Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Nine Monks, The Charles and Me

I have to start by saying, I don't know if you believe in God or not.  If you go to church on a regular basis or not and honestly, it makes no difference to me.  I wrote about my weekend because this is what my blog is about, my family, my running journey.  I am happy you are here with me and even if this is not your cup of tea, I hope you still enjoy it.  Thank you for reading!  Oh, and this is a long one!

I spent this past weekend in Boston.

I serve on the Vestry of my church and this was our retreat weekend.  We do it once a year.  As a newer member of the Vestry, this was my first time.  Our group included the Vestry members, our Rector and our parish administrator.

I was not really sure what to expect even though others told me a little about their past experience. They talked a lot about silence.  They said that there would be no talking for almost every meal.  Honestly, I wasn't sure if I would like it.  I had a vision in my head based on what other people said and it just didn't sound like me.  Boy, was my vision wrong.

We drove to Cambridge, MA to the Friends of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, a Monastery.  Yes, I lived in a Monastery for a weekend.  Did you know you could do that?  I sure didn't.

When we arrived, we were given a quick tour and then shown to our rooms.  Mine was on the first floor.  It had a single bed, chair, desk with chair, small dresser and my own sink.  I had to leave the room for the main bathroom and share it with one of the other ladies I was with.  

My room looked out into a garden and across the road was the Charles River.
View from my room.

My cozy quarters.

Once we freshened up from our drive, a few of us met and headed out for a little walk with a stop at Dunkin Donuts.  I do not know the Vestry members well.  Like I said earlier, I am new to working with them. The thing that I really hoped for this weekend was that we would have time to talk.  I wanted to leave the Monastery feeling a little closer to each of them.  This stop at Dunkin was the start of that.

So, on a retreat, we live in the Brothers guesthouse.  We worship with them, eat some meals with them and as a group, we met with our retreat director, Brother David and with him we discussed and reflected on the meaning of humility.
Our schedule

We planned to talk about what it means to us, what it means in the Christian community, how Jesus modeled it, taught it and urged his disciples to seek it.  We also talked about how humility, in todays world has gotten "bad press" because it can be associated with, complacency and unquestioning submission to those in authority.  It was all very fascinating.

At 6pm, the night of our arrival, we had our first worship service, called evening prayer.  It only lasted about 20 minutes, but it was beautiful.  We sang a hymn and recited Psalms.  I mostly just followed along just trying to figure out how they do things.  From there, we walked to the dining room for our first meal together.

We lined up in a sort of half circle and Brother Geoffrey told us what we would be eating for dinner and then we said a prayer.  It was a chicken noodle soup that just smelled wonderful.  There was also a nice salad and bread.  All the food was made there by the Brothers.  All the vegetables were from their own garden and the bread was also homemade.  Everything was so fresh and delicious.

When we got our food, we sat in any seat we wanted.  No talking, however Brother Jonathan read to us.  This, at first, sounded weird to me.  No one has read to me in a very long time.  Think about it. Most of us read each night to a small person and it probably consists of Princesses and Ninjas. 

I sat down, started to eat the most delicious chicken noodle soup I have ever tasted and by the time Brother Jonathan was finished reading the first page, I was hooked.  I ate in silence, I listened and I even had seconds.  The book was about a man on a pilgrimage.  He was hiking, I think through Mexico.  At this point in the book, his feet were full of blisters and he had a terrible pain in his leg.  This I understood, LOL.  He talked about the stars and some flowers he saw along the way that reminded him of his mother.  It was lovely.

Once we were all finished, we stood, said a few words of thanks and we bused our own plates.  The next thing on the agenda, was our first meeting with Brother David.

We met in the Common Room.  He wanted to learn a little about each of us, so after a round of introductions we got started on our discussion.

I am more of a listener and it seems the more quiet one of the group.  I am ok with this, but I am not sure if people are waiting for me to say something and that can make me uncomfortable.  We left with a booklet that he asked us to read and we were going to discuss it the next day.  This lasted a little over an hour.

The last thing on our agenda was called Compline.  This also takes place in the Chapel.  I was more comfortable with the book and hymnal this time and was able to follow along and take part.  It was a very peaceful experience.  Then it was bed time.  Day one was over.

Morning prayer was listed as optional.  I wanted to do it, but I really wanted to run also.  I set the alarm for 5:50am.  I have not gotten up this early since training for Nike.  For some reason, I was up 15 minutes before the alarm went off!  I had plenty of time to get ready for morning prayer, but I decided to run.  I got dressed and ate a little something and headed out the door.

It was a beautiful morning.  The sun was shining and I was standing in front of the Charles River.  While crossing the street, two runners passed by.  I knew I would enjoy running here!

I chose to go left, which was towards Harvard.  I planned to stay along the river and was just a little afraid of getting lost.  

A woman was running in front of me with her blond hair in a braid.  She was not running much faster than me, so I decided to follow her.  My gut told me she was staying along the river.  

Mile one was nice.  I felt good but by the time I was in mile two, the sun was in front of me.  It was slowly getting hot.  

I stayed behind Blond Braid, and was enjoying the fact that there were so many runners out, however, only two of them said hi back to me.  This bummed me out a bit.  I wanted to yell, "Hey, I am staying in a Monastery!  I am eating my meals in silence!!!  How hard is it to say hi, or just wave?"

One of the cool things about running along the Charles, was watching the people who were rowing.  Believe it or not, I have not seen this in person before.  I know that this sport is hard work and I wish I had that kind of strength in my arms.

I was still behind Blond Braid and now, on the opposite side of the river, I saw the famous Citgo sign near Fenway Park.  My first thought was not of the Red Sox.  It was of my beloved Phillies who got a beating there just the night before.  It was not my first time seeing the sign, but cool all the same.

Just a couple more minutes and I hit 2 1/2 miles.  I silently said farewell to Blond Braid, stopped to drink and take a few pics.  

I pretty much stayed straight but I did cross a couple streets and there was a twist or two. The first couple minutes of my return, I repeated to myself, "please don't get lost, please don't get lost."  Silly?  Yes, very.

While running, I was able to think about my weekend and what I wanted to learn from this experience, I thought about my family and my friends.  My friends who run and those who ran the Boston Marathon.  I wondered which of these runners that I was passing was there on that day in April.  Did they get to finish or were they stopped short.  Was their family waiting for them at the finish and were their loved ones OK.  I prayed that they all were.

Friends, it was hot by this point.  It was 6:30 in the morning and I was dripping.  At about the four mile mark, I had hit some shade.  I slowed to a walk while I drank some water because I just wanted to stay in the shade for a minute.  After that, I ran happily back to the Monastery.  At this point, I hit the, "I feel so good, I can run forever" mode and was sorry that I had to stop.  I was a little unsure of the day's schedule but knew I needed to get back and shower.  

I walked in and saw some of my group and was informed that 7:45 was Eucharist.  I had 40 minutes.  I grabbed my stuff and showered immediately.  I was hot and stayed hot in the shower.  I turned the water to cool at the very end but I did not have time to just stay there.  I toweled off but I was still sweating, it was gross.  I got dressed and my clothes were sticking to me.  Back in my room I turned the air up and stood in front of it for a minute.  I tried to put on a little makeup.  My face was bright red.  Makeup was not working, as I was still literally, sweating.  

On a normal day, I would sit and cool down.  Shower and move on with my day.  I had no cool down period and my rushing around was not helping matters.  I skipped the makeup but still had to dry my hair.  Cool air was getting me no where, so I turned on some heat.  Ugh, it was awful.  I gave up.  I headed to the Chapel, sweating, my clothes sticking to me, red faced and my hair only half dry.  I am sure I looked better walking in from my run.  LOL

Despite all that, I was happy.  I was still coming down from my runners high and I was sitting in a beautiful Chapel.  This service was my favorite of the weekend.  I enjoyed the songs and the sermon.  I would say there were about 25 people who attended this service.  I loved that they had us circle around the alter to receive communion.  I was very content.  Well, content and hot.

I found breakfast and coffee after that and then it was time for our next session with Brother David.  I read the pamphlet but again, I stayed pretty quiet during the discussion.  I enjoyed hearing everyones thoughts but I had a hard time putting my thoughts together.  So I just listened.

After that, I went for a walk, got a little lost, found a D and D and got an iced tea.  When I headed back to the Monastery, I saw a few from my group sitting and talking on a bench in front of the river.  I joined them and we talked until it was time for Noonday Prayer and lunch.

Are you thinking, "That's a lot of praying!"  Well, it is, but is was really a nice experience.  Here is how they describe the retreat on their web site:

Taking time away from the demands of everyday life, to be quiet, to pray, to worship, to read, rest, and relax, allows us to refocus our lives on what is most important to us. Some people come on retreat at moments of transition, when they feel the need for particular discernment. Others come on retreat simply to refresh and renew their spirit. Our relationship with God, like all relationships, needs attention and care to grow. Times of retreat allow us to turn our whole selves to the love of God, to listen and be attentive to the voice of God. Many people experience retreats as times when God seems particularly near.

Doesn't that sound like something we all need every so often?

After lunch, I napped.  We had one more discussion, more prayer, supper and then my group went out for a drink and dessert.  This is a time I really cherished.  We had a great conversation and tons of  laughing.  This is what I was really looking forward to and it did not disappoint.  It really is a great group of people and I am happy to be able to serve with them.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I was sorry I only packed one running outfit.  It's gross, but I actually took a look at what I had worn the day before to see if I could get away with it.  I couldn't, the bra, shirt and socks were still damp. Way to gross so I got dressed and went to morning prayer instead.

I was happy I did that.  It set the tone for the day which was calm and peaceful.

I can honestly say that I did everything that I wanted to this weekend.  I prayed, relaxed, read, worshiped, ran, got to know my friends better, met a few new people and realize that Monks are people too.  Brother David said they learn as much from us as we learn from them.  I am not so sure it is that equal but I did enjoy talking with them and look forward to going back next year.

Our last day was nice.  Mass at 9, final session with Br. David, noonday prayer, lunch and then departure.

I have to say that I participated in this last discussion more than the ones before.  It was more of a free discussion about our weekend and what we would take away.  I am pretty sure, Br. David was happy I spoke.  LOL

My thoughts about what I was going to do this weekend were completely wrong.  There was more talking than I expected and when there was silence, it did not bother me as much as I was sure it would.  There was also more free time from what I had initially thought. It makes sense though.  Br. David kept saying how this was our retreat.  There was a schedule but some of it was optional and there was plenty of free time built in.  

Before we left, we had to change our sheets and towels and leave the room just the way we found it.  There is something humbling in that as I am a hotel kind of girl who is happy to leave with my towels piled up on the floor and the bed unmade.  This was clearly no hotel and that my friends, was a good thing.

Mr. RWM and the kids picked me up at our meeting spot and I was so happy to see them.  As wonderful as my weekend was, there is nothing like coming home to their smiles and hugs.  

I have now spent 24 hours writing this post and I still feel that what I actually experienced in my heart, mind and spirit are not coming across the right way.  I am not sure what else to say or what words would work.  So I will just tell you that I feel closer to those that I work with.  I feel more grateful for my family and friends, something we can sometimes take advantage of.  I am thankful that I can run and I can do so and make a difference in others lives whether it is by raising money or just by motivating you to get up and go.  I am happy that I learned something new.  I started this weekend without a clue about what a monks real life was like.  I encourage you to read and learn more about it too.

Again, thank you for reading, my friends.

Run Strong, Think Big! ~ Nicole


  1. This is truly wonderful just like you. May Our Lord continue to shower you with HIS blessings. You, Mr. RWM, George and Gracie.

  2. That sounds like an awesome weekend, I would love to stay at a monastary sometime just for the experiece. Glad you had a great time.

  3. That sounds like a beautiful and refreshing weekend. I think..I mean I KNOW... I would enjoy something like that. Thanks for sharing your experience :)