Posted by Joe Rawls

With the approach of Earth Day we turn our attention to how our contemplative practice intersects with the material world--not that we shouldn't be thinking of this constantly in any event. Today I revisited Dennis Patrick Slattery's Grace in the Desert (Jossey-Bass 2004), his account of a sabbatical visiting various monasteries and retreat houses. The first stop on his itinerary was the monastery of New Camaldoli, a Camaldolese Benedictine foundation near Big Sur, California. Having stayed there once, I can attest to the ease with which one can interact with the local flora and fauna. The part about the coyotes howling in response to the monastery bells is really true. The excerpts are found on pp 14, 16, 17, and 18.


...I noticed something astir in my little fence-enclosed backyard.

Two foxes lay lazily and with great familiarity beneath the gray weathered benches. They seemed to doze lightly as they gazed indifferently at me now standing by the back door. Their large and fluffed tails rivaled the size of their bodies. They lay very close together--apparently, like me, prepared to settle in for the night. I felt both delighted and honored that they had chosen my little hermitage green space to bed down in, and I felt strangely safer by their presence. I thought of these two foxes, which became permanent hermitage mates of mine during my week's stay, and thereafter I looked for them each night as I prepared to turn off the lights. Apparently they too enjoyed the arrangement, for they were present each day of my entire stay...

...Even this early, my monastic foxes, who lived just over the edge of the cliff but slept in my backyard, were already stirring. One of them peered, head bobbing and nose alert and twitching, through the back door to see if I was awake and perhaps even ready to feed them. The only nourishment they received from me was a silent salute each morning.

In their early friskiness they leaped onto the wooden fence and began their ritual promenade, back and forth, slowly gathering momentum, as if they literally wound themselves up in an accelerated dervish dance for the day's hunt. I knew they had been schooled by the order of life here and thus practiced a learned monkish patience. They did not press their claim for food too insistently...

The bell summoning us to Vigils suddenly sounded, cracking the monastery open to a new day. The coyotes in the mountains surrounding me on three sides and just behind the chapel responded with their own litany from the deep and brittle-dry forest thickets. They too waited to be called, if only to sing.

This entry was posted on Monday, April 19, 2010 at Monday, April 19, 2010 . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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