We arrive Friday late afternoon. At supper, we hear, a monk has collapsed in the next room while taking his meal. The appropriate calls are made. Attempts to revive. Care taken. But death takes Father Leo.
One monk comments that he had read well, just moments ago, at Vespers. Another says he was troubled by ventricular leaks, and says, well, anyway salmon was his favourite meal and how fitting that he could die on Friday.
In the mean time the tables are cleared, the dishes done, and preparations made for Vigils.
I take death seriously. The monks at the monastery where I go take it seriously as well, and, they take it as a matter of course.
To step into the monastery is to step into a cutaway of life. To see life’s core. Its DNA. Here, it seems, the double helix of life and death is exposed through daily gardening of soul. In a sense, the monks practice the art of dying so as to live more richly and so to live as though death is behind then. They do this by daily recollection, through lectio, through meditation, through the discipline of ora et labora, a balance of prayer, study and labour that spurs growth and is finally employed as a means of learning to love one another.
And that is the secret of the monastery. All these souls gliding though their day in black robes, living as though death were behind them. If you speak to a monk, and I had spoken to Father James about this many times while he was alive, it is never death they fear, only perhaps the grimacing moment of death, death’s birth canal. But not death.
I prefer to think that this is so because in and through it all they have learned to love. St Benedict, after all, considered the monastery a school of love.
those who have learned
to love one another
have made there way
to the lasting world
and will not leave,