Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Erroneous Monk

I'm very excited to finally share this story with the world.  I'm not going to say more for fear of spoiling it, so read on and enjoy!

            Augustus was a monk.  As far as he could remember, he had always been a monk, though that may partially be attributed to the head trauma he received as a youth in the burgeoning factories.  He lived in Abernathy Monastery, colloquially called Abby’s Abbey by the local non-monks.  Oh, how the villagers loved a good pun.  And who could blame them?  They certainly didn’t receive any jokes from the monks that lived in their hamlet.
            No, the monks toiled day and night, night and day, reading liturgy, scribing hymns, delving into long forgotten holy books.  Augustus’s specialty concerned the lesser-known, more recent books of the Bible, those of Scott the Scot (his version of Christianity never took hold), Jenny the Girl (she was a female, so her book did not actually matter), and Benjamin the Jew (no one knows why he decided to write a book for the New Testament).  Theologians came from far and wide to discuss these topics with the scholarly Augustus, hoping to find new subjects for their repetitive sermons.  Augustus thoroughly enjoyed these erudite conversations, don’t get me wrong, but his true passion lay elsewhere.
            The prior year, during an ascetic day that he would later think of as “fateful,” Augustus left the monastery to take a stroll to clear his head of religious teachings that seemed more hypocritical than usual.  His mind began to wander, taking his feet with it, leading him down a route different from his usual.  He walked past a place of sin, attempting to hold back his negative thoughts on what consuming alcohol does to the spirit (he taught this in an essay titled “Spirits on Spirits”).  Nevertheless, something still managed to catch his attention.  A sound.  But not just any ordinary sound.  It was an auditory stimulation coming from none other than the Angels of Heaven (the original Christian rock group—then in a more Latin-heavy, droning form—and one of Augustus’s guilty pleasures) themselves.  However, Augustus did a double take when he realized that he did not recognize the tune.  No, it was not the popular-with-the-kids “Bibam Sanguinem” (I Drink Your Blood) nor was it the classic ballad “Pater Patrem Patris” (Father of the Father of the Father).  It was a new musical style.  And he liked it.
“What is such a holy harmony doing coming out of a bar?” whispered the reserved Augustus.  “This composition deserves to be played from on high, not from a place of sin and sorrows such as this.”  He turned to a passing non-monk.  “What do you call this new music?” he asked.
“It is called Jazz,” the townsman answered.  “Hey, you’re that monk that knows all about the Book of Jenny, right?”
But Augustus was not listening.  “Jazz,” he repeated dreamily.  He sat down, closed his eyes, and listened.  The melodious improvisations of a piano over organized chord changes soared through the air, riding on the back of tight percussion fills and lazily strolling bass lines.  “This is a miracle,” said Augustus to himself.  “What else could explain the wonderment that I am witnessing with my own two ears?”
The music Augustus had heard was so ingrained in his brain that it flowed through his head and kept him up all night.  The next day, at the first break he had from copying ancient texts, he gathered his brown robes and ran very unmonk-like down the stone halls to the sole musical instrument in the abbey:  the organ housed in the monastery’s chapel.  He sat on the oak bench and gathered himself.  He carefully placed his fingers on the ivory (they still hated elephants back then) keys and took a deep breath.  His heart was pounding:  he had never played the organ before, let alone any musical instrument.  After a slow exhale, he closed his eyes.  And played.
The Jazz flowed out of his fingers, into the organ, and out of its pipes in the form of brilliant music, the likes of which had never been heard before.  He could have played for hours…if he wasn’t abruptly stopped by Father Pugnacious.
“Just what do you think you are doing?” bellowed the Father, somehow still managing a monk’s mildness.  “Jazz and monks do not mix.  Report immediately back to your quarters and scribe for the remaining daylight hours.  And contemplate deeply your erroneous ways.”
Augustus slowly rose from the organ bench and dutifully retreated to his lonesome, austere chambers.  He pored over the texts, copying them in his elegant yet modest handwriting, but his head just wasn’t in the work.  Jazz was on his mind, and it was not leaving any time soon.  Would he ever play again?  He hoped so, but if there was one thing he learned from his monkhood, it was never to take things for granted.
“Thank you, Angels of Heaven, for giving me the gift of Jazz,” he whispered.  He nodded off as he wrote, his head gently landing between the inkwell and flickering candle, his hand still gripping his feather quill.
Augustus was able to play again, but not publicly.  In the middle of the night, after the bars full of sinners emptied, the monk would sneak out of the monastery and head to the place where he had heard the music days before.  There, he would sit at the piano and let the Jazz pour out.  He looked a strange sight sitting there in his habit, but a habit this nightly ritual did become.
A year passed, and our chronologies have met up.  Not much changed over those long months, except as Augustus became more enthralled in the music, he knew that it was becoming increasingly dangerous to his monk status.  If Father Pugnacious ever discovered that Augustus was practicing Jazz in secret, he would surely be excommunicated.  As much as Augustus loved his music and did not want to lose it, he also couldn’t imagine living the rest of his life outside the monastery.  He had a dilemma.
Augustus did what any good religious scholar would do:  he pored over every text he could find, searching for an answer to his conflicted interests.  But to his dismay, neither Moses, Mordecai, nor Matthew held the answer.  The monk soon realized that the answer was inside him.  So he did what any sensible monk would do:  he prayed.
“What shall I do?  I have been a monk all my life, but my passion for Jazz is uncontrollable.  I know as a monk I’m supposed to limit lust, but music is different.  Which should I choose?”
That’s when it hit him.  The chandelier in the chapel where he was praying had been loose for many years, but no one had taken the time to fix it.  It hit Augustus square in the back, knocking him flat to the floor.  While in a semi-conscious state, Augustus realized that he did not have to choose.  Nowhere was there a rule that said it was forbidden to be a Jazz-playing monk.  He smiled.  Then he lost consciousness.
When he awoke, there were many figures floating before his eyes.  “Be you angels?” he whispered.
“Well, not quite,” the visages responded.  “We are the Angels of Heaven.”
Even in Augustus’s troubled state, he was star struck.  “What are you doing here?”
“We’ve heard about you, Augustus.  Every night, we listen to you.”
“Is my playing okay?  I just started.”
“Augustus, our dear friend, you are the best.  We’d like you to come play with us on our upcoming Tour of Heaven.”
“I’m honored, I really am.  But after the chandelier crushed me, I decided I should not have to choose between text and music.  I can, and I will, follow both paths.”
“Very well.  We are happy for you.  Now go, rejoin the Living.”
Augustus blacked out.
The next time he awoke, there were no hazy personages in front of him, just one figure that was all too clear:  Father Pugnacious.
“You foolish boy!  Now do you realize what happens when you disobey orders?  You almost got killed!”  The Father was displaying no attempts at remaining calm.
“Father, say no more.  I will be a monk, and I will play Jazz,” replied Augustus coolly.
“I’m afraid you cannot do that.”
“Watch me.”
Augustus leaped from the ground (it was almost as if he hadn’t been hit by a heavy chandelier at all) and dashed past the Father.  The monk ran across the chapel to the organ.  He played.  He played like he had never played before.  Soon, all his Brothers began coming to the chapel to see who was playing the music.  By the time Father Pugnacious wheezed across the room, it was already filled with monks, staring rapt at Augustus.
Suddenly, one monk, named Anthony, began to move a little differently.  His feet began to shuffle, his hips started to shake.  His peers looked at him worriedly, wondering what had come over their friend.  Then Anthony grabbed Vincent and twirled him around.  They began to dance, carried by an unseen force:  Jazz.
Father Pugnacious tried to stop the monks from joining in, but his pleas were to no avail.  The chapel was bustling with dancing monks, all moving to the tune of Augustus’s Jazz music.
Benedict, the brave soul, grabbed the Father’s hand to bring him into the fun, but he jerked his arm away and ran screaming out of the monastery, never looking back.
The monks danced into the night.  Jazz was alive.

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