1/27/2011 | Share this article:By Carl S ~
Below, is an e-mail that was written in response to a visitor's request for more information - a visitor who is familiar with the Gethsemane monastery I had written about. Several days later, it occurs to me that others may have had similar, interesting experiences, coming from different religious backgrounds/upbringings. Those who will dismiss or denounce the majority of us ex-Christians, as never having been committed to the faith, need to be educated on this matter.
Thank you for visiting exchristian.net, where my first writing, "My Unique Experience," was about some of my experiences as a Trappist monk. I entered several months short of my 15th birthday, so my age at the time needs to be considered. On Halloween night, 1954, I was sent home with two postal workers who had been there for a retreat. Although the world has changed since then, I suspect Gethsemane is much the same. On that note, I will say that what the public sees is not what is happening in reality.
Image by Christine ™ (Formerly with the red wall.) via FlickrBehind the idealized facade of peace and spirituality, what I and others experienced was inner turmoil, the result of working against our "sinful" natures, and in doing penance through "self denial." Yes, there were times of pleasures shared, friendliness, although "particular friendships" were forbidden (I suspect many monks are gay). Gethsemane is "not of this world," but it is no Tibetan monastery, and I consider myself fortunate and strong to have lasted there as long as I did.
One evening after Compline, we did not go immediately back to quarters for the night, but were told to wait in the corridor behind the nave. There, the body of a monk, I think in his 30's, passed before us. We chanted, and he was buried nearby. A year and a half after I left the monastery, I met a man who was there after I left. Very sincerely, he told me that two monks there had committed suicide in one year’s time.
The Trappist contemplative setting creates a condition of spiritual anorexia disorder wherein individuals constantly examine their conscience, motives, and dedication to being ever more holy and virtuous.
The monastery, in my experience, resembles a cult that always begins with elation, assurances, camaraderie, and leads inexorably to repression and being used for its purposes. Yes, so many years later, I still see it that way: a cult, in essence, with secrets.
A nice place to visit, for a person to "retreat" from the world, but you wouldn't want to live there.