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Earthy but less earthly at a Vina monastery

An abbey that's also a working farm provides visitors a restful, reinvigorating retreat.

July 17, 2005|Ralph Frammolino | Times Staff Writer

These world-shy monks have garnered a share of publicity with their plans to reconstruct a charter house using stones from a 12th century Cistercian Church in Spain. The stones were imported by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst but forgotten after his death. The abbey rescued them from purgatorial storage at San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. The reconstruction -- its first stones are already in place -- will replace the monks' existing church.

The current church serves as a sort of permeable social membrane, allowing the public in from one side and the monks from another. At Sunday morning Mass, we finally saw the diverse monk corps, from octogenarians with white beards to young initiates from Africa and Vietnam.

I have to admit, though, that my wife and I were more interested in long walks than in vespers. After I coaxed Cherilyn at least partly out of her no-talking pledge, we took long evening strolls. We ventured more than a mile to the Sacramento River, which borders the monastery.

I immersed myself in the humanistic classic "Toward a Psychology of Being," by Abraham H. Maslow, which I borrowed from the retreat center's small library. Then I shut myself in my room, where I began to write.

I was writing for a readership of one, me. I found myself working through some of the more difficult chapters of my life. When I needed a break, I went to the meditation room or sat under the trees. Or I imagined myself in one of the private "reconciliation" rooms off the chapel, facing the people with whom I should make amends.

By the time we left, the retreat had regenerated both of us. Our good vibe received a boost from dinner with friends at the Sacramento eatery Andy Nguyen's, where our weekend of Catholic mysticism was rounded out with Buddhist-inspired dishes: "Universal Love Lemongrass" and "Awakening of Mind Eggplant."

Our bellies full and minds lighter, we were ready to reenter our urban existence. This time in a lower gear and with a much better idea of when to apply the parking brake.



For soul searchers

Expenses for two on this trip:

Lodging and meals

Vina Abbey donation $200


Airfare from LAX to Sacramento,

rental car, parking $490


Before and after retreat $110

Total $800

Distance from L.A. 504 miles


Abbey of New Clairvaux, P.O. Box 80 or 26240 7th St., Vina, CA 96092; (530) 839-2434,, Nine miles east of the South Street exit off Interstate 5, near Corning. Retreats generally run Mondays to Thursdays or Fridays to Sundays. Make reservations a month or more in advance. There is no charge for retreats, but a donation of $30 to $35 per day is suggested for those able to pay. The abbey also offers short guided tours by reservation, (530) 839-2243. The abbey celebrates its 50th anniversary with an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Aug. 6.

-- Ralph Frammolino

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