Saturday, September 14, 2013

Thoughs on The Abbey of Gethsemani

I like writing. I think most of you probably know this by now. I thought while I was at the Abbey of Gethsemani I would do a lot of writing. I also thought, and looked forward to the fact that I would get several days in complete silence. And had that been the goal, I would this morning be quite upset that “those people” ruined my time of silence and reflection. By those people I mean the numerous men and women who would take from me the silence that I longed for. This trip, I only twice initiated conversation, but had no less than ten, maybe twelve people who went out of their way to speak with me.

This image was taken from wikipedia.
And the truth is each time I was quite embarrassed, because I knew that silence was being broken not just for the two of us, but for anyone who was around us. I also wondered why it was that men and women went out of their way to speak with me. Why not the other retreatants? They could easily see that others were speaking, because they heard and saw them. And the truth is, maybe they did that as well. And what I came up with was a few things. And these are what I learned this year at the monastery.

If I really do have this relationship with Christ that I suppose I do, there is something in that that is attractive to others. A few people remarked to me: you seem to happy to be here, or about me always smiling. That is what drew them to me they would say. And the truth is, I just enjoy the solitude found at Gethsemani. It is almost impossible for me not to be happy when chanting the Psalms throughout the day, hiking the knobs, reading, resting, eating simple food and seeing beautiful strangers that I love find solace for their souls. This is a joy to me. And I think that joy is attractive…not the things I do or say.

This image is from the Gethsemani website.
I expected this year to be exactly like last year. I expected that I would do this at such and such a time, and go there at this time. I expected to entertain the same rhythm I did last year. But when I stopped, I realized that September 2013 is not September 2012. I am a regenerating creation. For instance, I have shed and grown 12 new skins since I was last there. How much more has my heart, soul and spirit changed? How much have those changes caused me to need something in fact quite different? What I learned was that holding on to expectations based on previous experience can lead to frustration, disappointment and hurt…that we don’t have to experience. So, I just went with it. Sure, I sought solace, peace and quiet. And I found those things, but I chose not to let the interferences ruin the beauty that surrounded me.

I am not sure if Coptics, Catholics and Orthodox believers say things like this, but in Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches I have heard expressions such as: We are the hands and feet of Jesus. Some of these men and women that came into my space either acted as the hands of Jesus or needed the hands of Jesus themselves. I was both recipient and giver of the grace of God. And there are very few things in life, if any, more important than partaking in the giving and receiving of life found in Christ.

This photo taken from here.
The last big category is something that some of my Catholic friends here might take offense to, and I want to say to you specifically…that is not my intent. My intent is just to express the reality of my heart and experience. So, here it goes: I am unabashedly a Protestant. There are some marked differences that separate me from my Catholic brothers and sisters. But…I love them. And I will not try to change them any more than I will try to change Protestants of other denominations. The goal is not to win other Christians to my version and understanding of the Gospel. The goal is to walking in the love and unity of Christ’s Church. I don’t know why, but I still hold to a belief I developed in high school that we will all have some things we have reckoned wrong. And the reason I am fine with these misbeliefs is that we, the Children of God, are called to be in pursuit of truth. As long as we continue to pursue the truth we will have teachable spirits that learn to see truth wherever it lies. I see truth in the lives of monastic men and women of the Catholic Church. I see truth in the clergy of the Presbyterian and Episcopal churches. I find truth in the history of the Lutheran, Methodist and Baptist churches. And I find truth in experiences I have in the Charismatic and Pentecostal congregations. There is beauty in all of us that we can partake in. When we fail to recognize true beauty, when we allow dogmatic approaches to our own understanding of the Gospel to prevent us from finding truth in the teachings and actions of those around us, we limit ourselves from growing toward the full expression of God found on earth today. That is Paul’s body in 1 Corinthians. I cannot help but find an expression of reverence in Gethsemani that does not exist in most Evangelical churches. I cannot help but experience a familiarity with God in the Vineyard that does not exist in many Mainline churches. But I need them both. I need them all. That is not to say that truth is relative, but more to say that truth is revealed and we are offered the opportunity to learn and partake in it.

I didn’t anticipate these four points taking up so much room. So, I think I will write more of the little things like I did last year in another post. But for now, you can kind of see how this year at Gethsemani was for me.

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