Monastery of the Holy Spirit, I went up to my very spartan (and very hot) room, put my things away, and walked around the grounds. When I got back, it was even hotter. I lay on my narrow bed, sweating and feeling every beat of my heart as it pounded in my chest, and wondered if I should just leave. I went down to the office and complained of the heat, and the nice lady there told me where I could find a fan. I plugged it in, fell asleep, and when I woke, it was time for dinner. Dinner was the same every night: salad and a hearty soup. The soup was different each night, but the salad bar was always the same: lettuce, tiny tomatoes, chickpeas, olives, cottage cheese, and chicken salad. It was delicious. Coffee was plentiful and almost always on, but there was not a carbonated beverage in the place, and the rules were that we could have no food or drink in our rooms except for water. By the time I found out about the rule, there were already a couple of bottles of Coke Zero in my room, unwittingly carried up in a bag, so naturally, I had to drink them to hide the evidence, right? Right.
After dinner, we met one of our instructors for the retreat, which was titled “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” The room was full, and I found out later that the retreat had filled to capacity. The first of our instructors introduced himself as “Michael” (Father Francis Michael, Abbott of the monastery). As he asked us questions to find out who we were and why we were there, it turned out that maybe half were Catholic and half not, ages ranged from college age to seventy-something, and people had come to reinforce rehab, to deal with life crises such as a spouse with cancer and a mother with Alzheimer’s, and simply to get away for a spiritual retreat.
The abbot, Michael, was a superb instructor. His energy was electric, his acting and speaking skills were considerable, and he needed not the first note or reminder as he went on a wide-ranging ramble that covered different religions and theologies and touched on subjects such as our images of God, our inherent imperfection as human beings and our need to accept that imperfection. If I had to boil his lectures down to one word, that word would be “love.” As long as we can give and accept love, we will be okay, and the more we accept our imperfections and those of others, the more loving (and thus okay) we will be.
Afterwards, we went to the church for “Compline” (there were maye five services a day, and the only one I never attended was the 4 a.m. “Vigil.” I went back to my room, fell into bed, and slept deeply.