That’s what I chanted as I left Salem for the wide open spaces on the road to Mt. Angel Abbey last Friday. It was a rare sunny day that brightened vast emerald fields of grass, red barns, brown cows, and baby sheep running across the fields. Clouds shot across the blue sky like flying angels.
For so long I hadn’t driven anywhere except Albany to visit Fred and Salem to teach my writing classes. I hadn’t run away in ages. It felt so good.
I always thought Mt. Angel was just a seminary, monastery and retreat center, but it’s also a town, population approximately 3,700. Clearly the town banks on its connection to the abbey. Most of the downtown shops sport signs written in biblical lettering. The spires of St. Mary’s church rise into the clouds on the road to the seminary. Buildings housing the Benedictine sisters rise up on both sides of Mt. Angel Road.
Quaint old houses gave way to trees as I turned up the mountain. I saw all these little white buildings along the side of the road. Bus stops? Prayer stations? Each enclosed a picture of Jesus on the Way of the Cross, his path from conviction to crucifixion. Soon I saw a monk in brown robes. I can see this as an arduous meditative walk. The road is steep.
Cars filled the parking lot at the end of the road. I took an elevator to the main level and entered the bookstore. A soft hymn played through speakers overhead as I browsed through the books, statues and crucifixes. Deep sigh. Peace.
Being a seminary for men, Mt. Angel made me conscious of my gender, especially when I passed a classroom full of young men who watched me go by. But I saw signs on the doors of the guest house welcoming women by name, and I was relieved to find restrooms with the familiar skirted symbol for women.
Beyond the brick buildings and the massive church, one can see forever. The whole Willamette Valley spreads out below. Past the green fields and trees, I could see a snow-capped mountain peak poking through the clouds. So beautiful.
But you see the everyday, too. As I gazed eastward, I heard someone singing. This giant Chicano seminarian came out carrying a sack of garbage. He continued to sing as he dumped it in the dumpster and went back inside. He sang in a high falsetto. I wondered how that might go over when he’s a priest in his own parish, but it certainly would help in choir singing. Every choir needs a good high tenor.
I didn’t have to wear a jacket that day. Amazing. So warm, so sunny, so pretty.
I always want to do whatever I see. I can’t be priest, but I could be a nun at the Benedictine convent. Or I could move out there, work on the newspaper—they must have one–play some music, make quilts, grow flowers. Be warm. Attend the annual beer and sausage celebration called Wurstfest, which is happening this weekend. Plus, it’s only 40 miles from Portland.
Of course when I got home, I was less eager to move, and brown is not a good color on me. But while I was at Mt. Angel, time disappeared and I wanted to stay forever.
I can’t stay forever, but anyone can stay overnight or for a few days. I could take that long walk along the Stations of the Cross. See the website at www.mountangelabbey.org for information on retreats there.
From Mt. Angel, I rolled back into Salem and treated myself to lunch at Marie Callender’s. Seated in the chintz and floral dining room with a huge slice of corn bread with honey butter and all the iced tea I could drink, I knew there was a God.