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Spiritual harmony in the north woods

by Mary Bruemmer, PineandLakes.com, July 18, 2007

It was a spiritual time in the neighborhood...

Crosslake, MN (USA) -- Did you hear about the two monks - one Catholic and one Buddhist - who took a walk? Seriously folks, this is not the beginning of a joke. Fr. William Skudlarek, a Catholic priest from Minnesota, and Jotipalo Bhikkhu, a Buddhist monk from California, started a walking pilgrimage on July 11.

Their plan was to walk the Paul Bunyan Trail from Baxter to Bemidji. I happened to read an article about it in the St. Cloud Times on July 9. I mentioned to our editor that we should try to catch up with them as they came through the area, so on Friday, July 13, our staff writer met the two on the trail near Jenkins to interview them. I told her to give them my phone number in case they needed a place to stay one evening. We calculated that they would be near Backus sometime Sunday evening. That gave me plenty of time to break it to my husband that a priest and a Buddhist monk would be staying with us!

Ah, the best laid plans...

Shortly after I got home from work on Friday, Fr. William called and said they would like to take us up on my offer to stay at our house. They thought they would be close to the Backus area by Saturday evening. I hung up the phone, looked at Donnie and said, "Uh...we're going to have some company tomorrow night. There are these two monks (again with the joke)." I knew he would be okay with it. After all, we have a good friend who is a priest, and how much different could a Buddhist monk be? Donnie, however, did say, "Wasn't there something in our marriage vows about this...bringing strange men into the house?" I told him I didn't remember anything about Buddhism at our wedding.

In following Jotipalo's tradition, I didn't even have to feed them when they came. Jotipalo doesn't eat anything after 1 p.m., but I was a bit concerned that William might want to eat something. He did say that if I forced him to, he would eat. We spent the entire evening chatting - and solving the world's problems. (It's just a shame that no one ever calls us for our solutions.) When Jotipalo went to bed, I asked William if he would like a sandwich. After all, Donnie and I hadn't eaten anything since they arrived; I didn't want to eat in front of Jotipalo. So, we each had a sandwich before going to bed. Jotipalo had said earlier that if the food isn't available to you, you really get used to eating less. He was right, because we weren't really starving, I just felt we should eat something. What a novel idea, though; remind me to rid our house of our unnecessary food supplies (with the exception of M&Ms, of course).

The next morning we invited our neighbors, Kathy and Verdale, over for breakfast (there is safety in numbers). When we were done eating, Jotipalo chanted a traditional Pali blessing, which he said was a thank you for our generosity, and it also made reference to how happy you feel when you give to others. (We'll have to take his word for that, of course, since it wasn't in English.) Afterwards we took William and Jotipalo to Mass. Imagine the looks you get when you walk into a Catholic church with a Buddhist monk in tow!

As I expected, we had a great time with the two monks. So much so, that when I heard there was rain in the forecast for Sunday night, I told them to call me if they didn't find a place to stay. I wasn't surprised to hear from them later that day. I drove up to Hackensack to pick them up, and we spent yet another delightful evening together.

What was it that brought us together? Fate? Karma? Divine intervention? I don't know for sure, but I'm glad it came about. I have found two new friends. And what better friends to have than a couple of monks?


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