The Guest House

When I was at Saint Benedict’s Monastery recently, I stayed in the “new” guest house (Walburg). However, it was the Guest House, recently demolished, that called to me. I found a bench in the trees and it became my spot for morning lectio. Looking out on daisies, peonies, larkspur, and luscious ferns of all sizes/shapes, it was memories which blossomed during prayer. I could not erase the ghost of a house I perceived above the black space which grounded it. This was progress I wasn’t ready to accept.

One year, quite bravely, Bill and I brought our small children for Triduum. We were sure they would be exemplary. We stayed in the Guest House. It had wonderfully creaky floors, tall windows, and a fridge in the basement always filled with snacks. There was a bedroom for most of the kids with thick mattresses tempting a great time of bouncing. They were warned bouncing was not allowed as we tucked them in the first night.

Excitement of the trip, different food and probably too much of it, and we were in the middle of the first mishap. Sean threw up all over the beautiful bedspread I had folded neatly on a chair next to the bed. What made us think we could ever bring four children under five to St. Ben’s? There were other glitches but nothing serious.

The kids loved the sisters who volunteered to babysit so Bill and I could be part of the liturgy! That was not something I ever dreamed was part of Benedictine hospitality. We were shooed off to chapel, able to celebrate together with adults for the first time in years.

In preparation for Easter, Sean, Brian, Galen and Amy made a butterfly banner. We weren’t sure what we’d do with it, but Sister Mary Anthony made sure it was hung in chapel. When Sister Jacquelyn saw it, her heart melted as Galen proclaimed, “My butterfly is Charley.” I was rather amused that the banner made it to chapel as none of my art work was ever honored in that way. On Easter morning when we took the kids to Mass, they squealed with delight, “There’s our banner!”

That Easter was years ago. Those little munchkins are all grown up and have children of their own, but memories made them babies once again as I sat on the bench.

When I looked at the flowers surrounding the space where the Guest House once stood, I remembered taking Four O’Clock seeds when I left St. Ben’s as a young woman. Taking those seeds seemed like insurance against being homesick as I struck out on my own.

One last look and inhaling all the beauty and fragrance, I headed back to Tennessee. I never saw any Four O’Clocks at St. Ben’s this time, but it was almost like coming full circle. Those seeds I took as a twenty-something multiplied into generations as they moved with our family and were planted in every place we lived. I knew the latest generation of Four O’Clocks would welcome me back to Tennessee. I also knew I’d remember the ghostly space of the Guest House when I sat on my front porch for morning lectio, waiting for the sun to open a splash of pink, orange and red into my NOW.

Pat Pickett, OblSB

Photo: The old guest house in 1958, supplied by Saint Benedict’s Monastery Archives