My Monastery Is Silver

Extract from Fragments: Moments of Intimacy by Terry Monagle, published by John Garratt Publishing

My monastery is silver. It tracks through the suburbs from Surrey Hills to the city. It is the 8.25.

Being husband, father, brother, office worker, mortgagee smothers me with demands.  God's powerful presence in prayer is equally insistent.

Life consists in integrating and answering the demands of these two belongings.

How and where can I pray during the working day? How do all my activities as father, husband, son, brother, worker, interweave with this deeper belonging?

It starts. Bring in the paper and the rubbish bin, put on the kettle, feed the cat make the lunches, borrow train fare from the kids, sign that note, pull up the doona, shave, find a pair of socks, where is a hanky, pack that bag, put in those bills and cheques, defrost the sausages, rush for the 8.25, think up that agenda, remember to make those calls.

During the morning business the ear half listens to the news summaries: Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, Bougainville, and unemployment. Between 6.40 and 8.10 the heart sinks lower and lower, almost to despair. There can't be a God in a world like that!

Life seems so frantic, the news so profoundly disturbing, the two so unconnected. The challenge to survive neutralises the challenge to respond to humanity. Our lives can feel shallow, our hearts despairing.

These predicaments frame our spiritual lives. How do we in busy urban Australia two jobs, children, mortgage, school fees, maintain an active spirituality? How do we satisfy our hunger for the infinite?

We all have our ways, expressive of our temperament and opportunities, of preventing the smothering of our profoundest instincts. The following are some of my idiosyncrasies.

Trains, planes, buses, trams; these are for me the best places for prayer. Rakes, brooms, spades and  forks: these are for me the best tools for prayer. Hat, overcoat, walking shoes: these are the best garments for prayer. Travelling, working, walking, in these are purpose but no straining of will, the heart can seek its target.

I walk to the station in the morning. The air clears my head. The rhythm of the steps and the breath is simple prayer saying thanks for the morning.

On the train, the silver monastery, hiding in a corner, I read from a small book the morning prayer from the office of the church. It takes four stations. After that I just sit, half asleep, half praying a mantra, wondering about my fellow travellers, feeling empathy for their lives. Imagining how they live.

Work, can be exhilarating but often is like gnawing on the same hard stones, meal after meal. The ache of boredom can become claustrophobic. Try as I might, many things I have to do are deeply frustrating. How can the boredom be transformed into prayer, made productive? How to both preserve a loving attitude to squabbling workmates and keep integrity?

You play the role, answer the phone, and meet the deadlines. Lunchtime is a chance to make contact again. Sometimes I put on the jacket, step out with the target of a chapel about 2 klms away. Sometimes Catholic, sometimes Lutheran; my favourite, Anglican. The emptier the better, and it is better to walk out of the city centre. I drop into a steady, comfortable gait. As I walk, I take it easy, and let the feverishness of the brain fall away, concentrate on the mantra of the walk.

I sit in a pew or follow Mass. I think of Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, the people on the train, the unemployed who come to the city in the off peak. I enter in a small way into their suffering. Lunch hour is my great silence.

On the way home on the 5.59, I should say the evening prayer. I don't, I'm too stuffed. The brain sits empty, barely working at all. On Friday nights the forlorn moment is waiting wearily in the winter dark on Richmond station, looking out across the lights of the suburbs looking at my anonymous companions, travelling their own trail of light to their anonymous homes. Drawn out through darkened suburbs, magnetised to that square of light out there, each to their own, to the one table, to the one person where they exist, to their space where everything allows them to name themself, to be named , to have themselves invented by others, to be filled with the light, in that one small place.

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Lay people, no less than monks need a rule, a deliberate scheduling of God time and activities within our busy and volatile lives. We need regular habits of prayer, meditation, active giving, self-denial, and worship. We need to focus each day on our relationship with God, regularly day after day, even if we break our pattern many days. We need to read and talk spiritually and perhaps and most previously with your partner. We need a mantra for the walk to the bus stop, to play quietly in the background, that swells in us unbidden while we work on that spreadsheet at work. Perhaps for some keeping a journal will be a natural bent.

The rule is going to be different: for the busy parent, young retiree, student, elderly person, person on a pension with mental health problems, and for men or woman. Attention to God can’t be left to chance. The traditional dichotomy between the active and the contemplative lives is false.

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Last thing at night the jog or the walk.  The final mantra of the step and breath. Sometimes with the partner, sharing the day, our first conversation for the day. Put out the rubbish bin, the paper stack and the bag of bottles. Sometimes the evening prayer in the bath.

Set the alarm for the 8.25. Try again.

 


Extract from Fragments: Moments of Intimacy by Terry Monagle, published by John Garratt Publishing. RRP $29.95.

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- received by CathNews 9/12/03