12-27-15, Gethsemani

there are many things I know here –
where to get coffee in the morning,
the sound of the church bells ringing,
the tune of Our Father.

but there are many things I want to ask, like
is there an actual monk ringing those church bells in the service?
and, why are there so many knobby hills in Kentucky?
and, do you get bored of your every-day-the-same life here?
and, how did you know you wanted to be a monk?

I don’t even attempt to answer these difficult questions of the universe.

 

On my loop of the garden, I feel someone staring at me and turn around. The moon winks coyly at me. I offer a shy smile back and tease, “come on now, don’t pretend you’re not just borrowing the rays of the sun, you beautiful thing.”
But then, am I not doing the very same thing?

 

I’ve never lived here, but Kentucky charms me in a special way. I don’t know what this means for our future together, but I take note of my feelings.
I drive through the country on my way home and everything is flooded, brown water, green grass. I stop in Louisville and watch everything turn gray outside with water pouring from the sky.

Flooded stream

12-25-15, Gethsemani

Full moon rising (3)

There are no words… I just turned around, and there it was. Hullo, moon. 

*****

Now for the things that strain towards words…

12-25-15 ~ Merry Christmas

Today is a good day for hiking. But a year and half ago I hiked this same trail and fled down this hill in tears and terror when the spider webs became too numerous to avoid any longer. I felt ashamed then, my stepbrother’s voice ringing in my head, instructing my ten-year-old self to touch a fish. “Don’t be afraid; it’s part of God’s creation!” I couldn’t do it and felt so bad I was letting God down. I’m so sorry, God. I love your creation, just not with the all the critters.
Today I am not afraid. It is winter and the spiders and snakes are all gone. I am happy and at peace, yet I worry that my inner peace is only present because my outer circumstances have changed. But, I am out here on a rainy morning that floods streams and turns paths to mud, and some people would be afraid of that. And I am not.
I have to believe that each little revolution we make, each turn around the sun, also moves us forward.

Come on now, wouldn’t you be afraid of spiders if you knew ones like that might be hanging around? (Spider from Aug 2014; Muddy hill from Dec 2015)

*****

I want to experience freedom, so I give myself three hours to get lost in the woods on Christmas morning. No one else is out here and I commune with wet leaves, dripping rain, fallen logs. I make it to a marked destination and turn off the path, wondering where I might go. I imagine I am making a very large counter-clockwise loop, and walk for a long time. Two deer bound across my path; Hello, friends! It smells like horse. Is that what deer smell like? I start to think I will never emerge from the woods – at least not in time for lunch – when I see an open field. It might be familiar. Not that way, this way, Spirit urges me. I comply and ascend a small hill. I laugh in surprise to find I am on the other side of a lake I was at two hours ago. It seems I wandered clockwise to get here. What do I know, anyway? Spirit led me home, and all I had to do was follow. It is like learning to listen to the true I, not the ego-self but the one who always is present and guiding if only we can drop our other pretenses. Spirit lead me home. Home is right here.

Gethsemani, 12-24-15

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Brother Tree died last night.
I am the first to find him on Christmas Eve morning, 4 a.m., his body massive and smelling like Christmas tree, strewn across the path. In the darkness he is even more imposing and lifelike, even unto death. The smell screams life, even though his scent is only released because he was broke open.
I stand among his branches, sorrowful at his untimely death. I knew the rainstorm was ferocious last night, I could hear it pelting my windows; but I didn’t know it was this fierce. An entire tree taken down by the wind. I gaze up the short hill at his remaining trunk, raw and ragged, with another branchless trunk piece collapsed beside the base. Brother Tree must have been carried by the wind, and I marvel at how that invisible force can move such a strong and stout character.
I breathe deep, welcoming him inside me, and walk the garden loop. When I circle back, I pay him homage once more and break a small branch off as a treasure, a remembrance.
Someone else will find him when it gets light. Someone else will remove his body from the garden to a final resting place.

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(Although as day draws to a close and he has yet to move, I start to wonder if the monks feel the same way I do about him).

*****

I like walking the grounds by the Abbey, my feet treading these Kentucky hills. I summit a mound and look back to see from where I have come, survey the land beneath this queenly post. I smile a benevolent smile on all that I see. And it was good. I feel connected, my feet on the ground, as if the earth lives through me and I live through it. The earth experiences me seeing itself. Yet I am small, a miniscule part of this wondrous creation.
The worms have come out to play, too. Fat bodies taking a breather on asphalt, their muddy homes flooded. Hello, worms. Take care to not be squished. But that is someone else’s responsibility; the worms don’t know any more than to do what they do. I walk carefully around them.

*****

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I write in my head as I walk. Some might call that thinking; it is not. At least when I write, my thoughts are focused and directed, even as they make me something of a second-hand observer of what is going on. When I am simply thinking, my mind wanders far away and I am not an observer of the present. Occasionally – for maybe five seconds at a time – I can be present to what is. Openness. Awe. Stillness. Until I start thinking or writing about it again.

Christmas at the Abbey of Gethsemani, 12-22 & 12-23

I have begun a quest to write for 90 days in a row (and if I miss a day, make it up the next). It’s similar to the 12-Step “90 in 90 days” motto (90 meetings in 90 days). It’s been enjoyable and rewarding even just for myself, but sometimes I want to share what I’ve written. I hope you enjoy – or feel inspired to start your own 90 of whatevers in 90 days!!

12-22-15, Tuesday

Song of Simeon

 

It is 7:27 p.m. when I pull into the dark parking lot of the Abbey just in time for Compline, the last prayer service of the day. The back roads of Kentucky feel so familiar to me now, even in the dark, and the opening organ notes in the church even more so. Let us pray. I wish you could hear it because you sing it, not speak it. The monks’ choral stalls are darkened and the faithful visitors are washed in light so we can read our prayer books. The monks have all the words memorized. We sing psalms, I don’t know what, but the music lulls me. And my favorite prayer, which is sung as well. Oh, save us…save us while we are awake. Protect us while we are asleep, that we may keep our watch with Christ. And when we sleep, rest in his peace.

Eventually, silence, dark. We wait. You hear the sound of the rope that pulls the bell before you hear the bell. Ker-clunk. Ker-clunk. I know the rhythm, the pauses, the majestic grandeur of this bell. It makes my heart ache and my soul sing, though it is so seemingly simple. Sing, bell, sing! I sing with thee! RAP. The abbot raps his knuckles to signal the end of service and we shuffle forward for a holy water dashing on our heads. Now we may sleep in peace. I am ready for my retreat.

 

12-23-15, Wednesday

I walk outside in the middle of the night in the garden of Gethsemani after the first prayer service of the day, Vigils. The clouds make the sky brighter. I wrap my blanket around me as if it is a prayer shawl, a monk’s cowl. I notice I am not afraid of the dark garden like I usually am, skittish of dark spaces and ghosts of monks gone before. I wonder if I have been confronting my inner shadows and I am less afraid of the ones outside. Maybe. Then I notice the trees have lost their leaves and they don’t cast so many shadows anymore.

*****

I’ve decided to accept the truth about my ability to meditate these days. Today, I attempted for 20 minutes and my head kept jerking and startling me back awake. Why try so hard at something that isn’t working? I will walk slow circles around the garden; I will walk quickly on the hiking trails, I will read, I will write. I will forge the path of my own spirituality. Let your life speak. I ask God to speak to me in the ways I can hear God.