The Abbey of the Genesee

Genesee Abbey is in New York near Buffalo and Rochester – with the background of  some beautiful rolling hills and even more beautiful people. Piffard, NY is a very small town, which seems to have allowed the Monk’s Bread (the primary source of income for the monks) to be a popular item amongst the entire community. While I was there I saw numerous people in and out for their weekly bread, bread for their congregation or community, bread for their friends or family, etc. It is very apparent that this particular item has really brought the community of Piffard together in some way.

In my true fashion of uncertain living, I arrived early and was welcomed immediately by every person I met associated with the monastery and community. Genesee is known by some from the work of Henri Nouwen, an author and scholar, who called Genesee his home for a 7 month stay (where he wrote the book, The Genesee Diary).

One of the physical things that struck me most at Genesee was the structure of the church itself – it was in a triangle of sorts, with both the guests and monks on the same level truly allowing for a centered altar. I was particularly touched by this architecture because it allowed for an aesthetic sense of oneness and unity – not to say this isn’t a part of each location, but that the visual provided such a blatant reminder.

The provision of silence and solitude in such a place makes me feel as if my senses are clothed and stripped as I go from monasteries back into the ‘world’, from silence to the ‘world’, etc. “By living in silence you live closer to reality… there’s no room for inauthenticity… humility is truth.”

Humility is truth is a phrase that has stuck with me because of the density of truth it reveals. From the layers upon layers I pile upon my senses – scents, sounds, tastes, textures, color, others’ agendas for my life, and everyone’s marketing scheme – it’s not that easy to live in the reality of humility, the reality of authenticity, the truth of who I am at the very core level. Each of us could blame our lack of authenticity on the world we live in, the people who aren’t authentic, etc. But that leaves out the real work of the heart – the struggles, the anguish, the pain, that allows us to truly cherish the good – to truly see the light amongst the darkness.

Much of my time along the road has provided ample opportunity to live in such a way that allows me to be me; the world, however, is in the business of covering that truth with false needs, at the cost of continuing to confuse my true self. This often leads me to a standstill of sorts which causes a sense of panic. Lately, however, it’s been a soft reminder to turn my gaze inward to keep the silence and stillness within. Nothing comes easy, and this is quite possibly one of the most difficult but rewarding practices I’ve tried to tend to.

Finally, a quote was passed on to me that seems to really give way to what direction I am attempting to go: “You know you’ve found your vocation when you’ve found the way in which it’s easiest for you to love.” I think the same could be said of nearly anything in our lives: we find our niches when we find the places where love comes the most natural, where love unfolds, where the well of love from which we give is always full. Not to say that love is always easy, but if the source from where it comes is such a natural and intuitional space – then I’d assume that is the right space to be, at least for that time, moment, day, year, life. With that being said, I also realize that this takes constant work of the heart, not playing hide and seek with my darkness or despair, not running from the truths that I’ve been lucky enough to see.

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“When we know love in our own hearts… at such times the awakening, the turning inside out of all values, the newness, the emptiness, and the purity of vision that make themselves evident – provide a glimpse of the cosmic dance.” Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

“…or in something as simple as watching children at play, or in something as intimate as knowing love in our own hearts – we’re interiorly quickened, we’re interiorly awakened to a deep visceral realization that this is holy, that this is real, that this is precious, that this is the way that every moment deep down really is. These are moments that disclose to us the inherent holiness of life itself. The already perfectly holy nature of the present moment just the way it is.” James Finley

Abbey of the Genesee

The Abbey of the Genesee

Published by Cassidy Hall

Cassidy Hall (MA, MDiv, MTS) is an author, filmmaker, podcaster, and holds a Masters of Divinity, Masters of Theological Studies, and Masters in Counseling. Born and raised in Iowa, she now works at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Indianapolis where she is pursuing ordination in the UCC. Throughout her time at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, she worked as a Teaching Assistant while studying for her MDiv and MTS degrees (December, 2021). During her time at seminary, she also served as the Secretary of the International Thomas Merton Society and continues to serve on the board of Enfleshed. Cassidy co-authored Notes on Silence (2018) and has had her work featured in devotionals including most recently: Thirsty, and You Gave Me Drink; Homilies and Reflections for Cycle C, from Clear Faith Publishing (2021). Her essays have been published in the Christian Century, The National Catholic Reporter, Convivium Journal, The Thomas Merton Seasonal, The Thomas Merton Annual, and she has also been a contributor for The Huffington Post and Patheos. Before pursuing her MDiv and MTS in Indianapolis, Cassidy lived in Los Angeles where she worked on the production team of the documentary feature film, In Pursuit of Silence. The film’s success on the festival circuit and beyond led to its worldwide theatrical release. Her directorial debut short-film, Day of a Stranger, paints an intimate portrait of Thomas Merton’s hermitage years and received the Audience Choice Award from Illuminate Film Festival.   She is the co-host of the Encountering Silence podcast, which explores the ambiguity of silence in our modern-day lives. And more recently, she created a podcast hosted by the Christian Century titled Contemplating Now, which examines the intersection of contemplation and social justice.

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