There’s this small contemplative monastery just outside of town near where I live. I’ve been going there for several years now, and it has become a regular and vital part of my spiritual rhythm. I discovered it while planning a silent retreat for the youth group I was leading. Many of my kids expressed frustration that the noise of their lives was too loud to actually hear from God. We looked around for a quiet retreat center, and while none of us were Catholic, we were welcomed by the Brothers and Sisters of St. John’s of the Cross.
From the moment I pulled into the long gravel drive I had a sense that there was something special about this place. There was an other-worldliness to it and you could almost literally sense the peace in the air. My heart leapt with joy for finding such a treasure and became excited for the mysterious adventures this sacred place might hold for my students. Turns out that the monastery was more of a catapult than a refuge…
We were not able to stay for our retreat due to the retreat center construction not being completed. Instead, Brother Jean-Michael sat and talked with us about creating a simple and ecumenical contemplative retreat on our own fashioned after the Stations of the Cross. He prayed for us, and we thanked him before we left.
We held our retreat, and it was successful by all standards (I’ll blog on that another time), but all I could think of was going back to the monastery. It was like there was more there for me to discover. We returned home and I spent the next week decompression and processing the retreat but found myself trying to rearrange my schedule to make room for a return trip to see Brother Jean-Michael, as he was just as compelling as the monastery. Finally, I gave in and just hopped in the car and drove out there.
Much to my surprise the Brothers all remembered me. They remembered my name and asked about the retreat. I shared with them stories of how the Spirit of God and how the Stations of the Cross impacted them deeply. I shared with them story after story of students sharing healing and experiencing the presence of God for the first time. We laughed and cried at the awesomeness of God.
After one of the stories, I was scared by the loud gonging of the dinner bell. It caught me off guard. At the sound of the bell, all of the Brothers and Sisters started to move to the Dinning Hall. Brother Jean-Michael invited me to join them for dinner. He instructed me that no one talked during the meal and that it was a simple meal of vegetable soup and fresh bread. I accepted and as we walked together to the Hall, he placed his arm on my shoulder and in said, “Brother Chris, God has brought us together to learn and love. You are a blessing my new friend! You are welcome here anytime!”
We sat and ate dinner together in a way that I had never done before. We held hands and said a silent prayer. The meal was unremarkable but filling. After eating, we all just got up and started washing the dishes. My job was to dry them. Once the chore was completed many of them left for Compline. I knew nothing of this, and did not learn about it until after several more visits.
Brother Jean-Michael walked me to my car, because it was time to leave. I didn’t want to, but we both knew I had to. He must have sensed this in my spirit, and said to me, “Take what God gives you here and take it to where you live and give life to others.” We hugged, and I left. I drove home for the next hour in complete silence but in complete peace. I felt, for the first time in a long time, what it felt like to have my cup run over. That is the main reason I have been drawn back there so many times over the years.
The monastery is my sacred space. It is where I go to get away from the busyness of life, because it is the only place I have found that is quiet enough to hear the small, still voice of God. It is also where my spiritual friend lives. I long to be with someone that doesn’t want or need anything from me. This kind of togetherness is a gift in and of itself and one that everyone should have.
I know that God is ever-present. I know that the Spirit is in me at all times. I know that I have access to the Creator of the universe. God’s omnipotence is not ever in question. My ability to remove the distractions and deny the flesh is always the problem. I need a sacred space that allows me to position myself better to commune with our Father. There is nothing inherently special about the monastery other than it is where I get the best reception from heaven.
Where do you go? Where is your sacred space? What do you do there? Why is it so special to you?
Coordinator of The Shelter at Simply Youth Ministry Conference 2014