If asked to describe a New York jazz musician, what would you imagine? A whiskey totting, leather jacket wearing, cigar smoking suave character that wears a hat and carries a saxophone perhaps?
Brother John Forbis, of the Mariya uMama weThemba Monastery, is proof that stereotypes are often completely false. Once an established jazz musician and music librarian, Brother John has been a Benedictine Monk for 16 years now. “Back in America, I had a spiritual drive, I was looking for something but I didn’t know what, he said.
He grew up Anglican and was considering the priesthood, but his priest at the time thought it better to introduce him to Monastic life, and organised him a visit to a monastery in upstate New York. I just knew it was for me,” he said.
Brother John gave a presentation on his chosen way of life recently, at a Friends of the Library lecture, and introduced his new book italFrom the Desert to the Heart. A brief History of Monastic Spirituality/ital at the Hill Street Library Hall.
To many, the monastic order may appear to be shrouded in mystery, with practices occurring behind closed doors. However, Brother John’s book and presentation delivered both a historical account of the brotherhood as well as added insight into this way of life. “The final goal is a union, where there is nothing between you and God,” he explained.
The presentation continued to summarise and highlight some of the main points in the book, most notably the choice of title. “When one thinks of a desert, you might think of bareness and lack of life,” he said. But Brother John explained that the desert holds a very special place in the history of monasticism, most notably as it is where Athanasius, the Bishop of Alexandria, found the insight to write italThe Life of Antony/ital text that is still closely studied by monks today.
But being a monk is more than just studying ancient texts, and the order of monasticism that Brother John follows, the Benedictian Monastic order, is very much community based, he said. “Humility is a big word to us and we serve each other and the community. We live a life of prayer together, learning together and helping one another.”
These words were recently proved true by the local monasterys funding of the construction of the Holy Cross School for children in the local community. italGrocotts Mail/ital reported on the schools opening last Tuesday.
If you are curious about monastic life or if the history of monasticism is what intrigues you then there will possibly be another presentation, also to be given by Brother John. He said that there was simply too much to cover in one hour only, and that he hopes to give a follow up talk in due course. Keep an eye on the Grocotts Mail Whats On page for future details.