Chanting and Reading Poetry

The impact of our retreat last weekend is still sinking in. One priest refers to Soaking Prayer (Healing Prayer service) as marinating. We are definitely marinating in God’s love.
By dint of circumstance (The Abbey of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA was booked), we ended up at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. By further dint of circumstance we booked a retreat and stayed at Bethany Spring. It is a Merton Institute for Contemplative Living retreat center one mile from the Abbey. Then, what was wonderful got even better. Bethany Spring has rooms in the main building—an old farmhouse. It also has two fully equipped hermitage cottages on the lake. We are assigned to the beautiful Emmaus hermitage. It even had a loft bedroom! We knew from the start that we were blessed.
The retreat, conducted by Jonathan Montaldo, associate director of the Merton Institute, was entitled “Thomas Merton and Mary Oliver: Poets of the Sacred.” Jonathan is a gracious host and a skilled retreat leader.
We visited the Abbey and watched a short video. On the video, one of the monks said, “The world is having all kinds of problems and we are here singing. We have been here since 1848 and we are still singing.” Of course, the monks are chanting daily for the needs of the world. They are the heavy duty prayer support for doers of the word out in world. We chanted with the monks and celebrated Eucharist with them. We visited Morton’s Hermitage where Brother Paul, a student of Merton, read us some of his own poetry of the sacred. Those of us who are activists know that the world is really messed up and needs renewal. We were aware of this. But on this special weekend we were singing and reading poetry.
We sang and we read. We embraced the silence which leads us to the Creator. The Creator’s first language is silence. We listened in the silence. Whether it is Celtic prayer poetry or the Rule of St. Benedict, our role is to listen. The Creator speaks in creation, the primal revelation. We cannot hear if we are cluttered with chatter. So it is good to go into silence and chant and read poetry and listen for the word of the Creator.
The impact of this rich immersion is still marinating into our being. Amid the clutter of the real world, it is now easier to listen. Here is a poem I wrote about our experience.

Men and women and children,
Our soldiers and their “terrorists”
Are dying in Afghanistan and Iraq.
And the monks are in the Abbey singing
While we are here reading poetry.

Thirty thousand people die daily
From water borne illnesess
And other preventable diseases.
And they are in the Abbey singing
While we are here reading poetry.

Thirty seven million Americans live the violence of poverty
And 1.4 billion worldwide live in extreme poverty.
Countless hungry children cry themselves to sleep every night.
And the monks are in the Abbey singing
While we are here reading poetry.

The military and their contractors are overfunded.
They reap fortunes on the backs of underfunded school children
And the millions who lack access to health care.
And the monks are in the Abbey singing
While we are here reading poetry.

Veterans are homeless under bridges
And PTSDed veterans are killing themselves and others.
Violence runs rampant on our streets.
And the monks are in the Abbey singing
While we are here reading poetry.

“But wait now–
Don’t rush to judgment.
Don’t condemn what all of us are doing.
The monk’s song is prayer,
Ancient chant for the world.
Our poetry refreshes and renews us
So we can labor in the peace vineyard.
Their singing and our poetry is for justice and peace.
Singing and reading reunites us with the Creator
Who is flashing forth in love, peace and justice.
Together we are healing the broken world.
What we do does not always have to be useful.
It just has to work to alleviate human suffering.”

The monks need to keep singing
And we need to keep reading poetry.

© J. Patrick Mahon, 2008

Leave a Reply