white concrete houses near mountain

It is Easter Week as I’m writ­ing this reflec­tion, and I’m await­ing a monas­tic retreat, some­thing I’ve reg­u­lar­ly tak­en on in my ordained life. This year, I’m head­ed to St. Meinrad Archabbey in south­ern Indiana. In the past I’ve vis­it­ed the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Belmont Abbey in North Carolina, St. Gregory’s in Michigan, St. Helena’s in South Carolina, Transfiguration in Ohio, and Holy Cross Monasteries in New York and California.

I feel for­tu­nate that my voca­tion and pro­fes­sion give val­ue to true Sabbath and rest as prac­tices of spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­pline, as a lot of folks can’t take this time away. Scripture has Jesus adapt­ing to this on occa­sion. The Christian Church, too, has a Sabbath, but many treat it as a time to catch up on life things that we can’t get to dur­ing the work­week. Sabbath and rest, even for stolen moments in our busy lives, are impor­tant and need­ed for the well-being of our bod­ies and our souls.

Many times, this respite has found me in for­est cab­ins, or urban apart­ments, too, but liv­ing amongst an order of reli­gious per­sons for a spell is quite some­thing. Monks and nuns spend their days liv­ing “by the bells,” which call them to prayer and wor­ship, work, meals, fel­low­ship, and rest. This pat­tern of reg­u­lar­i­ty is not only com­fort­ing, but it helps to focus their minds and spir­its on what’s tru­ly impor­tant to them. These monas­ter­ies and con­vents are places for the reli­gious to also car­ry out their most sacred duty – hospitality.

My days are spent in pri­vate prayer, study, rest, walk­ing, eat­ing with the monks and nuns, and in holy wor­ship with them. The rooms are sim­ple – usu­al­ly just a bed and desk. Sometimes, there are pri­vate baths; oth­er times, it might be down the hall. The meals, made on-site, are also sim­ple. During lunch or din­ner, one monk or nun has the job of read­ing aloud from a book. This prac­tice helps nour­ish the mind while the meal is nour­ish­ing the body.

Depending on the Order, times of prayer vary. There might be five, or sev­en, or even eight occa­sions of gath­ered wor­ship – Praying the Hours. Once they start chant­i­ng, though, it can be breath­tak­ing. The chapel space at Gethsemani, for instance, has a very high ceil­ing with nar­row walls, and the sounds are like incense waft­ing up to the heavens.

These retreats help sit­u­ate me in that thin place near the sacred, as well as refresh and still my soul and mind, espe­cial­ly after a busy Holy Week. I pray that all of us can find a prac­tice of set­ting aside some moments of rest, prayers, and still­ness, so that our hearts may be ful­ly open to the love and grace that is offered to us each and every day.

  • Jim Trimble

    Jim Trimble is a priest serv­ing Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Winchester. He grew up in Louisville, grad­u­at­ed from Murray State University, and worked in a vari­ety of roles at pub­lic radio sta­tions for 12 years. After sem­i­nary and ordi­na­tion, he served church­es in Kentucky and South Carolina. Married to Nancy Gift, a Berea College pro­fes­sor, he has a son and two step-daugh­ters, along with a num­ber of dogs, cats, and chick­ens near College Park.