When he meets us at the airport, he's standing at the bottom of the escalator holding a manila file folder. Printed on it are the words, Writing Retreat. We follow him through the parking garage, load into the mini-van which smells of coffee. Once we're on the highway, we're telling the summary details of our stories.
"Well, I'm Wendy, I'm 41 and left a husband and a whole bunch of kids at home."
"A whole bunch? Like how many is that?" Dave asks.
"Seven," she answers, muffling laughter. She knows he isn't expecting her to say that.
It's paragraphs later when he tilts his head in my direction, eyes fixed on the road.
"How about you, Jen?"
I follow Wendy's lead. "I'm Jen, I'm 38, and I have 5 kids at home."
"Five? Wow. When I picked you guys up, I thought maybe you were both in your late twenties, early thirties. I'd never have guessed you have a dozen kids between you."
We like Dave immediately.
He is a fifty something of lean frame with a boyish hair cut, his hair a blonding grey. He's refers to himself as the abbott for our week here at the Convent, a property he and his wife bought several years ago. They renovated the space first as a place for communal living and training church interns. Now it's destination of retreat.
We know it to be place of prayer from the moment we step through the front door.
Every detail of the space has been thoughtfully attended to. The dining room table is long, three small candles burning at the center. The guest rooms each have their own writing table and reading chair. Everything is spectacularly clean - and quiet.
The booklet each of us finds in our rooms tells us that our first task is to "dial down." "You've just come normal life and its routines and responsibilities. It takes a bit of time to relax from that rhythm and to enter into a rhythm of rest."
I admit that it is not easy to set aside the frantic way I seem to meet most of my days, the way I'm seized by the wild fear that there won't be ever be enough time. I must hurry. When you live everyday in this breathless kind of way, a space like this makes of you a student in the most elementary task. In the thing that is supposed to be reflexive: breathing.
Our only schedule hangs on the three times we'll gather to pray and eat together throughout the day. Other than attending to this, the hours stretch before us for writing and for reading.
The morning has already begun slowly. I sip coffee in my pajamas and read from the book of Hosea an invitation I've never before noticed, an invitation that seems all too appropriate for my week here.
"Take with you words and return to the Lord."