Matt Murray, staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, has crafted a moving and insightful memoir trying to understand why his father, a middle-aged, middle-class homeowner and government worker, joined a rural monastery. The book begins like this:
The year I turned thirteen, my father declared himself the patron saint of frustrated housewives. From the time I started ninth grade, I lived in constant danger of coming home from school to find a group of his disciples gathered in my living room. I would tromp up the front sidewalk, jiggling my keys, whistling or humming, kick open the front door, let the screen door slam behind me, drop my backpack to the floor with a thud—then turn and discover I was a virtual intruder in my own house. Five or six of my father's followers would be seated in a little circle of chairs. All were housewives from the neighborhood, women in their late thirties and forties whose husbands were at work. Their eyes would be focused adoringly on the only man in the room, a middle-aged figure with graying temples, a bushy mustache, a slight paunch, and an aura of sincerity: my father. Dad presided from a large leather recliner. Though dressed in around-the-house clothes—a cotton short-sleeved shirt, jeans, slippers—he composed himself with the authority of a judge in a robe. He sat up straight, hanging over the edge of the chair. His eyes were closed, his cheeks flushed, his frame tensed.The surrounding scene resembled a séance. The front curtains were drawn, leaving the whole room shadowy. The group held hands. Sometimes I could hear someone mumbling, but I could never tell whose lips were moving. The only motion I detected came from a flickering candle on the coffee table. Even the dust particles seemed suspended in the air. In the stillness, it felt like everyone had stopped, breathless, waiting for something to happen.
The Father and the Son:
My Father's Journey Into the Monastic Life
by Matt Murray
260 pp., $25
But not for me. My invasions never registered with anyone. I was like a character in a ghost story who can see and hear those around him while they are completely unaware of his presence. No one's head would turn at my entrances—not even my father's.The women were members of Dad's new prayer group. He had begun hosting them several afternoons a week that autumn. Until that year, I had never heard of a prayer group, hadn't even known that people bothered to pray outside of church. Over the next few years, I managed to grow accustomed to them. But I never could quell the gnawing unease my father's new hobby stirred inside me.
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