Sunday, October 31, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Fall break was last week, and it was more or less the greatest week of my life. A previous post on this blog recalls that last year at this time, I spent fall break reading Augustine's Confessions and nurturing the festering pneumonia that would soon ravage my body and general well-being as a human. That, as I now think about it, was not the greatest week of my life.
Instead, that prize goes to this year's fall break, in which I divided my time between a beach house and a Trappist monastery. First of all, who knew that "going to the beach" actually means going to the ocean? No one knows that. I'm sure glad I know that now. One of my roommates had to go to Myrtle Beach, SC, and a random person let us stay in her beach house. Did any of you know that beach houses are amazing? No one knows that. I'm sure glad I know that now. I spent my days reading about Dorothy Day's life of voluntary poverty and my nights feasting at the banquet of vacation luxury. Mmmm....conviction.
Highlights of this trip include: the ocean.
I then drove to Mepkin Abbey in Monck's Corner, SC. http://www.mepkinabbey.org/
I was able to stay for several days, observing monastic life and trying my own hand at monastic life. It was a transformative experience in many ways, some of which I recognize, and some of which I'll come to recognize in time.
If you feel as though you know me well, then I probably don't want to talk to you about the experience. If you don't know me well, then I'd love to tell you everything.
The following is a piece that I wrote in class today about my time at the monastery; I hope it gives you the slightest glimpse of my experience:
I did not know that monks eat candy bars. They do, though. They eat candy bars and they wear zip-up fleece jackets when it is cold and they spread Smart Balance butter on bagels toasted in their Cuisinart toaster.
Monks eat squash, too--observing a vegetarian diet and fixing their eyes upon a stick figure Jesus while spooning down stringy, brown-sugared squash. Several hours after the squash-Jesus-combo for lunch that day, I happened upon Father Joe in the gift shop. "I need something more than that squash," he mumbled as he passed by me and selected a Crunch bar. I was delighted. A monk eating a candy bar is like Jesus watching a reality show on Hulu. "Monks like chocolate, too," I marveled. "Maybe a monk is like a real human being."
Of course, a monk is a holy man. A monk's vocation is contemplation--contemplating the things of God and communing with the being who is God. It is such abstract language that we lapse into, though, when speaking of communion with God. It is language at which you must persistently prod if you hope to break through and see God on the couch with his people.
Monks, I think, do not commune abstractly and perfectly with God. They are, in fact, real human beings who eat butter and get cold. They are real human beings who sing several times each day: "Lord, make haste to help me." They are real human beings, who before receiving the body and blood of their Lord, recite together: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive but only say the word, and I will be healed."
The monks do not spend their days standing before the throne of God, picking at stains on their robes and reminding one another to behave. Rather, the monks spend their days sitting on the basement couch with God. Spike TV is on in the background, and they are telling God that just two minutes ago they had wished not to be a people of God. They had faltered--wandered aloud if all this genuflecting and chanting and reading beautiful words to a fake God was really just a cover for the fact that they didn't want a desk job.
The monks are on the couch with God, as though they are friends watching a ball game. One still owns a timeshare on the beach. Another read the whole Harry Potter series while he could have been reading Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers From Prison. And one is recently divorced and misses the weekends that were free for hunting. One is a father. One is a gardener. One is a man who gets tired.
They continually show up before God, though. Even when they are tired or angry or arrogant or existential, they are God's people. They are God's people, and so they will come before God in praise and obedience, and so they will come before God with great joy. Sometimes, of course, they will trudge in their coming. Sometimes, they will come with the day's work on their minds. Sometimes they will not come in joy at all. This will not matter, though. They are God's people, and so before God they will come. Whether it be 3 AM or whether it be sleeting or whether it be while their mother is in town, they will come. They will come because they know God not to be an abstract being who may be placated with formulas, but rather because they know God as the one who took his God-hands and fashioned each one of them into existence.
They are God's people who are not worthy to receive, and for that reason, they will come.