I read the 7:30am Facebook message. “…Uncle Arnold has been moved to hospice. There is nothing more that can be done. The family has been called in….” His wife passed away June 3rd. I got ready to attend worship at a Lutheran Church in Dillon, Colorado with my uncle on my mind.
At Lord of the Mountains Lutheran Church, the Feast of St. Francis was celebrated. Dogs, cats, and other family pets including a yellow canary attended church services October 6th. The Pastor called the service one of “holy chaos.” Pets were blessed by the Pastor at the altar. During the homily, the Pastor gave the microphone to pet owners so they could tell about their special companions. A young girl whose dog couldn’t be at the service told us how much her “police dog” meant to her. A widow had brought her husband’s service dog to be blessed. A beagle rescued from a barn accompanied his owner. There was only one incident I noticed when two dogs didn’t seem to care for one another. Their short scuffle lasted about 10 seconds. St. Francis was in the house. The canary sang with the choir as if it had practiced with them. Pets and their owners stood in line together to take communion. It was the first time that I had ever been directed to the communion table by an usher and their dog. I stood in line behind a yellow labrador and other pets “escorting” their owners to the Lord’s Table.
There was another Facebook message the next morning. My 92 year-old uncle passed during the early morning hours of October 7th. He remained on my mind through the day.
We talked about moving our planned visit to St. Benedict’s Monastery during breakfast at the Sunshine Cafe in Silverthorne. It would be a long drive, too long to drive back after Thursday evening’s Vesper Service with the Brothers. After breakfast, we came back to pick up a few things and to call the Monastery to make sure it was open on Mondays. A recording offered many options but I didn’t take any of them. Instead, I called the Contemplative Outreach Center main office located on the East Coast to try to get a number for someone in Colorado.
A helpful person gave me the number of a woman named Carol. She didn’t answer my call to her cell phone. I left a voice mail. We decided to take our chances and departed for the 2 1/2 hour drive to the Monastery.
While driving along the Eagle River, the woman named Carol returned my call. She encouraged me to visit the Monastery, recommending a couple of spots to visit while there. As we were approaching Monastery Road, we drove about five miles on an old road beside a creek. A black SUV was behind us. When we turned left on Monastery Road, the SUV turned with us. Reaching the parking area, the SUV driver parked next to our car. We knew that the small building to the left of the chapel housed a prayer room that connected to the chapel by way of three windows. After we were inside a vestibule to the prayer room, a bell rang. I silently walked into the prayer room. The SUV driver was kneeling at one of the altars. A woman sat on the far right of the room. I sat in a back chair, where I was able to see into the chapel. The Brothers were having prayers in the chapel. The two people besides myself left the prayer room. I was alone, able to watch and listen to the liturgy and prayers of the Brothers. I silently recited the Lord’s prayer with them.
After prayers were over, I walked into the bookstore where my husband met me. A few people were in the store. I selected some books, knowing that some in my prayer group were using the books I planned to purchase. Two Brothers were in the bookstore. After talking to some people, one of the Brothers left. The remaining Brother said to me, “This never happens. We are rarely in the bookstore.” (The bookstore runs on the honor system. It is not staffed.) He took care of my purchases, answered my questions, inviting my husband and I to stay as long as we wanted. We stayed on the grounds a while, quietly taking in the beauty, peace and solitude of the Monastery. We drove to the Retreat House, walking the grounds, sitting in silence, and breathing in the beauty of God’s creation. We took special care to be quiet, having been advised by Carol that a ten-day silent retreat started that morning.
I sit in wonder at these two deeply personal spiritual experiences, one at a Lutheran Church and one at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. My husband appreciated the time at St. Benedict’s as much as I did.
There is the pain of the loss of a father, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend more than 1,400 miles away. There is joy in heaven as my uncle and aunt are perhaps reunited.
The Lutheran Pastor offered these words following communion on Sunday: “Compassion, creativity, and joy are ours through Jesus Christ. May the Holy Spirit move us to preserve and enhance life on Earth, giving clear witness to our loving Creator. Amen.”
To read an article about St. Benedict Monastery, go to