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Gethsemani Post 1

I am in transit on the way home from my silent retreat. While there I wrote several blog posts – some are a wrap-up of the day, some are on specific topics (suffering, silence, forgiveness). Since I had NO internet or cell phone access the entire week, I will post them one day at a time for all my loyal fans! If you are out there – thanks for “listening”.

First Full Day of Retreat at Gethsemani

I have completed reading “South of Broad”, making four Pat Conroy books i have read on this sabbatical. Prince of Tides, The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline preceded this, his latest novel. What a writer! i believe he has now surpassed Barbara Kingsolver as my favorite all time. His prose is amazing and alive and as a son of the South he speaks to me in ways no author ever has. His characters are very similar, obviously every book is somewhat autobiographical. His reflections on integration resonate with my own experience, although Mississippi and South Carolina are different in important ways – we have no Broad Street anywhere in my state, no Charleston of ancient history, although the Delta can provide some of the same types of genteel privileged people, the lost royal blood of plantation owners still runs through the veins of some families in the flat lands of rich soil that comprise the Delta.
I feel a little lost, which is ok. The abbey is nice, i have a private room and bath, nothing 4 star about it but it’s really fine, They have 7 daily offices of prayer, mostly comprising of chanted Psalms. The monks here don’t sing all that well, other than a few who cantor the Psalms, and those of us looking on from the visitor’s gallery (we are not allowed in the choir area of the chapel) join in, mostly under our breath. Yet there is a holiness to the rhythms of their sung prayers, knowing they pray the entire Psalter this way over every 2 weeks, and have done so since the day of the founding of the Abbey in 1848, is pretty amazing. The place certainly feels prayed in.
Today I slept past Vigils (3:15am), Lauds (5:45) and Mass (right after Lauds). Knowing i am not welcome to receive communion makes it less attractive to me to attend, although i will probably do so later. i begin my day at 615, doing some praying before breakfast. i also read some more, not wanting Conroy’s latest to end but desperate to see how it turns out. Pat, you are a distraction! Breakfast, like all meals, is taken in silence. They are serious about the silence at this place, which i am very grateful for. There is no talking in the dining room, in the hallways, in your own room, in the church, along the walkway that leads to the church and guest house, or on the grounds immediately adjacent to the buildings. if you want a silent retreat this is the place. Also silenced is any connection with the outside world. There is no Wifi to tempt you to the internet to waste time on emails and Facebook, no cell signal in the building at all. Last night i walked up the road a little ways in order to call home, but that’s about it. it’s nice to stop the infuriating habit of looking at my phone or computer or ipad every 2 minutes to see if some new email has arrived to interrupt my day, my prayer, my work. A slave to that i have become and it’s a habit i must break.
While in Florida i began a chapter in two separate ‘”books”, one on Camille – Katrina, one on desegregation. i am quite sure i will never publish either, reasonably sure i will not finish them. i am not even certain what i am trying to accomplish with them. Going into this sabbatical time, i thought this writing time would be cathartic in some way, and that i had some important things to say. i am no longer convinced. i spent more of that time working on a new Bible study of Ephesians than i did on writing. it’s interesting that Jennifer suggested to me to focus more on blog type writing, that people would really enjoy that and i was good at it, she said that to me the day after i had the exact same thought. So perhaps this is where the Spirit is leading me, God knowing i am incapable of completing anything more lengthy than that, at least for now. So why fight it?
The monk who is the guest master gave us a short orientation last night and encouraged us to claim our rooms, our “cell”, as holy ground, to take off our shoes like Moses and pray as we enter our rooms. i did so last night, and as i did the thought came to me to reinvestigate both my ordination vows and the prayer said by the Priest when he or she is installed as a new Rector. So this morning i prayed through the BCP ordination service and said the new rector prayer. Much of my prayer time over the next few days will be around those words of power and holiness and hope.
Today the same brother gave a talk on following God’s will for us. it was 30 minutes of rambling that was hard to concentrate on, but in the end it was his story – a priest for 17 years before entering the monastery many years ago, who had an epiphany of realizing he himself was in the way of God’s perfect will for him, something all of us can learn from of course.
For the next two hours i will do some Bible reading and praying, and possibly a little writing. Then it’s time for Sext and lunch.
Update – it is evening of my first full day. Chapel is growing on me, and the chanting of the monks becoming so prayerful. We guests chant along with them in very hushed voices. Where we sit in the chapel is blocked off, in the back, facing the choir stalls of the monks. They have VERY fancy choir stalls! Lots of room for them to stand, sit, and kneel and places for their hymnals and psalters, etc. Their seats fold up when they stand to give them even more room, and they are often rocking forward and backward in the stall. There are about 40 monks total, of various ages. They all wear white cassocks, and those who have taken solemn vows wear a black scapula over it. There are a couple of novices, you must remain a novice at least 3 years before taking vows. There are also a couple of lay folks, dressed in street clothes, who worship with the monks, they are investigating a calling to the monastery. One is an older man, one is quite young, in his 20’s. He eats with us commoners but worships “inside”. Our area is gated off with a sign that says “Do not go beyond this point”. I picture the arc of the covenant scene from Raiders of the Arc, burning our flesh off if we disobey. But we are allowed “inside” after Compline at the end of the day, to be aspurged by the Abbott, and also to approach the altar area on the far end for Mass (which i will attend tomorrow). So today i went to chapel 4 times out of the 7, tomorrow I plan to start with the 3:15 Vigils and see how the day goes!
During lunch and dinner they play a tape, usually with their most famous Brother, Thomas Merton, giving a lecture. It’s interesting stuff on what conversion of life is required to truly be a monk. It’s called “conversion of manners”, but means nothing about what fork to use and everything about being changed completely. Merton is translating a Latin text from an Ethiopian desert father as he goes and engaging a group of men investigating the idea of becoming Trappist monks. Merton gets distracted easily, going off on tangents, which is how I teach, so I enjoy it very much. More to say on this as I hear more of the lectures.
Time for bed, 3:15 will come very early!

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