“But after years of practice she now prays as naturally as she breathes. Silently or aloud. From awakening to bedtime. In the cloister and in the hospital. Prayer slakes her thirst for the absolute. Prayer makes her heart rejoice.” – exhibit description of a nun’s life in the Monastère des Augustins.
There is no TV in the room, no mini bar, no art, not even an alarm clock. The small, tidy room has a full-sized bed and a couple cabinets. Everything is white and plain. A little cushion in the seat beside the old-fashioned windows invites you to sit and relax, look out over the city. The bathroom, too, is unadorned, white tiles and basic fixtures. It’s all clean and very nice, but plain. We are, after all, staying in an old Augustinian monastery, converted into a hotel only recently.
The monastery was built centuries ago when the first Augustinian nuns came from Normandy to New France, now Québec. They built monastery hospitals to care for the sick. Part of the self-guided tour (the building now houses the hotel, a chapel, and a museum, as well as housing for the remaining Augustinian nuns) said that young girls who wished to enter medicine, but were restricted because of their gender, could become nuns at these monastery-infirmaries, which gave them the opportunity to care for the ill and practice nursing, while also serving God.
We reserved a contemporary room for one night of a monastic stay. The hallways are filled with antiques, and paintings of saints and Mary and Jesus and all manner of characters seeking the face of God. Verses of scripture are inscribed on glass or painted above the doorways. Organ music can be heard from the chapel. The gardens are pristine, inviting you to sit in the open air and reflect and relax and commune. Stop, go slow, God is here. And while that’s always true – not only in monasteries-turned-hotels – the intention is effective.
While we didn’t have the chance to take part in the activities and services they offered, we did have breakfast in the morning, en silence.
At first, it seems like no big deal to stay quiet while you’re filling your bowl with yogurt and fruit and nuts, and scooping some scrambled eggs onto your plate. But once you sit down across from your husband and you continue to stay quiet, the ritual sinks in. We ate our breakfast in silence, in a room of about twenty or thirty people, all quiet themselves. The soft clinking of forks on ceramic dishes and wooden chairs sliding across the tiled floor kept us from complete silence, but the effect was still there.
The quiet slows you down. It centers you. It makes you more aware and more intentional. Breakfast changes from eating to nourishing. You stop thinking about what’s next – all the ways you’re going to fill your day – and just slow down.
I found it hard to break the silence, even after we left the cafeteria. As we walked back toward our room on the fourth floor, my mind was still experiencing the calm. We only spoke a little until we opened the door to the room and returned to making plans.
Quiet comes naturally to me. There’s a place deep within me that is fed by silence. I crave it. In a life so full and busy, though, it doesn’t feel natural to sit in the quiet, so I often forget that I need it. Instead I fill the air with music and news in the car, flip on the TV at home, or turn to my phone in spare moments. But when I remember to be quiet – or am forced to by staying at a monastic hotel with breakfast en silence – I feel refreshed and peaceful and content.
We only stayed at the monastery one night — the first night in Québec, the seventh night of our trip, our own kind of Sabbath — but it was one our favorite places that we’ve stayed in our travels. We always try to avoid the typical hotel chains, opting instead for quirky inns, niche hotels, or cozy rooms that feel more like home. It makes our travels a little more interesting, a little more memorable, and sometimes, puts us a little more in touch with the peace and calm we often miss in every day life.
So this Sabbath was indeed the best way to transition from a trip to California and begin our week in Québec — stopping and slowing just a little to help us settle in for a few days away from the rush.
“Dieu bénit le septième jour, et il le sanctifia, parce qu’en ce jour il se reposa de toute son œuvre qu’il avait créée en la faisant.” Genèse 2:3