Pilgrim Path

This blog is the work of a seeker and poet. Walking stick in hand, I head out into the world, not of the world, but in the world. My words and my friends carry me along and light the pilgrim path of spiritual journeys.

Monday, June 06, 2011

COMPLINE – part two

A standard selection of Psalms are also chanted as part of the Compline service. While some might become bored by the same chants nightly, I find them soothing and assuring in their consistency. And while some sort of prayer or hymn to the Virgin Mary is included in all of the various Divine Hours, the Commemoration sung during Compline is particularly moving:

O Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Hail, our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping
In this vale of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious Advocate
Your eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this, our exile, show unto us
The blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.

Then, after a few moments of silence, the Abbey bell is rung for the Angelus – a prayer said silently in commemoration of the Incarnation.

As the bell continues to peal, the Guestmaster walks back to the area where the retreatants and guests are seated and opens the low glass gates to allow us to enter the monks’ area. First, all the monks process in a double line toward the abbot. Once at the front of the line, each monk slowly bows to receive the blessing of holy water from the abbot. After the monks have received the blessing, each of the retreatants and guests do as well.

And so begins The Great Silence until the Vigils service at 3:15am the next morning.

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Friday, June 03, 2011

COMPLINE – part one

There is about a quarter-mile oval driveway in front of the Abbey. It’s a favorite walking spot for many retreatants, especially some of the (ahem) older ones due to its nice flat surface. It is also a favorite spot because you are far enough away from the Abbey that at least a softly spoken conversation is possible. While personal talks are possible, telecommunication is decidedly difficult. Fortunately, at the end of the driveway is a rather imposing hill (or knob, as it is known in Kentucky) atop which stands a tall pedestal with a statue of Saint Joseph. Usually a cell phone signal is attainable at some point up the hill.

Since Compline, held at 7:30pm, is followed by the Great Silence (no speaking until morning), this short time after dinner is valuable as an opportunity to a catch up with fellow retreatants and to make some tentative plans for the next day. Gradually, conversation ceases and the Abbey bells begin to ring marking 15 minutes past 7pm. Retreatants who are usually scattered all over the front of the oval driveway and grassy areas begin their deliberate walks back to the church.

Special booklets marked “Compline” are usually sitting on the table behind the area where we sit during the service.  After picking up a booklet, I move to the right side (just a habit), bend at the waist and enter a row and take my seat. The monks usually enter the church one by one, arriving from various locations. A couple of minutes before 7:30pm, the Abbey bells peal as a reminder to those monks who have not yet entered the church. At 7:30pm promptly, Abbot Elias sharply raps a piece of wood at his seat and we all rise to begin the service.

Compline is one of my favorite services of the day. The lighting in the church provides a gentle mood. The words of the hymns are meaningful: 

                              “Before the ending of the day,
                               Creator of the world, we pray
                               That with thy gracious favor thou
                               Wouldst be our Guard and Keeper now.

                               From fears and terrors of the night
                               Defend us, Lord, by thy great might;
                               And when we close our eyes in sleep
                               Let hearts, with Christ, their vigil keep.

                               O Father, this we ask be done
                               Through Jesus Christ, thine only Son,
                               Who, with the Paraclete and thee,
                               Now lives and reigns eternally.”

Wow! It just occurred to me now as I typed this words for the first time ever, how strongly similar the words and intent are to the bedtime prayer my mother taught me and which we recited every night as she tucked me into bed:

                              “Now I lay me down to sleep,
                              I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
                              If I should die, before I wake,
                              I pray the Lord my soul to take.

I think I just figured out why Compline means so much to me.

(to be continued…)

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Thursday, June 02, 2011


Long before my journeys to monasteries for retreats began, I was already familiar with the term Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Perhaps it is my Scottish heritage and old stories from the “motherland.” In any event, it is the single monastic Daily Office (service) that I knew.

At Gethsemani, Vespers is held at 5:30pm just before dinner. I usually try to arrive a bit early as the sharper angled and weaker light rays of that time of day usually create interesting effects on the stained glass windows and in the Abbey itself.


These effects often create a sense of peace that helps slow the heart at the end of a work day. It is easier to take on a prayerful or contemplative mood to match the softer lighting. The opening words of each service seem particularly meaningful:

“O God, come to my assistance.
O Lord, make haste to help me.”

At the end of the Vespers service, the retreatants slowly leave the Abbey by a side door that leads to the Retreat Center. After making several twists and turns in staircases and hallways, we all end up in a line ready to serve ourselves  dinner from the hot (well, maybe lukewarm) trays of food in the kitchen serving area.

We take our selections on our trays to the dining area where most folks sit alone at individual tables. Since silence reigns during mealtime, there is not much sense in finding a pal to eat with. (Although, I think that with the exception of 1 meal, A, D and I took every meal at the same table. Occasionally our desperation caused us to resort to scribbling notes to one another on D’s ever present pad of paper. Personally, I enjoyed playing a game of charades myself in trying to get A and D to figure out what I was trying to say.)

The 6:00pm dinner is a bit lighter in fare that the midday meal. Keep in mind, that the final service of the day, Compline, is just a short hour and a half away and it is after that service that The Great Silence (bedtime) begins.

After finishing dinner and piling up our dirty plates, there is usually just about an hour before Compline. It is a perfect time for a short walk around the oval driveway in front of the Abbey. We were also fortunate in that each night, the weather was usually just perfect for that stroll where we often took the time to catch up with one another about our experiences of the day.

( to be continued...)

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011


After arriving at Gethsemani, we unloaded my SUV and dragged our luggage up to the retreat center. We opened the door and found a check-in desk manned by one of the monks (angels). Since monks (angels) don’t wear name tags, I’m not sure of his name, but if I had to guess, I’d say it was Peter. After announcing our names to “Peter,” he scratched a number after each of our names and handed each of us a set of keys: one to our room and one to the “outside” door. We were told to guard these keys carefully. We were then ready to set off toward our rooms, but before we left “Peter” advised us that the Abbot preferred that we not take the route through the Garden (how ironic, eh?). Instead, he handed each of us a slip of paper with some instructions…

          1) Take the elevator to the 3rd floor
          2) On the 3rd floor, turn RIGHT, go to last door on RIGHT
          3) Go down 7 steps and enter the BALCONY door
          4) CROSS the Church Balcony
          5) Disregard sign DO NOT ENTER
          6) Enter and you are on the 2nd floor
          7) Go on flight up for 3rd floor
          8) Find your room

While I didn’t hear the melodic voices of thousands of angels, I might as well have. Soon enough, the bells of the Abbey tower would ring out, summoning us to Vespers.

(to be continued…)

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