Saturday, February 18, 2012

Day Of Recollection

Yesterday's mental health day turned into a pilgrimage through what some people refer to as "Kentucky's Holy Land". This is the general area around the Abbey of Gethsemani. Back in the 1800's many Catholics and religious communities came to this area and deep roots were planted. The founders of the Abbey of Gethsemani came to the area in 1848 after fleeing the French revolution. My morning commute was very stressful. After dropping my wife off at her office I headed south on I-65 to the home of my friend, Father Dennis. As soon as I got out of the city I encountered deep fog. My vision was very limited. Whenever this happens to me I can't help but think of the 14th century spiritual treatise entitled the Cloud of Unknowing. I could barely tell where I was, where I was going, and I was a little nervous that another driver would come flying out of the fog and run into me. By the time I got to Dennis's house I was a little stressed. This commute is normally very enjoyable. Soon after I arrived at Dennis's we went out for breakfast at a place called the Stephen Foster Resturant. For those that don't know, Bardstown is where My Old Kentucky Home is located. In was in this home that Stephen Foster found the inspiration for the famous song of the same title. Most people would recognize this song as the opening to the Kentucky Derby. After breakfast we briefly returned to Dennis's home where he said, "I think we should visit some of the local churches and religious communities and make today a day of recollection". A day of recollection is a kind of mini-retreat. Such opportunites are rare for me so I quickly agreed.

We began with a stop at the Abbey of Gethsemani. I spent a year of my life living as part of the monastic comunnity so it has always held a special place in my heart. It is also a place of temptation since the monks have a gift shop which has lots of books that I would like to read. I succumbed to buying a book called A Sunlit Absence by Martin Laird. It is a companion book to one I am currently reading called Into the Silent Land. In addition to the books, there are also the temptations of the fruitcakes, cheeses, jellies, cookies, and coffee that are made by monks and nuns from around the world, not to mention all the beautiful Icons.

The next stop was the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Loretto. This place has some personal meaning for me because my mother grew up in this area and my maternal grandfather once worked for the Sisters. They have a wonderfully simple and somewhat stark church that reminds me of the Abbey's. Dennis and I went into a smaller chapel where we sat in silence for a period of time. Silent contemplative prayer is the type of prayer I find most attractive. When we got back outside we couldn't help but remark on the beauty of the day. It was one of those late winter, early spring like days that come as a blessing after a string of typically overcast, dreary winter days in Kentucky.

Our next stop was the Domincan church of St. Rose of Lima. It is a very old church that is a tasteful mixture of pre-Vatican II ambiance and current theological expression. It sits high on a hill with a wonderful panoramic view of the countryside. Once again, Dennis and I spent time sitting in silence. Occasionally my mind flashed into thinking about how I would normally be spending my time on a Friday workday. When I realized what I was thinking I focused on my breathing and prayer words to regain my centeredness. Since we were in a landscape that had spiritual as well as ancestral roots for me, Dennis and I also discussed some of our geneology roots. I suppose most of us at some time or another think about our roots and family histories.

After we left St. Rose of Lima church we headed to the Motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters called St. Catherine's. When we first arrived we were locked out due to it being the time when the Sisters have lunch. As we walked away one of the Sisters came out and asked if she could help us. When we informed her that we just wanted to sit in their chapel and pray, she said, "Come on, I'll let you in". Modern day Sisters don't dress in religious habits anymore. As we walked through the Sisters dining room, all I saw was a bunch of elderly woman and the whole scene reminded me of my mother in law's retirement community. However, most of these elderly Sisters were adorned with multiple strands of brightly colored Mardi Gras beads. Apparently it was party central at the Dominican Motherhouse as the Sisters celebrated Mardi Gras in anticipation of Ash Wednesday which is next week. The Sister's chapel was on the second floor so Dennis and rode up the elevator with five or six of the Sisters and we were all laughing the entire way. Once again Dennis and I sat in silence. The chairs were very comfortable and the entire chapel was bathed in a beautiful multi-colored light from all the stained glass windows. I could have sat there all afternoon.

Our final stop of the day was St. Thomas Church, one of the oldest churches in Kentucky. Next door to the small church is a log cabin that originally was a home to Bishop Flaget, the first bishop of Kentucky and land well beyond the borders of Kentucky.

Soon after we returned to Dennis's home I realized I needed to be heading home to pick up my wife at her office. With some regret I gave Dennis a hug, got in my car, and headed home. Since I needed to go to downtown Louisville I got on I-65 North. In my blissful state I completely forgot the bridge closure that has been a nightmare for months. As soon as I was within the city linits of Louisville the traffic began backing up and soon came to a complete halt. The slower I progressed, the more stressed I got. Eventually I got to an exit so I made my escape and went a different route to my wife's office. In what seemed like forever, I finally got there, picked her up, and we headed in the opposite direction of the Ohio River and anything that looked like a bridge. Along the way we stopped for dinner at a favorite fish restaurant. After I finally got home, and changed into my evening attire, I soon fell sound asleep on my couch. It's a good thing I got some rest because I had an unexpected visit from my well rested and very energetic seven year old granddaughter. All in all, despite the stressful commutes, I had a wonderful day of peace and contemplation in the country.

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