Something about authenticity...
This week I was at a monastery, which is about an hour away from my hometown, to start writing my M.A. thesis. It’s the most beautiful place in the middle of nowhere, but it’s not necessarily the beauty of the buildings, or the gardens, or the weather that attracts me. Of course, all these things matter, but there’s something else here: a certain sense of calm and deep devotion.
When you attend the prayers you may feel like you have stepped into a time machine that transported you back roughly 400 years. The monks sing their psalms in Latin, they are removed from other worshippers and you get the feeling that it’s hard to get in touch with them. If you don’t want to, then that’s fine and they let you be, but sometimes, if they sense you want to talk, or you approach them directly, they’re there for you.
Yesterday, after evening prayers, I was lucky enough to talk to one of them. Well, to be honest, I met him upon arrival. He’s the one responsible for the guests. He is interested in what people have to say, he is funny, he is as down to earth as anyone can be. What impressed me about him, was his absolute faith and authenticity.
I don’t mean to make this piece an advertisement for Christianity. I know a lot of people have their doubts about religion in general and Christianity in particular and that’s perfectly fine. But here’s what I want to say and what I want to share:
Whenever I’m here and I’m in this beautiful, simple church, whenever I enter the premises of the monastery, I feel something stir within me and this something is not excitement or happiness, but this calm. You get the feeling that you can let yourself fall here. Not literally though, the marble looks like the hardest pillow ever.
My God, this place! It gives me the same feeling I had when I was in Oxford as an AuPair. When I was homesick and missing my mother and that feeling was tearing me apart. I hadn’t been to church in years but something just drew me to the Church St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford. I attended mass and I felt something break open within me. Something so overwhelming, I couldn’t hold it back. Talking to the priest afterwards, was the best comfort possible.
What makes this place, this monastery, so special, or even holy I might say, are the men who work here. Who live here, who breathe life into this little valley and welcome everybody willing to come. They’re down to earth, completely grounded and there’s nothing superficial about them.
I got a bit of work done, I finished writing a fic, I went on walks and I attended some prayers and the mass, something I almost never do at home. But here church just around the corner and it’s beautiful. Praying is easy here.
When I came back from my evening walk, I felt like I needed to talk to someone, and there he was. It wasn’t my intention to talk to him, per se, but it just happened. There, on the ancient oaken stairs in the entrance hall, I told him how much I loved this place. He merely suggested that I seem to be someone looking for something and there it was. I started crying. All the troubles of the past few weeks, months, years really, came spilling out of me and he gave me the biggest gift ever. He sat me down and listened to me. He just listened, and told me his story after I was done. I will not go into details here, I’m still crying as I’m writing this, but it is so amazing to see someone so honest. That’s the best word I can come up with to describe him. He was honest about himself, about life, his doubts, his fears. Moreover, he was encouraging in his honesty.
And that, I believe is what makes this place so amazing. Christianity, as it is lived here, is what everyone should aspire. It’s not about what you believe in, may it be Allah, Jesus Christ or no God at all. I have the feeling that the people here have accepted who they are with every fibre of their being. That is what makes this place so beautiful and so other-worldly. There is no rushing about, no internet or an other distractions, just the simplicitiy of life. There’s nothing secretive about this place, nothing mysterious. There is no pretence. Just good, simple honesty about who we are as people. With our history, our aspirations, our failures and faults.
Thank you for reading this… I just felt like I needed to share this…