For several years, I traveled two hours from my home once a month to spend the day at a Trappist Abbey, located in Yamhill County, southwest of Portland. My plan was to arrive in mid-morning, spend the day in silence and solitude, and head home after Compline. Set in the heart of farmlands, Our Lady nestles against an oak-forested hillside, looking out over expansive fields and vineyards. A mile-long cloister drive greets you as you turn off Abbey Road.

As I stepped out of the car on one of my visits, dozens of birds welcomed me in song from the trees about the cloister. A flowering white dogwood seemed caught up in joyful contemplation of her Creator. I can’t explain it. Life looks different from the other side of that driveway. Even the air seems to breathe slower, as if in prayer.

The first time I retreated to Our Lady, I was wakened by the bells. The cloister courtyard hung heavy with an October mist. That same mist hung about my spirit as I entered the Chapel and heard the brothers chants their Psalms to begin the day’s holy work. Much of my spiritual life with God seems to be in a fog. My monthly retreats to the monastery have helped to melt away this fog and gift me with greater spiritual vision.

Later in the day on that first retreat to Our Lady, after several naps, time in prayer and Vespers, I strolled down the driveway with one of the brothers, caught up in a delightful conversation about the spiritual life. The mist was gone, the warmth of the evening sun upon our faces. The Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.[i] These ancient words came to me at Compline that evening. After Compline, monks enter the great silence of the cloister, resting their lives in the peace of God, hearing the closing words of Psalm 4 ringing in the ear of their hearts. In peace will I both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord make me to dwell in safety. These same words keep returning to me as I turn for home along monastic driveways, renewed in my soul as a spiritual friend of God.

[i] Numbers 6:24-25.