From the outside the monastery is imposing like a fortress. The walls rise up and the windows are small. When you enter the feel at first is like a great old school or university. It is perhaps intimidating. You are small and alone.
The church inspires and draws you in, but the monastery garden is the spiritual heart of the place. Surrounded by the strict rules that bring stability and demand obedience, the cloister makes you realize what it all is for.
The stone columns stand as silent sentinels and the four square walkway reminds you of the daily, dull routine of life. It is built around all things solid and sure: the four elements of earth, air, fire and water, the four gospels and the four points of the compass surmounting heaven and earth.
Around the foursquare cloister are built the necessaries of life: the library, the refectory, the dormitory, the chapter house and church. The cloister walk stands for the steady stability and determined dedication of this life, but within that discipline and devotion the garden is open to the freedom of the sky and the soaring birds.
There all good things can grow. The monastery is therefore, as St Benedict says, “A school for the Lord’s service.” Others have likened it to a greenhouse where a tender seedling can take root. It is a shelter in the storm, a rock on which to build and the home of a supernatural family in which the soul can flourish.
The cloister is a sign of the eternal garden. It is the long life for which we languish. This is the garden from which we came and to which we long to return. It is therefore both an echo of Eden and a hint of heaven.
It is the golden green gate at which the Father waits to welcome us home.