It is pure gift to be able to take a full week as a retreat time, and particularly so when that week can be spent at a place like Collegeville. This is the first of a series of reflections I’ll be offering from my time at the Collegeville Institute at St John’s Abbey, in Collegeville, Minnesota.
fter a relatively uneventful – though admittedly rather long – twelve hour bus trip, I arrived here in Collegeville last night at about 8:30pm. Now, in case you had images of some austere monastic cell in mind, let me first tell you about where I am staying.
The Collegeville Institute is essentially a retreat centre for writers, and while it shares the grounds with St John’s Abbey and St John’s University, it really exists as a kind of comfortable hermitage all of its own. The picture I’ve posted above shows the buildings from across the small lake that separates us from the rest of the campus; separate, but not really apart… if that makes sense. There are a series of small apartments in the Institute complex; each quite self-contained and well appointed in a very simple sort of way. Hey, when I arrived I found that they’d set out for me a lovely loaf of fresh baked bread and a bottle of red wine; hospitality at its best. And it is about a ten minute walk from my little apartment up to the chapel, where each day the 200 monks of St John’s ground the whole of Collegeville in prayer.
I’ve now had a day to settle in, which has been quite wonderful. My routine will basically be the same through this week: up at about 7:00 to go for a run; pray morning prayer on my own; have coffee and a bit of breakfast here at the Institute; read for a bit, and then chip away at some of the writing I’ve been wanting to do for a while; lunch up at the University refectory; spend the afternoon in a combination of walking (great hiking trails through the hundreds of acres of natural preserve here), a bit more writing and reading, maybe a nap now and then… just being for a while; a light supper, followed by vespers with the monks in chapel at 7:00. Evenings? Who know, though if last night was any indication, it won’t be late most nights!
Having said that, today I went to a book launch at the Liturgical Press, which is based here in Collegeville. I connected with Father Kilian, who was launching his third collection of poetry, this one entitled God Drops and Loses Things. If you were around saint ben’s in November, you’ll recall us using his cycle of Prodigal Son poems as the basis for one of our Sunday evening liturgies. Well, the upshot of that connection is that he and I are now meeting for supper on Friday evening. Not only that, but it looks as if Jim Snyder, who wrote the text for the saint ben’s Lenten Book, will be heading this way on Friday, and might be able to join Kilian and me for supper. Fun.
Oh, and tonight one of the scholars-in-residence here at the institute is giving a lecture I just can’t resist. His name is Ivan Kauffman, and he is a self-defined “Mennonite Catholic,” having been raised Mennonite and ended up as a Roman Catholic. His address is called “Follow Me: Christian Monastics and Lay Evangelicals“, which sounds as if he might be following some of the same threads as Kara Mandryk did in her ideaExchange session this past March.
So yes, there are a few social connections here, but the main thing is actually having a real taste of solitude. No phone… a self-imposed limit on e-mail… the occasional conversation… but always this space to be on my own to think and pray and discern and read and just be. That this community of saint ben’s “gets” that – supports me in doing that – is so very, very appreciated.
Blessings in Christ,