This weekend, I had a chance to hole away at the Carmelite monastery here in North Dakota.
It wasn't my first stay. Each time after the first that I've gone to Carmel, I have enough sense of familiarity that I wonder whether past visits have given me enough exposure to this beautiful spot of land to the point of leaving little left to discover.
Yet each visit, I'm surprised by what is new about the place.
This visit, it was the color. Oh, there's always been that, but not quite like this, presented in just this way.
One of my favorite batches of photos comes from my and my friend Vicky's first visit together to Carmel. It was absolutely stunning, and the light was incredible. I got a little of that this time, but not at sunset like before. Still, it was a joy to behold.
This visit, we didn't find as much of that light play. In fact, after the first day, I wondered if this Carmel stay would produce anything in the way of cherished photos.
Besides, I was there to work, as I almost always am when I go there. Well, to work, and pray and replenish. Would I even have time to look?
I worked hard. But you can only work so hard for so long. By the third and last day, my brain was tired. So in an inspired moment, I took to the grounds to see what I might see.
Despite the hazy autumn day, I was amazed by just how much color was there to be discovered.
Different than other visits. New objects of interest.
Hints of the Guinea fowl, which I did not spy with my eye this time, though I heard their voices in the distance a couple times. With their African blood I'm sure they're already in holing-up mode themselves, readying for the brutality of winter.
Yes, winter will come. My first visit to Carmel was in February and I will never forget how beautiful it was then, sun gleaming on sparkling snow. But I can only imagine the harsh days, too, and how long it must get.
Which makes me appreciate the now of it even more.
Carmel is a true gift, and its colors, a refurbishing palette.
This place has a way of reawakening my soul. I will admit, Our Blessed Mother has something to do with it. I will admit, too, that she calls to me every time, and every time I am captivated, and challenged to see her in a new light. This time, I felt her presence more strongly than ever. The statue? It's just a representation of a true spirit that moves through this place, and cradles me in her maternal arms when I am most weary.
In her post from her impressions the other day, Vicky said, "How can one not feel God (here)? I do not have any urgency to find Him, He is everywhere. I just breathe deep."
Yes, yes, that is it Vicky. I feel that too, every single time.
It is hard to pull away from this nourishing place -- food prepared with love by the Sisters who pray pray pray for you and me...
...doing everything they can to chase away the darkness with their chants.
This time, Mother Joseph Marie wrote me a note my final day there inviting me to early evening prayer. I've sat in on compline before -- the night one -- but not vespers, which happens before supper. Sitting there, listening to the lovely litanies, the enchanting chants, I had the greatest urgency to run back to the guest house for my pillow and curl up on the pew for the evening.
I cannot see them, only hear. They are cloistered. And as Mother explained to us during a brief visit this stay, their order is one of only about four in the United States that falls under the Carmelite Nuns of the Ancient Observance.
I feel it here, a sense of being in a place of time gone by. I smell it in the incense, prayers rising up to heaven with few earthly distractions to impede their aromatic billowing.
It is all very simple, but incredibly deep and rich. Never have I felt peace like here.
I am privileged to take it in through all my senses. And I will admit, I have a hard time, every time, pulling away. But my life calls, and so I go and enter in again to the noisy world that awaits.
I sense that God wants me to hold some of this peace in my heart even in my returns home, however, so I am always looking for new ways to bring Carmel back with me -- its beauty, its peace, its smells, its colors.
Q4U: Where did you experience fall most vibrantly this season?