June 25, 2008

With or without the robes

Beyond the shadow

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.

Dancing for the blog

23 comments:

Lorianne said...

Ha! It sounds like your mom knows you well.

In my Zen school, we wear robes over our clothes when we meditate. This means, of course, we take our robes off when meditation is over, a process I always insist on referring to as "disrobing." No matter how innocently I say it ("Shall we disrobe now?"), I always manage to inspire at least one raised eyebrow or lascivious chuckle. ;-)

liz said...

It sounds like that monastary is filled with people of good humor and good sense.

Jessica said...

Hah! This is great...just great.

Mona Buonanotte said...

A clothed monk makes more sense than a naked one anyway....

maribou said...

I really enjoyed the dancing monk picture! Thanks for including it.

Sally said...

it is a great photo!!!

Teri said...

Every time you go to the monastery and come back with stories and pictures, I want to become a monk.

Except for the part where I don't want to be a man, celibate, or Roman Catholic. But I want robes and hours to pray and to live in community full of families and single people and whoever wants to be there. And also to be a pastor and to sing silly songs and dance in the fields.

Is there an order like that? Let me know if you find one...your pictures and stories always make me want it more. thanks for that.

TC said...

I love that photo! It makes me happy. Why do you think it's not a 'good' photo?

Cathy said...

You are a hoot. And that dancing monk reminds me of the video I have on my blog of the dancing man all over the world.

Songbird said...

Hahaha! I love this!

comebacknikki said...

Hahaha! I love that your mom brought up that book - every time you mention you're going to the monastery, I think of it!

BlackenedBoy said...

I have the same problem, with the exception that my family and friends don't know I have a blog and so just think that I'm yelling, "Turn around! Look away!" for no reason whatsoever.

Your mother's reaction is great, by the way.

kayni said...

I love the dancing monk. I haven't visited your blog for a while, and I was just browsing through the photos you've taken - they're beautiful.

I'll visit more often from now on.

kim wells said...

I really love the dancing monk. It's perfect. I agree with others that it is NOT a bad picture, at all. :)

Sandie said...

Great story, and I know that Sue Monk Kidd book ;)

Love both photos!

S. said...

First Phantom, now Brother Beekeeper...bringing us all these clothed photos of your companions...could it be...are you losing your touch? jo(e), this blog needs some nudity, pronto! You have a reputation at stake.

Sarah Sometimes said...

I LOVE the dancing monk photo! And it pairs oddly well with the rainbow in the post right above it...especially with that Wizard of Oz subtext you invoke with your title of the rainbow picture....And, like your other readers, I long to go to the monastery....

OneTiredEma said...

I hated that Sue Monk Kidd book. And not because of the naked monk :-)

Lovely post.

Just wondering if the monks supply CSAs or restaurants with their crops--there is one in NYC through the College of Mt. St. Vincent that is farmed by the Sisters of whichever order it is that oversees the college.

jo(e) said...

S: That sounds like a challenge. When are you and I meeting up?

jo(e) said...

Sarah: Hey, you *could* come with me to the monastery sometime. Seriously.

Onetiredema: These monks raise sheep mostly, and they're bred for wool. They sell apples and cider and honey and beeswax candles to guests and to the local community.

S. said...

jo(e), I'm neither hard to find nor inhibited....

concretegodmother said...

i'm responding late, but this post and photo brought me so much delight and hilarity! thanks! i needed that! i love that your mother referenced the book -- you know the one i mean! :-)

Lori said...

This is a GREAT photograph! How interesting to be close to the monastery and how charming this gentleman must be.