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?

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

Storm signals, compassion signals

“When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist,
he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.
The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns.
When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick.
When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said,
“This is a deserted place and it is already late;
dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages
and buy food for themselves.”
Jesus said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
Then he said, “Bring them here to me, ”
and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.
Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven,
he said the blessing, broke the loaves,
and gave them to the disciples,
who in turn gave them to the crowds.
They all ate and were satisfied,
and they picked up the fragments left over—
twelve wicker baskets full.
Those who ate were about five thousand men,
not counting women and children.”

July is normally a typhoon month for the country, with an average of 5 of this kind of damaging wet weather. We got overloaded this July with 9 according to PAGASA. The consequences to human lives, communities and properties are tremendously burdensome – city and rural areas flooding, streets covered with mud or even lahar; people drowned in rivers or buried alive by landslides; houses gobbled up by the sudden monstrous rise of water; ricefields and fish farms devastated. Just when residents were about to finish fixing their houses, another storm would turn their effort into futility. How painful! How frustrating could it further get! The sense of devastation and loss are marked up in people’s faces like ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday; they are drawn in their wearied faces.

Pinoys are no strangers to storm-induced suffering. We are quite familiar with it. Or over-familiar with it enough to numb the human capacity for compassionate action.

That over-familiarity could also become an inhuman habit is something not unfamiliar – souring relationships, unfinished meal at fastfood restaurants, boredom over repetitive Sunday gospel readings or “old” laptops. It’s a creeping disease even in social networking like Facebook where people are over-familiar with each other with all the photographic evidence and details but fail to connect more deeply like two friends engaged and interested in each other in an other-centered conversation, hearts out the way compassion is other-centered by nature. I wonder if with over-familiarity, the choices are reduced to two – relational depth or simplistic connection? Compassionate, heartfelt connection, or the shallow self-gratification by way of information?

But then, the gospel injunction to become “true neighbors” in the parable of the good Samaritan is by way of mercy, through the networking of compassion rather than the gathering of information that the priest and the Levite had cognitively modelled in the parable.

Once again, I heard the same timeless call for compassion in the story of the feeding of the more than five thousand. I imagine the Son of Man traversing the dusty roads from Galilee to Jerusalem, passing by familiar faces of people in pain. Anytime, the Son of Man could have fallen into the trap of over-familiarity to become heedless to every Bartimaeus or women hemorrhaging more than a dozen years. Anytime, the Son of Man could have excused himself using our modern phrase of “compassion fatigue” (a symptom of our lack of courage to pursue solitude, the source of compassion). Yet, one more time, I heard the Son of Man, likely to have wept in silence, coming out from a painful solitude occasioned by the beheading of someone he looked up to – John the Baptist – sharing compassion to the hungry crowd and the sick. Scholars may explain to us the meaning of “miracle” in this passage from a scientific sociological perspective of the crowd bringing their own provision. But the scientific information is not the spiritual bread in this passage. It was the Son of Man’s compassion born out of his sorrowful solitude, set in a secluded place conducive for silence – a case of solitude chased by the desire for him. It was the Son of Man’s compassion likely unleashing what was in the heart of every wounded member of the crowd. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every Eucharist is a celebration of compassion – the Holy extending mercy, cajoling every attendee to stay and need not go somewhere, to simply sit in the open field of divine generosity to be joyfully satisfied. The spiritual bread here is the sense that every time I honestly admit before the Holy, alone or with others, offering my wounds or lack: “I have here five loaves of bread and two fish,” I am already sitting in the field of the Eucharist for every Eucharist is but the begging of the Holy’s mercy, the encounter of God’s tireless compassion with the human need for it. Eucharist is not so much the rubrics nor the repetitions but the meeting of two desires. Exodus of solitudes. Communion. The meeting of two loves until a “good measure, pressed down,shaken together, running over, is poured out into one’s garment.”

“…and they picked up the fragments left over— twelve wicker baskets full.”

In every storm that left people in pain, I am invited to become eucharistic. It can begin with the honest admission of the figurative “five loaves and two fish” I have and done as an act of oblation. The rest is for Him to multiply, His mercy to fill, and purify my complacency born out of over-familiarity. Amen.

Gibran and his 7 self-reprimands

Seven Reprimands

by Gibran

I reprimanded my soul seven times!

The first time: when I attempted to exalt myself by exploiting the weak.

The second time: when I feigned a limp before those were crippled.

The third time: when given a choice, I elected the easy rather than the difficult.

The fourth time: when I made a mistake, I consoled myself with the mistakes of others.

The fifth time: when I was docile because of fear and then claimed to be strong in patience.

The sixth time: when I held my garments upraised to avoid the mud of Life.

The seventh time: when I stood in hymnal to God and considered the singing a virtue.

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The Best of Kahlil Gibran. Book Palace: New Delhi, p.71. Gibran wrote in two languages: Arabic for Lebanon, Syria and the Arabic world; English for the West. Gibran’s mother was the daughter of a Maronite priest. The Maronite Church uses Syriac, or Aramaic, in its liturgy, the same language spoken by Christ. While his feet “were stumbling on the stones of Nazareth, he decided to write his book Jesus the Son of Man.” On the Church becoming feudal during his time and bishops and priests used their position to advance and enrich friends and relatives, he wrote 2 famous stories: “Kahlil the Heretic” (a novice tries to convince the monks to distribute all their possessions and to go preach among the poor)  and “John the Madman.”

“Life is not only merriment; Life is desire and determination.” K. Gibran

The fierce landscape, the “cedars of God,” the mountains of Lebanon that Gibran grew up with, the Wadi Qadisha that has a “mighty force that compels the mind to dwell upon the words we have for eternity.”