“I Went to the Woods”

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

This weekend I travel to the Abbey of Gethsemani with a small group of Xavier students, an annual November ritual since I began teaching the senior seminar for theology majors. I go not as their teacher so much as a companion, eager, like them, to heed the call of silence. Br. Paul Quenon, in this dance between speech and silence, will be our midwife.

In “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” still one of his most breathtaking essays, Thomas Merton conjures the spirit of Thoreau and many others to remind us of the places where rain has not yet been turned into a commodity. The Kentucky forecast this weekend is for rain, which feels fitting. “At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.”

As we approach Advent – and as the nation remembers the death of John F. Kennedy – I ask Merton to enliven our hopes, to quicken my hope as a Christian and Catholic, in the birthing of Christ, the prince of mercy and peace, into our hearts.

So that when each of us comes to our death, we will have tasted life fully, and learned its most beautiful and essential lessons to the best of our capacity.


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