With winter comes cave time; time to surround myself with darkness; an invitation to reflect and go deep. The light is out there and known, but not necessarily seen. In the cave I feel sheltered and protected, as I do the work of reflection. I welcome cave time, and only rarely do I wonder how many more days of cold and dark will there be. Cave time with its qualities of hiddenness and hibernation is a time of restoration and regeneration, along with a time to rest, if that is what is needed. Burrow in and allow the heart to find its own rhythm.
I needed cave time, but somehow in these summer months, which most Wisconsinites yearn for all the rest of the year, that doesn't seem like the right image. I should be out in the sunshine, playing and bursting forth with relief we made it through another winter. What to do since I felt in my soul I need time to rest, restore, and release. And then I received a word. Don't you love when that happens? Cloister.
I am reading The Dancing Animal Woman, A Celebration of Life by Anne Hillman. Another example of the right book at the right time. I participated in a retreat she led over a year ago, and this book has been waiting for me on my shelf since then. Early in the book she finds herself in a quiet garden she describes as a "green cloister." What I needed was Cloister Time. I don't mean entering a monastery, hidden away from the world. Instead my personal cloister was slightly set apart from the world, where I could see the delicious greens and the ongoing growth as the days progressed from its first days of summer wonder to the expected days of summer's lushness and fullness. I could observe and enter in as I chose to and when I needed to. I could come and go as desired, knowing the cloister would remain in place.
In my cloister located on the front porch of our home, private unless I choose to greet passersby, I read and doze and write in my journal and pray and meditate and find my bearings. Another word from Anne Hillman. Hillman describes getting her bearings not in terms of getting back on top of things, not finding a direction or a destination, but experiencing the center. "Center was still. Empty. Yet filled with the present. Alive."
One of my favorite books about spirituality is The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris in which she writes about her experiences as a resident in a Benedictine monastery. This morning I realized I, too, have a "cloister walk" right here at our home.
This past weekend my husband extended a side garden, adding more stepping stones and bordering it with lavender plants, my favorite herb. While the path is short and in view of the neighbors, it still feels like a place set apart. I walked this cloister walk several times this morning, pausing on each stone, offering a blessing. "This stone is for my father." This stone is for the loving gardener of this cloister walk." "This stone is for the as yet unknown buyer of this home who will inherit this cloister walk." I named family members and friends. I named myself. With each step on this cloister walk I felt more restored, more at ease and at rest, more centered. As I returned to the porch, I prayed that I may be able to carry this cloistered center or is it centered cloister with me wherever I am.
What does the word cloister mean to you? Where is your cloister and what does cloister time offer you?