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Silence, bourbon and the Ten Commandments

by davesandel on July 23rd, 2021

Friday, July 23, 2021                                       (today’s lectionary)

Silence, bourbon and the Ten Commandments

When we visited Thomas Merton’s hermitage and home for 27 years at the Abbey of Gethsemani in 2013, I struck off on my own in the middle of our week of solitude and silence. The Maker’s Mark distillery beckoned, with its history in the woods and spring water near Loretto, Kentucky as the first distillery in Kentucky (1805). Mark it down.

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

But Loretto beckoned me too. This was prime territory in what came to be known as the Kentucky Holy Land, where the Sisters of Loretto were founded in 1812 and ended up running a huge hospital in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood, along with ministries in El Paso and other border towns. When I joined a Transforming Community in 2011, one of my first visits was to Ruth Haley Barton’s office in the heart of Wheaton, Illinois’ Sisters of Loretto community.

Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

My friend Sr. Barb graduated from St. Catharine College near Springfield, not far from Loretto, and she told me St. Rose Priory Church west of Springfield prided itself on the most garish statuary and paintings she had ever seen. Catholic churches are known, at least to me, for their garish statuary and paintings, so that was saying something. But I didn’t think they were so bad. I went to Mass there early in the morning, and then toured the campus, made a little famous by Wendell Berry’s imprimatur.

Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. And honor thy father and thy mother.

Driving through Springfield I couldn’t miss Lincoln monuments in this old Kentucky home. Abe’s parents were married here. Kentucky has its own claim on the Lincoln history books, along with Indiana and, of course, Illinois. In my Illinois home town a watermelon sculpture marks the spot where Lincoln christened our town, warning his listeners, “Nothing named Lincoln ever amounted to much.”

Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Thou shalt not steal.

In due time Abe Lincoln became a lawyer, perhaps partly because his father was swindled out of various land titles while his family watched helplessly, and moved ever northward.

Thou shalt NOT bear false witness against thy neighbor. And thou shalt not covet.

The Kentucky Holy Land is so named for its early Catholic heritage, including Fr. Flaget, who traveled by flatboat to Bardstown to serve the first inland US diocese, which stretched from the Great Lakes to the Deep South, from the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi River, eventually to be divided 40 times into dioceses including Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Chicago and Detroit.

But in these latter days of 21st century protest and Protestantism, Springfield, Kentucky has its fair share of Bible-belt-believers. Catching Exodus 20 up to date, they painted a mural of the Ten Commandments on the back wall of a laundromat. With Moses on the left and Barack on the right, this was, oh yes, a true highlight of the religious sights of Hardin County, a wonderful compliment to the statuary in St. Rose Priory Church. What better way to head out for Maker’s Mark, as my tour’s appointment time drew near.

The law of the Lord is perfect and refreshes the soul.

At the final stop of our tour, aptly named The Tasting, three Baptist ladies who didn’t drink gave me their samples, of which we each had three. After my nine samples, I headed back to the monastery, and to the simple meal provided for us of Gethsemani cheese and sundry meats and breads.

The decrees of the Lord are trustworthy and give wisdom to the simple.

What a fine day it was, deep in the Catholic hill country of Kentucky. St. Rose looks out over the blue grass lands and blesses them. We can rest in her embrace, knowing how close God is, how good God is, how blessed we are, from century to century and from day to day.

Lord, you have the words of everlasting life. Listen, said Jesus, the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.

(Exodus 20, Psalm 19, Luke 8, Matthew 13)

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