October 5, 2000

My last prayer at 11:00 had been that I would sleep all night to wake just in time for breakfast. Not having an alarm clock this was the best I could do and it worked. I slept soundly until 6:15. Even so I was too early for breakfast so I stood on the verandah of the refectory admiring the high fog.

missing mass
daybreak in the canyon
filled with fog


morning cold
is that snow on the mesa?
a drift of fog

Below me I saw in inclined ramp to a building beside the library. Suddenly I had the thought that is where the monks live. The Rules of Saint Benedict had stipulated how they should sleep in their clothes, (removing only their knives), all in one room and I could not help but wonder how they really lived. I wondered who their gardener was who planted the giant red coxcomb in the atrium.

how upright in the garden
of the monks

Finally the bell rang. It is interesting that when I first came here I barely heard the bells. Now that I am learning what they mean, I hear them more clearly.

at the monastery
the strange sexual weather
of sunrise

In the dining room was only one African monk. I had noticed him eating alone here yesterday and wondered, now that the Rules were all over my mind, if he was being denied "common table" for some infraction of a rule. There were a couple of other persons in regular clothes who seemed to be there for construction work who were already eating breakfast. Today I had planned what I wanted so I could zoom around gathering in two eggs and a bowl of hot rice. Sitting far from me, yet the Black monk could not help staring as I sloshed soy sauce over my cereal. I washed up my dishes and left without the hoard of feelings I had carted around yesterday. So quickly I had become used to the routines.

On a whim, and hoping to get warmer before returning to my room, I ducked into the empty chapel. I first lit a candle for Aunt Evelyn and this time had money to leave for the taper. I sat and watched it burn and thought about what a great person Aunt Evelyn had been for me. What a strong silent person. Sometimes almost stern and yet when I needed something she was instantly there with a gift, a word or a smile. I felt my world was distinctly diminished without her. I was very thankful for the closeness we had discovered after the death of my parents. I wondered how her funeral had gone on Monday, just as I was in the skies flying here was her soul flying outward into the universe? Would she understand my coming to a monastery instead of Ohio to accompany her ashes on another of her trips? As I thought of the family gathered there I knew they would not understand my decision to not join them but that they were used to strange actions from this side of the family, so would accept whatever I did.

Discovering the books yesterday made me eager to use the freshness of the morning to seek out others in the gift shop. Again this morning Brother Alerod was in charge and Sister Maria was there packing up orders sent over the web. But first of all I chose the bees wax tapers, made by the monks of the monastery, because they were like the marvelous ones before the altar in the church. As I looked at books, the lingering fog made the room too dark to see a price tag on a book I wanted. Brother Alerod took the book outdoors into the light. As we stood there alone, I asked him if I, a non-Catholic, could use a rosary. "Sure!" he boomed out with all his native enthusiasm. "But how do I learn how to say the prayers?" I asked. He led me back into the dim corner of the shop where the rosary displays hung. After searching among many booklets he found a pamphlet that he handed to me, saying, "Here, you may have this." I gladly accepted it and moved the light from the window to look at it. "Do you have a rosary?" he asked. "No, could you suggest one?"

"Come," he said, leading me away from the display to the table in the light by the door where he had been pricing incoming merchandise, "Look at this." he said as he opened a compact-sized case and took out a string of reddish-brown beads. My eyes surely lit up because I had been wanting to get a rosary with wooden beads instead of the plastic ones. He spoke so gently, telling me how these beads were made by nuns from pressed rose petals. "What a delightful idea. A rosary of roses!" I whispered back to him.

"You like?"

"Yes, they are perfect."

"Good, because I want to give them to you."

Tears came to my eyes to thank him while I tried to let him know how right it was that holy things be given and not purchased with money. I put the container of beads into my pocket and continued to look for books. Soon I had quite a pile.

Mattie, the woman who had lost her husband came in and I stopped shopping long enough to make her a cup of coffee. It felt so good to be waiting on others again. I added a few more gifts of incense, medals of Saint Benedict, and a cross of life to my stack of books. Almost embarrassed at how much I wanted from this place, I asked Brother A to figure up the total I owed, including the two books from yesterday. He immediately stopped arranging merchandise to sit down to punch the amounts into the calculator. Several times he was distracted and had to begin over again. When he came up with a final we both felt it was much too high for what I had. So he asked me to help him by reading off the prices to him while he tapped the keys. We came up with a figure about one half of his previous one that I felt was about right and was willing to pay. But he felt we still had made an error. So I agreed to repeat the process. He had his ideas of how I should account the numbers and I wanted to be more precise so we could tick off the amounts on the paper. We would gently argue whether to list each item or add the easy ones together so he had less numbers to punch in. Mostly we laughed as we kidded each other about who was being a real business person. The longer we worked at the job the more incompetent we each became as we became totally confused. Again and again we figured up the totals, getting a new number each time until we had five different sums. Mattie, laughing with tears running down her face came over and put a hand on each of our shoulders saying she wished she had a tape of our conversation, that she had not laughed so joyously since her husband died, and how good it felt to laugh again. So we got her to 'help' us and we got another total! But it was the sum of laughter. Finally Brother Alerod, without looking, picked up one of the paper slips with an accounting on it and said, "This is your total." so I made out a check for that amount.

Then faced with adding all the weight of these books to my already overloaded suitcase I got the idea of packing up the books and tapes to mail them to myself along with the other orders being sent out. I found a box in the trash for my books and Brother Alerod. supplied me with tape and labels and I gave him cash for the estimated postage. By now, two other men, visitors had come in with Brother Andrea. They were blood brothers from Texas who had just sold their computer business so we all talked about the Internet and selling books. Mattie came back in with her camera saying she had to have a photo of Brother A and me as a remembrance of her marvelous laugh this morning. This gave the guys from Texas the idea that they took should take photos so Brothers Alerod and Andrea and I lined up with our arms around each other for a photo. I could not believe how quickly and easily I had become a part of this place and these people.

Earlier, when Brother Andrea came into the gift shop he said with a surprised voice: "Oh, are you still here? I had crossed you off my list!" I started teasing him about questioning my existence since he had written me off. Then he said, "I thought maybe you left when the storm went through. So many are scared to stay back here in a storm." So I am not the only one who has gone through what I did yesterday. And I noticed that the pinched-face arrivee last night who had told us that if he could have found a place to turn around would never have come was gone before breakfast this morning.

I had to rest before charging up the hill for Sext (fifteen minutes of Psalms chanted in responses and prayers) and dinner. Finally, from my reading yesterday did I find out why so few come to breakfast and supper. According to Saint Benedict, the brothers should only eat one meal a day and most of them do. However, even Saint Benedict realized that not everyone could do this without injuring their health so he said that this idea had to be tempered by the situation of the brothers. Those with medical problems, or the young who worked in manual labor could eat as much as they needed at the regular times. Also, the guests could partake of the food they needed from the buffet set-up. Sitting next to the Aussie, who again showed up for only the meal, was not any more comforting than sitting next to the grim Scott, but at least his vibes were neutral enough to allow me to concentrate on enjoying the spaghetti and a delicious combination of cabbage and cauliflower. This time the routines seemed more comforting than confronting as they had been during the previous noon meal.

In the morning, as Mattie was leaving, and we were sharing hugs and situations, she mentioned she needed to return a book to the library so I told her I would do that for her. Now, under the disguise of resting I could read in this book since all of mine were already on their way to Abiquiu. The author was a woman writing about Hildegard von Bingen but her attitude toward Hildegard and her accomplishments was so male orientated that I mostly skimmed the book so I could return it to the library at suppertime.

My goal for the afternoon was to gather sprigs from the various species of sagebrush and to take some photos. I really wanted to find a way to walk down to the river but none of the paths I took led all the way to the water. I picked flowers and took photographs and gave blood when I cut my hand on barbed wire.

desert sage
offering to me
their flowers

After taking care of my hand and sponging out my shirt, I returned to 'my chair' by 'my' door to admire the view spread out like well-ladened table before me.

sending its shadows
down the river


flower size
increases as the path


layers of history
along the river


tiny flowers
opening to the sun
my bare toes


A new woman guest arrived. A sweet faced, 30-ish girl who quickly let me know she had been coming here for a long time and knew her way around. Everyone greeted her wildly and joyfully as if each was her lover. It was marvelous just to see this. All too soon the afternoon was gone. I started to rebraid my hair and decided to shower and change clothes.

I got to Vespers just in the nick of time. I really enjoyed watching the sunset on the cliff above the chapel as I sat there listening to the deep voices of the monks chant out the Psalms. The new woman I were the only guests. Again, she was the true Catholic, alone in the front row, properly using the kneeler and able to rise and sit without an eye on what the others were doing as I had to do.

Afterwards the monks all left through their door and I alone went out the main door. I felt unsure how things were done as this was the first supper I had attended. I thought I would wait on Dianne to finish her prayers and walk in with her. I stood outside the refectory entrance admiring the golden cottonwoods, their purple shadows, and the seldom-lit rocks. As I stood there I saw a 40-ish, trim monk hurrying through the refectory passage in my direction. His joyful face said, "I am Brother Isaac. " He was the man with whom I had corresponded when making my reservation. He actually seemed glad to meet me. Because Dianne was deep in conversation with someone else, Brother Isaac escorted me toward the dining room. In the library I gave him a copy of Father Neal Henry Lawrence's book Shining Moments, for the library and returned Mattie's book.

Supper was all the leftovers from dinner plus a great chili soup. The cabbage and cauliflower had gone into a marvelous cream sauce. If I had not been so full I would have taken seconds of that. For supper we were joined by about 10 of the older men. Some just had a bowl of soup or desert and coffee.

I had taken my flashlight, not knowing how dark it would be when I returned, but there was just enough glow in the sky between the cliffs to light my way back to the room.

Just now I heard Dianne walk by outside. She has evidently gone to Compline as I saw she had attended None in the afternoon. She is the first visitor I have seen who was able to attend all the services. I admired her example and thought that if I could spend more time, settling in here and getting acquainted I would like to do likewise.


Copyright Jane Reichhold 2000.

More from HOLY GHOST October 6.