Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Silence of a New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve, 2014.

I found an artifact from the past, a scribbled piece of notebook paper headed with the words:

Retreat: Holy Cross Abbey, December 1989

The last three days of December, twenty five years ago.

Let that soak in for just a moment. 1989 was twenty five years ago.

And I was about to turn twenty seven years old. I was a graduate student living in the Washington D.C. area, and this was my first visit to the Cistercian monastery in Berryville, Virginia that would become so very important and dear to me nine years later.

It was an "undirected retreat," which means that I checked into the guest house outside the enclosure, and was able (but not required) to follow the monastery's liturgical schedule in the abbey church. The guest house had its own chapel and dining area, and a monk brought food to the guests three times a day. We ate in silence while he read spiritual reflections.

One of the fathers came to hear confessions and give private counsel to those who desired it.

Otherwise, we were free to experience solitude, to pray, to read in our rooms, or to walk through the farmlands and woods on the monastery property. I did a lot of walking.

The simple Cistercian abbey church in the morning.
I also followed the monastic schedule, including the vigils at 3:30 AM.

I scribbled a few notes on the notebook paper, thoughts that passed through my head. Now, twenty five years later, the words pass before my eyes.

I want to end the year 2014 with the words of 1989, words about a Valley that was destined to be the place I would make my home, where I would raise my children, words about my search for God on the threshold of a new decade.

I was just young, and it is a marvel to remember so long ago. I was praying to know God's will for my life. A few weeks later I met Eileen for the first time, but that's another story... a whole collection of stories.

So many things have changed in twenty five years, but the Mystery of God remains, and in the presence of God I remain a child.

"Dogs bark back and forth across the valley, and I hear -- between surges of the hum and thump of blood in the tissues of my inner ear -- holy silence.

"A distant train whistle slices the night mist, and as the abbey bell shakes the roof timbers in the church the monks pass in procession before the abbot to receive his blessing, their practiced feet in an orderly dance over the creaky wooden floors.

"After the night vigil I prostrate myself on the carpet at the edge of the cloister in the abbey church, pressing my forehead and nose against the floor -- 'O Lord, see how I abase myself before You?'

"Dawn and Christ come in the morning Eucharist: 'John, see rather how I abase myself before you.' "