Traveling to Monasteries: One Part of a Larger Journey
Last month, I interviewed Paul Green, who left his job and took off on a journey to seventeen Trappist monasteries in the US. The journey resulted in a photo book, Silence is Spoken Here, but more importantly, a change in how he sees himself and his sense of place.
Paul’s wife, Tina Moore, inspired the journey and traveled along with him. I interviewed Tina, too, thinking they would respond differently to questions about their motivations and what they found. (I also wanted to ensure that neither husband nor wife would overpower the other.) And, of course, they shared different stories!
What follows is my conversation with Tina. As you will see, if you read to the end, Tina views her journey to Trappist monasteries as only one part of a much larger journey. She’s been a spiritual seeker since at least her college years. And her searching has always included looking for the right everyday practices. Today she’s settled in northwest Arkansas, where her volunteer work factors into her training to become a spiritual director. Tina’s advice–if you feel stuck in your situation–look deep inside for what your desires really are. And, reach out. Don’t be afraid to look for someone who will help you take the first steps.
“I was looking for something . . . meaningful”
Etta: So, Tina, I have read Paul’s book Silence Is Spoken Here, which is full of beautiful photos. But it’s notable that your name isn’t on the cover. Maybe it should be—for how you influenced the journey? I really enjoyed hearing from Paul about how you guys came up with the ideas, from his perspective, and what he has been doing since then, but I’m interested in your perspective. What prompted you to take the trip to the 17 Trappist monasteries scattered across the US?
Tina: I think in the back of my mind I was looking for something that Paul and I could do together that would be meaningful. I wasn’t sure what meaningful meant, but a few years before, a friend of mine and I had talked about doing a coffee table book. We were both just a tiny bit involved with photography–nothing professional at all–and we were going to travel the country. We were going to take sunrise and sunset pictures from every state, so we kind of had this dream of doing that. We joked about taking her daughter and homeschooling her.
That was a long time before Paul and I were in a relationship together. So that was back there somewhere [in my subconscious], and I think all these years later I had this epiphany. I pictured Paul and me doing something that had to do with his photography and traveling and exploring places–meaningful places, sacred places–that was sort of this broad idea.
“I expected that he would turn me down”
I expected that he would turn me down, because he was working full-time and not ready to quit that, but I thought, you know, I’m just going to throw it out there and see what he says. And he actually liked the idea. But we needed to refine it a little bit, because visiting sacred places–you can imagine–we were going to do one in each state, and there’re so many! “Sacred places” is a very broad term. We needed to narrow it down. And it wasn’t too long after that we went back to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Colorado and were able to visit with the Abbot, Father Joseph who has since passed away. He offered the suggestion to start with just visiting all the Trappist monasteries in the US. There are just 17 of them, and that felt doable. It allowed us to envision the journey in a way that we could make it happen.
Etta: Tell me about Colorado — why were you there, from your perspective?
Tina: I think it was in 2012 or 13 that Paul and I went for a 5-day retreat. My stepfather has been on staff out there for 25 or 30 years–a long time. He’s not a monk; he’s a lay person who leads centering prayer retreats. So we did that. Then a few years later, I was at a workshop for dream analysis in North Carolina at a place called Kanuga Retreat Center. I knew about Kanuga and about the Haden Institute, which put on the dream workshop, because of my stepdad. (I was getting introduced to a lot of these practices through my mom’s husband.) I had this series of experiences that got me to the point of wanting to do this particular project with Paul.
But previous to all of that, in 2009 I began studying theology at Drury University (just from an academic perspective), where I met Dr. Peter Browning. I was picking his brain one day as I pondered where I might be headed on the spiritual path, and he suggested that maybe seminary would be what I was looking for. So I entered Phillips Theological Seminary in January of 2011, and I believe it was the next year that I was introduced to centering prayer at the Trappist Monastery.
Etta: Were these experiences something new this point in your life?
Tina: Yes! I think this happened because for years I had been really wanting to be able to call myself a Christian, wanting to have a church home, I guess you would call it, because I did not grow up going to church, and I always felt excluded, living in the Bible Belt and living in Arkansas, growing up in this place where everybody goes to church. I was sort of on the outside. At college at Missouri State, I went to church and I had a lot of Catholic friends and I remember doing a weekend lock-in retreat with the Catholic campus ministry.
I remember my ex-husband, who was my boyfriend then, telling his fraternity brothers that I was trying to find myself.
I remember my ex-husband, who was my boyfriend then, telling his fraternity brothers that I was trying to find myself. I was 19 or 20, and I would say that was absolutely what was happening. Although now I, at age 51, I know this is lifetime process for me.
“I missed the mark for a long time. . . .”
I missed the mark for a long time because I had kids and started doing all of the secular things that we do–PTA and all of that. But I got to this point where I was really, really existentially lost. Part of it was my marriage was not fulfilling, and I was trying to stick with it, and eventually it was obvious that that wasn’t healthy and needed to not continue. And then I had a therapist ask me, “what would you do if you were divorced? What would your life look like? What would you do with your time?”
It was extremely terrifying. You’re doing what you think everyone else is expecting you to do and fit a mold that you think is set for you. I’m not saying it was that–I’m saying I thought it was. And so the therapist said, let’s just try this on. If you were divorced, what would you do? Would you go back to work? Would you go to school? So I really thought about that, and I thought I would go back to school. And he said, okay, what would you study?
I have so many interests, and I love learning in general, but I narrowed it down to nutrition, addiction and religion–and those I would say are all three related. I have a close relationship with people who struggle with addiction, and my kids both had health issues when they were young that related to nutrition (food allergies and such), so I already had kind of immersed myself in that, but the religion thing just kept coming back up, because I wanted to fit in. I wanted to be a Christian, but whatever Christian means, I couldn’t say yes to all the things [some people expected]. I kept thinking there’s got to be a way that I can educate myself enough about Christianity and about religion that I can figure it out for myself. It’s not going to be me going to church and listening to the preacher. It’s going to be studying it in a formal, academic way, following all kinds of different angles.
“I never had a feeling like, we can’t make all this come together.”
Etta: In Paul’s interview, he described a bit about how you planned the travels. You are a logistics person and organized, he said. Can you explain how you dealt with making the planning happen? Were there moments that you thought, “this is crazy” or “we can’t do this”? Were there moments where the organization went out the window or that made you want to give up?
Tina: Never. That never happened. I can see where that would be a real hindrance for some people because it might seem overwhelming. I have areas in my life that I would avoid because I wouldn’t know where to start. For example, writing a book. But planning this trip was a challenge that was fun, and I never had a feeling like, we can’t make all this come together.
Etta: You said you wanted to travel with Paul. This kind of fits into that vacation mode. But you also mentioned “sacred spaces”–so you were hoping to find something spiritually. What did you find?
“Even going to a baseball game can be a pilgrimage”
Tina: One book that probably prompted this journey is The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. I read it in 2010, five years before all of this. I was going to go on a trip to Iona, which is a very sacred island off the coast of Scotland. It was on the list of books to read before you do the trip. I signed up for it and I backed out, because that’s when my husband and I started our separation. But Cousineau talks about turning any adventure, any trip–you can call it a lot of different things–but it can become a pilgrimage. It’s all about meaning-making, establishing meaning. He gives an example of going to baseball games with his dad when he was young. Cousineau says even going to a baseball game can be a pilgrimage. At that point I decided I’m not going to travel anymore unless it’s meaningful. Recently, I would say there have been more opportunities like that than I could count.
Etta: You remember one that you can describe?
Tina: You know, almost at almost every monastery I found a sense of it being pilgrimage. Paul was doing the photography, and I didn’t need to be a part of that, so I would find either the book store/gift shop or the library (almost all of the monasteries had one). There are libraries for people that are staying there (the retreatants) who can just pull any book off the shelf. What I felt called to do is to just let a book pick me, basically. I would go into these libraries and find a book, immerse myself in it along with the atmosphere of the monastery and just let the whole experience speak to me. I made that my thing for each monastery visit.
Etta: I was going to ask you what your plan or routine was, since you’re someone who’s really organized.
“I didn’t have a routine planned when we left home.”
Tina: It developed. I didn’t have a routine planned when we left home. It was at the first monastery we visited, in a small town outside Atlanta, where I found a book…actually a monk gave me a book based on a discussion we were having and so going forward it just seemed like I would find a spot, and I could nestle with my book.
Each time it would seem like the book picked me…and the spot picked me. It was anywhere from a bench, or my little cell–you know they call them cells for a reason. They’re tiny. That in and of itself is really interesting, because I would go into my cell and I would move the chair where I wanted the chair, and there’s a lamp where I set my books up. I was making it my own—making it my spot. I would say, now that you mention it, I’m kind of a creature of habit and I would develop my own little routine.
Etta: Were you and Paul in separate rooms?
Tina: Sometimes, but it really just depended on what the set-up was at the individual monastery. Definitely there were times when we were split up and I would say, “Good night! See you tomorrow.” And then everyone has to be quiet, too.
Etta: And there wasn’t Internet, so you weren’t texting?
Tina: Sometimes there were places that we could text.
Etta: It sounds like an interesting way of being together but alone. You were thinking originally, “where can we go together?” But you weren’t completely together!
“an interesting way of being together but alone . . .”
Tina: I can’t picture myself being a monastic in the full sense, but we’re both very drawn to silence and more drawn to places where you can be silent. There’s a place that I go to for conferences called Kripalu. It’s really more of a place for yoga, but they have workshops and guest speakers and stuff. It’s in Massachusetts, and they have a silent dining room as an option. You can go to the silent dining room or the big cafeteria. I always eat in the silent room.
Etta: Your mention of Kripalu brings me to the question of what are you doing now that’s connected to what you learned from your journey? or do you have something ahead?
“this journey to the monasteries was part of a bigger journey”
Tina: I think this journey to the monasteries was part of a bigger journey. For me the very first intro class that I took in seminary was where I learned about the vocation of spiritual direction. It is basically spiritual counseling. A person can be a spiritual counselor in a group setting or in an individualized, one-on-one spiritual therapy setting. That really struck me, because I love having personal conversations with people. I think I thrive the most when I can get into deep, meaningful conversations with people in a group, but also with one-on-one time.
I have had this idea of becoming a spiritual director in the back of my head since then, which was 2011, that maybe down the road, when I’m further down the spiritual path, maybe I will be at a place where I can provide spiritual direction for other people. A lot of these things that I’ve done since then have helped me get to this place where I feel like, “okay, now it’s my time.” Typically, the spiritual direction certification is a two-year process. Over the years I learned about many different programs. And then in 2017 a very synchronistic thing happened, which involved finding out about a certain program that seemed like the perfect fit, so I signed up for it.
Etta: Where is the program?
Tina: It’s in Massachusetts, between Albany, New York, and Hartford, Connecticut. What was coincidental about it, is that the person that started that school–and this is only the third class, so it’s a new school–was one of the speakers at the dream conference that I was at when I got the idea for the book back in 2014. I remembered her, and I had actually emailed with her and thought I’d like to work with her, but she lives in North Carolina and I live in the Midwest.
“I’m not sure I’m at a place where I can help other people on their spiritual paths, but I’m going to go ahead and take a chance.”
And then I dropped that whole idea and did the monastery trip. Then in 2017 when I was asking an Episcopal Rector in my hometown if she knew of any schools, she told me about this new program in Massachusetts headed by a friend of hers. I remembered her as the speaker from the dream conference. It felt very synchronistic and also, after eight years of being really serious about the development of my own spiritual life, I was finally ready to delve into becoming a spiritual director in order to assist others with their own spiritual development.
I’m not sure I’m at a place where I can help other people on their spiritual paths, but I’m going to go ahead and take a chance. I’m in the middle of that right now. That’s where I am. It’s exciting. But of late I have decided to consider that I might use all of this to help people at the END of their lives. So I’m gathering information now about hospice care. There’s also something called a death doula. It’s been around for a while. It’s this idea of the midwife-type person whose role is helping people as they make the transition from their Earthly life. As a spiritual counselor, we are basically companioning and listening and just being with others as they explore their relationship with the Divine. And the importance of companioning a person at the end of their life is really just to be there and be present.
Etta: I love what you said about having conversations with people. Especially the return of what they’re saying and how you learn from it. You seem to have the right skills for that listening.
Tina: That’s very kind. I think it needs to play out, you know? I don’t want to presume. There are sometimes that you can say, “I want to do this.” And then you do the training, and you go do it, and as much as you thought you wanted to do it, it might not be your calling. I just want to be really humble about it. I want to find my place. Angie [a person Tina had just met with] told me some interesting things that make me eager to keep exploring the hospice idea and keep feeling this out.
Etta: How did you come to the idea of hospice?
Tina: I had been on a three day silent retreat and on one of those mornings, during the morning meditation time, the word “HOSPICE” just basically appeared in my mind’s eye. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, but shortly after I had finished my meditation, I picked up my phone to check my email. I receive a daily email from Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, and this particular email happened to be one about the end of life and hospice care. It was just such a beautiful quote that really stuck with me–along with the experience that happened during the meditation. And then further down in my email list was the newsletter from the school that I go to, and in that there was an article about how to tell if you have a true calling.
How do you know that something is your calling?
Etta: How do you know that something is your calling?
Tina: The article that I was reading distinguished six signs that a calling is true– synchronistically. Gregg Levoy, the author of Callings, formulated this idea that there are at least six different things that happen, based on many interviews he’s conducted over the years. So you can go down this sort of shopping list of six items. I was sitting in the room there after my meditation, and I said to myself, “you know, this seems like something I should pay attention to.”
Etta: Yeah. That’s awesome.
Being Mindful and Present
Tina: People throughout time have become really conscious and mindful and present at a young age. But I certainly was not. I was struggling a lot and was very self-absorbed. Not just in a typical egocentric way, but in some way of being in the world that felt uncomfortable. And I can see that in other people when they are not, let’s say, comfortable in their own skin. And as long as I lived that way–I lived that way for a really long time–I stayed really self-absorbed because I was just trying to make it. Figuring things out now feels, you know, intuitive. It just feels right. That happens when you can quit thinking about yourself and focus more on how we are all connected and how are we all equal.
Etta: Can you tell me about how that factors in to where you are and what you’re doing now?
Tina: I now have the desire to physically, relationally, work with people, but I wasn’t sure what opportunities there would in Northwest Arkansas, where we moved once the monastery trip was completed. However, I found out about a brand new opportunity to work with women coming out of prison, most of whom had been recovering from addiction.
Magdalene Serenity House welcomes women into a two-year residential program where they can heal from trauma such as sexual abuse, trafficking, addiction, incarceration, and everything that might go along with those things. The original model of this is in Nashville. A woman who is an Episcopal priest started this program about 20 years ago. Her organization is set up now to train other people throughout the country who are interested in developing programs like hers. One distinction with this program is that there is no real affiliation with a religious organization and so many of them [shelters for trauma victims] are with very specific requirements—the residents must do a Bible study, or they have to be Christians, or whatever.
When I first got involved, the residence had been purchased but needed to be remodeled, so there were no residents yet and the program was just being established. The three women that were the very first [residents] have now been in the house for about a year and a half, and we’ve had a full house for about six months. My desire was to work side by side with the residents. I wasn’t interested in joining the board, and I did not want to become a staff person. What I wanted to do was to be in the trenches with these women as they dealt with the day-to-day issues of recovery and of learning to be self-supportive.
Etta: How would you describe what you’re providing by “being in the trenches”?
Tina: Right now, I’m just being there. Each weekday morning they begin their day with what is called Morning Circle. We light a candle and read a daily meditation. Each person can talk about what the meditation means to them, and then we go back around the circle and each person does what is called a “feelings check.” Then we close with the Serenity Prayer.
Etta: You know how to listen to these women and feel with them?
Tina: I try to always remember I could have easily found myself in their shoes. It really could have been me. There were decisions I made in my life that could have taken me down a similar path. I really think about that when they’re talking about whatever they’re going through, whatever they’ve been through.
Advice for the Stuck – Reach Out, Collaborate
Etta: I wanted to bring us around to a question that builds from what you’re getting into now. Question isn’t really the right word—it’s really a topic. Privilege. You are very fortunate that you were able to do that trip, and you’re free to do the volunteer work now. What advice do you have for people who may not have that freedom. Just based on your ability to listen and to be mindful – I’m curious what advice you would give to people who might feel bored or stagnant or not alive anymore? about their ability to do something? Is there some advice that you would give to them, based on what you’re doing now?
Tina: I would just say for someone who thinks, “I’d love to travel. I’d love to do what you did, but I have to work,” or, “I am not working now but I don’t have the funds to do that,” go back to what I mentioned earlier about The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. I would highly recommend checking this book out. When Cousineau says, “anything,” can be a pilgrimage, I think we can think of it in terms that fit our own particular situation. Perhaps an overnight stay at a state or national park would fit better with someone’s schedule or financial situation.
Anything that we find ourselves doing throughout the day can feel meaningful and even spirit-filled, but I think sometimes our lives are so full that a lot of the time we don’t really have the chance to say, “what would I really be doing if I could do things that add meaning to my life? What gets me excited? What would I do if no one else was in the position to judge me?” I would tell people to really look introspectively and ask, “what’s truly meaningful to me?”
And if it requires time that I’m short on, or a budget that I’m short on, start collaborating with others, asking them these questions as well. Getting into these types of discussions is a really good starting point.
Etta: I’m wondering if someone who may be working 8 to 5 and they feel like they can’t leave that, and they feel stuck . . .
Tina: But reaching out or being with someone else can help motivate a person, once they have figured out what it is that turns them on. Let’s say they love to hike. They don’t have a lot of time to hike. But you know there’s lots of hiking around Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. So you find out if there are any hiking clubs in your area or documentaries that are coming to the area. Really, it depends on having a desire to figure it out first.
Collaboration & Moving On
Etta: To conclude I want to circle back to a couple of things about the trip and the book I first mentioned–that are related to your relationship—not to make you say anything bad about Paul—just to kind of understand the collaboration about your book, Silence is Spoken Here.
Tina: The original plan was for me to do the written part of the book. I was going to use the talent that I don’t have any of, because I have no experience in that area! I can diagram a sentence pretty well. I know my grammar pretty well. But then when it came down to it, I felt so unqualified that Paul finally just said he would do the whole thing. He doesn’t have any experience with writing either, but he doesn’t carry my perfectionist attitude about it all. So Paul ended up taking the photos, editing them, creating the written content, and then he proceeded to educate himself on how to self-publish. He really ended up doing it all.
Etta: Did you help with selecting the photos?
Tina: It was a collaborative process in that respect, and I did do some proofreading, but most of my part was just with the logistics of the trip itself.
Etta: The collaboration was in that you planned the journey, and you were on it?
Tina: Yes. It wasn’t like I helped throughout the whole project. He managed the whole project. I felt like I was with him on the journey—the physical journey—and then we got home, and I kind of stepped aside. And he said, “it’s no problem.” And I moved on. I moved into the volunteer work at Magdalene Serenity House. It all happened when I could start the spiritual direction certification, so it allowed me to really say, “yes,” to that. And I could jump in with both feet.
“Jumping in with both feet”
I hope you’ve enjoyed this interview and that it helps you think about your own journey. Is there something you have yet to do? Would you “jump in with both feet”? Is there someone you know who has similarly jumped into something new?
I’d love to have your ideas or suggestions for future posts about people who have followed interesting “later vocations.” (“Later” doesn’t mean “old people”–it means taking new steps beyond those earlier career or life paths of young adulthood. . . .)
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