Thursday, May 31, 2012


If you head south on Highway 31E from the Blue Grass Parkway and grab a left at State Highway 247 (better known as Monks Road) you will discover a ancient bell tower that slowly becomes more visible through the trees.  The next bend in the road will bring you to the flashing yellow caution light and the entrance to the historic Abbey of Gethsemani.

Today the Abbey is home to about 70 monks.  Some are priests while others are brothers.  A handful are there to ponder long term vows.  All of them live, work and pray in the Trappist tradition in accordance with the Rule of St Benedict.

Gethsemani is most famous for being the 27 year home for a monk / priest named Father M. Louis Merton.  Some would know him better as Thomas Merton.  To his friends, he was simply Tom. Even though he died in December of 1968, his spirit continues to draw pilgrims to his spiritual home in the knob hills of Nelson County Kentucky.

Merton was a writer, a poet, and a spiritual leader of his day.  His spiritual autobiography The Seven Storey Mountain became a best seller when it was first published in 1948.  It continues to find new readers every day as people of all faiths discover themselves through Merton's spiritual journey.

My first visit to the Abbey was in the winter of 1983.  It was a bitterly cold December with unusually heavy snowfall.  I finished reading The Seven Storey Mountain while I was there at the Abbey.  It was a remarkable journey and extraordinarily memorable set of days.

The Retreat House was closed for some updating so I was assigned a room in the south wing of the monastery.  I spoke with Father Michael (the guest master) after supper on my first evening.  We spoke and prayed about my upcoming ordination.  At the close of our conversation in the library, he walked with me back to my room.  The stone hallway was filled with the echos of our footsteps.  With little more than a passing glance he whispered, "Oh, you have Father Louie's old room."  It was all uphill from there!

Some of you will join me at the Abbey on Friday August 10th.  Be sure to bring your open spirit!

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