I stared at the aerial view of a tonsured head, from the back, faceless. A dark robe spilled from the head over stone pavers, the whole scene almost over exposed in a strong sun. What was this strangeness? An alien being in my ever-growing awareness of a mystery: God.
Maybe I was 4 or 5. My father came home from some outing in great excitement to show us his new book, the one with the tonsured head dominating the cover. Our first questions were about the haircut.
A sign, a symbol, he answered, preferring to guard the mystery perhaps till his children got older. We went through the pages now and then but I only ever wanted to stare at the strange man kneeling on the pavement, head bowed, bare tonsure staring at me like the eye of God.
Monk. From the Greek Monos. Alone. Solitary. An austere image forms, perhaps a feeling of uneasiness, censure, or curiosity. Are you drawn in or repelled?
A border stalker, marginal, remote, perhaps irrelevant. A modern John the Baptist, only quieter, unobtrusive. What does he call us to? How does he identify himself?
Monk sounds bizarre to modern ears, although we like the archetype. The Jedi, Gandalf, the shapeshifting archetypes in Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. What’s the appeal? Maybe we crave the minimalism a monk represents in a cluttered, chaotic culture. The silence and solitude–so longed for–where is the monastery we can withdraw to with the monk, if only for the weekend? How can we turn down the volume? We hold our ears against the overload.
Are you hooked, like me, by the idea of single-minded devotion to Christ? The isolated places he sought to be with the Father? He holds the keys to the Kingdom, the treasures of darkness, the words of life, if only we could hear it over the cacophony. What would he show us, as my father showed me?
The book of the tonsured head was my first enticement to set myself apart for God, and know the quiet.