It all started with an invitation; an invitation to attend the State Luncheon hosted by the U.S State Department in honour of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to the US in early August this year.
I decided to fly over to Washington, D.C. to attend this fancy-schmancy event and thought it’d be a great idea to combine my visit to Washington with a spiritual retreat at a monastery. I called Georgetown Visitation Monastery.
Sr. Mada-Anne received my call and after a 20 minute chat where she shared with me about her order’s founders, who aptly were St. Francis De Sales (patron saint of writers!) and St. Jane Chantal, she told me she’d speak to her Mother Superior about my stay and soon I was confirmed to stay with the Visitation Sisters at their monastery for four days.
When I arrived, it was close to 8.30pm on a Sunday evening and the sisters were getting ready for bedtime. Sr. Mada-Anne, in a very motherly way, gave me a tour within what seemed to be labyrinthine corridors and levels within the beautiful brownstone building.
After inquiring as to my plans for the next few days, she told me that I would have to get her permission before I left the monastery during the day and to let her know when I would be planning to be back at the monastery.
The thought of Maria in The Sound of Music crossed my mind as I quickly put to rest plans to wander around Washington, D.C. and even to take a road trip to Manhattan to eat at my favourite pastry shop. And though I was looking forward to my stay in the monastery, at that particular moment, I felt as if I was a bird trapped.
But the Lord works in mysterious ways.
I woke up early the next morning to join the sisters in their morning prayer and at breakfast. The only skirt that I had packed in my luggage was the same dark navy blue colour that the Visitation Sisters wore for their habit, so I decided to don my ‘habit’ of the navy skirt, paired with a t-shirt while I was there within the monastery. It was comforting to somehow not have to worry about what to wear, what to eat, where to sleep. The Lord had taken care of that.
Despite having rented a Toyota Prius, and initially thinking about heading to my favourite pastry shop in NYC, an eight-hour round-trip drive…. Being the wanderer that I am, and loving to linger outside to just look and stare and think….I found myself instead wanting to root myself at the feet of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
I was Martha, being guided to being Mary; and gradually, I found myself longing to hear His voice within the prayers of the Divine Office every day, to hear His laughter and joy within the voices of the Visitation Sisters, and to adore His Heart within the Tabernacle that was in the small chapel located just steps away from my bedroom. It was heartwarming having Jesus as my neighbour.
I would creep along the wooden floors from my bedroom to the little chapel at night just before bedtime, so as to spend some time with Him.
During one of the evenings, Sr. Mada-Ann invited me to sing for the sisters. Singing for them felt so beautifully profound. I found that instead of ministering to them through my music, I was being ministered to, through their peaceful, joyful listening.
Although it has been a month since I was at the monastery, I can still hear within my heart, the sweet gentle strains of the Visitation Sisters singing the Divine Office every morning and mid-afternoon. The beauty of the prayers moved me to buy myself a copy of the Liturgy of the Hours prayer book that the nuns used.
Now whenever I read the prayers in the Divine Office, I feel connected with the prayers of the Visitation Sisters. I miss them very much, but am glad that we are all One in the Body of Christ, and being so, we can never be too far apart from each other.