Gethsemani

Thomas Merton's final resting place

Thomas Merton’s final resting place

“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 that 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. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” Thomas Merton

To get to Gethsemani, you go down New Hope Road for a few miles and then turn on Monks Road. I have remembered this particular place often through the years. Soon after my ordination as priest of the church, I came to participate in a weeklong training program on Faith-based Community Organizing here in Kentucky. Along with several RC priests, a Lutheran, a Presbyterian and a couple of Methodist pastors, and a Jewish rabbi, I was helping to found BOLD Justice in Broward County. I had already been actively involved in community ministry with the homeless population \and other outreach programs in Broward. I kept bumping into the intractability of the systemic issues underlying the misery and pain I saw all around me. I believed then, and still believe now, that it takes many people working together and maintaining steady, courageous and unrelenting pressure on a system to bring about meaningful change.  BOLD Justice was a way to explore how that might be lived out.

The training program I participated in was rigorous and demanding so I was glad, about half way through the week, when we got a late afternoon and evening off. I had a rental car and knew the Cistercian Abbey where Thomas Merton spent much of his life as a monk was close to the convent where we were doing the training. On a whim, I set off to find the Abbey and got there in time to sit in the visitor section of the church to participate in the Vespers service. Because it was summer, I also was able to go out to walk in the simple cemetery by the church where Merton is buried. The beauty of the place was deeply moving to me.

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Statue of the Madonna and Child

Statue of the Madonna and Child

Sherod and I are doing a quick run-about in Kentucky and Indiana, first visting some dear friends, and then later this weekend, spending time with Sherod’s daughter and her children. Today, we could take a leisurely path from Bowling Green to Louisville so Sherod decided to get off I-65 and head to Bardstown. I vaguely remembered that Gethsemani was not too far from Bardstown and a quick check on my iPhone showed that it was actually on the route we were taking. It was sort-of providential and very meaningful to be able to stop there for a little while.

I’m at a strange place with the church. I am simply jubilant to find myself serving with the good people of St. Paul’s, Lowndesboro. I continue to make good progress with the work I have been given to do with ECF and am grateful as well, for the relationships I am building within the Diocese of Alabama. Yet my heart breaks often for the Church. I see so much anxiety, a deep uneasiness that what we’ve always done isn’t really working and an even deeper fear that the cost of letting go for the sake of what God might do next is simply too high. We grind along, neither moving towards death and resurrection, nor content to immerse ourselves fully in denial.

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As I wrote in my previous post, this is the season when I must acknowledge the reality that death and loss have been writ large in my life these past few years. What I also know is that allowing myself to “host” what I most feared changed me forever, it helped me understand resurrection in body, mind and spirit, in ways I would never have discovered if I had continued to play the endless games of magical thinking I had lived in before. Quite simply, my life is infinitely richer, more joyful, more meaningful for what these years have taught me. As one who has lost most of her fear about losing, even losing everything, I find myself in a very different place than a lot of other people who are trying to help the church find its way through this strange new passage we are in the midst of.

It was providential to find myself close to the Abbey where Brother Louis, as Merton was known in his community, lived and then was laid to rest.  Even the brief time of entering the silence of the Abbey was filled with grace.  It led me back to Merton’s prayer, which is where I live these days. I have no idea where I am going, especially as a priest of the church.  I have to trust as Merton trusted. I have profound respect for Merton’s capacity for being both a contemplative and a deeply committed activist who understood that Micah’s words—love mercy, do justice, walk humbly with your God—call on us to do more than simply look at the brokenness of the world and retreat into spaces of comfort and safety.  l have no idea what that means for me now–back when I was ordained and just launching El Centro Hispano de Todos los Santos it was all so much more clear.

Looking back through the pictures I took this early afternoon—on a cold, more wintery than summer day (54 degrees and a slight drizzle), I have to believe with Merton, that “that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing”. As confused and limited as my line of sight is, this much I can say:  I desire deeply to know what God would have me do.  For tonight, I trust that that is enough.

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