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Grace, Thomas Merton, a Kentucky Backroad and Trappist Monks

Updated: Apr 1, 2021

It’s 8 a.m. and I’ve already been to the abbey three times today. Vigils start at 3:15 a.m. My alarm goes off at 2:50 a.m. and I think about 100 reasons why I need to sleep. God doesn’t let me. The abbey bells continue to ring and force me out of bed.

The Trappist monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani do this everyday. Given their motto of prayer, silence and labor, it is no wonder they have not missed a day since the 1860s.

How do I end up in these places? It’s all part of life’s tapestry of threads.

Devotion of a Monk My journey of ‘discovering devotion’ continues. This time in the USA with Trappist monks. Being here helps me realize yet again the similarities across religions. Devotion is devotion and god is god. Whether it’s a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim chanting a devotional song, it’s all the same desire to praise god.

The 40 or 50 monks here opted for the arduous way towards salvation. The day starts at 3 a.m. and ends at 8 p.m. Bells ring seven times a day to call the monks for prayer and chanting of the psalms. If they are not praying, they are working. All of this done in silence. Many have been here for 40 plus years. I look at them and bow down to their devotion to the path of self realization and their deep love of God, Jesus, Mary and the Holy Spirit.

I’m curious about the monks. Seven times a day they sing their sweet praises. What makes people renounce the world and its comforts to live here? Do they know something about the love of god that the normal person doesn’t know? Do we, as householders, have the ability to live a sacred, monastic life at home? I’m on this path since I realize more and more that nothing in the material world brings lasting joy. My connection to the divine does.

Chain of Events Back to the question- How do I end up in these places? What is the force that brings us to situations that seem to be exactly where we need to be? Some call it shakti, grace, Holy Spirit, destiny or fate. For me, it’s a small voice with an urge or a strong feeling that brings to my awareness an idea. Whether I act on it or not, that’s another story mainly about trust. For now, I’m just going with flow of life and letting ‘someone’ else drive. I came here via an Indian Swami, of course, but really the seed to visit the abbey was planted back in 2017. The story goes like this.

I spent last weekend in southern Kentucky with Swami Ji from Rishikesh’s Parmarth Niketan ashram. On the way to the Hindu temple in Louisville, the country rode I opted to take led me to Trappist, Kentucky where the abbey is located. Curious me stopped and asked about staying, but found out no rooms were available. Brother Gerlac told me to call the next day to see if anyone cancelled. I walked out knowing I’d be back. I was right.

According to the rules of the logical world, I’m not supposed to be here. The retreat center takes reservations four months in advance and they are always booked. In the world where I like to operate, let’s call it faith mixed with magic, there was not one cancellation, but two; therefore, allowing me to stay a full week.

Keeping on the topic of grace, let’s back up to March 2017. A cold and gray Ohio morning with no hope and awful depression, since I just returned from India and my sun source was turned off. A small voice that morning said ‘Go to church.” In desperation and with nothing else to do, I went. I walked out feeling uplifted from the beautiful choir and another urge sent me back inside to get a bulletin.

Leading me to read about Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun who planned to speak locally about Catholicism and Consciousness. Amazing person who adds another dimension to science, religion and the oneness of it all. Confirming that my eclectic taste for spirituality and religion is quite ok and I’m not a sinner. Whew. I’m not going to hell after all.

While there, I sat next to a woman who was a retired Duquesne university dean. She told me about Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, and his book about travels to India and Asia. The name was familiar, since his life’s journey captivated me when I read an article about him a few months prior.

The seed was planted to one day visit the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he lived and is buried. Furthermore, this woman’s parents used to live across the street from my grandparents house on what street? Rosary Drive. Not much else I can say about this moment with her other than it was determined at that instant I’d show up at this abbey when my soul was ready.

Tapestry of Grace Situations like this are not random. It’s grace in action and it touches all of us if only we listen and act. As I move along the spiritual path, I go from experience to experience; each one planting something in my soul.

Years later after experiencing what I needed to, the timing was now to be here. Life is not random. It’s all woven together as a story. If one can only see life as a tapestry, each day leading up to something else. The threads represent all of our experiences. Woven in various patterns. Sometimes up and down, zig zags or simply flat.

Then one day we find the common thread that holds the tapestry together. It’s the thread covered in gold that is our path. It’s where god wants us to walk. Full of joy, happiness and time to time disappointment.

Not to worry. By the time we find our golden thread, we’ve already covered so much ground that sadness and disappointments are short lived. For on the path, we walk unwavering in our faith. Regardless of what happens, we know it’s just a lesson to learn or an experience, and we keep on walking.

Never doubt that your life is random. If you can see how your threads have been woven together then it will add more meaning to your life’s story. What does your tapestry look like?

Meeting Thomas Merton

Before leaving the Abbey, I sat again at Thomas Merton’s grave. A simple white cross just like the other monks. It came to me what I could leave at his grave.

I cried as I untied my sutra thread that was wrapped around my wrist. The only physical thing left from my last memory before leaving India was in this sutra I received at a Dattatreya pooja.

A Hindu sutra tied near a catholic rosary on the grave of a Trappist monk who was born in a Quaker family who at first wanted to be a Hindu Brahmachari. He was told no, and directed by a Hindu monk to read certain Christian books. As I tied the thread, I was sure Merton would appreciate the sutra given our common love of India. After all, I’m certain he believed in reincarnation and it is likely I met him in his new body walking the streets in India as a baba.

I then prayed to be connected to Merton’s courage, creativity, fortitude and his heart. His love that comes through to this day in each and every word for when he wrote he certainly was in the presence of god.

I wrote non-stop the entire time I was there and will be sharing more in my new blog and book I will start to work on. I made that promise and bowed down at the grave and walked away inspired with a new creative spark.

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