a monk’s life

no, people, this is not some new year’s diet prescription. not the bread-and-water plan to a more minimalist you. no, no, not at all.

rather, this is my new year’s confession.

huddle up close, here, and perk up your ears.

what i’ve got to say might befuddle you. might leave you scratching your noggin. or perhaps you, too, share the same yearnings, and you and i shall skip off to behind some walled garden, a place of prayer and bells chiming, of bread and water. and surely some wine.

oh, but that’s getting ahead of the confession.

so, come, come, step here in the little black box, kneel down beside me, and listen in.

the fact of my matter is that beneath all the trappings that make me out to look like just another mama on the leafy shore of chicago–the old swedish wagon, the red-flowered backpack that bops behind me wherever i go, the grocery list that never seems to end, the curly gray curls i keep forgetting to color–well, underneath it all beats the soul of a monk.

i’m convinced, increasingly, and much to the dismay of my boys–the tall one who calls me his wife, and the others who call me their mama–that really i belong in the friary.

i’ve no desire, curiously, to go to the nunnery. somehow i think it more joyful off where the monks do their monking.
i find myself dreaming of days all alone. of unbroken quiet. of tending a small patch of earth. of growing nearly all that i swallow. and milking the rest from a fine little goat. or a cow i might name little flower.

i dream of simple repasts–bread, cheese, a chunky fine soup. salad i’d started from seedlings. and the bread, too, would be made from my hands, my fingers pressed into the slow-rising flesh of the yeast and the flour.

drawn as i am to the dawn, i think i’d adjust quite without ruffle to the prayer of the earliest morn, the one the monks call matins. the one where the night meets the daybreak, at the hour the celts and the seers deem thinnest–or closest, really, to heaven.

i already dress day-after-day as if in a habit. i’m nearly all black, with a little white tee. and if i think of it, i do slip on socks. but often i’m barefoot. (don’t tell my mother, but i’m sockless even in snowboots sometimes.) all i need is a rope round my middle, tied in a long line of knots–one for each prayer i need to remember–and i’ve got the garb for the job.

the best part of being a monk, besides the hours and hours of quiet–oh, and the chanting, the gregorian fly-me-to-the-moon prayers that soar from the old wooden pews to the holy on high–is that a monk’s is a life of quotidian moments and tasks, each and all distinctly imbued with the sacred.

to till the soil is to make way for the seed, to witness the infinite mystery unfolding. to leaven the dough is to consider the miracle of rising again. to kindle the wick of the bee-bundled wax is to bring light to the darkness.

over and over, again and again, from the dawn to the dusk, under sunlight or moon, not an everyday chore is left without purpose divine.

and that, in the end, is a virtue to which i’d turn over the whole of my soul.

now, of course, i’ll not ever discard this life that is mine. this life that is messy, that’s filled with the joys and the sorrows of being a mother, a friend, and a lover in so many ways.

but i do think there always will be a part of my heart that yearns for the life i imagine on the other side of the towering monastic wall.

like all make-believe lives, i pick and i choose the parts i warm up to. i don’t want, not at all, to sleep on a hard slab of oak. nor do i care to be given the cold stare of the no. 1 monk.

no, the abbey i inhabit in my mind’s eye is one that is supremely simple, and utterly warm. the stone floors, i think, are radiantly heated. the garden is bursting with color, and armloads of herbs. the kitchen is steamy all day.

i think really what i am looking for is to make my life in this old creaky house the one i imagine far off in the hills of kentucky, or upstate new york.

it is my task–and maybe yours too–to continue to mine for the heart of the monk here in the midst of my modernday madness.

to find joy in the simplest brushes with heaven above. to fill up my hours with a prayerfulness that never ends. to understand the sanctity of an everyday chore done with pure heart, be it the zen of washing a bowl, or the blessing of changing the sheets for someone whose slumber you pray will be sweet.

it’s a quirky confession, perhaps, but it’s mine. and as this new year unfolds, i enter the most hallowed hours intent on bringing the life of the monk here to a home so utterly earthly.

i wonder, do any of you harbor monastic leanings? any of you spend any time behind the blessed walls of some faraway abbey? any scholars of merton, or friar tuck, or one of the other wise and soulful monks from centuries past?

photo above, courtesy of my sweet will. for the life of me it looks like some ad you might find in the new yorker.

and it is with great joy that i welcome the birth of a beautiful blog that promises to feed our spirits, day in and day out. everyday soup, is the name of dear slj’s blessed repast, now served. please do, give it a taste. you’ll find it, i’m certain, delicious.

by virtue of birth accident, my new year is abundantly a roll-over in every which way. the calendar turns as i too take on another year. my annual summing up, and looking ahead is double-dosed. tomorrow i turn 51. and the gift i just opened is the one of dreaming aloud. bless you, each and every one, for coming here, and letting me do so, day after day.