Today we arrive at Mepkin Abbey, and before any other encounter, before you step into the cloister area or walk into the chapel, before you walk the labyrinth or discover the Cooper River, you know, undeniably, that you are in the Deep South.
In her former life, Mepkin was a stately plantation, and her roots go almost as far back as the Revolutionary War. Early in the 20th century the property fell under the ownership of Clare Booth Luce, heiress to the Time Magazine fortune, but around the 1940's she donated the entire property to the Order of Cistercians, Strict Observance: the Trappists.
The lane is your first encounter with the monastery, and it's hard to think of a more genteel or beckoning welcome to a place of quiet and prayer. The live oak bends down to meet you, arching over your head like an attendant mother. The soft fronds of Spanish moss whisper in the wind, adding other, quiet voices to the welcome – if you care to listen. The monks have taken this property and gently made it their own home, building a beautiful chapel (the shape of which is modeled, serendipitously, after tobacco barns in the South). Miss Ursula welcomes you at the gift shop, where there are precious collections of pottery, jams, and spiritual books. Most days, recordings of orthodox chant waft gently through the shop.
If you've ever seen any movies about cloistered orders – Into Great Silence or Of Gods and Men – you will know that at a monastery, schedules are important. Small sounds are important. Bells mean something beyond their mere sound. There is a gentle rippling, an almost imperceptible purling to the passage of time here, not unlike the movement of a very small stream of water.. If one can open up the heart and settle the soul, there are spiritual landscapes that can lead to wonderful discoveries.
So today we step into that landscape. After two months of frenetic, non-stop labor in the vineyard of Notre Dame, here is where we choose to find some rest.
There is music here, too. Not just the audible kind. But more on that later.