Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Mepkin Abbey, Thursday

I'll admit to being a little bit sad that this was our last time to pray the Vigils with the brothers.  There's something sacred about praying for the world while everyone in it is sleeping (or at least those in our time zone).  As far as a sustainable lifestyle, however, I don't think I'm meant for it.

There is a brother at the abbey who on sabbatical as he writes a book.  His name is Fr. Isaac.  I asked Fr. Guerric about him one day and Fr. Guerric's response was, "Oh, Fr. Isaac is a Benedictine," as though Fr. Isaac's being a Benedictine would explain his behavior.  He is mischievous and funny, and always talks to us even though he isn't supposed to.  I think he likes the idea that he's getting away with breaking the rules.  I sit on his side of the chapel, and he registers a look of impression and pride when the other women on our side turn to the right prayer at the right time.  We have gotten used to him being a bit of a jokester.  Last night, however, as we were leaving Compline to go to bed, he bid us farewell with the blessing of Compline:  

"May you have a restful night and a peaceful death."

I was a little shocked at first, even though we had just prayed to God, "Grant us a restful night and a peaceful death."  It's one thing to pray it.  It's another thing to hear that blessing from someone else.

"You, um, too?" I responded.

Later I thought about what a lovely blessing that is.  It does not deny the reality of death, but wishes for us that our inevitable death with be surrounded by and filled with the peace of Christ.  

And to cement that blessing, we remember our baptisms as we leave the church and go to sleep.  We remember that it is Christ's death and resurrection that give us the hope of rest and peace, both in life and in death.  

I don't think I'll go around saying that to everyone I meet, but I will certainly carry that blessing with me as I go.

Monday, February 02, 2015

Mepkin Abbey, Wednesday

I started getting congested the weekend before the retreat, and by the time I got to the abbey I had a full-blown sinus infection.  The only thing worse than getting up at 3:00am is getting up at 3:00am with a head full of congestion and forgetting to take your sinus medication before Vigils begins.   I tried to concentrate on the service, but all I could think about was a hot shower and the tub of Thistle Farms Body Butter I had in my room.  My skin was unreasonably dry from the cold and wind

By the time I got back to my room, took a shower, and slathered myself with lotion I was wide awake.  Plus, I decided that all of my naps the day before had not worked to my advantage and that I should try staying awake after Vigils.  So I worked on my sermon.  Fortunately, the coffee in the Common Room at the Retreat Center is ready by 4:30 each morning.  When I got groggy working on my sermon I headed to the Common Room for some coffee and light reading. I started with Martin Laird's Into the Silent Land.  I only got a few pages in, but I will definitely finish it.

The rest of the day was much like Tuesday.  Instead of three sits, however, we only practiced one.  And in the afternoon we walked the labyrinth before Fr. Guerric took us on a tour to tell us more about the Cistercians and the history of Mepkin Abbey.

I did a better job of staying awake during today's sit, although I still managed to doze off.  And the second half of the sit, after the walking meditation, was only 10 minutes, so I appreciated that.  The labyrinth was a great experience.  Fr. Guerric suggested that on the way in to the center of the labyrinth we simply practice "letting go."  I started walking thinking that I really didn't have much to let go of, but as I walked I started to realize how long I was.  In fact, I got nervous that I would get to the center before I was finished letting go of everything!

There were some low spots in the labyrinth that were swampy from Monday's rain, but I even tromped through those instead of cutting through in order to give myself enough "letting go" time.

During some of the free time I took my camera and explored the grounds with my friend Abbey.  Abbey was a stray dog who wandered onto the grounds one day and never left.  She's not a snuggly dog, but she'll let you scratch behind her ears, and she's always up for exercise.  She accompanied one woman from our group on her runs, and she went with me on my walk as well.

After Vespers we met with Fr. Guerric again to talk about how we will practice contemplative prayer when we return to our contexts.  For some of us the barrier to the practice is time. For some of us it is space.  And for others it was accountability.  I realized that my barrier is distraction.  I already practice contemplative prayer each day, but I practice in my office.  There are distractions in the office, but I had grown to use those distractions as excuses to cut my practice short or to let my mind wander indefinitely.  The decision that I made was to move my practice to the sanctuary where I wouldn't be distracted and wouldn't have excuses to stop what I was doing.  I hope that during Lent I might invite others to join me in the sanctuary for the practice as well.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Mepkin Abbey, Tuesday

3:00am.  2:00am Central Time.  The brothers get up at 3:00am because that is their job.  It is their job to pray for the world while everyone else is sleeping.  It is their job to join with Christ in keeping watch over the world.  But all I could think of was getting back into my warm bed for another few hours.

After 3:20am Vigils the brothers engage in 30 minutes of contemplative prayer on their own, followed by a time of Lectio Divina.  By that time breakfast is available, so some of them eat and bathe prior to Lauds at 6:30am. Lauds, not Vigils, is the first prayer of the morning.  Vigils is the nighttime prayer.  Lauds welcomes the day. 

As much as my soul was willing to stay up for meditation and Lectio Divina, I just wanted to go back to bed.  And so I did, setting my alarm for 6:15 so I could throw my clothes back on and go to Lauds. Then breakfast. More peanut butter, toast, and marmalade.  No cheese this time, but there were hard-boiled eggs.  And coffee. Lots of coffee.  Following breakfast we celebrated Eucharist.  I was expecting the Liturgy to be more like the United Methodist liturgy than it was.  I followed along fairly well, except for the responses in Latin.  When that was over we celebrated Terce, and then joined Fr. Guerric in the library for a video by Fr. Martin Laird on contemplative practice.

The Cistercians are a contemplative order, which means that their primary focus is on the inward life.  Fr. Guerric hoped that our time at the abbey would help us to pay better attention to our own interior lives, and that we could spend much of our time in quiet contemplation. It sounded so much easier than it was.  After the video Fr. Guerric took us to the chapel to begin our first “sit.”  I made it through the first half of the twenty minute sit before I caught myself falling asleep.  In hindsight, I shouldn’t have gone back to bed after Vigils.  The catnaps only made me more tired. 

The walking meditation was a welcome break, but once again I fell asleep during our second twenty-minute sit. 

After a break, our next activity was noon prayer (Sext), followed by lunch.  The Cistercians tend to be vegetarian, so we had curried vegetables, some steamed mixed vegetables, salad, and fruit. During the noon meal one of the brothers reads aloud from a book.  We assumed that the book would be something overtly religious in nature, but after a few minutes someone in our group realized that they were reading from The Boys in the Boat.  It was a pleasant experience to be read to--to sit back and drink a cup of coffee and just be present. 

Our afternoon consisted of two more one-hour sits and (for me) many more naps.  By the time supper rolled around I was just about numb.  But I made it through Vespers and Compline before finally collapsing into bed at 8:00pm.