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Day 4, travelogue

So cute!

Cell phone reception here at Lebh Shomea is abominable, since we are in the middle of nowhere, but curiously, 3G internet reception is marginally better than abominable, and when it works, I can tether my netbook to the internet through my phone (Droid rules!). But I wanted to talk with Annette, so yesterday afternoon I felt like adventure and drove 25 miles into Kingsville to a coffee shop to have a cup of real coffee and talk with my wife.

The coffee was bliss, but it actually felt strange being back in “civilization,” and once I had finished my phone call and the coffee, I got right back into the car and headed back to my cell. The kind of peace I have here is precious, and I found I missed it.

At any rate, I didn’t really want to drive 25 miles for a cup of coffee; so on the way back, I stopped in the little town of Sarita, which is only 5 miles from the House of Prayer, to inquire after the local coffee shop. There were a couple of old Hispanic women talking outside the food bank, whom I asked. They laughed at my question. There isn’t a coffee shop in town. Actually, there’s scarcely even a town to call “Sarita.” It’s the county seat of Kenedy County, and, as far as I could see, it consists of

  • (1) the courthouse,
  • (2) the courthouse annex,
  • (3) the sheriff’s office,
  • (4) something call the Kenedy Pasture Company,
  • (4) one little church (Our Lady of Guadalupe, of course),
  • (5) a very small elementary school (part of Kenedy County Consolidated School District, which tells you the ratio of cattle—or oil/natural gas wells—to people around here),
  • (6) the local food bank (which tells you about the economy), and
  • (7) a couple of dozen houses.

There’s no coffee to be bought in all of Sarita, though I was kindly referred to the vending machines in the sheriff’s office if I wanted a snack. (God bless ’em, you can’t make this stuff up.)

The nearest coffee shop is in Riviera, about 5 miles up the road. I’m actually curious now, and will have to make an excursion to find it; if I do, I will report back.

Random observations:

The big bowl of pinto beans appeared on the buffet table at lunch again today. Methinks it’s part of the daily fare in these parts. In Guatemala, you got your daily black bean paste; in Mexico, you got your frijoles refritos; in Texas, you got your big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans, which all true Texans love anyway, since we were all weaned on red beans and rice. And yes, there was a bowl of rice (with butter in it, such as my Mamma used to make), to go with, as well as the customary raw onions and jalapeño peppers with which to garnish said beans. (It’s probably a Really Good Thing that this is a hermitage and we all live by ourselves in separate cells…)

My old friend the armadillo, the Texas national mascot, stopped by to pay his respects last evening. I returned his kindness by immortalizing him in the photo which graces this post. Javalinas also came calling, but well after dark, and I never saw them, but I heard their grunts. St Gerasimos of the Jordan had a lion. St Seraphim of Sarov had a bear. Me? I get hairy wild pigs. I’ll take the armadillo instead.

Breakfast here consists largely of fiber. White bread seems to be disallowed, there is only whole wheat. Of four kinds of breakfast cereal set out, one is 100% bran something or another, and one is Grapenuts (the other two are sensible cereals, Cheerios and plain corn flakes). And there is the usual dish of prunes. Prayer isn’t the only thing that’s regular around here…

If we sang Liturgy as slowly as these Catholics say Mass, we’d be at it four hours.

Part of learning the eremtical-contemplative life is developing buns of steel. There isn’t a soft chair in the whole place.

Today it decided to rain, so instead of 85 degrees and 85% humidity, it’s 85 and 100%. I do love Texas. There is a small air conditioner in my cell, but I haven’t used it yet, out of fear that I’ll not venture out of doors if I get used to it being cool. I may be forced into using it at some point though; everything in the cell is now damp: clothes, books, and bed; the towel isn’t drying out. A man can take only so much clamminess.

But all of that is by the way. The day is good. Serious, substantive reflections if and when any occur to me.



Trip 1, to Texas

I’ve structured my sabbatical in 5 parts: 4 week-long stays at various monasteries, with time at home in between, and a vacation with my family. The first week-long stay will be at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer, a Roman Catholic hermitage and retreat center near Sarita, Texas, which is south of Corpus Christi, near the coast.

I decided to go here from having read some of the books written by two of the members of the core community there, Marie Theresa Coombs, a hermitess, and Fr Francis Kelly Nemeck, OMI. Some of their books that I’ve read can be seen here.  The Spiritual Journey was especially helpful to me when I read it, as the authors lean heavily on St John of the Cross, who discusses in detail the transitions between the stages of spiritual life, something I haven’t found so clearly put in Orthodox writings.

“Lebh Shomea” is Hebrew for “a listening heart,” from 1 Kings 3.9, Solomon’s prayer for wisdom, where he asks, “Give your servant lebh shomea, a listen heart, so that he is able to discern.”

The House of Prayer offers solitary retreats and the possibility for spiritual direction while staying there. I am looking to take advantage of both the solitude and the direction, to pray and to be guided.

After a week at Lebh Shomea, I’ll drive to my hometown, Clute, TX, and visit some relatives and family friends, and then go on to Comfort, TX, where my parents live, to see them for a little while before I fly home.

Itinerary (T minus 19 days)

The itinerary for the sabbatical.

15 May. Last Liturgy at St Innocent’s. After Liturgy, the sabbatical officially begins.

16-24 May — Fly to San Antonio, TX. Week at Lebh Shomea House of Prayer near Sarita, TX.

24-26 May — Time with family & friends in Clute, TX, my home town.

26-28 May — Time with my parents in Comfort, TX.

29 June – 19 July — Home with my family.

(14-17 June, attending Acton Institute’s Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. This is not part of the sabbatical, but it is something of significance that I’ll be doing.)

19 June — Fly to London.

20-28 June — Week at St John the Baptist Monastery in Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex,  England.

29-30 June — Thessalonica & Ouranoupolis, Greece.

1-7 July — Xeropotamou & St Panteleimon Monasteries, Mount Athos.

8-11 July — Thessalonica & London.

11-17 July — Home with my family.

18-25 July — Week at St John of Shanghai Monastery, Manton, CA.

25 July – 18 August — Vacation with my family in CA, NV, UT, WY, MT, and WA.

19 August — Return home.

21 August — Back at St Innocent’s, the sabbatical finished.