“When the monks had found their homes, they not only settled there, for better or for worse, but they sank their roots into the ground and fell in love with their woods…….Forest and field, sun and wind and sky, earth and water, all speak the same silent language, reminding the monk that he is here to develop like the things that grow all around him…” -Waters of Siloe
Back at my hermitage, I contemplate my place between the decay of the monastery and the robust vitality of the river. Life, and most assuredly, spiritual life, consists of both. According to Merton darkness and decay is not only a normal state but a necessary condition for spiritual development.
‘It is in the darkness, when there is nothing left in us that can please or comfort our minds, when we seem to be useless and worthy of all contempt, when we seem to have failed, when we seem to be destroyed and devoured, it is then that the deep and secret selfishness that is too close to us for us to identify is stripped away from our souls. It is in this darkness that we find liberty. It is in this abandonment that we are made strong. This is the night which empties us and makes us pure.’
When I emerge on my final morning at Vision of Peace, I have a final look at the river as it stretches southward like a ribbon of silver between a sea of trees. The morning light is beautiful. Perfect. After packing the car, I take one last walk through the trees, when I get to the rank of cedars, I stop. I’ve had enough darkness and decay. It has taught me something invaluable. I send the monastery a message of gratitude, and also to the cedars, the grasses, and the mighty Mississippi. I get into my car and go home.