When I Spend Holy Weekend at a Monastery

I spent Holy Weekend this year at a Cistercian monastery in Ava, Missouri.

I’d been before – last spring, in fact, on my university’s Theology Department trip. We’d spent an extra long weekend there, and since we’d all taken the trip as a one-credit class, some reading about the value of rest and time had been involved, and we’d met with Brother Francis to talk about his life as a monk, and we’d attended as many services as we could. I’d come back bursting at the seams with joy, I’d soaked up so much.

This year’s trip started with let-me-rub-this-shiny-red-apple-on-my-shirt pride at my handling what my subconscious considers to be “grown-up things:” checking the oil in my car and filling up the air in the tires. Much less bending this red rectangle of a car around the windiest hills and the tightest bends, which about 50 cows call their hometown daily view, in order to make my way to the monastery. The idea of spending Holy Weekend – Holy Weekend – at one of the smallest monasteries, tucked away in the mountains . . . mmm.

But what I didn’t realize was that Holy Weekend at the monastery apparently involves rest from certain services each day, not special or additional services. So, Good Friday was spent hiking the Stations of the Cross and attending only Compline. Holy Saturday became 11 hours of sleep (talk about rest!), a 4ish-mile hike, and several services. I thought Easter would consist of 3:30 AM vigils, but when it seemed like half the monks were in confusion as to what was happening and then they went outside to build a bonfire, I went back to bed for a few hours until I was woken up by a cardinal “cheer-cheer-ing” on my windowsill, checked out, attended a local church service (at a megachurch – talk about culture shock after being at the monastery!), and spent an utterly boring afternoon pretty much thinking “woe is me” at my lack of things to do (which you’d think would be a good thing, but, oh, the mind of Laurin).

My Holy Saturday hike was by far my favorite part of the weekend, though sitting around the kitchen table eating ice cream bars with two monks and a nun was a close second. (That sounds like the beginning of a great joke, does it not?) The hike was quite hilly and only strenuous at parts. The path began with the Stations of the Cross, and, for whatever reason, the trees still looked like fall. My heart was more than happy to go along with the phenomenon. I tromped through leaves (a personal favorite joy), swished around in small, clear mountain streams, stared adoringly at a neon-striped fish, and climbed to mossy ledges with bits of waterfall. My accompanying friend, a lovely Californian forager, pointed out wintercress and palmed chives (which I ate and loved) and split glittering quartz open on side-by-side rock. At one point, the path suddenly changed, and either side mimicked that scene from The Lion King with all the deadly bramble. It was beautiful.

I’ve come away from “Holy Weekend at a monastery” with physical rest, nature-given contentedness, a desire to collect and hold all the pinecones and acorns in the world, the conclusion that the most beautiful fruit name is apricot, and a deep gratitude that God will certainly come as the dawn. Yep, I call that holy.


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