On Easter morning, I woke up early and, for some reason, kept thinking about the Benedictine monastery where I go for retreat. I looked through the photos I had taken there, and put one up on my blog. Always, I feel peaceful when I think about the monastery, and my monk friends who gather for prayer seven times each day, seven days each week, all year around.
This morning I found out that one of the monks, Brother Clarence, died in his sleep on Easter morning. Clarence is both a pseudonym and a nickname – my friends and I called him Clarence because he looked and talked just exactly like guardian angel character in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life. This death was not expected. When I was at the monastery in March, he was in good health, giving a sermon at Mass and talking to guests in the gift shop. He was 75 years old, the same age as my father. And even though he looked like the bumbling Clarence character, he was one of the intellectual and well-travelled monks. When he gave sermons, he would often talk about his travels in the Middle East and ancient philosophies he studied.
Today I am thinking of the handful of monks who live in community at the monastery, and what it must mean to them to lose someone they’ve known for so many years. I am thinking of my friend Brother Beekeeper, who entered the monastery the fall of 1960. He and Brother Clarence lived together in that small community all of my life. The community of monks are getting pretty elderly, and this is of course not the first death in recent years. I was at the monastery one fall weekend a few years ago when Brother Eyepatch died. I can remember that Brother Beekeeper knocked on the door of the guest cottage I was staying at, and we went for a long hike together.
When I put photos of the monastery grounds on my blog, I usually post a photo of the barn, or the sheep fields, or the candles in the crypt. Those are the things that I am connected to spiritually – the hills, the farm, the muddy fields, the flames. But Brother Clarence was a priest, and the chapel was the center of his life. He entered the monastery in 1951 and he prayed in this chapel seven times a day for 55 years.
The chapel at Mount Saviour is beautifully simple: it’s built in the shape of an octogon, with stone floors, a simple stone altar, and four doorways that face in the four directions. Sunlight comes in through the rows of windows high up, and a rope hangs down from the bell. Wooden pews circle around the stone altar. Brother Clarence was buried yesterday in the little cemetery just outside the chapel. Here is a photo of that chapel, the place where he worshipped, and the sky above it.