'His grave is out past the cedar tree," says the woman in the abbey gift shop. It is an icy Monday morning on the back roads of Kentucky's bluegrass country. We've come out past the Jim Beam bottling plant on Route 248 in Clermont. Out past Stephen Foster's "old Kentucky home" in Bardstown. Out past the tiny sign on Route 31 that says simply "Trappist." Past Monk's Creek and Monk's Pond. And past a gate that says "God Alone." Now, near a snow-laden cedar tree, there is a white metal cross. On it is written: Fr. Louis Merton, died December 10, 1968.
I've been here once before, to the Abbey of Gethsemani-home of America's most famous monk, known to the world through his writing as Thomas Merton. I've stood in front of this cross. The time before had been a vacation with my family. I think it was in July 1975. I was not quite a teenager. I remember it was hot, muggy, and we got to swim in Monk's Pond. After visiting the abbey we stopped at the Shaker village in Pleasant Hill. Beneath an image of Mother Ann Lee's blazing Tree of Life, I ate corn pudding for the first time.
WHY HAD I come back? What is it in me, or us, that loves a circle, sometimes to our detriment? Even though my memory is sketchy from the visit to Gethsemani in the '70s, it had a profound impact on my soul. It shifted the banks of my spiritual river.