At my beloved’s suggestion, I tried something new this past week: Ending our annual summer vacation with a couple of days of quiet ‘retreat time.’
Honestly, I wasn’t completely sold on the idea. I guess it’s because, on some level, I like to keep my ‘spiritual’ side separate from my ‘recreational’ side – both in their own nice, neat compartments.
I could feel my reluctant heart softening just a bit, though, as we drove into the grounds of the Loretto Motherhouse in Nerinx, Kentucky. For one thing, I knew we were in ‘Merton country’: The Abbey of Gethsemani is just a few miles away.
For another, the entry road takes you right past the Loretto Community’s cemetery, where hundreds of stone markers stand in silent tribute to lives spent in praise and service. I’m a sucker for cemeteries like that—in large part, because my own life has been so deeply blessed by the work of religious sisters and brothers.
Still, it was a bit of a struggle for me to be there…at the end of a vacation. It felt like I was trading the prospect of ‘fun’ for ‘discipline’ – and I mean, really, what kind of bargain is that?
I discovered, though, that my beloved often knows what’s good for me long before I do. It turned out that she had booked us into a cabin called Joy, at the Cedars of Peace hermitage tucked into a wooded area of the motherhouse grounds.
‘Simple’ quickly became the order of the day. Simple meals (because we were miles from the nearest restaurant). Simple amusement (because there’s no TV or satellite dish to be found anywhere around). So I pulled out a couple of the books I’ve been meaning to read for many months now, and dug in.
I had time to read the entries in cabin’s guest-books, too – all three of them, with comments stretching back to 2007 or so. And I was struck by how desperately so many of the previous occupants had wanted to be there…needed to be there…in order break free from their routines, or in many cases, from their anxieties…stresses…and pains.
‘Joy’ worked on them, I realized. So it’d be kinda dumb to squander the chance for ‘Joy’ to work on me, too.
I let go…releasing my reluctance, and opening my heart to a different possibility.
Before long, an unexpected gift arrived in the cabin, as my own guest-book essay started to take shape in my mind – and I had this latest bit of ‘found spirituality’ to share.
We strolled out to the end of “Farm Road” this afternoon – and I got what I came for: There, in the distance, a genuine Kentucky knob—just like the ones Merton wrote about (in Sign of Jonas?). Of course, this part of the country was Holy Ground long before Merton ever got here. A walk around the Loretto cemetery is testament to that.
But what makes it ‘holy’? Not the scenery, surely. More spectacular sights are but a few hours away.
Why are we drawn here?
Why do so many, from so many walks of life, seem to find what they’re looking for (peace? inspiration? quiet?) here?
Is it not because we are a pilgrim people?
The Master says ‘Follow me.’ And so, we must go. We must set our feet in motion, to discover the truth in what the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote,
for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
to the Father through the features of men’s faces.
(Had Hopkins come to Loretto, no doubt he would have recognized Christ in women’s faces, too – like the women with whom we celebrated the Eucharist today, on the feast of the Assumption.)
We go someplace new, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Holy One, perhaps in the face of the retired Sister we meet along the way.
A cabin called Joy is not a bad place to begin the journey anew!
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy One.