Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why I Would Make a Bad Monk, Exhibit A

Like my father before me, I sometimes used to think I might make a good monk.

About three years ago, a book disabused me of most of this ambition. That was An Infinity of Little Hours, a non-fiction account of five young men entering the Carthusian order. No, probably I wouldn't really care for the hair shirts and certainly not the cold.

The little bit of monastic ambition left me after reading that great book has been removed once and for all by re-reading The Nun’s Story, Kathryn Hulme’s novel about a nun in pre–World War II Belgium.

You can read my Goodreads review by clicking on the link. (That's Hulme in the picture.) This post is not about that book but about why I would make a bad monk.

I would make a bad monk because I cannot sit still, not even for an hour of reading a book so riveting as The Nun's Story. (How can a fictionalized biography of a nun known by the author be riveting? Read my review and see.)

I would make a bad monk because a monk's life involves sitting and kneeling and standing in prayer and contemplation for hour upon hour. Like reading: you have to sit quietly and do it if you’re a monk. I cannot read like that. I cannot make it through a paragraph of the best prose without one or more of the following:

a. checking the time (how long have I been reading?)
b. checking my stats on Blogger
c. checking my e-mail, text message, and other electronic incomings (what just made my phone vibrate?)
d. feeling thirsty
e. feeling like I have to pee (probably just a guy thing)
f. wondering what the evening's TV sports line-up looks like
g. checking my Goodreads to-read list to see what I want to read when I finish the book I'm reading
h. fantasizing about the blog post I am going to write about this book, complete with dazzling leads that I forget each time I think of a new one

I am thinking of writing a Rule for married people like me who have thought they might be better suited to the cloister. In fact, I think I will begin now.

St. Bull's Rule

1. To discern your vocation, begin by devoting one hour a day to reading. Read anything. Do nothing but read it. What you read is less important than how you read it. Do not get up from your reading chair either physically or in your imagination, and do not indulge in any of the activities listed as (a) thru (h) above.

Having tried this exercise for nine consecutive days (a reading novena) return to the novice master and receive your next assignment. 

Warning: If you tell him or her you have been successful, you may be disqualified immediately as a liar. 

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