Coming to the Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity felt like discovering and participating in an unknown treasure of the world. Similar to the monastery in
Snowmass, Holy Trinity is tucked away in the midst of mountains. There
were numerous times I walked outside to find the monastery and myself
standing in a valley of sunshine, while the mountains were being
hovered by clouds of snow in the distance; I get giddy about things
like this, knowing these are the whispers of true and genuine joy that
I long for. My ability to see and hear these things (or even smell,
taste, and touch) is only increased during these times of quietude.
I’ve frequently found that sharing these small pieces of joy seem so
silly when speaking of them with others, which reminds me that these
pieces of joy were made just for me – for my own individual experience
of them. It seems that it is also these experiences that can’t be
contained by language, these experiences weren’t made for language,
and they were made for the experience of the individual. While someone
may have the same giddy response to such things, it is only the
individual who can truly know if the experience was made for them, for
in others it may produce an entirely different set of somatic
responses and awareness.
The hospitality at Holy Trinity Abbey made me feel like I was at home.
While I’ve felt that at numerous locations, there was something so
special about the attentiveness of the community at this location.
Although Huntsville is known for having the oldest average age among
their community, they are not lacking in fervor or attention to detail
when it comes to loving others.
One of the main topics that came up, and continues to come up, along
my way is the topic of continual prayer. What does it mean to truly
continually pray? Is it possible? Does it have to sound a certain way,
be a certain way? I think the beauty of continual prayer is that it is
a remarkable goal amongst always being unattainable – for in a sense,
thinking about it as a goal or otherwise is removing oneself from
In a writing that was shared with me there was a quote about the
importance of patience with oneself amidst this striving that said,
“gentleness is the watchword in our life of prayer.” In other words,
the striving towards continual prayer is always a matter of striving –
not because it is or isn’t impossible, but because it is that
difficult in the world. Because of this, one must be gentle with
themselves in order to continue to strive, to lightly turn themselves
back to prayer once they see they are not engaged or ‘off course’ in
accordance with their desire. The essay also spoke of the anxieties of
the need to control and gave me the blatant reminder that “reality is
vastly bigger than the little part of it that we can control,” yet I
still focus on that small part!
While I was able to have numerous engaging conversations during my
stay in Huntsville, I must say that my main lesson was that of
attention to the details of love. The seemingly effortless and
boundless love given to me in this place is something I will cherish
forever, and a love to which I will always strive to achieve. That I
was accepted with so much grace and love not only astounds me, but
also reminds me of the great love I am capable of giving and receiving
from others; that each person has the ability to engage in this love
in some way. I am attaching below a writing that I wrote shortly after
my first full day at Holy Trinity Abbey:
My first experience at Huntsville was an encounter with an older monk
who sometimes works at the bookstore. He very clearly spent more time in loving
interaction to each person he saw there than he did to the details of
sales or inventory. He went on to bless people, tell them how
beautiful they were, embraced them, asked for their names, etc. When
my turn came up, I told him I was there to stay in the guest house –
his eyes lit up with excitement and he proceeded to ask for my name,
“Cassidy,” I told him.
He hugged me and then immediately responded with, “Cassidy? We don’t
have a Saint Cassidy. We need a Saint Cassidy. Are you Catholic?”
“No.” I responded with a smile.
“We need a Saint Cassidy,” was his immediate response to my no.
He then proceeded to hug me again to welcome me to the monastery.
Once I got back to the guest house and settled in a bit, I received a
phone call from another monk – he wanted to make sure I got in ok and
see if I needed anything. I assured him that I was doing great and
thankful for the hospitality. He made sure I got the note to meet with
a monk the following day. He then let me know he looked forward to
meeting me at some point while I am here.
At Compline (7:30 prayer) I was again greeted me with a smile and a
hug. I noticed a monk glancing back at me and then hunting through the
notebooks and papers in the choir stalls – I knew he was looking for a
booklet to give me to follow along – his attention to details of love
was evocatively displaying the love of God. As I saw him flipping
through the booklets, tears were brought to my eyes, as I was
overwhelmed by his love, the love of God. As I saw him walking back
towards me with his slanted sliding walk, I stood up to meet him
halfway. He showed me what they’d be singing that Compline and then
let me know I could follow along.
I suppose the main thing that struck me about this encounter was not
what was done or what was said, it was more that these
actions seemed to flow from the most genuine place of love – that
everything he did do and say was an organic response to another human
being – the life in these monks recognized the life in me and met me
with the love of God.
At the end of Compline, the monks receive a blessing and then the
guests follow the monks to receive that same blessing (the Abbot
graces water on each person’s forehead as a remembrance of their
baptism (at least this is my understanding)).
One of the monks grinned at me after I received my blessing and I then
proceeded back to the pew, get my bag, and leave. Before I even began
to head out, I overheard a familiar slanted sliding walk coming my
way. I looked back and was asked if I could be given a blessing, “of course!” I responded.
He followed that up with a joke and then crossed his chest, closed his
eyes, mumbled some words, then looked up at me and held my face for a
brief moment and told me, “You are a blessing.”
I left that night glowing and speechless – not because of the
formality of Compline, the traditions of the Church, or the Abbot’s
blessing; I left speechless because I met true vessels of
God – people who emptied themselves to become who they were made to
be, a lover of God and a lover of people. People who choose to hollow
themselves daily to become what God had in mind for them, to be their
true selves. I imagine that this is no easy task for anyone; I imagine
this is a daily oblation that many of these monks have found great joy
in. Which adds another point, many of these men were glowing with love
– God lives in them, God lives in each of us – it’s just not all that
often that I come across someone who has hollowed themselves to become
their true selves which naturally exemplifies that love – the creator
“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them” Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbors worthy.” Thomas Merton