a time to discern

“All of life is a journey. Which paths we take, what we look back on, and what we look forward to is up to us..”
(Steven Tyler)After leaving the symposium at the monastery in Holyoke, I stopped in Boston. to visit a friend. It was my first contact since the symposium. and it was understood that I should pay a visit on my way back to Canada. When I met him at the steps of his apartment, he took my bags and was very anxious to know how was my stay so far and I told him a little and he became very enthusiastic about the possibility of my going to India. He wanted us to celebrate. “We can invite some friends over for dinner..etc.”  “No, I just want to be quiet” and so it was in this quiet mode I took the route back to my fraternity.

There are moments in life that we come to a place where we have to stop and check our bearings to see if we are really on the right path. Sometimes the map does not seem too clear and we think that it may be easier if we had only our own feelings from which to judge. Sometimes we may think that we can leave it up to others to decide for us but when we live in a community we can count on the good judgement of those who live with us
And so, after all, I had to go back to my brothers in our “House of Prayer” and explain to them, the direction I had been given to follow. It seemed to me that I had asked so much already and I did not want to burden them.

Hardly had I arrived when the brother in charge of our fraternity came out to greet me full of enthusiasm and he said, “Wow, look at you, your eyes so radiant” and immediately those ‘radiant’ eyes welled up. He was very perceptive a man at times and just said, “welcome home, we are happy to have you.”
It took some time before I could speak of all that transpired and so I asked to have a moment to do so within the framework of the community weekly meeting. In the older monastic days this was called a ‘Chapter’.

And so it was, sitting with my brothers, I revealed , with some emotion,the experiences of the seven days in the symposium and I waited for a discernment.  Many people do not understand really what the vow of obedience entails. The word ‘obedience’  comes from Latin, and it’s a combination of “ob,” which means “to, toward,” and “audire,” which means “to hear.” When the two words come together, “oboedire,” they mean to listen to. To obey means to listen to.
In our fraternity I believe in some important moments of decision and discernment, there is a listening on both sides. So after I allowed them to listen, it was their turn to respond.

Somewhere in my heart I thought if only they could say “No brother, we cant see you going back to India, forget about it.” but it was entirely the contrary and I was told that I should put in writing a formal demand to go to India and allow them the time to decide. It was done, and the fraternity gave approval but now that was done, I had to send a request to the Head Office to the head superior and his council, if they approved, it stood that they will allow all that was necessary for the project to work, financially etc.

One day I received a call from the office to announce to me that my project was approved and that I could make all necessary arrangements to go and stay, as I had had asked, with Fr. Bede Griffiths at his ashram in South India.
After writing to Fr. Bede, he wrote welcoming me and said it was best if I arrived in the fall, like the month of October as it was cooler then and my body could slowly adjust to the heat. And so I began making all the necessary arrangements.

Many years ago when I lived in a fraternity in Montreal, at the time when I began meditating, I was invited by a friend to go visit two friends who were leaving for India. They did not have much money and so in the evening they used candle lamp light. there was a lamp sitting on the table and they had this book which was beautifully bound from which they were reading. The book was called “The Science of Being and the Art of Living” It was in the sixties and it  was written from a series of conferences given at the time, by Maharishi. There was a whole kind of smokey atmosphere filled with mystery which surrounded the place. They spoke almost in whispers.
They were leaving shortly for India.  I have, like a CD of that evening in my head.
But now for me there was none of that,especially as I had been to India before and honestly speaking, I felt like, I could do without going back but I was ‘already on the train, so to speak, and it had taken up speed and I could not jump off. My only alternative was to stay on and enjoy the ride!’ To this day, I have never told anyone about this.
But there was a good amount of fear of what lay in store for I don’t think any one goes there for a year and comes back the same.

(We did not have digital cameras at the time but the above borrowed photo gives a feeling)

My life in this beautiful country area surrounding the House of Prayer was a time when I had the joy of having a garden. I had ten years with lots of land to enjoy! There was a small natural pond on one side of the house and there I worked tilling the soil and moving rocks and stuff and I planted my first vegetable garden with salads and tomatoes and string beans etc. The little wild animals were delighted and were eating the salad in the first year but the sisters next door told me to plant marigolds around the salad beds and I did and surely it made a difference. The ground hogs did not like the smell of the marigolds and they stayed away. It was an original garden which drew visitors. then I planted all around the little chapel  my prize of roses. I knew little about growing roses in a cold climate. I had grown them at home but we did not have to bother about winter. There was a nursery close by and there I went often in the first year to ask advice. It was a family from Europe who ran the place and from my frequent visits, we became friends and he gave me lots of tips as when to trim the rose bushes, how to cover them for winter and how to prune them in spring. I could spend long hours outdoors and dream all about how and where I was going with the garden. the brothers gave me the green light on this.

St Francis, in his time had asked the brothers to plant flowers near the chapel, not to be cut, but just to be there to give glory to God. I was introduced to a farmer not too far away. He was the father of one of the sisters who came to pray regularly in our chapel. She took me to visit him on his farm and he gave me manure for the rose garden. He said, “In the old days, the brothers came to beg for eggs for their school and now you come for manure. Its so funny!” He was a jovial stocky man and one day his daughter asked me to accompany her to visit him in the hospital. He asked me “do you have ground hogs at your place?”  “Yes” I replied and he, in a loud voice said “Shoot them!” He then explained that he was on his tractor cutting hay when he hit a hole created by the ground hogs and his tractor threw him up in the air and he landed on his back. He said “I thought I was going to die and lying there, I looked up to the blue sky and I told God that if I had to die there, it was OK because I spent so many years of my life working hours on that land, and besides, some of my best animals were buried there” and he began telling me of all the animals, both horses and cows that he buried on his land. I looked at this man as he lay there. He had huge hands and I imagined how hard he worked to raise a family. His face was firm and kind of square with big blue eyes that stared straight at you as though he could see right through you. It was the last time I saw him.
I planted lots of trees, over a dozen and they have mostly all caught. I went back to visit about two years ago and I went around the grounds looking at the trees which are mostly all still there, mostly pines, and they have grown so tall, far taller than I can ever be. And yes there were also some birch trees which surprised me because they are not as strong but they survived. It is such a good thing to plant trees and I wonder why in the borders of the cites, so many trees are uprooted so that shopping marts and housings can be built but most of the time they don’t replant trees and yet they are the lungs of the earth.
I also did lots of cooking on the week ends and with that and the gardening, and the prayers, there was no time to be lonely.  Leading individuals and groups in meditation and sitting with so many, the life there was so meaningful and full and healthy and rounded and balanced by moments in prayer and silence. There was, in those days, a bus just on the street across, that took us straight to Montreal. Sometimes I went and on coming back and getting off the bus I could taste and smell the air. It was so sweet and pure.
The time came to leave and we had a big outdoor picnic. Friends were invited for the mass on the Sunday morning after wards we had the  picnic and shared and it was an occasion to say farewell.
I was leaving this House of Prayer and going to another in India, to a place called Shanti Vanam which means “Forest of Peace”. I had a book which I was taking to use as a diary. It survived the fire but I just looked at it and the writings, the ink in most of the pages at the beginning of the book are affected by the water. I would have to rely for the most part, on memory where sometimes the best remains!. Continued…….


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