monastery Teachings: Time, Light, and Solitariness

I've written many posts on what my time at a monastery has taught me, from approaches to creativity to worship to food to community to simple living.  What a delight to discover that there are still lessons from the monastery for me.

I spent the last week-end at Mepkin Abbey, and I'll write a future note about spending the Feast Day of the Presentation of Our Lord with the monks.  It was wonderful to be thrust back into Christmas and the season of light.  I've already turned my attention to Ash Wednesday and Lent.

It was wonderful to be reminded of Simeon and Anna and waiting patiently for salvation.  We returned again and again to the idea of holding the light of the world in your hands.  We returned again and again to the idea of ourselves being the light that the world needs.

I have always taken my monastic retreats with friends, and my friends left on Sunday.  I've never spent a night alone at Mepkin before.  I thought I might be more afraid.  Our lodging is in a trailer about a half mile from the monastery.  It's on the monastery grounds, but very far away from anyone if I needed help.

I didn't know in advance that I'd be there Sunday night by myself.  I decided to be big and brave, and my mood quickly passed into acceptance and calm.  It's very dark, walking to Compline by oneself, but I didn't feel afraid.

The Abbey is deep in the country, and country scares me less than city.  I willed myself not to think about all the scary movies set in the country.  I slept easily.

I was the only woman at Compline, which was new.  Often there are plenty of female retreatents, but not this week-end.  I didn't feel out of place or threatened, just solitary.  It wasn't unpleasant, just something I noticed.

On Sunday, I asked the monk manning the gift shop what time the gates were opened, and he told me 4:30.  So, I planned to leave at 4:30 a.m. yesterday.

I knew that monastery time is different from regular world time, so I wasn't surprised that the gates weren't opened when I drove up at 4:35.  I went back and forth:  back to the trailer to go to the bathroom one last time (which I did several times) and then, when it was 5:00, and the gates were still closed, I decided to have breakfast and fix peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the trip.

Finally, at 5:30, I returned to open gates, and I was on my way.  It was a useful lesson in patience.  There was no one to consult.  I knew that we were still in the silent hours, even if I could find a monk.  And my travel schedule really wasn't that important, in the long range--or the short range.

In the end, did it matter that I got on the road an hour later than I planned?  No.  I was pleased with my quiet acceptance of the circumstance.  It's a lesson I'll try to carry with me.

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