A few years back, I did something I’d never done before. I spent the night at a monastery, Mepkin Abbey in Moncks Corner.
You don’t have to be Catholic or even religious to participate in the retreats offered throughout the year.
I was probably more curious than anything else when I went online and signed up.
I had that feeling of “What have I gotten myself into?” as I drove down the narrow road towards the St. Francis Retreat Center. I was nervous as a cat as on my way to check in but was soon put at ease. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, the monks offer hospitality to all strangers. They really do. They live a life of prayer and silence. Everything seems peaceful at Mepkin Abbey. Slow and quiet and peaceful. The crunch of the oyster shells as I followed the path to my room seemed too loud for such a reverent place so I slowed down and tried to walk softer.
My room was surprisingly sleek and modern. The exterior wall was almost floor to ceiling glass with a view of live oaks, azaleas, and dogwoods as far as the eye could see.
All retreatants have to agree to leave cell-phones at home or at least locked in their car. That was unsettling, but you get over it very quickly. Being disconnected from the world and free to actually enjoy the world set the tone. No photos are allowed. You pay attention to the beauty around you. You don’t document it. Another good lesson before my retreat even began.
I expected some sort of whole-group instruction upon arrival. Instead we were given a schedule of optional services and meal times. That was it. I was confused at first, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the retreat is whatever you want it to be. Self-guided, self-directed, if you will.
The options are endless. Stay in your room and read or nap. Go for long walks along the Cooper River. The grounds and gardens are some of the most beautiful I’ve seen in the Low Country. Visit the gift shop. The Mepkin Abbey monks are known for their specialty mushrooms sold there. They also have monastic art from all over the world. Yes, Mepkin Abbey is a little spot of peaceful paradise dropped beside the Cooper River.
The religious services are optional, but I attended them all. The Abbey Church is spectacular. Spectacular simplicity describes it best. Anyone can tour it, but retreatants have the option to participate. This protestant girl was nervous, but again, in keeping with philosophy of hospitality according to the Rule of St. Benedict, the monks make sure everyone follows the order of worship and everyone feels at home.
We ate in silence in a room adjacent to the monks. Mepkin Abbey serves more than healthy vegetarian dishes. Quiet reflection and gratitude would be listed on the daily menu if there were one.
My Mepkin experience was a little more than five years ago. I try to hold on to the lessons I learned.
Disconnecting from technology, even if just for a few hours, does wonderful things for our souls. Silence should have a place in our daily routines. Healthy meals are better for us than Pringles and Cheez Its.
All of those things that I already knew were reinforced for me during my time at Mepkin, but my main monastery lesson was something else.
Almost immediately, I figured out that the retreat was whatever I made it to be. That, to me, was the take away from my Mepkin Abbey experience. All of our days are like that retreat – whatever we make them to be. There’s a simplicity in that philosophy like the simplicity of Mepkin Abbey. Our days are whatever we make them to be.
Tammy Davis is a South Carolina writer who loves to travel and learn and grow.