Sunday, May 3, 2015

Elsie and me

Vigils, Lauds, Midday Prayer, Vespers, and Compline—the rhythm of the monastic life. I never made it to Vigils at 3:30 in the morning, though I did all the others. I’m not cut out for monastic life if it means I have to pull myself out of bed at 3 a.m., but I particularly loved Lauds and Compline at the beginning and the end of the day.
On my first full day at the abbey I quickly dressed and headed out to Lauds. The glow of the sun was just beginning to rise above the mountains to the east. Beyond the low freshly plowed field a blue fog hovered over the Shenandoah River, swollen with spring rain. I pulled my jacket tighter against the early morning chill and slipped on my gloves. I said good morning to a Black Angus bull and walked briskly down the path to the monastery chapel. Glorious, glorious spring morning in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I breathed it in, smiled, and whispered, “This is the day the Lord hath made. Rejoice, rejoice and be glad.”

I climbed the steps to the dimly lit chapel and slid into the corner in the last row. The wood pew creaked loudly in the silence. The bells rang and the monks filed in. The bells rang again, two barely audible taps, and they began to chant. They chanted from Psalm 118: 

This is the LORD’s doing;
     it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
     let us rejoice and be glad in it.
How did they know what I had been praying just minutes earlier?

The sun rose above the mountain just then and burst through a window on the side of the chapel. The chapel was dark except for that one beam of light shining directly on me, trying to hide in the corner of the last row. “Okay, God, I get it—you see me. Undoubtedly you know where I am. I hope this is where you want me to be.”

At the end of the day, as the sun began to set, again I went to the chapel for Compline, the last prayer of the day. And again the mountains and the fields glowed as the sun slowly drifted below the horizon. The barn swallows headed home and the cows bellowed louder at sunset than at any other time of the day. And I had a quiet conversation with a yellow cow, the only yellow cow among all the Black Angus cows in the pasture. (Lacking udders, she probably was a he, but I didn't ask any personal questions.) She seemed to need some company. I could grow to love this.

(Yes, it's the yellow cow in the photo, that yellow cow who needed some company.)

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