We left there and went down the road to the Bethany Spring retreat center, home of the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living and my friend Jonathan Montaldo. Jonathan, a graduate of Cor Jesu, a former Brothers' school in New Orleans, is the epitome of southern hospitality. Even though he had a group there on retreat, he spent a long time with us, talking about what they do there, feeding us banana bread and taking us on a walk around the place. Another great experience for the students to hear from a real Merton expert. We left there to get back on the road to St. Louis, stopping in Louisville just long enough to visit the plaque at 4th and Muhammad Ali, which was once "4th and Walnut," the street corner at which Merton had a breakthrough to solidarity with the world rather than contempt for, or rejection of, the world. So, that's it. It wasn't a particularly BUSY trip, but I felt like we got to see and do quite a bit (at least, to see and do the stuff that mattered). Oh, we even got to buy some monastery cheese -- now our trip can truly be called a success! Now all that remains is to read the final papers and start fiddling around with the syllabus for next time (hoping I get to teach this class again, and sooner rather than later). Mercy within mercy within mercy...
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Well, friends, if you have been reading this blog for a while, you've put up with me mentioning the class trip to Gethsemani for a while now. Last weekend we finally pulled it off, with some funding help from the good people in Arts & Sciences. We stayed in Louisville Friday night and drove to Gethsemani Saturday morning (Dec. 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception). It was an ugly day viz. weather, but it was a great day to be at the monastery. We had time to see Merton's grave (yes, I recovered my cross that I left there in October) and walk around a bit before tierce/mass, after which we met up with Br. Paul. He had to cook, so we drove to Bardstown for lunch and came back, at which point he took us to the hermitage. I had been hoping for maybe a half hour of his time, but he gave us a good hour and a half, which included reading part of "Rain and the Rhinoceros" to us (it was raining at the time), building a fire in the hermitage and telling us stories about Merton, discussing the meaning of the monastic life (fantastic!) and reciting some poetry for us. It got pretty smoky in there because the flue wouldn't open in the fireplace, but it was worth every second. After we left, the students later came to the consensus that Br. Paul is a great example of what 50 years of monastic life lived well can produce -- a humble, thoughtful, deeply warm and human person, no hangups, no foolishness.