Soul Sojourners

Well, what draws a person to a certain place anyway? And what determines exactly the right time to actually be in that certain place? It’s definitely a question or two worth pondering, especially for those of us who wonder about things like journey or destiny or coincidence or pure blessing.

Five miles or so up from highway CO-82, on the winding curves of Capitol Creek Road in Snowmass, Colorado, a sign on the slight bend of Monastery Road directs the fortunate traveler to turn left into St. Benedict’s Monastery.

I turned at that sign in the sienna and gold shimmers of autumn last week before the delayed snowfall came into the high country days later. Past the ranch house, corral, and pasture of bawling cattle, a dirt road led me by the gatehouse and under the ranch gate overlooking a glorious view of the valley.

Cradled in the distance of the mountains, in a grove of pine and aspen, set the chapel, bookstore, and the monks’ living quarters.

Looking from the ranch gate to the grove of trees

Up the hill to the east nested the main retreat house, prayer room, and eight standalone hermitages.

Main Retreat House and an Individual Hermitage to the left

Just a few miles away towered majestic Mt. Sopris.

Mount Sopris (12,953 feet)

I lost my breath in the beautiful panorama of color and though I knew I was fortunate to have somehow landed as a scheduled silent retreatant to work on my writing, I still wondered how I happened to find myself in this holy place in my favorite season of the year.

Monastic life at St. Benedict’s is structured around contemplative Christian prayer. The monks start their waking hours before the sun rises in Vigils (prayer listening to scripture and other readings). They close the day with the office of Compline (a long interval of silence between Compline and Vigils). Each day is embraced with scheduled times for prayer throughout the day as the main priority. The rest of the day’s activities include manual labor over the three thousand acres of ranch land, 40 miles of irrigation ditches, and 50 miles of fences. The work includes cow-calf operations, farming quality hay, running a book store, maintaining the active retreat facility, as well as writing, carpentry, metal work, meal preparation, photography, and facility upkeep.

The first priority for this Cistercian community though, is prayer.

I dare say I could feel those prayers in a very real sense when I first stood outside my car gazing in all directions around me. There was this sense of deep spirituality in the air.

And that sense of “the holy” resonated even more deeply as I attended Vespers (evening prayer) and Lauds (morning prayer) and Mass in the chapel. The stark simplicity of the unadorned interior brick walls, the hand-carved 14th century altar, the plain wood benches inside the chapel felt “so right” to me in its raw elegance. Something ancient and foundational seemed to emanate from the humble interior of that sanctuary. But it was the depiction of Christ on the cross beside the altar which stilled my soul with awe and reverence. I have never before looked upon a depiction of Christ on the cross in this way. Truly a gift to behold.

Outside the Chapel and Bell Tower

Connected to the chapel were hallways called cloisters, and the living quarters of the monks which are all private and inaccessible to guests.

But just beyond the guest parking lot, past the large bell on the ground, set a guest-accessible quiet room and an irresistible book store for every literary enthusiast who loves books, journals, and cards.

In the somewhat distant hills to the east, rose the architecturally stunning main retreat house and prayer room which open to all guests depending on the scheduling of group or silent retreats. These buildings are considerably more structurally ornate and include a kitchen, library, four lodge rooms, offices, prayer hall, and prayer room for larger groups of people. Eight individual guest hermitages dot the hillside outside among the brush and fauna.

Main Retreat House and Prayer Room with a glimpse of Mt. Sopris in the window peak
Dining tables across from the kitchen in the Main Retreat House
Prayer Hall in the Main Retreat House

Through the doors to the Prayer Room
Mt. Sopris in the windows of the Prayer Room
Beauty in the arched wood beams

I didn’t know how empty I had become until my soul started to fill with God’s grace at the monastery. I thought I had gone there to complete one of the writing projects of my heart. Instead, the project was me on whom the Lord was writing. In the middle of my stay, my husband surprised me by driving up from Denver to join me. We loved waving to the monks as they drove by in the backhoe or dump truck of dirt in a day’s work. We loved listening to their wisdom in the homilies that touched our hearts. We loved sharing this place together.

I am grateful for the experience of sacred connections and I am a firm believer in how the location and timing of some events come together by the grace of God.

Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord
To the house of the God of Jacob,
That He may teach us His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.
—Isaiah 2:3

Wishing heartfelt grace to all. Thanks for stopping by.

Meninger, Fr. William, OCSO; Boyle, Fr. Joseph; OCSO Keating, Fr. Thomas, OCSO, © 2017. Come to the Mountain. Snowmass, Colorado St. Benedict’s Monastery