This is one of the pivotal days of the year for us. This is the day that our Guesthouse closes for a month.
This occasion dates back a bit more than 20 years, to the time that the Guesthouse ministry really began to take off. It was beginning to be apparent then that the number of guests was going to be large, and this was not going to be a temporary thing. And having recognized that, we recognized something else: we couldn't do it 7 days a week, 365 days a year without causing serious problems for our vocations and our sanity. We had to have some breaks.
It is not the practice of this community to live completely separate lives from our guests. We do have our own quarters in a separate monastery building, but all of us are in the Guesthouse several times a day. Most of us work there at least part of the time, and all of us share our meals with the guests, so a lot of our social time is shared with those who come to be with us in the Guesthouse. This is a wonderful opportunity, and brings a great richness to our lives. It also brings a good deal of pressure, and back in the early 80's we began to realize that if we were going to sustain this pace of ministry, we needed some time off. So we made two decisions: The Guesthouse would be closed every Monday, and we would also close for a month in the late summer. Later this was extended to include a few additional days of "down time" right after New Year's and just after Easter. All of these times were chosen because the number of guests was usually very small during those times, and our closing would deny very few people the opportunity of being here.
And so we have this rhythm: the greater part of the week and of the year is for our guests and our work with them, and some time is for ourselves. This rhythm has become part of the fabric of our lives here. It's like breathing in and breathing out: both times feed each other, and both are crucial to the way that we live the monastic life.
So what do we do with this time?
First, we party. Most often on the Sunday that we close, we have Vespers a bit early and then we go to the home of our dear friends and co-workers Jim and Toni Taylor (she is our Bookkeeper, he is our Plumber). We spend some fine hours around their pool having good drinks, wonderful food and as much swimming as any of us wants. By the time we leave we are relaxed, happy, beginning to feel how tired we are, and ready to let down for a while.
But this year we can't do that. This year Toni and Jim are having construction done at their place and partying at their pool isn't in the cards. Fear not! We have decided to go to New Paltz, our local town, and play miniature golf. This is going to be a real kick! A dozen or so monks descending on the miniature golf course on the edge of town! New Paltz may never forget it.
Next, we take two days of real time off. All is quiet. Prayer is entirely on our own, not corporate. We sleep, we read, we go to movies, we visit friends in the area, we sit and look at the river. We have, in a word, a Sabbath.
And then we move more deeply into this quiet time with our yearly Long Retreat. On Wednesday things will fall even more deeply silent as we enter our ten-day period of retreat. This is for a more intense time of walking our spiritual path: time for meditation, time for spiritual reading, time to just be. Usually I am really thirsting for this retreat by the time we arrive at late summer, and this year is no exception to that rule. I really need this time. I need to go inside and have a look around and see what needs to be honored and what needs to be repaired and what plans need to be made for the living of my life after this.
Then for the rest of the month we take advantage of this time and this place. I always notice my surroundings more during August than at any other time of the year. I have time to watch the lightening bugs in the evenings. I have time to watch what the river is doing, I can get to some projects that have been put off for a long time, I can go to concerts in the area, of which there are many at this time of the year, and I can see friends for some leisurely dinners. Each year several of us take some vacation time during these weeks. I'm going to Minneapolis to see a friend later in the month. Br Bernard is going home to see his family in Belgium. Several other of the brothers will be away. The chef has his vacation, so we do our own cooking. Our schedule is relaxed and the number of services in the church is reduced.
And it is quiet.
We have chosen well in choosing to take this 'sabbatical' time each summer. It's a really good and important alternative way of living this life of ours. Each year some people wish us a "good vacation". But this time isn't really a vacation. In some ways it is more intense than the rest of the year, even while there is some relaxation and an increased peacefulness. It is just a time that honors the parts of ourselves that need attention that they sometimes don't get during the rest of the year.
By the end of four weeks we are refreshed and beginning to be a bit tired of having the place all to ourselves and we are involved in planning for retreats and programs that we will be giving, and waiting for the Guesthouse to open up again and for our lives to expand to include many, many other people once again. It will be time to breathe in, after having four good weeks to breathe out.
So think of us while we are repairing our souls and our spirits. If you are the praying sort, say a prayer for us while we are having our retreat, beginning this Wednesday. We love our ministry and our guests - they are a major part of our life. But we need some time and some quiet, and it feels so good today to be just on the edge of entering into that peaceful time.