Tag Archives: New Orleans

The King Cake

One of the many traditions of New Orleans Louisiana is the King Cake. I thought that I would share the meaning of the King Cake with you.

Mardi Gras season begins on January 6, of each year and ends on Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent. One of the wonderful traditions of Mardi Gras, and probably the most delicious, is the King Cake.

kingCake1On the Christian calendar, the 12th day after Christmas is celebrated as the date that the gift-bearing Magi visited the baby Jesus. This day, January 6, is known by several names, including “Epiphany”, “Twelfth Night”, or “Kings Day”. The celebration of this event has evolved over the centuries, with each culture adding its own unique rituals. The New Orleans tradition, borrowing heavily from European influences, is believed to have begun in the 1870’s. As part of this celebration, it is now traditional to bake a cake in honor of the three kings – the King Cake. King Cakes are oval-shaped to symbolize the unity of faiths. Each cake is decorated in the traditional Mardi Gras colors – purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power. A small baby, symbolizing the baby Jesus, is traditionally hidden inside each King Cake.

In New Orleans, King Cake parties are held throughout the Mardi Gras season. In offices, classrooms, and homes throughout the city, King Cakes are sliced and enjoyed by all. Like the Biblical story, the “search for the baby” adds excitement, as each person waits to see in which slice of cake the baby will be discovered. While custom holds that the person who “finds” the baby will be rewarded with “good luck”, that person is also traditionally responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next party or gathering.

Just thought you might want to know.

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Creating a Treasure–A Missional Thought

This post was originally published on January 10, 2009. Access to this spot has since been closed for safety reasons, but we minister to people when we created treasured moments for them. Emma is now nine years old and going into fourth grade but still remembers going to the “beach.”

Most of us who grew up in New Orleans can remember Pontchartrain Beach. It was a place of fun and wonder for kids and adults alike. The Zephyr, Wild Mouse and, of course, the Beach are gone. The “Beach” bit the dust more than two decades ago. There is, however, a small remnant of the fun that still exists, and that’s where the treasure is found.

It is located across Lakeshore Drive from UNO. The small strip of sand and crumbling relic of what’s left of the “Ragin Cajun” still remain. A few days ago my grandaughter, Emma, wanted to go to the beach and collect some treasures- just little pieces of sea shells and even rocks that she considers pretty. It seemsEmma at the beach that long ago I stopped collecting treasures, but it is amazing what a three year old will motivate you to do. Our adventure called for the finest of supplies, a shovel, bucket, beach towel and some water so we wouldn’t die of thirst. We searched for an hour and excavated many unknown areas and found a jar full of treasures.

Now what does this have to do with being missional ? It’s real simple.There are people everywhere who need a treasure in their lives . Treasure is time you spend with them,kind words you say to them and small things you do for them. The real key is not what we do, but why we do it ? Jesus said, ”I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” The missional suggestion is to create a treasure for someone.


Filed under Christian Living, Missional Living

It All Hangs Together

Someone will say: “You worry about birds. Why not worry about people?” I worry about both birds and people. We are in the world and part of it, and we are destroying everything because we are destroying ourselves spiritually, morally, and in every way. It is all part of the same sickness, it all hangs together.

——Thomas Merton from his Journals

I find Merton’s approach to creation care well worth considering. Far too often care of God’s creation is presented as an “either or choice,” but it is not so simple. We ALL share this planet that was created by God and entrusted, BY HIM, to our care. Many of us are frightened by the changes we see in our world around us. As a ”marsh dweller,” (I live in New Orleans and we are surrounded by marsh land), I find myself very disturbed by the constant loss of this land that protects from tides and hurricanes. There are various answers to the loss of wetlands, but one thread runs through them all, man messed this thing up. For us to properly worry about birds and people, we must take seriously our roles as stewards of the earth.

Stewards are never owners, but always caretakers. They are to exercise their roles for the true owner. In the case of the earth, God is the owner/creator. What is good for the land is always good for the people who dwell on that land.

environmental-cleanupHow different it would be if we saw creation care as vitally linked to our spirituality. Merton makes this link in short order when he tells us that as we go down the road of moral depravity, we destroy the land entrusted to us as well. This all seems to be a part of a “don’t care” attitude that descends upon us when we are in full rebellion against God. Merton seems to propose that as we turn toward God, we will become better stewards of His creation. Now that’s something to think about.

Matthew 6:26 – Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

Prayer Thought — Lord make me aware of what I consume each day. Help me to see a link between my spiritual heath and care of your creation. Amen

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My Tribe

For the past several years I have been affiliated with The School for Contemplative Living in New Orleans. The following article was written by William Thiele who is the founder and director of the school. I share it with his permission. IB

“What Wisdom Lineage and tribe of beings do I belong to?”

Mark Nepo asks these questions in his recent book: Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred.[1] He got me to thinking this morning. The following are some initial responses.



For me, the contemplative tradition of the Christian faith, sprinkled with wisdom from other traditions, is my Wisdom Lineage. This arises easily. I am drawn to wisdom higher than rational thought, deeper than my own superficial reflections on life. I am drawn to wisdom which challenges my thinking mind, which can’t really wrap itself around wisdom. I remember how Richard Rohr contrasted contemplative mind and the dualistic mind in his book The Naked Now and in his sharing while in New Orleans in 2011. My dualistic mind is always analyzing reality into parts so it can feel in control. My Wisdom Lineage arises from the contemplative mind and its spacious vision, which transcends any specific religious tradition. Yet I have been schooled primarily in how that wisdom comes through the stream of Christianity.

This contemplative mind is like the mind of God manifesting itself. Sometimes it arises within me and sometimes it comes to me through my tribe: authors I read and people I know. This Wisdom Lineage comes through people who act as a kind of mouthpiece for the Divine. They are the mystics, saints, and contemplatives in every generation who craft their lives around practicing the presence of God. Their practice tends to lead toward personal transformation and radical engagement with the world.

In thinking of my “tribe of beings,” I look at the men in my men’s group from the Mankind Project, the ecumenical people of my United Methodist church, and the ecumenical and interspiritual participants in the School for Contemplative Living groups. Some of the traits of my tribe include people who are real/honest/truth-tellers, humble, reverent, non-judgmental, welcoming, seekers of personal transformation, lovers, and engaged in serving the world.

People in my tribe are real human beings, meaning we have plenty of weaknesses and imperfections. We struggle with our humanity. Sometimes, in graced moments, we find the courage to see and say our own imperfections to others. This is our honesty at work.

We are truth-tellers who are seeking our own growth and transformation. We do not have a license to belittle another and call that just being honest. Our truth and honesty is about ourselves. We seek our growth by telling truth about ourselves.

Sometimes we even trust a Magician-energy inside us in hopes that our truth-telling will lead to our own transformation. We want to be all we can be, which means being our true selves. We also depend on each other to help us find the truth about life and ourselves, since many false beliefs can disguise themselves as truth. Truth-telling brings our darkness to light so we can coruscate: shine with the glory of God.

In really graced moments the people in my tribe also accept ourselves just as we are. This is our practice of humility. In my experience we cannot do this alone. We need each other’s compassion to find self-compassion. We need acceptance from others to experience acceptance of ourselves. This is our practice of humility: self-acceptance grounded in others’ acceptance.

The people in my tribe are non-judgmental lovers. They have visited the country of judging themselves and feeling judged by others many times. In the end this path was not life-giving. So the people in my tribe learn to recognize their judgments, and name them, without being controlled by them. In my tribe we see that all judgments come back to ourselves and point to areas we need to work on in ourselves. Judgments become a mirror.

The people in my tribe are lovers. They choose a life of love over a life of violence. The real test for the lover is about self-love. This is the basis for all love of others. And self-love is not a product we can manufacture alone. We can’t create it by just trying harder. Self-love has its origins in the Great Love. And that love is manifested through imperfect human beings, along with master lovers like dogs and cats. In my tribe we help each other find self-love through our loving acceptance of each other. Compassion is our intention and practice.

My tribe welcomes others into the community. We are inclusive. We actively seek out people who are not clones of ourselves. This means people of color, other religions, no religiousness, the LGBT community, etc. We do have boundaries in my tribe however. The one group we will usually exclude is those committed to excluding others. This is a weird paradox among us: we will not accept judgmentalism among us. Such people are simply not safe to be around. They tend to fragment community or create artificial community. Only they are not welcome in my tribe.

My tribe tends to practice reverence. They are reverent in their attitudes toward God, at least a lot of the time. They cultivate reverence in their attitudes toward other beings and the whole natural world. They are seeing the sacred all around them, in everyone they meet, and welcoming those sacred beings into their lives.

Finally, the people in my tribe actively engage in service of the world. We set our intention to find a mission and seek to live that mission in the world. We look for people to serve in accordance with our own giftedness and calling. Paradoxically, we often find that others serve/guide/teach us. My people actively engage in giving and receiving with other people in the world. Does that sound like anyone you know? If you look in the mirror, do you see that this tribe is you?

My tribe fills my life to the brim,

William Thiele

[1] Nepo, Mark, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen: Staying Close to What is Sacred, (New York: Atria, 2013), 59.

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Filed under Christian Living, contemplative, Missional Living, Monasticism, Prayer

A Monk’s Story 7

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. This one is a little special because I had the great priviledged of being advised and befriended by Father Thomas as well.       Irvin


by Becket

The monastery runs a small retreat house. The monk who ran the retreat house was Father Thomas.

Father Thomas was a true New Orleanean – he was a “Yat” in the finest sense.

A “Yat” is a dialect of New Orleans. And New Orleaneans who speak this dialect are called “Yats” because you’ll commonly hear them say, “Where y’at, dawlin’?”

Saying “Where y’at, dawlin’” is a common Yat greeting.

I always smiled whenever I went into New Orleans and heard two Yat friends greeting one another on the street with “Where y’at, dawlin’?”

Ah, I love New Orleans.

I loved Father Thomas like a brother. He was my monastic brother and he was my priestly father. He took me under his wing and he taught me much.

I used to help him give retreats in the retreat house.

When he first asked me to help him, I knew little about giving retreat conferences. As a teen, I worked in a spiritual youth program called “Search”. My job was to give one “talk” to my peers that weekend about my spiritual life.

But as a monk, and as a 20-something kid, I had to stand before all sorts of people once a week, wearing my black monastic habit, and speaking about a spiritual topic that might be pertinent to a retreatant’s life.

Retreatants would come from all over the country just to get away from the helter-skelter of their lives for a week. Some were in their 20s. A few were in their 30s. Most were in their 40s, 50s, and 60s. Some were in their 70s.

Retreatants came not to forget about finances, or paying bills, or fears of bad parenting. They came not to forget about their spouse or the struggles of their job.

No, they came to be better parents, betters spouses, better employees. They came to find out what God was calling them to do with their life. They came to better understand their relationship with God and with one another. They came to be better people and better children of God.

I truly loved giving conferences. Father Thomas invited me back almost every week.

Each year Father Thomas developed a new spiritual theme to talk about, and each year I gave a new talk on a spiritual topic. Sometimes I talked about prayer. Other times I talked about the theology of the human body. I tried to make all my conferences accessible, relevant, and meaningful for the retreatants.

At the beginning of each year, I usually read my conference from notes. By the end of the year, my conference would be memorized and I would converse more freely with my audience, sometimes joking with them, sometimes asking them questions, usually engaging in a more Socratic method of spiritual instruction.

I hope I served as a channel of God’s love for them.

Some retreatants felt refueled at the end of the retreat week, and they returned to their lives with a greater sense of spiritual stability.

Other retreatants wept at the end of the retreat week. They did not want to leave the peace that our simple, small monastery gave them. They were the ones I usually saw return year after year.

Giving spiritual conferences became more than just a wonderful avocation of my vocation. It helped me better understand the meaning of our monastic motto: Ora et labora (prayer and work).

Giving spiritual conferences was as much a prayer to God as it was work for my soul.

Father Thomas and I quickly became good friends. He also became my spiritual director. Father Ambrose had been a great spiritual director during one season of my monastic life. But as my habit grew heavier, Father Thomas helped shape me into a better man for my brothers and a better monk for God.

I would go to Father Thomas to confess my fears, my wrongdoings, and all my dark thoughts. He would help me see the difference between sin and bad habit. He helped me see that what I thought was sinning against the Love of God was simply me enabling a bad habit because I’d never learned the discipline to do otherwise.

Father Thomas was a wise and good monk. He had such a delightful laugh whenever he looked at my bad habits mercifully — the way I hoped God would look at them. Father Thomas would laugh and he would say in his Yat accent: “Lawd, Becket, I love ya like a brotha, but you’re such a fool, dawlin’.”

Father Thomas confessed to me also that he loved being a priest more than he loved being a monk. Yes, he loved quiet and prayer and contemplation — the quintessential elements of a monastic vocation. But the prayer and work that fueled his monastic existence was wholly different from the prayer and work that enflamed Father Ambrose’s vocation.

For Father Ambrose, the priesthood of his monastic life focused on the interior dynamic of the brothers in the monastery. For Father Thomas, however, his priesthood focused on how the shockwave of the monastic life affected the surrounding neighborhood. One looked inward, the other looked outward.

Both men helped me become in myself the synthesis of a monk: A man working to be less selfish and more selfless.

Soon I became Father Thomas’ assistant retreat director. Sometimes he would have to go out of town and he would leave me in charge of a retreat week. It was my job to ensure that the retreat weekend went smoothly. Those weeks also gave me a chance to see what Father Thomas meant: His work was different from Father Ambrose’s work, although their prayers were similar. Father Ambrose attended every hour of community prayer. However, Father Thomas’ work required him to be away from many monastic services. I did not see him often at Laudes or Vespers, but he was usually at mass. His brother monks understood that his work required him to show constant hospitality to the guests in the retreat house.

Hospitality has been a monastic staple for over 1500 years.

Father Thomas was always hospitable to me.

After the final prayer of the night, Compline (our hour for bedtime prayer), I would go to the retreat house. The sun would have already set and the stars would have begun to twinkle as I made the short walk from the cloister to the place where I knew Father Thomas would be — in the kitchen.

He and I would sit in the kitchen and we would talk for a little while, sipping red wine. Sometimes we would play cards. We always played a card game called “Hearts.” We would usually invite Brother George and one other brother because the game was better with four players. Sometimes the fourth was Brother Elijah, other times it was Father Basil, or Father Killian, and once it was Abbot Justin.

We were poor men so we drank red wine from a box. Our cheeks would redden with the wine’s effect and we would raise our glasses in a toast, and with large smiles we would salute the wine in Spanish: “Vino de la caja!”

That was one facet of my life for many years, and to this day I remember the good things of those days and nights. The bad times were unfortunate accidents in a large machine, and today they have been washed away by love and nostalgia.

The year after I left the monastery, Father Thomas had a heart attack and died. He was the first true friend I had who died.

His body was nailed into one of our monastic coffins — a simple box that would house a brother’s remains until the Last Day. The large bell in the bell tower was tolled as the brotherhood carried Father Thomas’ coffin to our churchyard, where he was inhumed.

There would be no more conferences like those he and I gave. There would be no more games of hearts or toasts to “Vino de la caja.” There would be no more Yat Brothers – for me at least.

Another brother took over the work of the retreat house.

We were workers in the hive of God. The pollen we gathered were men seeking a deeper relationship with Eternal Love. The sticky honey we made was a good home of spiritual maturation. We worked, we prayed, and we hoped that we would go to heaven to be with one another for all eternity, where we will understand one another better, why we failed one another sometimes, and how we loved one another as best as we could.

I look forward to seeing Father Thomas again one day. I am eager for heaven where I hope he will greet me in his Yat accent: “Lawd, dawlin’, you’ve been such a fool, but I love ya like a brotha. Get in here!

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Contemplation and Action, Why Not?

For a number of years now I have sought to deepen my relationship with God by opening myself to His ongoing presence in my everyday living. For me this has come about by sacred reading, retreats, and prayer practices both ancient and not so ancient. I have found myself inwardly led to read and study a variety of works that are written for the specific purpose of bringing creation into contact with the Creator. Such contact is far more than knowledge-it is awareness.

A word that is often used to describe that awareness is contemplative. A contemplative is a person who dedicates himself to live where heaven and earth intersect. William Thiele is the founder and director of The School for Contemplative Living here in New Orleans. In a recent article he cut right to the heart of an important, though fundamentally misunderstood, contemplative principle. “So where exactly is the first place contemplatives belong? The answer is: wherever there are people who’ve been excluded by others. A Christian contemplative seeks to follow the Jesus who always preferred to hang out with the very people excluded by others. Aren’t there enough stories in the gospels to make it crystal clear that those sinners, (non-religious people), and tax collectors were his best buddies? And didn’t Jesus manage to also get himself excluded and eventually killed by the religious people who were doing the excluding?” I want to ponder on that a little.

 There is an undeniable relationship between being a person of contemplation and one that cares and reaches out to the hurt and injustice of the world. When we are called to prayer and silence, we think we are called to isolation and abandonment. The twentieth century mystic monk, Thomas Merton, spent months at a time living as a hermit, but he reminds us of something he learned in isolation, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another.”  The desert mystics went to the desert to escape the empire, but also to direct others on a path towards God. Many of those that they taught made a great difference in their world. Can we be people of contemplation and compassion without being people of action?

 I think not. Jesus assigns us to be the “salt and light” of the earth. The real thought that I am playing with here is action. As contemplatives we must be people of action. We are stirred to action by our passions. A contemplative must feel enough, care enough to do something. When you have your time of prayer and solitude, emerge from it with full awareness of the world that surrounds you.

  Do you have the spiritual fortitude to think as George Bernard Shaw did? “Some men see things as they are and say why, others dreams things that never were and say, why not?”

 Contemplatives are compelled by the very presence of Him they seek to say, “Why not?”


Filed under Commitment, Community, Contemplation, Social Action

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?




Did hurtful things happen there?




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.



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

A Monk’s Story Part 2

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 2

by Becket

I am continually humbled that some of you are interested in my monastic life. Some have asked that I continue with my story. I still feel awkward doing this (forgive me), but I will give it a go.

I left off talking about adjusting to the Gregorian chant. Monastic life was a mystical adjustment altogether.

My first year in the monastery was called the novitiate. I was a novice. (Still am a novice in many ways.)

Daily life was similar to a normal monk in solemn vows. We all worked together. We all prayed together.

In the beginning the work I did was mostly cleaning: Kitchen, bathrooms, church, and abbey. Sweeping, mopping, polishing, the usual sprucing.

I also worked in the bakery two days a week. One of the monastery’s charitable works was baking bread for the inner city of New Orleans, then

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery.

Becket, Me, Bede and George after a morning at the bakery. (several years ago)

delivering it to soup kitchens. In the summer we awoke at 2 am to bake bread. We finished by noon, before the Louisiana heat struck. We baked over 800 loafs a day.

Fr. Augustine was chief baker. He taught me how to bake all kinds of delicious breads. Sometimes he and I would bake pizza for the monks for lunch, a kind treat for them.

One night a week was special. The monastery had an infirmary, where sick and dying monks ended up. One night a week, I would keep watch over the infirmary, staying up all night, being attentive to the needs of the infirmed.

An old priest was there, Fr. Daniel. He was so gentle, especially toward the end, when he passed away the night before I became a monk. I spent the year of my novitiate trying to make him comfortable. But he didn’t need much. His prayer life had given him faith that he would be in eternal rest.

All our work was not beyond the scope of our prayer life. Everything we did – be it cleaning, baking bread, or watching the infirmary – had to be done with a prayerful spirit. We tried to depend on God’s help for everything, especially the work of our hands.

But not all prayer revolved around work. We also had community prayer.

All the monks would gather into the church five times a day for five routine prayers: Matins, Lauds, Mass, Vespers, and Compline.

Matins is a predawn prayer (5am). Lauds is Morning Prayer (6am). Mass was at noon. Vespers is evening prayer (5pm). Compline is night prayer, right before bed (7pm).

During community prayer, the monks divided into two groups: Choir One and Choir Two. Choir one was on the left side of the church; Choir Two on the right; both groups facing one another.

Then the two choirs of monks would take turns chanting the psalms and other biblical texts, each choir chanting a stanza. We chanted all 150 psalms in a month’s time – like the early monks from the 5th century.

Our day began with prayer. Our day ended with prayer. Chanting biblical words bookended our daily work.

Work and prayer. It was a life of labor and love. It was a life of simplicity.

More to come………..

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A Monk’s Story Part 1

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 and 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 1

by Becket

 Some here have asked about my life before meeting Anne Rice, namely from what I’ve shared previously — that I was a monk.

If you’re interested in it, here’s some of the story:

In 1997 I moved to New Orleans. I had been a fan of Anne’s for years, having read her books in high school. I remember the first time I walked down St. Charles Ave., with the streetcar passing by, the old double gallery houses, and the branches of the large oak trees canopying over the Garden District. My first thought was: Lestat hurtled down this road on a motorcycle, listening to Bach’s Art of Fugue through a Walkman. I was agog at the magic of that ancient and beautiful city.

New Orleans’ spiritual heritage encouraged my eagerness to grow closer to God.

I entered a little monastery not too far outside the city, across Lake Pontchartrain, on the North Shore — St. Joseph Abbey, a house of the Benedictine order (an old order dating back to the 5th century). St. Joseph Abbey is about 100 years old. But, for 1500 years, the Benedictine Order has lived by two fundamental rules: Work and prayer. That’s all I really wanted. I sought to work, to pray, and to use both as tools for deepening my relationship with a power greater than myself.

That lasted eight years.

If you’re interested in the daily routine of my monastic life, I can explain it in days to come. I fear this is getting too long.

Let me leave with this: I met Anne shortly after I became a Benedictine monk. When she began writing Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, she emailed me with a question. A delightful email correspondence began shortly thereafter.

In 2005 when I left the monastery, Anne offered me a job on her staff.

An amazing 8 years later, here we are……….

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Factors of Destruction

The Jesuit theologian and mystic Anthony de Mello tells us: “These things will destroy the human race: politics without principle, progress without compassion, wealth without work, learning without silence, religion without fearlessness, and worship without awareness.” Let’s unpack those words for a minute.

Politics without principleIn a recent poll it was found that only ad men and salespeople were less respected than politicians. Sadly our world is losing confidence in our elected leaders. There have been far too many stories of graft and corruption. The art of political leadership has been replaced by a hoard of unprincipled power brokers. What ever happened to principles?

Progress without compassion- The official death toll of the Rana Plaza collapse in Sri Lanka is 1,129, with 301 bodies still unidentified. This is without a doubt, the worst example of progress without compassion I have ever seen. Sri Lanka is a very poor country that cries out for economic and social progress, and in a way the high-dollar clothing companies who pay their workers very low wages have brought some progress to the country. This progress is without any form of compassion or care for the working conditions of the employees. Thus, the horrific results.

Wealth without work In my city of New Orleans there is an alarmingly high murder rate, and by all indications it is largely connected to the drug trade. Drug dealers are able to make large sums of money with very little work. Consequently, the destructive results.

Learning without silence The wisest and most learned people on earth know that all knowledge must be processed and analyzed. In our time of 24/7 “breaking news” much hurtful and unnecessary information is distributed without any thought or care. What has become of careful weighing of knowledge?

Religion without fearlessness The Bible tells us, “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us fearful, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7) Today’s religious people spend far too much of their time fearing everything from change to stability, and forget that we have a powerful spirit that is on our side. Learn to be bold in your faith.

Worship without awareness- Worship is the presence of God. Too many people leave God out. Worship is not about being motivated but about finding the presence of the creator. When He is found we become more alive, more aware, and through that sense of His presence we truly are transformed. Challenge yourself to be keenly aware of God when you worship.

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