Why I Run Away to a Monastery Once a Year

It’s for the solitude…and the fudge.

As I see the bell tower appear over the blue grass on the rolling hills of rural Kentucky, I’m giddy because I know it’s only seconds until I’ve fully escaped from the din of emails, push notifications, telemarketer calls, and pointless TV shows.

I’m entering into a weekend of complete silence. No talking (not even to myself!), no TV, no computer, and very little cell phone. It’s one of my favorite things to do, and the Abbey of Gethsemani in Nelson County, Kentucky is one of my favorite places to just “be.”

The Trappist Life

The monastery sits on 2,000 acres of farmland and is home to Trappist Monks. It’s been around since 1848 and is part of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance which can trace its origins back to the year 1098.

Trappist monks pray seven times a day, every day, and have been keeping the same prayer schedule for centuries. They pray for many things, including each individual in this world. (So, if you’re ever wondering if there’s anyone praying for you, the answer is, yes, there is.)

The monks of Gethsemani are self-sustaining through the labor of their hands. They make various food products including cheese, fruitcake, and Kentucky bourbon fudge (oh the fudge!). Other Trappist monasteries around the world are self-sustaining too, each making different products and selling each others’ products at their guest centers and via mail order.

Why I Run Away

I go to the monastery once a year to unplug, get quiet, and really listen to what God wants to say to me. It’s a place of beautiful gardens for solitude and quiet reflection. The only sounds are of singing birds, bellowing cows from a nearby farm, and chimes from the bell tower announcing the monks’ next prayer session.

Through the freedom from having to follow a set schedule, I’m able to hear from God and gain perspective on what matters most in life. I love it and feel so at peace.

Discomfort With Silence

But not everyone is comfortable with silence. My theory is because it’s such a foreign thing to most people in this modern world. Father Carlos, the monastery’s retreatant chaplain, has a different theory that makes a whole lot more sense to me.

He tells the story of one young man who came to the monastery’s guest house for a silent retreat. After two hours, the young man decided to leave because he couldn’t handle the silence. Father Carlos says most people who are loud, talk a lot, or surround themselves with a lot of noise usually do so because they’re afraid of what they’ll learn about themselves if they get quiet before God. I know a few people this theory accurately applies to.

Why Solitude is Important (and Necessary)

King David understood the importance of getting alone, and so did Jesus. If a man considers his time to be so valuable that he cannot find time to keep quiet and to be alone, that man will eventually be of no value to anyone. To spend all of one’s time with people is soon to have nothing to give any of them of any value. ~Dr. David Jeremiah

It doesn’t matter what your faith is (I’m not Catholic yet I visit this Catholic monastery once a year). Solitude is important as noted in the quote above. Even if you can’t get away for an entire weekend, try to at least find 20 to 30 minutes a day to just turn everything off and not say a word to anyone.

If you develop this habit each morning before starting your day, and each night before ending your day, you’ll see a dramatic change in your perspective on the important things in life.

And who wouldn’t benefit from that?


Photos by Lori Bumgarner

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