Warning - long post ahead - you've been warned... :)
We're at Starbucks in Vina (with a long "I" sound, so its VI-nah.) Found a place to boost the net for free - no paying Howard Schultz & his empire for me...
Enjoy! I am.
The drive from Reno to Vina took about 3 ½ hours, including the stop in Oroville for a Taco Bell run… walking into a Taco Bell in Oroville is like walking into a Taco Bell in any town - yay franchising…
The access road to the monastery, actually the “Abbey of New Clairvaux” was a single lane road with a blind curve that had to be navigated at about 3 mph. To my surprise – the road around the was covered in water. When I say “covered” I mean that it was deep enough that I stopped. Couldn’t see the road under the water. Didn’t know if it would be safe to take my valiant & trusty Jetta, the car that will soon be turned out to pasture as its lease expires, through the turbulent & rushing stream.
Turns out that the ag-creek had been rising, & the workers in the vineyard/olive/walnut grove had pumped the water to aid in their irrigation, as its been something of a dry spring… we entered the water & it got no higher than 6 inches. Fortunately for us, an obstacle navigated.
When we arrived at the Abbey, we stopped at the “Guest Masters” quarters – more of a “Welcome Hut” or a ‘lobby’ than an actual quarters – there was no one around – no one to be seen anywhere on the grounds. So we got out of the car & walked, slowly of course (we’re at a monastery for retreat, Hello?) looking for any signs of life. About ¼ mile down the road, Ben pipes in with how this actually reminds him of a scene in a particular “Twilight Zone” episode. I know what he’s talking about, but I don’t want to go there right now – esp. to the end of that episode.
Finally, I see a guy on a golf cart heading for a maintenance shack – I head in his direction – he heads to the shack, not really avoiding me, but definitely not making himself available. He’s a dead ringer for the Amish meets car mechanic look that I became familiar with in a trip to Philadelphia – I explained to him our situation: we just arrived. No one was in the Guest Masters qtrs to meet us, we’re looking for help. He replied: “Ok. Well go back to the Guest Masters qtrs & wait. Someone will be there eventually.” He smiled & went into his work shack.
We all had a good laugh – of course we wait. That’s part of the point to this place with no ‘useful’ point – time functions on a different clock here, & the waiting is a part of the process. So we walked, (Slowly. Of Course) back to the Guest Master’s, & eventually we were met by a man, probably in his late 70s or early 80s who introduced himself to us as the Guest Master, Brother John. He wore tattered blue jeans & a college sweatshirt pullover – a little bit of an absent minded guy, he gave us a tour of the grounds via a map in the office, & as they came to his mind, offered up a stream-of-consciousness commentary on various topics:
• The origin of the Abbey – came from Leland Stanford’s family
• The building project, started in the old days by William Randolph Hearst, & picked up again by his Order (the crew he rolls with) – with a timeline of 50-75 years for completion.
• The chapel, the meditation room – two places for retreat-ants (that’s what we’re called) to go & hang out if we need a building to do that sort of thing. He called the meditation room a “Zen sort of thing” – which means a sand pit, a couple of candles, no chairs, & a cassette player with a collection of Zamfir’s greatest hits.
We toured the kitchen – its more of a community kitchen with no staff – the food from the Abbey kitchen, all vegetarian, is delivered a couple of times a day for all of us to eat & enjoy – lots of saltines & peanut butter to go with homemade jam. Looks like plum jam. A loaf of bread. Swiss cheese. Some tofu-based minestrone type soup. With tomatoes & mushrooms.
We arrived at the guest rooms – two ‘wings” of about 4-6 rooms each – (Matty, we’re in the West Wing. Woohoo!) each very cozy with a cement floor, 2 ½ x 3 ½ throw rug, a single simple bed with Spartan bedclothes (don’t think “The 300” here – think we don’t need much Spartan…) a little built in desk (ala small hotel rooms everywhere,) & a small, personal bathroom. Walls made from cinder block, vaulted ceilings. And plenty of quiet to go around.
Each of the rooms we were assigned has a placard next to its number – with a corresponding “Room Name” or “blessing” over each room – I’m in #2 – Joy. Ben’s in #3 – Peace. Moe is is #4 – Patience.
We spent a good portion of the evening talking & laughing, & internally wrestling ourselves about the appropriateness of the room names that we were assigned to – with me desperately needing Joy. Bean & I had talked on Sunday about this very topic - & her prayer, her hope for me is that I would be joyful - & happy. And en-joy my life – because when I’m having a difficult time, when I can’t find my joy, it’s a tough one for all who get to be around me. So joy it is. That transcends circumstance – that goes beyond difficulties. That is based in contentment. That is my strength, regardless what else is going on.
Later, we congregated in the Peace room, & talked deep talks about life & death, hopes & fears, hiding behind facades, & other joyous things like that. We headed for bed about 11 –
I had forgotten that there are 5 prayer times a day, the Divine Office, that happen in the Abbey church - & that the call to prayer for all who want to come happens with the clanging of the church bell 5x/day. So I was woken up a few times. At these times.
• 3:30 a.m. Vigils
• 6 a.m. Lauds & Mass
• 8:55 a.m. Terce
• 12:15 p.m. Sext
• 1:55 p.m. None (prounounced Noin”)
• 5:45 p.m. Vespers
• 7:35 p.m Compline –
The Compline is followed by “the Grand Silence” where all retreat-ants are asked to go along with the monks practice of being silent – or at least providing a place where the rest of the people at the Abbey grounds can be quiet if they want to. Which means that Ben, Moe & I sound like 3 jr high girls whispering & giggling on the grounds. In our room. In the field next to the “West Wing”
So now it’s the morning, & I’m debating what to eat – I think it will be crackers with peanut butter & jam again. I love that, & haven’t had it since… I can’t remember. Since my kids were small & I’d eat their left overs? Perhaps?
At noon, we have a wine tasting for the 3 of us set up in the New Clairvaux Vineyard.
We’re back from the tasting – we had a full tour of the facilities too – very cool to see the barrels of wine, the press, the ‘crusher’, & the filling station – all of which are manned by the priests from the abbey – they do all of the work under the supervision of Amy the Vintner…
They took one grape, a Zinfandel, & planted it in two different sections of the vineyard, the “Poor Souls” block & the “St James” block – this gives them a ‘control’ wine to be able to tell what’s happening in the soil in each block. It was amazing how different the same wines in different blocks 300 yards apart smell, taste, & feel. (No, we didn’t have a freak wine tasting accident…)
Very enjoyable - & pasta for lunch, w/homemade pudding for dessert – fruit cocktail (by Sysco!) mixed with Vanilla Pudding (by Sysco!) Hooray!