Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New England Landscape

It was the right place for me the long Fourth of July weekend.

Travelling to a corner of New England, I was startled to remember that my first abbey visit had taken place twenty-five years ago. Before leaving home on Friday, I searched for any journals I may have kept on earlier retreats with the monks. It was on the ride down that I recalled that my first impressions of the place show up in the large hardcover journal of my first years living on my own after divinity school – a journal I had not thought to look for that morning.

That first visit to the abbey had taken place on a March weekend. My elderly friend Katie had just died in her convent in the South, and I had written in my hardcover journal about the rituals of the monastic day and the support they provided, likening those rituals to the ways Katie had made our own visits memorable. There used to be prayers together – just the two of us usually – in the convent parlor and then a stop before the Blessed Sacrament at the close of each playfully earnest visit.

Between glances at the pages of Mapquest directions on the seat beside me, I eventually remembered writing in the hardcover journal about a vase of anemones I had left in my apartment that March weekend. I had written about how I expected to find the flowers ripe and wilted upon my return home from my stay with the monks.

I got to talk about that stay with one of the monks who has managed to remain in contact over these twenty-five years. Walking together after Compline on Saturday evening, I mentioned how impressed I had been by the chapel that first visit, by the high wooden ceiling and the clear-glass windows through which the pines of a New England landscape were visible. I think that first abbey visit was an occasion for me to be freshly awakened to my Catholic roots and to my readiness to respond to its liturgical life. Beyond anything merely religious or doctrinaire, I found myself quickened inwardly by the rhythms of singing and praying, of community and silence, of ritually meeting in the morning and dispersing into the night.

It was good that evening a week ago to have someone with whom to share those memories. It was good to walk comfortably with a friend under a summer sky that was already retreating into the inky blue against which fireworks show up so magnificently.

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