By Padre Robin Major
I was recently looking to attend a healing retreat at the Christ the King Spiritual Life Center (the Center) in Greenwich,NY. Upon visiting their website, I noticed a link to the Community of St. Mary, an order of Anglican/Episcopalian sisters. As it turned out, they were co-located with the Center in Greenwich, NY on the other side of the same valley. This afforded for a perfect opportunity to go be a student of the healing ministry at the Center and then to cross the valley to the Community of St. Mary for a time of personal retreat.
After the healing retreat training ended, I took a day of leave and remained at the Center as the Sisters were at the end of a week of silence in which they did not receive visitors in their retreat house. At last, with the breaking of the silence, I packed my bags and got a ride across the valley. It was a strange feeling to go from one side of the valley to the other. During the 5 days at the Center, I looked each day across the valley in anticipation of the coming retreat on the other side. Then when I reached the other side of the valley, each day I looked back across this same valley to a recent past of a few days and then beyond to the life I’d left to come to this place, a life to which I would soon return.
Life at the Convent began with Matins at 630 am followed by Holy Eucharist at 700 am. Then there was breakfast shared in silence after which the Great Silence ended. The next prayer, Terce, was at 930 am. At noon we gathered for the next prayer, Sext, which was followed at 1230 pm with lunch in silence. The next event was Tea at 330 pm which was frequented regularly by visitors. Some people simply chatted while others knit, sewed, or in Mother Miriam’s case, spun wool. Vespers was the next prayer at 530 pm followed by supper in silence. The last communal prayer after which Great Silence started was Compline at 730 pm leading to sleep and the cycle repeated the next day with minor variation on the weekend. The weekend included the one meal at which talking was permitted, supper on Sunday.
Beyond communal prayer times, I had a good deal of time for personal prayer, reading in the Convent’s library and roaming about the grounds beholding the rolling countryside and admiring the free roaming deer. I also took great enjoyment in visiting the cashmere goats the sisters are raising while being cautious of potential trouble from the two dogs who were their faithful guardians. The sisters had three steers this past fall, but my enjoyment of them was now left to the supper table. There were also numerous flowerbeds and a food garden, all of which were in the throes of winter hibernation so there was little there to encounter with excitement beyond what was and what will be again in the spring.
In the Convent itself, there was a lovely little store in which I bought numerous things that included local honey, a hand-made stuffed dragon named Eustace, some beautifully drawn and coloured cards, and my favourite, a goatskin pelt. Mother Miriam tells me she’ll likely get the rest of the skins made into hats which would be nice for some, but for me, I am content with the skin. It rests at this time on the chair in my office in which I sit and pray each day. My imagination dreams of it as something like what John the Baptist would have worn.
At the end of the four days, my wish was that I could have stayed longer. I felt like I was on the verge of settling into an even deeper restfulness in the rhythm of the daily life. I took away with me a renewed sense of the beauty of resting in God in monastic community and a renewed confidence in God’s calling me into the world to find this restfulness there. At my last prayer service with the sisters, during the open prayer time, prayers were offered for me; and I in kind offered prayers of thankfulness and that more people would respond to the call to vocations to the order. I do hope their order grows and continues to be a witness to the world of the rich faithful life of the Benedictine way of prayer and work. Not all are called to this life of service, and yet who among us is not called to its heart, to resting in God’s heart? Like the sisters, we are all called to be in the world, yet not of it. Their unique way of doing this, centered in the richness of communal prayer, work, and silence, has something to offer us all.
If you ever happen to be in Upper State New York(4 hours drive south of Montreal) and are looking for a place to stay and enjoy the quiet prayerful life, the Community of St. Mary is a five-star spiritual destination. More about the Community and contact information for Mother Miriam can be found at www.stmaryseast.org.