It’s now some time since the visit to the Hermitage on Thursday 4th June. In a way the journey began earlier that week as we sat in a jam on the M4 very early in the morning. it felt as if it would never clear and then we’d miss the flight and so on- lots of anxiety and fear of what lay ahead. Three of us travelled to Detroit and then to Louisville in Kentucky. Finally on the Wednesday out to the University where the ITMS Centenary conference was to be held. The morning of the day it began was the planned trip to the Abbey of Gethsemani.
It’s a long way to go to find the place where Merton found himself … James Finley uses the phrase ‘the palace of nowhere’ and yet it was so completely worth it.
When we left Bellarmine University on the Thursday morning it was already hot and dry and we went in three coaches. That already sounds unappealing but during the morning it was so arranged that it never felt that there were also another 149 people there with me. When we arrived we went in groups of 15 each led by one of the monks from the Abbey of Gethsemani and first went to pay respects at the grave of Thomas Merton. I was unprepared for the huge uprush of emotion I felt … here was the place where the man who had spiritually influenced me so much lay… It was through Merton that I became Christian and my life was/is transformed. Later we were able to go back to the grave alone and pay private respects but seeing and feeling him there at that first moment was very powerful. I picked up a leaf from beside the cross of the grave which I have brought back…
We went on from the grave to the hermitage quite a long walk through the woods. Again I have seen many photos but being there was totally different. As we turned a corner there, poking up through the grasses and amongst the trees was the building. It was wonderful. I felt in it and present. There were butterflies… some large and blue others large and red. The air was alive with life – what a place. And there was the desk and the bed and the chapel – all as I had seen but this time I was there. Outside the cross and the old wheel….
Now nearly three weeks later it feels a magical – in the best sense of the word experience. I can still feel the warm air and the wonder of it all. What a gift and as far from the M4 as is possible. The secret is to carry that feeling into the M4 type situations I guess.