I graduated college in 1986. After graduation, I taught school in Lawton, OK, for two years. I went back to Oklahoma a couple of times during seminary, but hadn’t seen any of those folks since I’d taken my then-boyfriend Allen to meet them all just before we got married in 1995.
Twenty years is a long time. Not knowing when I’d ever make it back to Oklahoma, my first thought when planning the trip for Mrs. Woodward’s memorial service was to see as many people as I could—former church members in Stillwater, good friends in Lawton, several friends in Shawnee. When a couple of possibilities for staying with friends didn’t pan out, I shifted to Plan B. Instead of driving all over the state for hurried visits with old friends, why not make retreat at St. Gregory’s?
St. Gregory’s is a Benedictine monastery a mile past OBU. As a Baptist student, I was wary of Catholics. We students—wisely, we thought—steered clear of St. Greg’s.
…Until my Hymnology class with Mrs. Woodward. For one of our class sessions, she hauled us down to Vespers at St. Gregory’s Chapel. It was my first experience of prayer in a monastic community. I didn’t understand much at all, except that it was beautiful. I do remember, though, being struck by the fact that immediately following prayer, the brothers who I’d seen depart through a door behind the altar, were heading to a dining hall to eat supper cafeteria- style—just like I did (and hated) at the college. I remember wondering how anyone could choose to eat in a cafeteria the rest of their lives.
Part of the reason we went to St. Greg’s was because Mrs. W had an in—she’d taught Br. Damian, the community’s musician, Freshman Music Theory. Br. Damian came and talked to us after Vespers. After he’d explained a little about the history of liturgy and praying the hours, Br. Damian asked if we had any questions. I raised my hand. “Why do you do this?”
Mrs. W later told me she was mortified by the question. But Br. Damian took it in stride. He said simply, “This is my calling.”
In my 2 days of retreat before Mrs. W’s memorial service, as I remembered, reflected, and prayed, I marveled that I had “moved past” (literally) OBU to make retreat at a Benedictine monastery, a place whose rhythms of prayer have become so central to my life.
The first evening in the chapel, as I closed my prayerbook and prepared to follow the line of monks through the door behind the altar to join them for a cafeteria-style supper, I giggled a little. After all these years, here I was making retreat at a Benedictine monastery, and who was it who introduced me to Benedictine prayer? My Baptist professor and friend, Betty Woodward.
One more thing for which to be grateful to Mrs. W.