Marathon at Conception Abbey during the PLWP Writing Retreat


In June of 2016, I led a writing marathon during a Writing Retreat hosted by the Prairie Lands Writing Project, held at a beautiful Benedictine monastery in Conception, Missouri. We launched from the conference room, then made our way to write in the beautiful Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  When I had asked one of the monks in charge of guest conferences if it would ok for us to write there, he said, “I assume your writing will be… uplifting?” 

“Yes,” I told him.  “Absolutely.”    

I don’t actually know what everyone wrote in that huge, ornate space that day, but I do know that it was an uplifting experience to be there in the good, contemplative company of fellow writers. 


9:25 a.m. Basilica of the Immaculate Conception,

Benedictines are devoted to the spirit of hospitality, and we certainly feel it here.  All around us.  Simple.  Humble.  Gentle. Warm.

Latin words above me.  Soothing stone below me.

Immaculate Conception.

I feel somewhat less than immaculate this morning.  My hair is frizzy, my legs unshaven in the ultra-tiny shower stall.  Coffee aftertaste is still coating my tongue.

My spirit feels relatively clean, however.  My life has been a journey of self-acceptance, self-knowledge, and self-forgiveness.

Wisdom of years, hard-won, to know that I’m not to blame for unwise choices—entanglements and mismatches of souls and paths.

I tried.  I learned.

It is fine.  It is good.

A young monk sits at the organ, his head bowed, the light hovering above the music stand.  A displaced halo, it crowns the notes rather than his head.

10:00 a.m. A picnic table in view of the wind turbines

Giant propellers

arc and arc and arc

over the cottonwoods.

Blade shadows slice

across crop rows below.

Clover and daylilies

Watch with us

In the stands above the soccer fields.


Behind us, the HVAC system roars.

Above it, birds sing,

leaves rustle.

Their engines–



roar silently.





  1. I hope that one day I can go on the marathon at Conception Abbey. I have never been there and you’re writing makes me want to. Like you, I have un-wise choices that, at some point, I need to face head on. However, finding the time and right place to do so is not always easy. When there are chores in front of me, papers to grade, or homework to do it is easy to push aside unpleasant thoughts. Maybe some time writing in a place of peace is just what I need.

  2. I love the sense of peace that some places bring. I don’t even have to be there to know that the sanctuary would bring a calm and reflective peace. It reminds me of our visit to St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Quiet and contemplative, it was the perfect place to be at one with your thoughts or to commune with God. I was so glad that my mother-in-law went by ourselves (without the boys). We were both ready for quiet. I am not Catholic, but I carry a Saint Jude medallion that I bought on our visit to remind me that we are all lost causes. I hope that someday I am able to go on the writing retreat up at Conception Abbey.

  3. I would have sat here and stared at my screen for a while if you hadn’t mentioned the wind turbines. In that picture, they almost seem alien or futuristic if you aren’t truly familiar with them. If we sent this photo off to some inner city school in Ohio, they wouldn’t know what to think. You then did a pretty damned nice description of them in so few words. Blades that just keep spinning in the middle of our crop lands. Everything else on this post was wonderfully informative, but the fans just really drew my attention. Good pick!

  4. That looks like a really enlightening trip. I’d like to go sometime if they decide to do it again. I agree with Keith; the wind turbine picture is definitely very futuristic… Although utopian or dystopian, I’m not sure… In the spirit of your post, noting that the writing would be “uplifting,” I’m going to say it looks very utopian. 🙂

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