April 23, 2019
Earlier this month, Don and I spent the weekend at Our Lady of Guadalupe Trappist Abbey in Carlton, Oregon. I was required to visit a monastery as part of my class this semester on Thomas Merton. It was a deeply reflective and meaningful experience.
We arrived on Friday at about 4:30 pm after a particularly frustrating start to the day, which included waiting an hour for a car title at the Department of Licensing only to be told that we would need to come back with added documentation. A drive that would normally have taken 3 ½ hours took 5 hours due to traffic. We were frazzled and not exactly in a frame of mind to begin a weekend retreat. We settled in to our guest quarters and I took time to read the pamphlets provided, which stated, ”Living in our modern day society demands a great deal from each of us. The mounting anxiety from these demands seldom permits time for us to ‘go apart’ and be separated in order that we might take stock of our lives.” I found myself beginning to relax, eagerly anticipating this time to “go apart”.
Our first worship service was Vespers at 5:30. The chapel is breathtakingly beautiful and I felt in the presence of God even before anything started. As the monks entered and started chanting the psalms, I could feel myself sink in to a deeply meditative space. The service lasted about 30 minutes, and by the end of that time I felt immersed in the present and able to let go of the frustrations of the day. After a simple supper, we went to Compline, which was the last worship service of the day and was particularly moving. At the end of the service the monks were sprinkled with holy water by the Abbott as they processed out of the chapel and back into the cloister. Guests were also invited to be sprinkled as well as we left the chapel. As I felt the water, I was reminded of my baptism and my belovedness to God. We stepped outside to cross the courtyard to return to our guest quarters and it was lightly raining. This felt like an extension of the ritual as water continued to sprinkle on my head. It was a beautiful start to the weekend.
The next day I requested a meeting with one of the monks, and was set up with Father Tim. Father Tim was a fighter pilot over Japan in World War II so he was at least in his mid 90’s. He joined the monastery in October of 1952. I told him that I was in seminary and studying Thomas Merton, and he said that reading Seven Storey Mountain is the reason that he became a Trappist monk. He read it while he was in the military and the idea of joining the monastery just wouldn’t let him go. He talked a lot about how amazed he is that “God is interested in us, is with us, and loves us in every moment” and that God wants for us to know Him. He said “our purpose is to be united to God”, and that he finds this unity most powerfully in the celebration of the eucharist. He described a series of mystical experiences he has had with St. Therese of Lisieux as his guide. He described death as being like graduating from high school – moving from immaturity to maturity. He described the ongoing spiritual practice of being open and responsive to the “nudgings” of God, which he called “promptings of Grace”. He expressed deep gratitude for his monastic vocation and the life he has had in the monastery. I asked him for a blessing at the end of our conversation, and his face lit up. He placed both hands on my head and blessed me, which brought tears to my eyes. It was a wonderful conversation. The worship services continued to be deeply meditative and meaningful to me.
In every worship service, I experienced a stillness and oneness with God that I am determined to continue to cultivate in my everyday life. I am deeply grateful for this experience and for the beauty and devotion of the monks, who have a lot to teach us if we can just learn to listen.