Plane crash…

The crash of a 6-seater plane yesterday in a slum-by-the-creek had claimed 16 human lives. Around 60 poor families were affected by this tragic incident. The site is only about 200 meters away from where we are residing. Not wanting to rush to the site yesterday, I took some time instead this morning to visit the area and the evacuation center and extend what little help we can. The ash-smelling site was full of irony – poor people made poorer by the tragedy. The more one behold those “empty houses,” the more one is turned silent. No sooner, the spirit of those who perished will roam around the place, perhaps in search of answers. Much like the deep curiosity of the living. But the dark remains of the fire will only keep the curious wait in irreconcilable silence. But no sooner too, structures will sprout from the ash-covered ground, from the very muteness of the place. Life is liturgy.

First Sunday of Advent 2011

There is something more disturbing these days aside from the political chaos that the case of the now under-arrest former President and now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo has created. It is linear thinking that seems to operate even in Church circles and is playing safe on the side of legalism. When the Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima “defied”  (in virtue of her intuition that the Arroyos will eventually seek political asylum in other countries) the Supreme Court order to allow the Arroyos to leave the country for “medical emergency reason,” the staunchest critic of de Lima’s executive arrogance is no less the respectable Constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Jesuit, lawyer and former Dean of the Ateneo Law School. The venerable Cardinal Vidal also voiced out his opposition to the “defiance,” followed by the new Archbishop of Cebu Jose Palma. Clerics and laypeople also jumped into the fray, mostly fearful of the possible Constitutional crisis the “defiance” could trigger. Indeed, de Lima’s decision was very polarizing. But clearly, those who denounced de Lima’s very unpopular move of barring the Arroyos from leaving the airport castigated her for doing a perilous, illegal encroachment of the power of the Supreme Court whose 8 justices were ungraciously appointed by Congresswoman Arroyo a week before she stepped down from power.

With due deference to our well-intentioned bishops and Fr. Bernas, it is understandable where they were coming from – from the logic of the law. De Lima’s call shocked the nation’s common sense because it was almost unthinkable that a lone woman could almost singlehandedly blur the autonomy of both the Executive and the Judiciary. To make sense of the unthinkable which appears very dangerous to our “Constitutional survival,” basic human psychology would dictate us to anchor on a safe ground. This safe ground happens to be the logic of the law which is the law of linear thinking, the striving for consistency of one’s syllogisms, or the clarity of one’s arguments.

But linear thinking easily grinds against intuitive thinking, which was the main operational mode of De Lima’s intransigence. If linear thinking likes to play safe within allowed borders, intuitive thinking is more adventurous. If linear thinking is more closeted, boxed-in, intuitive thinking likes to venture into open seas.

This difference is not something new. More relevant for this blog, it is the same sea of difference between the Benedictines and those dominated by linear thinking (coincidentally, De Lima graduated from the Benedictine San Beda College of Law; ironically, the cleric-Dean of the College also joined Fr. Bernas), the difference between the medieval scholastics and the medieval monastics; the scholastics (whose spirit continues to dominate Roman Catholic theological schools) being the champion of linear thinking, whose commentaries for example on the Canticle of Canticles were doggedly written as clear and precise as possible, its doctrines stringently addressed to the intelligence; whereas monastic commentaries were addressed to the whole being; its aim is to touch the heart rather than instruct the mind.

“Scholastic commentary is almost always complete; it explains the entire “letter” of the sacred text. Monastic commentary is often incomplete; St. Bernard, in eighty-six sermons composed over a period of eighteen years, had reached only the beginning of the third chapter.”

The medieval monastics were more at home with incompleteness, with the open-ended meanings of sacred texts. The linear thinker among the scholastics, under the method of quaestio and disputatio, liked it secured in conclusive and convincing arguments at the expense of disregarding an essential component of one’s being like intuition or common sense. It was the medieval monastics openness’ rather than their rigid stance before sacred texts (Bible, Church Fathers, and the classics) that transformed them into the moral fiber of the medieval period, a period of unparalleled masters of waiting, men and women who in their desire for the truth grounded in the Holy, were less enslaved by the “letter” of the texts than by  its capacity to shock-to-transfigure. Their holiness apparently went beyond human beings’ capacity for linear thinking, no matter how valuable learning was for them.

Advent. Seems to be the “real time” for contemplative waiting and open-mindedness rather than for discursive, logical thinking for the coming of the Messiah. The medieval monastics used to be where we are now.

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Leclerq, J. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture (Fordham University Press: New York, 1982, pp. 84-85).

Photo credit: malasiquibaptist

Breath of a prayer…

Dearest God,

the fire of faith and fidelity of Nanang,
keep it burning in her body and bed,
because it is Your fire,
until she returns Home.

Amen.

______________________

A prayer for a friend’s mother I visited at the ICU of the National Kidney Transplant Institute last Sunday.

 

St. Antony of Egypt: Toothful Abbot

Thanks to science, Vitamins (especially Vitamin C) were discovered.

But there’s also something in solitude that is analogous, if not superior, to Vitamins. It’s not that solitude must be pursued for the sake of health; health is simply a gift solitude brings. Take the case of St. Antony of Egypt, pioneer of monastic solitude. After 20 years of solitary life sleeping and living in caves, huts, and cemeteries; fighting demons of spiritual and psychological in nature; battling with thirst and hunger; facing lions, snakes, scorpions in the wilds; eating bread for years; fasting, still came out of his long solitude physically robust, his body agile as of an Olympian. According to his biographer St. Athanasius:

“…not only was he a picture of health (not a single tooth was missing!”), but his face was illuminated by compassion and joy.”

He died at the age of 105…

Robert Ellsberg
All Saints (Claretian Publications: Quezon City, Philippines, 2008)