Saturday, 27 August 2016

Not Forever By Still Waters

 "Today, young monk, you are going on an expedition out on the moors. Get some fresh air into your lungs, marvel at nature, listen to the sound of the wind...."

"But I have only just arrived, I don't feel I have even settled in yet! " protested the monk, who had envisaged a day far less energetic.

"Yes, but we don't want you getting too set in your ways."

"But what about prayers?" babbled Mystery Monk, sensing that he was not winning the argument.

The Abbot smiled, "You require physical exercise as well as spiritual exercise! Besides the prayers are so familiar to you that you can say them in your sleep, and often do!"

Mystery Monk winced, he had hoped that his closed eyes had been interpreted as religious piety, rather than human weakness.

"Take a packed lunch and plenty of water to drink. Your companions will be here to collect you in, gosh 10 minutes. You better go and get ready. You don't want to keep them waiting!"

Mystery Monk made his sandwiches (not marmalade) and had just finished packing his bag when a car pulled up outside the front door.  It was his travelling companions, a family off on a day trip, eager to share their love of the outdoors.  Mystery Monk nailed a smile to his face, but soon found he was quite enjoying the journey, that was until they pulled up in a car park, and he had to get out of the car.

They decided to leave their stuff in the boot, and go and spy out the land. The more energetic members of the party began to explore the river bank. Mystery Monk waited patiently for the moment when he could get his lunch and chair and settle down for a snooze.... Instead he found himself climbing over rocks.  Then a member of the party had the bright idea of walking up to the dam.

"Is it far?" he enquired, trying to make his tone sound enthusiastic. That was before he discovered that it was a mile, or two, or possibly three, and uphill ALL THE WAY!

Off they went, with a spring in their step.  Mystery Monk followed, trying to put a spring in his plod, and failing. They stopped regularly to admire the way the water tumbled over the rocks. Mystery Monk did consider asking if he could stay there while the others went on ahead, but he KNEW the Abbot would get to hear about it, because Abbots always do....
After about a mile, the pathway moved up away from the small river, but they could still hear the sound of the water tumbling over rocks.

"It's laughing at us, telling us we are going the wrong way..." thought Mystery Monk, "we should be going down the valley, not up!"

The terrain opened out, the sun appeared and the temperature rose within the sheltered valley. Mystery Monk mopped his brow and looked up at the green hills around him, hoping that a concrete wall would magically appear somewhere, indicating that his torturous trail was terminating. Birds appeared in a line, swooping and turning in a synchronised display of aerial acrobatics, but Mystery Monk had little energy left to appreciate their artistry.  Finally the dam came in to sight, but now they HAD to climb to the top to see the view. Even Mystery Monk agreed that there was no point in coming all this way to look at the base of the dam, they needed to reach the top to see the water.  Mystery Monk thought longing of his lunch, which was waiting for him back at the car several miles away....

Upwards they climbed. Mystery Monk followed wearily. He put his head down and willed his body to keep moving forward, concentrating on moving one aching leg at a time as he slowly climbed the stoney path. He noticed a rock beside the path that looked suspiciously like a headstone.  "Oh no!" he thought. "Others have perished on the way!  This is it I AM DOOMED!!!"
Then suddenly they were there. Mystery Monk gave a huge sigh of relief and looked out across the water, watching the ripples and reflections and felt relieved that he had reached the top of the dam.

The next stage, his hosts advised him, involved walking round the edge of the water and back down the other side.
Mystery Monk lay face down on the grass.
"I can't...." he said sadly "My reservoir is empty!"
The family smiled and told him they were only joking...

Mystery Monk paused at the top of the dam,  and admired the hazy view.
"It really is a very beautiful world we live in. I hate to say it but the Abbot is right. We do need to get outside and marvel at creation.
Maybe he could send me to Norfolk next time.  It is flatter there!"

The return walk was much quicker than the endless climb into the unknown, and Mystery Monk definitely did have a spring in his plod as he headed towards lunch.

They ate their belated picnic on the bank of the river, listening to the roar of water over the rocks.

Mystery Monk returned home weary but rejoicing.
"So, how was the grand expedition up to the dam?" enquired the Abbot

"Fern-tastic!" replied the weary, but happy monk, before falling into quiet repose.

Title taken from the hymn - Father hear the prayer we offer

Monday, 22 August 2016


Mystery Monk was back.

The last couple of years had been spent mainly in seclusion, providing the opportunity for spiritual development through prayer and study. The young monk had never regarded himself as much of a scholar and had anticipated that the work would be arduous and boring. However, he had been pleasantly surprised by the enjoyment he had gained from his academic endeavours and he had found the topics interesting and challenging. He particularly enjoyed the weekly discussions - hardly a time of silent contemplation, he chuckled, recalling the lively discussions that had taken place around the table, skilfully led by a variety of tutors. Mystery Monk recalled with gratitude all that he had learnt from both the course leaders and his fellow students. Although their backgrounds were varied, they were drawn together by a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the word of God.  Most of the students did not live the life of Holy Orders, they had families, homes, jobs and churches which they returned to at the conclusion of each session.  All desired to serve God, but were called to different places. His fellow students cherished the time they spent within the hallowed walls, and Mystery Monk had watched each week as they arrived, often hassled and frantic, and then gradually absorbed the peace and tranquility of the community, before reluctantly returning to the demands of the outside world.

Mystery Monk's studying had been completed.  After a time of waiting it was time to begin the next chapter.  During the time he had been away the community had moved, so although he was back among familiar faces the location was new.  Instead of living in a monastery, his new home was a detached house within the community which he would share with several others.  The young monk gazed out, not on the old familiar hallowed grounds, but to a suburban garden.
"It's all very different" he pondered "...metal chairs and fairy lights instead of wooden pews and candles...."He opened the door and stepped out into the gathering dusk, noticing to his surprise, the sound of distant traffic...and lying on the ground in front of him he noticed a football.

"Hey, Mister!"
He turned in the direction of the voice, and was met my the unblinking stare of a small child.
"Sorry to disturb your prayers, but if you were to see a football, please feel free to send it in this direction."

"Is it yours?"

"Yes, but my mum says I am not allowed to ask..."

Mystery Monk contemplated the football.  "I see no reason for it to remain here, I think you would make far better use of it than we would." 
Mystery Monk booted the football in the direction of the child, it failed to clear the fence and hit it  with a dull thump.

"I think you could do with some lessons!" came the verdict.

Mystery Monk handed the ball over the fence. "That would be most generous"

"They said you had just finished training, but I think you have plenty more to learn!" replied the child before disappearing from sight.

Mystery Monk walked around the garden, admiring the plants, then he noticed the Abbot's familiar face at the open door.
"Welcome back. I see you have met Howard"

"Met, judged, and found wanting, I am afraid," replied Mystery Monk.

"Reminders of our call to humility come in many shapes and forms, " observed the Abbot, but before Mystery Monk had the opportunity to enquire if the Abbot also had failed to kick the ball over the fence,  they were summons by the sound of a bell.

"Saved by the bell!" smiled Mystery Monk.