Sunday, June 04, 2006


Fourth are the gyratory monks. All their lives they wander in different countries staying at various monasteries for thee or four days at a time. They are restless, servants to the seduction of their own will and appetites...It is better to be silent as to their wretched lifestyle than to speak.

St. Benedict has harsh words for the gyrovagues. They are restless, willful, appetitive. They flit from spiritual perch to spiritual perch, stopping just long enough to nibble before they're off looking for a more splendid table. They are, in a word, wretched. I can't help taking his critique personally. I have been, I fear, a gyrovague. A pinch from the west, a pinch from the east; leaven with art, interleaf with world -- voila and amen, loudly sing Goddamn.

Of course, there are also the Sabaraites. These monks are, according to St. Benedict, unschooled by any rule, untested, as gold is by fire, but soft as lead, living in and of the world, openly lying to God through their tonsure. They live together in twos or threes, more often alone, without a shepherd in their own fold, not the Lord's. Their only law is the pleasure of their own desires, and whatever they wish or chose they call holy. They consider whatever they dislike unlawful.

He calls the Sarabaite the worst kind of monk. Then he gets going on the gyrovagues and pronounces them much worse in all things than the Sarabaites.

AND, he sputters, turning to face me, his eyes blazing THE TWO ARE NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE.

Of course, I'm not a monk. But I can't help feeling these minatory words from St. Benedict's Monastic Rule have a wider application and pertain to anyone -- how can I say this ? -- pursuing matters of transcendence. I have been too long

flitting from flower to flower; coated with luscious, heavy pollen, I must now return to the hive. What does St. Benedict advise ?

Cenobites, monks who live together under a rule and an abbot are, according to Benedict, the best kind of monks.

Abbot. Rule. Together.

A simple prescription. With overtones of Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. There must be some common wisdom afoot -- teacher, teachings, class.

A gyrovague, if nothing else, is good at translation. At reading between and behind the lines.

Its an appropriate skill -- dare I say gift ? -- for this day, Pentecost, the day of speech intelligible to all ears.

I walked by the river this afternoon. It had rained and, intermittantly, a fitful mist bloomed in the air, half water, half wind. I took shelter under some branches. Insects, I discovered, were sheltering under the leaves. What comes after water ? Birth ?

And after birth ?

Breath ?

(The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 1, trans. Meisel and delMastro)

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