Friday, September 9, 2011


I’ve mentioned in a previous post that our community has given Jerome and Marylou Bongiorno, a couple of freelance documentary filmmakers, permission to make a documentary about Newark Abbey. This involves access to the school and the cloister and hours of personal interviews. They’ve pretty much finished the filming phase and will now get to the more challenging part – editing the hundreds of hours of footage into a coherent 60 or 90 minute film. I promise to keep you posted as the project progresses.

But in this post I want to tell you a little bit about the several ways in which I have already benefited personally from the experience of being interviewed and filmed. (I know that the Bongiornos follow this blog, so I have to watch what I say!)


First of all, in formal on-camera interviews I’ve launched into long monologues about such topics as who we are as monks, how our vision of reality affects the way we run our school, how prayer influences my life, and what I personally think of our community’s current situation of diminishing numbers. Having to articulate for someone else my deepest convictions and the principles that guide my life has, naturally enough, sharpened and clarified those convictions and principles for me. I’ve become more aware of my vowed commitment to live my life in accord with those ideals.


Second, in several interviews and filmed discussions I’ve been asked to go back to the years 1971 through 1973 and offer some perspective on the events surrounding the death and resurrection St. Benedict’s Prep. This exercise, too, has heightened my awareness and made me appreciate once again just how good the Lord was to us back then and in fact how good he has been to our community and to me personally over the intervening years.


Third, the abbot agreed to allow the Bongiornos to film a monk starting his day in his monastery room early in the morning and then follow him down to the church for meditation and Morning Prayer. I think the abbot was also the one that suggested that Fr. Albert might be a good subject (victim) for their proposal. If that request had come when the Bongiornos first arrived many months ago I would have simply declined. (You have to admit, the idea has the potential of being super tacky.) But I’ve come to trust them to the point that I said yes to their request. So this Thursday morning there was a camera over my shoulder as I washed my face, shaved and put on my habit. It was a weird feeling to say the least, and I’m hoping that they'll reduce the whole sequence to just a few seconds for the purpose of showing that monks are regular people who wash their faces and shave in the morning just like millions of other people. (Still I'm praying that it won't come across as tacky!)

But an unintended up side of having a camera invade my monastic cell was that in preparation for the invasion I took a look at my room and critiqued it in terms of what I’d been telling these people about my vision of monastic life –such as simplicity, frugality, awareness of ones surroundings and having an uncluttered heart. Looking at my room through that lens I saw that although my room was very simply furnished, there were several burial mounds of accumulated stuff on my desk, and various piles of papers that should have been discarded long ago. There were also dust bunnies hiding in the corners and a lot of little extraneous things that tended to give my room a cluttered appearance. So I did a monastic version of spring cleaning. Well! Too bad you can’t see my room now! It’s free of almost all clutter (except for one pile left on my desk) and looks the way one might expect a monk’s room to look: simple, neat, uncluttered and pleasant. I like the feel of it so much that I’m sure I’ll really work at keeping it this way.


The fourth and final benefit of having the filmmakers filming scenes in church during Morning Prayer and Vespers and in other places in the monastery has been watching and listening to their reactions to both our daily life and our physical surroundings. For instance, they filmed us singing Christmas Vespers and thought it was so beautiful that they immediately emailed a clip of the footage to a lot of their friends as a Christmas greeting. Their response made me realize that Christmas Vespers had indeed been a beautiful prayer experience. Then this past Thursday morning they pointed out how beautiful our church looks in the dark during our 5:00 a.m. meditation time with just a couple of lights shining down on the altar and a few candles lighted. Although I experience that silent scene every morning, now that they’ve pointed out how peaceful and prayerful it is, I've come to appreciate just how helpful the atmosphere is for someone who wants to pray. On a couple of occasions I’ve seen Jerome, the cameraman, suddenly stop in a monastery hallway to get a close-up of a painting or an icon that I’ve been walking past for years. So then I've stopped beside him to take a closer look at the object myself and have usually had to agree that it was in fact a really lovely work of art.


So in conclusion, the experience of having filmmakers around has helped me to renew my commitment to my monastic ideals and has given me a perspective on how good God has been to us over the decades. Further, it has reminded me to keep my room the simple and pleasant place it's supposed to be, and to see with new eyes how beautiful our monastic life at Newark Abbey is both in terms of our physical surroundings and the spiritual ideals we try to live up to as brothers in Christ.


I hope that you have someone in your life who occasionally reminds you of your ideals, who asks you to articulate what's most important in your life and then challenges you to live accordingly. I hope you have people in your life who point out things of beauty around you that you might otherwise have missed. Without intending to, the filmmakers have done all of those things for me.
.............................."Through Other Eyes"
..................painting by Dawn Hough Sebaugh


No comments:

Post a Comment