Pulling Weeds

“Good morning, Brother Chris. Your tomatoes are spectacular.”

“Praise be to God.”

“Would you like some help weeding?”

“Thank you, Brother Jacob, I would love some. My knees are killing me.”

“Are they? You always look so content here, working in your garden.”

“I am, in mind and spirit, but the body does have a tendency to complain.”

“The soil is moist with yesterday’s rain. What a pleasure to dig in! Why, look at this worm, as fat as my finger.”

“Let me see. Oh, yes, I call him Percy, one of my favorite little workers.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve named the earthworms!”

“One must occupy one’s mind, Brother Jacob! Though I tend to call most of them Percy, for some reason.”

“Ha ha!”

“…”

“Brother Chris?”

“Yes?”

“…oh nevermind.”

“Speak, Brother Jacob, or I will be forced to have a conversation with Percy, who is an incorrigible bore.”

“Well, remember you told me I could ask you anything?”

“Yes, and I stand by that.”

“Even if it is … well, even if some would consider it blasphemous?”

“Brother Jacob, you may find those who disagree, but I believe firmly that there is never anything to fear from an open mind. It is only the closed ones that are dangerous.”

“Okay, well, I went for a walk in the forest yesterday afternoon. I picked mushrooms. I watched the progress of a ladybug up the bark of a maple tree. I answered the calls of birds. After a while, the sky grew dark, and when I got to the circular meadow I saw arrayed to the west a great bank of storm clouds. I looked back to the east at the peaceful forest and a small group of deer, a doe with two fawns. The wind kicked up, and to the west the clouds grew ever more menacing. And do you know what I thought?”

“That you wished you’d brought an umbrella?”

“Ha, no. Well, maybe I thought that too. But mainly I thought what a spectacle the gods were about to make.”

“God does put on a show sometimes, doesn’t He?”

“But I didn’t think about God in the singular, I thought about gods, plural, as in a stormy god clashing with a peaceful forest god.”

“Hmmm…”

“You see what I’m saying, Brother Chris? My thought instinctively went pagan. What does it mean?”

“Mean? Oh, Brother Jacob, probably it means nothing at all. Do not make yourself accountable for every random thought that crosses your mind.”

“But it wasn’t just a random thought. I got back to the abbey wet as a muskrat, and as I stood under the eaves wringing out my robes, I realized that it had become a habit with me to deify everything. There is a god of sleep, a god of the kitchen, a god of awkward moments. That god is a particular favorite of mine. Or, I mean, I am a favorite of his. He hovers over me for days at a time.”

“Brother Jacob…”

“But our faith, Brother Chris, says there is but one god, who is great and just and full of love. So who are these petty spirits in my mind? Why do they persist even when I know the truth?”

“Brother Jacob, take care with your weeding. Do not uproot the cucumbers.”

“Oh sorry … and even with this I can’t help thinking there is some mischievous god guiding my actions and laughing at my clumsiness.”

“Well, as you say, there is but one God, but He is mysterious and multifaceted. Pray on it, Brother Jacob, and with time and experience you will find the many diverse faces resolving into one.”

“Really, Brother Chris? Have you had this experience?”

“Well, no.”

“Oh. That’s what I was afraid of. There is something wrong with me, that I think this way.”

“There’s nothing wrong with you, Brother Jacob.”

“But as you say, you believe in one God. Brother Thomas believes in one God. Everyone from the Abbot on down to the wet-behind-the-ears novice believes in one God.”

“…”

“Don’t they?”

“Tell me this: Why did you want to be a monk?”

“Why? I felt a calling to devote my life to the Lord.”

“Come now, Brother Jacob, let’s be honest with each other. That is a nice answer, but really, why a monk? You must have had other options?”

“Well … I had one other option. I could work on my father’s farm.”

“A noble occupation.”

“But I didn’t want to. It was boring, and I was never big enough, strong enough, tough enough for my father. I liked books.”

“And so you felt a calling. And what did your father think of your choice?”

“He only muttered that perhaps it was for the best, that he had failed at turning me into a man and maybe the monks would have better luck.”

“Ah. I, for one, had no father. No mother either. I had no food nor a place to sleep. The abbey took me in. I was ten years old.”

“Oh, my, Brother Chris. I didn’t know.”

“Yes, and here I found a bed, three meals a day, men who spoke to me in quiet, kind, forgiving voices. They were like mythical creatures, like angels. I learned how to speak like them, how to act like them, how to respond when somebody praised my tomatoes.”

“Ha!”

“Yes.”

“Don’t tell me that you…?”

“I tried to believe in God. Like you I thought there was something wrong with me. I got down on my knees and wept, and I yearned to feel a presence from above. I invited God in, but he didn’t show up.”

“But you are one of the most pious monks at the abbey! The abbot himself, when I first came here, told me that I could learn a lot from you.”

“And who says you can’t?”

“But our faith, Brother Chris! How can we stay here if we don’t believe in God, one God? How have you stayed here for so long?”

“It’s not that hard. I like a peaceful life. I like to work the garden and to scrub pots after dinner. I like the regular schedule, to light a candle when I get up before dawn and to lay down with the sun. The readings of scripture are song, as lovely as birdsong…”

“But…”

“Perhaps to you that is not enough. Perhaps you think me terribly dishonest, and I can’t argue with you. Perhaps you have integrity I don’t have, and will march up to the Abbot and tell him that you are a pagan and therefore can’t in good conscience carry out your vows. Perhaps you will go to your father and with steely eyes tell him that you are now a man. Perhaps you are more of a man than I.”

“Do not be angry with me, Brother Chris.”

“I am not angry.”

“But you have just uprooted a zucchini plant.”

“So I have. I like your idea of seeing a mischievous god behind things such as this. I think I will become a pagan.”

“Now, don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m sorry, Brother Jacob. Perhaps you have little to learn from me after all, besides how not to behave.”

“…”

“That is the bell for Lectio. Thank you for your help with weeding, Brother Jacob.”

“Wait, Brother Chris. I really appreciate our talk, your frankness. May I help you in the garden tomorrow morning?”

“If you’d like, you can ask the Abbot to assign you to the garden. I have for some time been lobbying for an assistant. Somebody with strong shoulders and a feel for digging in the earth.”

“…”

“What is it, Brother Jacob?”

“My father would be proud.”

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