The Doorway: Life lessons from a Trappist Monk #14

I don’t keep focused on God all day long but I do have several methods to bring me back. I have a personal rule never to cross my legs to remind myself that I am always in the presence of the Almighty. And I always say a certain prayer when I bow in church. Thus when in church and someone else bows the prayer comes automatically. I also try to say a prayer whenever I go through a door. Thus I find it important to use your body to help you to remember God’s presence. –excerpt from Brother Rene letter, September 18, 2004.

I just returned from a trip to Kentucky, where I first attended the Spiritual Directors Conference in Louisville, and then I went to the Abbey of Gethsemani, where I spent an extended weekend. As soon as I arrived at the monastery, I felt immediately at home. I find that the abbey feels like a spiritual home for me. I visited Brother Rene’s grave, and I sat by it with my book, which felt like our book.

During my stay, I immersed myself in the monks’ way of living: participating in the seven prayer periods of the day, maintaining silence most of the time, and turning my focus to be more aware of God throughout the day. As I did this, I was reminded of my constant need to find ways to reconnect and stay connected throughout my day, just as Brother Rene suggested.

We must each find our way of doing this–of staying aware and present. I really like Brother Rene’s suggestion to use the body to help us with this. One way I have found is when I pull up to work, I sit still for a few moments in my car, take three deep breaths, and then fold my hands and bow to the day.

What is something you could do during the day to bring you back to the spirit moving in you and all around you?

During my recent visit to the monastery, one of the most powerful, but simple prayers I connected to was during early morning Vigils, when the monks chant: O Lord Open my Lips, and My Mouth will declare your praise. Since I’ve been home, I’m been saying this in the morning, and it helps me to enter my day through the door of God.

What is the doorway through which you enter your day?

One of the monks drove me back to the airport, and we had the chance to talk about many things. I love talking to monks because they can talk on such a deep, experiential level about God. Well, one of the things Brother Bartholomew mentioned was that the monks enter their day through the doorway of God, and then the Holy becomes the prism through which they experience and see their day. He shared that this is the orientation of the contemplative—God first, and then the rest follows.

Becoming more mindful of what tone we set to our day can transform us. Simple as it sounds, it can become our compass and affect everything. And even if we get thrown off track, we can find simple ways to bring ourselves back—like taking a few deeper conscious breaths throughout the day; or reading a psalm; or taking a moment to be grateful.

One thing, among many things, we can learn from the monks is that daily commitment and intention are essential to living a life that bears fruit and brings ourselves peace.


What is the doorway through which you enter your day?

  • Make the intention to establish one small practice to start your day: read a psalm, drink your morning coffee while writing in a journal, or stretch and say a prayer of gratitude for the new day.
  • Write about what would be a perfect morning for you, and then see if there are elements of that you could incorporate into your morning routine.

How could you integrate more awareness of the Divine into your daily life?

  • Practice deep breathing and quieting your mind throughout the day.
  • Say a prayer, or word, or intention when you go through a doorway, or when you get into the car, or when you take a walk.
  • Sit quietly for five minutes and soak up God’s love.




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