How priceless is your love, O God!
Your people take refuge under the shadow of your wings.
They feast upon the abundance of your house;
You give them drink from the river of your delights.
Psalm 36: 7-8
I arrived at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist (Cistercian) monastery in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, on a Monday afternoon to begin a retreat that would last until Friday. The monastery is located twenty-some miles north of Charleston, South Carolina on the banks of the Cooper River. The large estate on which the monastery is located was formerly owned by the Henry Luce family, the founder of the Time-Life empire. In 1949 the Luce family donated the estate, on which they are also buried, to the Roman Catholic Church for the purpose of building a monastery on that property.
This was by no means my first retreat at a monastery, but it was my first retreat at Mepkin Abbey. Just as every congregation has its own ethos and flavor, so it is with a monastery, I did not yet know what I would find there and how I would fit in. I checked into my room in the guest quarters and then hurried to eat my evening meal at 5 PM. (The mid-day “dinner” served after noontime prayer is the main meal of the day and is the only cooked meal served at the Abbey.)
When I finished eating, I had some time to explore the famous gardens on the monastery grounds. As I walked through the garden I came upon the banks of the Cooper River. It was a great surprise to me. I had not looked at a map prior to my visit and so was surprised by the beauty of the wide river divided by a thin island, with water on both sides of it. It was hot and extremely muggy, but a strong breeze made it the most comfortable spot I found outdoors that day. I sat on the riverside and watched the current flow one way while the wind blew in the opposite direction as if it were trying to reverse the flow of the river.
Sitting by the banks of the river, I saw and heard fish jumping out of the water, launching themselves some two to three feet into the air. I thought to myself, “what a waste! Here I am by the river with no fishing rod or fishing gear. This would be great time to go fishing.” And then in a moment of insight I recognized the truth of that moment. I was not here to catch fish in the river but to drink from the water of life, to find refreshment from the living water that Jesus promises to all who believe in him. Later in worship as I read Psalm 36, I knew that I had come to “drink from the river of [God’s] delights.”
I had come to the monastery to allow God to work in me. My desire to go fishing I realized, while good and pleasant in itself, was symbolic of my (and I think I can safely say, “our”) tendency to work too much, thereby not leaving much time for the reflection, silence, solitude, and prayer that provide God the space to work in us to renew, refresh, and replenish us so that we become more available both to God and to one another.
I was at the Abbey to engage in a different kind of fishing—what might be called “no-fishing.” For a few days, I was to live and move within the river, not actively, but in a different manner of quiet and calm thus allowing God to fish for me as I opened myself to being captured and captivated by God’s love pouring from God’s “river of delights.”