Sabbatical Reflections: Alone in the Woods III

The second practice that made a way for me to be drawn to this divine bulls-eye was a routine, a pattern of spending the daylight.  Earlier in my life, time at an Episcopal Benedictine monastery taught me the value of routine.  There, the brothers followed a set pattern, hour by hour, through an entire day. They called it (not surprisingly) The Hours.  My pattern was not as detailed as theirs, but it provided what I needed.

Imagine you won the lottery.  You probably would make a plan to spend the enormous windfall.  You might not adhere strictly to every detail of your plan, but to be certain to make the money last for what you wanted to do (retirement, helping others, playing, etc.), you wouldn’t want to go on a spree or fritter it away.

With the hermitage, I had won the lottery of time.  I knew my own personality. I knew that following a pattern, even a simple one, would make for more enjoyment and satisfaction.  Here was my basic pattern:


Rise about 7:30 a.m., dunk head in lake while coffee brews, sit in silence.

Pray Morning Prayer.

Make breakfast, listen to weather report.

Read and write for a couple of hours.

Make lunch, read an Ascension prayer flag.

Physical activity — paddle, swim, yoga, etc.

Nap or lie in hammock, perhaps read or write some more — or sometimes I would fix or clean gear, or do something around the cabin.

Make dinner.

Pray Evening Prayer.

Fish or spend silent time.

Read or write until bedtime.


I used the prayer-book form of Morning Prayer, but I did not include scripture.  Instead, I added more psalms, praying all psalms through four times during the hermitage.  I finished Morning Prayer with a time of imagining my family and others I care about sitting with me and God.  I listened for what I knew about them and what God might be doing in their lives.  I told God about how I felt about them, my joys, concerns, longings, sadness, gratitude.  Many of you signed up to pray for me on specific days. It was this time during my day that I read the day’s sign-ups and likewise prayed for and with you.

I used the prayer-book form of Evening Prayer, though I abbreviated it. This was the time of day for an examine of conscience and confession of sin.  I recited the Phos Hilaron, prayed more psalms, the Nunc Dimmittis, and a couple of collects I love from Compline.  My evening prayer was slower and more drawn out than morning prayer.

Waking up one morning with nothing but your own desires to guide you is delicious.  Waking up day after day for weeks with only your desires to fulfill is like floating in space.  Gravity may hold us back at times, but over all we really need it.  Living by a pattern was a way I stayed grounded in the wide expanse of time and honored my connections to the earth around me, to God, and to the people in my life.

I didn’t worry about changing the pattern.  Some days I would leave at the crack of dawn for an all-day canoe excursion.  Some days I would not be hungry and ate meals later, or be entranced in a book and kept reading.  But also there were days when I wrote or read or did yoga when I didn’t really feel like it.  It was my submission to the pattern in these days that kept my time spending on budget.

Submission to this pattern was my agreement with God that, like being a guest in the woods, took me out of my “self” and prepared me to be drawn into the bulls-eye.