Louisville Magazine

AUG 2016

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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Stone tablets wind alongside the path. Engraved into the first stone, Jesus has fallen to his knees, hands clasped in prayer, in Gethsemane, the garden of his agony. I remember that passage in the Bible. Jesus tells Peter, John and James to watch at a little distance while he prays. When Jesus returns, all three apostles are asleep, and Jesus asks them, "Could you not watch for one hour?" e other tablets show the stages of the Cru- cifixion — Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss, the Romans forcing a crown of thorns upon his head, his corpse nailed to the cross. e path unfurls into a knoll of trees that faces the abbey. Ahead, atop one of the terraces of the monastic grounds forbidden to the retreatants, a monk appears. Hands crossed in front of his robe, he stands there — a silhouette against a sky paling with dawn. He looks like he's was watching something. But his eyes are closed. I had wanted to come to Gethsemani Ab- bey, the monastery 12 miles south of Bard- stown, since I learned about it. At Christmastime, my family always ate the fudge and fruitcake the monks sold, and I loved reading the placard at Fourth Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard in downtown Louisville that marked where the author and monk omas Merton, perhaps Gethsemani's most famous member, suddenly realized that all the passersby surrounding him were "walking around shining like the sun." e monks at Gethsemani (spelled with an i in Latin) are Trappists, a subset of the Benedictine Order of the Catholic Church. Trappists arrived in central Kentucky in 1849. Today, anyone can be a "retreatant" each year at the abbey for free, for seven days or two weekends. I emailed them, and they told me I could stay from Friday through Monday over Memorial Day weekend. On Friday evening, I left work and drove south on I-65, getting off at the Lebanon Junction exit midway between Bardstown and Elizabethtown and winding through the countryside. On the old state highways, I passed split-rail fences, a railroad crossing, the Jim Beam Booker Noe plant, spying the names of roads: Jones Farm, Mt. Moriah, Salt Spring Loop. Mailboxes lined the roadside, many with numbers on them painted by hand. Bumblebees splatted against my windshield. In the other lane, cars lined up 10 deep behind an old man driving a combine. e sky was cloudless, except for a scar of white puffs where a plane had passed. Sunlight poured onto the woods that banked the highways. I rum- bled across a bridge that forded a green brook, into a forest. Mack trucks shot past me, kicking up twigs and leaves that skittered across my hood. Overhead, the trees soared, linking into a tunnel, as if I were riding through a garden arbor bow- ered in trumpet vine. Evening deepened into twilight, but I could still see a sign for the last hamlet I passed: Culvertown, a church next to a store next to a bar that looked like a concrete bunker. I didn't see any spaces painted in the lot in front of the bar. Young men leaned against the trucks parked in a haphazard tangle, smoking cigarettes and chugging Bud Light. I took a left past the bar, and the voice on my GoogleMaps app announced that the monastery was near. at seemed impossible. All I could see were houses carved out of the woods, trucks parked in the gravel drives, American flags flutter- ing on front porches. But then, running parallel to the road, a wall appeared, enclosing a garden of trees and paths and stone tablets, and beyond it, a bell tower rising into the sky, and then the monastery, rowed with windows that glowed in the gathering dusk. Eyes on God Writer Charles Wolford spends a weekend at Gethsemani Abbey, once home to famous theologian Thomas Merton. When the chatter of modern life fades away, silence speaks.

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