To celebrate the arrival of spring (at least on the calendar), I went on a spiritual retreat on March 19 – 22 to a new place – the Glastonbury Abbey, a monastery in New England. Every year, I like to go on a retreat and take time to be still, and do quiet practices like journaling, meditative walks, reading spiritual books, artwork, and just being.
In the past, I have gone to favorite retreat centers in California more than once, but lately, I have been going to new places. Last spring, I went to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia which is a Trappist monastery. It was my first experience at a monastery in the Deep South where I had a very inspiring and worthwhile visit.
This spring, I traveled to the Glastonbury Abbey in Hingham, Massachusetts, just south of Boston. After driving through the historic town of Hingham with its stately New England homes, I arrived at the abbey which had once been the summer home of a wealthy family. Now the monastery is ensconced inside the old stone mansion with the addition of a new chapel. As I drove up the hill to the front entrance of the abbey, I was struck by this tall, stone tower off to the right. Instantly, I thought of the Tor in Glastonbury, England which I had once visited. The grounds of the abbey, and the other stone buildings made me feel like I had stepped through a portal into the original Glastonbury Abbey in England.
After I checked in, the Abbot guided me to my retreat house. At the time, I didn’t know he was the Abbot, leading the other Benedictine monks at the abbey until the next day when I attended Mass in their chapel. Dressed in his formal robes, I now recognized the man who had guided me to my home for the retreat. As he showed me around the three story house, he told me that I would be the only retreatant there for my three night stay. A group of Buddhists monks were arriving at the end of the week, but until then, I was the only one in this rather, grand home.
The Abbot even mentioned since I was there by myself that I might as well choose my own room on the second floor. The third floor rooms were smaller, and the first floor rooms had been closed off for the winter. As I peeked in each room, I chose a room with more windows, and on the back corner of the house. I thought it would be quieter than on the street side. The room was also Room 25 (in numerology a # 7) which seemed perfect for a retreat experience.
Since I was the only guest, the Abbot also informed me that I was invited to have lunch, and supper with the monks at the monastery. For my breakfast, there was a kitchen and dining room in the retreat house with all the necessary supplies including coffee, tea, breads, cereals and juice. Each morning, I ate breakfast on my own schedule in the old, paneled dining room with brass candlelight sconces on the walls.
The Stonecrest retreat house had the elegant details of crown molding along with leaded glass windows, and antique wooden doors with the crystal doorknobs, and brass keyholes. I felt like I had stepped back in time into a grand era where homes were built to last and meant to be passed on from one generation to the next. The home also had an extensive library of religious and spiritual books on all kinds of subjects including even more alternative schools of thought. Each night, I sat on the leather couch in the library, selecting books to peruse, drinking in the wisdom of the writers. Looking around the library, I thought I might have stepped into my own slice of heaven.
As retreats often do, the time slipped into timelessness. I filled my days with solitude and community. I spent mornings, afternoons and evenings, mainly by myself, only venturing out to attend some of the services and to have meals with the monks. The monks had their daily schedule of prayer which varied with different special events especially since it was the season of Lent. One evening, I ate with the community of the monastery at a Lenten supper. The soup and bread were simply delicious, followed by a talk by one of the parishioners. The community was welcoming, and curious to find out what led me to this retreat center. After leaving the presentation, I walked back to my quiet home, feeling quite safe and protected in the large house.
Even though I was alone, I didn’t feel lonely or afraid. I felt quite comfortable, tucked away in my second floor bedroom. I did lock my bedroom door at night, but it didn’t seem to be necessary since I was the only guest. I thought I might hear some ghosts roaming about in such an old home, but I never encountered any wayward spirits. During my stay, I only had a couple of visitors. The librarian came by the first morning to shelf books, and the maid arrived on my last day. In between, I was woken up one morning with work men, scrambling on the roof, nailing down shingles. Another Nor’easter was coming on the last day of my stay, and they were preparing again for a windy, March storm.
As far as the meals with the monks, I felt like an honored guest to be invited to share in their meals in their own dining room. A Grandfather clock ticked in the corner of their dining room, reminding them of their next scheduled service. From 6:30 am Vigils to 7:45 pm Compline, each day was a series of services that brought them together throughout the day and night. The public was always welcome to join them in the chapel. The monks didn’t live a cloistered life set apart from the world. They shared their sacred life with the local community, just like they shared their meals with me.
The meals were usually simple and healthy with salads, fruits, vegetables, and some kind of main course with meat. They had their own cook, Francois, who made their meals for them while they each took turns serving the meals. The last evening was a special dinner in honor of St. Benedict, their patron saint since they were Benedictine monks. I had no idea what awaited me that evening.
When I arrived late at 6:35 pm, the group of monks were waiting for me. I felt a little guilty at keeping them waiting, knowing they had such a strict schedule to follow. They seated me in the middle of the table for this last supper. Surrounded by eight men, all dressed in their black robes, I wore black as well to honor their humble life. The ninth monk who turned out to be the Abbott served us the special feast. First, he brought out salads for us to enjoy, and then, the main course, a homemade chicken parmigiana with pasta, and bread. This evening, they had wine for dinner – the first time I had seen them drink wine. As we talked and ate, relishing this feast, the Abbott told us to save room for dessert that he would be bringing by the dessert cart next. I thought he was joking until he wheeled the cart out of the kitchen, loaded with delicious treats from a nearby bakery. There were tiny cakes, pies, and the one I picked – cannolis, loaded with rich cream cheese and chocolate. As we drank coffee and tea, we indulged in our decadent desserts. I thought these monks really know how to celebrate a holy day. I wondered what they might partake of at their Easter dinner.
After that amazing night, I left with such a feeling of abundance and warmth. And lastly, but not least, a feeling of coming home. I felt so at home at the abbey, and in my grand home from the past.
Now a month later, I still carry that feeling of home within. It felt the strongest when I first left the monastery, and now, it’s a seed that has been planted within me. I feel like I can now move around more easily, knowing that I am always at home within wherever I may be living. Thanks to the Benedictine monks of the Glastonbury Abbey for their hospitality and warmth in making me feel quite at home in their sacred sanctuary.
By Donna Fisher-Jackson, M.A. © 2018
Donna Fisher-Jackson, M.A., CHT is a Certified Hypnotherapist, Western Astrologer and Author who counsels clients through her business of Iris Holistic Counseling Services on the road at http://www.DonnaFisherJackson.com. She has published the self-help book, The Healing Path of the Romantic: Type Four of the Enneagram Personality Type System and a novel, Clara & Irving: A Love Story of Past Lives, based on the true story of a Romantic. And now her latest book, a travel adventure book, Living the RV Lifestyle: Practical Advice and Personal Tales from Life on the Road. All of her books are available in a print and Kindle edition on Amazon.