Peter, James, and John Asleep – Abbey of Gethsemani

Wednesday, September 19

After breakfast, I took advantage of a crystal clear sky and the crisp, windless, 40 degree air and set out on what turned out to be a five-hour excursion along the trails that traverse the 2,000 acres that belong to the Abbey.

My first destination was the Garden of Gethsemane and its statues.  I walked north on the highway a short distance to the trailhead.   Stepping stones soon gave way to a graveled surface on the narrow trail that wound its way through the trees and undergrowth.  The gravel only extended for a short distance, and the remainder of the trail was the hardened dirt that I had expected, packed down firmly by the feet of monks and guests over the course of decades.

I emerged from the shadowy forest into a clearing, and on my left was the Guesthouse Pond, the absolute epitome of peaceful beauty.  The pond, still warm from the summer’s heat, was releasing a low-hanging mist from the surface of the water into the significantly cooler air above.  Passing the pond, I re-entered the wooded trail which began to follow a ridge line.  The trees along the trail were amazing.  This property has been attached to the monastery since 1848, and it was clear that no timber had ever been cut here.  The high canopy overhead and the undergrowth that blanketed the descents along the ridge brought back wonderful boyhood memories of traipsing through the woods in Kentucky and Middle Tennessee.  Few sights are more beautiful and calming to me.

As I entered the area of the Garden, I came to a statue of a reclining Peter, James, and John, depicting the scene of the apostles as they slept.  A bit further down the trail was a statue of Jesus in prayer, His hands covering His anguished face.  I sat quietly for quite some time on a bench that faced the statue.  Then I began softly quoting the Sermon on the Mount, which I first committed to memory over 20 years ago.  I know that the Message on the Mountain (Matthew 5-7) is far removed chronologically from the agony of Christ in the Garden, but it just seemed appropriate in the stillness and quietness of the moment.  The recitation took much longer than usual, as I would pause and reflect between sections of Jesus’ words.

Another trail took me to a fork in the path, literally!  A sign with an arrow pointing to the right read, “To the Cross.”  It struck me that this was the “sign” that Jesus followed throughout the entirety of His earthly life and ministry leading up to Golgotha.  The particular cross that I was seeking, however, was one that sat atop Cross Knob, which appeared on my map of the Abbey’s trails.  Like the previous one, this trail followed a ridge line, ascending toward the crest of a knob that was 800 feet above sea level compared to the Abbey’s location at 570 feet.  At the point where the trail became intensely steep, I saw a couple of sturdy, natural-cut walking sticks leaning against the trunk of a tree.  I sensed an unwritten message which clearly communicated, “Feel free to use these to aid you on your journey to the cross.  When you have completed your journey, return them here to assist the next traveler.”  There are all kinds of useful lessons in that one!

I reached the summit of the trail with my pulse pounding and my breathing labored.  My recent weight loss had not been accompanied by rigorous exercise, so the ascent mercilessly exposed the weakness of my cardio fitness.  This was not a “bald knob” as I had imagined, but one that was still heavily wooded.  However, a few trees had been cleared down the descent toward the monastery, creating a “window” that framed the Abbey which was located well over a mile in the distance.

I snapped a quick photo of the large, wooden cross that stood by the trail.  I looked at my watch and saw that it was nearly 11:00 a.m.  For some reason I felt rushed.  Lunch was served promptly at noon each day.  The lady who worked in the kitchen had already given me “the look” a couple of times when I showed up at the serving line just as things were being put away.  Monastery guest house or not, “the look” was as loaded with negative vibes as any I had ever seen anywhere.  It seemed to be saying, “Dude, you’ve got gray hair!  Can’t you tell time?”

Maybe it was wisdom.  Maybe is was a still, quiet voice.  Maybe it was the fact that I had just spent time reflecting in the Garden of Gethsemane.  But, something brought to my heart and mind the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, James, and John when He returned to find them sleeping.  “Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour?” (Matt. 26:40; Mark 14:37).

What was my rush?  Why the hurry?  It had taken me nearly 50 years to make it to this place.  Why did I want to leave?  For lunch?  I remembered His words, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).  I should at least wait until my heart rate got back down into the double digits and my respiration returned to normal.

“Tim, can’t you keep watch with Me for one hour?”

“Yes, Lord, I can.  Yes, Lord, I will.”

I sat down on the small bench in front of the cross, looking out toward the distant Abbey.  I closed my eyes and began to pray.  I spent time in thought, then opened my eyes and prayed some more; it was really more like talking.  I wondered, “Shouldn’t my prayers be more like this anyway?”  I thought about how sleepy Peter, James, and John must have been.  Since I had not been sleeping well at night (more on that later), I was feeling a bit drowsy myself and was tempted to stretch out on the bench.  I resisted, and kept watching and waiting.

I heard the pealing of the distant chapel bells at each quarter-hour until they finally announced the arrival of noon.  The hour had passed rather quickly.  It had been spent far more meaningfully than it would have been if I had scrambled down the trail like Pavlov’s dog, enslaved to the dinner bell, and desperately seeking “the food which perishes” (John 6:27).  The bowl of oatmeal that I had for breakfast would sufficiently satisfy me until the evening meal.

I resolved to more regularly seek hours in which to “watch and pray” when I returned home from my retreat.

Jesus Praying in the Garden – Abbey of Gethsemani