As I struggle with illness, I have found my time spent at Bethlehem Abbey in Portglenone, Co. Antrim, to be enormously therapeutic. Last week, I spent a morning in the library and whilst there wrote a short poem about my experience. Here it is:
A room, empty of people, steeped in holiness.
Myriad books as far as the eye can see.
Tomes on Theology, Liturgy, Canon Law, Hermeneutics, an endless array,
Neatly piled high to the ceiling, regimented in racks.
Innumerable years of scholarship assembled silently in a place of great silence.
Here I sit alone, immersed in thought,
engaged with Thomas Merton.
A Cistercian atmosphere adds poignancy to his prose,
his words come to life as my eyes scan each page,
I understand him now more than ever,
he is speaking to me, his voice resonates through the quietness.
Shrouded in intense silence,
It clings like a garment.
I am jolted suddenly by the thud of distant footsteps echoing through the cloister.
I sit back and smile.
I am not alone.
The clumsy clang of the bell announcing Sext is confirmation,
the muffled hum of monastic traffic, gently on its way to Chapel,
collectively anticipating an encounter with the Divine.
The monastic chant is barely audible, but beautiful nonetheless.
I love this place.
An outsider, I feel at home,
accepted, affirmed and welcomed.
Where else is God’s presence so real?
He dwells in this place and in the hearts of those who visit.
Amongst the books, He lives and breathes.
This much I feel in my heart.
This much I know in my mind.