[Webmaster’s Note: This article was posted as part of a series on Brother Eric Pohlman and his decision to join Saint John’s Abbey.]
Listen with the Ear of Your Heart
Tuesday morning the power in the monastery went out. More precisely, it stopped at 3:45. For most households this is no problem, but it would surprise you to know how many monks are up at that hour. I for one had planned to read, so this was an issue. At this time of year the sun rises just before 7 am; and since the power came back at 7:05, this meant sitting in the dark for nearly three hours. With only one candle to keep me company, I discovered there’s not a lot to do.
I thought the absence of light would be the primary sensation, but the absence of sound was what hit me most. In most buildings “ambient noise” overwhelms everything else, and that’s true even in monasteries. But with no compressors running and no air rushing through vents, I began to hear noises that I never knew were there. For three hours I heard the little things, and it was amazing.
Noise saturates our world, and the crush of decibals drowns out a lot of what our grandparents heard regularly. Not surprisingly, the same experience extends to people as well. In a world in which far too many words are spoken, we tend now to ignore one another. We don’t listen to directions. People’s names fly right by us when they introduce themselves. People talk on cell phones while they dine with their spouses. Friends cease to pay attention, even though they speak to each other all time. In an ocean of stuff being communicated, we’ve lost the art of listening.
Given that it’s a Rule for Monasteries, you’d think that Saint Benedict would open up with advice like “Do more penance” or “Get a life.” Instead, he begins with the word “Listen.” This is advice that monks must heed for a lifetime. Young monks need to listen to the teaching of their seniors; and the abbot needs to listen to the juniors, just in case they have the wisdom that has eluded him.
For Benedict there is no substitute for listening, and it wouldn’t hurt if we all listened to each other a little more carefully. If we took each other seriously, it could lead to a bit less mindless chatter or trash talk. It might elevate our conversation to the point where wisdom and love and understanding flow more freely. And we might even enjoy what others have to say.
+On the feast of the Holy Cross, September 14th, Brothers Eric Pohlman and Theophane Windschitl took their first vows as monks. Brother Eric grew up near Toledo, Ohio, attended college at the University of Dayton, and recently received his Masters in Building and Maintenance Engineering at Ohio State University. Brother Theophane is from New Ulm, Minnesota, and he is a graduate of Saint John’s University. He later earned an MA in Music at the University of Indiana, and he served for five years as the head organist at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.
Their companion in the novitiate, Brother Isaiah Frederick, began his canonical year a bit later and will take his vows this winter. Brother Isaiah grew up in Tucson, Arizona, is a graduate of Saint John’s University, and for nine years worked for PriceWaterhouse in Phoenix.
+Fr. Matthew Luft has returned to The Catholic University of America, where he continues his doctoral work in theology. This year he will take his comprehensive examinations and begin his dissertation.
+On September 17th Fr. Nickolas Becker began his journey for Rome, where he begins studies for a doctorate in theology at the Alphonsianum. While in Rome he will live at the Benedictine Abbey of Sant Anselmo.
+On September 13th Fr. Geoffrey Fecht left for China with a group of 27 friends of the Abbey. While there they will have the opportunity to visit with several alumni of Saint John’s.
The Completion of The Saint John’s Bible
On September 16th the Minneapolis Institute of Arts hosted a press conference to announce the completion of The Sant John’s Bible. It also marked the opening of a new exhibit of folios from the last volume of the Bible — Letters and Revelation. The Saint John’s Bible: Amen! will run through November 13th.
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts was a fitting venue to announce the completion of the project, because it was there in 1999 that we unveiled the very first folio. The intervening years have seen some great exhibits, and hundreds of thousands have come to appreciate the inspiration of Donald Jackson and his team of scribes and illuminators.
In 1996 Donald described his idea to me over lunch at The Italian Village in Chicago. We had just made a joint presentation at the Newberry Library, and calligraphy was very much on his mind. That day I was sure that such a project could not get any sort of hearing at Saint John’s, but I gave a cautiously optimistic answer anyway. Three months later I finally broached the idea to Brother Dietrich Reinhart, president of Saint John’s University, and his immedate “we have to do that!” was a real shock. But we were off and running.
Two things have struck me consistently throughout the life of this project. First, we need artists. We need sculptors and architects. We need poets and musicians and composers, because they see life differently than the rest of us mere mortals. Without them our lives would be as drab and utilitarian as a parking garage. With them, life becomes exhuberant.
Second, Donald Jackson taught me that artists are preachers too. No better example can be found than in his whimsical corrections where scribes have inadvertently omitted a line of text. Birds and insects move the missing lines into place, and in the process they hint at the creativity and playfulness of God. They also make a fundamental point that no one should forget. For most of history God preferred to use the fallible human hand to make His Bibles. The printing press was our idea. For the same reason, God prefers that we do His work in the world. If He wanted perfection, He would have made robots.
That said, even our machines have their off days. For some scholars the most interesting Bible ever printed was a 1650 edition of The King James Version, printed in London. The type-setters left out one “not” in the Ten Commandments, and so it reads: “Thou shalt commit adultary.” The government levied a big fine for this snafu, but the Wicked Bible became a runaway commercial success.
Listen with the Ear of Your Heart
September 19, 2011 by monkschronicle