I bless the LORD who counsels me;
with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices...
Therefore my heart is glad, my soul rejoices...
You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence,
the delights at your right hand forever.
Psalm 16: 7-11
Yesterday I returned to Dayton after 5 days at the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist Monestary in Kentucky. I was there with my formation director, Sr. Laura, the three novices with the Society of Mary, Brandon, Jeff and Ray, the SM novice director, Fr. Mike and the SM assistant novice director Bro. Mike. What a week ... a silent retreat in which "silence" spoke volumes!
First, let me tell you about the schedule... The monks there pray 7 times a day as a community - Vigils 3:15am, Lauds 5:45am (followed by Eucharist), Terce 7:30am, Sext 12:15pm, None 2:15pm, Vespers 5:30pm, and Compline 7:30pm. Each day I would awake at 2:45am to join the community for Vigils. This prayer lasts for approximately 45 minutes or so... Then, I'd head down for a small snack so that I could stomach a cup of coffee (no coffee for me on an empty stomach!). Then it was back to my room....
4:15am - 5:30am was my best prayer time each day. Yes, I know. That's just weird for some people. But there's something about the silence and the darkness. I was also very alert, considering most people were still warm in bed. But, it was good time for me. I wrote in my journal (PAGES!... each day), read Scripture in prep for Eucharist, and in general talked with God... AND LISTENED! For some reason, I could do that with more clarity. Maybe that's because I didn't have any distractions??? Could be, I suppose.
After Lauds and Eucharist was breakfast. The dining room was silent for breakfast. I suppose we were lost in our own thoughts and prayers. On the first day after breakfast, I was blessed to see one of the most spectacular sunrises I've seen in a long time - bright red sky... almost like red grapefruit. It was beautiful beyond words to describe it.
Each day after Terce, I would head out for my morning walk... well, except Thursday. Thursday we had a rainy morning. Anyway, I walked in the woods surrounding the Abbey. It was wonderful. No one else seemed to be out at all... the paths were a little muddy, but nothing terrible... and the area has a simple, quiet beauty that's great for reflection. Again, God and I had great conversations on those morning walks.
Upon my return to the Abbey... it was time for a nap! No guilt there!! Maybe 45 minutes to an hour... nothing extraordinary or anything.
Then, it was a good time to read. I brought a book by Fr. Ron Rohlheiser with me. It's a book my friend Debbie gave me. It's called Forgotten Among the Lilies: Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Great book. I highly recommend it. The book gave me a lot to pray with and think about.
After my time of reading, I would head to Sext and lunch. During lunch each day (which the monks call "dinner") there was a tape playing in the dining room. It seemed to be a taped retreat conference or keynote speaker? Anyway, on two days he spoke on St. Francis de Sales and his thoughts on spiritual growth, one day he spoke on St. Therese of Lisieux, and on Thursday he spoke on St. Bernard (we think of Clairvaux?). These were generally good talks. I enjoyed them anyway. The speaker had an easy-to-listen-to style.
Then... it was off for my afternoon walk. I guess one could say that I did a LOT of walking! In fact, unfortunately, on Wednesday and Thursday I didn't make it back for None (the 2:15 prayer). But I had some great walks. On Wednesday, I broke silence. Jeff, Brandon and I went for a walk together to these great statues that depict the Agony in the Garden... very powerful. We also found a little abandoned hermitage called "Stone House." It was time well spent, I think. Once we arrived back at the Abbey's walls, though, we maintained silence...
After walking, it was always time for hot tea and reading.
Supper came after Vespers. During supper we listened to Gregorian Chant in the dinning room. That was nice. It facilitated prayer well (in my opinion).
After Supper, I'd spend a little time before Compline either writing in my journal about the day, reading more Rohlheiser, or reading Scripture. It depended on what was going on in my prayer for that day.
Compline started at 7:30pm each night and would end with all of us filing up to the front of the chapel for a blessing from the Abbot (who was actually out of town, so it was another monk) around 8pm. Then, for me... it was shower time and off to bed! Can you believe that? Well, after getting up before 3am, it certainly makes sense as far as I'm concerned!
So... all of that is good stuff... but, more importantly, is what I've come away with...
I'm coming away from the week with a renewed sense of joy in this religious life journey. God and I laughed a lot this past week (can you imagine me walking in the woods, apparently alone and then just laughing at where my prayer takes me?? Quite the sight, I'm sure!). I've also come away with a type of "resolve"... a sense that "Yes, I have imperfections and I'm not perfect in any way, especially not in my spiritual life... But, this is the life to which God is calling me and God hasn't lead me astray in the past." That sort of resolve. It's difficult to put into words, really.
So, here I am... approximately 6 months away from first vows... and my heart & soul are filled with joy (appropriate for the 3rd Sunday of Advent) and a great sense of peace. And... I'm grateful. Just grateful for God's love, the people in my life, and the gifts I've been given.
Many prayers for all who read this!