It’s so peaceful here… AHHHHHHH!!

Monks are symbols of such a deep human longing that, paradoxically, others often have trouble seeing them as human beings. This is a complaint monks will make to anyone who will listen.

“If another person says, ‘It’s so peacful here,’ I’ll scream!” one monk said to me.

I suspect that monastic life is like marriage in that only those on the inside really know what’s going on.

-Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, p. 193

Chanting with the vacuum

Hasn’t everyone whose spent a lot of time vacuuming the church done this? My own chanting history is steeped in lawn mowers.

It’s convenient to stereotype monks as either oddities or holy men, but in pigeonholing them we impede their marvelous hospitality. A few years ago a journalist doing an Easter story about a monastery on the Great Plains insisted that he needed a photograph of a monk with a broom. The scholarly monk who finally agreed to pose was quickly dubbed Brother Broom by his confreres as they laughed over the article at breakfast on Easter Sunday. It didn’t help that the monk wa misquoted in the story so that he seemed to be taking a heretical position on the Incarnation. This ludicrous situation could have been avoided, and the reporter might even have gotten a better story, had he photographed the young monk who worked the abbey’s industrial vacuum. The tapes on his Walkman were of the pass tones of the monks resonated well with the deep vibrato of the vacuum. “A perfect blend,” he joked, “of prayer and work.”

-Kathleen Norris, Dakota, p.199

More than just a book

The Bible doesn’t SAVE you (as some fundamentalists border on preaching), but it isn’t just a book full of information either. Being the core of the special revelation to mankind, it’s actually part of the gospel itself. N.T. Wright explains here.

…for Jesus’s death to have the effect it was intended to have, it must be communicated to the world through the “word” of the gospel. (As we saw [earlier], God’s “word,” for the early Christians, was the powerful proclamation of Jesus’s lordship.) And the Bible, in setting out the roots of the Christian story in the Old Testament and its full flowering in the New, was seen from very early on as encapsulating that powerful word – the word which communicated, and so put into effect, what God accomplished in Jesus. The Bible, in fact, is not simply an authoritative description of a saving plan, as though it were just an aerial photograph of a particular piece of landscape. It is part of the saving plan itself.

-N.T. Wright, Simply Christian, p.185

Daddy, what happens when you die?

My four-year-old daughter asked this out of the blue yesterday. We were sitting in the minivan, waiting for Mom to return from the grocery store.

Can you condense all of your faith, theology, and the gospel into a short answer a child could understand?

I opened my mouth to say, “Well, you go to heaven to live with Jesus”. That’s what most people would have told me as a child. But I stopped myself for a moment and thought.

From reading a lot of N.T. Wright, I’m pretty convinced that God is going to redeem both heaven and earth and that we’ll live here, not in some ethereal city of gold in outer space.

Also, I know from even the most basic eschatology of the bible, that we actually wait until the fulfillment of the redemption of mankind before Jesus resurrects all of us for the final judgment and glory. Nobody is quite sure what happens in the meantime. Paul calls it sleep. Some have come up with more elaborate holding-tanks like purgatory. Come to think of it, Jesus calls it sleep too. Everyone laughed at Jesus when he said the little sick girl had fallen asleep when everyone clearly knew she was stone cold dead.

Also, not EVERYONE goes to heaven to live with Jesus. Whether they choose to or God chose them or some mix of both, not everyone makes the cut. Universalism is not the gospel.

I didn’t want to feed her watered down pseudo-truth. But obviously any kind of theology talk would be useless at her age. I really had to stop and think for a sec. I’d never put it into those words before.

I finally came up with:

“Well, when you die, it’s like going to sleep. You die and they put you in the ground to sleep for a really long time. And someday, Jesus will come and wake everyone up! If you love Jesus, he’ll take you to live with him forever. But if you don’t love Jesus than you’ll just be alone.”

“And just your bones will be left?”

“Yeah, your body will turn into dust and just your bones will be left. But that’s OK because when Jesus wakes you up, you’ll have a new body.

“Do sometimes people die when they get really old?”

“I hope I die when I’m really old. Sometimes it’s sad when someone dies when they are really young because they didn’t get to live a whole long life. And sometimes it’s sad when people die because we’ll miss them. But that’s OK because we’ll see them again when Jesus wakes everyone up.”

In hindsight, I think this was a pretty good answer for now. She seemed to accept it.

A real life of prayer in the abbey

Ora et labora, pray and work, is a Benedictine motto, and the monastic life aims to join the two. This perspective liberates prayer from God-talk; a well-tended garden, a well-made cabinet, a well-swept floor, can be a prayer. Benedict defined the liturgy of the hours as a monastery’s most important work: it is, as the prioress explained it, “a sanctification of each day by common prayer at established times.” Many people think it’s foolish to spend so much time this way, but the experience of Benedictines over 1500 years has taught them that doing anything else is unthinkable. It may be fashionable to assert that all is holy, but not many are willing to haul ass to church four or five times a day to sing about it. It’s not for the faint of heart.

-Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, p.185

Monastacism doesn’t shut it’s eyes to the world

I have mixed feelings about Kathleen Norris’s memior Dakota. But the chapter on monastacism and visitors is excellent. I’d reprint the whole thing here if I could.

Not all silent somber faces, monks apparently have a lot of inside jokes and some can be rather playful at times.

One of my favorites is an ancient story of a gathering of bishops in Antioch, one of whom is the monk Nonnus. He scandalizes the other men by daring to thank GOd for the beauty of a notorious courtesan who has ridden naked through the city. The others look away as she passes by wearing nothing but jewelry but he asks, “Did not her great beauty delight you? Truly, it delighted me.” Then he chastises his fellow bishops, commenting that he only wishes he had the desire to please God that she has to please men.

To one contemporary monk, this story is at the heart of monastic contemplation, in that it calls a monk not to refuse to look at the world but to discover God at work in it. The story is also a subtle evocation of monastic hospitality as an invitation to new self-awareness. As the story goes, the courtesan heard of the monk’s remark and came to him in disguise, seeking to change her life. She became a nun, and the church acquired a new saint, Pelagia the Harlot.

-Kathleen Norris, Dakota, p.197

Church is for singing, and home too

Last night, my wife and I pounded on the piano and belted out praise songs and hymns ’till it was nearly midnight. What a blessing that the walls are thick and the children sleep through it all! It was wonderful.

In her memior Dakota, Kathleen Norris describes how important music was tied to church and God.

The church was music to me when I was little, an enthusiastic member of the cherub choir in the large Methodist hurch in Arlington, Virginia, where my dad was choir director. We woere pale blue robes with voluminous sleeves, stiff white collars, and flopp black bow ties, which I thought made me look like one of the angels in my picture hymnal.

I sang from that book every day at home. one of my strongest memories of early childhood is of sitting on my mother’s lap at our old, battered Steinway upright as she played the hymns and I sang. By the time I was three, long before I knew how to read, I’d turn the pages and on seeing the illustration would begin singing the right song in the right pitch.

I still value music and story over systematic theology – an understatement, given the fact that I was so dreamy as a child that I learned not from Sunday school but from a movie on television that Jesus dies. Either my Sunday school teachers had been too nice to tell me (this was the 1950s), or, as usual, I wasn’t paying attention. I am just now beginning to recognize the trut of my original vision: we got to church in order to sing, and theology is secondary.

-Kathleen Norris, Dakota, Ghosts – A History, p. 91


Well, I discovered that when I am inspired I can blog quite a bit! 43 posts last month – about triple my usual dripping output. 24 on the Inklings. 10 on Leithart’s theology challenge. But now I’ve run dry. I think I’m going to shift gears and work on some guitar for a while. That means very little reading (and thing to talk about) and also not much time to talk about them anyway. So Carpe Cakem might be pretty quiet for a bit.

A few of the better posts so far in 2009:


This week, inbetween coding, I’ve enjoyed listening to U2’s album from 1991 – Achtung Baby. I always knew the band existed, but never paid much attention. Their work keeps coming up though among many of the bloggers I read so I thought I’d give ’em a shot. The Joshua Tree (their only other album I was familiar with) is a good from the get go. This one took me a few listens before I started to like parts of it.

Bono’s delivery is everything. It’s so full of emotion. I took a break from it the other day and popped in some Sting. Whoa. He sounded like he was half asleep!

There’s not a ton to say, but it’s worth posting this section from the song Acrobat.

And I must be an acrobat
To talk like this
And act like that
And you can dream
So dream out loud
And you can find
Your own way out
You can build
And I can will
And you can call
I can’t wait until
You can stash
And you can seize
In dreams begin
And I can love
And I can love
And I know that the tide is turning ’round
So don’t let the bastards grind you down

Little we know of verse here

In the summer-house of the Cornish king
I kneeled to Mark at a banqueting,
I saw the hand of the queen Iseult;
down her arm a ruddy bold
fired the tinder of my brain
to measure the shape of man again;
I heard the king say: ‘Little we know
of verse here; let the stranger show
a trick of the Persian music-craft.’
Iseult smiled and Tristram laughed.
Her arm exposed on the board, between
Mark and Tristram sat the queen,
but neither Mark nor Tristram sought
the passion of substantial thought,
neither Mark not Tristram heard
the accent of the antique word.
Only the uncrossed Saracen
sang amid the heavy Cornish men;
only, a folly amid fighting lords,
I caught her arm in a mesh of chords,
and the speech of Moslem Ispahan
swung the hazels of Lateran.

From The Coming of Palomides, in Taliessin Through Logres, by Charles Williams