Every year, thousands of people travel, as I did recently, to the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, a monastery set in the rolling hills of Kentucky, to immerse themselves in a world wholly at odds with modern life. The visitors are not all Christians, nor even religiously inclined, but many come and stay for days hoping to adopt, if only for a brief stretch of time, the contemplative way of life that has attracted monks to monasteries for thousands of years—a life defined by silence, constraint, and meditation.

The monks at Gethsemani belong to the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, a monastic community known for the rigor of its contemplative way of life. Trappists, as they are called, remain silent, speaking only when necessary. They fast regularly and are constantly engaged in prayer and meditation, whether in church where they pray the seven offices of the Liturgy of...


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