“Each man’s life represents a road to himself.” Herman Hesse
In recent years, my husband has been periodically mentioning that he would like to take me on a road trip in a red convertible. I would hear him, but I didn’t pay attention to what those words really meant. Even though my practice of centering prayer and study of Benedictine spirituality have taught me to do just that—Pay attention. Listen. Let life soak in.
My husband kept his word and on Wednesday, August 15, the Feast of the Assumption, he and I went to 7:00 am mass, came home, and packed up our blue (not red) Mini Cooper convertible. I grabbed the Route 66 guidebooks and an Angel of God prayer card a friend had just given my husband. We hopped in the car donning our Old Route 66 t-shirts, full of hopeful excitement. We were ready for an adventure. We had about three weeks of time available and no reservations made. Our hearts were open to where God would lead.
“Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)
Just south of Springfield, Illinois, we came upon our first landmark: Our Lady of the Highways, located on private property along the highway to remind travelers of potential dangers and offer a place to pray. An elderly couple care for the shrine. We paused and prayed, struck by the simplicity and significance of the moment. We knew we were in God’s hands.
Further along our drive in Eureka, Missouri, we came upon the Black Madonna Shrine, the work of a Polish monk who labored from 1938 until his death in 1960. It consists of an open-air chapel and seven grottos with devotional statues adorned with shells, jewelry, and other ordinary materials collected by Brother Luszcz. An elderly gentleman who lives on the property quietly sat at the back of the chapel ready to help or answer any questions. We sunk into the moment enjoying the unique beauty of this simple creation of love. I lit a candle.
The next day we visited Merrimac Caverns. Traveling in the fall means you avoid the crowds and get the full attention of the very social and informative tour guides. The scale and grandeur of these caverns is a delight to behold. I found myself thinking, “Yesterday we saw in the shrines what man can do for God. Today we see what God did for man!” That thought would visit me again many times as we traveled west across stunning countryside.
We experienced Missouri true to our guidebook’s description: “an excellent drive over hills and through woods and meadows.” * I would characterize the people as simple, unassuming, God-fearing, kind, helpful, open, and trusting. I sensed no striving, rather they seem happy to be where they are, not wanting to go someplace else. Content with the life God has given them. That spoke to me.
We then moved on to Texas where there is still that feel of the “wild, wild west”. “The almost limitless emptiness of the countryside” * drew me into the moment, allowing me to cultivate my own interior silence as we drove along. Adrian, Texas marks the mid-way point of the route. We had traveled over 1,000 miles. We met fellow sojourners from Europe who had flown to Chicago, rented a car, and planned to drive the entire route to Los Angeles, California. Before leaving Texas, we visited a newer site, the “Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ”, billed as the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere. The complex also includes life size Stations of the Cross. It was encouraging to see so many tributes to God along the way.
We went to Sunday mass in Clinton, Oklahoma. Greeters handed out small, hand carved crosses to all visitors. A nice touch–hospitality Benedictine style. I found the landscape of Oklahoma–its red colored soil, solitary windmills and cattle lazily grazing –all so peaceful and calming.
New Mexico offered us the peaceful isolation of small Spanish communities and larger cities like Santa Fe where we stopped at Our Lady of Guadalupe Cathedral just in time for afternoon mass in the enchanting side chapel. One of many coincidences that reminded us of God’s presence and guidance.
We veered off the route for the most impactful part of our trip—a four day stay at Pecos Benedictine Monastery. To describe our time here would require a separate telling. This community of eight monks, one sister, and one resident oblate captured my heart. We stayed here during a week when there were no other visitors, so we had these sweet souls to ourselves. We prayed with them, ate our meals together in silence, and spent some evenings getting to know a bit more about Abbot Aiken and the history of the monastery. We took walks around the grounds which included a grand lake surrounded by a simple walking path. The mountains enveloped us, insulating us from the outside world. We were steeped in majesty and silence.
We celebrated the Feast of Queen Mary while there. Abbot Aiken reflected on Mary’s “yes” –her consent, humility, and obedience. When we left, I wrote in my journal, “Today I have felt so FULL of love for all. What a gift.” I don’t think I could have asked for better fruit from this trip.
As we began our drive back to Illinois, I sensed God inviting me to “trade my unsettledness for surrender to Him”. I returned home more surrendered. More in love with God and with my husband. More aware of the Divine. Tangible fruit of the contemplative way of life.
*EZ 66 Guide for Travelers, Jerry McClanahan