Did you know there is a monastery in Mississippi? We didn't. In fact, we were so doubtful that we just had to go see for ourselves.
It's there all right. It is called Magnolia Grove Monastery and it's in Batesville, although we use the word “in” loosely. It's out in the quiet countryside, of course, although it really isn't that far from downtown. Still, there is something about driving on old country roads that makes you think you have really done some traveling. We found it easily and just parked on the road, right in front of the entrance. It seemed like the right thing to do given that we hadn't seen another car the whole way, and we felt a little awkward pulling onto the property like it was a tourist site or something.
We had barely put the car in park when the canine greeting party showed up. It consisted of two dogs: a pit bull and a Doberman, albeit a small Doberman. They came at us at full speed, barking the whole time, and nearly scared us to death. We discussed just staying in the car and taking pictures from there, but then it occurred to us that a monastery wouldn't have vicious guard dogs...they just wouldn't, it would go against every principle they hold dear. So, we (very slowly) got out of the car, whereupon we were nearly licked to death.
Despite driveways leading to parking areas, we opted for the pedestrian entrance. Steps lead up from the road, so we ventured onto the property there, although we didn't follow the sidewalk to the nearest building. We weren't really sure where we should/could go, or even if it was okay that we were there. We are usually pretty outgoing on our little treks and have no fears about striking up conversations with strangers or snooping around anything that interests us. But this place seemed different and the idea of running around taking pictures and looking in windows seemed irreverent somehow. It was really reassuring to see the sign on the tree that let us know we were in the right place.
The Magnolia Grove Monastery is a huge place – 120 acres. If that seems like overdoing it a bit for a monastery, it's also home to Magnolia Village, a Mindfulness Meditation Practice Center founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. There is a meditation hall, a kitchen, and a guesthouse that sleeps 120, and all the buildings are attractive in a simple, purposeful way.
Being Presbyterians, neither of us was familiar with Thich Nhat Hanh who, it turns out, is a Vietnamese monk who practices Zen Buddhism. The monastery itself is the residence of thirty of his monastics.
But, there is more to the campus than just functional buildings. There is a lovely area that features a pond with a charming footbridge, and a huge statue – a goddess maybe? There is also what we assume is a temple, a small, open structure with a pagoda roof. This area is beautiful, really beautiful, even given that we visited in winter. It's probably very lush once spring arrives and has even more of a zen (no pun intended) feel...despite the basketball hoop in the distant background.