Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Learning to Soul-See the Hard Way

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Learning to Soul-See the Hard Way

Article excerpt

A few years ago, I made a cross-country road trip. I stayed in monasteries and retreat houses, and I went to Mass every day The retreat house at the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers, Ga., had shared bathrooms, and in spite of my daily devotions, I almost instantly conceived a violent resentment against the person with whom I shared mine.

She was with a church group, and I so had her pegged. Blonde perm, suburban, a spiritual lightweight--just the sort who'd go on retreat with people.

I, a true pilgrim, was alone: draped head to toe in my usual black, weeping and praying over the mysteries of suffering, meaning, love.

The monks at Holy Spirit are Trappists, gathering in the church at intervals throughout the day to chant the psalms and pray The entire monastery goes to bed at 8 p.m. so as to rise in time for the first "office" of the day: vigils at 4 a.m. The first night I went to bed at 8 p.m., too, only to be jolted awake a few hours later by the sound of explosively loud water pipes: My bathroom-mate was taking a shower and I swear stayed in there past midnight, brushing her teeth, drying her hair.

She was chatty, too, though we were supposed to be keeping silence. When I ran into her the next morning, she launched into a long-winded story about the fact that she didn't have an alarm clock and her girlfriend had lent her one and all she could say was this was her first retreat and it sure was a learning experience.

Then off she went with her social butterfly friends--Mass at 7 a.m., vespers at 5:20 p.m., every time I went to church, she had the nerve to be there, too!

Still, the homily the first day at Mass was about the value of the small act: the smile, the kind word, refraining from the harsh retort. So, at dinner, when I found myself in line with her and she started chatting again, I mustered all my spiritual strength and bestowed a small, forbearing smile upon her before I went my way. …

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