Published: May 1, 2008
In our community, we recently were given our annual retreat. Our retreat master this year was Damien Thompson, the abbot of our monastery in Gethsemani, Kentucky.
He is a warm, friendly man and impresses me as being much at peace with life, with what it means to be human in an ever-changing world. He is a gifted storyteller and in his talks he shared a lot of his experiences over the years, experiences that have been markers for him in his lifelong search for God. He is very laid back, very easy to listen to.
He talked a lot about living in the present moment, for it is there that God reveals who he is and what he is about. If life is an ongoing revelation as to God’s coming to us, no small part of that revelation is his presence in each and every human being.
It is a very “in your face” means of communication. Damien reminded us that it is here, in the lives of this monastery, that God is most present to us. I think it is true that we often look elsewhere.
Damien talked twice a day, in the early morning and late afternoon. The talks were given in a large room called the Scriptorium, on the south side of the building. We often meet there to discuss house policy, to watch an occasional film, to hear lectures and, every Sunday, to hear our own abbot speak to us on the rule of St. Benedict.
As Damien spoke one afternoon, I looked across the room at the large wall. The walls in the Scriptorium are made of carved stone. The stones are of different sizes and were perfectly chiseled so that they fit next to and above and below each other just right. The sun cast a soft golden light on the wall, and the colors and textures of the stones were especially beautiful. Shades of creams and browns and sands shone in the late afternoon light. Each stone has a different natural design, as unique, I suppose, as fingerprints. There are gorgeous patterns of swirls, curved lines, speckles and colored layers upon layers.
I wondered where the stones came from. I asked one of the monks earlier today, and he told me that they came from a quarry in Tennessee. Now I wonder if they were chiseled here, or were they brought here ready-made so as to be placed in accordance with a pre-designed architectural blueprint. I will ask about that.
I listened to Damien as I gazed at the stones. He was talking of our community and how it important it is for us to make a real go of it in terms of loving each other. We are all so different, in many ways. We are a small gathering of men, but in that paucity of numbers lives the rich design of God, revealed in an eternal and different way in and through each monk.
Damien called us to realize that as human as it is to make preferences among such difference, it is the call of Jesus that we find him and love him in everyone. No one is to be left out. No one is to be deemed less worthy of being accepted, loved, embraced as a brother.
The stones looked lovely, especially in the late afternoon light. I then noticed that the same light was shining on the monks. It was easier for me to see the near perfect pattern on the wall just above and behind them. It is not as easy to see the light of God as it shines on each man here, a light far more warm and revelatory than some sunlight on a wall.
It is written that the church is made of living stones.
I am grateful to Damien for reminding us that God has made his home in the sometimes stony flesh of the human heart. He has gifted each of us with patterns and ways of being in this world, this monastery, that are unique.
Some day, the peoples of the world will be given a way to nestle near each other as near perfectly as the stones on our Scriptorium walls. And the Light that made that happen will shine from without and within each living stone, a church raised by God, carved from this journey of being human and struggling to find a way to fit with each other.
Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at www.abbeystore.com. His new book is “Portraits of Grace: Images and Words From the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”