Bro. Willie died.
Willie was a Benedictine monk at St. John’s Abbey and University where I did my undergraduate work. I knew him when he was in his 60’s. He died in his 90’s. He was a simple man. He worked first in the monastic dairy and later become a legendary night watchman, patrolling our campus. He was known as the Night Abbot and often said that his job was "to make sure the night started on time and ended at the right time, because if someone doesn't watch it, how will everyone know when it's done?" So popular was Willie that when a new college commons was opened the community named the campus watering hole after him. Who knows how many pints have been lifted, in his honor, at Bro. Willie’s Pub?
His death reminded me of the ‘unforced rhythms of grace’ I saw lived out before me during my college years. Matthew 11:28-30 quotes Jesus.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me-watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.” The Message.
Benedictine monks live life together under the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule helps them establish a rhythm to their life that can be summed up very simply …Worship and Work. Early in the morning the monks would gather for prayer, again at noon time, and finally in the evening. They’d come before God … to seek His face … to give praise … to intercess for others. And then they would continue their worship as they moved into their work and their play. For some their work took them to the kitchen or the carpentry shop. For others the lab or the classroom. For Brother Willie, it was in the dark of night, shuffling through the hallways of the campus.
For the monks, all of life was a prayer. It was an easy rhythm. No false dichotomies between what was sacred and what was secular.
Looking back, there was a peacefulness about that unforced rhythm. The monks were alive, very present and filled with joy. There was much laughter, a sense of wisdom, a connectedness to the past and an anticipation for what the future might hold.
Was it a perfect place? No. What place is? But the rhythm of their life together became a habit that nurtured the good things God offered.
All too often I live life at a frenetic pace. I rush here and I rush there. I’m sometimes persuaded that some things I do are sacred and others not. I forget that simple pleasures are gifts from the Lord. I don't see God in the ordinary places of life.
Brother Willie was a good man. I was saddened to read of his death but warmed by his memory. And God used his life once again to remind me that there is a better way to live …leaning into the unforced rhythms of grace, keeping company with Jesus who wants to teach me how to live freely and lightly. That’s good news.