My friend Phil and I decided to meet up on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He and I had not spent much time together recently, so a long “hang out” session was overdue.
I made us some gourmet coffee, he grabbed some pan dulce, and off we went….but we didn’t know where. My mind scrambled for ideas: should we go to a Starbucks? (No, we already had coffee.) How about a park? (Maybe. It was a little warm and we would be better off in some shade.) Did I feel like going to a mall? (Geesh. I hate having to be indoors if the weather is beautiful.)
I really wasn’t sure where to suggest we go. “What are you thinking, Phil?” “I haven’t a clue.” That was 5 minutes into our trip.
It dawned on me that maybe we could enjoy the day driving. Watch the scenery and just cruise; not on surface streets of suburbia or the freeway (I wasn’t insane). I suggested that we take a scenic drive through the depths of Orange County’s back country. I had done it before with a dear friend who showed it to me and proved it looped around to a major freeway so we didn’t have to worry about getting lost.
We were soon on the scenic route. We started talking about fishing at the sight of Irvine Lake. We were then upon “Cooks Corner,” a famous biker hang out. Phil asked where the monastery or abbey was. I hadn’t the faintest idea, but knew that if we were to go there anytime, now was a good time since it was out in the very same back country we were driving through.
I started to grab the phone to look up directions, and Phil pulled off to the shoulder and came to a crawling stop. I looked out the driver’s window, and there before my eyes was a driveway with a gate and a white brick wall that said “Norbertine Fathers.”
“Um, wait, I think that’s it!” And so we ascended up the driveway in search of something.
When people visit churches, monasteries, chapels, there is always a “search” that has spiritual roots. The search for meaning; the search for a place to unload our prayers; the search for sacred silence. For my friend and me, it was a search for all these, and even for things that our souls and bodies needed but hadn’t placed a word or phrase to that need.
Most of the grounds seemed closed off to the public to respect the atmosphere of the cloister, which means respecting the men who were in their rooms or walking around outside in a state of prayer. So we headed straight to the chapel.
When I sit down at a church to pray or to prepare for Mass, I tend to be conscious about where I sit. In this case, I didn’t want to be in the back, and I also didn’t want to be right up front since that might have caused any of the Fathers to come up to me and ask if I wanted to join the priesthood. I walked until about the middle, genuflected, entered the pew, knelt and prayed.
I thought about how neat it was that we had decided to spend some of our afternoon in prayer, visiting a church that was definitely out of the way. I basked in the joy of the moment being able to offer up prayers for my friends, family, and myself in a very particular way since I was at an Abbey. I like this idea that we seemed to have always been on this day’s pilgrimage as if it was planned out, and that it reached climax by having us travel up this small hill to go and pray at this St. Michael’s Abbey.
After a good deal of time passed, my friend nugged me and pointed to the stain glass window that was at the end of our pew. It was Saint Gilbert who was being honored with this one stained glass window. Whoa, that’s my name! Of all the pews I could have chosen, I chose the one with my name on it. God definitely wanted this.
Our time up on the hill didn’t end there. I found a very small spot with a bench, shade, and view of the canyon we were traveling through. We took some more time to rest, adore, and discuss the various Catholic ways of approaching hierarchy and obedience; A random but very informative conversation.
The wind cooled the air, the sun gently lowered itself to kiss the hills, and time itself missioned us to our necessary obligation of going back down the hill, and getting back in touch with our realities of obligations. Alas, it was not all bad going back to facing what challenges speckle our life. At least for me, I knew one absolute thing: all this was not coincidence; truly it was Divine Providence, nourishing us in ways that were enough for our next part of the journey.