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o Gethsemani, but the distance provided really aloneThomas Mertonn Aug. 20, 1965,began living full-time as a hermit. Hishermitage was a simple cinder-blockbuilding not far from the Abbey ofthe kind of intense solitude for which Merton had longed for so many years. Almost from the moment he entered the Abbey, he wrote consistently in his journal about his desire for more solitude, and when he finally received permission to become a hermit, his journal records his jubilance. But eight days after attaining the kind of solitary life he so desired, Merton wrote the following: The days go by and I am beginning to experience the meaning of real solitude. It is certainly real enough now…I am beginning to feel the light- ness, the strangeness, the desertedness of being really alone…Now that everything is here, the work of loneliness really begins, and I feel it. I glory in it (giving thanks to God), and I fear it. This is not something lightly to be chosen (Aug. 28, 1965). Merton was expressing here the suffering that is a necessary part of solitude, the kind of suffering experi- enced by the many men and women before him who had themselves chosen the solitary life, and Merton’s journals throughout his three years of life at the hermitage fre- quently evoke the difficulties associated with being alone. I, like so many others, lead a busy life. In addition to my position as assistant professor of theology and director of the master of arts in spirituality program at Bellarmine, I am a husband and a father to three young boys – ages 7, 4 and 1. When all three boys are awake, our house is LOUD! But I love the noise, I love the chaos, and I love their energy. And I love these boys. I love who they are as individuals and I love how their very presence in my life makes me a better person. That said, I crave and enjoy silence and solitude. I have endeavored to carve out time during each day for silence, and also to find times throughout the year when I can have extended periods of solitude. Such an opportunity came this past August when Br. Paul Quenon, a monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, arranged for me to spend one week living in solitude at one of the hermitages on the Abbey’s property. This was a pilgrimage of sorts for me. I first read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, when I was 23, and the experience was transformative. As so many do at that age, I was having something of a vocational crisis, and it was immensely comforting for me to read the experiences of one who was as confused as I was and yet found his calling in life. I started to read everything I could get my hands on by and about Merton, and he became for me something of a spiritual 38 BellarMine Magazine


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