More Reflections from the Abbey Guesthouse

The monks enter for the evening incense vigil. In two rows they approach the altar. Two by two they bow before the altar and then turn, bowing to each other as they back away.

The incense is placed in the censer. The smoke begins to rise, filling the front of the chapel, drifting towards us. Slowly, the smell reaches my noise. It is sweet, earthy, almost reminiscent of the beach--maybe the scent of driftwood. I breathe deeply as I watch the smoke rise upward, like prayers ascending to God.

We are outsiders--not monks, not even Catholic--but we have been allowed to be apart of the community. At the same time, as men from the same church, we are feeling the increase of own community, growing closer to one another as we share and worship and play.

Being here has being caused us to slow down. You can't rush when you come to pray together. It doesn't matter much, I realized today, that I haven't gotten a bunch of spiritual disciplines accomplished. A retreat isn't about that. It's about slowing down. It's about refocusing, resting and renewing. In this case (as a group retreat), it's about relationships as well.

I guess it's always about relationships: our relationship with God, our relationship with others, our relationship with self. That is the focus of the Great Commandment, of course.

Part of the incense vigil, as I understand, is a "cleansing" of the worship space in preparation for the Sunday mass. We are cleansed as well in some ways. We are cleansed from the busy routines of life. We are cleansed from many of the worldly influences that distract us during our week. We are cleansed from isolation. We are cleansed from tedium and routine that prevent us from noticing God around us.

For a weekend at least my spirit is back on track (mostly). I have experienced close community. I have felt God's presence. I have been in worship.

And hopefully, I pray, those things will continue beyond this weekend. And if not--if I need another retreat at some point to remind my of these things--my life is still all the richer. I can recall the scent of the incense and I am back before the altar, bowing to my Lord, remembering that it is His will, not mine that I try to live by.

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