Monday, May 7, 2012

An Afternoon at Gethsemani

Merton's Hermitage (Photo: Justin Klassen)

Br. Paul Quenon (Photo: Justin Klassen)
I was at the Abbey of Gethsemani a little over a week ago with two good friends visiting Br. Paul Quenon, an accomplished poet and photographer (see some of his work here) who has been a monk at the Abbey for over 50 years.  For those who may not be familiar with the Abbey of Gethsemani, it is a Cistercian monastery founded in 1848 just south of Bardstown, Kentucky.  Monks have been praying and working continually here since 1848, and my understanding is that it is the oldest continuously inhabited monastery in the United States.  It was also the monastic home of Thomas Merton (Fr. Louis), and has become a pilgrimage site for the millions who have read, studied, and prayed with Merton (at some point I'll write more about Merton, and about what Merton has meant to me).

We had a wonderful afternoon with Br. Paul out at Merton's hermitage.  We wrote poems, read some Merton, and even climbed a few trees.  When we returned to the Abbey, we stopped in briefly at the gift shop, where one can buy books, pottery, and, of course, cheese.  On the wall I noticed a copy of a letter written by a retreatant to the monks of Gethsemani.  I'd noticed this letter before, and have always been struck by it.  Here it is:

Photo: Justin Klassen (the letter is on the wall of the Abbey's Visitor Center)

I love this letter because it so beautifully addresses something Rowan Williams writes about in Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief.  Williams writes about why and how people come to believe (and therefore trust) God.  He remarks that the 'proofs' for the existence of God articulated by St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Anselm of Canterbury are fine for what they are, but that very few people actually come to any kind of trust in God as a result of their arguments.  Rather, Williams argues that most come to trust and believe in God through "conduits" of God, women and men who "become responsible for God" and who make "a connection that argument and speculation cannot make" (26).

The writer of the above letter saw God in the monks of Gethsemani, experienced something about God's presence and love to which no amount of theological argument could have brought him.  The monks were and are, in Rowan Williams' terms, "conduits" of God.

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