Monday, December 20, 2010

Of monks and 'me's'

Watching 'Of Gods and Men' brought back to me vividly that for a long time the 'insanity' (as Dom Christian de Cherge calls it in the film, at one point) of the monastic choice was my question. The one that shaped and conditioned my choices even as it remained implicit. 'There is a place I cannot go in you,' one very close friend told me once, 'It is occupied by a lover I cannot compete with'! It was true.

In the film, the doctor-monk is talking to one of the young women who helps at the monastery. 'How do you know you are in love?' she asks; and, the old monk tells her. 'Have you ever been in love?' she gently challenges. 'Yes,' he replies, 'many times until I surrendered it for a greater one.' (I think I would say different and including).

When my question finally became explicit, tested against an actual community, and the answer, mutually arrived at, was no, I feel rather than turn away in either disappointment or relief, that part of me occupied by 'Presence', by God simply went blank, a 'service interruption of the soul', put on hold.

Manifold have been the joyous discoveries with this question answered, a freedom in life that has been liberating and challenging but the Presence has returned. The 'me' to whom it has returned seems different from 'me' whom it left: one indication being how remote from 'me' that monastic option now seems. I looked on at is loving description in the film with gratitude for its existence but realizing that the forms of my piety have become different; not least, in taking loose from any institutional formalization. My attempts at making anything other than a 'mere' Christian of myself, and then a poor one, seem at an end.

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