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The monk who came
for dinner


Ralph Thomas


  Many years ago, when we were raising a young family of four daughters, we would often take short road trips to see places they had not seen. We didn’t have much money to splurge on weekend vacations at distant locations, so we tended to stay somewhat close to home.

  Several of these trips took us from Decatur, Georgia toward Conyers, Georgia. We traveled what we would now call the “back” roads. Interstate 20 was not yet completed, so our trip would take us toward Conyers on GA. Hwy. 212. Several times we had passed a sign that said Monastery of the Holy Spirit. They advertised homemade bread, pottery and Bonsai plants. The girls would always ask the same questions, “What is a monastery?”  If I was too slow to explain to their young minds what little I knew about monasteries, they would ask the follow-up question, “Can we go see it?” Not wanting to disappoint them and to satisfy my own curiosity, we drove down the long driveway to where the monastery was located.

  There were a number of men walking about tending to their chores, each of them wearing a long brown robe, all dressed identically. Rather timidly, we parked the car and began to wander about, looking at the various projects being worked on. One of our daughters asked one of the monks the obvious question, “Why do you dress like that?” The monk, with a twinkle in his eye, bent down to her level and tried to explain to her the reason for the robes. Our daughters were captivated by his manner and the gentleness of his voice.

  Over the next few months the girls repeatedly asked us to go back to the monastery, which we did. Eventually, we became friends with that same monk. Then, one of the girls suggested we invite him to dinner at our home. I was hesitant to do so, thinking they might be forbidden to do that. I was wrong. I asked the monk if he was allowed to come to our home for dinner. He replied that he would love to have dinner with us.

  Over the next week our girls spread the word around our neighborhood that a monk was coming to dinner. On the appointed day, I drove to the monastery to pick up our new friend. I was surprised to see he was dressed in slacks, shirt and a sports jacket. He didn’t look at all like a monk. When we arrived at our street, there was a gathering of neighbor children waiting for us. I could tell by the looks on their faces there was something wrong. We parked the car in our driveway as the neighborhood children watched our friend get out of the car and go into our house. We had a fine time at the dinner table. The monk was very forthcoming about why he was a monk and why he and his fellow monks dressed as they did.

  Later, after returning the monk to the monastery, I arrived home to find my daughters wearing long faces. Obviously, they were upset about something. When asked for the reason they seemed unhappy, my oldest daughter burst out the reason, “If they are going to be a monk they ought to dress like one when they come to dinner.” Apparently, the gathering of neighborhood children had anticipated seeing a man in a long brown robe coming to visit us. They had been disappointed.

  I have often thought about how we frequently judge others by the way they look, the way they dress or the way they wear their hair. I try not to do that. Outward appearances don’t always describe what a person is like. I used this as an example to explain this fact to our daughters. They seemed to understand.          

  I think we all had great respect for our new friend and his dedication to his spiritual calling. But, the children still thought a monk ought to look like a monk.

   Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better.




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