June 25, 2008
With or without the robes
When I'm at the monastery, I take more photos of the barn than the chapel. The chapel is pretty cool, I admit, and I like the simplicity of the design. It's an octagon, with high windows that let in natural light, a floor made from stones from the monastery land, a plain stone altar in the center, and a circle of wooden benches. A long rope attached to one of the beams goes up to the bell in the roof that rings a few minutes before prayer. The four doors of the chapel face in the four directions: north, east, south, and west. A long stone staircase leads to the crypt below the chapel, where a fourteenth century stone statue of a young Mary holding the baby Jesus is lit by the glow of votive candles.
But the barn, too, is a sacred place, where hay is stored in tall heaps every winter, keeping the sheep alive when the ground is frozen, and where the ewes are brought in the spring to give birth. Each Benedictine monastery is self-sufficient, and the monks at this particular monastery are farmers, pledged to live and work this piece of land for the rest of their lives. In the morning and evening services, the monks wear dark robes, but during the middle of the day, they are likely to come to prayer straight from the garden or tractor, wearing boots and workpants.Benedictines pledge to the house, not the order, which means they stay in one place, the rhythms of their prayer life running parallel to the rhythms of the seasons and other creatures of the landscape.
Brother Beekeeper teased me when he saw me taking yet another photo of the monastery barn one evening before compline. "How many photos do you have of that barn?" he asked.
I turned the camera in his direction and snapped a few photos of him. "I took a bunch of photos of sheep, " I told him. "My blog readers love pictures of sheep."
"I'm going to have to read your blog one of these days."
"Hey, want me to take a photo of you for the blog?"
"You just took a photo of me."
"Oh, but I don't show faces on my blog. So I have to take a photo from the back."
Brother Beekeeper laughed and turned to do some kind of crazy dance. "How about a dancing monk?"
I snapped the photo fast: the bell was ringing for compline. It was time to put my camera away.
I had forgotten this conversation with Beekeeper until last night, when my mother and I were talking about my weekend at the monastery.
"Brother Beekeeper posed for a picture for my blog," I said. "But it's not a great photo so I'm probably not going to put it on."
My mother looked at me in surprise, "One of the monks posed naked for you?"
When I looked properly shocked, she explained, "Oh, I just read that Sue Monk Kidd book ... you know the one I mean."
So now I feel obligated to post the photo just to save Beekeeper's reputation. He did pose for the blog. But yes, he kept his robes on.
Posted by jo(e)