Prayers of the Pilgrims

This story is part two of my visit to the Abbey of Gethsemani Monastery. You can read the first part here.

Photo by glasseyes view, Creative Commons

Snow fell harder as I wandered back down the path to the monastery and the waiting bus. My hands were fisted in my pockets to preserve as much warmth as possible. Wind howled through the bare trees like a fleet of semi-trucks, and trees groaned under the weight of winter.

I hadn’t seen another human for almost an hour—not since I’d wandered off into the woods. Leaves crunched under my feet. When the wind stopped, the world was still with the kind of stillness that can make you feel like you’re the only soul left on the planet. Despite the clear markers and the well-worn path and the stories I’d heard, I wondered if I wasn’t just alone on the path, but if I was the only person to have ever walked it.

I made my way across a small clearing and down a hallway of young trees ushering me back into the woods. The path forked and, to the left, veered toward a faded red shack that was just a few yards away.

A plaque above the doorway gave the shed a name: “Rosary House Shelter.” One of the doors was missing, so I ducked inside. There was barely enough room to turn around, and I stayed bent to keep my head from banging against the roof. I sank into a wooden chair by the doorway. The grimy window behind me let in what little light was making its way through the clouds outside. I breathed in years of dust.

As I sat, I scanned the corkboard wall in front of me. A smattering of papers were pinned across it, and I read a few of them. Most were prayers. Some were nearly ten years old. There were both petitions and thanksgivings, written by those who believed and by those who harbored a few doubts.  

A decrepit desk was crammed into the corner to my right, littered with papers, notebooks, and pens. The notebooks, too, were full of prayers. Flipping through one, I found dates that stretched back into the 90’s. Twenty years of history in my hands. Twenty years of wandering and praying and questioning. Twenty years of people who’d made the same pilgrimage in all kinds of conditions.

The truth of it sunk into my soul like a stone in a pond.

 You are not alone.

I didn’t see anyone else until I’d almost gotten back to the monastery, but there was something about holding the prayers of those who’d come before that was a comfort. I was not the first to walk that trail, and I would not be the last. Even when it felt like there wasn’t another soul in all the world, faith was not a journey that I made alone, and it is not one that I make alone now, either.

For that—for history and hope and the prayers of pilgrims gone before—I give thanks.