Tuesday, May 22, 2012
A week ago, I set out in my borrowed car to drive over the pass in the Santa Lucia mountain range and then head north up the coastal road. The drive is a spectacular one, and I had to admit spectacularly fun in this little car with the top down. The road winds through marsh and sea meadow and then begins to hug the cliffs in earnest. The signs warn that the road narrows, and I'm glad of the small car when I pass a bus on a tight curve going in the opposite direction. Then another sign - road narrows. How can this steep and serpentine path narrow any more and still carry two lanes of traffic? Fifty miles after I turn north I spot the sign I am looking for: New Camaldoli Hermitage, 2 miles. I turn right and head up and up. I pray that I won't meet another car going down, and take two deep breaths when I see a brown UPS van headed my way. Where can I go? I squeeze by,clinging to the cliff, thinking I could just about reach out the passenger window and touch the granite protruding from the cliff. The van, a 500 foot drop off to his left, seems unperturbed. I park, peel my fingers off the wheel and head off to find the guestmaster.
By 6 pm I have brought in my one bag and my furoshiki packed with books, and managed to figure out where the psalms and chant tones for Vespers are in the Camaldolese Office book (but not the opening verse, or Regina Caeli). The Liturgy of the Hours, usually such a stable spot in my day, now feels much like the road I've driven to get here. Chant tones I don't know, a different arrangement of the psalter; I'm clinging to the edge, watching for signs, hoping not to run into anyone. I tentatively set my voice into the chant, thankful for the strong and clear tones of the precentor. I'm almost as white-knuckled at the end of the Office, as I was at the end of my drive up. The 30 minutes of silent meditation in the chapel that followed the final hymn was more on the order of a collapse into God's arms than any attempt at organized prayer. I wonder if I'll ever have the courage to drive down the road again, or for that matter, the strength to stay up here and face God, alone except for the psalms?