Tag Archives: Becket

THE LOVE OF BROTHERS

by Becket

In previous posts, I wrote about monastic chant, how it’s different from traditional music in both rhythm and melody. It’s almost mystical in modality and polyrhythm – yet also in its simplicity. In chant there is no point and counterpoint; there are no harmonies. There is one melody and all the monastic brothers must chant it in unison.

Chant could be a powerful uniting factor within the brotherhood – if the brothers allowed it to be so.

English: Choir stalls in the church Nice to se...

Choir Stalls

I remember, once, I got into a terrible argument with Brother Simon. We were in the bell tower right before prayer. We had been ringing the bells, summoning our other brother monks to come to the church to pray. It was our evening prayer service then, Vespers, at 5:30pm. I had said something terrible to him and he yelled back at me. I deserved it, and worse, although I didn’t think so at the time. Yet the bells kept on ringing.

As their clangor resounded across the acres of forest and solitude and silence that encompassed the monastery, my brother monks were lining up in the cloister. They were standing in two rows. Then they walked from the abbey to the church along the sidewalk. Together they entered through a side door, together they walked along the side of the church, together they came around to the back and dipped their fingers in the baptismal font, and together they blessed themselves. The only sound was the shuffling of their shoes that echoed as though in a cave. And all the while, Brother Simon and I were stewing in the bell tower because of our argument. But when it was time, we silenced the bells and we joined our brothers. Together we entered the monastic choir stalls, together we opened our books, and together we chanted our invocation to prayer.

Yes we stood side by side. I was angry then that Brother Simon was beside me. Perhaps he felt the same. Our place in choir was out of our hands. Brother Simon had entered the monastery a few weeks ahead of me, so he was technically my elder brother. By monastic rules, I had no other choice: I had to stand beside him in choir. “Why must I stand beside someone I loathe instead of love?” I asked myself. “Why couldn’t I be placed beside Brother Cyril?” Brother Cyril was also Brother Simon’s junior by a two weeks but he was my elder by a week, right in between Brother Simon and me. But that would not happen because the monastic choir director, Father Adam, set Brother Cyril on the other side of the church, in Choir One, while setting Brother Simon and me in Choir Two. I thought that being beside Brother Cyril would have been better. I didn’t realize that that would have been an easy solution to a hard problem.

And the problem wasn’t my argument with my brother. Rather it was the mountain of my pride – my need to be right.

So Brother Simon and I were stuck together, even though we had gotten into a terrible fight and did not like one another right then. Even our presence seemed to irritate one another. I remember I used to feel that way when I was nine years old, about one of my siblings, my brother or one of my sisters. And here I was again, now in my mid-20s feeling as helplessly angry as I had in my childhood.

But the purpose of monastic chant only works if the monks know how to sing together. As I wrote earlier, monastic chant is meant to be sung in unison. All the brothers must sing together, on the same note, in the same rhythm. Without unison, there is only disunity and discord.

So my brother monks and I started to chant the first psalm. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” Boy, was I in the depths of my own solipsistic whimsy at that moment – which wasn’t deep at all but incredibly shallow. My problem wasn’t that Brother Simon had bothered me, or that I had bothered him. Rather, I needed to be taken out of my own depths, which wasn’t all that deep – I needed to be yanked from the war raging in the shallow end of my ego. And our chant – the prayer of our brotherhood – had begun to do that.

You see: to remain chanting in unison, I had to listen to the brother beside me – I had to hear his note, I had to hear his rhythm, and I had to match both and remain with his chanting.

So in doing that, I also heard Brother Simon chanting: “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord; Lord, hear my voice.” Hearing this gave the words of the psalm an entirely new meaning. Now it wasn’t merely me calling out to God from the depths of a difficult place; but my brother was doing the same.

Nevertheless, the interior war of my ego – my desire to be right – would try to dismiss the fact that my brother was feeling exactly the way I felt.

The monks finished chanting the psalm and we moved on to the next. With my brother monks I chanted, “God listens to the prayers of the humble of heart.” Yes, I chanted this but so did Brother Simon. He and I were chanting in unison, yet I did not feel united with him: I felt better than him while I was working out in my mind how I could win our argument. I wasn’t being humble, even though I was chanting to God about true humility in prayer.

It was right then that I began to change. And I don’t believe that I was changing myself, but that I was being changed from the inside out.

As Brother Simon and I chanted in unison, I began to see that the humility of our brotherhood was in the harmony of our togetherness. The profundity of monastic chant is that its unison is absolutely nothing without harmony – the harmony of friendship, the harmony of brotherliness, the harmony of children of God struggling to be better men.

We chanted psalm after psalm, and canticle after canticle. We stood beside one another, we sat beside one another, we listened together to the Scriptures being read, and we prayed together to God – which is the principle purpose of being in a religion. It’s not about being right in an argument. It’s about trusting together that no human eye can see, no human ear can hear, and no human heart can know what God has ready for those who love in sincerity of heart – love God and love one another.

After prayer, later that night, I had no choice: Despite how I felt, despite some silly fear of being wrong or changing or seeming weak, I had to go to Brother Simon, and I had to say simply, “I’m really sorry for hurting you.”

For me, the monastic choir stalls were a glimpse of what heaven might be like: It might not simply be eternal mercy and justice and peace: It might also be me standing beside a brother I’ve so often failed to love.

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation he has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do

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A Monk’s Story Part 5

 

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pop...

Following his predecessor Ambrose of Milan Pope Paul VI during Vatican II named Mary Mother of the Church (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

For those new to this page, I have been sharing about my life before I started working for Anne Rice.

 

Anne and I met while I was in a monastery in New Orleans.

 

I was a Benedictine monk for several years.

 

In the last post I shared with you how I made my temporary vows, received the black habit of the Benedictines, and received my monastic name, Becket.

 

Now I’d like to share with you what happened right after that…

 

In most romance stories there’s the courtship and the marriage and then the honeymoon.

 

For many, once the honeymoon ends, the story ceases to be a romance. It becomes a drama.

 

I wish that I could say the monastic life was without drama. But that would be to say that there had been no romance with it either.

 

Yes, before I became a monk, I had a romance with the monastic life. I saw the flowing robes of the black monastic habits, I heard the chanting of the choir monks, and I smelled the good incense wafting in billows throughout the cavernous church.

 

Yes, the monastic life is beautiful, in the same way any marriage or partnership can be beautiful, especially when each person sincerely desires to be united in love.

 

After I made my temporary vows, after I gained my monastic name and donned my new habit, I soon realized one important truth: The monastery wasn’t a museum of heavenly saints. It was a hospital for broken men.

 

And I was a part of them. Indeed I was broken.

 

Still am.

 

Were good men in the monastery?

 

Yes.

 

Did hurtful things happen there?

 

Yes.

 

The monastery, I soon realized, was a microcosm of the world.

 

We were perfectly imperfect men devoting ourselves to prayer and to the great struggle of loving one another with the affection of brothers.

 

After I became an official monk, I received new work.

 

Once a week I had to serve as porter, greeting guests and answering phones.

 

Or I had to ring the church bells for each prayer service.

 

Or I had to serve as waiter at lunch and supper.

 

Or I had to wash dishes.

 

Or I had to read books during meals while my brother monks ate in silence — all of which are more facets of monastic life that I hope to share with you soon.

 

But the honeymoon of monastic life didn’t end there. That was only work.

 

The drama of monastic life began when I had to learn to get along with someone I didn’t like, yet had to love.

 

Brother Simon and I did not get along, at least not at first.

 

From where I stood, he didn’t seem to have any sincere desire to be a part of the monastery.

 

As I’ve written in previous posts, the monastery has specific times for prayer. It’s our horarium. Laudes is the hour for Morning Prayer. Vespers is the hour for Evening Prayer. We have predawn prayer and nighttime prayer and mass.

 

During each of those times, I began the nasty habit of watching Brother Simon because he wasn’t paying attention to the prayers.

 

He was looking around at all the paintings in the church, and at the gorgeous architecture, and at the magnificent pipe organ, and at anything but his choir book.

 

I could not understand how anyone would want to be a monk yet at the same time seem so irreverent.

 

I brought my grievances to my spiritual director, Father Ambrose. It was supposed to be my time for spiritual direction. But I was squandering it as a chance to gripe about Brother Simon, who I thought should leave the monastery.

 

“My life would be better if he left,” I said.

 

Father Ambrose was patient and kind with me. His wise and wizened face smiled. He scratched his long white beard. He thought before he spoke. Like all sagacious men, he only needed to tell me a few words.

 

With his few words, he reminded me that I didn’t know what was in Brother Simon’s heart. My brother might be paying attention to prayer, just not in the same way that I pay attention.

 

With his few words, Father Ambrose reminded me that I might be just as guilty as my brother. Brother Simon might not be watching his choir book. But neither was I. I was watching him watch other things.

 

Here are the few words that Father Ambrose spoke to me:

 

“If you’re not bothered by Brother Simon, you’re going to be bothered by someone else.”

 

I was shaken like never before.

 

These words caused in me a cascade of thought, helping me realize that everyone is bothered by someone.

 

It’s a part of human nature.

 

But Father Ambrose continued helping me see that human nature also has a surprising capacity to transcend brotherly hate.

 

At that moment I understood: That’s what it meant to be a monk.

 

Being a monk wasn’t only about the work of prayer. I was supposed to be working what I’d learned in prayer.

 

I had been unjustly judging Brother Simon. I was looking at the outside of the man, yet I wasn’t searching for the interior life of the monk.

 

You see, not all monks are the same. We were simply men who had one important common bond: We have a deep interior life that searches for an existential truth by means of work and prayer.

 

We worked together. We prayed together.

 

Yet sometimes we struggled to be in the same church together.

 

The thing that kept us working together and praying together was our long-term goal of discovering truth along the pathway of self-discovery and self-sacrifice.

 

The more we discovered about ourselves, the more we were challenged to sacrifice.

 

Father Ambrose had handed to me a profound helping of self-discovery. Now it was time for self-sacrifice.

 

So, Brother Simon and I talked.

 

That’s all.

 

It was all that needed to happen.

 

Brother Simon and I communicated our struggles. We shared our fears and our hopes and the things that confused us. Most importantly, we listened to one another.

 

Today Brother Simon heads the media department at the monastery.

 

It took some time, but I have come to admire him greatly. He has excellent taste in the visual arts. He’s a wonder with Photoshop.

 

And today, if I’m in insufferable traffic, or if I’m behind a penitentially slow person in the supermarket checkout, or if I’m struggling to like the person sitting next to me, I recall Brother Simon, and Father Ambrose’s lesson…

 

If I’m not bothered by this person, I’m going to be bothered by someone else.

 

I can’t rid myself of temptations to hate. That would be impossible. Temptations are natural. Hate is natural.

 

But sacrificing my “self” is also a natural action.

 

In the same way I chose to start seeing the inside of Brother Simon, I try to see the heart of the brother or sister beside me.

 

Does it expunge the temptation to hate?

 

No. But it does diminish it enough for me to work with kindness and patience.

 

Do I always succeed?

 

Certainly not.

 

But the purpose of my life isn’t to be pure perfection. It’s to accept myself as a perfectly imperfect person, struggling to surrender.

 

What am I surrendering to?

 

A truth that I’m still trying to accept: I don’t know everything.

 

But I know enough to be kind.

 

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Filed under Christian Journey, Christian Living, Church Conflict, Monasticism

A Monk’s Story Part 3

I had the pleasure of meeting Becket while I was doing some personal soul-searching at St. Joseph Abbey. At the time he was a professing monk who had not taken his final vows. He has since left the monastery to become the personal assistant of the writer Anne Rice. In a recent conversation   has given me permission to reprint his story as he is posting it on Facebook. I hope you find these installments as fascinating as I do. I will be posting these installments on Monday.       Irvin

A Monk’s Story Part 3

by Becket

At the heart of every religious vocation is the call to love. Love one another as we are loved. Sometimes love is prayer. Other times it’s work.

Before I entered the monastery, I don’t think I loved myself. Sure, I had a healthy hope of survival. But that’s not the same as healthy self-love. To be perfectly blunt, I didn’t love myself because I couldn’t. I didn’t know who I was. How could I love someone I didn’t know? This question begged another: If I don’t love myself, how can I love someone else?

Before the monastery, I didn’t fit in. In high school I clique-hopped. Early college too.

I couldn’t do that in the monastery. There were no cliques. There was only a small group of men working everyday to be kind to one another.

So my first year in the monastery was the quintessential pivot-point of my life. It shifted me from self-ambiguity to healthy self-love.

St. Joseph Abbey Church

As a novice I had to have a spiritual director. Usually this is an older or more experienced monk acting as a guide to monastic formation.

One monk in particular I hoped would be my spiritual director, Fr. Ambrose. He was elderly, wore large glasses, and had a long white beard. He was always reading, always quiet. He seemed to have an appealing grandfatherly kindness.

So I was greatly shocked when, upon asking him to be my spiritual director, he said, “No.”

Later I came to know him better. Today I believe he denied my request because all he truly wanted was to diminish before his brothers. That is, he wanted a more hermetic life. Quiet, simple.

A brash novice like myself was a thunderclap in his serenity.

Despite my disappointment, I returned to him twice more.

Finally he consented. I became his spiritual directee.

Quickly I discovered that he and I had different personalities, and that we appreciated different ways of communicating. Nevertheless, he proved to be the best spiritual director I ever had, and one of the best men I’ve ever known.

As my religious brother, he observed me in community, at meals, at recreation, and during prayer and work. As my elder, he called me on many faults. “A monk must let go of the world,” he would tell me. “You’re thinking too much about temporary things on earth and not about the heart of eternal love.”

The greatest fault he caught in me changed me life. He saw my great fault. It wasn’t something that I did consciously. You could say that from my youth I was taught to behave in a particular way. It wasn’t bad behavior. It just wasn’t healthy. Fr. Ambrose saw that how I was was not who I could be. And he said to me in so many words: “Whether you stay a monk or get married, whether you make monastic vows or wedding vows, you can’t give to anyone else something you do not possess. And healthy love is a possession that must by its very nature be given away freely.”

What didn’t I possess, Fr. Ambrose?

“Your self,” he said to me.

The true journey of my monastic vocation began at that moment.

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Filed under Benedict of Nursia, Benedictine Rule, Monasticism