Friday, August 24, 2012

Light in the West

A few days ago, as I was nattering at Marianne about some of the mental and spiritual house cleaning I have found necessary over the past while, I said something that provoked her to say, "That's because God is incomprehensible."
If I remember correctly, what I had said was something to the effect of wondering why I had recently been feeling as if I had been much better at keeping my mind clear, that is, out of the devil's continual programme for confusing me, when I was a mere beginner in the spiritual life than I was at the moment. Of late, I said, I had been continually making mental errors. From the strictly human point of view within the process of ordinary logic, what MT said had no plain connection. At least to me it didn't. But it carried an obvious conviction, from her point of view, and I accepted it. Good thing I did, because the Incomprehensible has just shed some light, in fact so much light, that I can at least say that a fair chunk of spiritual activity within myself that I had been much puzzled over has suddenly, very dramatically, become astoundingly clear.
And, as an old newspaper man, I rather like the way God chose to illuminate me the way He did, not only through the secular press, which the Church periodically fails - sometimes grossly fails - to appreciate, but through the very big city daily I once worked for, the Vancouver Sun.
In a household dedicated to the spiritual  life, while it is unquestionably charity that makes the day go round, what makes the charity real is good order and teamwork. You have to have a game plan, and designated assignments, and you have to learn to play only your own position, stick to your own duties, and don't interfere with the other person's unless asked for help.
This attitude and programme works utter wonders in nature and grace on our property, but not always without clashes of opinion, and even, for the moment, personal conviction. With a novelist's imagination I have to be the chief offender in this regard, but my companions also know occasional moments when their bright ideas have to be growled at, usually over breakfast, which is always leisurely as well as delicious and very worth getting up for. Nobody leaves the table until all apparent contradictions have been resolved. Case in point. At one time I left early, feeling the call of other work. Shawn told me I was to stick around for another fifteen minutes or so, and her schedule proved to be the correct one.
All these organizational problems arise, of course, from the apparent conflict between the Lord's two fundamental commandments: love God with your whole being and love thy neighbour as thyself. At our age and experience the chance of dissension arising from self-love is virtually non-existent. All errors come from misjudging the three-fold radar devices' continual sweep of the always needy human race.
As befits contemplatives, a lot of this sweep is entirely of  a divine causality, immediately sourced from God, or clued from the pages of a distinctly spiritual text: the breviary or a spiritual writer. You have to lead with these, day in and day out, and at regularly scheduled times. This is the routine that incarnates that boldest of prayers: Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Back in the days when we all stood up first thing in the morning and recited The Lord's Prayer, even in government schools, that was the one sentence I felt I had no hope of understanding. The rest of it seemed straightforward enough, so why the mysterious part? I had to wait years even to begin to see why something apparently so impossible should be included with requests that were not only quite achievable but actually made such obvious good sense.
The Lord, of course, was simply including his contemplatives. Only they, and only a fraction of them at that, were going to get his point in all its fullness, but that didn't mean that such a small audience should be left out. His mother already understood him, and Mary Magdalene and a few others would eventually catch on. Even I, unschooled contemplative as I was at the time, would catch on.
But, of course, only because of the grace and providence of God.
Possibly this is the most concentrated essay on the pastoral theology of a domestic monastery that I have produced so far. After all, the Christian life is best fulfilled by looking beyond one's own needs, as soon as they are, as they must be, taken care of. Vatican Two, for example, insisted that even bishops, as diligently as they were obliged to care for their own dioceses, were to consider the needs of other parts of the Church not as fortunate, one way or another, as their own. If this inward look is indeed so emphatic, its cause is my just learning of the establishment of another monastery, in my own province yet, very much to my own liking. The nuns involved have been in the province, in the archdiocese of Vancouver, for over a decade, but I had not heard of them until precisely a week ago, when Shawn descended the staircase between the first and second floors to hand me a page from the Vancouver Sun (August 11 edition) long ago, for a very interesting six months, my employer.
It's always been one of her jobs, the locating of a text, large or small, that she knows I need to read.
Sometimes it's a book - Beethoven's sonatas, Turgeniev's Sketches From a Sportsman's Diary - or a magazine or newspaper article. She has an old friend from her museum days who passes on his Suns, Globe and Mails, and Macleans for her to browse through. Out of her enormous concern and compassion for the needs of the universe, and of her interest in its triumphs and tragedies, she reads from cover to cover, front page to back, and prays accordingly. When she finds something she instinctively recognizes I need not only to pray for but to deal with, she hands it to me.
Thus a few years back, as she was sensing my getting closer and closer to using the computer, she handed me a Macleans with an article on Tim Berners Lee, the man who invented the Web and thus became one of the most important agents of civilization and the spread of the Gospel since Gutenberg. That was very interesting, and an unmistakable sign, but I don't think it hit me in the heart like the front page of the August 11 Sun.
That was a show stopper, as they say in theatrical circles. The audience rises to its feet, and roars such a volume of approval that the conductor has no alternative but to direct the performers and orchestra back to the beginning of the piece, and do it again.
Not only a convent of contemplative nuns, but eventually twenty of them, it was hoped, and Dominican sisters at that. It was almost too much to believe, for an old contemplative long schooled in the inertia of the world and the spiritual sluggishness of Canadian Catholicism, but there it was, not in the pages of a Church publication, but on the front page of, arguably, the leading daily of western Canada, the story of the foundation, 5 million dollars' worth, at Squamish, of The Queen of Peace Monastery.
What a bloody miracle, not only in the fact, but in the presentation of the story. I suspect it's going to take a number of posts to explain why this establishment is one of the most exciting pieces of news I've heard in a long time.

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