Retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani – Tuesday

My schedule on Tuesday follows the basic pattern of my retreat days. If you notice the hours of prayer from yesterday’s post, there are larger blocks of time in between worship: The first between the 7:30 AM Terce and the 12:15 Sext, and the second between the 2:15 PM None and the 5:30 PM Vespers. During the morning block is when I usually do the bulk of my reading. This is also when the monks do most of their work for the day.
During the afternoon session, I usually go for a walk. There are nearly 1,500 acres of knobs, lakes and forest that belong to the monastery. On Tuesday afternoon, I walked what is by far the most traveled trail, which is a trail “to the statues.”
You cross the main road just to the west and immediately see a sign leading you into the woods. Not far from the trail head, you see the first of what will be several small statues placed along the length of the trail.
After a few hundred feet, the trail opens up and crosses across an earthen dyke adjacent to a small house pond. You then enter into a larger wooded area with more statues.
Finally, you come to another clearing where the trail passes through a row of trees into a rather dense copse. It is here that you begin the see the sculptor group entitled “The Garden of Gethsemani”. This refers to Jesus’ time of anguished prayer in the garden just before his arrest, trial, and crucifixion.
The first statue is that of the disciples, who have fallen asleep, promoting Jesus to say to them, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)
Then, a little further up the wooded hill, you find the statue of Jesus, praying in anguish.
The trail continues on past the Gethsemani statues into a dense area of pine and fir that I find to be really peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that I almost stepped on this guy. Needless to say, I walked with a great deal more attentiveness from that point on.
I mentioned yesterday that the Gethsemani statues have a story. They were created for and given to the Abbey by a sculptor named Walker Hancock in 1966 in dedication to a young man named Jonathan Daniels. Daniels was born in Keene, New Hapshire in 1939. While a teenager, he wrestled with the meaning of life, death, and his vocation. While he found himself close to a loss of faith, he finally had a profound conversion experience on Easter Day in 1962 at the Church of the Advent in Boston, after which he entered the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. But in March of 1965, he saw the televised appeal of Martin Luther King, Jr. to come to Selma to help secure for all citizens the right to vote. Drawn by that appeal, Jonathan asked leave of his seminary to work in Selma. His conviction of his calling was deepened at evening prayer during the singing of the Magnificat. He wrote: “‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meed; He hath filled the hungry with good things.’ I knew that I must go to Selma. The Virgin’s song was to grow more and more dear to me in the weeks ahead.”
Jonathan was jailed on August 14 for joining a picket line. He and his companions were unexpectedly released, and unaware that they were in danger, four of them walked to a small store. As sixteen year-old Ruby Sales reach the top step of the entrance, a man with a gun appeared, cursing her. Jonathan pulled her to one side to shield her from the unexpected threats. As a result, he was killed by a blast from the 12-gauge shotgun.
Jonathan Daniels left behind several letters and papers that reveal the impact that Selma had on him. He writes, “The doctrine of the creeds, the enacted faith of the sacraments, were the essential preconditions of the experience itself. The faith with which I went to Selma has not changed: it has grown…I began to know in my bones and sinews that I had been truly baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection…with them the black men and the white men, with all life, in him whose Name is above all the names that the races and nations shout…We are indelibly and unspeakably one.”