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Bro. Conrad started talking to himself at mid-day meal today. It took all of us by surprise. We were listening to the reader read from the refectory book: “Come Be My Light”; the collection of private letters of Mother Theresa, when suddenly, we heard another voice, mingling in a relaxed manner with the readers voice. It was coming from the head table.
Thanksgiving Day today --I had a feeling it was going to be intense. On a day when the monks don't work, a day so quiet and still; given over entirely to interior prayer, well . . . you just know Jesus is going to turn up. You know, before darkness falls, you're going to meet him. Jesus becomes very real in a monastery on Thanksgiving Day. I began the day at 3:00 a.m.
Wow, we were storming heaven tonight. Tonight, we did Vespers, followed by Benediction, and the two Benediction hymns really soared --the monks singing like Russian Cossacks. Maybe the half hour of adoration before Vespers charges the batteries of the monks.
The priest grimaced as he spoke to me in the sacristy. He is a kind and gentle pastor, and it saddened me to see that the topic of our conversation pained him. He is on retreat for a few days, a parish priest from Chicago – comes about twice a year, and treasures his time at the monastery. We've become friends and were chatting after mass this morning when he made reference to an article he had just read promoting what he referred to as the “New Atheism”.
Just minutes before we began to pray Compline tonight the abbey church was invaded by teenagers. They were pretty much on schedule, since these Confirmation groups visit the monastery on a regular cycle. In the evening, as the sun is going down, you see car after car pulling up in front of the guest house and you know there's going to be a crowd at Compline.
Brother Samuel's seat in choir was empty again at Evening Prayer. He has not been in choir since the prayer service of None yesterday. This means that at every prayer service since then, Vespers, Compline, Vigils this morning, Lauds, Terce, Sext, and None, this afternoon, his seat was empty at the start of the prayer service, and then was filled.
It happened again, a little after one this morning – that weird disturbance in the woods that every so often erupts and invades my sleep. The night was silent, as only the prairies of Northeast Iowa can be at one in the morning. Suddenly, the sound of a lone dog rose from the woods, peculiarly expressive of something too elemental to express; that ancient howling whose source is a place we cannot go with our rational minds.
I rarely hear anyone at the monastery raise his voice — it's just not done. I've often wondered why that is. I think there are a couple of reasons. In a cloister, a sharp word let slip out of your mouth on a whim — can have a very long life afterwards. Because the life of a monk is so quiet, because we spend so much solitary time, in our cell, on a walk in nature, alone with our thoughts, a harsh word can glow red inside you for days like embers burning in a ruined building that just won't cool.