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When Brother Francis, Abbot of the Salesian Monastery, travels to Kauai, Hawaii, to present a workshop at a retreat center and speak at a Martin Luther King ecumenical celebration, this frequent-flyer monk discovers there is a fine line between spirituality and magic.
Readers of all ages laud Seif’s monastic mystery novels as informative reading wrapped in an enticing murder mystery. Though the books don’t feel instructive, they are full of details about life in a monastery, meditation, clinical psychology, Chinese and Natural medicine, and travel to other locales. This latest installment is sure to please audiences as well.
In this fifth complete book in a series of monastic mysteries, the magical island of Kauai, Hawaii, provides a fragrant setting for Brother Francis as he continues on his spiritual path while ministering as a clinical psychologist and doctor of natural medicine. During his month-long journey, Brother Francis encounters a gentle Daoist named Tian Wu, whose wife, Effie, a psychic, has just been murdered. There may be more to this event than meets the eye, and it brings out the sleuth in Brother Francis—along with a very special type of magic.
Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania at the Salesian Monastery, the monastics must deal with the death of one of their own, coupled with a peculiar visit by a pair of CIA agents. Danger, death, and detective work are woven into this fifth volume in the Office of the Dead monastic mystery series, where not everything is at it seems.
PROLOGUE That person makes my blood boil! The others do too. All that Holy Roller talk. I’m sick of it. There are going to be some changes made. Water softly lapping at the shore offered a gentle contrast to the inner storm that was raging. Disjointed thoughts continued to feed an ever-increasing inner fire. What about me? I’ve got some spiritual qualities too. What’s the difference between what I do and what that type of person does? It’s clear that I need to take things in hand and not just wait for them to change. A huge pile of gray boulders, darkened with age and ceremonial use, appeared timeless and immovable in the path of the more-than-agitated person. They loomed above, outlined by the rapidly fading daylight. Faith can move mountains; certainly these boulders can be moved. I can also move a few people, perhaps to another dimension. Praying them out of my life may do it--just like magic! There are some other options too. A storm was brewing. Gathering clouds obliterated any hope of seeing the sun finish setting. Palm branches began wobbling in the breeze like scores of drunken kites. They slapped against the trunks of the trees over and over again. My shrink says I have ego problems. What a laugh! She’s the one with the problems, not me. The last one said that I was threatened by the success of other people in my life. I’m the one who has been successful. What do I care about them? A jagged spear of lightening vaulted through the sky and illuminated the beach for miles around. The thought came in that instant also. Maybe I’ll have to kill someone. That might just fix everything. CHAPTER 1 It wasn’t a great Abbey church; it was a simple monastery Oratory. The chant did not resonate within the stones of a cavernous edifice, but rather reverberated gently within the wooden panels of the small building. The arched hip roof of the barn-like structure seemed to gather the voices together and then offer them back to one another in unison. “O Wisdom, O Living Word of God, you touch all of creation with your strong yet tender care. Come and show your people the way to live good and holy lives.” Advent--the monastic community was already well into another new liturgical year--and soon Christmas would follow. The community loved the “O antiphons,” as they were called. One was sung each day in the octave prior to the Solemnity of Christmas—Christ made human in Jesus and in each person. Evening Prayer, more commonly known as “Vespers,” was chanted together or prayed privately, when necessary, at each sundown. Before and after “Mary’s Canticle,” which was sung in gratitude for the graces of each day, a brief phrase or “antiphon” was chanted. During the eight days prior to Christmas every ancient antiphon always began with the word “O,” thus the name O antiphons. Each O antiphon added a name for the Messiah after the O. On December seventeenth, the beginning of the octave, the Messiah was honored as Wisdom. The monastic community of about five monks and nuns needed all the wisdom they could muster. The monastery numbered about five members because life happens—even in a monastery. People move in for a while to test their vocations—to see if they truly belong—and may move out again. Sometimes they are voted out. This is a painful process but usually the candidate eventually realizes that his or her dismissal is for the best. Guests who come for retreat or for a simple day of prayer change the number too. Friends of the monastery sometimes visit or pray with the community, which adds to the ebb and flow. Life happens, and sometimes death happens, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Toward the end of Morning and Evening Prayer there is a series of petitions or intercessions, prayers for the various needs of the world. Those who celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours (the “Divine Office” or simply the “Office” in older parlance) are called by the Church to remember all the needs of God’s people in a special way at these times. The Vesper liturgy allows for a pause wherein those celebrating this Office can offer spontaneous prayers for the sick, the dying, the needs of others. These are offered in a general way but people can add specific names to the intercessions if so led. “For all the sick, especially for our Brother Benedict,” whispered Sister Scholastica in her soft but distinctly clear voice. Her salt and pepper hair tucked neatly under the band of her simple dark blue veil, Sister Scholastica measured “close to five feet on a good day” as she typically put it. The veil, gray tunic, and blue scapular which was worn over the tunic, were a mix of ancient and modern. The garb on the body of the monastics dated back to the Middle Ages; the modified veils of the nuns an expression of Church changes since Vatican Council II. Sister Scholastica entered the monastery in her forties and had taken her solemn or perpetual vows only months before. She seemed so very happy. It must be admitted that one or two of her sisters and brothers in monastic life sometimes wondered about her background prior to entrance, but the nun was rather tight-lipped about that. She had taken a Postulant (a candidate who has already made a one-month Observership and who returned to try out the life in earnest) under her wing last year and even this person, Anthony, didn’t get anything specific out of her. Just as Clare, a woman on retreat for several weeks at the Salesian Monastery, was opening her mouth to pray for the needs of the poor, a bell frantically rang out in the distance. The only other bell in the complex of three buildings was in the main house. The Oratory was a separate building and there was a bell there to call the community to prayer but it was the house bell that was clanging. Sister Jane de Chantal was Prioress, in charge of many things, especially when Abbot Francis was away. She calmly and quietly slipped out of the Oratory to check on the reason for the sounding of a bell which usually called people to meals or to community meetings (called “Chapter” because a chapter of the Rule was read at the beginning of the gathering). The others continued praying, a bit distracted but trying to remain faithful. Such is the stuff of monastic observance. Usually cool and unshaken, Sister Jane returned hurriedly and whispered something into the Abbot’s ear. An Abbot or Abbess is the leader and symbol of unity in a monastic community. A Prior or Prioress assisted in the process. Brother Francis, the Abbot, was just giving the final blessing at the end of Vespers. He left immediately rather than staying after the ceremony for a few moments of quiet prayer as was his normal custom. The others followed, perhaps more out of unmortified curiosity than in an effort to help if needed. There was indeed an emergency. Brother Benedict was lying on the floor by the stove in the kitchen area of the monastery great room, just below the bell rope. Sister Jane and Brother Francis could see that the little monk was breathing. He had wandered out of his room, just off the great room, which contained kitchen, dining area, and living room, and then stumbled. Brother Benedict had lost about fifty pounds during the recent months of his illness. His short gray beard, which used to give him a gnome-like appearance, now added to his elderly persona. “Let’s check for broken bones before we move him,” mumbled Brother Francis, more to himself than to anyone in the now filling room. He gently prodded and poked the man who was his senior by about ten years in age, but much his junior in monastic life. Brother Benedict had been married and a father to one child prior to his entrance into the monastery about fifteen years ago. This was unusual but not impossible, especially after the changes ushered in by Vatican Council II. “Everything accounted for?” quipped Sister Jane. She had a way...