by François-Xavier Maigre
Translation Louise Thunin
I clearly remember my first inroad into the world of monasteries. It was in 2003. The summer of the terrible heat wave. I was 21. An inveterate cyclist,I undertook, in all humility, to cross our country from the Alps to the Atlantic, on my faithful Gitane bike. I enjoyed that simple life, made up of chance encounters, tinned sardines and punctured tires by the side of the road. One evening, chance — I didn’t know then that it was Providence (by another name) escorting me—led me to knock at the door of a convent.
The heavy door shook and my entire being was enveloped in the look of the hotel sister. « Make yourself at home here! » I was offered a cell, a shower, a miraculous snack. Next, the sister led me to the chapel. The sound of sung verses arose in the air. I liked their simple beauty. The sisters were off-key actually. But I marveled at the faithfulness of these ageless women, lost in the middle of nowhere. They embodied the order and serenity so sorely lacking in our time. They reawakened the faith of my childhood, which I had thought I could erase. Something in me woke up. I felt welcomed.
Time has gone by. I never became a hermit, and I am not introspective by nature. But certain places, such as the ecumenical monastery in Bose, Italy, or the Abbey of Mondaye in Normandy, have become essential to my inner well-being. The experience of silence, nourished by the liturgy of Hours and the brotherly lifestyle ought to be reimbursed by the health system, so abundantly do they reveal the best in us and the most deeply hidden.
These havens of freely-chosen seclusion act on my penchant for worry like a sieve : I let my impatience, my regrets, my « maybe’s » sift through and decant. Outside, everyone is running after time. Inside, time beckons to us. With a little luck, the walls are thick enough to neutralize a 4G connexion. A retreat, however brief, is the Invisible holding out its hand to you. I like to see it as a stopover between earth and heaven. Just to feel alive. In the sight of Greater than we.
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