Sunday, 6 April 2014

SAWBONNA: "MONKS" and "INMATES"

My kindred, Thomas Merton who became Father Louis the famous Trappist Monk, said that to be a saint is to be yourself. Cake walk, right? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Because of the gift I have in my life of sharing Sawbonna with Glen Flett, who took my Dad's life, I have received abundant emails and comments after my talks and workshops. One comment that gives me pause is, "You are a saint." I receive this intended gift with gratitude, a bit of discomfort, and a sly grin. My response is often along these lines, "If mad impatience and the inability to sit for more than a good five minutes in contemplation, not to mention my penchant for peppering my conversations with the odd expletive fits your definition of saint, well, I might be one after all!" As providence would have it, after all but five days in Halifax, I found myself a wonderful place to live. The home's owner, Linda, had generously placed two books by my bedside with which to welcome me: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Will and Self, by Gerald May. Gerald's brother is the brilliant, Rollo May, author of many books, including two of my favourites,  Love and Will and The Courage to Create. Being familiar with Thomas' letters, I reached for Gerald's book. Tearing, as is my wont, to the last pages. I found a bit of writing about contemplation that was as food. Gerald, to precis, said that folks who are restless and fidgety and can not sit for even four minutes (I might do five!) often resign themselves to the idea that they are not meant for any kind of contemplative path and do not belong with the "real" seekers, the community of the "real" contemplatives. Gerald went further to say that the irony is that this way of being with informal contemplation would be valued if the individuals recognized their gifts. The gifts of restlessness, fidgeting, and impatience underscore his belief that these folks would be excellent teachers and guides. He said that this is so because these individuals often develop spontaneous styles of internal quiet that they themselves may not recognize, and  which can serve themselves and others in poignant ways. There is no "right" way of contemplation. Sawbonna, justice as a lived and living experience is not about doing justice the "right" way. It is about passion, impatience, calm, fear, tears, ennui, exhaustion, and gentleness. It is about doing the best we can wherever it is we are planted. When I spent time at The Abbey of Gethsemani, Father Louis/Thomas Merton's home, I spoke with the wonderful Monk, Poet and Photographer, Father Paul Quenon, who as a  young man studied with Father Louis. Paul told me something that will always stay with me, "Monks and "inmates have a lot in common. They have time to contemplate." The title of my book, The Other Inmate, is a nod to Paul, a nod to each of us who find ourselves in all manner of prison. Sawbonna is about remembering that we, monks and inmates all, can teach, can guide, can be taught, and can be guided in the terrain that is justice as lived and living experience. Daily.

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