Standing there in his robe of all white, this monk stood with me as my rabbi for the hour. He was short in stature with a speech of soft fire and a loving way that softened your spirit. Within a few minutes, I quickly felt I had known him all of my life. His eyes teary to the point of wiping them at times and laughing just as passionately at others. Full of Life, yet vastly unattached to the world.
"Freedom. Great freedom is living unattached to those things that are not of God. It is being able to experience pain, anger, and suffering but knowing that God's peace is bigger. Letting it come and go without attaching yourself to it. We forget how much the Creator of the World longs to bring us Peace"
This man. This mighty frail man. He has lived in this monastery longer than I have been alive.
"We make a promise to stay. I go to and from the doctor sometimes. But apart from that, I am here. I have been here." He says that casually as if it had only been a few years. It has been 43.
The very first word of the Rule of St. Benedict is "Listen" All of the rest of the Benedictine discipline grows out of this one initial gesture of wholehearted listening. They sense that an effective way to insure this preciousness of listening and dignity is to practice compassion. Listening. Being Compassionate. Their two points of focus. I saw both in Brother Thomas.
"I am praying God's will. I want to travel. I want go out on some days" His eyes began to dance. Looking around shyly. Like a school boy revealing hidden secrets. His passion for life and learning even more and more about connecting to the heart of God reminded me of a dreaming college kid....But he had never been to college. And he was no school boy. He was 75 years old and his face spoke of each year. Covered with sun spots, aged wrinkles, and topped with silver white hair. Yet, he was full of beautiful Life that so ignited his spirit he would often lean in close to make sure I could feel the magic of each word. He wanted so much to share with me what God had taught him over the years. I wanted to learn.
"What is the hardest part about being here?"
"Hmmmm" He gently looked around. His voice softened, "Living within the community. It is the most trying, but it is the most purifying." His smirk unveiled his full smile. "It gives me the opportunity to live more out of the heart of Jesus. God is life. God is loving. We cannot extend compassion unless there is pain. It allows me to extend Jesus to them. To my brothers."
We talked on and on. About God's love. About His presence. About the Dark Night of the Soul and the beauty that can only come from the darkness. About how communing with the Spirit of God is better than anything we can attempt to superficially mend our wounds with. "It is more fulfilling than anything you can imagine" His smile lit up the cold stone chapel.
As I left, he looked at me and his eyes started to fill with water again. "Thank you" he said, "I don't get to share my passions with so many. You have brought me joy today...."
Two teary eyed souls parting ways. He, a 75 year old monk who had given his full life to God. Dreaming of life on the other side of the mountains. Me, a 38 year old free-spirit craving settled constancy and a companion. I walked out to my car and stopped for a minute just to thank God for moments of Life that I can soak in as a blessed memory. This was one. For the books.
Thank you, Brother Thomas. Thank you, Lord.