I spent the earliest years of my young adulthood in Collegeville, Minnesota. While I was there, I wandered through the woods of the St. John’s campus and monastery often.
On one of those wandering afternoons, in a springtime much like this year’s, I stumbled across a building that seemed to appear like a magical work of art through the trees. I didn’t know what the building was at first, but I soon discovered that I had encountered the Episcopal House of Prayer for the first time. At least in those days, the doors were left open, so I wandered inside. I wandered into the welcoming entryway…through the meeting rooms…then down the hall where the dormitory rooms are…and then, if you’ve been there, and you’re following me in your mind’s eye, you know what I stumbled into next: the magnificent Oratory. Having grown up in a traditional, conservative Roman Catholic world, I had never seen anything like that place before. The energy was palpably peaceful. The room was minimal and spare, circular in shape. Sunlight poured in from skylights in the center of the vaulted ceiling above, and from windows shaped like honeycombs in the walls. A circle in the center of the room, on the floor, held sand and rocks, grounding the space in the earth, which somehow perfectly complemented the lightness you could feel in the air at the same time.
I saw meditation pillows all over the floor. I sat down on one. I spent some quiet moments in what I best knew to be meditation (even though the idea was fairly brand-new to me at the time)…and when I was done, I wandered back through the woods to the main part of campus. I SO distinctly remember how I was feeling in that moment. I was buzzing, maybe even a bit light-headed. I felt like I had ingested some sort of drug. I was on a high that I had never experienced before. Everything around me looked brilliant, brighter. I felt SO connected to everyone and everything around me. I felt so much more at peace than I ever had before. I felt like something totally new and transformative had opened to me, that I was suddenly seeing this “being alive” experience with whole new eyes.
Years later now, having seriously studied meditation for years, and having found my way to the Episcopal Church too, I feel like that experience was a major turning point, a transformative prelude into future chapters of my life.