Ten years ago, I'd have been spending this week-end at Mepkin Abbey, the first time I went to Mepkin Abbey. I had an idea of what to expect, since the friends who went there with me had gone a few months earlier. I knew that we wouldn't be staying in the Abbey itself, and we might be in a trailer. We were. I knew that the meals would be vegetarian and that we'd only have a fixed amount of time to eat the midday meal. Because I'd read Kathleen Norris, I had a sense of the schedule of worship.
I was not prepared for how that brief visit would transform me. I went home with Plainsong ringing in my years and yearning to return. And so I have returned for 10 years now. I do some of my best writing and revising while I'm there, and some of my best poems have been inspired by my time there. I have seen how a schedule that returns us to our center can be both calming and invigorating.
Maybe I will write more later on all the ways I've been transformed, but for now, let me remember that first week-end. For more spiritual/religious details, go to this blog post.
--It was the only time so far that I took a plane. I often find travelling by plane a bit discombobulating, and it's more so with a visit to an Abbey in the middle of the plane trips.
--For some reason, I associate monks with homemade bread, but the main breadbaker at Mepkin had died a few years earlier, so we had grocery store bread. It was still fairly tasty. I remember the cinnamon swirl bread for morning, the pumpernickel for evening sandwiches.
--I expected austerity with the meals, but the food was tasty and plentiful. We had dessert with every meal. I was amused by the cookies in Halloween shapes.
--The library was amazing. With the exception of university libraries, I've never seen such an amazing collection of books that covered every type of theology. And I was able to see copies of magazines and journals that a university collection would be happy to include. It was wonderful.
--The gift shop had an amazing collection of books too, along with a wide variety of treats, both edible and non-edible.
--We were there during the week-end that the time changed back to Eastern Standard--interesting to see how the light changed during services from Daylight Savings to Eastern Standard.
--Halloween came on a Sunday. On Saturday night we took a walk by the banks of the Cooper River. We could see the housing development in the distance. We saw flickering candles and children trick or treating. I rarely feel the "thin space" that so many feel on Halloween, that time when the separation between worlds is thinnest. That night, I caught a glimpse, there on those very historic grounds. I would not have been surprised to see the ghost of a runaway slave or a Native American.
--On Sunday night, we took an evening walk along the wide drive that connects the Abbey to the road. It's lined with huge trees draped with Spanish moss. We saw a pair of monks in the distance, and they, too, looked ghostly. I told my friend that if she vanished, I wouldn't be surprised. It all seemed so otherworldly that I wouldn't have been surprised by something truly supernatural.
--We walked a lot when we were there. The trailer was about a half mile from the Abbey, so we went back and forth about 7 times a day. And then we had long, rambling walks across the grounds. And what beautiful gardens.
--I also loved how there were statues throughout the grounds, some traditional marble statues, and some carved out of wood. I felt like I was always happening upon a treat.
--That first year I read more than I wrote. In later years, that hasn't always been the case. I was amazed that first year by how many naps I took. I just stayed open to what my body was telling me. I wondered what it would be like to always be that in touch with my physical and intellectual self, that I could just take what comes and trust that it's what is best.
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