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Just as the sun is about to dawn, I complete my walk having passed along North Church field; that “shore” that looks out into eternity and into the very heart of God. Coming back from my intimate encounter with infinity to the brick and mortar reality of New Melleray Abbey, the first room I enter is the laundry.
The transformation happens each time I cross over the two lanes of Monastery Road, as if its empty expanse was the dividing line between heaven and earth. Crossing the street with my back to the monastery, and my steps directed toward the vast openness of North Church Field, I am “leaving this world”, and where I am going, no man or woman can follow.
The asphalt drive way that climbs the hill to Holy Family Church extends past the church, turns left, circles the cemetery and brings you back to the beginning of the driveway near Monastery Road. Walking the circle, especially in the dim light of this hour just before the sun rises, is like contemplation with one's eyes open. Life is like this circle.
The “Rosary Walk”, at Holy Family Church, consists of two rows of very tall pine trees about twenty feet apart that extend from the beginning of the long driveway all the way to the door step of the church. Walking between the trees is a little like entering a Gothic cathedral – and it's supposed to be. I've never seen anyone sauntering under these trees saying the rosary. Maybe at one time they did.
Crossing Monastery Road in the dark this morning, at about 4:30 a.m., my eyes are drawn up the driveway of Holy Family Church which rises to a crest upon which the church is set with its proud little steeple. I see the facade barely illumined by a single street lamp on the drive way at the base of the front steps. I am exhilarated but that is only a surface emotion.
I am walking in the dark. It's about 4:30 a.m. and I am outside – not on an errand or to accomplish anything at all, but in response to a movement awakened inside me after the monks and I finished praying “Vigils” together. I want to walk. I want to be outside; to feel the chill air on my face and savor the unexpected mingling of scents and sounds of nature. As I round the corner of the garage, the asphalt becomes aglow.
I've finished my breakfast. Only one or two monks remain in the spacious refectory as I make my way through the wide door at the East end, and head toward the scullery. Here, I find the monks' discarded dishes neatly placed in several racks. Later, after mass, Brother Robert will send the racks through a dishwasher / sterilizer.
There are several rather distinctive features to the breakfast of a Trappist monk. It is eaten in the dark. At New Melleray, we are sitting down to our first meal of the day at a little after four in the morning. The large windows lining the south wall are black and, since it is Spring, they are open, but at this time in the morning no sound enters. The birds are asleep.
Father Alanus is always the first one to the toaster. Father Andrew, with his long legs, lopes into the refectory holding a large tin cup of coffee and his bible in one hand. Brother Placid typically stays in church for a few minutes after Vigils ends.
“All those who are working tonight, those who in their suffering cannot sleep, those who use the night to do evil, those who are afraid of the day about to dawn, may they all come out into your light . . .” The office of Vigils, our first prayer service of the day is ending. My brother monks and I, like “sentries” standing on the wall of a fortress, gaze expectantly into the face of night, looking for the Lord's return.