The New Guest Master Has Arrived!


Retreat House

Ding a ling a ling!
Ding a ling a ling!
Ding a ling a ling!

The insistent ring of the dinner bell said it all.  Daniel, the new retreat leader for Holy Cross Abbey in Berryville, Virginia was audibly signally regime change.  Silently, all sixteen retreatants followed him to the serviceable dining room.  Taking our places behind our straight-backed chairs, the retreat had begun.  Ruth, Marcia, Lupe, and Rosa — the divas of Del Ray had come on a pilgrimage of surrender.  And, surrender we would or Daniel would have something to say about that.  Mild-mannered, sweet, and obviously well-intentioned, he was determined to break the discipline of silence at every turn.  Just at the moment when I could feel myself sliding gracefully into silent obedience, the voice of Daniel interrupted me to explain the rules.  Pray.  Eat.  Read. Enjoy contemplative music.  Clean-up.  You’re on your own.  He droned on until I thought I was going to lose my mind.  I fumed. 

Silently, we filed up to serve ourselves the evening repast — chicken and rice soup, salad, and gargantuan hunks of cheese.   This was modest comfort food designed to mimic the monk’s simple meals prepared and shared together.   In the early days of monasticism, the brothers were given one cup of gruel per meal in a cup that had handles on either side.  I bought one on my last visit.  I used it religiously for months as a reminder of my visit. 

Settling in with my simple fare, the silence was once again broken by Daniel.

“Tonight, I’ll be reading from Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline.  Let me read you what others have written about this book.”

I looked at Rosa and she mimed the word, “chatty,” with her fingers.  Yeah, baby, chatty is right.  His name ought to be Cathy, a reference only my boomer readers will understand.  As I ate my dinner, I realized that this retreat was going to be completely different than the last time and the time before that and I was not happy about that.  So much for peace and quiet.  One saving grace is that I did not bring my iPod so I will not be distracted by my own devices while I’m here.

“Is there one of the spiritual disciplines about which you’d like me to read?” Daniel asked earnestly.

Lupe didn’t skip a beat.  “Solitude,” she answered. 

Amen, sister.  Indeed, our retreat had begun.  I am in good company.

First in a series of meditations written at Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, VA. This was written Friday, August 13, 2010.

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