Supper at a Monastery

During my retreat, meals were sometimes an issue. We ate with the brothers, usually in silence. I had noticed after the first meal that there was no trash can for plate scrappage, just a tray for dishes, a small tub of soapy water for utensils, and an even smaller tub for dirty napkins. But I cleaned my plate, so no big deal. 

The next meal was Chinese dumpling soup that sounded good, but it had red pepper flakes in it, which I did not realize until I had filled my bowl. I couldn't eat it. So where would I dump it? Clearly, this no-trash-can-system was designed for taking only what you could eat, but it wasn't that I took too much soup; I honestly can't stomach red pepper flakes. Plus, it was full of julienned carrots too big for the spoon, but not soft enough to cut. 

During silent meals the brothers play recorded music. At this meal it was what I call, "Kill your Mama music" because it was weird 20th century stuff with no melody line and annoying changes in meter.

So here I was, totally fixated on what to do with my soup, listening to people whack at carrots with the edge of a spoon, hearing music that, well, could make you want to kill your Mama. In a monastery. With monks who, though extremely kind, have an air of judgement based solely on their profession.

Finally, the Superior stood up, which signals the end of the meal. Not a leisurely end to the meal, but a "get out" end of the meal.

I sheepishly approached the bussing station still having no idea what to do with my Chinese dumpling soup. I was even sweating a little. Then, the retreatant in front of me did the most amazing thing. She dumped her uneaten soup into the tiny bin for dirty napkins. So, I did, too, and thanked God for the kindness of strangers.

Richmond, VA. Pam James is a writer who loves living in Richmond.