Geordie the Monk: John Skinner 1991

geordie monk

Geordie the Monk/The Bell

Before the time of computers and the internet, cars and motorcycles, electricity and steam, there lived a young man called Geordie.  Geordie worked a farm, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, 52 weeks of the year. He lived by the seasons, the harvests, the birth of new lambs, the raising of cows and sheep. He enjoyed his life, it had a rhythm that was connected to every thing around him.

On Saturday nights, Geordie always made his way to the local Tavern for some serious ale drinking with his friends and to spend the evening eying up Betty the Beautiful Barmaid. This was his life and he liked it, just as it was. That was, until the bell rang.

It started unexpectedly. There he was in the Tavern, drinking with his mates, flirting with Betty, and he could hear a bell ringing. Same time , same number of chimes,

same deep and dulcet tones that seemed to reach right into his soul. Nobody else could hear the bell, not even Betty, though she said there was an old Church over the hill.

Next Saturday night Geordie set out to see if he could find the old church. He arrived as the bell rang. He peeped inside the main door, but its old iron hinges announced his arrival. A priest, who looked as old as the Church, summoned him to come inside and join the small number of people who knelt in the pews softly muttering their prayers. In some kind of undefined order, each got up and sat with the Priest for a few moments, received a blessing, then off they went, out into the darkness. Geordie felt calmly disturbed. He had not been to Confession since he was a child, and had no plans to join the Priest, until it just seemed it was his turn.  The priest called him by name, welcomed him back home, and said he would see him next week, at the time of the Bell.

Geordie stumbled out of the Church into the dark, but starlit night. He was still calm, but more disturbed. Somebody was reaching down and gently but firmly touching his soul, his inner being. He panicked, and ran as if the hounds of heaven were chasing him until he reached the safety of the Tavern, the last drink of Ale, and Betty; The Beautiful Barmaid.

Part 2

Geordie made the visit to the old church part of the regular rhythm of his life.

Saturday night now involved a one hour walk to church; spending at least one hour in quiet waiting for that moment when it was his turn to sit and chat with the priest; a one hour walk back to the Tavern; then one hour drinking Ale and flirting with Betty the Beautiful Barmaid.

Once again he was happy with his life, that is, until he heard  bells.

It was in the old Church at about 8.15pm when he first heard bells. He looked around to see if anybody else had been distracted by the sound of bells. Nobody seemed to have fidgeted, flinched or flickered. Involuntary shaking began in his hands, and although it wasn’t cold in the church he began to shiver. He remembered the bell that had interrupted his Tavern time, and now it was a number of bells he was hearing; where would it lead this time? His turn came to sit and chat with the Priest but he was afraid to speak, to ask a question when he might regret the answer.

‘Did you hear them’ asked the old priest. ‘Did you hear them’ he asked again, in a firm but gentle tone. ‘It’s you they are calling too, Geordie, it’s time to leave and begin the next part of your journey.’

He was angry all the way home. He liked order in his life, to know what he was doing and at what time. He had made space in his life for the regular trip to the old church, for speaking with the old priest, he had adjusted his life accordingly, made the commitment. His life had a rhythm, a cycle, isn’t that the true nature of the religious life?  He spent the last hour of Saturday night in the Tavern, but his thoughts were so distracted he just sipped his Ale and barely noticed Betty the Beautiful Barmaid.

He thought about what it would mean to leave his farm, his friends, his life. He loved his life, as it was, untroubled, without unwelcome interruptions, decidedly familiar,

full of carefully selected possibilities. Now, the sound of bells were ringing in his ears, calling him to leave his life behind and journey towards an uncertain future, once again he was afraid, disturbed, but strangely calm. He knew that the bells were leading him to the One that his heart was seeking.

Next day, he put his farm into the hands of his brothers, said goodbye to his friends, kissed Betty on her beautiful cheeks, and set off on the journey to his new life. It was several days walk and though exhausted he felt excited and elated when he finally arrived at the monastery gate. He banged confidently on the big oak door with his fist, and shouted confidently for someone to come and open the door. No answer.

He tried again, then again, then again. Finally, he could hear footsteps, and then he heard a voice from behind the oak door;

“What do you want, come along, speak up, what’s the meaning of knocking on our   door at this time of night?”

Geordie began to tell the voice behind the oak door his story, and the events that had led him to knock on this particular door.

“No, No, No,” said the voice behind the oak door. “Stop that nonsense now, there is nothing here for you lad, get yourself away home, go on then, clear off, don’t come back again us .”

This was not the welcome Geordie had anticipated. It was getting dark, the nearest village was a good walk away, and it was obvious he was not welcome here. He sat down under an arched tree not far from the monastery gate. This would provide shelter for the night ahead and give him time to gather his thoughts and decide what to do next. Then the rain came; cold, wet, persistent rain.

Part 3

Geordie sat three days and three nights outside the monastery gate. The rain had stopped, but had left him soaked to the skin. He had wrestled with himself; torn between going back to the life he loved and understood and going forwards on a uncertain journey to which he seemed unwelcome.

He was calm and collected as he knocked on the monastery gate.

He heard footsteps, followed by the same voice from behind the oak door:

“Is that you again?”  “Why have you come back?”  “What is it you want from us?”

Geordie hesitated, then he spoke slowly and clearly:

“I am seeking the One”

Silence followed, seconds of silence that seemed like forever.

Geordie spoke again:

“I am seeking the God of Yesuah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

At that point the locks on the gate began to rattle and the door opened. Much to Geordies surprise there were a group of monks waiting behind the door to meet him.

‘Welcome, welcome, now come inside so we can get you some dry clothes and get some warm food into you…….”

Geordie stayed in the monastery guest house for nearly three months. He had settled in well and adjusted to this new way of life and made it his own. All the other monks had their own individual huts each with a small garden in which they grew vegetables and flowers. On Saturday evenings they met together to eat and talk; serious conversation intermingled with lots of laughter and good humour. Geordie was only allowed to listen as he had not begun to live this way as yet. On Sunday’s the all met early in the morning for the Great Celebration. For the most part the monks lived solitary lives whose importance was reflected in the high circular wall that surrounded the monastery.

At the end of three months Geordie was asked by the Abba who it was he was seeking. His reply was even stronger than it had been when he had first spoke it out:

“I am seeking the God of Yesuah, the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

The community then agreed to allow Geordie to join the community as a Novice. That day he walked out of the guest house through the enclosure and into the heart of the community. The Abba was waiting for him with a novices habit a took him to the newly prepared hut and garden the community had built for him. Geordie was so excited and that Saturday night he thanked all the community that he was now a monk at which point the Abba instructed him to apologise to each member of the community individually with the words; “Forgive me I am not a monk but a novice”

Geordie settled into his hut and was determined to organise himself so that his new vocation fitted in just the way he like it. Then it happened. Geordie could not believe it. Here he was, in the place of his choice, ready to put his stamp on it, get the whole thing organised, just the way he liked it, and to his surprise and shame; he was bored stiff. Now that is not a metaphor. Geordies boredom had left him completely motionless, with absolutely no motivation.

“What the bloody hell am I doing here?” he thought to himself

“This is a serious fecking waste of time and space”

“These lazy bastards are a group of work shy misfits who would not last 5 minutes in

my world.”

“My world” the thoughts of his home, his farm, his life…yes his life, the way he wanted it went round and round his head. He should never of left, never have listened

to those stupid bells, never have gone to that damp smelling church or listened to that damp smelling Priest. Unable to sleep or eat foe several days he went to see the Abba…to quit. Frustratingly, the Abba responded to his crisis with these words;

“Go to your hut and your hut will teach you everything”

“Go to you hut! Go to you hut!”

“What sort of fecking advice is that?”

Geordie close the hut door behind him and to his surprise the thoughts had retreated to the back of his mind, not silent just dull whispers. He decided to eat some food and try and make up for the lost sheep. He awoke in the early hours of the night. His thoughts were now moving in a new direction, he followed them unwillingly, because they held him captive. There waiting, at the end of the journey, was Betty the Beautiful Barmaid. He missed Betty, he yearned for Betty, He wanted Betty…yes wanted her now, in everyway possible. He wanted to possess her, dominate her, ravish her in every possible way. He tried to shut the thoughts out, he sang, danced, ran outside around his garden, he poured cold water over his head and down the front of his habit. He felt shame: how could he thing about Betty this way? How could he ever become a monk? He ran to the Abba’s hut and banged on the door.

The Abba listened quietly to Geordies thoughts. When he was finished the Abba took hands, looked at him and said;

“Go to your hut and your hut will teach you everything”

Back in the hut Geordie managed to eat and sleep well. He decided to be more positive about everything, to take more control of his vocation. That’s when he decided he would be the new St. Anthony the father of monasticism.  He imagined himself doing the longest and most trying vigils, with the rest of the community looking on in admiration. His reputation for holy living would travel far and wide, and seekers from all over would come for his wise direction. He would travel far and wide from the monastery preaching and teaching the multitudes who would be astounded by his monastic wisdom. He looked out at the adoring crowds and there in the middle of them all was Betty the Naked Barmaid.

At this point Geordie cracked up. He fell on the floor of his hut, tears poured down his cheeks. He couldn’t take this anymore. He was a failure as a monk.

He sat for sometime in silence, allowing his thoughts to settle, the pursuit of his monastic career to subside. He started to weave a basket from the reeds that carpeted the floor, a skill he learnt during the dark days of winter while shepherding sheep. He then started to weave others skills he knew into his day; tending his garden, preparing a meal, welcoming silence. These were joined by knew pursuits; saying Office, reading, meditating, and what became a great joy, sharing with the rest of his community on a Saturday night. He listened now more than he talked. He discovered his community came from all different walks of life, from peasants, to priests and merchants and chiefs. Each had heard there own bell, or whisper or shout that had brought them to this place. Geordie heard about their Logosmoi:  The thoughts that tore at the very heart of their being, tearing at their soul, seeking to abort them from their desert, their vocation. They talked of a rhythm for life that found them and showed the way to negotiate the Logosmoi and to overcome the darkness within them and discover His light. They talked of their vocation to seek the One, and become a new creation, a new humanity; Alone Together.

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