8:26 AM

Technically this is the first day of spring. Tomorrow would be Dad's 87th birthday. It is wet and sloppy out there, raining just enough that I'm not eager to walk this morning. I will watch for a break in the rain, and hope it comes at the same time that I need a break from planning the two day-long workshops I have to do tomorrow and Friday.

DB is away again, this time to the midwest. He will be home for the weekend (I have a Saturday morning retreat, of course), then takes off for Canada on Tuesday. This time I will be able to go with him. I brought home my laptop so that I can study Church History in the hotel room.

Next week is "Reading Week". I have a big Church History midterm to take when I get back from Canada, but I have completed all the reading, so I intend to take it easy once I have written that 3-hour exam and the two papers that are due when we go back.

Oh, Brother(s)!

I woke in the morning of the second day, my face to the open window and the stiff, cold wind, to see a faint glow off over the Falls. All night I was aware of the roar of the Falls, although I slept the night through. I stretched on my narrow bed, murmured "Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise," and rose to go walking.

I had stayed up late, reading Suzanne Guthrie's book, "Praying the Hours", so I was a little slower than usual getting dressed. The sky was still dark enough so that I could see the stars when I stepped off the immense stone porch of the monastery, but in front of me, praise be, was the most glorious sunrise over the Niagara River. Deep oranges, rich peach, lemon yellows, shot through with rays of gleaming gold. (Have you ever noticed how many colors are named for fruit?) The mist rising from the Falls glowed.

When I crossed the street to the sidewalk that runs along the top of the escarpment, I looked back at the mammoth granite building that had housed us for these 2 1/2 days. The south tower, rising into the dawn sky, was beginning to be spotted with light as the monks awoke. Thank you, Carmelite Brothers, for your hospitality and your wonderful facility.

I walked briskly up the path to the bend in the road, just opposite the Canadian Falls. I turned and breathed in the air, full of tiny droplets from the Falls. The sunrise was more diffused now, and the night sky was softening; I could no longer see any stars. I headed back towards the monastery, eager to begin the day.

Our retreat leader, who has been a priest for 24 years, shared her struggle to deal with her 5-year old niece's brain cancer. The theme of the retreat was Jesus the Healer. Mother R is a well-trained pastoral care specialist, but more than that, she is a warm, caring, funny, loving healer. As she talked about her niece, as we wrestled with how to help parishioners who are suffering, as we shed tears together, as we laughed at some of her stories, we grew into a new stage of bonding.

Our "office" services (Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Compline) were held in the tiny chapel in the tower. They were intimate and cozy. The two Eucharists were celebrated in the monastery's main chapel, a gorgeous place of worship, full of gleaming wood, gold leaf, tiled floor in a floral pattern, and wonderful carvings of saints and the Madonna. Both Eucharists were "high church", complete with lots of incense and the Sanctus bells. We had visitors join us at each of these services, because next door there is a shrine to St. Theresa of Avila, and many faithful Roman Catholics come to visit it.

At the Eucharists, because the chapel is so big and our group is small, our priests invited us to join them around the free-standing altar. The visitors also joined our semi-circle. There is something about worshipping God in a beautiful place, whether the lovely chapel or on the banks overlooking the Falls, that makes it easier to pray.

I have been struggling with praying this semester. Theology classes will do that to you! As we dissect our belief, as we learn a sometimes obtuse and often pretentious language, it becomes difficult to pray. I have come through that "Dark Night of the Soul", however, thanks to several things; our Rector, who helped me to put Theology into a proper perspective in my growth, my classmates with whom I hash over what this all means, and the two retreats, the one with DB and now this past weekend at the Mount Carmel monastery.

Yesterday, as I was leaving, I got a precious gift: my dear Seminary friend, who had missed our class retreat because she had to go to the Black Episcopalian's Conference, brought me back a lovely little wooden cross. "It wasn't expensive," she said as we hugged each other, "but it is given in love."

Life is good and sweet, even the dark places. Thanks be to God. Amen

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