The waxing gibbous moon smiled in a dark California sky. Beneath it I journeyed quickly up a damp, tree-lined path to my "cell". This was a monastic apartment, one of four in a cabin honoring four apostles. Mine was named for John, who is remembered as an evangelist and theologian. I lay down on the cot provided by four dear women monastics for my weekend pilgrimage and snuggled in under many blankets (not living monastically at all, really, in this comfort, except for having more time to enter into prayer than I usually receive).
It was my final night of three at St. Xenia's Skete near Wildwood, off Highway 36. There'd been abundant variations of March clouds, downpours, wind, and sun (and there would be snow the next morning). Inside a crimson, forest church the prayers began early, the last ones ending past dusk. I'd been fed abundant portions of simple, healthy food. I had met beautiful hens, a mellow rooster, and a rescue dog of shepardish parentage named Noble. Noble likes to guide hiking pilgrims up a hill on the logging road, and he appreciates a carrot for a treat on the way home.
Three nights I'd lain on my cot in wonder. The moon peered in the window. Two women friends in their own apostolic cells breathed evenly at rest.
Partly I slept, partly I marveled. There was space here which was a sensation. With surprise I recognized it as one I first experienced last summer, the day of my surgery in the hospital in Oregon. That July Monday our priest came to my room before the orderlies arrived to take me. He prayed the Orthodox prayers for a Monday (which address angels, those beings circling the throne of heaven ever hymning God), and he listened to my confession to God of my sins.
Now I was fully recovered from anesthesia and fluid drains, my stitches were long ago absorbed and my scar had faded to pink. I lay on a cot in moonlit March hours before Monday prayers, in my forest cell named for John the apostle, in joyous recognition. I recognized that same sensation from July, from, actually, during my surgery: one of extreme donation toward mankind, of identity yet of pure self-lessness, of love in amazing abundance. That's the closest I can come to description, and it doesn't scratch the surface.
Many people might explain this as my fantasy. How can I blame them? I am, most obviously, not an apostle, evangelist, or theologian. The longer I live the more uncool I become. A simple-eating rescue creature, one who meanders ahead, falls behind. I'm scared in the moonlight and grateful for shelter.
It is good that Thou hast humbled me. It is very good. In the instant of surprise, of recognition of heretofore unimagined beauty, a brush with kindness, the breath of angels.