November 5, 2018
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
The lectionary readings for this coming Sunday, November 11, 2018, the 25 Sunday after Pentecost, are as follows:
I spent last week at the Abbey of Gethsemani, near Bardstown, Kentucky, in a silent retreat.
The Abbey was established in 1848 by Trappist-Cistercian monks who follow the rule of St. Benedict. In other words, their time is spent in work and in prayer. They observe the liturgy of the hours, gathering seven times during the day to sing psalms and hymns and worship.
Retreats at the Abbey are unstructured, although the visitors are invited to join the monks in the liturgies.
I came to Gethsemani to empty my mind of the anxiety, the stress, and all the other demands of the office, as well as the tension that I was feeling from all the country's societal and political ills. I have long felt a need for a time such as this and decided to do it during the week of my 74th birthday. I turned off my phone and all other electronic devices. The only contact I had with the outside world was the time I spent walking the grounds of the monastery.
The daily listening of psalms and the rest of scripture calls us to see the world through the eyes of God and then respond as God would. Although I confess that I didn't come necessarily seeking God, it turns out that's exactly what I did. God was, is, and has been with me all the time, but all the other things were getting in the way. With three solid days of rest, it became crystal clear.
I'm sure the other retreatants came seeking the same thing, but I'll never know because I didn't talk to them. For those who just can't keep quiet all the time, there are rooms available for limited times to visit. I didn't feel the need to do so.
Worship seven times a day is somewhat jarring at first. Some of it, at times seems perfunctory. But God is in the perfunctory as well as in the spectacular. After a while, one settles in. I began looking forward to it.
In between those times, there is silence. Silence to think, silence to appreciate all the sounds around you. I began to value the sounds of the buzzing of a fluorescent light, the crickets, the wind rustling through the trees, and my chewing at mealtimes. (Perhaps that's too much information, but it's true).
At worship, I spent time observing the monks as they walked into the nave. Many of them are old, their steps very hesitant. I found myself wondering what would motivate a man to pursue a vocation as a monk, living in isolation from the outside world. The writer and theologian Thomas Merton, perhaps the best known of the Cistercians, once wrote that, "it takes exceptional courage and integrity to make such a sacrifice."
Merton's grave site is on the grounds of the Abbey, although it is off limits to visitors. That was disappointing.
I got a lot of reading done. In addition to Merton's book, I also took along Sister Joan Chittister's Essential Writings, and found quite a bit of devotional material. My scripture reading seemed much more meaningful. As Chittister states in her book: "The scriptures become the heartbeat of your life. It is the application of scripture that drives every day of your life, it is your mission, it is your ministry, it is the ground on which you stand."
Of course, my camera was my constant companion. I took all the photos which appear on this post, and then some.
I am grateful for having been granted the time to leave all my preoccupations behind to renew and refresh; for the office staff, which supported me by handling whatever crises may have arisen; and for you, the reader, for allowing me to deviate from my usual reflection on the upcoming Sunday readings in order to share this experience with you.
As Jesus once told his disciples, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while," [Mark 6:31] he also invites us to build sabbath time into our lives so that we can draw closer to him.
Tomorrow, Tuesday, I'm at Zion Lutheran Church, Youngstown, to meet with the rostered ministers of the Eastern Conference. This completes my schedule of fall visits for the year.
Wednesday evening, I visit with the Congregation Council of Zion Lutheran Church, New Middletown, as they prepare to form a parish relationship with St. John, Petersburg.
Saturday afternoon, I will be with the people of God at Calvary Lutheran Church, East Cleveland, as they honor the Rev. George Hrbek, who celebrates 60 years of ordained ministry.
In addition to being a powerful preacher and faithful minister of the Gospel, Pastor Hrbek has long been a bold witness of his faith, a forceful voice for social justice, and an advocate for the poor and marginalized in greater Cleveland.
This week and always, may we put our trust in the God of hope, who keeps promises forever.
+Bishop Abraham Allende
 Thomas Merton,
No Man Is an Island
(New York: Houghton Mifflin), p. 137
 Joan Chittister,
Essential Writings (New York: Orbis Books), p.7