I stumbled out of the tiny twin bed in my room this week at the Abbey and quickly put on some clothes to make it to Lauds – prayer at 5:45 AM preceeding Mass. It was hard to get up this morning but the Monks have been up since 3, this is their second prayer session of the day.
I came to the Abbey of Gethsemani to pray, to ask for God’s help in discerning what lies ahead, to find my true self – as if God would simply speak to me from the heavens and I could only hear him while sitting in silence.
I entered the church. It was dark and quiet. The monks slowly arrived and took their assigned seats while the retreatants stayed behind the gate. Prayer began with the doxology: ” Praise the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, both now and forever, the God who is, who was and is to come, at the end of the ages.” This would be a prayer murmured several times throughout the daily hours of prayer.
The murmuring did little to wake me up.
Mass followed the prayers and the retreatants were invited to pass beyond the gate and enter the sanctuary. I was still tired and my back ached. I looked at two monks with crooked backs and wondered if that was what was to become of me – too anxious to achieve that sub-2hr half marathon time, I ruined my ability to walk upright for the rest of my life. I vowed to research crooked backs, lower back pain and what to do about it. I listened to the first reading about the murmuring Israelites who complained to Moses about not having anything to eat – so God gave them Mana in the dessert. (Exodus 16:9-15)
After mass was breakfast – very simple fare, I’ve become reaquainted with Raisin Bran – my form of Mana in the dessert. The coffee is good, the elixor (caffeine!) is a gift from God indeed.
I felt a bit more awake and went for a walk in the woods. There are several paths at the Abbey, yesterday I ran a 4 mile round trip along a field and through the woods.
Today, I would walk.
I took a path up a steep hill leading to some statues – I didn’t know what to expect and along the way there were several spots where someone had left an offering – a small statue or place to offer a prayer. I finally arrived at the summit where there were 2 large statues depicting scenes from the Garden of Gethsemani.
The first was of the sleeping disciples. “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour?” (Mark 14:37) I felt great simpathy for these sleeping disciples this morning. I am sure they wanted to stay awake with Jesus but the body can be so uncooperative sometimes!
The next was of Jesus, praying that this test be taken from him. “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Luke 22:44) The sculptor showed the agony Jesus felt, the anguish of knowing what is to come and being so scared.
Then, there was the cross – a simple cross.
On the way back, I noticed a small granite rock with a carving of the face of Jesus. I had missed this on the way up the path and almost passed it by on the return. It was moss covered and fading into the woods, yet it was there for me to find. How often do I miss sign posts that God is beside me?
Then I remembered something I heard Mathew Kelly speak about in his “Best Lent Ever” series this year – our days are much like a series of Holy Saturdays, buffeted on both sides by Good Fridays and Easter Sundays. Our days are filled with routine, with work with frustration and patience; patience especially, if we have hope for what lies ahead.
I spent the rest of the day reading or in quiet contemplation; and hoped I wouldn’t be quite so tired tomorrow.