We were in Louisville, KY for the memorial service of a friend’s mother and feeling the “life is short; live the moment” vibe. We had packed an overnight bag–just in case–but had no plan. We sat in the car Googling options. The West Baden Springs Hotel–no vacancy. Leavenworth–no room in the Inn. I’ve learned that a “no” often means something better is in the offing if I can stay positive and allow. That’s how we ended up at the guesthouse on the bucolic grounds of the Saint Meinrad Archabbey.
We stood at the counter awaiting an answer to our query. “Yes. We have a room available. Our guest rooms have two twin beds and no T.V.’s. They rent for $109.00 per night.”
“We’ll take it.”
“Prayer service is in the Abbey at 5 o’clock if you’d like to join us and dinner is served in the dining room immediately after.”
Not Catholic, we followed cues about when to stand up and when to sit down. The sitting down part was much less often than I would have preferred, but the pipe organ playing during the solemn procession of the monks into the majestic Abbey gave me chills. I didn’t need to understand what was happening to have a spiritual experience.
Dinner was served upscale cafeteria style and I was quite pleased to see the drink selection included three types of wine. In my religious background, wine was never anywhere near a church. Our communion was grape juice. I used to tell my parents, “The Catholics have more fun.” They didn’t think I was funny.
On our evening walk, we stopped to study the campus map. George, a young seminary student from India, dressed in basketball shorts and flip flops, cut short a phone conversation to offer us a tour of the vast European Castle-looking building that housed student’s activities: chapel, classrooms, monk’s offices, and a gymnasium. George was kind, friendly and enthusiastically answered our questions about life in the seminary. It all reminded me of my short stint in Bible College. A story for another day.
We were walking down the hill, near sunset, enjoying the aroma of pine and the expanse of green rolling hills; feeling the peace. BF commented that the abundance of prayers and positive thoughts have an effect. The peace was palpable. We walked on. A monk smiled and nodded as he breezed past us on a golf cart, black robe flapping in the breeze. He stopped in front of a tiny red building and jumped out of his seat. He knelt down on the ground; chickens immediately surrounded him and he greeted them. We couldn’t hear the actual words, but his tone was loving and the chickens cooed in return. It was a tender man-nature moment. The monk stood up, raised his robe and climbed the steps to the chicken coop. His flock followed. After a short while, we heard him say, “I’ll be back tomorrow.” He jumped on the golf cart and took off, waiving as he passed.
The next morning after breakfast, we took our journals and A Year of Miracles devotional to a gazebo swing with a beautiful view of the countryside. We wrote silently and watched butterflies play in pairs and a flock of geese land on a pond. Turns out the gazebo was the designated smoking area for seminary students. Two young men stood on the nearby sidewalk and fished cigarette packs from their black suit jackets. We invited them to join us. One was from South Korea, the other Mexico. It was their first semester and even with the language barrier, I detected homesickness. They missed their families and they missed their homeland food. Both were in residence for the next four years with no chance for a visit to or from home. I told them I was surprised they were allowed to smoke. “Why? American priests don’t smoke?” They looked confused. We explained that in the religions in which BF and I were raised, drinking and smoking were frowned upon. “Baptist?” they asked. We laughed. “No. but you get the idea.”
And then they asked, “But they can marry?”
“Yes.” They looked at each other and smiled. I can’t be one-hundred percent sure, but I think they might have been willing to trade vices. I mused, “Isn’t it funny how each organized religion selects their individual no-no’s?” They agreed. I showed them the Marianne Williamson book we were reading. “No religion,” I explained, “just God.”
After a nice, long chat, they stubbed their second cigarette and parted with well wishes. I sent up a quick prayer for those young men so very far from home and for their mothers. BF laughed, “You know they weren’t understanding half of what you said, but you just kept talking away.”
“It’s okay,” I said, “kind of like the monk and the chickens; they knew I cared.”