Peter and Gwen Cassidy recently attended their brother’s home church in Canada. They kept a worship bulletin for me to see. I was struck that their service opened with a quote from Thomas Merton. Merton was a hero of mine—and a lot of other folks, too. He was a Trappist Monk who spent much of his life at the monastery at Gethsemane, Kentucky.
Gethsemane is only about a two hour drive from Nashville. Some friends and I had been studying Merton’s latest work, “7 Story Mountain”—a wonderful spiritual journey. I had already been reading a book that featured an odd collection of his thoughts called “Conjectures Of A Guilty Bystander.” I go back to that book often. So my friends and I decided to go spend a week there as a retreat. It turned out to be one of the most unique experiences of my life.
The monastery at Gethsemane is “Trappist.” The Trappists are a very traditional, strict monastic community. For instance, we observed the 7 “offices” of the day for worship. The first began at 3:00 a.m. and then at 6 and 9 a.m. and at 12, 3, 6, and 9 p.m. We did this every day.
There was no talking at the monastery among the monks. Those of us who were visiting as retreat guests were allowed to talk with each other outside. Even meal times were times of reflection and quiet with an occasional recorded lecture piped into the eating area.
If you’ve never spent the bulk of an entire week not talking, you should try it. It isn’t easy. It is especially difficult if you are a minister and you make your living talking. It is an extreme form of discipline designed to help a person “get out of his own way” and focus only on God.
We managed to make it through the week. We spent much time in prayer, in study, and writing/journaling.
That quote in the Cassidy’s bulletin from Thomas Merton is worth repeating:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does, in fact, please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.”
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.