Soliloquy in an International Cloister

Watch your step as Brother Lawrence takes you inside the monastery walls of a five hundred year-old international order. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll wish you had ignored your hormones and joined the monastery.

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Location: Rome, Italy

27 June 2006

Legenda Fratrum, VI

Our missionary brothers in Zambia have stations on either side of the Zambezi River. Getting them all together for special occasions, therefore, requires half of them to cross the crocodile-infested river, either by a log raft or a rickety rope suspension bridge. A few years ago, the brothers were gathering for a Christmas celebration. One of the them was bringing a case of beer, a rare treat for the brothers in Zambia. As he was crossing the bridge, one of the boards gave way and he fell into the river. The brothers who had crossed before him heard the noise and quickly ran back to the bridge. There was an audible sigh of relief as the first brother to reach the bridge announced: "It's okay. The beer stayed on the bridge!"

Oh, and the brother made it safely to shore. He was awarded the first bottle for bravely saving the beer from certain doom.

26 June 2006

I can't believe the news today

Two articles in the local newspaper caught the brothers' attention today. One was an interview with some local witches.

Reporter: Is it true most covens do rituals naked?
Witch: "Ah - you mean sky-clad," said [the 52-year-old] Merovingia briskly. Many do, but since she and Cornelius founded the coven in 1992, "we just do not go there," she said.

Good decision. I do like the term "sky-clad", however.

The second article reported on research that suggests that some migraine headaches can be cured by sex. Hmm. We have been trying to lower our aspirin bill. I may have to further research this matter. In the interest of the brothers, of course.

Darned optimism

We had four young men who are considering joining our Order visiting us over the weekend. We have groups like these visit us two or three times a year. Generally, there is at least one defective member of the group—one might be missing his left eye and right ear so with no chance of marrying Hillary Duff he has decided to become a monk; another might believe that creatures from Jupiter have disguised themselves as doctors and are responsible for AIDS; still another might think that Hitler had the right idea, after all. You get the picture. As far as I could tell, however, there was no such person among this group. They all seemed quite normal, sane and genuinely interested in pursuing religious life. As you can well imagine, therefore, I am glad they are gone. It is SO hard to maintain my cynicism with such people around.

I often wish I could get inside the heads of today's twenty- and thirty-year olds who think they have a calling to religious life. Things are so different than when I entered. Back in the 70's, love was not yet free, at least not in middle America. The culture provided both positive and negative reinforcement for remaining a virgin until marriage, or even forever. Those props appear largely to be gone today. I'm not at all sure that I would have entered religious life if I had become sexually active beforehand. The guys entering the Order today are much more aware of what they are giving up. On top of that, many parents are not supportive of their sons' decisions to enter religious life—they want grandchildren, after all.

Another major change that has occurred since I entered is the image of the clergy. When I entered, clergy were unquestionably respected. After the recent, well-publicized scandals in the Church, I couldn't blame these guys for wondering what they are getting into.

It's enough to restore my faith in humanity. Rats.

19 June 2006

The best revenge

Generally, I was an above-average student in school, with one notable exception: Physical Education. I managed to eke out a mere C. Mr. S, the PE teacher and wrestling coach, clearly did not like me. That was okay, however, since the feeling was mutual.
It was never quite clear to me on what he based his grades. When we played dodgeball, for instance, was one graded higher for the finesse with which one fell to the floor after getting smacked on the side of the head? God knows, I tried every kind of falling to the floor known to man—simple drops, dramatic wails accompanied by flailing limbs, bouncing my head off the floor, doubling over while cupping the remnants of my family jewels, etc. None of these earned me more than a C.
Or take the javelin throw, which we all had a chance to try during "Olympics Week." Oh, the excitement! Apparently, there are no extra points for creativity because my throw, which landed on the back end of the javelin, instantly snapping it into two pieces, earned me a C. And a look of disappointment from Mr. S.
The occasion for this trip down memory lane was my semi-annual medical checkup last week. Mr. S. surely believes that I have already died of obesity, or perhaps from my inability to dodge one of the inevitable low-flying objects that we all encounter in our everyday lives. So I felt a certain amount of sinful glee when the doctor told me that my ECG revealed that I have sinus bradycardia. "In other words," the doctor said, "you have the heart of an athlete."
Dodge that, Mr. S!

13 June 2006

There's a good explanation

for the U.S.'s lack of interest in soccer*, according to John Stewart. Europeans apparently use soccer as a metaphor for war. When England plays France, for instance, it is a metaphor for the Battle of Agencourt with David Beckham playing the role of Henry V and the French players playing the role of, umm, French soldiers.

In America, we don't need a metaphor for war because we have war.

Makes sense to me.

* I struggled with the proper term to use. I realize that most of my readers are European, who hate it when football in called soccer. On the other hand, people could be understandably confused if an American discussed football.

11 June 2006

O, the times they are a-changing

Big changes for San Lorenzo Monastery were announced last week. The student-friars and their directors are being moved here from other cloisters. That will add another five, eventually six, brothers to our household. In addition to that, some under-utilized space will be renovated into a provincial archive, and the archivist will be moving here. So within a month, the number of brothers here will double. In fact, one of the brothers presently living here had to move to a nearby cloister to make room for the newbies.

I have mixed feelings about the change. On the one hand, it is nice to have a larger household since the work is spread among more people. I, for one, am looking forward to giving up some quality time with the lawn mower. I will no longer be the youngest person in the house; there will be four younger than I. Not that I would ever abuse my seniority. Oh, no. Never.

Another advantage is that young friars bring a certain amount of enthusiasm to the house, which gives the older brothers something to do, namely, try to shoot down their youthful ideals with our guns of cynicism and jadedness.

On the negative side, they bring a certain amount of enthusiasm to the house, which they expect us to share. This may translate into getting up earlier in the morning or, as I like to call it, the middle of the night. It may also mean longer periods spent in chapel. I have nothing against giving time to the Lord, but I also have work to do. And blogging. And surfing the Net. Etc.

The young men joining us today are usually more conservative than I ever was, and I am sure we will be admonished not to do or say anything that will scandalize them. So much for my scrofulous jokes, which pretty much covers all of them. I will no longer be able to say that one of my colleagues in Rome knew so many languages that we called him the "cunning linguist of the Order." Yeah, I know, who wouldn't want to hear that.

A few of the older brothers are more worried about this change than I am, and since they do not like the newly-appointed Superior of the house that much, I know they will come to me with their complaints. This will put me in the awkward position of having to mediate between the Superior and the senior friars. As a middle child, I guess I should be used to that, but I never find it easy.

So if you notice my entries becoming less cheerful, you will know the reason. On the bright side, there may be some brilliant blogging possibilities ahead.

09 June 2006

Soliloquy, New and Improved

The number of requests I have received to include an RSS feed for my blog has been underwhelming. Nonetheless, you will now find an RSS link in the left hand column. It uses the latest, fancy-schmancy RSS icon, which someone decided would be more helpful than a button that says, for instance, 'RSS'.

Will the improvements of my site never end? Yes, they will.

07 June 2006

Legenda Fratrum, V

Brother M, who was making a name for himself as a writer and speaker in the area of social justice, was visiting a monastery in New York. After being introduced to one of the younger brothers of the cloister, the young brother asked Brother M what he did in the Order.

Brother M: I live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Young brother: Well, la-di-fucking-da. So do I.

04 June 2006

A brother's confession

His voyeurism unsatisfied by the few responses to his questionnaire, Moobs tagged me in his tell-all scheme. This is clearly backwards—it is I who should be on the receiving end of the confession. To show you just how tremendously humble I am, however, I have decided to accept his challenge.

1. I have had this experience, but not lately so I cannot remember what my comeback was. It's not like I memorize them for future use. I will substitute the best anonymous insult I ever received. In a full parking garage at Rome's airport, I had to park the car askew because of the way the car beside my space was parked. While I was away, the offending car left, making it look as if I had capriciously taken two parking spaces. When I returned to my car, this was the note on my windshield: "If you make love like you park, it's no wonder that your wife cheats on you." It sounded better in Italian.

2. No. My mother was an obsessive cleaner so I knew better than to hide anything there.

3. A year?! No. That's why we have confession.

4. I kept the fact that I was considering joining a religious order a secret from my mother for over two years. She eventually learned of it from one of my high school teachers.

5. Yes. When I was in high school, there was a girl I met one summer when she came to stay with her relatives for a few weeks. I was really shy in those days, but felt really comfortable around her. She's now married to a rocket scientist and has five children, whom she home schools. We are still very good friends.

6. I've only written one poem in my life, that I can recall anyway. It starts:
"Twenty years of training..."

02 June 2006

Boy, am I motivated! Not.

I attended a motivational seminar yesterday. I didn't really want to go, but someone bought me a ticket so I felt obligated. Actually, that is not completely true. I also wanted to see whether the speakers were capable of motivating a dyed-in-the-wool nine (on the Enneagram scale) like myself.
A few of the speakers were good—financial guru Suze Orman, former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Zig Ziglar protege Krish Daraman. The emcee and lead-off speaker was Amy Jones. She had a perky voice, perky smile, perky hair, perky boobs, perky ass and was perfectly cloying. She stood there in her designer suit and perfectly coiffed hair, and told us we needed to simplify our lives—while she was receiving a five-digit speaking fee. That she could do this while keeping a straight face was probably worthy of an Oscar. She also encouraged us to "invest in ourselves" by buying their motivational tapes, DVD's and study materials. Hmmm, sounded to me like we were actually investing in them.
One of the other speakers was failed-presidential-candidate Stephen Forbes. He mostly tried to motivate us to buy into his flat tax idea. Wow. Inspiring.
I had to miss the last few hours of the seminar, including the talk by Colin Powell, who was the only person I really wanted to hear.
For all you Nines out there who are wondering whether it is safe to attend these seminars, allow me to reassure you. They are a great excuse for missing a day of work, and for every speaker that convinces you to set personal goals and work hard to reach them, there is another who helps you reassert your former cynicism and sense of hopelessness.