Dinner was served after vespers and benediction. On that first evening I knew the definition of only one of the three nouns in that sentence. Given that the password to the wifi that popped up on my iPad wasn’t provided, I could only venture a guess as to the meanings of the other two nouns. I was hurled back into the Stone Age, left to wallow and wonder in my ignorance, cut adrift from the comforts of Google search. I had unwittingly sunk deeper into the life of an agnostic.
I later learned that Vespers are an evening prayer service. I left my room at 7:05 which left me waiting in the cloister outside the rectory for ten minutes. Once again, two of the nouns in that sentence were mysteries to me. My catholic vocabulary was near non-existent, I didn’t even know the Benedictines were catholic until I got there (I mean, I kind of figured, but wasn’t sure).
A lot of the instructions in the welcome booklet involved the mysterious aforementioned terms: cloister, vesper, rectory, benediction, lauds, compline... I was definitely going to earn the nickname Green Day (see my post “Fear of Gossiping Monks”).
I stood in what I later learned was the west side of the cloister, waiting, listening to the melodic chanting of the monks in the chapel. I walked closer and stood next to a section open to the chapel, I sat and listened. I didn’t realize at the time, but I’d wandered into an off limits area. I walked back and stood outside the rectory moments before they finished, No harm, no foul.
The monks came down the hall and quietly filed into the rectory. Of the eight to ten monks in attendence for meals, many of them were old, at least eighty. Two of them had walkers another would randomly mumble a nonsense word every few minutes, similar to Hodoar from Game of Thrones.
Brother Daniel invited me to follow them and I went to the assigned seat at the table I’d been shown upon my arrival. The guy that was supposed to be next to me at my table was a no show. We remained standing behind our chairs, the Abbot said a very short statement, some kind of example from scripture that referenced God providing something, then we recited The Lord’s Prayer (I mumbled along), and finally we sat.
I kept looking around to follow the cues of others. Guests sat at the table directly across from me. I remember an old overweight man with thin red skin and a bright red hoodie, and a guy in glasses and a Kansas City Chiefs hoodie. KC hoodie guy looked to be in his forties, based on his attire, I assumed he was American. The KC Chiefs aren’t exactly a worldwide sensation.
The Abbot gets up and walks toward the food first as he invites the rest of us to follow with a Jedi-like wave of his hand. It’s not a buffet, I was instructed. You go up once and get what you need, then sit and eat. ...So it’s a one trip buffet.
The food was awesome! They know how to eat. I didn’t get to take but two pictures of mealtime because it was inappropriate, but I snuck two for posterity’s sake. The first night was this mashed potato pie thing covered with a layer of cheese and sauce, as well as numerous side dishes. They also had beer! And tonic wine, which I didn’t like. They know how to brew beer! I don’t know what kind it was but it tasted similar to a whit beer.
Lunches were served by the youngest monk, Brother Mark. He’d come out with a kitchen apron over his frock, wheeling a food cart in front of him. He’d serve plates of fish and chips(and peas, you always get peas with fish and chips), lasagna and salad, bangers and mash, etc. The food was served on serving plates that were shared between the two to three people at the table. Once everyone put food on their plate, Brother Mark would retrieve the remains, no seconds. Every lunch ended with a small dessert.
We ate in silence. It was nice, but odd. It was all about the eating, everyone ate quickly. There was zero awkwardness in the silence because you were expected, specifically, NOT to make small talk with others at your table. Introvert heaven!
Except for the first meal, one Brother, “the reader,” read from either the Bible or a book about religious history. He had the coolest reading voice. It possessed a very proper and authoritative tone that flirted with drifting into the effeminate. It was like a wire-ee, crisper Tony Blair reading Green Eggs and Ham.
The Reader would even put extra oomph at the end of the paragraph and look up at us (no one but me was looking at him, everyone was fully focused on eating), he’d look up as if to say “whatta ya think of those apples!” I almost expected him to hold up the book so we could see the illustrations, then lick his finger before turning the page (what a gross freaking habit, btw)
Then a bell on a timer would ding, indicating story time was over, most everyone was already finished scarfing down their food, the abbot would get up to leave and invite us to follow with his Jedi wave as he passed our table. We’d get up, drop our plates in a bin and silently file out, and go off somewhere to not talk to people some more. It was great!