The Monk of Northwood

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to rely on the carefully maintained rhythms and routines of my life. They work like a gyroscope constantly spinning, holding my every day in balance. No doubt, as a kid, the last thing I wanted was to be stuck in a loop of predictability – but such is the foolishness of inexperience, assuming that an extemporaneous lifestyle is somehow more virtuous. What older age has taught me, among other things, is that cultivating a disciplined life is more than just virtuous – it’s downright practical.

But to speak of a disciplined life only begs the question: disciplined to do what? An athlete or a musician will follow a particular regimen to refine their skills and sharpen their focus. In this way, they are defined by what sets the agenda of their discipline. With this this in mind — how would you define yourself? Given that we are so often defined by our familial relationships, our vocational ambitions, or our religious and political affiliations – this question, rightly leads us to a far more complex answer, than we might first assume. So let’s strip this question down to its most rudimentary underpinnings . . . and see what we find.

Ontologically, it is the Christian confession that we were created to exist in a material universe, while maintaining an intimate relationship with the God who created us, requiring us to understand every moment of our existence as being more than what can be explained by a material universe. So on a very profound level, our relationship with God, a relationship that fosters an integration of the physical and spiritual realms — not only defines us, but requires of us a uniquely disciplined life.

monk-3543630_960_720It’s a discipline that involves far more than a cosmetic compliance to religious expectations, which very often does more to foster an even wider dichotomy in our understanding of ourselves as spiritual beings existing in a material universe, than it does to refine it. As such a dichotomy can only tempt us to drive a Gnostic wedge between, what we imagine to be the real world, and the vague ethereal spirituality we often make of our faith beliefs. But the discipline of our faith isn’t meant for curating the divide created by The Fall, rather it is to re-envision heaven and earth made one.

As a young man I used to think that the monastic life of monks was nothing more than a spiritualized excuse for escaping the real world . . . as if I even had a clue what the real world was, back then. Of late, I’ve come to think of myself as the Monk of Northwood (Northwood being the part of town I live in). My desire is to refine the spiritual disciplines of my life, so that I might remember the way I was always meant to exist. To live my life in this place and time, not as someone who has long forgotten why they exist, or as someone who can only vaguely remember – but as one who humbly seeks to be made new every day in the love of Christ . . . and allow that to be what defines me.


This is a piece I wrote last Spring

The Monk of Northwood

Whispering his prayers in the dimming crepuscule
Like cupped hands hold the last few moments of day
Then silently remains in the blue black halo of night
To be found bereft the reluctant monk of Northwood

Shuffling feet in murmured shadows to keep watch
In rise and fall he lingers like random thoughts distract
Until pulled into translated light moving on breath
An oblation song of Northwood his unfinished opus

Small things in broken places to reconcile by day’s end
Motionless and quiet like sharp knives kept in a drawer
His meditation holds the world aloft with praying lips
The Northwood is a cul-de-sac where his hours collect

Violent and reckless the kettle boils in false alarm
Disquiet ambiguous like the shame of uncertain fear
Smoldering details of his vain past occupy the alter
It’s the reprise of Northwood in smoke he rises resolute

3 thoughts on “The Monk of Northwood

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