This is a story I need to tell. It is an incredible one where words, trees, grey hair and God speaks. This story is one I am ashamed to tell because I’m not sure I really believe the truth…yet.
I went to Gethsemani planning to work through the retreat, “Hannah and Samuel, General intention: Renewing one’s call” from Emilie Griffin’s book Wilderness Time.
I arrived in the afternoon. On the small wooden desk in my guesthouse room was the schedule for the liturgy of the hours. Vespers, at 5:30, would be the next time to join the monks in the Abby.
The scripture for that day was Acts 10:9-16. It is the story of Peter who was unwilling to visit Gentiles because they were unclean. During prayer time as he awaited his dinner, Peter had a vision. He saw the heavens open and a white cloth descended filled with all kinds of creatures. Three times he heard a voice saying, “Get up Peter; kill and eat.” Three times Peter replied “by no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.”
What are the things inside that make me cry, “by no means, Lord.” What makes me hold back?
What do I profane that God blesses?
As I walked the grounds and sat looking at the large sycamore tree in the center of the garden, I asked myself this question, over and over. My first thought was an academic life. I have felt that this life is selfish and thinking serves me more than others. How can such a life be holy? Maybe the monks have something to teach me.
What’s holding me back?
I went into the chapel and found a seat close to the front of the balcony, so I could see the monks as they entered. Looking straight into Jesus’ face on the banner that hung above the altar, I continued to ask: What do I profane that God blesses? That Jesus seemed to move as I held my gaze, but no words came.
What was holding me back? A job? Must I have a certain job? Does a job define me? Over and over I asked: what does God bless that I don’t?
A line of monks was entering the chapel when I looked. They were filing in,bowing their heads toward my Christ at the altar as they entered.
Their heads. Their heads were white, snowy white or salt and peppered like mine. I noticed that one wore sandals with dark socks. I noticed their white heads, again, and then I gazed again into Jesus’ face.
That is what I profane that God blesses, my age. That is what holds me back in my mind. I’ve struggled that I’m too old for a new job; to begin again, just like Hannah I was there to retreat with.
Father Seamus, the guest master, gave his talk for new retreat house guests the next morning. I walked by and was beckoned in by his voice, noticeable in this place of silence. Some of his words were “be who you are, who God made you. If you are an introvert, be that.”
For me, I heard, if you are a thinker, a lover of words, theories, and thinking; be that. If you are 62 and your hair is gray and black and a yellowish color; be that.
Father Seamus came to Gethsemini when he was 70, twenty years over the age of admittance (25 – 50 years). They told him to come try it out anyway; he never left. He had to go through the formation, 5 1/2 years, even though he was already a priest. It didn’t matter here. He is 84 now and has been the guest master for a year – a new job for him.
“Get up Peter, kill and eat.” Be satisfied, find your fill. Take action to do so. Don’t be concerned about rules and regulations.
Oh, and I noticed another Sycamore in the woods, standing strong like the one in the middle of the Garden. I even noticed the beautiful gray bark this time.
Abby of Gethsemani Photo by Stephen Greb, Kentucky Geological Survey.