by Ana Palles
“One of the things I admire about you is that you always take care of yourself, doing good things for your body and spirit,” wrote a friend recently. “I need to learn how to do that for myself.” I read her note and smiled because watching what I ate, taking yoga and kickboxing classes and scheduling regular energy healing sessions is my way of staying healthy.
It was an awareness I developed over the course of years and simply made sense. If I felt good, I was a better mother, partner, and friend. If I kept a welcoming, clean, and healthy home, it meant that those who lived here and came to visit also felt better. It all just made logical sense to me and didn’t require much thought.
And so as I prepare for an upcoming surgery and changes that I am undertaking in life, I decided that a day of prayer and reflection would be a wonderful thing. Along with two friends, we packed a picnic lunch and drove the two hours listening to the lovely songs of Hildegard von Bingen, a nun and composer from the Middle Ages.
Just a few miles from the Wyoming border, amidst acres and acres of wide open Colorado landscape, lays a community of Benedictine nuns living at an Abbey and retreat center. Upon turning down the dirt driveway just off the main road there is an immediate sense of silence and serenity. I looked in awe as the valley unfolded in front of the car. The undulating colors of the landscape reminded us that spring was here. We drove the winding hard packed road to the Abbey building and chapel. Each turn along the way revealed dramatic rock formations and here and there we heard the bellowing of wandering cattle.
The wind stirred lightly on a decidedly cool day and I noticed a large ivory colored llama silhouetted against the grey skies. It sat on top of the hillside next to the chapel and seemed to smile softly into the breeze. The llama’s long neck turned and his regal gaze panned across the surroundings. With cattle and donkey grazing on the hillside below him, he seemed a placid sentry on a grey spring day.
We looked up to see a red-tailed hawk appearing suspended in mid-air over the ridgeback, like an image forever frozen in space. It wasn’t long before we saw a second hawk that was a little larger and darker than the other make powerful strides to join the first hawk. We had no doubt we were seeing a mated pair when the two began flying together. They intertwined in what seemed a lovers caressing dance before heading off to look for food.
The day was perfect for reflection and we were happy to be there. The Benedictine sisters were warming and offered a ready smile as we came into the main building. They welcomed us and invited us to sit in the chapel, join them in prayers, walk on the land, and even stay overnight for a private or group retreat.
The sisters seemed to always appear when needed or when questions arose. Otherwise their presence was unobtrusive, as they glided along stone tiled hallways barely making a sound, their long skirts muffling the padded steps.
We joined them for their lunchtime prayers. Several other visitors had come to participate in the midday service and we all joined in song. We heard the crystal clear soprano voices of the sisters blend with the deep timbre of male voices singing ancient psalms. It was a beautiful service. Time felt suspended.
We spent the rest of the day walking on the grounds. Each of us enjoying the time alone with our thoughts among ridged hillsides stirring with a now insistent wind. The animals along our path took little notice of our passing. We walked up the hill marked with the Stations of the Cross, taking our time with prayer. On reaching the top, we noticed the gathering dark clouds threatening lightning overhead. In such a setting, it was easy to imagine Calvary.
I am used to inner reflection, but the atmosphere of the abbey let me soak up the prayers that floated day and night throughout that land, washing over me and giving me a sense of calming rest. They helped me understand and confirm the life path I saw ahead of me. With only the wind and the shushing of the trees surrounding me on the hilltop, I listened to the knowing from my body and my spirit. It all felt right.
Taking a deep breath as I caressed a sprinkling of wild buttercups low on the path, I gave my thanks and rejoined my satisfied friends for our long drive home. It was a beautiful day and I was happy and grateful that I had taken this time out for myself.