Sunday, November 22, 2009

God, Life, and Everything - Quiet Day

I write a biweekly column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

Thursday was my no good, terrible, rotten, very bad day.  I woke up not feeling well, then went to my computer -- which had worked perfectly the night before -- and turned it on to find it blank and lifeless.  


In the course of the day, I had run unexpected errands, dealt with some extremely unpleasant phone calls and in the middle of trying to get rest while still working on the computer, unfairly took it all out on my kid who had the misfortune of asking me an annoying question at just the wrong time.  Most of that day, I curled up into a ball on my sofa and slept or tried to make the world go away.


You get days like that -- or at least I do from time to time.  And while we all made up at the end of the day, the computer is still dead (I’m using a borrowed one), and I was left drained and washed out.


To my good fortune, however, the very next day help arrived in the form of a Clergy Quiet Day.  Clergy Quiet Days are times set aside at the local monastery for the priests of the region to pray, study and chat together and then to have quiet time to reflect by ourselves.  


They are a time for us to refocus on who we are, what our ministries are, and why we do them.  More than anything else, though, they are a time to rest.  As the name implies, the best thing about them is simply being quiet.


When you’ve had one of those soul-frying days, this is the balm indeed.  


I arrived at the monastery and walked down its winding path to the main house, its sloping lawn leading down to the river.  Across the river, I could see our side.  There was the Vanderbilt Estate buried in autumn color.  Distant church bells rang, and I realized it was our own church here in Hyde Park.


The brothers in their white habits chatted casually as we sipped coffee, but when time came for us to meet in our group, they slipped into the woodwork.  During our first meditation break, the leader encouraged us to reflect or, if it was what we needed, to fall asleep.  I did.


We broke again for worship, which in a monastery consists of chanting prayers, chanting the psalms, lots of silence and a chanted blessing.  By the end of the day, I was ready to get back in the saddle.  Quiet days are a Godsend in the truest sense of the word.


The secret is, they are not reserved for priests alone.  In many religious traditions there are places set apart for just this sort time apart.  There are monasteries and convents in rich supply on both sides of the river around here, and most of them have opportunities for pretty much anyone to make use of their hospitality.  


Often they have formal quiet days or retreats, and just as often they have room for people to come as individuals who just want to get away.  Is a quiet day for you?  Don’t know.  But if you’ve had a no good, terrible, rotten, very bad day, you might want to look into it.