What Happened at the Abbey

I took two books from the library.  The monastery‘s library.  The beautifully vast, three-level library for the seminarians.  I tucked them in my big grey bag and took careful note of their place on the shelf so I could put them back myself.  Sometimes it’s just easier, you know, than figuring out what the rules are?

And then I crouched back down into my private reverie of holy God.  In my room, I soaked up Dorothy Day’s Meditations.  I packed the books up and headed out to the Lake Placid where I told myself the beautiful gospel beneath a life-sized crucifix.  But I kept my eye on my bag which I hadn’t wanted to haul to the far side of the pond.  I hoped no one would think I’d abandoned the bag, peek inside for identification, and find the books.  No!  A thief in our midst!  Right here by the side of Lake Placid!

Shoot.  Why did I have to make myself feel so guilty?  Condemnation, condemnation.  Always condemnation.

Well, if the self-recrimination was heavy, carrying around the whole weight of stolen books was going to put out my back.  I figured I had to tell somebody sorry.  Sorry I trampled all over your Benedictine hospitality — all your smiling faces opening doors like you genuinely enjoy it.  Sorry I disrespected you when your entire mission in life is welcoming me as if I’m Christ.  Good Lord have mercy.

Back at the library, I saw the sign on the front desk:  Guests may not remove books from the library.  Pile it on, baby.  Pile on that guilt just. a. little. thicker.

I put my books back on their shelves.  Thought about walking out since no one was even around.  No one even had to enter into my self-deprecating drama.

But in an office just off the front desk, Mr. Librarian-Monk sat at his computer, earbuds in his ears.

Really?  I’m really going to make myself do this?  To what end?

I knocked.

Mr. Librarian-Monk didn’t hear me.  He had earbuds in his ears.

Can I leave now?

I knocked again.  Louder, a bit.

Mr. Librarian-Monk heard me.

“Hi.  I, uh, wanted to apologize.  I… took two books out of the library.”

He took off his glasses (or maybe it was the earbuds).  He intensified his gaze.

“You really shouldn’t,” he said.

I think I started smiling.  It was the beginning of what was supposed to be a laugh — a laugh to match his that was supposed to fall from his holy mouth at the thought that I was troubled over something so trifling as library books.

But he wasn’t smiling.

I wiped my face serious.  “I know,”  I said.  “I’m sorry.”

“Where did you take them?”

“My room.  But they’re back.  I put them back exactly where I found them.  I just wanted to apologize because I was disrespectful to take them after you all have been so hospitable here.  I’m sorry.”

“You are welcome to read them in the library.  You just can’t remove them from the library.”

“I know.  I’m sorry,” I tried again.  Everything was fixed.  Didn’t he know everything was fixed?  “But they’re back.  I already put them back in their exact places.”

His face relaxed.  Finally.  “Well, if they’re back, then everything is forgiven.”

“Thank you.  You have a beautiful library.”

And there I was, on my way.  Out the door.  Released.  Breathing again.

If you can call this call this constrictive anger breathing.  What exactly is that supposed to mean — If they’re back, everything is forgiven?  What if I had lost them, defecated on them, burned them in a pagan ritual?  Why this conditional forgiveness?  What happened to loving me as Christ?  Mr. Benedictine Librarian-Monk cared more about his blessed library than this Christ who just came through his door!

And there I sat simmering.  Feeling holy.  Feeling wronged.

And then I remembered who stole the library books in the first place.  And I remembered how out by Lake Placid I was telling the gospel to myself.  Because I am the one who needs it.  And I remember, as I was finishing my gospel story, the final commission was to extend the gospel to others, so that they can see the love of Christ incarnated.  And even Benedictine monks who aim to live by the rule of radical hospitality — they too are in need of Christ.  I think then, for the first time in my life, I wanted to give a monk with earbuds a great big hug.

The whole story of the library books, my internal struggle against such triviality, all of it — it was all so silly.  It had been the whole time, really.  But for the first time, I wanted to laugh.  I didn’t go back and tell the rest of the story to Mr. Librarian-Monk, but I hope I get to someday when we’re sitting around the feast table with Jesus.  We’ll laugh and laugh.

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