What is it about this place that keeps me coming back? Why do I feel so much at home among these wooded hills and fertile fields? Why do these strong buildings remind me of the strength of a faith founded on the bedrock of centuries ago?
The first alluring feature of this monastery is its history, dating from 1848. How comforting to know that devout men of God have been worshiping and serving here since before the Civil War. In fact, we are told that the original structures housed both Union and Confederate troops during that conflict. The infirmary bound the wounds of both North and South, offering compassion and healing to a nation torn asunder.
Then there’s the verdant majesty and pristine beauty of Kentucky. I’ve fallen in love with the Bluegrass State many times through the decades, owing to an early romance, a theological renewal, vacationing on Lake Cumberland, and now this sacred place of retreat. Add to that the charm of horse racing, the Bourbon Trail, Wildcat basketball, and other features, and you’ll understand my desire to return again and again.
The silence and serenity of this spot on God’s earth is what I’ve needed all my life…and finally found. My life, along with the lives of most people in my circle of family and friends, is too often filled with excessive noise, distractions, anxieties, and the chaos of my inner storms. Coming here is respite from the vitriol and violence filling the news in these calamitous days, and my prayer is always that I’ll find an inner calm that will soothe and sustain me in the near and distant future.
Along with the tranquility of quietude is the awareness of simplicity. Life here seems to be pared down to the essentials, and the daily routine of the monks bears witness to this gift. All the normal trappings of life on the outside world are meaningless here. When we come on retreat, we join many fellow pilgrims who leave all their successes, titles, and trophies behind. The banker and the plumber, the professor and the farmer, the priest and the addict, and all others commune together as brothers and sisters.
Another strong attraction to me is the dedication that the monks exemplify. These men, mostly well past the prime of life, have lived in this community for decades. Some remember one of their most celebrated brothers, Thomas Merton, who died in 1968. A long time ago, these holy men bade farewell to the world that most of us know and entered this life of silence, worship, and work. I wonder about my faith and devotion to God when I see the commitment of these robed saints.
Of course one of the prime reasons to travel down the Bluegrass Parkway and pull into the tree-lined parking lot is to worship and make conscious contact with God, however we understand our Higher Power. Seven times a day the “brothers” lead us in singing the Psalms, reciting other scriptures, chanting prayers and praise to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and venerating Mary the Mother of our Lord. Whatever your faith or lack thereof, these moments in the simple but elegant chapel are bound to draw you nearer to the Great Mystery that is far beyond our rational and emotive grasp.
Yes, this monastery reduces me to the reality of my life and challenges me to find at least the beginning of the answer to “Why are you here on earth, Russ? Why did God preserve your life in Vietnam? Why did you decide to stop drinking and begin the road to recovery? What do you really believe the Lord wants you to do with your remaining days or years?”
This is why I come.