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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LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 8.16 47 for instance. e box he was carrying was filled with literature on Merton that had been circulating during the conference, and he needed to drop it off at the back of the visitors' center, which was closed for Memorial Day. I had to get my laptop out of my car, so five minutes later, I found him stretched out across a bench under the cupola of the visitors' center entrance, looking up with his hands under the back of his head. en he saw me and sat upright, lifting one of his legs onto the bench and peeling down his sock to scratch red patches that had spread over his shin. "I've got some eczema that's been bothering me," he said. Watching a monk scratch at his eczema was somehow refreshing, as if Brother Paul had excused himself from the onus of acting holy. On one hand, he was a monk committed to his solemn vows. On the other, he was a man bothered by eczema. Brother Paul told me that the lower age limit to enter the monastery is now 22, and the upper limit is 50, but he had come to the abbey in 1958, when he was 17 years old. He was from West Virginia, and I asked him if he chose Gethsemani because of its relative closeness. "I came here out of dumb luck," he said. "I didn't know there were any other Cistercian monasteries in the U.S." Altogether, the initiation process took about five and a half years, he said. First, you have to apply. You can't enter if you have debts or dependents. Once you pass the interviews, you'll do manu- al labor with the other novices. en comes a six-month period where you're a postulant and you wear a half-smock. After six months, they give you a novice habit, which is full white. When you take temporary vows, you get a black scapular. at lasts three years. Finally, you take your solemn vows — conversion, stability and obedience — and you are committed, Brother Paul said, "unto death, as they say." During that time, a monk receives a different name (Paul, for instance, had been baptized Richard) and still has to go through a five-year transition period. After solemn vows, the theoretical door slams behind you. But people still leave after a long time at the monastery. I asked him if he could leave. "Leave the Enclosure?" He laughed. "Oh, no." "So you couldn't go grab lunch at Bard- stown or anything?" I said. "Actually, I'm a poet, and my editor and a few poet friends wanted to have dinner in Bardstown the other week. I knew the abbot would say no, but I asked him anyway. He said, 'Our hospitality will be sufficient here.' So I stayed home." I asked him why he entered the monas- tery at such a young age. "I wanted to live a simple life, close to God," he said. "is is a different style of religious life altogether from being involved in the church and tending the flock. Prayer is such an important part of the life of the church. ere ought to be people in the world who simply witness to the sufficiency of God." Brother Paul looked toward the grounds, which shimmered in the mid- morning light. en he said: "e heart moving toward God is in itself creating a current for the rest of the world. You might say that's what we mean by 'praying for the world.' It doesn't just mean saying prayers. I think it's a matter of existing in this current of goodness, in which the spirit of God carries us along. "Jesus had one word that said every- thing about the spiritual life. Do you know what it is?" is was way above my pay-grade. I shook my head. "'Watch,'" Brother Paul said. "In the Garden of Gethsemane, when he was en- tering his final agony, Jesus told the ree Apostles, 'Just watch and pray.' And when he came back, they were asleep. 'Could you not watch an hour? Watch and pray, that you enter not into temptation.' Watch," he said. "It's important, because we're not just saying prayers — we're being conscious. Do you know what 'the Buddha' means?" I shook my head again. "'Buddha' means 'e Awakened One.' at's Buddha's command: Awaken. It's very close to Christ's prescription: Watch. It's pure consciousness. You don't watch for anything. Just watch. Be conscious. Be aware. Know. Anticipate. Hope for. All these things. It sounds very abstract, and in a way, it's empty, because only God is the thing worth watching for. So God is the only thing big enough for our minds, and our minds are not big enough for him. Our minds are not infinite, but they're virtually infinite. We're already finding that out in this world, because of all that we know about the cosmos, with the expanding universe — it's just …" Once again, he looked out beyond the shadow of the cupola, toward the bright grass that ran up to the gate. "e more you untangle it, the more complicated things are. So what you want to do is enter that simplicity of mind. Which is what I said when I came here — I wanted a simple life. Ultimately, that's what it is — the simplicity of God. As omas Aquinas said: God is the simplest being of all." Brother Paul rubbed his leg again and rolled up his sock and stood, stepping into his moccasins. "It's time for noon prayers," he said. "But we can speak later." When I told him it was my last day here, he said, "Well, before you leave, you should go to the garden." "Oh, I have. e grounds are lovely." "No — the garden in the woods. Have you been? Walk with me." I followed him to the parking lot. We stood upon a crest of grass, and he point- ed toward the walled garden I'd seen from the dining room. "At the end of the wall, you'll come to a wooded gate. Go through it, across the road, and you'll find a path in the woods. It will lead to the garden," he said. "But you have to watch for it. Goodbye." I went down the concourse that approached the church and through the doors into the lobby and then into the garden — down the steps and around the path that snaked under the drooping branches. A wall separated the grounds from the road. In one corner, wooden doors were secured shut with a plank chunk placed atop them, into which an iron peg had been driven. I lifted the peg and the doors opened outward, into the world. A gravel path led through the grass beyond the wall toward the road, which I crossed to an opening in the woods marked with cement blocks laid side-by- side and winding through the under- growth. A pole stood above this path, with a marble block inscribed with these words: To e Statues. I entered the forest portal, moving between the slender pillars of the trunks, past a barrier of what looked like rusted piping that sloped down a hillock to form the railing of a bridge that arced over a sunken stream. Beyond it, the path of ce- ment blocks changed to gravel, rising out of the shadows into a strip of mown grass alongside a moss-scummed pond. Reeds rose from the water like gold lances. A bullfrog splashed. Dragonflies, armored in green-blue scales, droned through the sun-shot air, plunging around my ears and attacking my neck. I swatted at them, cursing, jerking around and smacking my head as I dashed toward another post affixed with the same sign: To e Statues. Continued on page 130

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