Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Z_CNHI News Service

September 17, 2013

Atlanta vacation tip: Visit the… monastery?

The Braves aren’t the only men in Atlanta attracting travelers’ attention; monks are too.

While joyous noise defines the baseball stadium, silence permeates the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in nearby Conyers.

Silence is for listening. For personal reflection. For a day away with purpose and peace. This is silence you can visit. Silence of the ages.

“We don’t think just in hundreds of years,” says Francis Michael Stiteler, abbot of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

“We think in thousands of years,” he says of his Trappist brothers, and of monastic life through the centuries.

Visitors join for an afternoon, or a multi-night retreat. Monks stay a lifetime. Nearly four dozen monks live in this place of 2,300 acres, teeming with birds and butterflies, wildflowers, woods and green spaces.

The Abbot points out fluttering wildlife with authority; he’s a photographer and has documented 53 species of dragonflies and 91 butterflies.

“We conserve the lands not only for monks,” the Abbot says, “but for all who see green space as a cherished commodity and for those who hunger for spaces of solitary beauty.”

Hikers and bikers visiting the monastery can also explore the Arabia Mountain National Heritage Area, pristine acres of which the monastery is a part.

There are only 49 such nature, culture, historic designations in America, and this one ties the Monastery’s peaceful grounds to Panola Mountain State Park, Arabia Mountain, streams, trails, bicycle paths and more.                       

Br. Peter Damian has an artist’s eye and a chef’s taste, accessible for conversation amidst the retail in the Monastery book and gift store.

“What we eat and what we breathe is part of how we enter the silence,” he said while I sipped a cup of dark roast, organic coffee and contemplated buying monk-made biscotti. 

He was unpacking folk art nativities, pleased I noticed the Fair Trade textiles and handcrafted items. Local authors include some of the monks, sharing a bookstore with national and international writers.

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