A Monastic Life Experience: Josh Gross
The Ascent – By Josh Gross, Monastic Life Retreatant
In the months preceding my Monastic Life Retreat, I began running. Though young (I am almost twenty-four years old), I’ve had a variety of knee issues, so I gave myself plenty of time to lengthen the distances and shorten the times of my runs. The day before I arrived at Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had my longest run at six miles.
The Abbey is situated in the hill country of the Willamette Valley. As such, there are many trails to wander; one of these leads to “the top” which is otherwise referred to as “the shrine” (as the name suggests, there is a shrine dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe waiting at the summit). While the trail to the top is no marathon (it is only a mile and half or two), one monk said the vertical climb is eight hundred feet. Whatever the precise measurement, the trail is steep, especially the last quarter of the way to the ridgeline.
On my first full day there, I decided to run the trail. Yet, even after the first two minutes, I discovered that running even long distances across level land is an entirely different sort of activity than running a short distance with great incline. My run descended into a jog descended into an alteration of hiking and jogging.
Adding to the exertion of the effort was not only the July sun, but also my own uncertainty of the way forward. Before beginning, I had consulted a map of the path to the shrine, but found the actual experience of navigating the trail dissimilar enough from what I recalled of the neatly drawn lines and squiggles to cause periodic moments of doubt and hesitation, unsure of which way would lead me to where I was wanting to go. The intensity of my own physical effort: the quickening pace of my heartbeat, the salty sweat stinging and blinding my eyes, the futile attempt to control my breathing all exacerbated an awareness that I was not sure of what I was doing…I could be headed in the wrong direction and not know it.
Yet, there was still a trail. Its narrowness and the occasional spots of overgrowth gave the impression that it was not often followed, but the fact that it was still there at all and had been traveled by, at least, a few made real the possibility it led somewhere, hopefully the top. Plus, I was moving upward and even if I did not yet know what the top looked like, I could sense I was moving in the right direction even amid my doubt. I decided to trust the trail and kept climbing.
Sure enough, I eventually reached the shrine and a clear view of the valley below. Upon arriving, I stopped my watch and saw the whole venture had taken me twenty-four minutes. Perhaps it was the endorphins, the sense of accomplishment, being in a sacred place, a new sight, another prayed rosary, but I felt something good there. I suspect it was all of that and more. Thanks be to God.
To whomever has ears to hear, I invite you to also visit Our Lady of Guadalupe even if you are uncertain as to where such a journey may lead.
With and in Love,