The first time I went on a monastic retreat, nearly 30 years ago, I accompanied a friend and her seven-year-old daughter, who had requested the weekend excursion as a First Communion gift. I had just begun attending church (Presbyterian) after a long lapse, was feeling tired and wanted to get out of town. (Monasteries often accommodate guests, and they don’t mind if you are not religious.) I brought along writing projects to work on, so I was relieved to discover that guests at Assumption Abbey, where we would be staying, were not obliged to attend the monks’ daily prayers at morning, noon and night. The constant interruptions would surely distract me from my work, I thought, dicing my day like an onion. But I soon found that I got the most work done when I experienced the abbey’s full liturgy, day in, day out. The routine establishes a powerful rhythm, and when there are set times for prayer, work and recreation, it’s easy to work during the work periods. In that monastery I began to believe that there is actually enough time in a day.
The Richness of Empty Evenings
by Jenny Allen
I live alone. These things happen. Your children grow up, your husband leaves, and then you are a household of one. This is a happy story, I promise, but I do need to say this: Get ready, ladies. You may be next. And if and when you are, please, please try to remember what I am telling you now. You know how you never have enough time? You will have it. The very thing, that precious, out-of-reach, gleaming pot of gold you have been longing for! You will even have time on your hands. If you are wise, you will see it as a gift. If you are like me, you will have to do some stumbling around to get there.
Like so much in life, this story is about dinner. Dinner was how I spent almost 30 years of my life—making dinner, serving dinner and eating dinner with my family. Slipping chopped carrots into the meat loaf so that vegetables would be represented in the meal. Guiding dinner table conversation so that it yielded something loftier than burp jokes. And then, after dinner, overseeing homework, making sure children went to bed at a decent hour. It was the life I had chosen, and I think I was good at it, and most of the time I loved it. So when this ritual ended, I was totally unprepared for the expanse of time it left behind. With a few exceptions, I hadn’t spent an evening alone since my twenties. And now I had this huge hole where dinnertime used to be, this gaping Grand Canyon in which nothing was expected of me. Good Lord, what was I supposed to do?