I go to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers about twice a year to reconnect, reflect, and recharge. A number of folks have asked me to write about my experiences there, so here’s an account of my first visit.
All Saints Day, 2013
I head out for the monastery directly from my office at a college in Atlanta. I am uncharacteristically enraged over something that happened at work. I get that mad only about once a decade and always over what I perceive as an injustice against another person. I am good at righteous indignation. So good that smoke might have been pouring out of my ears. I’m half-surprised my radiator didn’t blow before I reached my destination. My foul attitude was even tainting my expectations of the monastery.
“How impressive can a modern-built monastery in Conyers, Georgia, really be anyway?” I thought. “The abbey is probably built of cinderblock and surrounded by nothing but scrubby pine trees.”
I arrive at the monastery. It is a magnificent golden-lit fall afternoon. As I survey the grounds in front of the abbey, an immediate sense of serenity and excitement takes over. Geese fly overhead, and I smile because they are my symbol for dead loved ones.
Then something about the lighting, the lay of the land, the changing colors of the leaves, the feel of the air — something transports me back to the front yard of our house when I was eight-years-old, at the rock bottom of a jagged childhood. A childhood punctuated by violence, addictions, visits by state social workers, rides in police cars.
Suddenly, a gentle, commanding voice in my head says three words that almost bring me to my knees.
“You are healed.”
My eyes well up out of relief and the understanding that the message is true. Beautifully, irrefutably, gloriously true. After so much battle and loss and shame and defeat, I am healed, thanks to a God of grace and mercy and love. I am healed! I want to skip across the grass and sing it like Ebenezer Scrooge sings when he realizes he has another chance at life.
The resonance of those three words won’t leave me. My state is still altered as I stumble toward the monastery gift shop. Once inside, I’m moved by the stunning icons and the sound of Gregorian chanting. That oft-quoted “peace that surpasses all understanding” is now real, not just an airy promise from a preacher’s lips.
From there I walk over to the abbey. You know the one: The one I thought couldn’t be more than cinderblocks and cheap colored glass. As I cross the threshold, I acknowledge what a supreme fool I have been. I’ve entered a sacred place that strikes a deep and old chord, a chord that I spent most of my existence railing against.
Somehow, in the span of an hour, a lifetime of worldly defenses and intellectual arguments against such a God — especially a Christian God — is crumbling. Surrender doesn’t come easily for me. I’m a fighter, fierce and defiant and not in the habit of yielding to anyone or anything. Yet after decades of searching and seeking the holy anywhere else but a place like this, I find myself at home.
The girl who designed an independent study course in college that interpreted the lives of the saints as mere manifestations of mental and physical illness has laid down her sword. The joke is squarely on me. And no one is laughing louder than the fool Herself.
PS: As for the issue at work that made me so angry that day, it did not even rank as a trifle anymore.
NEXT WEEK: Part 2 of my monastery visit.
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Lauretta Hannon, a resident of Powder Springs, is the author of The Cracker Queen — A Memoir of a Jagged, Joyful Life and a keynote speaker. Southern Living has named her “the funniest woman in Georgia.” See more at thecrackerqueen.com.