I am back from my quick trip to Mepkin Abbey--before I head back to work, let me write down some impressions. I expect to do some deeper pondering in the coming weeks. But for now, here's an overview of what might come later.
--The drive up was grueling. I left at 3 a.m., and all was going well, until I came to a stretch of highway at Jacksonville that had not one but two accidents. It took me almost half an hour to go two miles, and I know it could have been much worse. And at the end of my trip, Highway 17 was very congested. We took a back route to Mepkin, and I got lost--made a left onto the road I thought was the correct one, since the sign said "Junction with 402" with an arrow. But that road was Cainhoy Road, whereas the correct one was just ahead. Luckily one of my friends had a GPS and came to get me.
--What's really strange about the drive up--I hardly recognized the Charleston/Mt. Pleasant area anymore, despite having lived there and making periodic returns.
--For the first part of the trip, I listened to commentators on the BBC dissect the British election of the day before, where Theresa May lost seats in the election that she called 3 years before she had to do so. On the way back I heard some NPR pieces on the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.
--The weather was fairly beautiful, although it was June, so it was hotter than I'd like--but not as hot as it often is in June.
--The moon was beautiful too--I expected the full moon to keep me company on the drive, but it was mostly behind me as I drove north. I kept trying to catch it rising, but I only got a glimpse on Friday night--a gorgeous, orange full moon. The clouds and trees kept it obscured.
--It was strange to have the light of the full moon having just reread Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad, visiting a monastery that's a former slave plantation. I thought about slaves making their escape, how scary the landscape seems even with the benefit of electric light.
--One morning, I heard the sinister call of the alligators, but I never actually saw one. I thought of the T. S. Eliot line about the mermaids singing, and wondered how I might transform it with alligators making the song. And then there's the plainsong of the monks . . .
--This year at Sunday Eucharist, we had a harpist--how cool!
--I knew that this retreat would be structured, but it was even more structured than I thought it would be. Luckily, the subject matter (the power of story) continued to interest me, and I liked all of the people on the retreat.
--The most important idea that I took away: I tend to see a time of exile, a feeling of displacement, as a situation that must be fixed as quickly as possible--but what if those times are the norm?
--The two friends I regularly meet at Mepkin were there too. We carved out time to reconnect. That's always wonderful.
--I didn't do much of my own writing, but I did get an idea for a poem that I will write this week.
--I didn't get to every service, the way I sometimes do. There were times I sacrificed a service so that I would have time to walk with my camera. That experience, too, was a worshipful one.
--I took a lot of pictures--over 500. I brought a set of fresh batteries, but to be on the safe side, I should have brought 2 sets. This trip is the first one where I brought the more sophisticated camera that I inherited from my sister.
--Back in January, when we decided to come, I thought, oh, good, summer, a time I haven't experienced at Mepkin--I'll see what the liturgical season is like. But it was Trinity Sunday, a high festival, which was interesting too.
--I brought books, and I scanned Wired for Joy, a book I found on the Mepkin shelves, while I was there. Wired for Joy irritated me, so I put it aside; it seemed fairly self-evident to me about being aware of moods, although the writer would call them wires, not simply moods, and wires get fried and can be rebuilt and such. I read Rob Bell's How to Be Here, which also seemed a bit simplistic, albeit with good nuggets here and there--along with lots of white space. It was not the kind of retreat with lots of reading time.
--The drive back was much easier, which is not always the case. There is that feeling that I'm hurling myself across the southeast. And I'm somewhat haunted by all the other trips I've made, both with others and all by myself.
--I got home by mid-afternoon, and it was good to have time to reconnect with my spouse and with my life here.
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