Friday, August 12, 2005

Faith Walk: Chapter 8

This post is part of a series of journal transcriptions from my second retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY during May 28 to May 30, 2004.

Sunday May 30, 2004 12:25 AM EST (Part 2)
I reach the conclusion of this Gethsemani retreat. I am writing from a wooden deck chair grayed from age and weather. My feet are propped up on a rock wall looking out over the flowers in the garden beneath me with my knees as a writing surface. The sun is bright as is my renewed spirit. I feel a duality of peace and excitement: the peace from a journey completed. The excitement for a new journey beginning. God knew I needed to be here this weekend. I arrived having two offers and a major decision to make on Tuesday or Wednesday next week.

I talked to Kaj on Friday as I left Nashville for Gethsemani. I told him if the base salary had been $7000 higher, I would have accepted immediately. He does not think he can do anything, but I am to talk with him on Tuesday. I will be in Destin, FL. Anita and I scheduled a last minute trip to the beach for the coming week. We booked it Thursday night to celebrate getting the two offers that day. We have not been on a vacation in a long while. With the new job and income reduction, we will not be taking one anytime soon after starting the new job. I will be making just enough extra money in June from receiving both vacation pay from CIC and the salary from the new job. We have been aching to take Maria, who is almost four, to the beach. This will be her first real trip to the beach. She is so excited. So am I!

I will be driving home within the hour to prepare for leaving tomorrow. God has spoken to me this weekend through my silence, my walks, Scripture, worship, and the reflection this writing provides. During the drive up from Nashville on Friday, Charlie Brandon, a senior member and former elder at my church, and someone I deeply respect, called on my cell phone. My men’s group had decided to recruit a few new members to the group. One of the men suggested was Charlie, and I volunteered to speak with him. This was months ago when I invited him to our group. He was just now calling to tell me that his schedule would not allow him to join. He had no idea about my situation. In addition, I was near the end of the three-hour drive, maybe 30 minutes from the Abbey. Very soon, I would loose cell phone coverage. Yet unexpectedly, I get this call from Charlie.

After conveying his message he asked me how I was doing and what was going on in my life. I briefly explained my job situation, the two offers, and the aspects of each. We talked about my situation and the decisions I was facing. He did not give me advice directly, but he engaged me in discussion about frenetic lifestyle, what does one really want from their life, and how do career decisions affect these desires. More wisdom delivered from I AM via an earthly agent. What a glorious preface to my arrival and purpose at Gethsemani.

Another powerful measure of guidance occurred on Saturday morning during my three-hour hike among the rolling hills and forest. I love these hikes at Gethsemani. I feel as if I am walking into and amidst the purlieu of God’s kingdom. Indeed, I believe I am. On this Saturday morning, I departed early. I walked access road, made of large, brown gravel, which leads into the depths of the Abbey property on which visitors are allowed. On each side are wide strips of tall grass that are periodically harvested for hay. These strips are bordered by trees marking the creeks that drain the rising hills into the watershed next to the Abbey. This watershed contains a series man-made canals and pools that are guarded by an abandoned pumping station. This station previously managed the water and sewage needs of the Abbey years ago. It is apparent that the monks who founded the Abbey precisely selected this spot to build the Abbey. They were intelligent in its design and resourceful in its management.

As I walk, insects aerially sprint from one spot to another; drone by like cargo craft; or swim gently and aimlessly in the heavy, humid air. Small birds dancingly flit from place to place or dart by like jets as they go about their inviolable functions. The magnificent insect polyphony and variety of bird songs perform the Creator’s Nature Symphony, which will accompany me throughout my trek this morning. Rivulets hidden in the thick grass trickle along the road edge, methodically moving toward the collecting basin that I am leaving behind. After a short walk in, the gravel access forks. If you travel left, it will take you to the copse where the Statues of the Garden of Gethsemane rest.[1] I break right heading into the hills and forest and to a man-made lake. This lake is formed by a large concrete wall that dams one of the creeks emanating from the hills and supplying the watershed. I assume the lake was created to guarantee a water supply for the Abbey during the dry seasons of the year. You can walk this wall, approximately 2 feet wide, across the mouth of this small lake, which I guess is between 100 and 200 yards in length. A few inches to my left is the dark water of the deepest part of the lake. Inches to my right is a plunge of maybe 20-30 feet into a waste of weeds, tall grass, and trees. No rails or protection on either side just air—an exhilarating walk! I make this walk to determine if my middle-aged nerves can still handle being a boy.

After I have passed my little test, I continue upwards into the woods and hills. The gravel service road turned into a dirt road well before the lake and continues to narrow until it becomes just a hiking path, although at points it still gets wide. The 2000 acres that make up the Abbey property are well managed including the forests. A vast network of trails branches and links allowing a sojourner to choose from multiple passages and to find new areas for exploration. The monks now use ATVs to move about this vast nature reserve performing their stewardship of their Garden of Eden. Yet, I have not had any of my hikes disturbed by the work of the monks, nor have I met anyone else in my hikes unto these hills. Solitude is plentiful.

As I stroll through this majesty, I feel more and more at peace. Not because I have made any decisions, but a peace from perspective. The world is out there somewhere, and my soul is walking on the fringes of God’s realm. It is as if He is in some secret center deep within; a place I am not seeking to enter but am aware is there. I mentally attempt to empty myself of thoughts, my busyness, and my will. I begin praying for God to fill this emptiness with His will—to give me mental ears to hear. “Father, lead me to the decision with which I can best serve you.” As I have mentioned before, this months-long ordeal is really the first time I have ever consciously placed my career in the hands of God and sought His will for it. Prior, I was not spiritually mature enough to know to do it. Career was separate from Church and Christianity. I was to be a Christian in the work force, but what career and where I choose to work was compartmentalized outside my spiritual life, rather than being a subset of it. God has led me to know better.

I tried to be empty and listen, but this is hard for a human and takes much practice. I had reached a strong proclivity toward one of the job opportunities. As I had mulled over the options, analyzing the pros and cons of each, I felt the facts might be God’s way of showing the path that was best. During this walk of meditation, prayer, and listening, this intuition was solidifying itself into decision. I grew more and more comfortable with this choice. I almost felt in a trance at this point, very removed from self and surroundings. Sort of like a runner’s high—moving through your environment but removed from it; hardly affected by the physical.

I was jolted out of this out-of-body rest. The path came upon one of the bigger creeks that flowed from the engulfing hillsides. I knew this point from a previous hike. It was a wider part of the creek, 6 or 7 feet across, in a valley between the hills where the land flattens just a little more than the adjacent terrain. Last time I was here, I could walk across in a few inches of water over the rock ledges that were exposed by the water’s slow excavation. Not today. The Ohio and Tennessee Valley regions have received a large amount of rain over the last week. The creek was now 3 to 4 feet deep and moving swiftly. I could make it across, but did not want to get soaking wet with several hours left in my hike. I had a specific area I wanted to explore further and this was the path to it. I begin walking up the creek hoping to find a narrow place at which I could leap across. I had to leave the trail, push through the underbrush, and dodge through the trees.

After 15-20 minutes, I finally reached a point I thought I could attempt. I made the leap and got across. However, I now I had to find my way back to the path I wanted. As I pushed downstream, I quickly ran into thicker underbrush that became impassable. This area of growth was very large resulting in another deviation. I was no longer sure exactly where my original path lay. I was not worried about being lost. I knew the direction of the Abbey, and knew I could find my way back to it. Nevertheless, I was not sure I was going to find the path that leads to the particular hilltop that I wanted to explore. A point at which I had stopped during my first visit to Gethsemani.

As I tried to make my ever-meandering way back to where I thought my path lay, I kept meeting resistance and had to choose new directions. I finally walked upon another trail. One that did not appear to go in the direction I wished. However, it was passable, so I took it. I resigned myself to the fact that I may not make it to my original destination today, which was fine. I began trying to reacquire my meditative state of listening to God. As I worked on this transformation, the trail met up with a much wider path. My original path. I was back on the road to my original destination.

My rhythmical and purposeful stride began to restore my somnambulate state, and as it did, I began to realize that God may have been speaking to me and answering my prayer for guidance. Was the job choice I was leaning toward really the right path to His ultimate destination? Did I need to take a circuitous road to get to where I needed to be and in the process wade through a few obstacles? Were the original exhortations I was feeling from a different source, that is, Satan trying to influence me? I am not alluding that one job was evil or could not serve God’s will, just that it may not have been God exhorting me, and that the other job was His preference. Could it be that one of the jobs would offer more opportunities for temptation and thus was Satan’s preference? Just thoughts and questions that came to me in my meditation.

I prayed to God to open my eyes and heart even wider and to attune me to His will. This led me to contemplate harder on my phone call with Charlie. I also realized I needed to pay close attention to the thoughts of my wife, specifically without her knowing my initial inclination. I needed her uninfluenced reasoning, her gleanings from searching God’s will. The tide of choice began to change. To do this day, I firmly believe that this incident was God loving and leading me.

Back to Sunday. I will have the drive home today, and all day with Anita tomorrow as we drive to Florida to contemplate our decision. As conclude my retreat, I reflect on the words God delivered to me Friday soon after my arrival (see Chapter 1). “Behold I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice.” [Exodus 23:20-21] I haven’t seen my family much in the last few weeks. I miss them very much. I close my journaling and my retreat with this prayer:

Dear God, thank you for your foresight in delivering me to this place this weekend. Thank you for the overwhelming, redemptive gift of Jesus my Savior. Lord I also thank you for the underserved blessing of Anita and Maria in my life. I am going home now. AMEN!

[1] The statues are two life size sculptures, one depicting the apostles sleeping in the garden and the other of Christ praying in agony. The statues were donated in honor of a young seminarian who traveled to Alabama during the civil rights movement. Witnessing an escalating argument between a young women and a law enforcement officer who raised his weapon to shoot, he stepped in and took the bullet for her. A plaque at the path entrance to the statues reads: "In memory of Jonathon M Daniel. Episcopal seminarian martyred in Alabama Aug. 20, 1965. Donated to the Monastery by William Coolidge of Boston, MA. Walker Hancock sculptor. May we always remember that the Church exists to lead men to Christ in many and varied ways, but it is always the same Christ."


Anonymous said...

Tony - I'm afraid that disabling anonymous comments does not solve the spammer problem at all. I've been hit, too, as have several of my Christian blogger friends, and all I have seen and experienced thus far have been supposed "bloggers" with addresses, etc! It's horrible!

As to your post of today - it is on the same excellent par as all of those before I have read. In fact, I'm going to send some of my fellow bloggers over here to read what you've been writing because it is so illuminating and uplifting.

I can't wait to hear the "end" of your story from your "Faith Walk." I check here daily to make sure I haven't missed anything.

Hope you and your family have a great weekend. Drop by Weekenders, a group (and we're looking for new members) Christian blog for those who have time to post on the weekends and to read and comment (and lately, during the week, as well, among some of the more "errant" members and guests - including ME!). We'd love to have you drop by and visit and join us, too, although I know you are in a couple of blogs, already.

JMG said...

Another great chapter, Tony! I think I'll start again taking hikes in the woods here around my house like I did when I was a kid.

jettybetty said...

That must be an incredible place! We do live such frenetic life styles that we need to just be quiet and listen. We have always loved hiking--such a wonderful way to clear our minds and listen. When I am in nature, I feel so close to God.

Thanks again for sharing your story!


Tony Arnold said...

Dee, I noticed immediately the anonymous limit did not help. I have left a comment with blogger about this abuse and their lack of a reporting mechanism. For now I just will remove the blammers(?) manually. Thanks for the kind comments. I visit weekenders and thanks for the invite to join.

JMG, I miss having woods in my back yard, but I love to hike at Radnor Lake.

Jettybetty, alone in nature is where I feel closest to my Father.


Malia said...

Since I'm closer in relationship to your wife and daughter than I am to you, I will repeat what I know you already know but will say it anyway. You are a blessed man Tony Arnold. And they are very blessed to have you as husband and father. I was teary eyed by the end of this chapter as you head home to be with your family. We can't know how we will handle situations until they are upon us. I can only hope that if I am ever faced with the a similiar situation that I will have the same grace and maturity and trust that Anita exhibited during this time.

Tony Arnold said...

I am blessed beyond measure Malia.

erinlo said...

As usual, Tony....great writing. I was on the edge of my seat.