Sunday, September 10, 2006

If you've read anything I've written here previously you'll know that I'm fond of looking for meaning hidden in things that happen to me, or at least of using things that happen to me as keys to understanding the meaning hidden in life. I'm still trying to figure this one out, though:

Inspired by my recent musings about Benedictine oblates, I decided yesterday that the time had come to go and visit my nearest Benedictines, who are (or should be) a little over an hour's drive away. This is something I've thought about doing in the past but it's hard to justify taking three hours away from your family for a jaunt like this, and hard to convince them they'd want to come along. It was a beautiful day for a drive, and with no one home but me and the dog, this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

The first thing that happened was I went to the Internet (source of all knowledge) to find the details of the schedule and the address, and I couldn't reach any page of the Benedictines' main website. My browser would do its thing and eventually announce it was "done" but it yielded only blank pages. Undaunted, I persevered and eventually found what I wanted through another site.

In the afternoon, showered after a day of housecleaning and yard work and armed with the time of vespers and my my trusty GPS, I headed north. I should have had 20 or 30 minutes to find my way around once I got there, but 40 minutes into the trip, I ran into a line of traffic that wasn't going anywhere, with blinking police lights far ahead.

Figuring I'd never make it if I stayed this course, I turned off onto a side road and followed a couple of cars whose drivers obviously had the same idea through a sprawling office complex and out the other side. I ignored the GPS program's first few attempts to reroute me because I suspected it was trying to send me back into the traffic jam. I finally accepted the proposed route and meandered through some lovely countryside, but I wasn't exactly making great time when I hit more traffic, and this time I pretty much had to endure my way through it.

By now I could see that I was certain to be a little late, but what to do? I had come all this way and figured I might as well forge ahead and at least see where the place was, in case I ever decided to come back. Next, I missed the first and second driveways. I finally found my way in and drove all around the property looking for the church, which I assumed would be fairly traditional in appearance, missing it twice because it is in fact quite a modern pile of bricks. Now I was really late, but damn it, I was there and I wasn't going to quit. Just my luck, the church was at the top of two long, long flights of stairs up a hill from where you were supposed to park. By the time I reached the door, I was not only completely winded but also a good twenty minutes late.

I was afraid it might be over but as soon as I pulled the door open I knew I wasn't. I could hear the monks singing, their voices surprisingly sweet and light. The church turned out to be quite unusual and interesting and even, in its own way, quite beautiful. I had to make a few turns inside before I could actually enter the nave, and I don't know what I expected but what I found there was a bunch of old guys in black habits that struck me as somewhat sinister (the Franciscans may look like demented UPS drivers but there's something warm and homespun about the brown, whereas this black just seemed stark and unfriendly). I was the only one there beside the monks and the organist, and it felt strange to sit and watch them as if it were a performance, and it was weird also because I felt they were all looking at me, though I might have imagined that.

Still, it did really grab me. I wished so much that I'd been able to get there on time because it ended all too soon, though I thought the monks were probably thinking of dinner and glad to move on. I wanted to stay and I did for a while, as they filed solemnly out and the candles were extinguished. I sat while one of the monks stayed and spoke with the organist, but eventually I thought I ought to move on before they told me I had to leave, or someone asked me what I was doing there--which seemed like an even worse possibility. The place was really a huge spread with a school, playing fields, what looked like an orchard, a cemetery, and a retreat center in addition to the monastery, though other than one car that passed me on one of the many drives, I didn't see another human being anywhere outside.

And then this morning I told the priest at my Episcopal church that I wanted to belong there, and I realized he had probably been a Benedictine himself back when he was still RC, and I wondered if he missed it.


At 10:04 PM, Blogger Nancy said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I would love to go someplace like that. There is nothing like that anyplace around here though.
Sounds like you've made your decision about church. Must be a relief for you. I've been praying for you so am glad to hear this.
Peace to you.


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