The Abbey of Gethsemani was the first monastery I have ever traveled to, so there was something delightful about returning to ‘where it all began.’ While I now sense a greater home at New Melleray (due to my more frequent stays and being from Iowa), I’m still so thankful and reverent of the introduction to the monastic life that Gethsemani gave me.
Gethsemani is the oldest of the Trappist monasteries in the US – founded in December of 1848 and made an abbey in 1851. For most, Gethsemani may be most well known for being the home of Thomas Merton. While that is what initially led me to a Trappist monastery (Thomas Merton’s writings), that is certainly not what has carried me through this continued vision and eventual pilgrimage. It’s more as if the readings of Thomas Merton planted a seed which grew into question after question, which finally led to this pilgrimage (which in turn has led to even more questions).
While my last post possibly seemed to oversimplify the life of the monastic experience, I think it’s important to re instill the concept that potency is found in simplicity, that depth is only where there’s a surface, that pain and darkness reside with those who are willing to feel/deal/experience them; allowing for the contrast of the greatest healing and greatest light.
It’d be easy to say that the life of a monk or nun is simple – that they go about their day in perfect harmony in community, prayer, work, etc. It’s nearly a fantasy of the world that this is the case. But it’s important to note that each monk or nun is not immune to the experiences of those without a monastic or even religious vocation.
A monk at a previous location said to me, “to really say yes to God, you see your limitations are not depriving you.” In other words, how are my pains, frustrations, uncontrollables creating me to be more of a service to others, and ultimately God? While the frequent Biblical reference here may be to that of Paul discussing the ‘thorn in his side’ (2nd Corinthians 12:7), it may be more familiar language for me to discuss the implications of depression, death, anxiety, fear, hopelessness, pain, uncertainty, etc. Is it ‘just’ the humility of owning our limitations or is it more than that?
To me, it’s more than that. None of us want to be entirely alone. Our limitations are not only connections but also connections that practically force humility and vulnerability. While my initial reaction to these limitations are to hide them and myself, I realize that without these vulnerabilities, I’d certainly have a tendency to isolate (even more), to hide (even more), to run away (even more), to disappear (even more), etc. With these vulnerabilities, I have a lean towards desperation and need of connection, to know I’m not alone, to know there is healing, to know there is better, to know there is light.
I was so blessed to meet with a monk who seemed to fully understand what I said when I told him, “I don’t really know what I’m doing, why I’m doing this, but I know I’m supposed to be.” When we see the ‘supposed to,’ or the ‘meant to,’ or the ‘made for this,’ isn’t that a glimpse of light to grasp onto and continue with? Doesn’t that allow us to overlook the anguish, the pains, the loneliness, the desires, the temptations, and the distractions? With that being said, is it only when we embrace our limitations and vulnerabilities that we are able to more fully become who we are meant to be? It’s much easier for me to continue in this pilgrimage with the acknowledgement that I don’t know what I’m doing, but I know I’m meant to be doing this.
“…Fundamentally, as Max Picard points out, it probably comes to this: living in a silence which so reconciles the contradictions within us that, although they remain within us, they cease to be a problem. (of Word of Silence, P. 66-67.) … Contradictions have always existed in the soul of man. But it is only when we prefer analysis to silence that they become a constant and insoluble problem. We are not meant to resolve all contradictions but to live with them and rise above them and see them in the light of exterior and objective values which make them trivial by comparison.” Thomas Merton, from Thoughts in Solitude