Harald's Story

Father Delling Instructs Brother Jens

Brother Jens crept down the hallway to the abbot's study. The young monk had finished his 5am devotions merely minutes ago. He had been distracted during them due to the apprehension the note Father Delling had slipped under the door was creating. The older man's script had elegantly said, "My son, please see me in my study after your morning devotions. I wish to speak to you about your future." Jens knew that he didn't always seem to fit in with the other brothers at the monastery, and he was afraid that the abbot intended to ask him to leave.

As he approached the door to his destination, he reached out a fist to lightly rap on the wood. He stopped short when he heard his superiors gentle yet firm voice call from the other side. "Come in, Brother Jens. I've been expecting you."

Jens shrugged to himself and pushed the door open. Father Delling sat behind his desk with his journal in front of him. He looked up and smiled at the entering monk warmly. Brother Jens closed the door and silently walked to stand in front of the abbot's desk. He forced himself to stand perfectly still, resisting the urge to fidget under the old monk's studious gaze.

After a moment, Father Delling sighed. "Please, my son, have a seat. I had hoped you would be more at ease this morning. I do not need to make you needlessly fret because of our conversation."

Jens took a seat, slowly. He found the abbot's words less than comforting. "Thank you, Father Abbot. Forgive me, but I must ask. Am I in trouble?"

Father Delling laughed jovially. "Not at all! Not at all! Truth be told, I am quite fond of you. In fact, while admitting so is a clear violation of my duties as abbot, I will tell you that you are perhaps one of my favorite brothers here at the monastery. It has been a delight to watch you grow over the past ten years, my son."

"Thank you, Father Abbot. But if that is the case, why does this moment seem so somber?"

The older monk sighed and nodded. "That is a tricky question, isn't it? The moment is somber because I know that for your own good, I must give you instructions that will disturb you. Indeed, your initial reaction will probably be to interpret them as rejection."

Jens studied the abbot for a moment. He was surprised by what he saw in the face of the man he had come to think of as a role model. He could not remember a time when he had seen Father Delling look so emotionally torn. "I see. But you feel these instructions are for my own good?"

Father Delling nodded slowly, a wan smile crossing his lips. "I do. But we'll get to that in a moment. Tell me, Jens, do you remember much about your first year here?"

The young monk winced slightly. His past was something he generally preferred to forget. "I do. I think I was about twelve at the time. The next youngest person in the whole monastery was eighteen. I felt completely out of place."

The abbot nodded. "As a rule, we try not to take boys in before their sixteenth birthday. In reality, you are the only twelve year old who has entered into service here in all the recorded history of the monastery. You were young, naive, and very inexperienced. In many ways, you were not ready to enter into our order."

"And yet you accepted me. Why?"

"Because your situation made it the best option at the time. Your father was gone. Your mother could no longer care of you. And no orphanages could handle another child that age at the time. I was left with the choice of inducting you into our ranks or condemning you to the life of a vagrant. Only one option struck me as remotely ethical.

"But despite it being the best choice at the time, it left us with some problems. It is my opinion - and that of most of my predecessors - that only men who have had the life experiences necessary to make an informed choice in favor of our calling should be inducted. If anything, your experiences only reaffirm the validity of that opinion."

Jens protested at that. "But I've been nothing but loyal! I've followed the ways of our order faithfully."

"I do not deny that, Brother Jens. If following the rules and practices of our order was the sole measure of a brother's service, I would be the first to declare you the best among us. However, your service, while technically admirable, is somewhat diminished by the fact that you know no other way. Nor can you identify well with those outside of our order. Indeed, let's be honest. You sometimes find it difficult to identify with those within our order."

Jens bowed his head in shame. "I'm truly sorry about that, Father Abbot. I am trying to overcome that problem, but I am apparently weak when it comes to that matter."

Father Delling smiled warmly. "Don't be too hard on yourself, my son. My point is that this is a problem simply because of the sheltered life you briefly lived before coming to us to live an even more sheltered life. You are the victim of your circumstances as much as you are the villain." The abbot sighed again. "Unfortunately, we must find a way to redress this."

The young monk nodded. "I understand. I take it you have something in mind."

"I do, though I do not relish it. To be honest, I wish you had come here while my immediate predecessor still ran the monastery. He was much better at addressing this kind of difficulty. He could help young men broaden their perspectives in radical ways while remaining true to our faith. Sadly, it's a talent I have not yet been able to master.

"So instead, I propose to broaden your horizons in the only way I know to be effective. I plan to send you out into the world."

Jens flinched at that. "Am I to be expelled then?"

Father Delling replied emphatically, "No! Not now or ever! You are an excellent monk, and I would never negate that through expulsion. Instead, I'm offering you an opportunity - and encouraging you to take it - to live your faith beyond these walls for a period. I think you will find it very instructive to learn how to honor God while living amongst those that do not always share your faith - and certainly not to the same degree to which you hold it."

Jens relaxed slightly at that. "I think I understand. I have to admit that the idea frightens me, though."

"It should. Any opportunity for true growth is bound to be frightening. But will you accept this assignment?"

"I will, Father Abbot. I believe you understand how this will benefit me, even if I may not fully grasp it myself. Will I simply become a wanderer, then?"

"To a degree, I expect you will. To what degree that is remains to be seen, however. I suspect it will all depend upon your travel leader."

"I will have a travel leader?"

"In a sense, yes. You will be joining Harald Erickson on his quest."