Thursday, December 29, 2016

Vow of Stability

I've been collecting and reading Thomas Merton's journals throughout the past decade or so, and spent a blessed few days reading the fifth volume this past break. The earlier volumes were full of wisdom, yes, but also full of inner turmoil: the pain of a modern soul dying to the world, working out his adjustment to a Trappist monk's medieval  lifestyle in fear and trembling.

The fifth volume, however, written when Merton was in his fifties, was wholly different from the previous volumes I'd read.

I was drawn by the imagery of the title, "dancing in the water of life!" Maybe because it struck me as something absolutely foreign, something I can't imagine my newly-turned-thirty-year-old-self doing. But at the same time, I realize that I see my Grade One pupils do this every day!

And upon reflection, shouldn't we imitate children in their delight in the miracles of every day? By sighing in wonder at the sunlight, by laughing in frank appreciation when we see butterflies float near us, don't we please Our Creator more?

Dancing denotes joy. Happiness so strong that it cannot be contained, that must be expressed in physical poetry of flesh and sinew. But from whence comes such happiness?

Today's modern world lies to us about the source/s of pleasure. We are misled by our consumerist society to kill ourselves at work in the pursuit of purchasing houses we can't afford, taking out loans to buy cars that only overburden the already overly populated streets even more... we buy the latest gadget, expecting it will make us THAT MUCH HAPPIER, that wearing branded clothes or carrying luxury bags will fill that empty space inside.

The latest lie that social media feeds us is that the source of happiness lies in experiences like traveling to exotic locales, escaping the everyday woes of a Filipino citizen in pursuit of cooler climes and stronger currencies.

We can learn a thing or two from monks and nuns like the Benedictines and the Cistercians/ Trappists. 

What sets these orders apart is a particular vow they make, that other orders do not. It is the vow of stability, defined by Father James Martin as committing to stay in one monastery rather than searching for the ever elusive, "perfect" one.

Thomas Merton, perhaps the most famous Trappist monk ever, writes of his struggles with this vow. How, as a celebrated author, he got invitations from all over the world to lecture, to hold retreats, but he had to say no to most of these due to his vow of stability.

How he disagreed very much with the personality of his abbot (his "boss," in secular terms), on very basic levels too! And the scenes he describes in his journals would have made a secular businessman either resign or sue his boss, proving indeed that monks are men and prone to all-too human pettiness of spirit and meanness of deed. 

But he stayed, out of obedience not to the petty administrator, but to the divine will. 

He stayed because he believed in sanctity of place, that God chooses where to plant us, knowing that our particular talents (however humble) are particularly needed by the people around us.

And it is both beautiful and subversive. A holy revolution against the aimlessness of modern life.

What can be more challenging than to stay put, to allow one's home town/ office/ school/ community to partially mould us, and of course, daring us to mould it right back! To help fix what is broken, to be the catalyst of change and growth in the garden where we have planted our roots.

"But staying put brings stagnation," others say. That is, of course, only if we allow our interior spirit to die. Then again, just because someone moves from place to place is no guarantee that their inner life is superior. When one moves too fast, too often, one might become numb and feel anchor-less, isolated and separate from the motherland, from the country God chose us to be born in.

I am more lucky than most, I know, because my roots have been planted in my current work place from childhood onwards. 

Here's to another year, to several more decades, and may our roots grow every deeper, may our fruits bring glory to Him!

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