Posted July 12, 2004
Book: A Hand on My Shoulder: Monk and Bishop
Author: John Willem Gran
Cistercian Publication, Kalamazoo, MI, pp. 327
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
In this second volume of his memoirs, John Willem Gran describes the existence of a Cistercian monk in the 1950s and tells of the lives and hardships in the monastery on the weatherbeaten Welsh island of Caldey. Having joined the community seeking prayer, contemplation, and study, he found himself playing the organ, teaching theology, repairing tractors, and rebuilding and operating an amphibious vehicle. In Rome he administered the Cistercian generalate and student’s student’s premises, and finally, back in his native Norway, he served as bishop of Oslo.
As a Catholic bishop in a Lutheran country, he participated in, and provides a profoundly thoughtful and sometimes humorous insider’s view of the Second Vatican Council.
An Excerpt from the Book:
The history of religion was a fascinating study which gave me insight into man’s timeless need to believe — to believe in something, almost anything, at all events in something greater than himself. For people have an inborn instinct which fumblingly, often yearningly, searches for The Absolute in one form or another. There is no lack of ‘answers’, whether free or for sale, often ‘do-it-yourself’ answers making no attempt to provide evidence or logical backing. Occult sects have always flourished in abundance — today, strangely enough, more than ever.
I learned that you had to separate the wheat from the chaff in this multiplicity, that you had to steer clear of artificiality, and take a closer look at the great religions of the world and any claim they made to being messengers from the lord of the universe. In keeping with this I could cut out a fair number. Even Buddhism, for Buddha — pure philosopher as he was — never himself made any claim to being a prophet. In the finally tally three great religions remain, all of them claiming to be mouthpieces for the creator of the universe: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The fascinating thing is how they are linked together, for all three regard Abraham as their ‘progenitor’” Jews and Christians through Isaac, and Muslims through Ishmael who was Abraham’s illegitimate son by the slave-woman Hagar. Moses, too, is their common property. The Jews’ Yahweh, the Christians’ God, and the Muslims’ Allah are recognized by all three religions as being the same godhead: the everlasting Creator and Preserver of the universe.
Through the theological studies, I acquired growing insight into how Judaism in the Old Testament and Christianity in the New hang closely together — the latter as an inherent consequence of the former. Both have their core in one being: The Messiah, the savior promised by Yahweh. While the Jews are obdurate in the belief that he is yet to come, the Christians firmly contend that he did so two thousand years ago.
. . . The study that claimed most of my interest was Holy Scripture. But now I was subjected to a process of ‘demystification’ which was not easy to take. For here science came first: the results of research. My horizon had to be widened in several fields simultaneously. At times I had to struggle not to let secondary considerations invade my somewhat rudimentary relationship to God. the less important aspects kept trying to get the upper hand. Heart and head cold be so at odds that it was sometimes hard to know which was winning, though things tended, all in all, to even out in the long run. I was consoled by the thought that I did not intend to be a career theologian. Nor a teacher. The latter was more suited to my three university-educated colleauges. Or so I thought.
Table of Contents:
A world apart
The hold tightens
New tasks, new horizons
Caldey becomes independent
Rome in a new way
Behind my back
An apprentice again
The end of the beginning
Fourth and final session