At Osage, in Oklahoma, the last monastery I visited, I grew fond of Father John. He was old himself and had once left the priesthood to teach 3-year-olds at a Montessori school. There was still much of the 3-year-old in Father John, who during Mass would give his homily, then open it up to the crowd, saying, "I'm not the expert here; I'm sure you all have things you want to say." And we did.
Father John told me that "knowing God through the intellect is like someone telling you all about her friend, but you don't know the friend until you meet him and experience him." This seemed to describe precisely how I was different at the end of my pilgrimage than I'd been at the beginning. God was here and God was somehow communicating to me that if I had faith the size of a mustard seed I could move mountains and learn to love, to be loved, to give and to receive, to be, as Mother Teresa said, Christ's representative in this world.
Still, I was in a bit of a panic, thinking about ending my extended retreat and going back to my life. I had no invitation from anywhere, although it did seem to me that I could continue to be a nomad, moving from monastery to monastery. But Nada, where I'd had the moment of grace in the midst of the snow, seemed to beckon me. So I wrote to the monks and proposed that I pay a little money every month, work a bit, gardening and running errands, and see how it plays out.
The community responded that they thought it was a very good idea. I rented my house and have now been in residence for eight months.
A mountain lion was recently spotted sleeping in a tree near my hermitage. I have climbed up to an alpine lake alone, and observe silence one week every month and four days of every week. I have no doubt that God, whom I sometimes call Pumpkin Pie and Bundle of Love, is here, just as he/she/it always was. But in a place where you can hear your own bare feet on the floor, where the stars touch the horizon all around, and hail can fall at any moment, in a place where the spirit becomes the reason and the focus, God is so much easier to know.
Beverly Donofrio's most recent children's book, Thank You, Lucky Stars (Random House), was published in January 2008.