Saturday, September 13, 2014


To understand this post I suggest that you go back first to last week's. At the end of our last episode our hero was about to take the PATH commuter train into New York's Greenwich Village to attend the screening of a documentary film in which he is featured prominently...


I enjoyed the excursion tremendously. The train ride brought back pleasant memories of commutes to Columbia Teachers College, NYU and the New School. As I came up out onto 14th street disguised in black slacks and a gray sport shirt I was immediately caught up in the swirling stream of humanity rushing in ten directions at once. Feeling like that proverbial fish out of water I chose the stream that was flowing downtown and rode it for one block toward 13th.

As we flashed past pizza joints, tattoo parlors, delicatessens, an art gallery and a variety of small shops I was very much aware that in my suitcase was my monastic habit, which I would put on for the Q and A session at the end of the movie. I held onto the handle as it rolled and bobbed along behind me like a life preserver. I wondered what these folks on the sidewalk would think if I had decided to just wear my habit there in the middle of the hubbub. This being Greenwhich Village, though, I concluded that probably no one would bat an eye.

We arrived at the corner where I ducked behind a post to shield myself from the relentless current as I waited to cross 6th Avenue. I crossed, tugging my little blue life preserver, enjoying the less frenetic pace of the side street and watching the students standing in front of the New School talking and smoking.  Halfway down the long block I spotted the Quad Cinema on the other side of the street. Hoping that there were no cops around to ticket me for jaywalking, I slid between two parked cars and dashed across, still tugging my suitcase.


In the quiet of the lobby I had a chance to begin reflecting on my foray into the Big Apple. I was really experiencing just how different my life inside the monastery is from the way the rest of the world lives -- at least the world of lower Manhattan. In place of silence there was noise, in place of the calm pace of the cloister there was bustle and busyness. In place of crucifixes and statues and paintings reminding you constantly of the dimension of the sacred that underlies all human existence there was just the surface everydayness of things.

As I slipped into the mens room in the theater I felt like Clark Kent stepping into a phone booth. A minute later I emerged into the lobby in my full Benedictine habit. Definitely a fish out of water, I hurried to the theater that was showing "The Rule." I slipped into the last row as the movie continued, thankful for the anonymity of the dark theater.

At the end of the film the house lights came up slowly as the credits rolled, and, according to plan, I stood up and walked slowly down the aisle. It was kind of fun - as if I had just walked out of the movie (in which I have a lot to say) and right into the theater. There were a couple of surprised ooohs and ahs as I made my way to the front of the little theater and turned to the twenty-five people sitting there.

"I was asked to stop by to see if you had any questions." There was a really good discussion back and forth concerning all sorts of topics from educational philosophy to funding.

After the session I changed back into my layman disguise and headed back to the train to be home in time for Saturday night Vigils. As I pushed my way upstream along Sixth Avenue my little blue suitcase no longer seemed like a life-preserver; it was rather a reminder of those two great monastic beliefs: first, that God is present everywhere (not just in churches and monasteries), and second that we encounter Jesus present in every single person we meet.

To the eyes of faith (Clark Kent's X-ray vision?) the shops and stores took on a different look -- God was present in each of them. And the people were more special now too -- each one of them was Christ hurrying past on some errand or other.

Vigils that night was a richer experience than usual. The psalms and songs had a deeper resonance for me thanks to my brief afternoon foray. I felt the presence of millions people as we monks quietly celebrated the Resurrection. The monastic choir stalls got quite crowded in fact.

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