I kept a journal during my silent retreat last weekend at Holy Cross Abbey. Here’s what I wrote.
Saturday, July 24
Last night I walked 2 1/2 miles. It’s been a long time since I did that. Especially in virtual solitude. Encountered one other walker and one truck the whole time. I kept thinking “this is the countryside” and wishing I could show Zoe, who’s been asking constantly about the countryside and what wild animals roam through it at night. Lots of cows grazing, including some splashing and drinking in a stream just a few feet from the road. Butterflies, bugs, dead bugs. Sun setting. Moon rising.
When I came back to the retreat house I went into the kitchen for a glass of water. Another retreatant was there looking for ice to fill her McDonald’s cup (a forbidden item according to the instructions in our rooms). She and I spoke briefly about the ice. I offered her some water when I was pouring mine and she said she had drinks in her room. More contraband! Also a nun listening to headphones was in the kitchen making herself a PBJ. I wondered what she was listening to but of course I couldn’t ask.
The caretaker of the retreat house reminds me of a short Henry Winkler, if Henry Winkler were playing the role of caretaker of a retreat house at a monastery.
I didn’t sleep well. I woke up a lot. Maybe because I had contemplated waking up for the 3:30 vigils service but didn’t commit to going. It sounds like it would be cool but I think my sleep is more pressing.
I did attend the 7:30 compline service last night, which was new to me. The monks chanted. One of them blew his nose repeatedly. At the end one of the monks used something like a wand or scepter to sprinkle what I assumed to be holy water on all of the monks, then on all of us. That was a first. I don’t think any drops actually reached me, but it’s the thought that counts, right?
Last night when I was walking back to my room, I saw the young monk-in-training (I had overheard him telling the nuns that he’s in his third year at seminary) changed form robes into shorts and a t-shirt. I guess when you’re still in training there aren’t strict rules about wearing your monk outfit.
The downside to the silence is I have a lot of questions that remain unanswered and I don’t get to know anyone’s stories.
I think the best thing so far is I don’t have to do anything. For anyone. I’m only accountable to myself. When was the last time that was the case? Ever?