Thursday, March 18, 2010
I made my annual Lenten Retreat at the monastery last week. It was a short visit since my annual retreat in April is soon upon me.
Times of retreat and re-collection are so valuable to the soul and to the body. The Chapel of the monastery (above) is designed by Ralph Adams-Cram to be feminine and womb-like. He intentionally chose glass of blues and oranges and reds while the grey stone and curved walls have a cave-like atmosphere which is meant by the architect to hearken back to the caves of early monks but which, to me, remind me more of the tents I used to create from chairs and blankets as a small child - a way to be "in the room" with my family and yet at the same time hidden away and enjoying some privacy and silence.
One goes to a monastery to "be alone with God" hence the "mono" in Monastery" or "monk." And that, I found over time, did not work for me since I find God most in other people and so being with them is as close to being with God as I can seem to muster most days. But that does not mean that I did not love being at the monastery and did not love the cloister and all that it provided and all that it protected me from. For its time, it was perfect and wonderful and some days I miss it terribly. But I miss a fond memory and not the daily realities, which is just fine and relatively harmless. Life is better with just a pinch of the romanticised.
It is often hard to find the time to go off to a monastery, but finding a day in which one may hide away and think about life is a good practice - essential for clergy and very good for everyone. Calling in sick works - even if the sickness is spiritual. It is a time to check the map, hold a finger up to the winds which blow, and listen for what has just gone and what may be coming.
I know a very few people whose lives are completely unexamined. They frighten me for the damage they can cause. They simply do what feels good and whatever results appear for others is not their problem. These people live compartmentalized lives in which things are walled off from each other so that there is little integrity (wholeness), little conversation and commentary between the parts. They have to live this way because any other way of life would force them to feel what they are doing instead of just doing it - and the feeling would be too painful without change. And change would result in not getting what is want and for them, nothing must be allowed to get in the way of what they want for themselves.
I know this about these people because I could so easily be one of them and have been in the past and without great care could be tomrrow, or the next day. It is hard work not to let that way of being creep back into my life like weeds - and some hours or days I fail. But most days, because of times of re-collection - of collecting the day and the hours and examining them -because of times of recollection in retreats big and small, I can hold my life up to God so that God can show it to me from His point of view and adjustments can be made.
The protection I used to get at the monastery huddled inside the cloister in my habit is now an enclosure I must make for myself. No need to be walled off from everyone as long as I can keep a wary eye on the unexamined lives around me so that when they blow - and they will - I and those I love are not hit by the shrapnel.