This past Sunday I got up early and drove to the Abbey Of Gethsemani. If you are familiar with this monastery you know it was also the monastic home of Thomas Merton, a well known spiritual master and writer. It is also the monastery where I spent some time as a young man. I have been visiting the monastery for nearly 50 years.
The purpose of my visit was to attend a gathering with friends and some of the monks. We gathered a short distance from the monastery, up in the woods, where the hermitage of Thomas Merton is located. Merton lived there for the last three years he was in the monastery. He died in Bangkok, Thailand from an electrical shock just days after meeting with the Dalai Lama in India. His body was returned to the monastery and he is now buried with his brother monks in the monastic cemetery.
While at the hermitage on Sunday we shared a nice pot luck lunch and had a group discussion on the topic of contemplative awareness. The topic was inspired by a recently published book by Brother Paul Quenon called In Praise Of The Useless Life. Brother Paul is a long time friend of mine and a monk at Gethsemani. During the meal and group discussion I was able to sit next to 95 year old Brother Frederic. Don’t let his age fool you. He is sharp as a tack. Approximately 48 years ago, when I wanted to be a monk, Brother Frederic was one of the monks who interviewed me. The other monk pictured above is Brother Paul.
I shared with the group that my personal awareness of life in general has improved since I retired from full time working. Most people are so busy and moving so fast that they fail to notice many things. Life is a blur. Now that I am retired my life has slowed down significantly. I have the time and the awareness to notice the small things and to stop and smell the roses. In other words my slower pace allows me to notice more. My renewed meditation practice has also contributed to my heightened awareness of the life around me.
After the group gathering everyone left to go home and I had some alone time at the hermitage. Earlier in the morning I briefly met with Brother Paul and arranged to meet him at the hermitage after the mid-afternoon prayer called None. I sat on the porch at the hermitage and took in the view. In the past I was fortunate to have been given permission to spend some weekends alone in the hermitage. On one such occasion I had the wonderful experience of sitting in front of a roaring fire, in Thomas Merton’s rocking chair, while it poured down rain outside. What made this moment even more special was that I was reading a Merton piece called Rain And The Rhinoceros. This bit of writing was Thomas Merton capturing a moment when he was having the very same experience that I was having as I read it. I highly recommend reading it for yourself.
Soon enough I heard Brother Paul coming up the road. For the next hour we just sat on the porch and talked about life and anything else that came into the conversation. I also highly recommend his memoir In Praise Of The Useless Life. Paul is a poet and has a poet’s eye for life.
My visit to the monastery and the hermitage made me realize how much I have missed Gethsemani. I really need to start going there more often. It is good for my soul.
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