Four months ago, I walked from the monastery to downtown Atchison. I had been cloistered for three days. Everything I read, and almost everything I saw and heard, was spiritual in aim. I thought I’d better put myself back in the real world a little, like you put a fish, still inside its pet store plastic bag, to float in its old bubble in its new tank.
I down the hill, past the Dairy Queen, and started to consider buying something delicious. I walked across the railroad tracks, up to the Amelia Earhart museum, and peeked through its locked door. I turned to follow the road into town. I figured I hadn’t had much exercise, what with the cloistering and all.
Along that road, I had to navigate some crumbling curbs and shoulders, lots of gravel. I walked past the grain elevators, looming over me like giant’s legs. I got to downtown, and I imagined my great-grandmother shopping for my birthday cards there. She always sent a cheap card and a dollar bill for my birthday. She either shopped in Atchison or Effingham. For many years, my great-grandparents farmed in the area.
I wanted to see the river because it was so high the bridge was closed. I found an open place to walk toward the bridge and the river. I approached the railroad tracks. Two guys were walking their big brown dog. A sign said, “No trespassing.”
I looked at the river. It didn’t look so terrible to me. It didn’t come anywhere near the bottom of the bridge. I remembered going over that bridge, on our way to the holiday reunion at my great-grandparents’ church.
I walked back to the monastery, stopping to buy and eat a huge brownie sundae. It tasted disappointing. More like plastic than ice cream. But I had bought it, so I shoveled it down.
Back up the hill to the monastery, I went past the abandoned batting cages, past a Super 8 hotel where three guys were carrying in cases of cheap beer. Then I was back in my quiet building, with my pietas and my snuggly couch and my cranky air conditioner.
Every day, three times a day, when I went to prayer, I walked through the vestibule for the main chapel. It was like an air lock, connecting the areas where visitors like me stayed with the areas the sisters used. There was a big painting of St. Benedict, and a big painting of St. Scholastica, with their arms outstretched, their robes spread welcomingly, the colors dark and somber.
Four months later, in an Atchison grain elevator, wheat dust somehow was sparked, and exploded. It’s so hard to believe wheat could explode. Wheat, our deepest nourishment, our symbol of home and the relief and rest of harvest and the nourishment of Jesus’ body and his message. Its dust can be more like flint than flour. Sometimes things explode. Anything can be dangerous.