22 August 2015

Our Lady of the Redwoods Monastery

I have mentioned "Whitethorn" here both recently and in the past. I am speaking of Redwoods Monastery (now Redwoods Abbey) in Whitethorn, CA. While I can't get there anywhere near as often as I would like, and while this is not "my" community in the way the Camaldolese are, it has an important place in my heart. The people and place move to or reflect the same rhythms and model the same values I live (and learn to live more deeply!)  here at Stillsong while the memory of time spent there is part of the grace that empowers me to be who I am called to be right here.

A few years ago I was there on retreat with a friend and Dominican Sister. Early on I was introduced to the community as a diocesan hermit of the Diocese of Oakland. However, given the fact that I was on retreat, as well as because of the place of silence in this house, nothing more was said.

A week later we sat down for Sunday dinner (a celebratory meal not taken in silence and eaten with the individual refectory tables made into a squared circle so real conversation with everyone was possible); the noise and small talk ceased once everyone was seated and grace was prayed. Suddenly I found several Sisters and a couple of Trappist monks looking at me; one of the Sisters said, "So, we've been waiting all week to ask you . . . How did you come to be a hermit?!" I tried to explain briefly the answer to a question which went to the heart of me. From there the conversation was wide ranging as it moved from my life specifically to comments from a monk who had known Thomas Merton (I had noted Merton's work was instrumental in my becoming a hermit), the silence of solitude, being made into a witness of something our world thirsts for, and many other things.

It was a delightful and amazing experience. And typically monastic. How counter cultural such an approach is to a world addicted to cell phones, Facebook, tweeting, and instant communications of all kinds!! How contrary to a world where, increasingly, no question is patiently pondered and every query requires an instant answer --- so much so that conversations are halted while someone checks the internet for this piece of data or other! How counter cultural in a world where superficial pleasantries and constant conversation (or some other diversion) replace the silence and patience which is the necessary and deeper context for real relationships and the reverence and charity which mark them. And how gratifying to have been held in this community's hearts during a week of silence and relative solitude. We had mainly come to know one another some in silent meals, prayer, and in liturgies. And now they sought to know me and to let me know them in this way too. Their question was an expression of curiosity, yes, but pervaded by and tempered with charity. That too is typically monastic and especially, I think, it is characteristically Cistercian.

The following is a vocational video the nuns at Whitethorn created; it is a really good introduction to the Sisters and the Trappistine lives they live. Enjoy.