Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Monastic Life

Monty Python and the Holy Grail Monks
There was a time, years ago, that I fascinated with the monastic life--the life of a monk.  At the start of my seminary career I stumbled upon Thomas Merton's autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, and fell in love with all things monastic--or at least all things Merton.  Merton, thanks to the Catholic Church's censors, painted what I thought was quite a romantic picture of what it was like to be a monk.  It caught my attention and for quite some time I immersed myself into reading about the monastic life and a lot of Merton's other books on contemplative prayer and what means to be a monk.  I even scheduled myself a retreat at the monastery where Merton lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown, Kentucky.  It was a pretty drab and dower sort of place--cold and damp the whole time I was there--quiet.  The monastic bug held my attention for a couple years while in seminary--I longed for the monastic life.  I wanted a life like Thomas Merton . . .

 Thomas Merton

. . . but, it was not meant to be.  First of all, I was married.  Married monks are not the standard and I do not think that the wife would want to be a nun.  Besides, there is no fraternizing allowed, though most biographers of Merton mention a relationship he had had while at Gethsemani--celibacy is the rule of thumb in monasticism.  Secondly, I wasn't Catholic--no part of me was Catholic.  I had Catholic friends growing up, but I was never a Catholic--everything but!  I owned no rosary.  Didn't know a "Hail, Mary" from a "Hell, Mary" or even what a genuflect was.  Being a Catholic was sort of a minor requirement to be a monk--and probably a good Catholic at that!  I wasn't even a good Christian (Ah, for the grace of God I go!).  And, thirdly, I did not want to work that hard.  After getting beyond the romantic side of monasticism and dealing with the reality of it all, the monastic life is much too hard.  There are the crazy hours set aside for daily prayer that last all day--the manual labor that is expected--the constant studying that is expected--the bland and meatless meals--and the silence.  It was like they expected one to live one's life like a monk!  I don't mind the praying, a little labor, or the silence, but I like my meat with my meals!  Nope, being a monk was not meant to be.

Instead I have spent a lifetime dabbling in bits and pieces of the monastic life.  I have not gone to the extreme, but I have found the parts that I incorporate into my life--the contemplative prayer, the attempt to live one's life as if it is a prayer to God, and to stop and listen to God and God's voice in my daily life.  This way I still get to have a wife and eat meat!  

This past week I have been living the monastic life.  The wife and number two son have been off to church camp since Sunday and return home tomorrow night.  Since then I have been home alone with the dogs fending for myself.  Now some have told me that I am a "bachelor" this week, but it is closer to being a monk than a bachelor.  A bachelor's life connotes the single life with no cares and responsibilities except to one's self--carefree and frivolous--or as the rock group KISS used to say it is a life of "Rock all night and party every day"! You know, like the Festrunk Brothers from the old Saturday Night Live skits with Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd--two wild and crazy guys!

 The Festrunk Brothers

There was nothing like that in my life this past week--it was more along the monastic side than anything else.  I was up each day at the break of dawn (4:30AM) to tend to the dogs and prepare myself for the commute to the big city for work by 6:00AM.  I worked my job until quitting time, commuted home, and tended the dogs.  Once I got the dogs squared away--fed and watered, I prepared my supper.  Yes, I fixed myself supper each night and it wasn't just hot dogs--even had vegetables!  One night it was grilled pork, the next it was beef fried rice, the next was steak on the grill, spaghetti another, and then today brats (okay, so they are German hot dogs, excuse me).  After each meal I cleaned up the dishes and then headed outside to do the chores of watering flowers and lawn.  This was a crucial exercise as the temperatures have been in the 90s all week and the wife's flowers symbolize a great financial investment that I wasn't going to allow to burn up in the heat!  Thus far the investment and flowers have held up quite nicely!  Once the yard work was done it was usually 9:00PM and that gave me about thirty minutes to sit down, relax, and read the paper before having to start the reparations for the next day.  It was a vicious never-ending circle!  It was a far cry from the carefree craziness of a bachelor's life--outside of having no robe or cowl to wear, my week resemble that of the monk than a Festrunk brother.

There are approximately 36 hours before the wife and number two son get back from church camp--36 hours to go and then I can loudly proclaim, "I survived!"  I know that there will be those who will be amazed that I survived--that I did not starve to death, that all my clothes matched, that the house is clean, the bed was made every day, the grass is still green, the flowers are not wilting and are actually blooming, and the dogs are still alive.  But, hey!  I still have 36 hours to screw it up and the good Lord knows I don't need 36 hours to do that.  Either way, I am looking forward to ending this monastic experiment and getting back to the somewhat normal existence I knew prior to this adventure.  This week has killed whatever residual inkling for the monastic life I might still be harboring.  What I discovered is that it was not so much the monastic life I wanted, but I wanted to be Thomas Merton . . . Brother Louie.

Oh well, I am who I am and each day I am discovering that that is good enough for me.  It is too difficult to be anything else!  Pies lesu domine, Dona eis requiem!  (Bonk!)

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