Sunday, October 08, 2006

much of the time i was in iowa life was crazy- you would think an agricultural state like that would offer a pastoral, peaceful existence but in fact i worked hard, lived amongst wild people and rarely stopped to smell the roses.

so when i heard about a trappist monastery up near dubuque, about 90 miles up the road, i decided to hitchhike up there one day. it was about eight miles off of highway one, a beautiful road that wound up through eastern iowa- past dvorak's farms, mt. vernon, jones county and beyond. hilly farm country, unspoiled by tourism, and beautiful even on a windy, blustery march day. the monastery was not too far from dubuque, and i got a ride to its road and set out walking. i believe i eventually got a ride a couple more miles, but had to walk the last mile or two in from the last ride. this walk was indeed peaceful- a gray, windy day; corn trying to grow; and not a person around who was not shut up inside their car, hurrying down the road. the walk alone was very meditative; i could only imagine the monastery. eventually it loomed ahead, a large stone building with a self-enclosed feel to it, a little off the road.

i was met at the door, though, by a guy who talked more or less nonstop. he told me about what they did- they baked bread; they had various food-growing and food-making operations, and they prayed at 5 am and other times, always in silence. he himself had come and joined them, but couldn't take the silence, so he became a tourguide, talking constantly to visitors. which he did. he served me tea or something; we sat in a kind of dining area, and silent monks passed by on their way to prayer or wherever, their feet shuffling on the stone floors.

i didn't push the issue, go try to communicate with a silent guy, or actually try to experience the silence of worship there. in fact there was no silence, the whole time i was there; this guy was with me the whole time. i recognized the irony of his situation, but had no time to reflect on it. i didn't want to intrude on them, so, after a little while, i left- surely they didn't really want random visitors. but they'd been nice enough- had even shared a glimpse of the silent religious life. the walk back to the highway was longer- but, back on the highway, it was always easier going back toward iowa city than getting out of it. i ended up at home, fresh air in my lungs, sleeping better, restored by knowing, if nothing else, that such a life was even possible.

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