Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Willing to Wander
I’m a big believer in pilgrimages—whether it’s to the Mekong River to watch for “dragon fire”, or a mountaintop in Spain where the Virgin Mary reportedly appeared, or a dirt road in rural Missouri where a “spooklight” dances, or the deep silence of the woods around a Trappist abbey in rural Oregon. My own understanding of a pilgrimage is that of a quest—I try to take a route I haven’t taken before to a place I’ve never been before, where an answer to a question may or may not be waiting. I’ve discovered that risk and openness usually bring a surprising gift.
When I visited the Trappist abbey recently, the weather was perfect, the hiking trails lush, and the sounds of forest creatures and burbling streams and wind sighing in the tree tops a welcome relief from the concrete and traffic of Seattle. The monks started singing at 3:30 in the morning, punctuated the rest of the day with prayer and singing, and finished at 7:30 pm. I tried to sleep as late as 6:30 am, but with bells ringing and other retreatants rising early, it was difficult. It’s only a place you should visit if you’re willing to enter into the “monastic rhythm”—and it’s a little jarring at first coming from the hyperactive outside world. My favorite time of day was the 7:30 pm prayers and songs in the candlelit chapel as a monk pronounced, “Brothers, we are now one day closer to our eternal home. ”That comment sent a shiver down my spine, reminding me that we are all pilgrims, and each day is another mile in the journey. Every day is a new mile we haven’t traveled before—and we don’t really know where our wandering will ultimately lead or what our destination city will look like. I guess that’s what travel used to always be like. Now, we tend to be fully informed and completely connected over the internet before we even take our first step. Yet adventures still await those who are willing to wander. After departing the abbey, I just started driving in the general direction of the Pacific coast. Along the way, I spotted hand-made signs and arrows proclaiming simply, “Monastery.” Naturally, I had to follow. The signs led me along deserted stretches of two-lane highway. I was just about to turn around when I reached another arrow pointing to an unpaved road. The unpaved road dead-ended, and when I stepped out of my car, a beat-up old tom cat came racing out to greet me. Maybe the monks’ silence left the cat starved for conversation. I had arrived at the only Brigittine monastery in the world, where cloistered monks chanted and made chocolate. I took a few moments to pray in the “Our Lady of Consolation” chapel and, of course, I bought some chocolate. For some reason, the winding roads on this little pilgrimage kept depositing me on the doorstep of those hidden ones who are devoting their lives to praying for the rest of us. Apparently, there are even cloistered cats.
Also posted on my blog Strange Islands