A pilgrimage is a journey undertaken for a religious or spiritual purpose, and I went on such a journey for a few days after Easter. There is a tradition for the pastor to “get away” after the rigors of Holy Week and Easter, and I drove down to Kentucky. The destination for the journey was the Abbey of Gethsemani, a Trappist or Cistercian community that follows the Order of St. Benedict in a very traditional way. This particular community was established in 1848 in a hilly part of Kentucky, south of Louisville.
The reason I am aware of this religious community is that the monk and writer, Thomas Merton, resided there for 27 years. I became acquainted with Merton as a writer when I was in seminary in the early 1970s. First I discovered some of his journals that were published, then read the Seven Story Mountain, which is his autobiography, and moved on to some of his spiritual writing. I was saddened and surprised when one of my teachers told me that Merton had been killed in a tragic accident in 1968. His writing seemed so fresh and contemporary that I felt a kinship with him.
The Trappist monks pray seven times a day, and while I was at Gethsemani the prayer service of Sext rolled around at 2:15 pm. The core of this service is the singing of psalms, which we in the visiting congregation were able to do with the monks in the abbey church. That day it was psalms 125, 126 and 127. I count it a privilege to pray with these men.
Above is a photo of the monks in the abbey. It is from a postcard available in the gift shop. I did not think it appropriate to intrude by snapping a photo during the service. The church building is very tall, narrow and white. There was no processional with incense and all on this Wednesday after Easter. The service was quiet and part of a rhythm that is an alternative to our regular pace of life. Serene.