This week I have been enjoying much-needed downtime at a Roman Catholic Abbey. I don’t like the term “self-directed retreat” — my hope is to get out of myself — but my time here is essentially unstructured. If I want to eat, then I must adhere to the monks’ meal schedule. Everything else is considered optional.
This is a no-brainer for me, as I pour myself into the rhythm of lectio divina and prayers morning-noon-and-night, joining in as the brothers chant the psalter quietly. It is a gentle pleasure, relying on prayers from the Hebrew scripture to give voice to the longing of my heart.
The hospitality here is laid back, nothing self-conscious about it. Brother Joseph showed me where to find the service books and, after morning Eucharist, instructed me to follow the monks out a side door to the dining room, which is tucked deep within the monastery. The only visitor, I felt like an odd duckling — an imposter — as I fell in line behind the men in black, but they quickly accepted me.
My quarters are clean and roomy. A place is set for me at the table, both in the church and at meals. I can stretch and move at my own pace, as the spirit moves. Much like the feral cats that wander the grounds here at their leisure and for whom necessary sustenance is set out daily with love.