Guest Houses

August 3, 2010

 “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”  (Matthew 35)

Wall of light and shadow, St. John's Abbey Guest House

On the final morning of the retreat, I was given an unexpected gift.  Tricia walked with me to Morning Prayer, and as we arrived before 7:00 a.m., she offered to give me a quick tour of the Abbey Guest House, which was next door to the St. John’s Abbey Church.  (We stayed in the Institute’s apartments, not in the Guest House.)  I think the Guest House is now my favorite place of all the beautiful spaces on campus.

Benedictines are known for their hospitality, and they have created a guest house that is welcoming, bathed in soft light, and simple and clean.  We peeked into the dining area, library, and downstairs corridors.  There was absolutely no clutter, so instead of looking at things, you became aware of the play of light on the walls, floors, and ceilings. 

Tricia and I are both quilters, and the linear and grid-like wall features reminded me of quilt studies in dark and light fabrics.  I was enchanted with this building.  Someday I’ll have to return and spend a night or two.

Another wall of light and dark

The regular intervals of light down this corridor are reminiscent of more traditional cloister walks.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
    — Rumi

Contemplative Spaces

July 31, 2010

“Benedictine spirituality is more intent on developing thinking people than it is on developing pious people.”
     — from Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:  Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today by Joan Chittister

"Contemplation is the pursuit of meaning." Joan Chittister

 St. John’s University was a beautiful environment, which fostered reflection and contemplation.  It was the perfect place for our retreat. 

The morning light streams through the facade of stained glass, St. John's Abbey Church

Interior, St. John's Abbey Church

A short tunnel leads to the monastery's private, enclosed garden

Campus trees in the morning sun

I hiked 1-1/2 miles along a lakeshore trail to the small Stella Maris Chapel

The Great Hall, St. John's University

Patterned reflections in a hallway at the Abbey Guest House


“To empty one’s mind of all thought and refill the void with a spirit greater than oneself, is to extend the mind into a realm not accessible by conventional processes of reason.”
     — from The Language of Drawing by Edward Hill


A Confession

July 28, 2010

Small side chapel in St. John's Abbey Church


I don’t know what I think about God. 

I was a tiny bit concerned about the prayer portion of the retreat because I find myself extremely resistant to all of the male identifiers for God in the Bible and the traditional Catholic prayers of my childhood — “Father” this and “Lord” that, “kingdom” and “King.”  God is a mystery to me — a benevolence, a Light — but none of these words adequately express how I approach a definition of God in my mind.  But I do know in my heart that God is not just a “He.” 

So I was very reassured during the retreat by two comments in particular that resonated with me.  The first was a passage from John 1: 18, which we discussed during a morning prayer practice:  “No one has ever seen God.”  And the second came during Kathleen’s discussion about pursuing a more contemplative life, when she said, “Renounce your thoughts about God, for God is beyond all thoughts.”  

St. John's Abbey Guest House, a wall of light and shadow


I can be okay with leaving God undefined in my life. 

Emerging from the clouds into the great, infinite blue