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  • TRUE STORIES: Where the great-hearted gather

  • This being Holy Week I got to thinking about being on retreat at Assumption Abbey just before Easter in 2005; specifically, Holy Thursday.

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  • This being Holy Week I got to thinking about being on retreat at Assumption Abbey just before Easter in 2005; specifically, Holy Thursday.
    Mass that day was quite an experience. Abbot Mark Scott gave a homily on the sacrament of the last supper and the significance of the washing of the apostles' feet. Then, with the assistance of Father Cyprian, he bathed the feet of all the monks as we sang a hymn of praise and redemption. This was followed by the celebration of the Mass and the distribution of Holy Communion.
    Midway through the service, a thunderstorm rolled in. Not a big blow but a deep rumbler that washed the monastery and surrounding hills with a burst of heavy rain before moving off to the east.
    After Mass, as is the tradition in the Catholic faith on Holy Thursday, the Blessed Sacrament was transferred by holy processional from the chapel altar to a repository located in the cloister.
    The holy processional was all the more spiritual because of its missteps. Abbot Mark knelt down to start it before Father Paul had a chance to share the final reading. This sent the monks scurrying to get the processional vestment, incense, and carved processional crucifix, only to be told — when the abbot was informed of his mistake — they would have to put them back until the reading was completed.
    When the processional did finally commence, Boniface came out holding the crucifix backwards … and the postulant candle bearers got separated. The abbot did his best to communicate by nods and exaggerated eye gestures — to the monks, postulates, and faithful in the pews — when and where to join in, but to no avail.
    It was quite a holy happening, made all the more healing and poignant by the child-like sweetness of the stops and starts, our a capella singing that wandered on and off key, and the fact that no one appeared to be the least bit concerned about its organizational lapses, instead focusing on Jesus and the substance of the ancient ritual.
    Afterward, I went to browse in the abbey gift shop where I found a collection of poems by Rumi, a 13th century Islamic poet and mystic from Afghanistan.
    It was not surprising to find a work by Rumi at the monastery as he was revered and respected by those of all communities and all faiths. “We are like a flute,” Rumi once said, “which with a single note is tuned to two hundred religions.” At his funeral, his coffin was followed by Christians, Jews, Greeks, Arabs and Turks, the representatives of each community walking in front holding their holy books and reading aloud.
    Truth be told, Muslims and Christians have much in common, not only because both Christianity and Islam originated in the Middle East and trace their ancestry back to Abraham, but also because Jesus Christ is a holy figure in Islam. This is rarely known to the Western public and is often overlooked by the mass media.
    Page 2 of 2 - Looking through the Rumi collection at the monastery that Holy Thursday, I discovered several poems he'd written about Christ. One of them, which is said to be carved in stone over the door of a Christian church in Iran, spoke directly to the character of Assumption Abbey and something all Christians can aspire to: “Where Jesus lives, the great-hearted gather. We are a door that's never locked. If you are suffering any kind of pain, stay near this door. Open it.”
    J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and prevention and wellness coordinator at Pittsburg State University. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Counseling Services in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 231-0499 or jtknoll@swbell.net

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