Monday, October 27, 2003

I almost killed a nun last week. That's right. A nun. I suppose the story requires some explaination. Here's the best I can do.

I am currently on vacation. Two weeks. Actually 15 days but who's counting? (I am.) I decided that I need to get away. I felt the call to silence. The call to solitude. All I really wanted was to spend some time alone with God. Is that a bad thing? Is that asking too much? I think not. So I mounted my Mustang and drove to Villa Maria. This is a truly wonderful retreat center/convent owned by the Ursaline Sisters. In other words ... nuns. It is about an hour southeast of Minneapolis. I have been there twice before for youth pastor retreats led by Youth Specialties. This time I was going it alone. I soon learned that I was the only guest on the premises. Cool. That, my friend, is the route to silence and solitude. There are about 50 guest rooms and I mine was the only one filled. Just me and a handful of nuns. Selah.

Things got interesting as soon as I arrived. It was about 9:15PM last Tuesday, October 21. One little nun waited up late for me to arrive. You see, they usually hit the hay at 9PM. But the call to be a nun is a call to sacrifice and this wonderful little sister waited up for me to arrive. She took me to my room.

Oh my. I have always stayed in rooms on the upper floors before. Those rooms are very sparsely appointed. Each has a bed, a chair, a desk, a dresser, and a sink. The bath is down the hall. But tonight, since I was the only person there, they gave me the premium accomodations. That means I got my own potty. Sweet. But I almost choked when she led me to my room. There was only one way in. In order to get there you have to go through the sanctuary. I'm not a catholic. But I know enough to realize that they take their sanctuaries very, very seriously. They have little coin boxes at the back. As we entered the sister knelt and crossed herself. I removed my baseball cap. She stood and led me down the aisle and onto the stage. Huh? We went past the communion table, past the harp, and made a hard left at the candlestand. There we went through another doorway and into the sancricity. I'm not sure what this room was really for but it was sure scarey enough. A short walk across the sancricity brought us to three guest rooms. They were named. There was peace, hope, and faith. I got peace. I had hoped that I would. I even had faith that I would. It was peace for me. My sister friend took her leave of me and returned to her own room hidden deeply within the bowls of this castle-like structure. I went and got my luggage and made myself at home ... 50 feet from the altar.

Fast forward. Friday evening, October 24. The sun has gone down and the dark, Minnesota night has fallen hard. It's more than cool. It is totally crisp. Very fall like. Most of the leaves have faded to a deep brown and some have even taken their suicide plunge to the forest floor. I have been walking, wandering through the countryside across the maze of trails for a couple of hours. It's a great way to talk with the Creator of the Universe ... walking through it and checking out his handiwork. We had a nice walk and a nice talk. It was nearing 10PM when I arrived back at the front door of Villa Maria. I had been given the numerical code to punch into the key pad. This unlocked the front door and allowed me inside.

The nuns were well asleep by now. I owned the place. But there was not a lot to do to entertain myself. It is, after all, a convent. Only dim lights burned in the lobby. I climbed the marble steps and made my way to the entrance of the sanctuary. The wood framed glass doors were closed. I made a mental note of this oddity. I do not think I had ever seen them closed before. No big deal though. I pulled on the handle and they opened easily enough. Inside the sanctuary it was even darker than it was in the moonless night outside. At least there were a million stars out there to shed a bit of light on my path. In here there was a single candle burning steadily at the very back of the altar area. I was, in effect, blind. I felt for the first pew and found it with my left hand. From that point it was easy to find the second pew and the third and so on until I reached the front of the seating section. It was blacker than ever now. I pointed myself toward the candle and began to shuffle my feet ... moving slowly forward without lifting them off of the floor. I continued on this way until my toes found the first step. I knew that there were two steps leading to the stage platform. I took them one at a time and then I began moving to my left. I also knew that just before I reached the wall I should find a large harp. I had never actually touched a harp before. My hands found it quickly. My first thought was to see if I could rip off a few chords of "Dueling Banjo's." For once I made a right decision and resisted the temptation. I reached out again and found the wall behind the harp. Almost home free now. Just follow the wall to the right until I feel the doorway. I moved so slowly. By now I was near enough to the single glowing candle that I could actually make out vague shapes in the immediate area. The first thing I noticed was an area that was blacker than the rest of the room. I guessed correctly that this was the doorway. The fingers of my right hand reached out and curled around the door jam. I took one final step in that direction and paused, preparing to step into the darkest place I had been all evening . Remember, this is being done by a man that had just completed a walk in the woods without a flashlight in rural Minnesota. My walk had taken me through a cemetary of deceased nuns. They are buried in circles ... facing outward. I do not have the slightest idea why. But this room was about to redefine "dark." I clearly remember telling my right foot to get up and get in there ... when I glanced down. Down to my feet. Down to the floor. Down in the dimmest of light. Down at the head of a nun resting 6 inches from my Nike. DOWN AT THE HEAD OF A NUN RESTING 6 INCHES FROM MY NIKE! DOWN AT THE HEAD OF A NUN RESTING 6 INCHES FROM MY NIKE!!! I didn't think. I didn't act. I REacted. I plunged through the doorway into the pit of the sancricity. I glanced back. The sanctuary looked positively glowing in comparison. Laying between the glowing candle and my present position was the body of a nun, facedown on the floor of the stage in the sanctuary. Her nose was actually pointed into the floor. Her body formed the perfect shape of a cross. She was praying? She was sleeping? She was dead? I have no idea. I do not have any desire to know. My heart rate was breaking all of the laws of physics. It was located in my throat and it's speed was absolutely unhealthy for a 48 year old man. I trusted my memory of the room having a clear path from door to door and I relatively cannoned myself toward the next dark hole. I hit the light switch. I was in love. No, not with the decor. Certainly not with the nun behind me. I was in the room "Love." AAARRRGGGHHH. I turned the light off and moved one room to the left, pounced on the switch, closed the door and collapsed on the bed. Peace. At last. Peace.

I confess that I did not sleep well that night. I also did not leave my room until long after sun up. When I finally peeked my head out the doorway I had my luggage in my hand. I walked across a clear stage ... no sign of last nights fiasco. I passed by the nun/innkeeper's desk and dropped $100 on it. She stuttered something about my leaving a day early. I stuttered back that she should keep the change. Luggage met Mustang. Mustang met highway.

It has been 50 hours now since my run-in with the phantom nun of Villa Maria. Who was she? What was she doing there long after her bed time? Didn't she know that a poor, tired, stressed out, pastor seeking only solitude and silence would be making his way through the doorway by her head when she lay down there? Did she know that she would be the catalyst of my early departure from her convent? I do not know. I will never know.

As I turned into my driveway later, after the next moonless night had fallen, I took another walk. This one was across my neighbors front lawn. I knocked on his door. On my way home I had recieved a phone call that Chris, his wife, had died. He wanted to know if I would do her funeral. Of course I will. Bob and Chris have been my neighbors for 10 years now. I knew that Chris had not been healthy. He thought he was going to lose her several times in the past months but she always had a way of bouncing back. Not this time. My first walk began at a cemetary. My next walk will end at a cemetary. Vacations can be odd things. Some people go to the mountains. Some go to the beach. I go to convents and cemetaries. I really need to rethink the way I handle my free time.