Building on Faith: My Recent Trek to Saint Meinrad

Ellen’s Photo from our Guest House as we were walking over for vespers.

This past weekend I went to Saint Meinrad, Indiana with a very good spiritual friend. We took a three day mini-retreat to focus on Lectio Divina. This is a four and a half hour drive from Columbus, Ohio and they are one hour behind. We met with two other ladies, just over the border from Cincinnati (in KY) and thus, became a four-some the entire event.

It takes some mental preparation to go to such a retreat. I was quite nervous but excited to attend. I knew that my life was going to be unlike any other weekend I have ever had. I had no idea what to expect would change within me. I imagined living like a nun, in a convent, for this brief time period. The difference being, I chose what to do and not to do and I wasn’t entitled to wear a habit. The twin bed, however, was probably quite like what the nuns and monks sleep on. Hard as a rock, but as Ellen noted, it keeps you from wanting to lounge around all day. Our two friends, coincidentally had the room across the hall from us.

Not being a morning person, the best I could do was awake at 7:30am each day. I engaged in centering prayer in the library after a brief cold moment on the balcony, for those mornings – to wake me up. It is quite different, centering prayer, on the campus of such a grand arch abbey. I felt one with the environment there. I had a photo of Mary and the baby Jesus to gaze at before closing my eyes. Then, I skipped breakfast to shower and ate in my room.

The Saturday schedule (our only full day) went like this: 5:30 am morning prayers, 7:30 am mass, 8-9 am breakfast and then the second workshop (first was night before after vespers and dinner and compline). We had mid-day prayers and then lunch (some time to contemplate before this), third workshop, vespers, dinner, compline and fourth workshop before a social gathering next door. Sunday was a partial day as we left after lunch. The monks get up later for morning prayers at 7:30 and mass was at 9:30 ish. We had our last workshop before the lunch and had already checked-out of our rooms. A lot of praying, as you can imagine. It is draining but good for the soul. I relished in each visit to the arch abbey, though more for the scenic walk, the ambiance and the ritual, which I love to watch.

The first thing I learned is that I don’t speak Latin. Lectio Divina is pronounced: Lex-see-o Duh-veen-ah (I think I have that right). Up until now, I had heard people refer to it pronounced: Leck-t-oh Da-vin-e-ah. I had to spell it phonetically until I could get the hang of this. The second thing I learned is that it is not a group gathering where you share your opinions. Father Adrian, (a very wise and spiritual man, and our teacher) informed me that a lot of groups do things like this, sort of a Bible Study, but this is not really Lectio Divina. Instead, it is about contemplation (contemplatio) on your own. You spend about 20 minutes with scripture. At the end, you choose a word and walk around through your day, meditating on this word to be mindful of your walk with God. It reminds me of the end of my scripture after I do my twice daily centering prayer.

I shall walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living.

Psalm 116 (last line)

I am not trying to teach Lectio Divina in this blog post, just giving you my take on what I learned. Don’t quote me on this as I am not looking over my notes. I will say that this course was one I wish I had had, during my confirmation years as a teen. I told Father Adrian, if I had had a teacher like him, my questions would have been answered. It seemed that this made him sad to hear this. My life truly would have been altered had I had teachers that listened to my teen angst and would have given me food for thought or challenged me to think more.

Neither my friend Ellen and I are Catholic, and you don’t have to be to attend these retreats at St. Meinrad. The majority of the people there were, but a few of us were not. However, we both entered the confessional chamber, on Saturday and had quite an interesting experience as a first time person. I felt like a little child, as I pondered what to say. I won’t discuss my confession, naturally, but I felt the priest was very sweet about it. He asked me to recite the Lord’s Prayer, after asking if I knew this and welcomed me to the retreat, before I said thank you and took my leave. I had been very very nervous about doing my first confession and asked my Catholic friends there what I should do. In my nervousness, I told them that mine would probably be from a Fellini film where the priest would talk to me in Italian and I would put my hands up and say “What is he saying, what is he saying?” as I leered into the camera. I nervously said my experience would have to be a comedy. It wasn’t of course and I felt myself almost in tears during an after. Never have I kneeled down so intently to pray in a chapel. I took it seriously. After all, it was my first confession. The next day, I felt guilt because my instincts told me something else to say, in confession, and I had not uttered these words. I have resolved to pray on this and walk with God for my answer.

The most amazing moment of this journey, is the pilgrimage to the arch abbey for prayers. At night time; it is breathtaking. They ring the bells, the lights are on all over, including the walkway, it was freezing (below 20 deg F), and you have the site above (see photo) to behold. It seems like you are in Europe. This temple is built on an estate that is probably about 25-50 acres (unsure). It was founded by two Swiss Benedictine monks, to bring their teaching to America. The interior, I felt was of an Italian or Greek influence. Mediterranean. This walk, with your fellow students, very serious, contemplative and did I say cold, but beautiful and well-worth the journey of a few blocks.

I felt a sense of unconditional love and friendship with everyone there. The looks on their faces, the talks we had, was certainly felt in return. There was no judgement and even if someone got upset about something (as we entertained a controversial discussion about COVID – privately), it was quickly dissolved with kind and thoughtful words. We were all on a quest for theological discovery, for spiritual strength and knowledge.

I did not know that priests have doctorates. I did not know that the Bible is missing seven chapters which are in the Catholic version. I knew it was missing the Nag Hammadi and the Dead Sea Scrolls, but not that. I did not know that Saint Meinrad has a university and you can obtain a graduate degree there. There were many things I did not know and this is the reason to do a retreat. For self-reflection, study, education and friendship. Oh, and the priests/monks make peanut-butter! I haven’t tried it yet. They make an assortment of other interesting delicacies as well.

The trip there was long and arduous, neither Ellen nor I are spring chickens and needed to get out and stretch – A LOT. When you are driving down exit 72 (from 64), you see the arch abbey on the right (FYI) and while it does not feel as if you are going in a circle, you realize soon that you are to turn left and there it is again. Haven’t figured that one out yet. Right before we saw the sign for the arch abbey, I saw this beautiful blond/light brown Belgian horse (on the right), standing tall staring straight at me. I was so captivated by its beauty. And in a blink, we were there. On the return from the arch abbey, the horse was up on a hill, their back turned from us; as if to say goodbye. Horses generally symbolize freedom, courage, spiritual enlightenment or wisdom. The Belgian is used as a work horse, so it is probably symbolic of being tough and strong.

That last day, I got up and felt ill, somewhat belatedly though expected as my nerves get the best of me on any last day of a trip. The idea of getting back into travel mode but now it was about leaving. By the time our final meal came about, I felt nauseous. I am an empath. My somatic symptoms were my reluctance to leave. It felt addicting being there. I had so many thoughts about how I could come back. I knew I could take many retreats there throughout the year. I also knew I needed to ground myself and not get carried away. Ellen and I took one more drive to the gift shop, for one more Christmas present. We looked around and said our goodbyes. After passing the Belgian horse, we began to debrief and soon I was back to my normal self again. My somewhat normal self. Today, as I write, I continue to wonder what the path is that lay before me. What does God have in mind for me next? I began working with clients again today, more aware of my transpersonal guidance. And, as I have walked through the day, held the thoughts of the Lord, in my heart, as I walk in the land of the living.

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