Ten years ago, in late June I attended an Intensive Retreat at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. Twenty-two men and women from a variety of religious traditions attended this silent retreat to learn more about Centering Prayer and its practice. Part of the retreat program was to watch certain conference videos featuring Fr. Thomas Keating teaching about the reasons for and practice of Centering Prayer. In addition we also visited with Fr. Keating in person. About 40 years ago, along with Fr. Basil Pennington, he founded Contemplative Outreach, a program designed to introduce centering and contemplative prayer and their spiritual healing power to lay and clergy from various religious traditions.
One of the conference sessions dealt with Brother Bernie, who entered the Trappists at a young age and prior to the changes that came about from the 2nd Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church. By the time I attended my retreat the Trappist monks no longer practiced strict silence and rigorous dietary restrictions that were in vogue when Bernie entered. Even in silence, Br. Bernie used silent hands gestures and signals with such flourish that it troubled the older monks. It almost seemed that he talked without talking and this was a bit much. Although he didn’t seem to fit in to the life style of the Trappist tradition, Br. Bernie persisted and eventually became a professed monk.
He was assigned to do the cooking, but because of his dyslexia, he had to painstakingly recopy all the recipes so that he could interpret them. Eventually he was assigned to the monastery in Snowmass. By this time the restrictions that were once commonplace in Trappist life had been relaxed and Br. Bernie was never happier that he could talk to everyone he met. Because of his duties as cook, he often traveled into Aspen, Colorado to shop and became a local favorite of the residents because of his congenial and outgoing personality. He even began to introduce desserts – only on special feast days into the diet of the monks. One of his favorites was a Bernie Sundae – several scoops of chocolate, vanilla, and cherry ice cream smothered with maraschino cherries, chocolate syrup, and whipped cream.
Bernie delighted in the mountains and the flora and fauna of the area. In his free time Bernie would explore the hillsides and mountains. To this day, one of the mountains is known as Bernie’s Mountain because of the time he spent there. He even built a little hermitage there so that he could spend time alone with God. The time he spent there was good for Bernie and the other monks: for him because of the need for periods of silence in his spiritual walk; and the other monks because it was a break from Bernie’s loquacious nature.
Br. Bernie died suddenly in 1992 and is buried in the monks’ cemetery on a hillside that faces Bernie’s Mountain. There is a saying that “life is 10% of you how make it and 90% of how you take it.” I think that Br. Bernie exuded that model. He loved God, accepted his limitations, developed his gifts, praised God for the blessings given to him, accepted all persons he met as brothers and sisters in Christ, loved nature, and learned that, at times, silence is the best way to be, for it is in the silence that God most effectively meets us.
~ Fr. Al Jewson
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.