IF YOU GO
What: Monastery 5K/Fun Run
Where: Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Ga. Highway 212, Conyers
When: 8:15 a.m. June 8
Cost: $25 for the 5K; $15 for the Fun Run
More Information: Visit trappist.net
When you think "monastery," what comes to mind? Men living in total isolation? Subsisting on bread and water? On their knees in prayer all day and half the night?
No, it's not that austere at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit just down the road in Conyers. Established in 1944, this worldwide Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance dates back to the early 12th century. These guys even laugh with visitors, but, yes, their No. 1 mission always was and still is prayer.
Father Anthony Delisi has spent 65 years there doing his part.
In the mid 1980s I took my three boys for a visit. Father Anthony greeted us and led us to a dark little room where a younger monk showed us a black-and-white film strip about monastery life. Then at the gift shop, which was about the size of a tool shed, I remember buying these cute little Guatemalan worry dolls as souvenirs.
I visited again a few months ago and didn't recognize the place. A new 17,000-square-foot Monastery Heritage Center, completed in 2011, now includes a Visitor Center, Central Courtyard, Memorial Plaza, Historic Barn, the Abbey Gift Shop and Cafe featuring their homemade delicacies. The Garden Center showcases their signature Bonsai trees and of course the complex includes a Prayer Walk.
Father Anthony is the official greeter at the museum, which depicts through murals -- and a state-of-the-art movie -- nine centuries of monastic life. Between visitors, he prays and makes rosaries, but his time is well-filled with questions from guests and requests for blessing religious items. While I was there, the Hubert family had driven down from Sugar Hill to ask him to bless their new baby, Sophia.
To reinforce that prayer is still the most important part of life in and out of their walls, Father Anthony co-founded the Lay Cistercians of the Monastery for people wanting to lead a more prayerful life in the secular world.
But the monastery offers enrichment to the body and mind as well as the spirit. The monastery invite sthe public to participate in various weekend and mid-week retreats. Topics include Yoga and Christian Contemplation, Anger, Resentment and Forgiveness, Writing and Journal-Keeping, Boundaries, and a Spiritual Healing Retreat for Veterans. Visitors are welcome to stop by to enjoy the scenery, visit the Norman Gothic Abbey Cathedral and bring a picnic lunch to enjoy by the lake.
Coming up on Saturday is their fourth annual 5K Run/Fun Run where runners can join the monks in a run to benefit the poor and treat themselves to some of the richest scenery in Georgia.
Yes, the monastery has changed a lot physically, but I did notice the Garden Center still sells those cute little worry dolls. For old time sake, I just had to buy one. And have Father Anthony bless it.
Susan Larson is a writer from Lilburn. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.