V Brother Tim
The pilgrim didn’t know how long he had sat there in the pew, nor when it was that the young monk had come, silently, to sit beside him. It could have been just a minute or two, or it could have been hours, but to the pilgrim it didn’t matter. It was as though time itself had ceased to hold any meaning or power in the presence of a stillness far greater.
They continued to sit in silence, side by side in the pew. The pilgrim did not feel in any way uncomfortable, nor did he feel any need to speak or explain himself. It was as though – though they had never met – there was a bond of understanding between them.
After some time sitting there – again, he knew not how long – the young monk gently said, ‘would you like some food? We have all eaten, but we set some aside for you.’
The pilgrim looked up with gratitude and nodded. He had been so unaware of the passage of time, or how long it had been since he shared that mug of coffee and freshly-baked muffin with Brother Mattheus, but now, at this fresh invitation, he realised just how hungry he was.
The new brother led him back through to the refectory. ‘My name is Brother Tim,’ he said, ‘Our food is simple – just a bowl of soup and some crusty rolls – but it is always good. We normally eat in silence, but as the others have all gone about their afternoon tasks, please feel free to talk or not, as you wish. I’m in no hurry to do anything this afternoon, so afterwards, if you’d like, I can show you round the grounds, or you could join me in the pottery where I’m working on a pot – it’s a gift for my little sister who is getting married next month. But here we are. Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll go and get your soup.’
Although this brother had been talking as they walked to the refectory, it had been a very natural, gentle conversation, with none of the pressure of speech the pilgrim had found in Brother Mattheus.
The pilgrim ate his soup in silence, savouring the nourishing goodness. When he had finished, Brother Tim once more extended his invitation to show him round the grounds.
They spent a pleasant couple of hours wandering round. The afternoon was warm and bright; occasional clouds drifted across the blue sky. As they walked, they talked: each sharing something of his life’s journey, as though they were long-lost brothers catching up on years of separation.
The pilgrim found himself laughing and smiling as Brother Tim recounted little anecdotes of life in the monastery. He, in turn, shared much of his life: the ups and downs, the joy of love, and the grief of parting. They spoke, too, of some of the darkness of their world, and the pilgrim found in Brother Tim a kindred spirit who had wept over some of the injustice and violence of this broken, hurting world.
At times they just walked in companionable silence, or sat in the shade, enjoying the gentle murmur of the brook and the song of the blackbird in the tree.
They were still sitting there when they heard the bell calling for None. ‘Come my friend,’ said the monk, ‘I’ll race you back.’
And they did. Picking up their sandals and shoes, they sprinted back across the meadow to arrive, breathless and laughing, at the chapel door.
‘Teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.’
The words of the Psalm, chanted by the monks, seemed to reach right down to the core of his being. As the prayers continued, the pilgrim’s mind wandered back over the day he had spent at the monastery: of the brothers he had met, and their very different characters; and of his own life’s journey. He reflected, with regret, on some of the bad choices he had made, and wondered, with gratitude, at the blessings he had known. And he pondered where his journey might lead him next, or even whether he had, indeed, found his destination – right here in this monastery.
Afterwards, he went with Brother Tim to the pottery, where he marvelled at the young man’s creativity – how he took a lump of clay and, working it on the wheel, gradually fashioned it into a pot of great grace and beauty. Their conversation had ceased now as Brother Tim, his sleeves rolled up, stood fully engrossed in his work.
Eventually, deeply satisfied with the work he had created, the young brother allowed the wheel to spin to a halt. The two men stood, side by side, enjoying the beauty now crafted before them.
In a strange way, the elegance and simplicity of this earthen pot seemed to reflect, for the pilgrim, the fullness of this monk’s life, and he started to share with the brother some of the thoughts he’d had while sitting in the chapel. ‘Should I stay here, do you think?’ he hesitantly asked.
The young man chuckled, a sparkle in his eye. ‘I think it’s time you met the Abbott’ was his gentle reply.