Today I received a new shipment of my favorite bread from Abbey of the Genesee. I’ve been eating Monks Bread since I was a boy in the 1950’s. We used to be able to purchase the bread in local grocery stores but that’s not the case anymore. The Trappist Monks who make the bread believe that’s due to market forces brought on by an increasing number of people who are gluten sensitive.
With the onset of the pandemic I am no longer able to visit the abbey and purchase the bread in person. Thanks to the Monk’s online bread store I can choose from a variety of selections and have it shipped to my door. Today I received six loaves of bread and four boxes of biscotti. My favorite breads are sunflower and multi-grain. I absolutely love their dark chocolate biscotti too.
Buying the bread helps support the monastery and the brothers. It keeps me connected with them physically and spiritually. Everyday I have two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with Monks bread. Whenever I have lunch the unique aroma of this special bread fills the room and I’m connected in thought and prayer to this special community of men who pray without ceasing. Last year the Monks opened a new bread store at the abbey. Now with the pandemic neither the store nor the abbey are open to the public but thanks to the internet I can still be connected to the abbey and their wonderful bread which feeds my soul and spirit.
Almost everyday for much of my life I’ve had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my lunch. It’s a taste I acquired in elementary school at St. Pius X in Delevan, New York. Back then the bread was white and the jelly was almost always grape. Later in life while working at Franklinville Central School my coworkers marvelled at the lack of diversity in my lunch choices. While they enjoyed ham and cheese, egg salad and other choices I had PB&J. The choice of bread varied and the brand varied from time to time but my favorite brand since childhood has remained Monks Bread. Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, New York is about an hour’s drive from where i live and when we are no longer social distancing it will be one of my first visits. The Abbey was established in 1951 and one of the early Trappist brothers was a former US Navy baker. He began making bread for the community and in time they decided to marked the bread to stores in the area. As a boy I remember they had three flavors. White, wheat and cinnamon raisin.
My first visit to the monastery was in January 1979 and I’ve been returning ever since. My last visit was March 9 of this year. Today I ordered three loaves of Monks bread for my lunch meals. My favorite is sunflower but I also like multigrain and wheat. The monks make a number of other flavors and in recent years have begun to make biscotti in a number of different flavors. My favorite biscotti is dark chocolate. Though I cannot go there whenever I open the package of bread for lunch the aroma reminds me of the monastery and its prayerful presence. If you’ve never been there I encourage you to visit when its okay to visit people again. You won’t be disappointed.
The talk of Coronavirus and an ever active imagination finally got to me today and I decided to run away for awhile. After a quick trip to the dentist this morning I grabbed a coffee at The Coffee Shop and pointed my car northward. I followed a familiar route to a place I go for peace and quiet. I got to Abbey of the Genesee about an hour later and made my way to the chapel. Much to my chagrin there were workman who had covered the altar and the vicinity in plastic. My favorite place to sit and pray was not very peaceful this morning. Nonetheless, I stayed a bit and then walked to the adjoining bread store. I got my wife some wonderful bar soap made by a religious community of women, got a gluten free cookie and some dark chocolate biscotti. I did manage to find a quiet part of the abbey to sit and chill.
The sun shone bright outside and eventually I made my way to nearby Letchworth State Park on my return journey home. I stopped in the park to walk along the Genesee River and to witness the power of the water thundering over the Middle and Upper Fals. It was a balmy 63 degrees today. That’s quite uncommon for March 9 in Western New York. I took some pictures and shared them on Instagram, visited with a friend and then made my way home. I hear the voice of my creator in the silence of the trees, the river and in the quiet of this monastery. The Genesee River gorge is my cathedral. Its quiet beauty is ageless. I thought of the indigenous people who walked this land hundreds and thousands of years before the white man came.
I stopped by Abbey of the Genesee earlier today and this was one of the paintings displayed in the foyer. It’s probably not completely accurate as Jesus and those he hung out with looked less like Europeans than the images here. Nonetheless,I was struck by the simple relationship they were enjoying sharing a meal together. It’s really too bad that religion can’t be more about simple relationships and less about authoritarian rule keeping. One invites while the other repels. I’ve often thought how powerful it would have been to hang out with the historical Jesus. He must have been a remarkably charismatic individual. It’s too bad that his message of peaceful relationships has been overshadowed by systems that seek more to control than to embrace and accept.
I come here often. It’s one of my favorite places to sit in silence. There is peace in this place and I long for it as the psalmist did. I love the bread store too and I’ll be stopping there before driving back home. There is a peace here that surpasses all understanding.
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. – Psalm 63
It’s Labor Day and tomorrow we begin another school year. I’m excited and frightened too. 30 new 7th Grade students some of whom I know some of whom I don’t. I have some ideas And direction this year but some still unsettled. Therefore I have come here to listen with the ear of my heart to what I might hear in the silence of this sacred place. I covet your prayers too as I really am uncertain of just what and how to teach technology to this group of youngsters. I want to have a project learning approach but I’ve never done that per se before. One of my favorite Rumi quotes is, “sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment.” I have purchased bewilderment and it frightens me.
Yesterday, I spent part of the day driving to Abbey of the Geneseee. It’s one of my favorite haunts and I hadn’t been there in at least a month. Since today was a holiday there were a few more people than are normally there on a Monday. The store was busy and now the monks have a cashier who is there to take the money or in my case credit card. I picked up four Monks Brownies for friends. That all came after I spent perhaps 45 minutes in the chapel sitting quietly in the presence of the Holy Spirit. I love to come to that chapel and just sit and sometimes to nap a bit as I did today. I don’t go there to nap, but when I’m rested as I am in the presence of God it just comes naturally. I love the quiet and the mystical presence of the Eucharist in that spot. I know that God is everywhere but he seems more present there for some reason and I enjoy visiting him there. I usually sit as I did today just quietly listening for the still small voice. I think it was Herman Melville who said, “silence is the only voice of God.” I wholeheartedly agree.
This afternoon and following a nap alongside the road near Cuba, New York I decided to drive north into the Genesee River Valley and towards Abbey of the Genesee. I spent quiet time in the sanctuary. I know God is everywhere but there is something special about this place. Maybe it’s the stillness, but there are other places just as still. Whatever it is I am drawn to this place. I love the smell of the fresh Monks Bread which is sold here and it’s just a lovely place to sit, read and reflect.
This picture taken with my Blackberry camera really captured the beauty outside the monastery reading room. You can see the distant clouds, the statue of Our Lady of the Genesee and the blue sky. After I left the abbey I drove to nearby Geneseo, New York for a Strawberry Coolata at the Dunkin’ Donut store there.
Today began as I made my way to Mt. Irenaeus for Mass this morning. When I arrived there were a couple dozen young men there for a St. Bonaventure University men’s overnight. Men’s overnight’s are a part of the Friars outreach to the St. Bonaventure University Campus. It was great to see so many young men gathered and sharing in the chapel. Usually women outnumber men at Mass even at the Mountain which is home to five Franciscan Friars, but today was one of those exceptions when there were only a smattering of women and nearly three dozen men and many of them were University freshmen.
A handful of young ladies from nearby Houghton College arrived soon after the liturgy had started and I could tell that they were amazed and perhaps amused by the presence of all these Bonaventure men. The theme of the overnight was “Wildmen, Warriors and Kings.” It was great to see how these young guys connected with each other and with the Friars. Following Mass and a walk down to House of Peace for brunch I found myself soaking up the presence of Brother Sun whom we haven’t seen much of lately and enjoying the warmth he provided as the mercury moved above freezing. I decided to take a leisurely drive along Route 86 through the towns of Hornell, Arkport, and Dansville on my way to Abbey of the Genesee.
I arrived at the Abbey in time for Vespers. On Sunday’s vespers always includes a time of Eucharistic Adoration and I love the combination of the two. Two Sundays in a row I’ve been able to part take in adoration. Last Sunday at prior to our Secular Franciscan meeting and today at Abbey of the Genesee. After Vespers I stayed on in the chapel to soak up the silence. On leaving the chapel I stopped in the store to pick up a couple of Monks Brownies which are one of my favorite snacks and on my way to the car I took this photo of the Abbey Chapel silhouetted against the setting sun. I thought often today of the words of Thomas Merton as he described solitude.
The more I am in it, the more I love it. One day it will possess me entirely and no man will ever see me again. ~Thomas Merton
That is how Thomas Merton describes his ultimate call to solitude. I just got through watching PBS’s Thomas Merton special. I’m glad I found it. I missed much of the program, but what I did see was interesting and informative. I drove to Abbey of the Genesee again today. I completed some of my Christmas shopping there. I like to give fruitcake and brownies to my co-workers and some of my business clients. It’s my way of saying thank you at this time of year. I picked up four fruitcakes, 3 loaves of chocolate chip cake, and five Monks brownies.
Thirty years ago on my first visit to the Abbey I wanted to join the community and was crestfallen when Abbot John Eudes Bamberger suggested that there were other ways to live a spiritual life. I wanted to run to the monastery at a time when life outside it seemed to much to bear. Today I’m glad the abbot prevailed. In the intervening years the abbey has come to live as much in my heart as in my head and the fruit of contemplation lives with me everyday. My own life is filled with solitude. I’m not quite a monk, but I live a life increasingly filled with calls to quietness.