Solitude and Social Change

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What if solitude and prayer is the very fiery furnace that can purify you? What if in solitude and prayer, you have no other choice but to face your own demons that dehumanize you – craving for pleasure, power, popularity, wealth? What if in solitude and prayer, you realize you are not beholden to any system, party or group and that you do not exist merely to be a pleaser? What if solitude and prayer can simplify your life, makes you realize that you don’t actually need much power, wealth, success, popularity to be human? What if in solitude and prayer, you grow more other-centered because you keep on encountering beyond religious techniques the One who is infinitely self-giving rather than self-indulgent? What if solitude and prayer is the necessary breath the world needs? What if your simple life of solitude and prayer is your only contribution for social change? What if?

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Discipleship of the Mind

“The Christian faith enables us to see the world in a manner that transcends the empirical. It offers us theoretical spectacles which allow us to behold things in such a way that we are able to rise above the limits of the observable, and move into the richer realm of discerned meaning and value. The natural world thus becomes seen and interpreted as God’s creation, bearing the subtle imprint of its maker. We see not only the empirical reality of the world, but its deeper value and true significance. Neither value nor significance, it must be emphasized, are empirical notions – things that we can see around us. They must be discerned, and then superimposed upon an empirical reading of the world.

We are called to exercise an evangelical discipleship of the mind in every area of life. Whether we are called to serve God in the arts or in music, in health work or in international development, in the academy or in politics, we must work out what it means to be a Christian in these contexts. Sometimes this will mean manifesting and embodying the love, compassion and care that is so central a feature of the life of faith. Sometimes it will involve challenging ideologies that have become deeply embedded in the academy, culture or society. There is no area of life in which we are excused by God of the need to work out our discipleship. We are called to be witnesses, to allow our light to be seen; to be salt to the world around us. And we can only do that through presence – through inhabiting situations to which we feel called.”

Alister McGrath: “The Lord is my light: on the discipleship of the mind” EQ 83.2 (2011), 133–145

The 2010 Laing Lecture, delivered at the London School of Theology on 23 February 2010. The author is Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion and Culture at King’s College, University of London.

Flashflood Aftermath: Suffering and Silence

“After Auschwitz, there must be poetry, in which language is torn and broken, into which words are pulled, but in which there is also an essential address: the words and the silences are pulled toward an other.”  

Karmen MacKendrick

A story or two in words of some survivors, a single photo, are enough to move me to tearful silence. Their suffering, the depth of their sense of loss, the trauma so marked up in their bodies, in their faces are unspeakable. No human language can contain their grief;  the survivors themselves have no language for it except by way of stammering, wailing, broken, torn ones. By way of tearful silence, of tears and silence. Movement in silence and through silence could have been the best response.

But how does one make sense of the constant interviews of the survivors, asking them “how they feel,” often cornered to respond in a language (in Tagalog) that runs against their tongue and their manner of speaking it, the source of stigmatization? How does one make sense of the closed-up corpses that sociologist Randy David and a fellow blogger so poignantly pointed out that is so disrespectful of their dignity? Of the constant scrambling for photo opportunities and endless chatter in sensationalized media voice as if it is a climax of a soap opera that TV sells? In this kind of situation, often, one doesn’t know where charity ends and self-promotion begins.

And I have one perception on this malaise – it is a desacralization of the sacred silence, no matter how marred by the reality of loss and death, that the dead and their survivors so deserve along the river bank, by the single post of the house left, in churches-turned-evacuation-centers, before a mass grave. Let silence reign in the midst of such unspeakable suffering. But no because the Filipino pathos is always cast and cultured in the Hollywoodish climactic, the sensationalized ‘underdog’ of a soap opera whose upcoming triumph could happen through a sudden twist of the whole drama. Before any donor knows it, media and some charitable organizations have been telling them that the first tall order in the midst of a tragedy is to fix the damage, to fix people’s suffering. Abate? Yes. But to ask people to articulate their grief through interrogation, covering their tales by words or images as if “everything must be said; it must be said now, with nothing left – it has to get somewhere,” – isn’t this irreverent and violative of a very rich refuge in times of unspeakable suffering – silence and the need for someone to stay in their silent scream.

True enough, the dead need further autopsies and the survivors need food and shelters and movement through mobilization for its delivery are needed. But I’m convinced that this movement can be done in prayerful silence less the self-flaunting, and more reverential of the silence of the dead and the survivors.

But then, this silence has to start from within and has to be cultured also. Perhaps, those cameras can still keep going in meditative movement minus the reporters’ microphone. I bet it’s more powerful than any professional’s seemingly endless chatter.  And then through silence, lessons from the tragedy are better learned and absorbed as well, who knows. And by the way, one can also stay in prayerful silence from afar and be in solidarity with the suffering.

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Photo credit: interaksyon

Flashfloods: The Human Culprit

1. The red circle is the approximate area in Kalatungan and Kitanglad ranges where heavy Sendong rains fell. It is also the approximate area where logging is rampant e.g. Vicmar Dev’t Corporation and Bualan Cooperative which was exempted by DENR in April from EO23 or the PNoy logban.

2. The two red lines to CDO and Iligan is the water flow from the denuded forests.

3. This would show the source of the flood waters that hit simultaneously Cagayan de Oro and Iligan, and sparing the coastal municipalities in between Iligan and Cagayan de Oro. Heavy rains brought by typhoon Sendong fell in the Kalatungan range. If you observe the light green-brownish color, it indicates thin vegetation. This is where massive logging is happening for the last 30 years. If you notice it drains straight to CDO. If you go to the left of the map, down Kalatungan is Kapai and Mandulog, this is the part that drains to Iligan. There are ridges and gorges there that feed directly to the Mandulog river.

I’m sending my little help with these odious facts in mind…

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BenCy G. Ellorin of Help CDO

Stillness in Schools

Dom Laurence Freeman OSB is a monk of the Olivetan Benedictine Congregation of Monte Oliveto Maggiore and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation. Fr Laurence was born in England in 1951 where he was educated by the Benedictines and studied English Literature at Oxford University.

He is also the author of many books and articles including “Light Within”, “Selfless Self”, “Web of Silence”, “Common Ground”, “A Short Span of Days”, “Your Daily Practice” and “Jesus: The Teacher Within”. He is also the editor of John Main’s works and a member of the Board of Medio Media, the publishing arm of the World Community.

(Source: www.wccm.org)

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