Thursday, May 20, 2010

Back story to the Picture

On a beautiful spring day in 2009, I along with three other friends; Nate, Sarah, and Carissa, went climbing in Arkansas. We had decided to head to a place called Haw Creek. Haw Creek is this amazing little crag. It features two different climbing areas there. In between the two areas, there is a waterfall just to the west of one of them, La Playa. At Haw Creek, there is a great mix of sport, trad, and mixed climbing.

I first experienced Haw Creek with my friends Carissa and Emily on President’s day. We did mostly moderate climbs since Emily was new to climbing and I had just injured my finger a few weeks back. It was a great sunny day. Then we checked out Haw Creek, the actual creek, before we left. It is a beautiful little brook in which you can camp right next to. I ended up getting a great picture of the two ladies before we left.

A month or so later, I went back with Nate, Sarah, and Carissa. We started climbing at the Valinor area. After doing a few climbs, we decided to bushwhack along the bluff line to the other area instead of walking back to the road then up to the other wall. This took longer than expected since there was no trail and I kept slipping on leaves. Finally, we saw a glimpse of hope; taller walls, and a waterfall.

When we were approaching the waterfall area, you could see some of the climbs nearby in a cave. This cave formation was very tall. It had been formed from a block dislodging from the bluff line. This block was the size of a two story house. To the left of the massive cave was a boulder near the edge of the pool formed by the waterfall. After sitting there enjoying the surroundings, Nate and I approached the boulder. I told Nate that he should climb the arĂȘte while I shoot pictures. He agreed.

The boulder had a lot of moss growing on it. For all we knew, no one else had ever tried to climb it. I found a way to get on top of the boulder while Nate started to clean holds and find a way to get up it. At first, I started shooting down the arĂȘte. Doing this, I was not able to get the waterfall in the picture and there was too much direct light. I then moved to the side of the boulder. It was here that I managed to take some sweet shots. I could get Nate’s face, arms and sometimes legs in the shot along with the waterfall and pool. To top it off, the lighting with this angle was amazing. As Nate started climbing, I started shooting away. As soon as I took a few of the pictures I knew they had turned out great. Never before had I been so excited to see what they looked like.

After I knew I had gotten some good shots, we headed off to get some more climbing in. The day was pretty much amazing other than the fact that I injured myself twice after we left the waterfall. The first one was just pure stupidity. I was about to belay Carissa on top-rope. I decided that I would get the rope really tight before she started climbing. I then pull in slack, then hop up while pulling in more slack then fall back. But I had forgotten one thing, we are using dynamic ropes and they stretch. With the rope stretch, I landed on a sharp rock that hit my right butt bone. And yes, butt bone is the technical term. The second injury happened while I was climbing. I was top-roping a 5.10 route that had some technical, balance moves in it. On one of the moves, I was starting to do a hand foot match when I slipped. My thumbnail caught the hold my right hand was on and it split. It wasn’t anything major, but pulling part of your fingernail back hurts and it never stops bleeding. Over all the day was great.

When we got back to the apartment that night, I uploaded the pictures and was amazed at what I saw. After doing a little bit of editing, I was happy with what I had. Naturally, I uploaded some of the photos up on Facebook and did nothing more with them.

Fast forward to the beginning of this past April, I am sitting in the Solid Rock Climbers for Christ office after finishing my work for the day and I get this crazy idea to upload one of the photos to Climbing magazines photo gallery on their website. By doing this, I enter a photo of the month contest. I had thought about doing this on multiple occasions since I first loaded the picture to my computer, but never did anything. A week later, I got an email stating that I had won. And that’s where the previous post enters in. Here are some other pictures from that day.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Climbing Photo of the Month

For a few years now, I have been reading Climbing Magazine. It has become my favorite climbing publication out on the market today. In every issue they have a photo of the month. Since I have started taking climbing pictures, I have wanted to submit a photo or two of mine to enter. Finally, my first week in Oregon, I posted a photo that I had taken the year before. A week later, I received an email stating that I had won. I was quite surprised. I thought that my photo was good, but that good? Once the feelings of being surprised wore off, I contacted Nate, the guy in the photo, to see if he minded if it were printed. He was alright with it, so I gave the people at Climbing the go ahead to print it.

Fast forward a few weeks and I got the newest issue of Climbing in the mail. As soon as I got it, I opened up to the section where it is always placed. Right there was my photo with my name. It was a very happy moment for me. Here is the picture of the photo in the magazine.

Here is the cover of the magazine, in case you wanted to pick it up at your local gear shop.

Here is the original photo.
If you want a background story to this photo, just ask and I will post it up in the next couple of days. Until then, enjoy the climbing eye candy.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Last Day Climbing at Smith Rock

Today was my last day to climb at Smith Rock, unless I go there in the morning to send a project before I take off. You will hear more about that later though. I was blessed to climb with Calvin today. Those who don't know who Calvin is, he is the director of Solid Rock and I have been living at his house for the past month. We set out for the park late this morning with a plan. We were going to get on the uber-classic four pitch route Zebra-Zion. This is actually a combination of two different routes. It combines some amazing climbing, possibly the best I have been on at Smith.

We did a different first pitch mostly because the original first pitch of Zebra traverses the entire wall and we didn't want to keep other people from climbing. Instead we climbed a route called Gumby (5.10b) to get to the hanging belay below the second pitch. Calvin led the first pitch. This way I could lead the amazing pitches (2 and 4) since we were going to swap leads. The first pitch climbs up the face with a thin, tricky crux past five bolts. It ends at a hanging belay right where a right facing dihedral starts. This is the second pitch.

The second pitch is a stelar dihedral that slits the upper wall. It has a crux roof which has some amazing moves. Then you get finger locks, liebacks, stems, smears and a few hand jams for 70-80 feet until you hit a ledge with a two bolt belay. Even though the crux is low on the route, that doesn't mean it gets really easy. After the crux you are on kind of bad feet for the rest of the route. Normally you would wear a stiffer shoe since you will be on your feet a lot on a route like this. Well, I wore my La Sportiva Vipers. They are a slip-on climbing shoe. Slip-ons are normally a soft shoe that is not stiff at all. They are great for crack climbing and climbing overhanging jug hauls, not for climbing dihedrals or climbing at Smith Rock in general. Because of this, my feet became very tired. Near the top I was worried about falling because of my feet and legs giving out on me. Luckily they didn't and I made it to the belay without any problems. I then proceeded to belay Calvin up to the ledge. While belaying him, I decided to try and get some pictures of the dihedral. It didn't work since I was tethered to the anchor and was too far to the left to see the main dihedral. I did get a picture of Calvin finishing the pitch though.

Calvin then had the next lead. The third pitch is a tricky one. It isn't the hardest pitch to lead, but has a run-out traverse in the middle of it, leading to a crack on a slab. This pitch goes at 5.8. Calvin takes off up the dihedral that continues from the second pitch. Other than the airy climbing on knobs during the traverse, this pitch climbs easily and quickly.
Here is Calvin beginning the third pitch.

I made it up to the belay and scoped out the last pitch. This is what I have been waiting for for two years. When I came out to central Oregon the last time, I never got on this route. I wanted to just to climb this last pitch of Zion. From the belay you go up and left for almost half the pitch on a flake. Then the flake turns a little and you climb straight up. You then hit a ledge, traverse left then easy climbing takes you to the top. This sounds like any random 5.9 flake pitch, but trust me, it isn't. This pitch is also slightly overhanging a few hundred feet off the ground. The exposure is awe inspiring, as is the climbing. You start off on slightly slopey holds, that begin to turn into a small crack. As you go, the crack get a little bigger, more positive, and more vertical. It offers great protection for the entire pitch. Near the end, you are pulling on jugs on the flake and smiling the biggest smile that you have ever smiled. When Calvin asked me about that pitch after he arrived and the belay, all I was able to say was, "WOW!" This one single pitch has to be the best in the park. I have never climbed anything so beautiful and fun at Smith Rock before. Even now, thinking back at it, I fail at finding words that can equal its beauty. All I can say, is that you need to climb it the first chance you have. Do not wait like I did.
Me climbing the fourth pitch of Zion. It was amazing.

I will let the pictures speak for themselves. I just had such a great time on this pitch. I made it to the top then brought Calvin up and marvled at the amazing climbing that we just did. After that, I walk to the edge and look over and notice that this is a great view of the top of the second, the third, and fourth pitches. Normally I would draw lines, arrows, and circles on the picture so you can get a good idea of what was happening. Well this time you will have to figure it out.

If you follow me here I will walk you though the last few pitches starting with the fourth. You see that flake/crack there in the middle, that is the fourth pitch. It is slightly overhanging and amazing. It starts just under the overhang on the lower left. Follow a thin seam down from there. That is the last bit of the third pitch. It actually starts further right in the picture in that dihedral. Then below that there is a large ledge. That is the belay at the top of the second pitch. If this pictures doesn't make you want to come climb this route, quit climbing if you already do and if you don't climb, don't start.

After we got to the top, we hiked down back to our packs. There we ate lunch and decided what to do next. The day before, I had gotten on an 11a crack called Wartley's revenge. I worked out the moves yesterday and figured I would be able to get this thing the next time I get on it. Calvin convinced me to give it a go. We hike over there. Its sunny, its hot, and I am starting to question if I want to do this climb. We get to the base though, and I get inspired again. After sitting there for a minute, I begin to rack up to do the climb. I grab my stoppers, my brown tricam, and the camming units I will need to protect the climb. I then sit down, try to relax and slow my breathing down. Then I am ready. I quickly put my shoes on and tie into the rope before I lose motivation. Then I take off up the climb.
The beginning finger crack of Wartley's Revenge (5.11a).

The lower portion of the climb is a tricky finger crack in a dihedral. I slowly make my way up it placing the tricam and a stopper. Finally I make it to a ledge where a roof causes the crack to go to the right. It is here at this ledge that I milk a wide stemming rest. After regaining some strength there, I take off to the right under this roof. The climbing isn't hard, but the feet are nothing to rave about. I get to the end of the traverse, put in a .5 camalot and begin to move up on bigger holds. You get some holds that you can stick you feet on to the rock really well. Then you hit an undercling. I put a piece in the crack here and prepare myself for getting into the pumpy climbing.
After a few strenuous moves, you gain this upper dihedral. You then lieback this to pull up to the finishing moves. After placing a .75 camalot in the dihedral, I reach up to a jug, place a #3 Camalot in the wide crack near the top of the climb. The crux is coming up. I try to stay calm. I grap a thin pinch to the left of the cam, move my feet up, then reach into the crack above the cam to a great hold in the side of the crack. I then move my feet up, reach out left to a crimp that. The final move is up next. I position my feet to reach up to it. Then as soon as I am about to make the move, my feet slip. I keep from falling by holding on, but only for a second. I let go and take a fall. My redpoint is over with. I climb back up to the cam and begin doing the moves over again. This time, I start to make the last move. The last move on this route is a very committing throw up to a huge ledge with a bit of a lip on it. I position myself again, pull hard on the left crimp, and throw my right hand at the ledge. I touch it, but failed to grab on before falling. I fall past the cam, ending at the bottom of the dihedral. This was such a fun fall. I have not take a good lead fall on trad gear since this past fall when trying to redpoint Arkansas Reality (5.11c) down at Sam's Throne. After this I was tired. I climb back up to the #3 cam and rest. After feeling like I have regained enough strength, I go up to make the moves once again. I grab the left crimp, move my feet up and throw for the hold. I latch on and mantle up on to the ledge. I am a little disappointed that this didn't happen the first time, but realize that it is only a climb. It will be here waiting for me to give it another attempt my next time I come to central Oregon.

I couldn't have asked for a better day of climbing with Calvin. After I come down, Calvin follows it and cleans the gear off the route. We then pack up and head out of the park. I have a huge smile on my face from the day. The trip out here has been an awesome experience. Not only has the climbing been great, but God has shown me a lot during my time here. I also got the website up and running, which was the goal in the first place. I also managed to have some amazing conversations with Christians and non-Christians while here. The conversations with the non-Christians while climbing, has given me more of a purpose. If that leads to any kind of job, career or calling; I don't know yet. I can only hope that it does. Until then, I will continue to climb so that I can bring Jesus to the climbers that do not already know Him. I wanted to say thanks to all of you who read this, pray for me, and supported me in this adventure. I am sure there will be many more in the coming months. So please keep reading and I hope you enjoy it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sky Ridge

This past Friday, I had the chance to climb a classic Smith Rock climb, Sky Ridge (5.8 R) with my buddy Ryan. This route was bolted on Rappel 20 years before anyone had ever heard of "sport" climbing. We did a variation to the route, which according to Alan Watts guide book was the way the route was originally done. This variation makes the route 5.10c. The second pitch was originally aided. Going back to the history of the route, it was originally done by Dave Jensen and George Cummings in 1968. Back then, they didn't use the big bolts we use today. Instead, they had 1/4 inch bolts that they used. Some of them are still on the route. Luckily, they are right next to a much larger bolt that is meant for climbing purposes. Can anyone say sketchy? Well, you will be thinking that I am even more crazy here in a minute.

This morning, Ryan and I are hiking down the hill and we don't have a plan yet. Then Ryan mentions doing Sky Ridge. I was all for it. I knew it wasn't that hard and I am always wanting to do some multi-pitch climbing. At about this time, Ryan realized that he forgot his harness back at the car. He ran back up the hill to his car, leaving me looking at the guide book to gather information on the climb. The route normally traveled at 5.8, actually traverses a crack to the left after the first pitch. This would mean taking up gear. We didn't want to haul up gear for that, so we did the Sky Dive variation which was bolted, but harder. We then hiked up to Asterisk pass. From there, we would have to scramble up to the belay, then climb up a beautiful arete.
Asterisk Pass is the area where the yellow line starts. The yellow line represents the scramble up to the start of the climb. From this picture it doesn't look that bad. The one thing that you cannot see is that on the other side, it drops off quite a bit. As soon and we turned to head toward the belay ledge, Ryan started to feel the exposure. The comments he made were quite funny. I believe one may have involved needing a change of pants. That comment was made by him multiple times while on the climb. After the scramble I decided that I would take the first pitch. 5.8 with a runout didn't seem too bad. I grab the draws from Ryan, tie into the rope, then look up at the climb. I don't see any bolts. In the picture, we are on the first red circle. I am looking at this beautiful arete and not seeing a single bolt that is able to be used. If you look closely, there is a blue dot on the climb about 15 feet up from the belay. That blue dot represents a bolt, with out a hanger. Therefore, I cannot clip a quickdraw to it. If I had brought my stoppers, I would have been able to do a little trick where you can slide the nut down the cable, put the loop of the cable over the bolt, then slide the nut up against the bolt. This allows the bolt to be used, but as I mentioned before, we left the trad gear at our packs which are now a good thirty feet below us. We were not going to go down to get the gear.

So at this point, I realize that I am going to have to man up and just start climbing without knowing when I am going to get a bolt to protect a fall. Now some more information will make this a little sketchier than it already is. The ledge is only a few feet wide. On the side that this picture was taken has some rock that shields you from a fall to the east. On the west side though, it is open. If I were to fall before getting a bolt to clip, I would more than likely fall to the west side of the belay ledge, pulling my belayer off, unless I hit the ground before the rope caught.

I start climbing. I go up to where the hanger-less bolt is and stop to look around. I still don't see any bolts. I know they are there, but not sure where. I pause here for quite a while. I am about 20 feet up the climb now. I am sitting there deciding whether or not to keep going. I could climb back down to the belay and make Ryan lead it. Or we could just not do the climb. Instead, I keep climbing. I made sure to take it slowly. Smith Rock is known for having rock break on you while climbing, read a previous blog about me taking a fall. As I climb, I am checking every hold to make sure it will hold and also that I won't slip off of it. After what seemed forever, I finally see some bolts! It is actually a rappel anchor, but it will work just fine. The only problem is that it is still at least fifteen feet further. I tell Ryan the exciting news. He cheers. Then I tell him they are still a little ways up. He doesn't like that.

At this point, I am trying to remember the topo map in the guide book and where it had the bolts. I remember seeing the one without the hanger in there, but I could have sworn there was another bolt in there somewhere. After looking at it once we got back down, there is supposed to be another bolt in there. It is represented by the white dot. The question mark merely shows that I have no clue as to where that bolt was. I never saw it. I wish I would have. I don't even know if it exists. Anyways, I finally made it to the first bolt. The bolts are marked as a green dot. I am now where there are two bolts right next to each other, about half way up the climb. Finally I can relax and not worry about a ground fall. This is very comforting. Then I look up and there are three more bolts right there. This made me happy, I don't have to run this section out. The reason there are so many bolts right here, is because it is the crux. It wasn't too hard, but it made me think for a minute as to where to go. Finally I started my way up, and got through the crux section. Back to good hold and bolts that are spaced apart. During this next runout section, is the best part of the climb. You start to head back to the arete. All the climbing previous to this, has mostly taken place on the west side of the arete, hence the dashed red line. On the arete there was a foot wide hold/ledge. When you get to it, you are on the arete viewing the drop off on both sides of it now. You can see the entire front side of Smith and most of the back side from this spot. And the exposure is amazing. You are also ten feet or more above your last bolt. Then you climb up the arete to the belay. Luckily, the belay is situated in a crack/ block area. This makes it less exposed, and you can sit down while belaying up your partner.

After anchoring in, I belayed up Ryan. About this time, I started to get a little chilly. The weather report showed it was gonna be warm, so I wore shorts that day. Also, I was only in a t-shirt. Like the dummy I am, I left my jackets at my pack. When we were there last, I was hot from the hike up and failed to realize that I will be more exposed to wind while on the climb. Just like so many other climbs I have done, I started to get cold. Finally, Ryan shows up at the belay. He was super psyched about that pitch. One thing you need to know about Ryan is that he is in a permanent state of being psyched. This guy just loves to do stuff. During that week, he had already, biked, skied, climbed the day before, and done some running. This guy seems to never run out of energy, even when he says he is worn out. I don't believe that is possible with him.

We are now sitting where the second red circle is. Ryan isn't cold sitting there because he remembered to bring a jacket and a beanie. I almost made him give the beanie to me. Ryan now had the next pitch to lead. It is probably 5.7 until you get to the over hanging block where most people traverse to the left in the crack. Here, if you continue to go straight up, it goes up to 10c. I figured that Ryan could do this no problem. I have seen him go up 5.12, so 10c shouldn't be a problem. The only problem, was that this 10c crux is about 150 feet off the ground, possibly more, with wicked exposure. He got up to the crux, clipped the bolt, looked around, then down climbed to a rest to examine the crux some more without getting pumped. He did this quite a few times. I lost count after four.

You must realize, that I am still sitting at the belay, in my shorts and t-shirt freezing. By this point I have goose bumps and am shivering. I just want Ryan to finish the pitch so that I can start climbing, just to warm up. Then he starts to go up to the crux again. He is looking at it. Then I hear, "Take!"
I am thinking at this point, "is he serious? He is having problems with a 10c. I am about to tell him to just pull on the draw and get though this part."
Then he tells me that he found a hold. I am so excited. This means that he might get going now. And he did the crux move then made it to the top. Finally. It is my turn to start climbing. I grab the small pack with our shoes and a little bit of water in it and start climbing. I then get to that spot. It is a lot more overhung than I realized. I find the holds and make my way through the crux and get to the top. We made it, with out dying. Now, we just have to get down.

After three rappels back down the route. It is here, that I lean that the first bolt I clipped was close to 90 feet off the ground on the west side. What was I thinking? Actually, I wasn't. If I had started to think too much about what might happen, then I would have freaked out and I might still be stuck on that arete. It was at times like that, that I am glad I was able to keep a level head, while still knowing that if I were to fall, it would be serious.

After getting back to the ground, we put our shoes on, and I headed back to my pack to get my jacket. All I wanted was to warm up. Once we got some water and warmed up, we received a call from Calvin. He was heading down to climb. We met up with him then got on some amazing climbs, until we had to get going. It was a great day of climbing with some amazing guys. The only thing I regret about the day, was that I forgot to take my camera up Sky Ridge. If I had, there would be more pictures. Sorry.

And Mom, don't get freaked out. I am safe.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Thomas Merton's "The Seven Storey Mountain"

I first picked up The Seven Storey Mountain at a book store and looked at it. I had never heard of Thomas Merton before, but something drew me to his work. I did not get anything written by him that day, but every time I went to Barnes and Noble, I would look at some of his books and consider buying them. What was it that made this monk so appealing to me? Was it the simple yet stylish clothing he got to wear? Was it the fact that he led a very simply life in a monastery? Or was it just the fact that God had give this man some amazing insights in which to share with the world?

It turns out that it was a bit of all of those things. Eventually, I bought the book along with another book that he had written on the Desert Fathers called Wisdom of the Desert. I thought that book was very fitting since I bought them both the night before I flew to live in the desert right outside of Las Vegas for a week. I read Wisdom of the Desert very quickly and had much wisdom imparted on me from that book. The Seven Storey Mountain was very different from the other book. It was much longer. The Wisdom of the Desert was only seventy-five pages long and mostly wisdom sayings and stories from the Desert Fathers. “The Seven Storey Mountain” on the other hand, was over 460 pages. It was also an autobiography. I am not sure if I had ever read an autobiography, besides reading parts of St. Augustine’s Confessions. The insights of looking onto ones past from a differing point of view than it had been previously are ones that not only make you thank God for the graces He has bestowed upon you, but causes you to want to share those changes with others. This is what I feel has happened in this book.

One of the first things that I noticed with this book was the detail and writing style of Merton. He brought me into every place that he had been. He had grown up and had visited many places in Europe and the United States. Every time he introduced a new place, he described it with such detail that you felt you were viewing the story from his own eyes. It wasn’t just the material things that he was able to describe either. He described the attitudes, the morals, and even the spirituality of the places he went. He was able to make you feel the presence of God in the places He was describing. I would say the one thing that I wasn’t a fan of was how he seemed to deify Mary, the mother of Jesus. Since this was written by a Catholic monk, I can understand. Besides that, some of his insights were outstanding. Sometimes, it was a friend of his that would say something that caused me to stop and reflect on what was said. One of the most memorable was after Thomas had been converted and was walking down the street with his friend Lax. It starts off with Lax asking Thomas, “What do you want to be, anyway?” The rest of the conversation went as follows:

I could not say, “I want to be Thomas Merton the well-known writer of all those book reviews in the back pages of the Times Book Review,” or “Thomas Merton the assistant instructor of Freshman-English at the New Life Social Institute for Progress and Culture,” so I put the thing on the spiritual plane, where I knew it belonged and said:

“I don’t know; I guess what I want is to be a good Catholic.”

“What do you mean, you want to be a good Catholic?”

The explanation I gave was lame enough, and expressed my confusion of betrayed how little I had really thought about it at all.

Lax did not accept.

“What you should say” – he told me – “what you should day is that you want to be a saint.”

A saint! The thought struck me as a little weird. I said:

“How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” said Lax, simply.

“I can’t be a saint,” I said, “I can’t be a saint.” And my mind darkened with a confusion of realities and unrealities: the knowledge of my own sins, and the false humility which makes men say that they cannot do the things that they must do, cannot reach the level that they must reach: the cowardice that says: “I am satisfied to save my soul, to keep out of mortal sin,” but which means, by those words: “I do not want to give up my sins and my attachments.”

But Lax said: “No. All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don’t you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”

When I read this statement, it made me pause and wonder if I had ever wanted to be a saint. I am not talking about having sainthood put upon me by some church or group of people, but what I am talking about is living as God desires His saints to live. Just as Lax said, we just have to want to do so. God has given us the ability to live as saints; we just have to have the desire to use those abilities. The greatest thing that God has given us in this effort is that of His grace. It is only by His grace that we can even get close to becoming what He created us to be, saints.

Going along with the topic of saints, earlier in the chapter, Merton is talking about the impending war in 1939. He then writes this paragraph:

By this time, I should have acquired enough sense to realize that the cause of wars is sin. If I had accepted the gift of sanctity that had been put in my hands when I stood by the font in November 1938, what might have happened in the world? People have no idea what one saint can do: for sanctity is stronger that the whole of hell. The saints are full of Christ in plentitude of His Kingly and Divine power: and they are conscious of it, and they give themselves to Him, that He may exercise His power through their smallest and seemingly most insignificant acts, for the salvation of the world.

So many times, we hear of one person making a huge difference in the world, by doing small things. We then put the label of saint on them and hold them to a high standard than we do to ourselves. All Christians are able to change the world. Yet we continue to think that we are not worthy enough to even do so. It is insights such as this that are littered throughout the last half of the book that makes it such a great read. It is more than just a story about a guy who becomes a Trappist monk. It is also that Trappist monk pondering what He could have done, if he had not held on to things in his life after his conversion.

One of the most influential people, to me, that Thomas comes across is a lady who goes by the name of Baroness. She emigrated from Russia after the Communists began to persecute the Catholic Church in their country. She ended up starting a ministry in Harlem called the Friendship House. She lived among the poor, along with a few other ladies. They started a library, recreation rooms, and a clothing room. This lady was making a difference in a community. She had no formal education in ministry. She had no money. All she knew is that she was called by God to do something and that’s what she did. He met her while he was teaching at St. Bonaventure in upper New York. She had come to speak to the students and faculty. She made quite an impression on Thomas as well. So much so, that before he went into the monastery, he spent some time in Harlem with her.

As I have already mentioned, Thomas Merton became a Trappist monk. Soon after his baptism, he felt led to a vocation in a monastic order. He had applied to become a Franciscan at first, but he was denied. For a long period of time after that, he struggled with knowing what his vocation was. He greatly desired to go into an order but because of a few people, felt that he was not supposed to. He tried to live out the life of a monk even though he was not formally one. This lasted until he finally went back to Gethsemane in Kentucky. There was a Trappist monastery there which he has visited on a retreat a few years earlier. This time, he was there to stay. When he arrived at the gate to the monastery, the gate keeper said something that struck me. The same man had opened the gate the first time Thomas had come to the monastery and had at that time asked if he was going to stay. This time, he asked,

“This time have you come to stay?”

“Yes brother, if you’ll pray for me,” I said.

Brother nodded, and raised his hand to close the window. “That’s what I have been doing,” he said, “praying for you.”

This got me thinking, who all is praying for me? Could there be a person out there, which I have only met once in my life that is praying for me, for my well-being, for my vocation? I can only hope that I would be so blessed.

Throughout the last part of the book, Thomas gives a great insight into the contemplative life that monks of the Cistercian order live. They are men full of great joy, joy that only comes from having a close relationship with God. He also makes mention of how important it is to live a life of contemplation.

This book has caused me to look at my own life and examine it closely. I hope that everyone who reads this would be able to read this book at some point. The spiritual insights will make you want to become a better Christian and desire to get to know God all the more. It has done that with me.