Reflections on an artist residency at the Monastery of St. Gertrude
Sunshine and birdsong wake me. In the refectory, I eat a bowl of homemade granola (the recipe calls it monastery manna) topped with ruby cranberries. There is enough time for a second cup of coffee before the bells chime for prayer.
Inside the chapel, I pause. Its beauty and tranquility surprise me every time. I think of the nuns who commissioned the four-story alter from their native Switzerland, its journey by sea, across the Panama Canal, up the Pacific Coast, inland by rail, and hefted here at last by horse and wagon. This century-old cathedral, hewn from blue porphyry with its red-tiled bell towers, might be a mirage on this prairie. Yet I am here, singing psalms with the Sisters, our voices tremulous at first, then high and sweet.
After chapel, I retreat to a desk in a high-ceilinged room overlooking citrine and emerald fields. Out the window in every direction are ponderosa pines that impale a sky so deeply blue, there is no color for it. Neither cerulean or robin’s egg or azure do it justice.
Then there are the clouds. Meaty, multitudinous domes that sail low to the earth like parade floats. On hot afternoons, their dark underbellies pelt rain the size of teaspoons. It is here, someone says, the expression rolling thunder originates—beginning at one end of the prairie, reverberating, reverberating, reverberating to the other.
The Benedictine Sisters here are nurses and teachers, scholars and writers, herbalists and innkeepers, environmentalists and spiritual guides, farmers and artists, social workers and feminists. Committed to reflecting Christ’s love for the world, they devote their lives to prayer and working for social justice. And then more prayer. And more prayer still.
Here I am invited to write. I eat, pray, and write three times a day for thirty days. And this is how I know I am a writer: I never grow tired. The psalms seed my poems. The fields and trees show up in my stories. The Sisters’ faith inspires my own. How could one not create in such community? How could one not create amidst such Creation?