Thomas McKenzie
by grace alone
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Monastery Retreat, Post Three: From Cathedral to Abbey

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is the dominant feature of downtown Santa Fe. Its Romanesque towers, Stations of the Cross, side chapels, and San Damiano crucifix serve as a spiritual touchstone for me. I have rarely attended Mass at the Cathedral, but I have never passed through Santa Fe without taking a moment to pray under its vaulted ceiling.

Currently, the interiors of the Cathedral are being repainted. The original colors--bright and vibrant--are being restored. It is a wonderful thing to see this old lady being brought back to a youthful vibrancy under the skilled labor of the men on the scaffolds.

I love the baptismal font, a living water font found in the midst of the nave. There is a sign nearby that asks visitors not to toss coins into the it. This is an indication of the type of font it is, and a sad comment on the lack of religious intelligence on the part of the general public.

I light a candle, as I often do, and remember my wife and children from whom my journey separates me. I pray, I sit in silence. After a time, I depart through a side door.

There are several places I like to go in Santa Fe, and I hit most of them. But soon it is time to get on the road.

My journey takes me north of Santa Fe to Espanola (the world’s longest town, my father used to call it). I follow 84 on north and west towards Abiquiu. As I travel on, the elevation continues to increase, as does the beauty of the landscape. I don’t drive through mountains, but through soaring mesas. I am in the high desert.

I pass through the small town of Abiquiu, up to a great reservoir, and finally passed the conference center called “Ghost Ranch.” 15 miles from the nearest town, I turn on a practically unmarked dirt road. I drive on this road for 13 miles more, never going faster than 30 miles per hour. The road winds alongside the Chama river until, at last, it dead ends at the Monastery.

As I drove, I noticed the birds. Birds everywhere, especially on the dirt road. Small birds, large ones like ravens and geese and hawks. The flew beside me, darted around me. I felt like I was under special escort by these wonderful creatures.

I listened to music. I made a special playlist for the trip, put it on shuffle, and was glad that the perfect songs seemed to come up at the perfect moments. I like to listen to songs that I have listened to on past pilgrimages, as well as add new ones. I listen for themes that God might be bringing to my spirit. The thing I keep hearing is the phrase or idea "faith as a child."

Finally driving up to the great wooden sign that welcomes me to the Monastery and wishes me Peace, I get out of the car and give it a kiss. I make my way to the Guesthouse, easily find my room, put away my things, call my lovely wife on the Satellite phone I rent for such excursions, and proceed to Vespers in the church. My physical journey is complete, but I sense a spiritual journey has only begun.