November 7, 2008

Fruitcake, The Magic 8-Ball, And Thomas Merton

The other day we received the Gethsemani Farms catalogue in the mail and this always reminds me to order my favorite luscious bourbon fruitcake that is the best on the whole planet. I know many people don’t care for it and when I was younger, I thought it was the most disgusting food you could put in your mouth. I have since, however, developed a taste for it.

Charlene told me not to order it yet and that it would be a fun drive to Trappist, KY and buy fruitcake from their shop right there at the monastery. I wondered how the monks, who take a vow of silence, would communicate with the visitors. Are the monks required to carry a Magic 8-Ball with them?

Q. “Is your fruitcake considered the best?” (The monk turns the 8-Ball towards the visitor)
A. ‘It is decidedly so’
Q. “Do you find peace of mind living here as a monk?”
A. ‘Reply hazy, try again’
Q. “Do you find it frustrating communicating in this way?”
A. ‘Concentrate and ask again’

The Gethsemi Monastery is fifty miles south of Louisville and was home to Thomas Merton, the famed author of “Seven Story Mountain”. There is a plaque in downtown Louisville where he often visited and where he had a spiritual epiphany while watching the pedestrians at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Street (which is now Mohammad Ali Blvd.)

From Thomas Merton's private journal, March 19, 1958:

Yesterday, in Louisville, at the corner of 4th and Walnut, suddenly realized that I loved all the people and that none of them were, or, could be totally alien to me. As if waking from a dream — the dream of separateness, of the “special” vocation to be different. My vocation does not really make me different from the rest of men or put me is a special category except artificially, juridically. I am still a member of the human race — and what more glorious destiny is there for man, since the Word was made flesh and became, too, a member of the Human Race!

Thank God! Thank God! I am only another member of the human race, like all the rest of them. I have the immense joy of being a man! As if the sorrows of our condition could really matter, once we begin to realize who and what we are — as if we could ever begin to realize it on earth.

It is not a question of proving to myself that I either dislike or like the women one sees on the street. The fact of having a vow of chastity does not oblige one to argument on this point — no special question arises. I am keenly conscious, not of their beauty (I hardly think I saw anyone really beautiful by special standards) but of their humanity, their woman-ness. But what incomprehensible beauty is there, what secret beauty that would perhaps be inaccessible to me if I were not dedicated to a different way of life. It [is] as though by chastity I had come to be married to what is most pure in all the women of the world and to taste and sense the secret beauty of their girl’s hearts as they walked in the sunlight — each one secret and good and lovely in the sight of God — never touched by anyone, nor by me, nor by anyone, as good as and even more beautiful than the light itself. For the woman-ness that is in each of them is a once original and inexhaustibly fruitful bringing the image of God into the world. In this each one is Wisdom and Sophia and Our Lady — (my delights are to be with the children of men!).

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