Making monastery memories

My greatest memories are often created in the summer. I believe one of my new classic summer memories will be of going to Ryumonji Zen Monastery, near Decorah, Iowa. Last week I traveled there for the first time with my dad, who is a Zen Buddhist priest at Lake Superior Zendo in Marquette, and nine other adults. The main reason for the trip was to attend the dedication of the final structure in this monastic complex, which was twelve years in the making.

Before we left I was not too excited about going because normally when my dad goes to Ryumonji, I get to spend some quality time with my mom at home. I also didn’t want to go because I am hardly going to spend any time in Marquette this summer – my mom and I are leaving for Japan and China in a week. I was also complaining about the trip because I thought that it would be very boring not too many teenagers would like to spend a long weekend with just adults. As it turned out, though, I could not have been more wrong about the trip.

The first thing we did after arriving in Iowa was go to a Norwegian American Museum that is in downtown Decorah. I was looking forward to going there because I am one quarter Norwegian. The museum was impressive because it was four stories and it contained artifacts from Norwegian American immigrants. It was also located in a Norwegian community. My favorite thing was a realistic, life size wood carving of an old man.

After leaving the Museum, we went to Ryumonji. I was looking forward to going there because I had never seen it before. I was also excited to see Shoken, who is my dad’s Zen teacher and a close family friend. As soon as we arrived at Ryumonji, people who knew me when I was much younger recognized me. I felt bad, though, because I didn’t remember many of them. That day, I met a lot of Zen practitioners from the Midwest and priests from Japan, attended a formal lecture and tea with the monks, and ate a super good vegetarian supper.

On Sunday, we returned to Ryumonji for three ceremonies. The first was a Shuso ceremony. The new Shuso, who would be the head student for the summer, was questioned during this ceremony by the assembly to demonstrate his knowledge. The second ceremony was the dedication of the final building, and the third ceremony was a 25-year memorial service for Katagiri Roshi, who founded the Minnesota Zen Meditation Center in the 1970s and who was the teacher of Shoken, the current Abbot of Ryumonji.

After all the ceremonies were over, we went to Hokyoji, about 30 miles away, which is where Katagiri Roshi’s ashes are buried on a hillside. It was pretty cool to see that.

I went on the trip because I had never seen a Japanese-style Zen Buddhist monastery before. It gave me a chance to meet other practitioners from all over the Midwest and Japan. It also gave the adults a chance to see their old friends and meet new ones.

The ride down and back even was interesting. During the trip, my car mates and I bonded. By the end of the trip, we were closer than at the beginning of the trip. We had a lot of laughs and great times. It also didn’t bother me that I was the youngest person. I found that adults could be silly, too. I also learned that when my parents suggest I do something, I shouldn’t automatically say no. I already miss the trip, and the people from Marquette who went on the trip are now some of my favorite people.

Editor’s note: GlenEllen Lehmberg, 15, is a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School. She is a long time member of 8-18 Media and is also involved in dance and youth theatre in her spare time. Her parents are Paul and Z.Z. Lehmberg of Marquette. 8-18 Media is a youth journalism program of the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum. Through the program, teams of kids write news stories and commentaries on issues important to youth and about any good, or bad, things youth are up to. For more information call 906-226-7874, or email at