Sexless and Satisfied? — Pt. I (7 Minute Read)
[This post is taken from a chapter-in-progress for a (possible) new book! I originally wrote it during my 2 week stay at the Taizé Community in France, and will be releasing the whole chapter as a 3-part series in the coming weeks. If you haven’t already, I recommend starting with my other Taizé series — available here ]
Imagine a monk as James Bond.
He’s rocking out to Beethoven at the head of the table with seven young men, including me, sitting around him in a dark room lit by candles. He spreads butter on his bread. He passes food clockwise. He gently smiles at each of us. The movie cuts in and out to scenes of the previous night when—unknown to the rest of us—the monk drove a Lamborghini off a cliff and into the ocean, only to eject at the last second wearing a jet pack.
“It’s hard to imagine a group of men more happy about making a vow to give up sex for their entire lives than the Brothers. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been around a group of men so light-hearted, peaceful, and joyful than the Brothers of Taizé.”
But I wouldn’t cast Brother Jean-Marc as a spy even though he’s British. He’d rather offer his enemies a word of encouragement than a karate kick.
Before the meal that began our week of silence—including no phones or access to internet—Brother Jean-Marc told us that “with all the inputs we have in life, it’s hard to listen to what’s most important. Silence helps us listen.”
A flood of thoughts entered my mind. I thought about Elon Musk. I thought about how I have worried that the success of my last business was a fluke and will never happen again. Then I wondered if it was indeed a fluke and if the others will be far more successful.
Out of the silence emerged a new language, one in which people communicate through how they cut their oranges, for instance. The Belgian cut off the top and bottom of his, then made small indentions on the sides to create slices. Another used a knife, peeling hard enough to spin a globe.
When we all finished eating, Brother Jean-Marc nodded to Dixon, a volunteer who runs the house, who then turned off the classical music. Brother Jean-Marc then told us how our days would go. We would have church services at 8:30 AM, bible study at 10 AM, another church service just after noon, followed by lunch. At 7 PM was dinner, followed by another service at 8:30 PM.
During the afternoons, he encouraged us to read, reflect, walk, and pray. Each of us would have a brother assigned to us who we would meet with on alternate days. “Sometimes you can get stuck in your head. It’s good to have someone to process with,” Brother Jean-Marc said. After we sang a song, Brother Jean-Marc left. He’s off to another night of saving the world and fighting international criminals.
While people often romanticize community life, I came to see its flaws along with my own.
On Monday, after morning prayer, Brother Richard, a Swiss, gave the Bible lesson. He started by reading “as the deer pants for the water so my soul pants after you.” He mentioned that deer pant loud for water and even louder when looking for a mate to have sex with.
It’s hard to imagine a group of men more happy about making a vow to give up sex for their entire lives than the Brothers. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever been around a group of men so light-hearted, peaceful, and joyful than the Brothers of Taizé. At one point, I considered starting a rumor that they all secretly do cocaine to explain the mystery of their joy.
I began to wonder if the brothers had a lot to teach all of us about sexuality and gender when fifteen minutes later Brother Richard concluded his study and I was still thinking about sex. He gave us four questions to think about that day, the first of which was “What am I longing for?” That answer was easy.
“Do not be afraid of your fragilities and shortcomings . . for often they are the door behind which Christ waits for us.”
After 48 hours of silence, on Tuesday I met with Brother Emile. My first question was, “How do the Brothers deal with their sexuality?” I was asking for a friend, of course.
That day I started lunch quite holy, reflecting on how beautiful the steam rising from the rice mixed with vegetables was. “How beautiful,” I thought. “How holy I am to thank God for such a small thing,” I concluded. But then I noticed there was no meat for lunch. “What the hell!” I thought. “This is bull shit.”
I suddenly noticed that not only was the man across from me staring at me with a constipated look but swallowing louder than a whale, as if he were locking a nuclear warhead into place. Once I concluded I didn’t need to jump to the other side of the table to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre, I realized he also kind of looked like my least favorite teacher, ever. I wanted to punch him the in the face.
We all finished the meal with a small symphony of napkins rustling in each our hands, except for the Dutchman in his mid twenties. He was eating the last two slices of his orange as if he had entered an Olympic event with no time limit to perfectly rid each slice of every last shred of pulp. He continued his performance for what felt like two or three hours while the rest of us stared. Finally, after finishing his dissertation on the benefits of slow eating, he realized we were all waiting, popped both slices into his mouth, and we thanked God for such a long ass lunch.
It was during this time that I also noticed that the Belgian seemed intensely dedicated to his prayer life. He finished all of his meals first and then sat with his hands quietly folded and his eyes closed.
That night, though, I realized that what he really needed was a beer. He knocked on my door around 11:45 PM in a hot mess.
“Are you moving around a lot or playing sport?!” He whispered in the most aggressive way possible. I was in shock that somebody was speaking to me. “I’ve woken up twice!” he exclaimed.
I backed away from the door a little. I had been writing with my headphones in, listening to the 15 songs I had on my computer without access to WiFi. I had been tapping my foot.
“Maybe that’s it?” I asked, pointing down as I tapped my foot.
“Please! Stop!” he begged. “It wasn’t like this last night!”
“I’m sorry,” I said as I closed the door.
I sheepishly brushed my teeth, turned off the light, and got into bed. That’s when I heard what sounded like—about every thirty seconds or so—somebody running down the hall, smacking the walls and chandeliers with nunchucks. Five minutes later there was a knock on my door.
“I’ve been in bed,” I said. I stood in my boxers, pointing towards the dishevelled sheets on my bed, wishing I had my attorney to defend me.
“It wasn’t like this last night!” the Belgian exclaimed. I offered him some ear plugs, but he refused. “I have to continue my search or I will go crazy!” A little late for that, don’t you think? I thought.
At my meeting with Brother Emile on Thursday I told him about the sounds. He suggested that it was probably some small animals who sometimes get into the attic. I told him that there had been some very loud landscapers around our building that day and that I was thinking of hiring them to come back around 1AM to mow outside of the Belgian’s window. Brother Emile did not think my idea was as funny as I did.
That afternoon, as I walked in the garden I noticed a porcupine—the first one I’ve ever seen. We paused and stared at each other, in silence. He curled up, pointed his spikes in the air, and made a bee line for the bushes by the house. I wondered if this might be the Belgian’s culprit. Then I thought about catching the porcupine and putting it underneath the Belgian’s bed covers that night.
At dinner, I sat next to the man who swallowed bowling balls. I knew my growing annoyance said more about me than him, especially when I noticed that he had hearing aids, and how, despite me being an jerk, he poured water into my cup. Even so, I could not stop myself from thinking, “this guy swallows like he’s trying to put a camel through the eye of a needle.”
A different brother joined us for most meals. At the end they would share a small word of encouragement. The brother that night was seemingly French, in his mid 20’s. “Do not be afraid of your fragilities and shortcomings,” he encouraged us, “for often they are the door behind which Christ waits for us.”