From Abby to Abe

Day 77

 August 6

 Danville,  KY to Springfield, IL

422 miles

Total trip miles to date: 15,836

What a morning! We got off early with sunshine. The heat was already a handful at 8:30. This was likely to be the longest drive of the whole trip. With stops, it would take 12 hours, but I made it to the goal destination for the day, Springfield, IL.

The drive up through Northern Kentucky was beautiful. Two lanes, little traffic, and lots of Kentucky bluegrass.  My first stop was to end up being one of the highlights of the trip. I’ve long been a fan of Thomas Merton’s writings, the famous Trappist Monk who lived his last 27 years at the Abby of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY (near Bardstown). He was not afraid of tackling social issues in his writings, and even supporting the great religions of the East. A bit of a rebel, I have always identified with him. In his last 4 years, much of his contemplative writing was done not in the Abby, but in the hermitage, the cabin built for him some 300m behind the Abby. I’ve been to the Abby before, but not to the hermitage, as it is off limits to most visitors.  I ran into Brother Luke, a monk at the Abby since 1973. We talked a while and he took me to Merton’s grave, and took a picture of me.

With Brother Luke, a new friend


He then asked to see the Spirit and took me through the Abby to the parking lot. I asked him about the Hermitage, and the possibility of seeing it.  He thought for a while and asked another monk if it was in use.  Apparently, it was not. Brother Luke then said we should take my vehicle to the Hermitage. Really??? I couldn’t have been more excited.   We drove around the Abby and back into the woods.  The grounds are over 3000 acres and I expected it be farther way from the Abby, but it was only about 300m back, but well-hidden within the trees. I had read and seen pictures of  this special place, built for a special man  doing some classic writings here. Brother Luke took more pictures of me and I took one of the Spirit sitting in front of the Hermitage. I could not have been more moved by the experience.

Two Classics: The Spirit and The Hermitage.


When I first read Merton’s own autobiography, a beautifully written story of his own life journey, I was moved by his authentic take on spirituality and how he increasingly, and provocatively, addressed social issues in a direct way.   A bit of a rebel, for sure.

The drive from Trappist, KY to Springfield, Il was long, hot, and filled with thoughts about Merton’s writings. A stop at a Starbucks led to a nice conversation with a nice couple from Princeton, IL, Kaye and Gregg Pearson. They bought my Frappuccino and I got their address, promising to send them a copy of The Quest.

I’ll leave you with this. One of my goals on this trip is to find out about authentic people and their life journeys. I’ve been searching for quality in those journeys, and hopefully writing with quality about them. In No man is an Island (1955), Merton said this about quality Vs quantity and our real and false selves:

Our being is not enriched merely by activity and experience as such. Everything depends on the quality of our acts and our experiences. A multitude of badly performed actions and experiences, only half lived, exhausts and depletes our being. By doing things badly, we make ourselves less real. This growing unreality cannot help but make us unhappy and fill us with a sense of guilt. But the purity of our conscience has a natural proportion with the depth of our being and the quality of our acts: and when our activity is habitually disordered, our malformed conscience can think of nothing better to tell us than to multiply the quantity of our acts, without perfecting their quality.

Tomorrow:  It is all about Abraham Lincoln. I’ll be visiting the Lincoln museum, the Lincoln library, his Springfield home, and his grave. A special day to learn more about my favorite President. A fitting way to tie up my special journey, by learning more about Lincoln’s own life journey.

Return to Grinnell will be 1:00pm on Wednesday at Central Park. It will be good to be home,  but honestly,  I will miss the road, too.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Another encounter with a cross! Funny how things come full circle. I am leaving for the UK in a bit but this entry resonated with me…so when I get back from Malvern, you may find a book or two coming your way in exchange for the one that you sent to me. Save travels and happy trails!

  2. Wow what a special day for you. So glad you got to see the Hermitage. I need to start reading!! Godspeed.

  3. My family and I spotted your car at a Panera in Springfield Monday night on our way back to Illinois from our own road trip (much shorter — eight days in Colorado and New Mexico for all of us, plus three more just before that in Indiana for my youngest son and I). I Googled the car name as we finished our drive after dinner and was glad I did. Best of luck with that last day on the road, and with the book (I’ll have to pick up a copy when it’s out — I also would be happy to lend a hand with the editing; I’m a writer and editor).

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