Last week Connie and Steve came for their annual 4th of July visit and by Friday morning we were ready for a quick road trip to Mepkin Abbey in Monks Corner.  For anyone not familiar with the Abbey, it’s a community of Roman Catholic Monks who live in solitude for the church according to an ancient form of radical Christian discipleship focused on seeking and finding God. Monks live the Cistercian tradition, of praising God in prayer, meditation, scripture reading, work and hospitality.  The monks live their life obeying the Holy Spirit by a strict daily program of prayer which begins at 3:20 in the morning.  The day ends at 8 PM with the Grand Silence. Mepkin Abby is indeed beautiful and could lend itself to a life of prayer, work and tranquility.

 Mepkin originally was a very successful rice plantation and was given to the Catholic Church in 1949 by the Luce Family who was active in publishing and politics. The founding monks came from the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky and later became known as Trappist after the Cistercian monastery of La Trappe near Paris.  Today, the brethren help maintain and support the Abbey through the cultivation of oyster and shitake mushrooms, production of compost products, store management, and timber farming. However, the most important part of the Monk’s life is their dedication to God’s call to live in solitude and silence in and for the church according to the rule of St. Benedict.  In other words, these men gave their word to live a humble life of unceasing prayer and fruitful sacrifice with their brothers in a common purpose.

Those of us on the tour were intrigued with the Abbey’s beauty and with the lives of the local monks, but not one of us was interested in joining them.  Even though the Abbey’s library offered information on news and facts about what was happening in the world today, our group was unwilling to give up simple creature comforts that we enjoy. The tour guide also shared that one monk had come to live at Mepkin at the young age of 17 and was now in his 90’s. Truly, it’s a life of total commitment that most people cannot comprehend.

So, it was the Brothers of Mepkin Abbey and what their word was worth, that I pondered while listening to a story about two exceptional young adults. Maybe these young people do not live in this community, but they could just as easily be local youth.  The story goes that each person had been offered an opportunity to represent their community at an exclusive youth symposium after receiving the highest interview score in their school.  The symposium was important as it would offer necessary connections for their academic future as well as provide additional educational opportunities. The trip was available at no cost to the families and would only be offered one time to each youth.  The first person to respond turned the trip down because of a commitment to another event at the same time in a different location. The participant truly hated to miss the opportunity but felt that they had given their word to attend another conference and was not willing to back out in order to attend the exclusive symposium. The second person readily accepted and was looking forward to meeting new people while representing their community at the prestigious program. However, on the appointed day of the conference, the youth never arrived and did not even give notice of a change of plans. No phone call, no email, just a no-show. After further inquiry it appeared that the second youth chose a trip to the beach with friends rather than following through with his original plans to attend the conference.  Since there was no cost to the family, the youth decided there was nothing to lose and the beach trip would be a lot more fun. Obviously, the youth did not consider the expenditures to the sponsor or the fact that another student was kept from attending because of his low personal standards.Apparently, the youth’s word was not worth much at all.

Harry Truman is to have said: “Work Hard, do your best, keep your word, never get too big for your britches, trust in God, have no fear, and never forget a friend.”  Following these simple words could well apply to the Brothers of Mepkin Abbey, to you, to me, and to the young person in question. President Truman’s quote might also insure no one could question what your word is worth.

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