It is probably not surprising that my mind and reflections are focused on the weekend spent with a group of friends in a Trappist monastery nestled in the hills of Kentucky. It is also not surprising to know my friends are what make the whole adventure worth the effort. And there was some effort. A long drive, some thunder and lightening, etc. is not what one relishes! But I can imagine the monks say, “God provides liberally!” Some God!
It was not the rain, even though I have seen the monastery in rainy weather and even in snow. The weather does not bother the monks. It is part of life---part of God’s creation. But most of all in that kind of setting, weather revels---the monastery is set in a lovely natural area.
It reveals there is a nature in which we all live, move, and have our being…and seldom pay much attention. Most of the time, we hop in cars, windows tightly protecting us from the elements, noise, and “otherness” of our world, and ride away. Somehow being in a monastic setting rivets one’s attention.
Even though I drove there, when you step out, you are in a different world. And this world turned out to be beautiful. It embraced the monastery I have seen quite a few times. But for many of my friends, it was their first time. They probably will never think about Gethsemani without the memory of all of us who were there with them. We were part of the landscape.
Oddly enough, the dress of Cistercian monks (for that is what the Trappists are: Cistercians of the Strict Observance) is white. And the inside of the cloister church is all white with only the brown beams high above the ceiling. White is the color of purity. And for many, if not all of us, purifying is one aspect of the weekend.
We came away more pure, more whole, more centered. I know I have now returned to the land of my normal reality…classes, meetings, readings, and the rest. But I have been to the land of the pure, the white country. And if I am lucky, and if God is providential, I will never be the same!
There is a Psalm which says something to the effect, “seven times a day should you pray.” These Cistercian monks have taken that literally! So seven times a day I “went to church with them.” They chant Psalms, they sing, and they meditate. There is very little preaching. In almost every respect, they leave the individual to wrestle with the God about whom so much is said.
I come away wondering how many times I have chanted the Doxology….thirty or forty times daily? It is praising “the God who is, who was, and who is to come…” I like this description of “God who is”…but no attempt to tell me more. God is…..…and you make whatever you make out of the God who comes to you. It’s that simple.
A theologian is someone who tries to explain “who God is.” And this explanation can get pretty sophisticated! I can only imagine one of my monk friends smiling at the theologian. A Trappist monk, committed to silence as he is (yes, we had a great deal of non-talking), would lead us into the Doxology to experience “the God who is…”
I cannot explain “the God who is…” I know as best I can know, that I experienced that God. That God was in the darkness of the monastic chants at 3:30am! That God somehow swirled in the night…or maybe, God swirled the darkness around us?
I come back home fully aware there is nothing in my life which proves God exists. If I were to hold out for a proof, I will hold out forever! But a weekend in the monastery provides evidence….and it is pretty normal evidence: friends, monks, and serendipity. I can affirm the “God who is…”