Every so often I get the urge to move to a monastery and take up residence in a monk’s cell. An empty cell, not one with a monk in it still. That’s wrong on a number of levels.
Several years ago I visited The Abbey at Gethsemane in Kentucky for a silent retreat and it was wonderful, well except for the food. The food was not great. I can say that with candor because I’m fairly sure the monks at Gethsemane won’t be reading this anytime soon. In the off chance that they do then I’ll give a blanket apology right now. I’m sorry to say it truly, but I mean it- Brothers, you are sweet and you need to change your diet.
I loved a number of things about being at Gethsemane. I loved being AWAY from my life and trusting in the people I love at home to make sure everyone comes out ok in the end. I loved the silence offered by the Abbey. I had a little trouble at mealtimes. It’s difficult to be around people at a large table during mealtimes and have an instruction not to talk. I don’t mind being alone but for some reason I hate to eat alone. Apart from that I was happy to be on my own and not obliged to make small talk.
I loved the grounds. I got lost once. I knew I would because I always do. My sense of direction since I had children has greatly diminished. File under: “Things I blame on parenting.” I am certain that whatever brain cells controlled “directional impulses” were obliterated sometime between childbirth and terrible twos. I’m sure there’s a reason. I have no idea what that reason might be.
I loved the small room I occupied…although it was not quite as “cell” like as I’d hoped. I had been reading about Julian of Norwich around the time of my retreat. I think I had secretly hoped to be sealed up in a room somewhere outside the church with a window to the outside and a window to the sanctuary, this was more like a dorm room, minus the mini fridge, hot pot and posters.
Maybe that is what I crave. More than a monastery, I need a cell…with a window on the world and a window to the sanctuary. I have walls to keep me safe and to keep me apart. No worry that I might wander away from a forest path and find myself missing. Julian never found herself missing, she always knew where her body was at the very least. Cold stone walls become comforting to me in that scenario. I am contained, held tight.
The sense of “place” can be overwhelming as it’s open. To watch the world change from an unchanging room feels like some kind of introverts dream come true. I consider how much freer I’d feel if I didn’t have to worry about where I sleep, when to file corporate taxes, whether I’ve stopped the mail on a long trip. I envy the fact that Julian woke up every day knowing where she was, knowing her purpose, knowing her “place” in the world.
I often think that for me, Orthodoxy will be a great rubber room, someplace that can contain me but I wonder now if it’s more a cell I hope for, someplace that can contain me but still give me that window to the world and that window to the holy…