There was another thing that happened yesterday. Another gift I was given. I was planning to go home straight-away when I left Southbridge. I’d been invited to stay for Vespers, and I would have liked to, but I wanted to try to get home at a reasonable time. So off I went.
I made the turn on to Route 20 to head towards I-290, but probably a quarter mile after I made the turn I saw the sign for Route 31. From where I was, I know that this road is basically a straight north-south line which leads into New Hampshire, specifically into the town of Mason. From there I could get on Route 101 in Wilton, about an 8 mile drive from the state line, and continue into Goffstown, and in calculating the mileage it was a little over 7 miles shorter to go this way – 89 miles compared to 96 on the way down. Granted, it’s all secondary roads, but I’m familiar with most of Route 31. I just didn’t expect it went that far south, and it turns out that it goes even further. And I was compelled – don’t ask me why because I don’t know – to make the left turn onto Route 31.
Anyway, I was driving through Spencer, and I’d forgotten that the stretch of Route 31 that I was on was the road where St. Joseph's Abbey is located. As I got near the entrance I felt compelled (again) to make the left hand turn onto the Abbey property. I’m glad that I did.
First, a little about the Abbey. It is a Trappist monastery that has been around for a very long time. The foundation in Spencer has been active for a little over 60 years, and prior to that they were located in Rhode Island. At that time, the monastery burned to the ground and the community had to find a new place to set down their roots. They ended up in Spencer and have been there since they moved. They support themselves in a number of ways: their jams, jellies, and preserves, which can be found in most any supermarket and are incredibly good, and they also run an organization called the Holy Rood Guild which makes liturgical vestments for priests and deacons. I’m told that the vestments are expensive, but the quality of workmanship is excellent.
So as I drove up the hill onto the monastery property I thought to myself, “why am I doing this? I really need to keep going.” But I continued to drive up the hill, and as I pulled up to the parking area near the Abbey Church I heard the bells. And I looked at the clock in my car and saw that it was 5:20.
Vespers is at 5:30. So I stayed. And I’m glad I did. It gave me an opportunity to sit in that stillness that Dr. Rossi was talking about.
I sat in one of the two visitors’ chapels, each located up on either side of the altar, almost in reach of it. For the Liturgy of the Hours they are not lit up, so it’s not possible to see those who are sitting it the other chapel. Actually, it’s difficult to see those in the chapel alongside of you. I was glad of that; for some reason the last thing I wanted was to deal with any sort of direct light, and sitting in the dark listening to the monks chant the Psalms – and not have to participate – was soothing.
I’m inclined to think that the design’s purpose was to keep the monks and the rest of us out of each other’s sight. That would make sense; after all, Trappists are cloistered monks. They only leave their monastery when it is absolutely necessary, and even then the reason has to be extraordinary. Like hospitalization or the death of a family member. Further, because they are cloistered they avoid “the rest of us” as a matter of course. While one can hear everything inside the church, the field of vision from inside the visitor’s chapel doesn’t lend to getting much of a glimpse of inside the nave of the church. Not that I wanted one; it simply isn’t necessary.
The office takes about a half-hour to pray, and once it concluded I got back on the road. I continued up Route 31, and from Spencer it took me about 90 minutes to get home for a total of just over 2 hours of travel time. And while getting there at a reasonable time would have been really nice, it appears now that He wasn’t quite done with me. And I’m not even going to try to figure out why it unfolded that way. I’ll never get an answer.
The truth is that it really doesn’t matter why. It just is.