We Swedes can be a dark people. Bergman’s films play out isolation and suffering in stark, meditative shades. His are the films of spider gods and depressive priests. Norse poetry is for waking up to days of near twilight and an overcast sky. We come from austere Midwestern families who learned from the cold that they didn’t have to be warm to be put up with.
But Swedish monks are a different story. One of the most jovial monks I ever knew was Fr. Paschal Cheline of Mount Angel Abbey. He was the laughing monk who would poke novices in the ribs and even had a catchphrase: “Well, ho-ly fritz!”
During my senior year of college, I lived on the same floor as Fr. Paschal, and my neighbors and I would always pester him to spend time with us when we knew he was doing his spiritual reading. Most of the time we were successful and he would sit and talk with us outside his room, sometimes with his finger still in the book. From time to time, he would even play Apples to Apples with us. You haven’t lived until you’ve played Apples to Apples with a monk.
When he first met my wife, he exclaimed that we must have him over for a Swedish dinner. I regret that we never did, but we’ll crack out the lingonberries and herring soon.
Farväl älskade bror.
Farewell, beloved brother.
If I ever make it to Gothamburg or Motala, I’ll remember you.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DD1AEoDna8U&w=560&h=315]Fr. Paschal on why we need beauty.
[…] But even with all that, I think the most compelling defense of novels that I have ever come across was in the final letter of a monk to his community. You can read the letter in its context here and my post on his passing here. […]