I love monks. They wear strange clothes, are predisposed to long stretches of silence and don’t seem bothered by people who stare. They are clearly on to something altogether different.
My first conversation with a monk was the summer before I entered middle school. Not yet a middle schooler myself my parents decided to send me off to a summer camp in Florida with the same rowdy boys whose fist like ways would greet me in the fall. Here at the camp I seemed to be invading their space; it was terrifying. So I wandered around toward the edges of the camp and it was there I found my first monk. He was on loan to the camp from someplace in Canada.
It was his face I noticed first, not his worn black cassock cinched at the waist by a cord of some sort but his face. It was open, gracious. He turned toward me and smiled.
“Hello.” And then he went back to scraping the hull of a row boat.
I sat on a bench next to him and studied the lake. He scraped and scraped and blew periodically, running his hand along the smoothed surface.
“My name is Brother John.”
I introduced myself and we talked and this went on all summer long. He wanted to know my story, books I liked, music I listened to. I had never meet an adult who wondered what I was thinking about. All summer long, as much as I could, I made my way down to the lake. He asked me these big generous questions that opened me up and made me feel good inside. At the end of the camp I discovered from another counselor that he had nominated me for some kind of award. Best Camper or something like that. He believed in me. It was strange. I was about as prominent as a leaf on a tree. He noticed me; I loved him for that.
That experience touched something solid within me. Like the warm knock of finding a stud in a wall, something structural. Something permanent. That small but important moment drifted off bobbing in the sea like a bottled promise, swallowed by all the days to come, lost forever. But not really. I can remember the feeling of being with Brother John and there have been other Monks along the way, like Thelonius Monk, people of grace and exquisite strangeness and openness who helped me find my way and the memories of those encounters continue to guide me.
I am grateful. If being a monk means finding what’s real, growing deeply, becoming thoroughly yourself and luxuriating in the beauty of the world and enjoying a big whopping friendship with creativity then sign me up, I want to be a monk. I’m all in. Go monk!
I have similar stories from various stages throughout my life, first of priests that were friends of our family who would visit, have dinner with us at our home, and then offer mass on our dining room table. Later, the Jesuits touched me deeply as I came to know some of them in my time at Marquette University in Milwaukee. I can remember spending some time up at a place called Holy Hill near MKE–a chance encounter with a monk dressed in a brown cloak with a simple rope tied at his waist… His sense of peace and serenity was alarming and disarming to me. Talking to him was like talking to Jesus as he inquired about my life, my journey, my priorities. It was a conversation without politics, games, or needing any kind of translation. He was trying to get to know my heart and did.
It’s comforting to know there are people all over the world leading the monastic life who simply pray for the rest of us in the quiet of their cloister, locked away from the noise that we are so immersed in. Like you, I find my best praying is done with an underlayment of jazz quietly playing, or in the oneness I feel when riding the motorcycle, finding that perfect synergy of rpms, heartbeat, and conversation with Jesus as I enjoy just spending time with the Lord on the twisties.
Thanks for your post–I love it! Can there be two more people with such similar heartspace that live in the same city but never see each other? I wonder… pm-r