Getting to know a new place is a lot like getting to know a new person. You can start out hesitant and shy. You can do a lot of observing and surreptitiously figuring of how that person thinks or what their sense of humor is like before you approach them. Or maybe, like a kid on the first day of school, you just jump right in. “Hi, my name is Sarah, Wanna be friends?” I have jumped right into Holy Wisdom monastery the way I jump into most of my relationships, with both feet. I want to live the fullness of this experience, to take in everything I can, I want to fully and completely open myself up to it, so that it can hopefully, transform me. It has been two weeks I have been here now and some things about the monastery I have managed to get “chummy” with right away while others have slowly shown me their good qualities as the days have passed and I have become more a part of the rhythm of life here.
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There is apparently, a wolf who lives somewhere around the monastery and a few coyotes. I always make sure to be down the prairie path and safe at home before night falls here at the monastery. I have been assured that should we meet, they would be more afraid of me than I would be of them but images from childhood storybooks make me walk home all the faster when the sun starts to go down behind Lost Lake. There are caterpillars that smoke large pipes from atop Indian grass, and cup plants filled with water that offer grasshoppers and crickets a place to refresh themselves. Bluebirds, goldfinches, and dickcissels fly from one burr oak tree to the next, stopping to rest sometimes on Queen Anne’s lace. The lightening bugs dutifully come out at night to light my path home on both sides as the sun sinks in a showing of red and orange brilliance in the West.
Lavender bergamot (or bee-balm) and mountain mint offer themselves to the sun while wild lilies and jack-in-the-pulpit hides itself away from the fat bumblebees who go about their work with great concentration. The cardinals like to sit in the pine trees and preen themselves in full view of us as we work as if to say, “I am the most gorgeous of birds, don’t you agree?” There are Eastern cottontail rabbits, ground hogs, and meadow voles right under your nose as you go about your chores. The red-tailed hawks cry plaintively as they circle the land looking for food. I hear there are sandhill cranes, eagles, and white-tailed deer here but I have yet to be graced by their presence. There are weeping willows near Lost Lake and their wise arboreal air is soothing to me. I have always loved the graceful way their branches hang and sway in hot summer wind. A weeping willow never fails to remind me of “The Lady of Shalott” and I find myself mouthing lines by Tennyson as I walk to morning prayers.
The area around the monastery is filled with delightful surprises. The other day I looked up to see two wild turkeys walking together not a hundred feet from where I stood. They looked like two elderly friends having a stroll, deep in conversation. The pear and apple trees have become fast friends, their fruits slightly bigger after taking the time to convert all this blessed sunshine into food for me to eat. Stumps were cleared and processed for mulch the other day and for one afternoon the air smelled of chardonnay-oakey and slightly tannic. I woke up to a storm last week and the prairie was silent while each bird and beast and insect bedded down for the long rain and the earth had a cozy feeling all round as I huddled under my quilt.
Ladybugs stick to my shirt as I clear the area around the tomato plants and I speak with them sotto voce, curious as to what they see in their comings and goings in the garden. Do they see the raccoons? How do they feel about these Japanese beetles? So far, the ladybugs have not commented on either. They seem to be content, like the bumblebees, to go about their business in joyful silence. There are also more than enough spiders, earwigs, millipedes, centipedes mosquitoes, flies, and ticks. It is hard to be sympathetic but I remind myself that they have their jobs, too.
Today, we weeded a beet row and gave both the fledgling beets and the Savoy cabbages room to breathe and I felt protective of vegetables for the first time in my life. The banana peppers and zucchini are coming along nicely and it is like Christmas when we come to the garden in the morning and see food just lying there waiting for us to carry it into the kitchen. The other day we dug out a host of “invasive plants” to give the native species a chance to flourish. I felt useful and happy to be a live and yes, amazingly joyful, yet again.
The Prairie is an undeniably cheerful place in summer. It is alive, as a separate ecosystem, in a way I have never been privileged to see. There is an order here, a rhythm, and a life force that fills me with what the Psalms call “Holy Fear”. Fear is a dubious word. It can mean several things. Most often it means to be afraid of something. But it can also mean “to inspire reverence”. That is how I imagine it when I look out onto the prairie and see the flash of blue or yellow, a hint of red or orange, a rustle of brown or green. This place has a Spirit-with a capital “S”. It offers me unconditional welcome and I feel its openness embrace me as I spend more and more time here.
The prairie extends a hand and offers me the opportunity to celebrate the beauty and brilliance of Creation with all of the creatures it harbors in a true spirit of friendship and I feel, mutual understanding. The Prairie and the woods want to know us and we should want to know them. It seems right and good for us to try. We have so much to learn from each other it would be a shame to let that go to waste. Paul, the monastery groundskeeper for the past two decades, mused the other day while we pruned the apple trees that it is impossible for him to see the Prairie, the garden, the orchard, as anything but the expression of a Theology of Love. The birds may sing, the bees buzz, and the squirrels scold, but the white wild indigo, the wild lupines, and the silky asters murmur, the prairie dock and the red clover thrum with life, and the porcupine grass and prairie dropseed, the grama grass and the bluestem pulse with beauty.
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For additional excerpts from Sarah’s on-going blog, click on this link: A Confirmed City Girl looks for God in a Monastery