Hearing the train go by throughout the day and night was such a sound of comfort that I welcomed while staying at New Clairvaux. Established in 1955 by monks of the Abbey of Gethesamani who were expanding, this monastery is located on the grounds of one of the largest wineries and vineyards in the world. I’ve added some of the history about their chapter house and sacred stone project at the end of this post.
Some things that came up during my time at New Clairvaux were things relative to the very first entry I wrote about on this site: complacency. Despite my dramatic transition to do what I’m currently doing, I still encounter this feeling of complacency and have a deep anguish about it. I guess living in the land of ‘more is better’ and something is never ‘enough’ may have something to do with it, but for some reason I see my complacency as being deeply connected with my aloneness (although I seem to abide by the loneliness (even the anguish of such an emotion) that comes from these times). How do those things even connect? I think there is some sort of corrupt pride about my aloneness – both in my longing for and enjoyment of time alone (or maybe the enjoyment is of the loneliness that follows to the extent of what it produces). Knowing this alongside my blatant belief that we were not meant to do life alone, that we were meant to live in community, strikes me… what is it about me that needs a piece of this loneliness, and where is the balance to know when it is taking me to a place of complacency and disregard for others?
My desperation and longing for others (and God) are generally born of a place of need, confusion, or sense of feeling lost (sadly). However, these times of silence and solitude have allowed me to encounter a new place of connectivity and have born in me a new kind of need for others and God. Sitting with myself in silence has brought up many things that I dislike about myself but I’ve been able to recognize how they ultimately connect me with those I once felt disconnected with or may have even looked down upon. This development of greater oneness not only makes me see that these things need to come up in the quietude, but remind me that I do in fact need a balance of this loneliness and time with others.
Henri Nouwen described this interaction with inner conflict in quietude quite well:
“As soon as we are alone,…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.” Henri Nouwen, Making All Things New
There is a piece of the monks and nuns lives that are directed towards self-discovery, in that it brings one ultimately closer to God and others, and gives one greater depth and foundation from which to give compassion and love. I’ve found the more I fight discovering these things, the stronger they arise in my being.
A brief prayer I came across in Thomas Merton’s book on Contemplative Prayer is a prayer of St. Augustine (354-430). Thomas Merton implied that while this prayer is simple it really sums up much of the life of prayer: “…noverim me, noverim te…” meaning, ‘let me know You, let me know me…” It is quite possible that I frequently get stuck on the “let.” In my forgetfulness, to deepen my understanding in any way is a gift, not something owed to me, and not a gift I can receive per a demand or assumption.
I suppose the evidence of the vulnerability required of me in such things is not only terrifying but calls me to all sorts of distractions, to do anything OTHER than work through difficulties or challenges. In a sense, life only opens me up to add more layers of distractions and to continue to avoid the truths – but in what way does that avoidance of encounter with myself or God open me up to greater love? I don’t believe it does.
“To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude. The movement from loneliness to solitude, however, is the beginning of any spiritual life because it is the movement from the restless senses to the restful spirit from the outward-reaching cravings to the inward-reaching search, from the fearful clinging to the fearless play.” Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out
There are two main attractions more commonly known of New Clairvaux: The Chapter House and the Winery.
Chapter houses are usually buildings or rooms where gatherings or meetings are held just for the monks. Depending on the monastery, this space may be used daily for readings or to hear from the abbot, or it may be used less frequently. I imagine it’s the place in which the company or organization meets before parting ways for their individual tasks.
What is so special about this chapter house is that it is being built with 800-year-old stones (referred to as “sacred stones”), which are originally from the Cistercian monastery of Santa Maria de Ovila that was in Trillo, Guadalajara, Spain. Since the decline of the monastery, an American publisher William Hearst bought parts of the monastery in 1931, wanting to build something with them in California. The stones were then given to the city of San Francisco (never used to build what he wished but instead used them to pay the city for the taxes he owed) where they remained in Golden Gate Park until they were finally given to the Abbey in 1994 (Clearly this is a summary).