A Hidden Sanctuary: Thoughts on My Trip to The Met Cloisters

As the leaves start to fall one by one, and the golden slowness of my summer routine fades away, I’m recalling the lessons and observations that I picked up during my visit to The Met Cloisters in July. We’re already halfway through September, with the autumn and winter holidays closer than we’d like to admit, and I’m grateful that I have this slice of summer to keep before my mind’s eye.

It was a step back in time; a medieval monastery in New York City. An oasis of cool stone, stately columns, sprawling arches, and gurgling fountains.

Taking photographs almost seemed out of place–irreverent. I found myself wondering which is more difficult–to refrain from capturing the moment on camera, or to consciously decide to let your attention wander, to not be in the moment. The light played off of the columns like keys on a piano, and it’s surely a crime to miss that by looking at your phone. I found myself marveling at how fortunate I am to be a writer, or as I once heard, to be a photographer of thoughts. To capture thoughts, I have to be in the moment. I have to experience the beauty around me and allow it to sink in before I can make any sense of it in the written word.

How easy it seems to achieve sainthood in this kind of setting! The wind rustles the leaves in the garden, and the whispers it creates sounds like the movements of souls. It’s as if you might sit in the garden and suddenly find that the Lord has seated Himself next to you.

I wanted so desperately to see a procession of chanting monks, to see those old walls and pathways used as they should be. History is crying out through the stones, “Remember me! Remember me!” It whispers to passers-by, “See me…“, as they gape, wide-eyed, unable to to take it all in. All too soon, as if overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to digest so much stillness, they look down once more in response to their latest text message.

How did we come to this? Why is it so difficult to drink in beauty without being shackled to Instagram? Why are we so afraid of stillness and quiet? Perhaps it’s because of what we might discover about ourselves in the quiet. We might discover that we’re more than our social media profiles, that life is just more fun without trying to live up to the expectations of the Internet. And daring to live beyond the comforting boundaries of social media can be downright scary.

I readily admit that I’ve fallen prey to this trap. It is so easy to fall down this labyrinth of digital rabbit holes. The Internet is a wonderful tool, but it can’t be your primary source of light and inspiration. Where would you get inspiration and affirmation during a power outage? If anything, visiting the Cloisters has reminded me to put my faith in things that can’t be shut down, powered off, or unplugged. If we boil it down even further, even nature, hobbies, family, and friends aren’t perfect. Only God is changeless. I thought I was doing fairly well on the social media front, but this excursion was a timely (and dare I say, blissful?) reminder that I need to check in with myself even more that I originally thought.

Wherefore, he that thinketh himself to stand, let him take heed lest he fall.

1 Corinthians 10:12 (Douay-Rheims Bible)

This place was like a hidden sanctuary in the disguise of a museum. It reminded me of God and how much I really and truly need Him in my life. Because if the power is out, He is my electricity. Rather, He is the light that’s been shining through my window the whole time. Sorry, iPhone. It’s time for me to go do something interesting, and be fully present while doing it.

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