Reflections from Collegeville 3

This is the third in a series of occasional posts from Jamie Howison’s retreat week at the Collegeville Institute at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota


t is about 4:30pm on Sunday May 3, and it is just beginning to really sink into my consciousness that I’ve got just two more full days here in Collegeville before jumping on my bus this Wednesday morning for the long ride home.  Not that I’m complaining; generally when I do my Eastertide retreat somewhere closer to home, it lasts all of two or three days.  If I look at it that way, I’m really just at the beginning.

abbanner07So let me tell you about my weekend, which has been made up of two quite different days.  Yesterday I spent pretty much the entire day, from about 8:30 in the morning until my 6:30 supper time, writing.  There was a break for a quick lunch, as well as about an hour in the library doing some extra reading for the piece I’m working away at, but it was pretty much steady writing time.  I’ve been chipping away at an address that I’m to give to the Canadian Church Press Conference in a couple of weeks, and that great long block of time yesterday allowed me to basically finish it up… or at least it will be done until I look at again tomorrow and decide that some huge section of it needs a complete rewrite!

I realized as I was having my supper up at the University dining hall that I hadn’t said more than about five words to anyone all day.  I was about to go to the 7:00pm Vespers liturgy in the monastic chapel, where I would say and sing and pray quite a few words… but all of them addressed with others to God.  After that I’d walk back down the hill to my little suite, read or listen to music for a while, and then go to sleep.  I know that the inveterate extroverts out there won’t even begin to understand this, but for me that kind of a day is totally rejuvenating and life-giving.

Today, however, has been at least modestly different.  I decided last night that I needed to set Sunday aside as a real sabbath day, and that I would not do any work on any of my writing projects.  I’d let myself sleep in, skip my morning run, wander up for 10:30 worship, following which I had an invitation for lunch in the monastery dining room.  After lunch?  I had no clear idea of what I’d do, but I did know that the only reason I was going to go on the computer was to do this late-afternoon entry.

Well, things went pretty much as planned, except that I was wide awake at 6:30am (so much for sleeping in!), and very much up and dressed and ready to have coffee before 7:00.  I settled down in a very comfortable spot in the common room overlooking the little lake, with my coffee, prayer book and one of the books I purchased here the other day.  It is a really fine contemporary translation of Spiritual Friendship by Aelred of Rievaulx, written in twelfth century.  Aelred has some very wise and thoughtful things to say about friendship, which got me thinking about my circle of great friends (among whom my wife Catherine is the foremost).  “God is friendship,” he writes in one place, which really points to the ways in which our real friendships give us some hint of the heart of our God, who is “prepared to lay down his life for his friends.”

The communion liturgy in the church was really quite fine, with a lot of the students and others from the surrounding area making up a fairly large congregation.  Interesting to note that because of the current concern over the flu-virus-formerly-known-as swine-flu (or H1N1, as we’ve now been asked to call it), there was no sharing of the  communion cup, and we were asked to exchange the greeting of the peace of Christ with a simple nod or bow.

After mass I joined with several of the Collegeville Institute “scholars in residence” (who are mostly academics, staying here for several months and working on book projects or other post-doctoral work) in a lunch in the monastery, hosted by Father Kilian and Father Wilfred.  If you’ve ever heard me speak about Benedictine  balance – of being able to keep both the fast and the feast – here was an example of a feast.  Sunday is always a feast day, and moreso in Eastertide, so the lunch offering included a full breakfast table with the best Belgian waffles you can imagine, a dinner table with roast chicken, a dessert table with amazing fresh-baked berry pie, along with a glass of wine and a cup of coffee or tea.  Hard to beat.

After lunch, I went for a two hour walk along a path by the lake – which leads to the little chapel shown across the lake in the picture below – and then headed back up to that great spot by the window to read a bit more from Aelred, as well as an essay I’d found by Father Kilian on the foundation of the Collegeville Institute.


After I sign off here, I’m going to read a bit more, walk up for supper, and then join the monks for 7:00pm vespers.  After that I think I’ll just wander back here, listen to some music, and then let myself drift off to sleep. I’m currently exploring the back catalogue of the free NPR “Live at the Village Vanguard” online concerts, and I really have to commend my latest find:  violinist Jenny Scheinman’s concert from October 29, 2008.  It is really, really good…  you’ll probably like it, even if you’re not much of a jazz fan.

And tomorrow?  Well, I’m sure I will revisit my address to the Church Press, and then begin to work on something I’ve been wanting to write for some time: a piece on how Alana Levandoski managed to convince a top flight English music producer to spend a couple of weeks in rural Manitoba, recording Alana’s latest CD in the wee little Anglican church in Kelwood.

For those of you who will be in worship at saint ben’s tonight, know that you will be in my prayers as I sit in the abbey chapel for vespers.

In Christ,


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