Michael Downey’s book Trappist: Living in the Land of Desire has been an aid to prayer this week. All the fuss about that bishop living at Mepkin drew my attention to a spot on my bookshelf. And here it was.
I’ve been to Gethsemani, where a friend had asked me to sneak into the monastic cemetery and scoop up a few spoonfuls of dirt from Thomas Merton’s grave. That request built up a conflict in me, sort of like when one of your friends egged you on to do something when you were a kid. You really didn’t want to do it, but danged if the guy didn’t plant some snitch of a seed in your consciousness … I could do it … wouldn’t hurt anybody … you always play it safe, take a risk … would mean a lot to him.
I resolved the problem by telling the guestmaster, who rolled his eyes and said, “You wouldn’t believe the weird requests we get and the strange things people do.” He basically gave me permission to sneak off and do it, but the telling of my dilemma evaporated my inner conversation. “Get your own holy dirt!” came the conclusion.
My retreat at Gethsemani in Fall 1989 was one of the most moving and shattering of my life. The only other Trappist place I’ve been to is New Melleray. Even though I lived in Iowa for seven years, I only managed one visit there. The timing never worked for retreat. Anita and I took our daughter for Sunday Mass there shortly after she moved to our house. I was twenty when I first visited a monastery. Kids need earlier exposure than that. Brittany beat me by fifteen years.
Kids need early and frequent exposure to religious life, especially contemplative places. Of course, with non-Catholic parents, my personal situation was different. Brittany has been to Conception before, too — mainly the church, which we toured. Anita remarks that our daughter is too headstrong for religious life, but you never know.