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My name is Bob Land. I am a full-time freelance editor and proofreader, and occasional indexer. This blog is my website.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Report from Central Kentucky

By my hasty calculations, close to one hundred times each and every day, maybe more, the monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani chant a version of the Doxology that ends "the God who is and was and is to come / at the end of the ages."

On the matter of the end-times, I can think of no better image of the apocalypse than needing to wear earplugs in a library at a Trappist monastery, where silence throughout is the presumptive ground zero.

I want silence that goes to eleven.

It's not like the monks were running around singing show tunes. More to the point, some of the other retreatants weren't wrapped up in the silence concept, even though that's the exact point, and one about which the abbey makes no secret. You almost literally can't turn around in some places, and certainly in the rooms, without a reminder to keep your piehole shut, suggested very nicely and thoughtfully, of course.

But, what are you gonna do? I'll be back another time, and it'll probably be more like the first time, where the silence was pretty well observed.

I also availed myself of some more Catholic devotional moments this time -- specifically, recitation of the Rosary and the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

Now that's some wild stuff. I need Aunty to fill me in on the latter. The former seems to be bundled up in meditation and numerology. I can deal with that. I don't know what's going on in the latter. I spoke afterward with one of the devout, a Eucharistic minister, who tried to explain what I'd just sat through for an hour. It didn't help.

I mean, I'm in a room with people who sincerely believe that they are in the presence of Jesus (I found that out afterward, although I kinda knew it), and most of them sat like they were waiting for the bus. Maybe hanging out with the Messiah and Son of God just gets routine after a while. Perhaps all the activity is going on internally. Fine. What's the point of the device then? A monk comes and gets this thing out of a little medicine cabinet behind the altar, blesses it or kisses it, places it on the pulpit, and leaves for an hour. Comes back in, gets it, holds it up, puts it back in the cabinet, turns the key. I guess it's to help people focus? The Catholic Church is into totems?

I was hoping for a splinter of the cross or part of Jesus's foreskin or something. I can't imagine what the same rite looks like at the Catholic church around the corner from me.

Anyway, settling back in the saddle. Because of some family medical issues that consumed the run-up to Gethsemani, I was not able to go there without work, although the work done was at least appropriate to the site.

One day, hopefully in 2014, I'm going to schedule a seven-day stint there, and maybe the no-work thing can be realized at that time. To spend seven days there with nothing I have to read . . . and not needing earplugs . . . would be, like the Blessed Sacrament, ineffable.

To the water pump, approx. two miles


Buzz Kill said...

"I want silence that goes to eleven." The reverse spinal tap - I like that. I never got into all of the chanting and internal reflection. I'm way too shallow for that stuff.

And Jesus' foreskin - really? That's going to stay with me all day.

We just did family weekend with The Boy and did a day trip to the Newseum in Washington. Way better than a monastery.

czar said...

Hey, Buzz. Yeah, I guess most folks would think just about anything is better than a monastery. I'm wired a little weird, although I certainly wouldn't recommend it for a family getaway. But the Newseum sounds great.

The chanting more impresses me as work, although sometimes the hymns can be beautiful. As far as internal reflection, it's just the same dogs barking in my head. One day, I hope to get to the place where I can quiet the dogs.

And naturally, while I'm fascinated by it, I don't buy into the religious aspect at all. I'm not even on the same team, or in the same league.

You've got two sons, right? One at college, one at home?

Fleurdeleo said...

Really--I think the monks should enforce the silence. When I was at a day spa in Orange County with my cousin Allyson, she made one quiet comment and the spa attendant shushed her and pointed at the sign. We need much, much more of that in the world. Unacceptable.

moi said...

"Silence is of the gods; only monkeys chatter." – Buster Keaton

Sorry to hear you didn't get enough silence, but I'm glad you got away!

moi said...

P.S. I'm Catholic and I can't explain it.

czar said...

@Fleur: If you're a monk, just how do you go about "enforcing" anything? Metal rulers? Isn't that part of the whole deal? Were you ever a Catholic school brat?

It had its lessons, though, that continue to reverberate. I'm finding a surprising amount of silence around here that I wasn't aware of. Then again, my workload has amped down considerably.

@Moi: As reported, I'm getting more silence since I came back. It's a weird world.

PS: It's the monstrance, which I should have known, but I didn't. Actually I'm pretty good at remembering terms I've not heard (not what they mean), and I'm not sure I've read that word more than once in lo these many years. And the monstrance has been consecrated, as the Eucharistic minister told me joyously after the service.

And now I realize where I've heard her tone of voice, and I'm not being snarky about this. I was in a Wendy's a few years back after they'd just come out with this new product. I asked the middle-aged woman behind the counter to tell me about the Baconator, and she said, "It has bacon."

"It was consecrated." Can you hear it?

"It has bacon" has become family lore. I'm not entirely sure what context it comes out in, but it seems that either I or my younger issue has reason to say it every once in a while. But we all know the reference.

Aunty Belle said...


Holdin' mah sides...this is priceless.

sorry, Czar. Really sorry. Knowed ya' hoped fer somethin' other(literal Otherness) than ya' found.

I couldn't git the lack of silence (Forsooth!) in a Trappist monastery, then ya' mentioned a lady Eucharistic minister--reckon that explain a lot. (no monastery should have Eucharistic ministers--they have sufficient monks ( some is priests, some ain't) )

May I suggest Oklahoma next time? They's Benedictine, too.
An' youse gonna have silence, alright.

Or, if ya have time fer travel, try this:
whar' I assure ya' if ya break silence they will withhold the rutabaga from yore dinner plate.
( I sneaked in some emergency chocolate which I guiltily gobbled the first night. the remainin' nights I gnawed mah knuckles)

The medicine cabinet is a tabernacle, an' DEAR GOD! I hope the monstrance wasn't on the pulpit but on the altar.

At the risk of startling Buzz wif' a double dose of foreskin,

may I try to explain why "getting" the whole Eucharistic Adoration thang is a tough row at the first?

Mah kid brother wuz shocked at age 6 when a older neighbor boy explained jes' how that birds an' bees thang worked. Kid brother drew back in utter revulsion an' barked,

"YUCKY! Thas' a LIE! Mah Daddy would NEVER do THAT."

At 6 years ole, sex is about as shockin' an' weird a thang as the mind can hold. Later, well, ya' know....It's the same on the matter of Eucharistic Adoration.

Aunty Belle said...


on the Rosary--it is sorta a numbers thang--150 Hail Mary(s) are on the whole rosary which is 15 decades, or three times the number (size) of the rosary most of us use. (some nuns an' sisters still wear the full rosary)

In olden days, the 150 Psalms were recited usin' the division of beads on the rosary.

But folks who worked and lived outside of the monasteries needed aid too--so it wuz divided into thirds (50 each), an the meditations that accompany recitation of the prayers are based on the life of Jesus--for instance, one third is a meditation of the Passion of Christ (Sorrowful mysteries), another day one can meditate on a different third, the Joyful Mysteries (early life of Christ) and then the final third is Glorious Mysteries (Post crucifixion events)

The whole purpose is mental prayer that pins the mysteries of the Incarnation in our minds. I mean....it IS hard to think about God willingly becoming a man, subjecting Himself to us-- in all our nasty, brutish short-sightedness--for love of each one of us. The idea is preposterous--unthinkable, literally. Only God could come up wif' that scheme.

czar said...

@Aunty: Finally. Someone to set me straight.

I will get back to this (I'm shifting gears on something and need to stay focused), but let me say that by no means was the eucharistic minister part of the abbey. She was one of the locals who comes to services there, and I just spoke with her afterward.

Be back later.

czar said...

@Aunty: Please understand I mean no disrespect about any of this questioning. I wouldn't have called you out if I didn't need some education.

Take a look at this photo; it's the guest chapel at Gethsemani:


To the left just outside the view of the photo would be the Tabernacle, which I inartfully described as the medicine cabinet. The monk came into the room, removed the monstrance, blessed it/kissed it/honored it, and placed it atop the white-draped structure to the left. I think of that as the pulpit . . . from where a preacher might deliver a sermon if he were in that room. Wrong place? I'm hoping I'm remembering it correctly.

I love the adoration v. birds-and-bees metaphor. Where were you when I was growing up in (Hebrew) Sunday school? Theology may have made more sense.

I've relayed this to Moi, but the food at Gethsemani . . . I'd have done anything to keep my share of rutabagas, and I'm not even wild about rutabagas. You never saw so many adults raiding the kitchen at 8:30 at night for cold cereal and toast, because supper was just wrong.

To get serious for a moment, at the Abbey of Gethsemani and, I gather, most other official Catholic outposts, Mass is celebrated daily. At Gethesmani it's at 6:15 a.m. The Blessed Sacrament is well in view there, and the relationship with it is intense and very personal. So, why the recharge 10 hours later? What is it about the Adoration ceremony that distinguishes it from the Eucharist? Is it the silence? I can, of course, understand that. It was certainly silent during that 75 minutes I was in there.

Partially what I saw it as, especially with the very eager Eucharistic minister with whom I spoke afterward (and here I devolve back into czarist mode), is what I would equate to the motivation behind much of the Messianic Jewish movement . . . it's not Jews in the congregations (at least out here in the Bible Belt); it's just Pentecostals who are looking for another day to spend in church.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Thanks, Aunty. Your level of tolerance is admirable as always.

czar said...

Oh, I knew I was forgetting at least one thing. What I heard was that there are presently forty-four monks at Gethsemani, of whom twelve are priests. I'm sure if I knew all the wardrobing, I could have done my own count at the Eucharist. Yes I went, although, of course, I didn't partake. I also went to one of the 3:15am offices. Yikes. I did not imagine it would be the longest of the day.

What I like after Compline is when the retreat master leads all the retreatants through to get the blessing from the abbot. They even let heathens like me through the line. I never missed a night. I'll take blessings wherever I can get 'em.

czar said...

PPS: I realize griping about the food at a monastery is kinda stupid. Personally I'd rather have a five-day enforced water- and fruit-only fast. But that's just me.

Aunty Belle said...

Goody--responses. Will be back--kitchen and garden duties be a'callin'.

Aunty Belle said...

Sorry, meant to git on back heah sooner--life is always interruptin' mah best intentions.

Well, on the FOOD--fergit it! Ya see now what I meant by rutabaga deficits when a hapless soul broke silence. Nope--one shure doan go to monasteries fer the food. First it is spare--thus the wisdom of emergency chocolate. An' what thar' is, is of little gustatory pleasure. I figgered it were the way they insure a bit of mortification while youse in their care.

Czar, I is mightily impressed--ya went to a 3:15 a.m.??

Psalm 119:164 "Seven times a day will I praise you..."

Mah favorite is Compline. Always sleep better...but in truth, I always sleep peacefully (if SHORT) under the same roof as the Blessed Sacrament. (When I had to battle the Beast on the East River, I would stay at the Dominican Priory at St. Vincent Ferrer--to my mind it is as lovely as St. Patrick's if a mite smaller. But the solace and strength wuz jes' what be needed to go face the horrendous task of the day.

I luv the image of Czarist heathen goin' fer the Abbot's blessin'. Blessed now ya be...

On the matter of Eucharistic Adoration, I'se not shure what I oughta mention--mayhap youse workin' wif' somebody at the monastery whose guidance I doan wanna interrupt. I gits a chuckle thinkin' of ya' "fascinated" wif'out "buying into the religious aspect". How perfectly reasonable!
(see next comment)

Aunty Belle said...

Czar wrote:

Mass is celebrated daily. At Gethesmani it's at 6:15 a.m. The Blessed Sacrament is well in view there, and the relationship with it is intense and very personal. So, why the recharge 10 hours later? What is it about the Adoration ceremony that distinguishes it from the Eucharist? Is it the silence?

..............reckon ya know thar' ain't but a zillion books on this an Aunty lacks the talent to reduce it to a simple mystical insight. But heah be me flingin' mahself at yore BIG question.

First, shut the door. Doan want no li'l chillens gettin' the wrong idea, an' they ain't ready to heasr this yet.

At great risk, I hope ya doan think I'se forward iffin' I stick wif' the birds and bees metaphor.

Only a fool like Aunty would try to make clear what the the entirety of the Incarnation an' Christ's salvific sacrifice on the cross has accomplished fer Mankind.

But simplified, the point of it all is union with God. When man--made in the image of God, wif' free will--jerks and rips hisself away from God ( in the Garden of Eden--take Eden as a metaphor too if it helps) it were a cosmic calamity of the ultimate order--'cause mah chile', thar' ain't no way back--thas' a piercing wail: NO WAY BACK.

(Think of the astronaut who cuts his tether an now is doomed to free float until death--he CAIN'T git back on his own efforts--that Mothership will have to come fetch him or he is forever lost.)

We's creatures, not divine, but we had a divine destiny because (to Satan's everlasting rage)God gave to mortal flesh an eternal soul. The soul yearns for that re-union with God.

No space heah to go into Eucharistic theology, but on the birds and bees level the reception of Communion (co-union) at mass is receiving His flesh into mine--try not to be scandalized by this imagery. By this means I have a bridge back to heaven--Christ's human AND divine self is lain down for me (for ME??) so that (should I choose ) I may return to the destiny for which I wuz created. It is the union of heaven and earth, of divine and human. Thas' a cosmic re-union, a foretaste of heaven, that makes the universe "right" for a few moments--and is a glimpse of the ultimate and permanent union for which mah life (iffin' I so choose) is preparin' me fer....

An' like the physical unity of husband an' wife, thar's a time later of contented contemplation of each other--thas' a crude and rough approximation of Eucharistic Adoration. A time to give one's mind and soul over to the Bridegroom (Jesus). In this "space" the advanced participant accomplishes much--a growing in humility, gratitude, fortitude, an intuitive grasp of great theological truths in an existential manner v. the head knowledge...I'se runnin' on...but hope ya' see that this time of contemplation is soul healing precisely because it is that yearned for re-union--in John 14:23
"Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them." or, 1 Corinthians, 6:19-20 " Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body."

All the above is words. Like tellin' yore buddies youse in luv, an' they laugh--cause they know what that "means" but they doan. Until a man is truly in luv all the talk of luv is jes', well, talk. Onc't it be his experience, it has a reality that words can only point toward--as the poets all know.

This is an indwelling of God in man--it doan git no better'n that.

czar said...

@Aunty: As always, thanks for the response. I can read a zillion books all day long. I'd rather hear it distilled from and through you.

Yep, 3:15am. I'm unsure if other Benedictine monasteries are the same, but at Gethsemani, booklets are available so that visitors can chant along with the psalms and follow along with the structure of each office. When I looked at the text for Vigils on an earlier day before going to the service, I saw a couple of psalms and the usual doxologies, but then typography that looked like a different service compared to the other Offices, so thought it was just that: a different service or for a different day. No. Nocturne 1 or Nocturne 2. Oh, another 16 pages. That's fine. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "Buy the ticket. Take the ride."

So, instead of going back to sleep after 10 minutes, I ended up down in the library, editing the collected writings of a Catholic priest from Chicago. Last time I was at Gethsemani, I proofed a book on Catherine of Siena. All this stuff lines up for a reason -- a reason I keep at arm's length. I am stuck between two poles: a pole I question and a pole that should make me care a whole lot less than I do.

I am under the guidance of no monk or other spiritual director. I'm in St. Aunty's Parish.

The continuation of the birds-and-bees metaphor is not unsurprising to me. It was a few of those Catherines or Teresas, about whom I've read repeatedly (and I know you know), who wrote and spoke of their being ravished by the bridegroom of Christ. There is no doubt that the Catholic experience of God/Christ is more physical than that of, say, the Presbyterians (the frozen chosen), whose services I've attended far more than others. Well, and not to mention my own people -- certainly on the Reform and Conservative levels.

(And of course, what holds the monstrance would be the Tabernacle. I'm just used to seeing my tabernacles Torah-sized . . . and without a lock and key. You know, with just 14 million of us left and with what we've been through, we need a much bigger medicine cabinet.)

I'm indexing a book on Tolkien and the effects of his Catholic devotion on his writings. Apparently much of this information only was available relatively recently -- well after his death. An example, which speaks to the adoration/exposition of the Blessed Sacrament:

A rare glimpse of this essentially private type of experience is afforded by a letter (L 89) in which he describes a vision he received while praying before the Blessed Sacrament in a traditional devotion called the “Forty Hours.” He perceived a speck or mote suspended in the Light of God. The mote was himself, “or any other human person that I might think of with love,” and the experience was accompanied by a great sense of joy. The mote was glittering white in the ray connecting it to the source of Light, and that ray was nothing less than the Guardian Angel of the mote, the expression of God’s living attention directed toward that particular person. In another letter (54) he writes of the guardian angel as supporting us, as it were “from behind,” giving us the strength to face God freely for ourselves, like a spiritual umbilical cord or life-line.

As always, the interesting thing is that I've spent about zero time in my life up to this point speaking about the Blessed Sacrament. And it immediately shows up on the workdesk. This effect happens with many topics.

Spaketh Aunty:

An' like the physical unity of husband an' wife, thar's a time later of contented contemplation of each other--thas' a crude and rough approximation of Eucharistic Adoration. A time to give one's mind and soul over to the Bridegroom (Jesus).

Aunty, I can't imagine paying $30 for a hardback or being paid $900 for a copyedit and finding any sentences that would have summed things up as succinctly and imaginatively as you have done here. Thanks sincerely for hanging around this blog.

Aunty Belle said...

Ah, now, them is such kind words....thanky.

I reckon iffin' the the Blessed Sacrament done showed up on yore workdesk, somethin' is afoot--lemme add to it.

Below is a link to a quote from St. Edith Stein on the Blessed Sacrament, and a 6 minute refutation of the infamous Fr. McBrien on the subject of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament--I think youse gonna get a tight an' interestin' peek at the topic and the stark line a'tween "progressive" (dissident) Catholics and Aunty Catholics (orthodox)


fishy said...

"St. Aunty's Parish".....perfect.

czar said...


It does have a nice ring, doesn't it? Can we pin a miracle on her? How do we get this sainthood campaign under way?

czar said...

@Aunty: I've watched the link. You'll be happy to know that as a nice Jewish boy from Staten Island, I was familiar with virtually every name and concept he mentioned -- just like another day on the farm for me.

Like the father, I'd be offended at the article writer's remarks as well. I was unaware that there was any movement to do away with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I'm certain that when I read about it recently the text was more along the order of restoring it than limiting it . . . even from the dissidents who write me checks.

Dorothy Day lived on Staten Island from when I was born until I left at age 16. If I had known then what I know now . . .

And, Aunty, you don't need to tell me that you're a different stripe of Catholic than those who support the publishing houses that send me books. It's a treat to get both sides.