On Silence and Discernment

There are times when you are asked to do something out of the blue and you just have to deliver.

This morning, we had our General Meeting of all the school personnel in our library. As usual, I was the one who lead the opening prayer and the blessing of the birthday celebrants for the month of May. I need to step up in making prayers for our meetings as our Campus Ministry Coordinator had just given birth to her fifth child and her first daughter. It was my first time to see her daughter in the flesh and of course I am delighted to see a cute baby like her. Anyway, our general meeting was for us to set a direction before we start the school year next month. We will have approximately three weeks before we start our classes on June 7, a day after our celebration of the feast day of our Founder, St. Marcellin Champagnat. We’ll have a week of making our course outlines, action plans, and plotting our schedules for the coming school year.

Introducing a Brother
In the middle of the meeting, I was asked to introduce our speaker, our fellow Brother in the community, Br. Ted. I was just approached by the emcees before our meeting started. I opted not to say about his education background, past ministries, and achievements. That’s one lesson I learned from reading The Little Prince regarding information and details with the author’s critic on the adult’s mindset. Instead, I shared an anecdote on how I met him for the first time. I remember it was year 2004 during the first quarter of the school year (probably around July until October) when I was walking on the corridor of our school on a Sunday morning. A night before, we had our high school dance in the elementary gymnasium of Marist School, Marikina on a Saturday night. So yeah, I was walking with just my sando, shorts, and slippers when I saw Br. Ted, our school president and he greeted me with a “how are you?” That experience left an impression on me as I encountered the personnel with the highest position in our school humbly greeting me with a good morning and kumusta (how are you?). So I ended my introduction by saying that Br. Ted is a walking definition of a gentleman.

The Talk on Silence
In the middle of the talk, he presented us a trailer of the movie Silence. It was a film with Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson as their protagonists and directed by Martin Scorsese. It is a story set on the 17th century about the journey of two priests who learned that their beloved mentor-priest had gone missing. To investigate, they went to a mission to Japan to search for their beloved teacher. Upon arriving, they learned of Christians worshipping in secret. If discovered by authorities, they would face persecution and be asked to denounce their faith or be tortured to death. The trailer is Br. Ted’s opening to his questions to ponder upon. Among his questions, the word “discernment” caught my attention. What is discernment? Does it play a role in my everyday choices from the most mundane ones like choosing what clothes to wear to the important decisions like relating to people whom I find it difficult to deal with? I remember during the open forum, one teacher asked the question, “How do we know if we are really doing the will of God?”. This one is a question that makes you pause for a while and be silent. Besides, discernment is fruitful if done in silence. God speaks in the silence of our hearts.

A new responsibility
I was asked to take the responsibility as the Working Students or Grant-In-Aid (GIA) Coordinator. Without hesitating, I just said yes. Last year, the position was held by a fellow Brother. But now that I am handling college students who are working as scholars so that they can finish their studies, I need to spend more time in prayer for strength and guidance from the Holy Spirit. I need to reach out to their coordinators and to each one of them, listening to their concerns and knowing how can I train them to be hard workers and responsible scholars.

I am tired. I need to sleep now.

And let us always remember to pray for one another.

Good night.

Advertisements

A journey inward

Now, school year 2016-2017 is over. Wohoo!

Since I promised in my previous post that I will talk about my teaching experience, I will try to do it here without any specific topic in mind. That means free-writing.

When I’m not writing, I’m reading the writings of my students. I as their teacher asks my students in class to practice being reflective through writing. I, as their Values Education teacher, encourage my students to touch their introspective side. And for them to do this, they must learn how to be silent. In these times that these teenagers are in (and for us adults sometimes too), it is hard for them to let them sit for hours.

But I know my students are all capable of spending time in silence. I’ve witnessed it during their recollection where they were asked by our campus ministry directress, ma’am Che, to sit down in silence, close their eyes, and imagine themselves walking through nature and encounter people close to their hearts. On the part where they encounter their parents in their imaginative journey, when the students were asked to feel how their parents are struggling in earning a living just for them to study in a good school and be provided with their own needs, it made them weep. It may be pity or guilt that they felt whenever they get mad whenever they request something and their parents refuse to provide them; those times when they fail to appreciate the goodness of their parents towards them. That time, they were able to get in touch with their own experiences and relationship with their family especially their parents. They were able to do it because it was a recollection and they really spent time in silence.

Going back to my students’ reflective writing activities, I discovered that it is not easy for some to spend time for reflection when it comes to writing. But I am happy that at least they are trying. I even encourage students to write in Tagalog if they’re having a hard time writing in English. But there are some who won’t really bother and try to even write essays. Ah, your patience, Allen!

So in the same manner, I as their teacher must practice being reflective. And I will do it through web logging. And here, I did it by just writing about my students. Woo!

Whenever I talk in front of the class, I lecture through story telling. Usually, the subject is my own life experiences and stories of people whom I have known personally. Honestly speaking, I am a such a bore in retelling stories of others when I have just read or heard them somewhere in books, web, magazine articles, or even podcasts I am listening to. Even the jokes that seems funny to me, when I retell them, because too corny.

Now that I have stopped following any television shows or anime series, my watching habit of watching basketball games has gone up because of our access to cable in our convent. I consume more time in doing unproductive things such as watching games or highlights when I really want to do is to be creative like writing, composing poems and stories, polish my handwriting (which my student said was poor), capture more photographs, play basketball or chess, or learn how to draw better.

Maybe sometimes, I will consciously spend time to feel boredom and not seek constant stimulation. But I know it will either be productive or unproductive. I need to choose the former though.

Postscript: I will be spending a week in Malaybalay, Bukidnon for the Annual Lenten Retreat of Marist Brothers here in the Philippines. I am part of the Liturgy Committee and an assistant secretary during the Provincial’s time (meeting). Within the week, we Brothers will discover our Summer assignments and our next community and ministry assignment for the next school year. And during the Easter vigil, I will renew my vows. If you want to ask me to pray for me, just write a comment below or reach me out in the Contact Form. Please pray for me too.

In the eye of the storm

The Philippines had just two storms, Karen and Lawin, enter in succession in just one week. For me, my storm was this past first half of the school year. Looking back, it feels like it was so long that it was gone in a blink of an eye. I experienced rains, gusts, and at times peaceful days. It’s like the government suspending classes only to go out of your house with the sun greeting you a good morning. When you’re a student or a teacher or even a parent of a schooling child here in the Philippines, you can relate to this. We have twenty typhoons every year not counting the low pressure areas or tropical depressions. 

And because it’s school break, I can afford to wake up in the morning just recalling about a recent dream and musing the past five months of teaching. When I was in elementary or high school, I caught myself a lot staring outside the window or doodling. Daydreaming is my past time. Not that I am twenty seven, I still long for these kind of opportunities. Even if I am busy teaching, I still have lots of free time. My compulsion is to use internet or play a computer game. I often forget to read books, write a journal, spend time in silence, adore the Holy Presence in the chapel, and other things that are done solitarily (except the last example).

Tomorrow will be our Personnel Retreat. I hope that with this, I can spend more time in silence. The only exception will be the writing in my journal and on this blog. 

May you have a blessed Sunday. Peace be with you.

Discernment never stops

This afternoon, I’ll attend a recollection together with our fraternity in Cenacle Sisters’ Retreat House somewhere in Loyola Heights. It’s my first time to attend a retreat/recollection here in Metro Manila since I graduated in high school. All my recent retreats/recollections are usually in Mindanao.

This coming Monday, I might start a new blogging schedule of posting everyday non-stop for 30 days. This is in preparation for my role as the editor-in-chief for MAPAC newsletter. Because no one’s qualified they have to settle for a dork someone like me. Anyway…

Discernment never stops.

Are you uncomfortable with silence?

I’m not a talker… I’m more of a listener. Recently, during a spiritual direction session, I and the spiritual director (S.D.) just sat in silence. I’m just… well… trying to anticipate a question or a response from what I just said earlier. I was expecting him to talk.

We spent 5 minutes in an uncomfortable silence without talking.

Then my director got his notebook, turned the pages, then read what he wrote about our previous session. He expected me to be the one to talk! Closing the notebook, he followed that he encourages me to pause so I can reflect carefully. 

This is not the first time that it happened to me. Before religious life, it was during courtship and dating. Now, it is during a spiritual direction.

That’s why last Tuesday, I told my S.D. that I really found the silence uncomfortable and I will tell him whenever I expect him to talk or comment when I’m finished talking. Like tennis, I serve then you hit the ball back to me. But in a spiritual direction, I need to ask whenever the “ball” is on my court because I don’t usually see it.

Have you experienced this uncomfortable silence?

How do I pray contemplatively?

Now, I will talk about something that I am not yet good at; call me a novice in contemplative prayer. I first met it during my novitiate, a stage focused in preparing and discerning to enter consecrated life. I opened a book about prayer called Opening to God by Thomas Green, SJ. It introduced me to the contemplatives and Doctors of the Church such as Saint John of the Cross and Saint Theresa of Avila. Later, I learned about books on contemplation such as Silence on Fire by William Shannon, which is heavily influenced by the great Trappist monk, Thomas Merton. Now, I’m reading a very good book by an unknown writer, The Cloud of Unknowing. It’s written in a didactic way that I really find easy to relate because of the skillful translation of Carmen Acevedo Butcher from Middle English to modern English.

What is contemplative prayer about? To put it simply, it is a prayer of being and not doing. It will make to reflect more in silence. Like what the psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God.”

I believe it is enriching my spiritual life now. Try it.

On Solitude and Silence (Part One)

These are my reflections on Of the Love of Solitude and Silence from The Imitation of Christ, Book 1, Chapter 20. Unedited and free flowing as possible.

1. “Seek a proper time to be at leisure with yourself, and think often of God’s kindness.”

I’m no follower of meditation but I love silence. Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert and I get recharged by spending some time alone. I even co-facilitated a retreat without much talking. Spending time alone in silence gives me time to ponder on the blessings of the day and it just lets my subconscious wander. I’m not guilty of just letting my mind drift from one topic or another that sometimes, my stream of consciousness leads me somewhere else and I even enjoy tracing how did I end up there. I just let my mind wander and be distracted and experience it without judging.

2. “…If you will avoid needless talk and idle visits and not listen for the latest gossip, you will find plenty of suitable time for good meditations”

Sometimes, I feel guilty of not saying no to an invitation to go somewhere else. I want to be friendly but I’m just really stressed when I feel that the offer of a friend is just a way of building a stronger bond. At times, just to get the conversation starting, I initiate with a news I heard like “Have you heard about…” But I’m thankful that I have those misses and hits in those talks I have with people. I feel bad about talking about someone else especially when it turning out to be negative.

3. ‘As often I went out among men, I returned less of a man.’

I read this from the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux. I can only think about peer pressure about this phrase. Like for me, I’m not really an alcoholic drinker. I never appreciated the taste of beer and hard drinks (except some red wines). When friends ask me to drink, it’s hard to say no. It’s like saying no to their friendship. That’s why it’s good to have a good distance from friends with the same age group and spend more time with older people wiser than me especially this time that my stage is crucial in my formation as a religious brother.

To be continued…