I slept in today. No surprise as I was up until well past 3am reading To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the books left for me under the stairs. I can’t remember how long it has been since I sat and read a book end-to-end like that. I tried to stop at around 2, but found myself lying awake wishing to continue. At last I thought to myself what good is it being an adult and free if I can’t continue to read when I want to? With that thought I switched on the little light above my bed, resumed where I’d left off and continued to the end.
While the reading marathon led to my day starting well after 10, looking back over the day, I’m struck by how long it seems with the distractions, cares and concerns that fill modern life all stripped away. Perhaps that is an unfair statement. I actually have nothing at all to worry about while I’m here, modern or otherwise. My only responsibility being to inform someone should I decide to skip lunch or dinner, an unlikely event after tasting today’s apple dumplings.
Now, having returned once more to my quiet room, I am settling in to complete my equivalent to the monks’ daily work, my writing. I feel unusually well prepared for it though, having spent the day walking the grounds and attending the meditative services that occur throughout the day. Yet I’m finding it strangely difficult to know where to begin. The many hours of reflection one has in a place like this do not lend themselves to the well-ordered linear thoughts that are used to construct a blog entry. I would write stream of consciousness, but I don’t have the faintest idea how to do it and imagine James Joyce would serve you much better.
So I will keep this brief and simply address one thought that seems particularly appropriate to today. Religious intolerance is a very sad, very real part of our world. We are reminded of it daily and it takes many forms: zealots bomb markets; fundamentalists insist doom awaits all who hold different beliefs; and hardline atheists mock the beliefs of most of humanity, both current and past. It would almost seem contention and judgment were the essential ingredients to a religious life. Yet here, among a group of men who have dedicated themselves with amazing intensity to the single-minded pursuit of their version of religious excellence, I find nothing but tolerance.
This may come as somewhat of a surprise to many of us who, having grown up surrounded by overbearing Sunday school teachers or sermonizing evangelicals, imagine a group of monks must be overwhelmingly oppressive. The truth is quite the opposite. The days here are filled with peace and tranquility. I have never been asked to attend church or, for that matter, for anything else. I am a stranger to them and I lack any conceivable gift to give a group of men who aren’t allowed to freely received letters, much less gifts. I’m not even Catholic. Yet despite this they have shown me the greatest hospitality, offering me a room, food, books and anything else I might need, more than I could expect even from a close friend.
It is easy to pass judgment on the world and the one-dimensional perspective we are fed on television only encourages it. Yet having ventured out into the world, I find the reality is far more complex and subtle then we are ever led to believe. Even more importantly, far from being filled with a never ending stream of hatred and anger, I’ve found it full of love, imagination and curiosity. It’s a discovery I hope everyone will have the chance to make.