Monday, March 15, 2010

A time of Surprises at St. Gregory's Abbey

My retreat at St Gregory's Abbey I think yielded what I had hoped but not what I expected. I went with the intention to being open to God's leading in my role of pastor of Reconciler and prior of Holy Trinity. And I had a very gentle lesson in being open to what God might be doing in the moment when things did not go as I planned or necessarily wanted for my time at the Abbey.

Things did not go as I would have had them on my way and first couple of hours at the monastery. First I left about 15 minutes later than I intended, but I had planned to leave so as to arrive at Union station early. I did not leave early but with still ten minutes to spare, so more or less just on time since I needed to collect my tickets. It was a little nerve wracking but it turned out I had enough time. Then the train arrived on time and the monk who was picking me up was late and had been hoping he could count on that this line of the Amtrak tends to be late. But we had a quite tasty meal at an Indian restaurant in Kalamazoo. I think just about some of the best Indian food I have had, and that is saying something. This was my first surprise. I had not expected to find Indian food in Kalamozoo that rivaled what I have had in Chicago and L.A.

Once at the Abbey I ended up being locked out of my room because house keeping didn't unlock the room until I had been at the Abbey for an hour and a half. This disrupted what has become my pattern: unpack, make bed setup the desk for study, then go to the church to pray and ask the prayers of St Benedict, St Gregory and Virgin Mary for my time at the abbey and then to the library and check some books out. Too my surprise, once I established that I was not going to get right into my room, I was able to settle in anyway, went to the church and prayed and came back and read a book I had brought along until the bell rang for None. After None I was able to get into my room and settle in the rest of the way.

The most surprising thing was that I was more social than I usually am on such retreats and it enriched my times of silence meditation and reading/study. The first night after supper I ended up talking for about a half an hour with one of the other guests, who seemed like he needed someone to talk to. Then the evening Kate arrived one of he monks, Br. Cuthbert took us into town to meet up with mutual friends of ours who live in Three Rivers, Rob and Kirsten VGR. Friday was the Feast of St Gregory, so there was not only a celebratory feel of the day but there is conversation at meals (usually we eat in silence as one of the monks reads from a book that has been selected) and at supper guest and monks sat at the same table and at both dinner and supper there was beer and wine to drink. All very festive and I played darts with another guest and some of the monks in the refectory. In the midst of this celebration I also did a good bit of studying and of course there is still the Divine office though some of the Hours are combined but the day is still punctuated withe the Hours of prayer. So even in the midst of finding myself interacting more with other guests and the Monks it did not detract from the other reasons I came for there was the time and opportunity for them as well.

On the whole the Feast of St Gregory that was the most surprising. It was a day that felt so full of a pure joy I have rarely if ever experienced. At diner at midday on Friday as we the guests sat at our table and I watched and heard the Monks at theirs, I caught a glimpse of a larger feast going on around and in the midst of us, one that ours was a sort of shadow. Or I could just make out the saints there celebrating with us, St Gregory and St Benedict and the Virgin laughing with the monks, Jesus Christ carrying a glass walking about in our midst. Even felt this in the evening meal though for some reason not as deeply. However, I partied with the monks (yes monks do party especially on the feast of their patron Saint.) and it was among the most purely joyful times I have ever had in my life. Makes most parties I have been to seem dreary places to tell the truth.

I had no great insights to my situation from this time but I feel more open to what God has in what lies ahead for the congregation and the community. Also, feel a little more attuned to the roles and various involvements and connections I have here in Chicago.

Oh, a side note to conclude. In playing darts, I won the game we were playing and for a time it was Prior Aelred and I neck and neck so to speak, but I got the final bull's eye that won the game. So I beat out the Prior of the abbey in a game of darts. I mostly think that is all kind of funny and silly and that was part of the joy and surprise of this retreat.