Monday, June 24, 2013

Going to the chapel, gonna get praying

I arrived at the monastery in the early afternoon, after a lunch stop on the way to meet my parents. It’s located in the Appalachian hills just above the New York-Pennsylvania border. A working sheep farm, the community fits in within the rural landscape.

St. Joseph stands guard over his flock. The namesake of the guesthouse, he was recently carved from a tree. I am one of three guests residing here, with a couple more arriving tomorrow.

No sooner do I pull into the parking lot when a fierce thunderstorm hit. As the guest master points out, this is the Feast Day of John the Baptist’s Birth, a day for everybody to get wet.

I enjoy a leisurely afternoon with a brief nap. When the 6:00 p.m. bell calls us to the sanctuary, I notice the place has been spruced up since the last time I was here. A fresh coat of paint, new prayer books, a bit of new art. And a new habit too: the sanctuary filled with a huge cloud of incense, shifting in the early evening light. Smells like prayer!

My undisclosed location
Afterwards, the guests are invited to dine with the monks. They are free to chatter on feast days, so I have hit it right. I discover something about my two housemates. One is a young man from Switzerland, preparing for his baptism in a Protestant church there. When he Googled retreat centers and sent out a query for lodging, this was the only monastery to reply (which they did within twenty minutes). The other guest looks familiar – he was a brother here in 2009, and left to do Ph.D. work in theology in California. He is back here to write his dissertation to the sound of bleating sheep.

Dinner is pizza and beer, with chili and hot dogs. There’s a scoop of ice cream at the end. When you get twenty guys together for a feast day, what else do you expect? J

I look forward to a good night’s sleep, in spite of the unfamiliar bed. There’s something comforting about the songs of farm animals as you nod off at night. One could almost expect bagpipes to augment the soundtrack.

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