I leave in the morning for second leg of my change of life pilgrimage. The first leg took me to the Inner Hebrides of the Scottish coast to the thin places of Iona. It was there that I became convicted that if my life was going to change, I would have to agree to let go of my current engagements to free my hands to embrace the new work which I felt surely was coming. It was a gut wrenching decision but once I finally determined to retire from the university, there was no turning back.
In the month since filing for retirement, I have been surprised that I have had no second thoughts about that decision. What I have felt has been relief and a sense of lightness that makes me wonder how much I had been carrying before and just not aware of it. The other surprise is that almost to the former coworker who has talked with me, the nearly universal response to my retirement has been “I envy you.”
I have told myself and others that I am giving myself a year off to figure out what’s next. I am calling it the sabbatical I never had. And I am trying to protect my time from the many people rubbing their hands with glee to fill in my calendar with projects and events.
At 2:30 AM Monday I will be on the road for the 12 hour drive with a priest friend to the hills of Kentucky to the Gethsemani Abbey of Thomas Merton fame. It is a Trappist monastery observing a rule of strict silence.
I am taking plenty of books to read, a pad to jot down my thoughts and my iPad with all the kindle books loaded on it that I’ve promised myself I’d read. I’m not sure there will be any wifi there and I’m really OK with that.
Into the Silence
I look forward to observing the liturgy of the hours with the brothers and spending time in their venerable abbey. Gethsemani is the oldest monastic house in America and I am one of thousands who have come to be in silence with the monks, the woods and with G-d.
I look forward to walking the wooded hills dotted with sculpture that once inspired Thomas Merton. I look forward to hearing the bells ringing out the routine of the monastic day, a life about as far removed from the frenzied workplaces I have only recently left behind as one can get. I look forward to silence, a true luxury in a consumerist culture in which daily is an ongoing pounding by one purveyor of goods and services after another.
If Iona was the place to discern it was time to leave behind my life as a full-time academic, Gethsemani is the place I begin wrestling with the obvious questions in its wake: What now? What might G-d be calling me to do, to become? Where might I be called to go and among whom shall I find my new calling? What challenges will I encounter?
I look out my office window this night to the darkness of my jungled yard. The new moon sheds no light to illuminate the palms and shrubs I have spent the day trimming and tying up into some semblance of order. It is truly black outside just beyond the feeble light my office lights provide.
Like my own life, what lies beyond is a mystery. And yet I trust that, like the sun of the new day which will certainly begin making itself known in a mere matter of hours, the mystery of what comes next for my life will soon begin revealing itself as well.
Thomas Merton has a famous prayer that is truly meaningful to me as I head toward his beloved monastery this day. I am in his debt for the words that express my thoughts, fears, desires and hopes this day.
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
Harry Scott Coverston
If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.
For what does G-d require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your G-d? (Micah 6:8, Hebrew Scriptures)