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A Story of the Ars Conservationtis Humanitatis
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At the west side of the great dome was an area below what was once the foot of a jagged gash in the side of the mountain that still had something of the open feeling that the old land once had. At the foot of the dome, where the 30 foot high band of steel sliced into the earth, there was a small building made in the old way, with brick walls and wooden boarding on the roof. It was here that Father Andrew worked on the Magnificat in secret. The young novitiates, just a few years removed from the nursery, shared all kinds of theories about what the Magnificat was. No one had a real clue, since the windows were blacked over and the only Father Andrew and his assistant, Brother Blaise, had access through the locked door. Father Andrew was one of the ancients. There were 12 brothers left of the second generation in the Conservatorium, men who had retained their vitality and purpose over decades. Their replacement pods in the Nursery had stood unused longer than any others, turned on only during routine maintenance and lined up in a unused corner the rest of the time. The ancients were a source of frustration to the younger Monks in the order who believed that knowledge of the Firsts, the monks who had sealed the Conservatorium for all time, impeded the progress of the Order in divining new knowledge and creating a new path for faith. Blaise was a product of the third generation, but unusual among the Order for his skin, which was the color of nut paste, his eyes, which were brilliant blue and protruded from his flat face, and his demeanor, which was always distracted, self-engaged and vague. He spent much of his day in the Library, and his practice of taking books and artifacts from the stacks and storage areas without logging them with the Librarians -although he appeared most friendly with Brother Cuthbert, engaging him in long conversation -- had cause a great deal of consternation among the other monks, particularly Father Prior, chair of the Practicuum, who had
insisted to the Abbot that Blaise be subject to discipline and banned from the building. It was said that Blaise was spared from inquiry when Father Andrew went to the Abbot privately and explained that his assistant must be free to acquire the information that he needed privately. No one knew exactly what transpired in the conversation, nor if it even happened, but it was commonly recognized that the Ancients wielded a special influence within the Order, and that Father Andrew, as the chair of Astral Works, had a private charter that made him accountable only to God and the Abbot. The novitiates, led by Brother Philip, besieged Cuthbert with questions about Blaise’s odd behavior. Cuthbert pleaded ignorance, and finally agreed, guiltily it seemed, to show the young men the few places where he knew that Blaise had removed works. Brother Philip was fixated with identifying the books, and he spent several hours cajoling his friends to find the specific works around one empty slot in the stacks in order to identify what was missing. Cuthbert tried to explain that the slot may have been empty from the very start, or that the cataloging system was incomplete, but Brother Philip was bred to be a servant in The Works and had a personality that would not let lose an problem until he had isolated the answer, whether he understood the importance or consequence of the answer itself. After a stretch of feverish work, with cards from the catalog strewn about on a viewing table, and images of dozens of books throbbing on the interactive display, he stood up on his chair and called over to his friends, who were dozing on the uncomfortable wooden resting benches, and cried out “The Mystery of the Deity in the Minyan!” He ran over to the men. “Written by Rabi Simcha Torah Bat in 2119. What in the Dome could Blaise want with that?” Cuthbert spoke from the table where he was gathering the card. “I believe we’ll find out something tonight during Community. Father Prior
has requested a Discussion with Father Andrew.” Cuthbert held his hand firmly over the table. The display dimmed. “Everything will have to come out in Discussion.”
The Order filed in from Vespers and gathered in the great hall for the evening meal. Brother Thomas, the Chief Cellarer, rang the dinner bell. The Abbot gathered the folds of his black cloak against his body, lowered his hooded eyes to the floor, lifted his arms in supplication, his wrists tufted with winding threads of air that seemed yellow against his sallow skin, and offered the evening prayer. The brothers found their seats and talked silently as they waited for the Cellarer’s staff to lay out the food and drink on their tables. The murmurs across the great hall were more subdued than normal, for word had circulated that Father Prior had requested a Discussion, and while the meal time was the only point during the day that the brothers were allowed to speak outside of their Caste, they were too enveloped by caution and curiosity to let their emotions run freely. Brother Philip had sought out the company of Father Louis, the Novice Master, on the way out from Vespers. They sat at a corner of a table near the Abbot’s Table. This was one of the last seats to be filled; the Abbot traditionally sat with the Duodenum, the Deans of the Castes, and a lively Novice was best advised to sit far away near the kitchen doors, where the clatter of trays and the rattle glass would easily drown out the most spirited hi-jinks. But at this meal Philip welcomed the relative quiet and the privacy of Father Louis’ company. “Do you wonder what the Discussion is,” Louis asked Philip as they waited for the food to arrive. “Yes,” Phillip said. Lessons?” “Why haven’t we been taught about it in
“What is the purpose of the Rule, Novice?” Louis asked. “The purpose?” “What does the Rule provide for?” “It gives our corporal being the structure it requires to fulfill our purpose.” “Which is?” “To preserve the knowledge of the Conservatorium for the benefit of the future.” Brother Louis closed his eyes. Philip looked up at the head table, wondering whether the Abbot could hear. He wasn’t a good student -the genetic coding of brothers training for the Works didn’t accommodate high skills of abstract thinking or speculation -- but he didn’t let go of a problem easily, and where the disappointed silence of Brother Philip would deter a Novice with less purpose and more fragile self-esteem, Louis responded as he would to a motor that wouldn’t start, by tinkering with it more. “If not that, what?” “The purpose of the Rule is to provide its followers with Balance. That is why we were chosen in the First Generation to be the Librarians of the great knowledge. But the Conservatorium is our work. Our purpose is to open ourself up to the nature of His spirit, to expand our understanding of God.” God. Philip and his fellow Novices learned everything that they were instructed about God: the orders of the prayers, the schedule, the changes in the calendar to celebrate Holy Days, the reason for confession. In Philip’s mind, God was like the circuitry that he worked
on in the laboratory, replicas of the circuit boards in the Mechanical Chapel that he would move to when his Novitiate came to an end. That was the essence of the understanding he could imagine of God. “So, our highest calling is to maintain the Rule,” Phillip continued. “The Abbot and Father Prior provide direction and discipline, for it is the way of men to lose sight of the Rules. Still, we are flawed, and on some occasions, a brother can lose his way despite their guidance. In that instance, the Rule allows for anyone of the Duodendum to call for a Discussion, a public dialogue before the entire order with the Brother who has created concern. The safety of the Community is sacrosanct, and we are each accountable to each other for our obedience to the Rules. Not only is our physical safety at stake, but our spiritual health as well.” “What happens though?” Philip asked. “Is there a decision made?” Louis lifted his hand. “The Discussion is the prelude to change. There can even be Excommunication. But it is early to think of that. Let’s wait for our food.” Philip looked around the great hall. One hundred and forty-four men seated at bright metal tables, sitting on backless metal benches bolted to the ground, their features illuminated by the low throb of the cathode rays, their bodies cloaked in shapeless robes, black and brown mixed, decades old, passed down from generation to generation, the synthetic fibers resilient witnesses to the weakness of their flesh. He was one of only a few from the Sixth Generation. The twelve survivors of the Second Generation were scattered through the gathered crowd. Always one hundred and forty-four, a virtuous number, a required number, with each given a purpose. “I found out one of the books that Brother Blaise took from the Library,” Philip said.
Louis turned to hush him. “It had something to do with a minyan. Do you know what that is?” “It is part of what Father Prior wants to talk about,” Louis said. “Be patient, Philip. You will learn soon enough.”
As the Cellarers cleared the tables, the Order fell silent. This was the traditional time for relaxation and discussion, the Brothers gathering around tables or sitting on the benches that lined the wall of the anteroom to the Great Hall, drinking small cups of the sugar liquid, or sharing a daily chew of the tobacco cultivated in the small stone yard beyond the kitchen garden. Tonight was different. Father Abbot stood at the head table holding a thick book in his hands. He cleared his throat and began to read. At first his voice was raspy and low, and as he read it was as if the words lubricated his spirit and his voice deepened. For some of the brothers this was a physical manifestation of his holiness, the Holy Spirit possessing him and overcoming his physical limitations, but to Philip the process was clearly an affectation that was aggravated by limited use of his vocal chords and what Philip suspected was a private indulgence in dried tobacco sticks, despite the Order's edict against them. "I will first read from the addendum to the Rules of Benedict, that document that we call the Practicuum and which provides an interpretation and extension of the Rules as are required by the special circumstance of this Monastic community. "As is the tradition of the Rule, minor disobedience by one of the Order will be assessed and punished by the Prior of the House. In matters of grave disobedience, punishable by excommunication to the
Community, the Prior will refer the matter to the Abbot, who shall consult with the Deans of the House, the Prior and the Holy Spirit. "The current circumstance of this House require vigilant attendance to the safety and continued protection of the contents of the House as well as its inhabitants. This addendum raises to the level of grave disobedience any activity that threatens the social and environmental balance of the House. Such an offense can be punishable by the most extreme of excommunication, Shunning, so that the Order acknowledges that keeping the balance is part of the divine order and an act of devotion to Our Lord in the Highest. "In the event that the Prior and the Abbot diverge in the assessment of the gravity of an act of disobedience, this Addendum to the Rule provides for the creation of an open forum to discuss the Act with the entire order. This will be called The Discussion. This event may be invoked only by the Prior. It will consist of an open discussion between the Prior and the committer of the Act in the presence of the Order. Only the Prior will question the committer. At the close of the Discussion, the Abbot will will seek guidance through prayer and consultation within the ranks of the Duodendum. At the next communal meal, the Abbot shall issue a judgment. "In the event the Abbot, upon seeking divine guidance and consultation with his brethren, determine the Act was a grave disruption of the balance of the Monastery, the punishment will be extreme excommunication, which shall consist of Shunning by departure through the Leaving Door. "That concludes the direction in the Practicuum. please begin the Discussion." Father Prior,
The Prior was a vigorous man, one of the Third Generation and in the prime of his life. He towered over his brethren. His hair was silver like an arctic fox and his forehead was high and wide, like a palm face. He stood
with his hands clasped and called in a firm voice, "Brother Andrew, please rise." Andrew rose from a table at the back of the room and shambled through the gathered monks. The younger monks craned their necks and lifted from their seats to see the mysterious man, who rarely joined them for communal meals and who slipped in and out of his dark stall in the Chapel during the devotions of the Hours. He was small, dirty and unruly. His hair was stiff and distended. He was bent over and walked slowly. He was old and worn-out, the flesh rubbed bare on the surface of his hands, the bones of his joints jutting through his skin, the white cursive stroke of years of sweat ingrained like tree rings on his wrists. What struck Philip immediately, and most distinctly, was the vivid illumination of Andrew's eyes. They were blue, but where they should have been filmy with age they were bright like the pigments of the old manuscripts. They gleamed with focus, but did not appear to be focused on anything around them. Andrew was looking clearly at something that none of them could see. Maybe not none, Philip thought, as he saw Brother Blaise slip from one table to the next, shadowing Andrew's progression like a frog jumping from one lily pad to the next to capture the last slivers of the fading sun, Blaise was clear-eyed too, and anxious it seemed, but his focus was easy divined, as he tracked the movements of the man who now stood before the Prior.
"What is it, Thomas?" Andrew asked, using the Prior's given name. "You are working on a project that you will not share. Your assistant has appropriated objects from the archive without the proper authority. You have diverted energy sources in excess of your quota. You have
ceased participating in the activities of your Caste and the Order. You have not accomplished your duties as Dean of your Caste. "I have determined, because of these things, that you have committed act of Grave Disobedience against the Order. You are threatening its balance by your delinquent approach to your Work and your Caste. You are threatening its balance with your un-explained activities. You are threatening its balance by instructing Brother Blaise to flaunt the Rule And, you have disrupted its balance by delaying your Leave Taking, so another brother may tale your place." Philip could feel the collective breath of the brotherhood drawn in sharply and held for a moment. The matter of Leave Taking was never openly discussed. The Abbot and each brother's confessor determined with a monk when he had come to the end of his useful contributions to the community. The Rule required that each brother avoid idleness and make a positive contribution to the prosperity of the community, so that each brother could seek unity with the Holy Spirit with security. This was one of the first rules that a Novice was taught. Andrew looked at Father Prior. Later Philip would wonder if it was a smile that played across Andrew's face, rather than the grimace that he first thought, and when he and the other Novices replayed the Discussion, Philip began to consider that Andrew had known how it would end. "What balance, Thomas?" "The balance of the Order, Andrew. absolutely clear what our responsibility is." The Practicuum makes it
"Do you recall the first lines of the Rule, Thomas?" "Andrew..."
"Humor me for one moment, Thomas. They should all understand what inspires my action. Calling the Discussion doesn't render a verdict, Thomas. And as time has passed, we sometimes neglect to remember the Rule as our first text, and the Practicuum as an interpretation of it." "Brother, you are charged with responding to my claims..." Andrew turned to the great hall and lifted his voice. The sound surprised Philip, and silenced Father Prior, who towered over the older monk; Andrew's voice was light and sweet, younger and stronger than the frame of the man himself. He spoke in Latin. "Obsculato, o fili, praecelta magistri, et inclina aurem cordis tui, et admonitionem pii patris libenter excipe et efficaciter comple, ut ad eum per oboedientiae laborem redeas, a quo per inoboedientiae desidiam recessaras. "Recessaras is the key to my explanation, Thomas. I don't dare call it a defense, for I haven’t done anything wrong." "The Rule calls for obedience, Andrew. That is the root of this issue, your obedience to the entire Rule and the law of the monastery." "Perhaps, Thomas, we have drifted without realizing it. Perhaps the strict rule of the work we have set out to do here has taken us away from an understanding of His work. Perhaps, Thomas, we have lost our ability to sense his Love and have faith in His wisdom." "Does your hubris make you believe your own crisis of faith extends to this entire community?" Thomas asked incredulously. "I don't have a crisis of faith. I simply see none who share it."
Thomas and Andrew stood silent. The Abbot cleared his throat. "Andrew. What are you working in the shed?" Andrew turned to the Abbot. "Magnificat anima mea Dominum. 'My soul doth magnify the Lord.' If we have lost our connection with the Holy Spirit, we will find him within our selves. The way to make Him manifest in our lives is to bring his essence forth through our souls. That is not a threat to our balance. It is our purpose." Thomas bowed his head as if gathering his strength. "But tell us, Andrew, how does this drain power from our grid? Tell us how this is part of the purpose of the Astral Works? Tell us, if you can, how this is a contribution to our purpose in this community, to ensure the safety of the knowledge that was entrusted to us at the Beginning?" Andrew turned to the Great Hall once more. "Do you ever look out through the grey walls of this dome," he asked, "wonder what is beyond? How can we safeguard the knowledge of humankind unless we know what the future of humankind may be? What if we are not a cloister, but we are all that there is? How can we divine a future path without having a connection to God that can ask him his will?" "Disrupting the power grid is a practical matter, Brother, not a theory. You could prompt surges that short out the climate system or cause fires. The consequences could include the destruction of our dome. That is an inexcusable risk." "Those are exaggerated concerns, Thomas. I know that. After all, I am one of the designers of the system. I am a founder of the Astral Works. You acknowledge that?"
"The order still deserves a simple explanation of your activity, Brother," Father Prior said over Andrew's question. "You are bound by discussion to provide that." "Fine," Andrew said. Philip watched the monk gather his thoughts. His posture changed, as if he were folding in on himself, and his face became uncertain. He pressed his fingers against each other, rubbing them back and forth in an irregular and increasingly swift pace. The community waited. Philip could sense the doubt rising in his brethren. Hold off, he wanted to cal out. Let's listen to what he has to say."
"The old teaching instruct us that the His presence is magnified when a group gather. This was common across every belief. The Hebrews called it a 'minyan' long ago. Two things were required to make Him manifest. A gathering and a point of focus. In the old times, a group called Muslims believed that the place of holy focus was a place called Mecca, and at certain times during the day every Muslim, no matter where they were, would kneel in the direction of Mecca and say a prayer." Andrew paused. Father Prior began to speak, but the Abbot stilled him with a quiet cough and a raised hand. "I have wondered why our community can no longer make Him manifest. We gather. We have a point of focus. I have wondered if He has abandoned us, like the rest of the world has abandoned itself. "Then I discovered some texts in a field of study that was called neuroscience. There was a scholar named Jung who believed that our spirits were somehow connected. Scientists did studies of our brains and discovered that they were electrical networks that could be linked. Within these linked neural networks they discovered patterns that
appeared to be distinct consciousnesses. There's not much work done. But then I began to think that there could be a way to connect our minds and magnify those unique patterns. That would be Him, manifest and present." Andrew trailed off. "Are those the works that your assistant has spirited from the storage?" "Oh yes," Andrew said. "But he was only doing my bidding as Dean of Astral Works." "And the electricity?" Father Prior asked. "I have built a device that will magnify our brain waves and mesh them together." "All of us?" asked the Prior. "Yes." "To what end?" "To make him manifest. To find him within us. To learn what the path is." Andrew fell silent. Father Prior looked at him. Philip watched the face of the Prior soften. "You have been a good monk, brother, but you have lost your strength." "No, Thomas, you have forgotten what strength is."
Philip felt a stirring beside him. Father Louis stood up. "I have a question, Father Prior," the Novice Master said. His voice was uneven and thin. The Prior nodded. "Father Andrew," the Novice Master said. "Have you lost your faith in God?" "No, Louis. I believe in Him with all my heart." "Then, have you lost your faith in us?" Philip followed Andrew’s gaze across the great hall. The monks were rapt. Their faces were various, filled with confusion, frustration, anger, fear, affection, ennui. Brother Blaise was perched forward on his bench, his weight on his toes, as if he were prepared to race to Andrew at any moment. His eyes were moist with tears. Andrew spoke. "I suppose I have, Louis. I suppose I have."
After the discussion ended, the Abbot issued an edict of silence until the morning meal, after Matins, when the community would gather and hear the final decision. As soon as the Novices were sequestered in their dormitory, they began to chatter excitedly about the discussion, but Philip went into the small chapel in the side room and sat in silence. Was their a purpose to their work, he wondered? And, was accepting the absence of an answer the essence of the faith that the Novice Master talked about? Father Andrew was absent from Matins the next morning, nor was he at the morning meal. For a moment, it was as if nothing had happened.
Then, at the close of meal, even as the Cellarers cleared the dishes, the Abbot made his announcement. Father Andrew has elected to make his Leave Taking. The event would occur two days hence, after the Nursery had begun the fertilization of the replacement pod. Andrew had returned to residence in the main quarters, where he would pray with his Confessor and the Abbot. Philip felt saddened by the news, although he felt that it was the most practical outcome. How could you punish a monk for desiring a greater knowledge of the Holy Spirit? Father Andrew had wondered too long and was right to bring an end to his uncertainty. With his Leave Taking he would find what he searched for. The Leave Taking took place in a space beside the Vestry, where the walls opened up to the great base of the dome. A series of small holding cells opened one onto another, until the final door, which opened onto the world outside the dome. This door was controlled by a remote mechanism; after Father Andrew went through it, the door would close and seal. The monks gathered in the vestry and began to sing a hymn. Father Andrew walked to the back door if the vestry where the Abbot and Father Prior stood. They bowed to each other and Father Prior took a key from his ring and began to unlock the door. There was a disturbance among some if the monks, and then Brother Blaise broke through a small group and ran to Father Andrew's side. "I am going with you," Blaise said. Father Andrew bowed his head and did not speak. Father Prior stepped forward.
"You can not, Brother. It is not time for your Leave Taking. The nursery is not prepared. You still have work to do." Blaise clasped on to Andrew more tightly. "I am going." Father Prior gestured to a group of monks to come and pull Blaise away, but the Abbot intervened. "He can go. It is his choice. May the Holy Spirit travel with you, my son." The two monks, one old and one not so old, passed through the door. Father Prior locked it behind them. Tradition held that the community congregate in the chapel to pray silently, fast and meditate for twelve hours. No one was to go to the edge of the dome and look out into the gloom, the grey, gaseous threads that moved through the air. There was no knowledge of what happened to the Leave Takers. They were on their path to the Holy Spirit, and it was the duty of the order to maintain its own balance, to protect the knowledge and nurture the dome, through prayer and orderly works. As Philip sat still in his pew, listening to the soft breathing of his brothers, feeling the great weight of the chapel, the lofty ceiling of the dome above it, the great expanse of unknowing that lay beyond the thick composite of the dome itself, he felt an irresistible urge to rush into the tower, to ascend the worn stairs, to press his face against the dome wall and look out into the gloom, to know. He pressed his palms tight and forced his mind clear. As he did, the image of Andrew's face, weary and slack with resignation, loomed large in his mind's eye.
End note: Translation of the ﬁrst line of The Rule of Benedict. "Listen, o my son, to the teaching of your master, and turn to them with the ear of your heart. Willingly accept the advice of a devoted father and out it into action. Thus you will return by labor of obedience to the one whom you drifted from through the inertia of disobedience."
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