Silence & The Abbey
I’ve always craved quiet, reverent places where I could tuck away and think and read. Libraries are one of my favorite sacred spaces…I love to wander back through the stacks to find the quietest desk where no one would disturb me. My senior year of college, I created a curtained-off study space under my lofted bed where I spent hours reading and praying and musing. And because the Lord knew my heart, He let my heart fall in love with Keith… another soul who cherishes the same things: solitude, a hunger to learn, and time to be removed from the distractions of the world.
In pursuit of all these things, Keith had several times visited the Abbey of Gethsemane…just a few hours up the road from us in Trappist, Kentucky…a monastery run by a group of monks of the Order of the Cistercians of the Strict Observance. The monks have a guest home where anyone can come and stay and participate in a self-guided silent retreat. Most of the grounds are “silent areas” where retreatants are free to read or pray or think without the burden of conversing with others. For those retreatants who come with others (for instance, husband/wife pairs such as Keith and I), there are a few spaces where conversation is allowed…in the “talking dining room” for instance (they have three dining rooms), or in the guest house lobby. He’d been telling me about this amazing place for years and so we decided to not let another season pass without going up there together.
We took a road trip up and stayed for three nights few weeks ago and it was amazing. We turned off our cell phones and locked them in the car. We didn’t have email access. We didn’t document our every meal by posting a photo of it to Instagram. We didn’t flip on the TV as a time filler. We didn’t even talk to each other much, although when we did, it seemed that much more important and meaningful. We didn’t even follow the structure of your typical “guided silent retreat” where you might be given specific Bible verses to focus on, or timeframes to abide by. Instead we made our own schedule, with the exception of meals, sometimes sitting in the garden reading a book, sometimes hiking on the trails, sometimes going into the chapel for prayer time, or curling up in the guesthouse library to write in my journal. A friend of mine sent me a text message the day before we left with questions about our retreat, and when I answered them she said, “it this kind of like the “pray” part in “Eat, Pray, Love” but only you are in Kentucky?” which might be my favorite commentary ever.
I had things I specifically wanted to pray and think about, and I did pray and think about those things, but I also felt my heart stirred in other areas…all because I’d taken the time to just be quiet and still. I saw things in Scripture I’d never noticed before. I read an entire book because I had time to. And I almost cried at the beauty of hearing the Monks sing the Psalms. They sing through the entire book of Psalms every two weeks.
Maybe this blog post bubbled to the surface today especially because this week was noisy. Not noisy as in crashes and bangs (although the house across the street and the duplex catty-corner through the backyard are both being renovated so there were plenty of actual loud sounds in my world right now), but noisy as in lots on my mind, and heart, and to-do list. I long for the silence and peace in my heart that I felt at the Abbey where every inch of the place was unquestioningly sacred ground. I guess though that we are called to find that same sort of peace and stillness every day, no matter where we are geographically. To take time out to pause and reflect in our everyday life.
Mary-Hall and I and our respective families have certainly spent time these past few blogging years seeking a simpler way to live: evidenced by her reads of “Seven” and “The Sabbath,” both of our gardening endeavors, and my chickens and iPhone game hiatuses. But we also wholeheartedly enjoy things like blogging and other social media for example. And I adore my job even though it gets crazy busy at times, like now, when we’re gearing up for Fall travel season. But every now and then, I think it’s important to take time to be silent and unhurried and listen…for that still, small voice that guides us if we are open to hearing.
***If you would like to participate in a silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemane, you can contact the monks by visiting their reservations page. They have more information as well on their Retreats page. Additionally, Bethany Spring, just about a mile down the road offers retreat space as well in the event the Abbey Guesthouse is full. I’ve not been there myself, but hear it is wonderful as well.***
***Also, the monks support their community by making a variety of fudge, cheese and fruitcake. All of it is delicious. If you would like to support the community by purchasing one of these products, you can order them online at the Gethsemane Farms website.***