Abbey of Gethsemani

Trappist, KY

A few weeks ago Hamilton set out early in the morning to visit friends in Gravel Switch, Kentucky, to do whatever grown men do that is legal and moral. I find it usually involves metal objects that have letters and numbers instead of names and is in a language totally unrecognizable in my world. But that morning I decided tag along because the next stop on my sacred tour of rural America was just 45 minutes up the road in Trappist, Kentucky, just south of Bardstown. We met up with another couple outside of Danville, putting the men in one car and the ladies in another to go on our separate adventures. Barbara is a native of the area but hadn’t been to Trappist in many years. So we headed down the empty, winding roads through the beautiful back country of central Kentucky.

Tucked into a corner of the rolling country side is a Trappist monastery, Abbey of Gethemani, officially known as Cistercians. I don’t know about you but rural Kentucky is not the place I would go looking for monks; Pentecostals, tiny non-denominational churches, maybe even snake handlers but not Cistercian Monks who live in silence and prayer. Apparently Bardstown was settled by Catholics in 1808 in a very non-Catholic region of the world. Seeing as how the Catholics don’t have a ban on alcohol like the other local Protestant religions, Bardstown became the seat of the bourbon industry so the local landscape has enclaves of bourbon warehouses next to a half a dozen local distilleries. It is a strange but charming combination of religion, ‘demon rum’ and southern history with My Old Kentucky Home presiding over it all.

The Abbey of Gethsemani was established in 1848 and on a cold day in late December the monks began singing the Liturgy of the Hours seven times a day and haven’t stopped since, 168 years of devotion to prayers for the world without ceasing. The prayers start at 3:15 am with Vigils and continue at intervals throughout the day until Compline at 7:30 pm. In the morning between prayers the monks work. In the past there was farming but now they produce bourbon fudge and fruitcakes to support the monastery. In the afternoon, there is time for reading, prayer and contemplation. Although they are not vowed to silence, silence is part of their way of living.

I first heard of the Abbey of Gethsemani many years ago because there is a large guest house open to anyone of all faiths for silent retreats. The simple and tidy rooms are attached to the church. There is a library and extensive grounds for long walks. There are no classes or events, just time and space to go on an inner journey of silence and healing on this holy ground devoted to prayer.

I arrived about 10, on an overcast and very humid August day. I spent sometime in the welcome center where there is a movie that highlights the history and an average day at Gethsemani. Next door is a lovely gift store with local pottery, spiritual books, handicrafts from other monasteries and of course the bourbon fudge and bourbon fruitcake made on the grounds. I bought a sample of each to bring home. Nothing makes me happier the sugar blessed by monks.

The most important part of the visit was at 12:15, Sext, the prayers just before lunch. I sat outside under the trees waiting for the appointed time, the breeze helping with the humidity a bit. The peacefulness of the land and nearby cemetery gave me time and space to find my own inner quiet. Visitors are allowed at any of the services but must sit in the narthex under a small balcony. There is a barrier and then the long thin modern sanctuary stretches out to a distant altar. The bell tolled and about three dozen monks started to enter one by one from several doors and took their appointed places. They each wore a long white tunic with a brown scapular cinched at the waist with a brown belt except the three novices who had white scapulars. Under the narrow stained glass windows, they sat in the choir divided in two by the aisle facing each other with a small organ in the middle of the right wall.

The bell tolled again and the organ played and the monks began their prayers. Nothing was spoken only sung and the words of those noon prayers echoed that day as they had over 60,000 times since the monastery opened so long ago. About 20 minutes later, the prayers were finished and the bell tolled again and the monks filed out to their next duty. The other 20 or so visitors quietly left to go back to their own prayers and retreat. No one wanted to break the beautiful silence of that moment. As I walked back to my car in the heat of the noonday, I felt blessed by those beautiful prayers and so thankful that these men had devoted their lives to God and for the blessing of all the world.

http://www.monks.org

Languages of Faith

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photo by V Budayr

When I was twelve I remember very clearly the minister of my childhood church telling the congregation that “This is the one true church.” I remember asking my mother how he could possibly know this. It was many more years before I could form better questions but looking back on that moment, it was the beginning of my quest. I couldn’t figure out why God could make 6 billion people wrong and just a handful right; it didn’t seem fair.

Through the years I have explored all the world’s major religions. I figure I could just cover all the bases in case one has the true answer to eternal life and I wanted to make sure I was good. I’ve always had Christianity as my base for that is the religion of my ancestors, my culture and my language and I am baptized as a Christian. But, over time, I have branched out and found that learning about other religions has helped me be more comfortable with Christianity despite my shaky beginnings.

My fundamentalist Christian friends would take great offense at my version of Christianity but I keep that to myself, I know the greatness of the Christ and know he doesn’t care about how some governing body defines him. What I know of the Christ is that he is our story of the enlightenment journey, he is the example of divine love and compassion.

I’ve been drawn to Buddhism for many years and have read a lot of the wisdom of modern Buddhist leaders. I find the words of the Buddha comforting and add a dimension to my experience of life. A few years ago a Rinpoche, the abbot of the monastery, established a small monastery in my county and on one of his visits I took the Vows of Refuge, something I had always wanted to do. I take refuge and comfort in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sanga.

As a child, I kept the Sabbath like the Jews and didn’t eat any unclean meat. The tradition of the Sabbath as a day to keep holy is something that our modern world could use a little more of. A day of quiet and family and to take a respite from our technology has made a come back in some circles. As a child I didn’t like the rules but as an adult I remember the Sabbath with nostalgia as a cozy loving time. I’m also told by my Jewish friends that I make very good Latkes.

One of the defining moments of my spiritual quest was Darshan, a meeting with the Hindu saint Mother Meera. In total silence Mother Meera blesses each individual that comes forward to kneel at her feet. She touched my head and looked into my eyes and my world changed. She put me in a place I had never been before but can get back to when needed. Some of my favorite music is an obscure opera about Gandhi using the words of the Bhagava Gita sung in Sanskrit. It is magnificent. Oh and I want a harmonium, the little organ used in chanting. I need one if I ever want to moonlight as an ashram. Got it on my Christmas list.

When I was in Egypt I visited the Citadel, the magnificent Mosque made of alabaster, that overlooks all of Cairo. My fellow travelers and I sat in a circle and listened to the teachings of Islam. Everyday I was there I heard the 5 prayers a day sung from the Minarets, calling the people to prayer. Those haunting melodies in a very mysterious language were healing, reminding me of the power of prayer.

The beating of the shaman’s drum, the gentle melodies on the wooden flute, the prayers to Mother Earth, bring the healing power of our Earth into my body. As I pray to the four directions for wisdom and guidance, I connect with the natural world, the sacred energy of the Earth where I live.

My daughter is a scientist and mathematician where the quest for the divine takes yet another language. Scientists see the world through the beauty of the stars overhead, the quantum particles too small to see and the elegant and universal language of math.

I’m no expert in the world’s religions but I’m an expert of my own heart and I know that honoring the world’s religions has brought great beauty to my life. Because in reality it is all semantics. We use different words and stories but at the core of our human experience is the same desire to know the Divine, the part of us and the Universe that us unknowable to our finite minds.

Camp Chesterfield

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Memorial Garden, Camp Chesterfield

The last two years my passport has been tucked away as I have tended to family and refilled my travel fund. Fortunately rural America holds many hidden gems and I’ve traveled the highways and byways in search of the sacred. I’ve visited Vonore, Tennessee, Cullman and Tuscumbia Alabama, Peebles Ohio, Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Vergas, Minnesota, Carpenteria and Ojai, California, and now I have a new place to add to the list.

Last week I was headed to the Great Lakes Retreat in Olivet, Michigan, (a wonderful experience, I highly recommend) I stopped by Chesterfield, Indiana, to spend the night with a friend to break up the journey. About half way up the eastern side of Indiana amongst vast cornfields and tidy farm houses is the historic Camp Chesterfield, a spiritualist community. My teacher Rachael is a spiritualist minister but she comes from the English tradition and so I’ve never heard of the spiritualist camps in North America except Lily Dale, New York. Spiritualism is the communication with spirits and people who have passed away through a medium who is sensitive to the vibrations of the spirit world.

Camp Chesterfield was established in 1890 to provide contact with the spirit world and train mediums. There were many such camps across American during this heyday of mediumship but Camp Chesterfield is one of the last remain. Mediumship has become popular again as TV shows featuring mediums and the need for the comfort mediumship brings to people who are grieving lost loved ones.

In the morning after breakfast in the little cafeteria where each menu item was a dollar, my four dollar breakfast was perfect. My hostess had a reading to do for a friend so I happily headed out to explore on my own. Now if the Magic Kingdom in Disney World decided to make “Spiritualismland” it would have to be modeled after Camp Chesterfield. It is a playground of delights all with a patina of age and history. In the middle of the camp is an extensive park. First, there is a small cathedral and a chapel for services and messages. I poked my head into the little chapel and heard the organist practicing for a memorial service later that day. I moved on to the two hotels. The Sunflower built in 1914 is no longer used but I peaked in to see; it had the smell of a very old building and I would suspect it was very haunted, so I was glad that wasn’t my place for the night. The Western was build in 1945 and still houses the guest that come for classes. In the basement was a long room with two rows of twin beds each with a dressing table. In the back was a rack of dresses in case you forgot yours and needed something to wear for giving messages from the platform—-dress, pantyhose and closed toed shoes are required for the ladies, suit and tie for the men. The upstairs rooms were sparse but very clean. Across the way is a museum that was closed but has spirit art and apports (objects that manifest into physical form during seances)

cathedral

I headed into the glen sparkling in the morning sunshine where I enjoyed the American Indian memorial and the totem pole located on Inspiration Hill. The Garden of Prayer is a grotto, perfect for mediation. I walked the labyrinth in my bare feet so I could feel the ground. After that I sat on what was left of The Toad Stools, two dozen small tables and chairs under the trees where mediums gave messages to the campers, an old fashioned psychic fair. The table tops were engraved with the names of the mediums.

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toad stools

The Toad Stools

I wandered over to the Trail of Religions where there is a memorial to the world’s great religions with a bust of 10 leaders from Osiris to Mohammed. There was a memorial garden with the ashes of many of the mediums that had worked at the Camp. I gave my respects to Quan Yin and circled the outside of the camp where around three dozen summer cottages house the residents. The houses are close together and in every condition from needing lots of love to very pristine. Most have angel and St Francis statues decorating the tiny lawns. Many of the houses had signs in the front indicating that a reader lived there and the type of readings.

trail of religionsosiris

Trail of Religions

The camp was charming beyond belief and I enjoyed the atmosphere of church-summer-camp-meets-the-spirit-world. It is still an active camp in the summer with classes and a seminary. A unique place that has lasted a 125 years producing mediums of the highest training and integrity. There is a great need for good mediums. Over the years, as I’ve had hundreds of readings in my house, I have watched people come through the door broken and grieving and come out of a reading with renewed hope and healing. The loved ones in our lives are so precious and to reconnect without a doubt with the help of a great medium is a gift from Spirit.

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http://www.campchesterfield.net

Canterbury

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“Who will rid me of this troublesome priest?” These word of King Henry II spoken nearly 900 years ago, began a series of events that we still talk about today. Henry II and Thomas Beckett were good pals until Henry made Thomas the Archbishop of Canterbury. Then, Thomas did the unthinkable and decided to not do everything Henry wanted, that started a power struggle that ended when Henry’s henchmen took him literally and murdered Thomas in the middle of the Cathedral. Within hours of the murder, miracles happened with the blood of Thomas. Henry regretted his words and spent a lifetime doing penance. The world began walking to Canterbury for miracles and salvation.

A hundred and fifty years later, Geoffrey Chaucer immortalized the Canterbury pilgrimage and the stories of medieval life. 600 years later. The Canterbury Tales are still part of almost every high school curriculum, except my high school where the stories were deemed inappropriate and not good for me. Oh my.

Since I love reading about pilgrimages as much as taking them I picked up Jerry Ellis’ book Walking to Canterbury. Last year, I read his book Walking the Trail about his experience walking the Trail of Tears backwards from Oklahoma to Alabama to feel more connected to his Cherokee heritage. Jerry wanted to honor his English roots as well by making a pilgrimage in England. He also walked from London to Canterbury along the traditional pilgrim route. Throughout the story, he perfectly weaves The Canterbury Tales and life in medieval England into his own experiences of the local people and places he encounters, walking in both worlds simultaneously. During the pilgrimage, he carved a walking stick with the faces of Christ and Sequoya, to honor both pilgrimages.

When I made my own pilgrimage to Canterbury in 2005 I had never read The Canterbury Tales or the story of Thomas Beckett. What I knew was that Canterbury is a magnificent cathedral and the Archbishop of Canterbury is the highest authority in the Anglican church, As an Episcopalian the prayers always included the current Archbishop. I didn’t walk to Canterbury but took a train from London with my husband, teen daughters and my dear friend Rachael. It was the first warm day of spring and the town was alive with people wanting to revel in the glories of sunshine, blue sky and flowers against the backdrop of Gothic perfection. The day had a magic and wonder I will never forget.

We met up with Rachael’s daughter Anne and her family and bought a family ticket that included all of us as we were family by choice. Rachael and I wandered silently through the cathedral slowly enjoying every detail we could possibly see. I particularly liked the zodiac roundels in the floor near Trinity chapel that date to the 1400’s. Our tour took us to the crypt where we admired the elaborate vestments and chalices. Just at the door to the garden were prayer candles. I lit one and made a vow that I didn’t expect to make that day, a vow to do what the Universe asks of me whatever that was. It was a sacred moment that changed me, a vow as important to me as my baptism and confirmation and marriage.

Rachael and I stepped into the sunshine and were greeted by her 7 year old granddaughter Louise who was impatiently waiting on a bench. “Hurry up Nanny, I’m 72 years old now.” Louise was right. Time had stood still that morning and at least 65 years had passed in a twinkling of an eye that beautiful day.

candles in caterbury

A Pilgrimage and A Class

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A Pilgrimage

May 2017 I get to return to one of my favorite places Scotland and this time I get to take friends and fellow pilgrims with me for the adventure.   I’m going to be teaching as part of Audrey Press Tours  Awakening the Celtic Journey Within:  A Pilgrimage to Scotland May 24-June 5, 2017.   Highlights include Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel, Glen Lyon, Isle of Lewis and Callanish Stones and 2 nights on Iona.

http://www.audreypresstours.com.

 

A Class

Sunday July 17-Friday July 22, 2016  I will be teaching a week long class on pilgrimages and sacred sites, Pilgrimage:  A Journey for The Soul at The Great Lakes Retreat, Olivet, Michigan.   The class explores the history, stages, experiences and lessons of pilgrimage.  Each day we will explore sacred sites around the world.    On Thursday I will give a talk on Arriving Home and how to integrate your journey into everyday life.

http://www.thegreatlakesretreat.org

 

 

The Truman Show

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Last weekend I was back in southern California to visit Alexandra for some much needed mother/daughter time. On this visit Alexandra chose a tour of Paramount Studios for our adventure. She now works in the film industry and has an encyclopedic knowledge of film history so it was fun to go see this historic studio. Our tour guide Angelica drove us around the sprawling studio in a little golf cart. We saw fake New York City streets, an empty fake lake with fake sky background, fake school for a kid’s TV show, and a very worn out set for a talk show. But thanks to the magic of the camera you would never know any of it is an illusion. Each large building had a plaque that listed the movie and TV shows that were filmed in the building.

The Truman Show (1998), one of my favorite movies, was filmed in one of the buildings as well as at Seaside, Florida. I consider this to be a very spiritual movie, the hero’s journey, the stepping out of illusion into full consciousness.

The story is about Truman Burbank (Jim Carrey) a baby adopted by a TV studio to be the star of a 24/7 reality show, except Truman doesn’t know he is on TV, he is just living his life. Around 30, Truman starts to notice a few things that don’t make sense. A spotlight labeled Sirius falls out of the sky, the rain machine is only in one spot, the radio starts announcing his location. His wife Meryl (Laura Linney) is constantly make strange statements that really are advertisements imbedded in the dialog. A girl he meets in school tries to give him a clue before she is fired from the set. His long dead father shows up as a homeless man.

Truman tries to go on a trip with Meryl but is stopped by a fire wall, a nuclear disaster and his own fears that have been carefully orchestrated by the creator of the show Christof (Ed Harris) who directs all the action from a fake moon in a giant enclosed set. We see people around the world watching Truman’s story unfold in their living rooms. Everyone wants to know “How will it end?”

Like Truman (True Man) we live in a world that keeps us unconscious. Religions tell us they have all the answers, just be a good follower. Media scares us and makes us fearful of immanent dangers and disasters. Science says that if you can’t see and measure it then it doesn’t exist. Adverting tells us what we desire and how hard we need to work for it. Christof is asked how he keeps Truman from knowing the truth. “We accept the reality of the world which we are presented. It is as simple as that.”

Every once in a while a crack appears in the fabric of our reality, a miracle, a moment of bliss, a Truth that can’t be ignored, an experience that can’t be explained. It is just enough to make us question, gives us a clue that there is so much more to our world. That there are infinite worlds to explore, new ideas, new ways of living, freedom.

Truman takes the tiny clues, overcomes his fears and makes a break for freedom. Christof tries to stop him by almost killing him. When Truman’s sailboat runs into the end of his fake world, he gets out and “walks on water” to the staircase into the painted clouds and opens the exit door to a new reality, a new consciousness, his new life.

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Empty fake lake used as a parking lot with fake sky

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Studio where “Frasier” was filmed

Music of the Spheres

recital program

A few weeks ago an acquaintance called to see if I would be up for hosting a solo piano recital in my house. Sarah has a month-long concert tour arranged and wanted a chance to have a trial run in front of a small and adoring audience. Nothing could make me happier. I love classical piano and an hour of Chopin, Brahms and Rachmaninoff played live in my home is pure heaven to me. We agreed on a date and I emailed some friends for my first of hopefully many salon concerts.

My mother’s wonderful piano is perfect for such concerts but was in need of a good tuning. The move from Colorado last year and the climate and altitude change made the tuning go out quickly as it adjusts to my humid climate. Fortunately a few weeks before Caroline had a party for some of her physics friends and one of them happen to have a first career as a piano tuner before deciding to be an astrophysicist. I texted him and we set up an appointment for the next week.

Noah showed up with equipment in hand ready to start tuning when I asked him about the trend back to tune instruments to the traditional 432hz for A rather than the modern 440hz. He checked the current tuning and the A was naturally falling at 432hz. He said that it would be no problem to keep it there and it would be a more stable tuning for my piano.

I first started to hear about 432hz tuning a few years ago and did some investigating then since I love classical music, am an amateur pianist and a devoted violin mom, so music is an integral part of my everyday life. Tuning A to 432hz is a more natural vibrational alignment to the patterns of earth, time, math and sacred geometry, it is also a component of the phi ratio, 1.618, also known as the golden mean, the divine proportion, the building code of nature that sets the proportions of our world to be in harmony. The Great Pyramid, Stonehenge, seashells and our inner ear are a few examples of this natural pattern. Harmony, frequency, vibration are all important to becoming in tune with the cosmos and our enlightened selves.

The standard tuning of 440hz was introduced early in the 20th century, a time when humans were increasingly out of tune with our natural environment and the rhythms of nature, a consequence of high speed travel, artificial light and world wars. We seemingly conquered nature and thus fell out of harmony with our own natural self. The advancements of our modern world aren’t going away but we can do much to restore our own personal vibration to be in harmony with the Universe. Nature, beautiful music, sunlight, silence, sacred sites are a few of the ways that we can bring our bodies back into alignment with the music of the spheres.

The concert was glorious, an hour of beautiful music masterfully played. The intimate setting of a few friends and small room made the music even more tangible and I felt that my whole being was part of the experience.

Chopin played with 432hz tuning

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mi145S-HfQ