This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

Whisphers through the Trees: The Abbey of Gethsemani

For a voice is gently calling
as the wind whisphers through the trees...

Gatehouse to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky

What a relief it was to see the white washed stone walls of the Abbey framed by rolling green grass and a clear blue sky. We chugged down the long drive to the gatehouse lined by tall leafy trees, clambered out of the bus and knocked on the door. Brother Bruno greeted us and soon other monks came flowing out of the cloister to embrace us. It felt really good to be back. We set up quickly and then had barely enough time for a shower before we changed into our costumes, tuned and played the first half of our concert. What I didn’t know at the time was how much that particular visit would affect us and how deeply affected we would be by the quiet, peaceful monks of Gethsemani.

That evening as we performed, the monks sat listening quietly, surrounding us with a deep, abiding peace and prayers of support. Often, when the first staccato harp notes rang out accompanied by Shipen’s strange, twanging sitar, people reacted with discomfort. Not at Gethsemani. As we played, I felt as if we were riding along on waves of compassion and love. A deep well of peace filled the room and I felt that I could finally relax and enjoy going whereever the music took us. Brother Camillus (as he had before) taped the concert.

The next day we gave a concert for the sisters at the Nazareth Mother House, then returned to Gethsemani for dinner and Compline. Brother Lavrans, a monk and artist in residence there, invited us over to his art studio, which was set near the woods by a small pond. Walking over at dusk, a soft orange light filled the windows against the evening sky and inside we could see beautifully painted icons lit by candlelight.

Looking into Lavrans Art Studio

Lavrans showed us two icons he had just finished of St. Luke and one of the Angel Gabriel that were painted using traditional egg yoke and tempera in the 13th century style. He then brought out a gessoed board with an icon drawing of Christ and told us he wanted to complete it and give it to the Trees as a gift. We were staggered by this! How wonderful. Lavrans lit a candle and we prayed with him for the Lord’s blessing and intercession in finishing it.

Icon of Jesus by Lavrans

That night, I wrote a poem about Lavrans, based on that beautiful icon.
The Artist by “Shishonee” Katheryn Krupa

On the dull flat board
he stretched the cloth
tearing and gripping it,
till his knuckles were shiny and white.
Patiently, he pulled the material
tightly over the edges.
With all his strength
He hurled onto the canvas
the flesh and bones,
the long dark struggle,
the gnawing ache of failure,
the silent, weary vigil
washed with years of suffering
he threw the blood, the heart beat
the very breath of himself
into the world.
With the gentlest care,
He swept his brush along the page
painting the very essence of himself.
Pressing his warm face into the canvas
He stepped into the skin of a man
knowing every part of it.
The gnawing ache of birth,
the rough scrape of wood against skin,
the pain of nails piercing flesh
ripping open the veil between
heaven and earth,
He gave utterly and completely
of Himself.
God in man.
Giving, dying, pouring out all
into the creation
of an icon.

Passion (Palm) Sunday. Over three short days we experienced a sense of renewal and connection with the brothers that was deep and abiding. There was a special connection that ran deep between us.

Our final concert that afternoon was appropriately called The Passion (without the Resurrection section) : Daughters of Jerusalem, There is Such a Love, Rothko, into the Crucifixion section, Agnes Dei through the end. The monks were so reverent, supportive and quiet it was a privilege again to perform for them. Afterwards, Brother Mark served us lunch on the bus and then we packed up, reluctantly, to leave. It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Brothers Mark, Chrysonginus, Bruno, Paul, Baldwin, Brian, Zachary, Sean, Conrad, Jeremiah, Camillus, Clement, Frederick, Lavrans, and Fathers Andrew, Joseph and Timothy. We drove off heading for a long retreat at Shipen’s parent’s cottage in West Branch, Michigan. It would be our last stop before the City.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get very far. In Fern Valley in Louisville, Kentucky we heard a loud thumping noise coming from the engine that grew louder and louder until we limped into a gas station. A mechanic informed us that a rod in the engine had blown and we also had a broken or cracked crankshaft. He told us it would take at least 3 to 4 days of work and at least $700 to repair it! David Lynch our ever-faithful treasurer carefully counted out our money and determined all we had left was $500, period. Well praise the Lord! With nowhere else to turn, we called Gethsemani for help but the monks had retired for the night leaving a message on the answering machine to call back at 8:00 a.m. What are you trying to say to us Lord?

It was April 16 and the weather was warm but drizzly leaving us feeling perplexed and our spirits dampened by this strange sense of humor our new bus guardian Raphael seemed to have. We made phone calls to Gethsemani again and St. Gregory’s seeking help and prayers for our predicament as the bus was being repaired. Meanwhile, the latest word on the bus was the engine would have to be sent to a machine shop to be rebuilt. We all prayed about this as David Lynch recounted our money and Shipen continued working on his book The Seven Story Bus. I caught up on journal/diary entries and each of us used the time for various chores.

Later on we called Larry R. at the nearby Baptist Seminary, which was just ten minutes away (is that why you stopped us Lord?) and he came zooming over in his new Volvo. He walked back onto the bus, which he had walked off only eight months ago, smiling and happy to see us. He caught us up on everything that had happened since we’d been apart. Larry was excited with all of the changes in us as we were in him, though Shipen said he sensed a certain “stoicism” in Larry’s adjustments at the seminary. Larry expressed his desires to be in a community again explaining that there was a certain loneliness in his solitary life. I found it healing to be able to look back together at what had happened to separate us and to reexamine why it happened and then let go of the bitterness. After drinks, dinner, long conversations and then Compline and a prayer service, we retired to bed, parked at the repair shop.

The morning came too early with the sounds of trucks, cars, mechanics hammering and horns blaring. After breakfast, Larry returned saying he still had a lot of unanswered questions. We continued talking with him and each other, and then began rehearsing new songs, which was a little strange in the unusual environment. We called Gethsemani and Brother Mark and Father Baldwin offered to drive over to pick us up and bring us back to Gethsemani while the bus was being repaired. Relieved, we finished rehearsing, then cooked a picnic dinner to take along with us. They arrived around 6:00 p.m., and we packed up our instruments along with a few belongings and all of us, including Larry, and headed back to the monastery. Sarah and I ate a late dinner in the women’s section at the guesthouse, and then went to bed.

This change of plans had us all shaken up a bit and we were disheartened to be losing our long awaited retreat in West Branch. Ariel, Larry, Shipen and Steven all headed out for a walk in the woods in the morning, others visited the cows, some of us practiced, and others took naps. The monks seemed pleased to see us again and said they hoped we could stay for Easter. After lunch, we decided on a scripture for Lavrans’ icon to go in the open Bible painted in Jesus’ hands so that he could finish it. We each spent a leisurely afternoon on our own. Then right after dinner, Father Baldwin and Brother Mark escorted us all down to Brother Lavrans’ hermitage for a blessing of the icon. Oh joy! It seemed that Lavrans felt compelled to work on it steadily ever since we left saying he just felt a “sense of urgency” to work on it right away. Then in the morning, when he looked out and saw us pile out of a van, he suddenly realized why.

Outside view of the art studio of Lavrans
We gathered reverently in the stillness of the studio. The room was lit with slender candles and on the stone altar was an earthenware vase of freshly cut tulips. One gold candle gently lit up the Lord’s face in the icon. Father Baldwin quietly entered dressed in his black robe with a decorative stole draped around his shoulders. He stood in the flickering candlelight and read from the Bible. Then he offered a prayer of blessing. Quietly, he took a censor full of incense and bowing before the icon, he blessed the holy image. We knelt around the stone altar, praying and singing together. Then Lavrans gently lifted the icon and took it around to each person in the room and each of us kissed the lips of Jesus. In the peace that had grown up like a tree between us, we embraced and then silently exchanged the kiss of peace.

Thursday April 19th was our last day at Gethsemani. It was a beautiful warm, sunny spring day so I went for a hike while others went swimming in the lake or visited the garden and statues of Gethsemani. Throughout the day, I remembered our Lord’s praying in the garden and his meal with the disciples during their last supper together. Alone with my thoughts I wondered what that must have been like for Jesus? Had he known what was coming?

Later, brothers Paul and Lavrans joined Sarah and I up at the guesthouse for dinner while the men ate with the monks. As usual, Lavrans was gracious and kind, and I was delighted to be breaking bread together with both he and Paul again.

Shishonee and Brother Lavrans in the Guesthouse

After dinner, Father Baldwin and Brother Mark joined us in Lavrans’ studio where we once again gathered around the icon and sang a chant as Lavrans ceremoniously slipped a cover over it. Then Ariel carried the icon out and we followed behind him singing Glory be to Jesus in a solemn procession, with Lavrans swinging a censor full of incense. When we reached the cars to take us back to the bus, Lavrans gave a final blessing and then we all embraced and said goodbye. As we drove off, I turned back to see Lavrans, looking very much like an icon himself, tall and regal with his long beard, his eyes dancing and his face beaming, waving the censor until he almost seemed to be dancing in a drifting cloud of smoke.

It was raining lightly as Father Baldwin and Brother Mark drove us back to the gas station. There were more delays as the mechanics finished final repairs on the bus so we sat together inside the bus. There was a certain timeless quality about our conversation as the rain played a delicate staccato melody on the metal roof accompanied by cars rushing by on the highway outside. Somehow inside we were in our own haven of peace as we talked with Larry and our two dear friends.

We finally said goodbye to “Larry of Louisville” and the Gethsemani monks, then headed off at 11:00 at night and drove straight through from Louisville to West Branch, Michigan.