Wednesday, July 6, 2011

St. Peter's Abbey

I hadn't  quite gotten into the spirit of St. Peter's Abbey in Muenster.  There's construction going on here, and because the Abbey is a working farm, you hear tractors and other heavy equipment going back and forth during the day.  I missed the loons and the deer from Emma Lake--though perhaps not the bears.  I missed the profound enveloping peace of the boreal forest.

I did immediately appreciate two elements of being at the Abbey.  First, the simplicity of the rooms.  These writers' retreats are like playing Thoreau for a week or two,  whose motto was "Simplify!  Simplify!"  Even if you feel that you've brought an awful lot of stuff, once you get it into a room you realize how little you really need.  That's liberating,

You can also feel the monastic discipline of years of nuns and writers radiating from the walls of the small nunnery where they house us.  The silence on a summer afternoon (it's quiet in the building anyway; outside a truck is backing up) is a constant reminder to focus.  Even if that means staring at a paragraph for an hour, fiddling with language, trying to get it to articulate your vision of the human experience and to speak to your hypothetical reader, you are riveted by the sense of purpose and focus that infuses this place and almost breathes here.

Then I was taken to see the garden of Brother James, the Abbey's hermit, who died some years ago.  It's overgrown with thistles and purple looststrife, and every kind of grass imaginable, but its bones and its life-force remain intact. Anne Pennylegion, the Colony coordinator told the story of bringing a clematis to put in Brother James's garden, of how he blessed it and of how they drank a glass of Bailey's Irish Cream to celebrate its arrival.  I had the sense that this place is full of stories I only half hear.  There's also a wonderful, knowledgeable man named Jim Ternier who collects seed from the garden and who can give you the Latin name of most of the plants.  I could listen to him for hours; it's as if there's a body of knowledge there that's almost mystical, so connected is it to the earth. 

Perhaps that says something of me, of what I find mystical.  Religious order doesn't quite do it for me; natural order--or disorder--does.  I've also discovered the wonderful resources of BBC Radio Three:  like many of us in the city, I'll put in my earphones and block out the sound of trucks backing up.  And in the meantime, while every need is taken care of by St. Peter's Staff and Anne, I'll obey the whispering of the walls and concentrate.

You can learn about Jim's seed project at


  1. I had intentions of stopping in at the Abbey a couple of weeks ago, just for an afternoon of work and a good night's sleep/write. But my van had intentions of its own and I didn't get there.

    It is a place of beauty on so many levels. I hope you will come to know many of them! Good writing to you!

    PS: Please give my love to the Abbot et al.

    PPS: Thanks to <a href=">Brenda</a> for the link over here. I'll have Blue Duets in my feed now.

  2. Thank you for coming to visit, Bernadette. (You're actually mentioned in my post on the Sask Book Awards: you looked fabulous and I said so!)