Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Experiencing Gethsemani Pt. 3

God Alone. The words are engraved above the steel bars in a window that allows visitors to look inside the wall at the cloistered front lawn of the monastery. God Alone. The monks have nothing else. But in having nothing else they have Everything in a measure unparalleled in secular society.

Someone in plain work clothes, I presume one of the brothers, was working pruning dead branches from a tree. He wasn’t in a rush. He worked slowly, mindfully, prayerfully, as though the work that he was doing had a sacred nature about it. That’s something that I need to remember when life and people begin pushing me forward at a harried pace. Life is more about living than getting it done.

There is a secular cemetery in front of the guest house and abbey church. I think there is something to be said about graves at the entry of a church and I can’t help but to think the modern church world has given up something extremely important by laying the faithful to rest in impersonal, commercialized grave yards where they are, in a practical sense, all but forgotten.

By going through the guest house we were allowed to visit the little cemetery where Merton is buried. Two fresh mounds of soil tell us that two brothers have been recently returned to the earth from which they came where their physical bodies wait with the others for the Great Resurrection.

It has been forty years since Merton accidentally died in Asia. The earth has settled over his grave creating a small hollow in front of the simple white cross that bears a small engraved plaque with his name on it. No marble monument. No marble slab. There is nothing, other than the small plaque with his name on it, to distinguish his grave from the other graves in the little cemetery even though his life and work made, and continues to make, such a significant contribution to the monastery and the world outside its walls. It is an obscure resting place amidst the brothers whom he loved, quite unlike the secular cemetery out front adorned with large engraved stone markers that call attention to those resting beneath them. In paying my respects to Father Louis I knelt beside his grave and gently touched the small plaque engraved with his name.

Merton tells us, “A monk is a man who has given up everything in order to possess everything. He is one who has abandoned desire in order to achieve the highest fulfillment of all desire. He has renounced his liberty in order to become free. He goes to war because he has found a kind of war that is peace.”[1]

[1] Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe, p. 3