The first time I went to Carmel of Mary Monastery I was on assignment, and it was winter.
Not long before, I had no idea this place existed, and so close to my home, but I was immediately drawn to its serenity and beauty even during that cold, wintry month. Though the berries were shriveled, it was at least against sun and blue sky.
On my way out, this caught my attention.
I would come to know her and visit her many times.
Because of my work, and perhaps a spirit that seemed to meld with the place, I was invited back. I have had the pleasure now of knowing Carmel in every season.
That first return I found something altogether different than the frozen world to which I’d been introduced. Carmel in the spring was a wholly alive experience.
I certainly was not expecting these silly little critters to be in such an otherwise serene place. I had to learn about them and their origins from the caretaker. The Guineas, far from their African origins in this little corner in North Dakota, brought character to the grounds as they pecked for hours at the bugs, squawking away to let me know I was an intruder, forgetting I was closer to home than they.
Another visit, this time squarely in the summertime, found me peering over Our Lady to see what she sees. It was worth it.
The next visit happened in late summer the following year, closer to fall. This time, I saw Carmel in her bounty at harvest.
Just a few months later, I came back for a reprieve. I brought a friend this time and we arrived just days before the leaves fell away. Fall, my favorite time, and this perhaps my favorite of all visits. We felt as if we’d just stepped into heaven itself for a little while.
The Cloister gates in full color.
I am heading back again soon for just a short while, to get body and soul back in sync and some work accomplished. It will be a different season, one unlike all the rest — not the dead of winter and yet no longer fall.
I’m reading Dorothy Day’s account of St. Therese of Lisieux, “The Little Flower.” In late 1800s France, a young Therese, only 15, entered a Carmelite monastery where two of her blood sisters had been before her, and where she died seven years later of tuberculosis.
Day describes convent life at the time: “Much of the convent’s physical work was carried on under very difficult circumstances,” she writes. “The Sisters, of course, had none of the machinery that makes today’s household tasks relatively easy. There is a picture showing Celine (her sister) and Therese bending over the stone washtubs, laughing together. But it was no laughing matter to stand outdoors during winter, rinsing the linen in cold water.”
It will not be this way at all for me. I will be warm and well cared for and again, as close to heaven as one might come on this earth.
Even before I go, I am there, breathing it in in anticipation, feeling grateful, blessed, graced to have stepped foot not once but all these times onto such nourishing, holy ground.