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Life and Times of an itinerant slacker in Sacramento. Thrills, Spills Galore coming soon. Not to mention lots of opinions.

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Monday, April 07, 2008

What Kind of Place for a Jewish Boy?

After hearing about a trip Kathleen and a friend took to Redwoods Monastery a few years back, I decided to join Kathleen fro a short retreat last weekend. I was a little concerned about hanging out with a bunch of Cistercian nuns. Happily the reality of being a guest at their retreat was somewhat akin to visiting a Disneyland of the Spirit, with the 11 retreatants playing the role of the Midwestern family relating to the 10 cloistered nuns’ appearances as costumed characters. Most of the time the nuns dressed like old hippies, as is the style of Humboldt County. However, these Sisters claim to support themselves by selling honey
rather than marijuana like most of their neighbors produce. I have never been anywhere in the U.S. where everyone admits that that the only two major employers in the region are the Government and the marijuana industry. Duuuuude!

We drove upon Thursday arriving at about 3:00 PM. My favorite part of this drive (besides a Frosty Freeze in Clear Lake) is short stretch of Hw 101 through Richardson Grove. We had time to walk around before a short Eucharist service at 5:30. The service was mostly chanting of psalms, as are all their services. Their chanting was beautiful. Although the psalms were chanted in English, their meanings were no more coherent to me than Latin. A lot about destroying enemies and all that business.

The chapel is quite a unique place. The wall behind the altar is all glass, looking out over a redwood tree and a small meadow, where we saw the antics of wild turkeys and deer several times over the weekend. The design was very simple, to the point of having almost no visible Christian symbolism.

Everybody sat in a semicircle around the altar. I learned quickly not to sit in the center, since they pass around communion from each side, and the person near the center of the arc has to walk everything back up to the altar. I felt pretty stupid doing that. We had supper of soup, bread and cheese (dinner at noon is the biggest meal of the day) with the other retreatants. The food was pretty good, although modest. The cheese was probably the fancy stuff made by Trappists in Gethsemane KY.

We got to bed early, recognizing that morning meditation was to begin at 5:45 AM every day, after a walk in the dark to the chapel. Each morning began with meditation from 5:45to 6:45, which went OK for me until the last day, when I allowed myself to lean against a wall. After that, it was a constant fight against falling asleep. Another chanting service at 6:00 was followed by (finally!) breakfast and coffee. We had breakfast with the nuns in their community room each morning. Breakfast with the nuns did not provide much insight into life in the monastery, since they maintain silence until 9:30 each morning. Breakfast was my favorite meal, with home-made granola, yoghurt, home-made preserves, toast & honey, peanut butter and fresh fruit. I noticed the sisters eat a lot of peanut butter. That appears to be their secret for supplementing an otherwise rather severe monastic diet.

After breakfast, we explored a redwood grove on the property. I get a kick out of giant trees. Trees are our friends.



We were lucky that trillium was blooming. These beauties grow under the redwoods.



We walked through a meadow over a hill from the cloister and guest houses



The photo album page has more pictures.

I spent some of the spare and quiet time available reading a couple of Buddhist books, to offset the Catholicism in the environment.

I felt refreshed after the retreat, most likely due to the deep quietness and calm of the experience, as much as anything else. I found myself thinking of a slight variation on the old advertisements for Levi’s Rye Bread; You don’t have to love Jesus to like it.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
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I must enjoy shouting into a vacuum, but I think about getting my act together one of these days. My mom says I am very handsome and intelligent.

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