I’m one of those people who actually enjoys food served bedside at a hospital. Perhaps that’s because the majority of my hospital stays have been for the purpose of bringing another soul into the world. Generally, I’m beyond wiped out at the end of it all and in need of a little tender loving care. So I’ve never snubbed the food prepared for me in advance. I welcomed not having to think up a meal and go through the measures to make it appear. As such, I always felt wistful about having to leave. It can be hard to go from being nourished to immediately being called upon to nourish others.
Until last week, I didn’t know anything could top having food brought to me postpartum, but now I know of something even better.
I spent the whole of last week at a Carmelite monastery, and my experience there brings a whole new meaning to the word nourishment. At Carmel of Mary, I was nourished both physically and spiritually. For this post, I’m going to focus on the physical nourishment, because even that was extraordinary.
I really didn’t know what to expect; only that I’d be on my own for breakfast after 7 a.m. Mass (not a worry since the guest-house kitchen was furnished with enough provisions to last the week ). Because the Carmelites are cloistered, I knew I’d be seeing little of them, though a few visits were arranged at different points in the week. Beyond that, the routine was as follows:
At promptly 11:45 a.m. and 6 p.m. each day, dinner (lunch) and supper (dinner) would be served. After being summoned by the clanging of the large chapel bell, I would leave the guest house and make the half-block walk to the monastery. Once there, I would ring the front doorbell, then find my way into the small dining room/nook. A few moments after arriving, I would hear a small hand bell, indicating my food was ready to be sent through the “turn.” I would go to the turn and by then a tray full of hot food will have been presented (still no sign of the hidden Sisters on the other side of the turn).
This is what the turn looks like from the exterior.
(Below is a photo of the turn at the monastery entrance for the deliverance of various goods, mail, etc. The Sisters of the Carmel of Mary are wholly dependent on the surrounding community for their sustenance. In return, they offer their lives of prayer for all of humanity, and particularly for our diocese. They rise at midnight each day to begin said prayers.)
I would sit down, say grace, and proceed to eat…in silence…with no one wanting anything from me.
|View looking out to the grounds from the dining “nook”|
I never knew what food would be delivered. Everything from spaghetti to what I think was a lamb chop, from a simple broth to a heartier split-pea soup, with all sorts of varied side dishes and desserts arrived daily. I loved that I never knew what was coming. I just showed up and there it was, the Sisters only a whisper on the other side of the turn.
Sometimes, I would leave them notes in gratitude. How could I be the recipient of such kindness and not make my feelings known? A couple times, when I changed locations for a day or two, they rolled my food onto a tray and I caught glimpses of them and sweet smiles before they dashed away again.
I loved every moment of my time at Carmel (which means flowers). Here are a few of the flowers that greeted me upon my arrival. There was definitely a purple theme going on.
But thinking back, some of my fondest memories are those that took place in that small dining room; at a time when I needed to pull away from my work. It was always such a warm welcome to find the food prepared by quiet but loving hands. Often, I would end my meal with a hot cup of coffee or tea. Those moments of being nourished in body, even in solitude, were the times I felt the most loved, and though alone, I didn’t for a moment feel lonely.
Sometimes, a mother needs to be nourished. I am going to be drawing on the nourishment I received at Carmel for the rest of the summer.
Q4U: When was the last time someone offered nourishment to you? Describe it, if you would.