“Life is a long pilgrimage from Fear to Love.” – Paolo Coello
My journey of thirty days silent retreat here at the Benedictine Abbey in Bukidnon has come and gone so quickly. And how I wished that I could hold back the hands of time so I could stay on longer. Like Peter in the Gospel narrative of the Transfiguration (Mt. 17:1-8) who exclaimed to Jesus upon seeing him transfigured up in a high mountain: “Lord it is wonderful for us to be here, if you want me to, I will make three shelters here…”, I also felt a similar experience so much so that it would be wonderful for me to build a little hut up in the hill of the old monastery. But deep inside, I know that I must go back to the world where I belong. Nevertheless, I have been so blessed to be here long enough to be in silent communion with God and with the beauty and bounty of nature around me. I realized that it was not I who chose to come here but it was the Lord who called me and waited for me to be here in silent longing and delight. Like the song of John Michael Talbot based from the book of the prophet Hosea: “Come back to me with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart…Long have I waited for your coming, home to me and living deeply our new life!” Likewise, Ps. 23 “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want nothing. He guides me in verdant pastures and leads me in tranquil waters and restores my soul.”
During these days of solitude and silence, of prayer and reflection, I would find myself walking everyday from the old monastery where I have my sacred space, my hiding place so to speak, to the new monastery to join in the daily prayers of the monastic community in the Abbey of the Transfiguration which is more or less a fifteen-minute walk downhill. These solitary walks along the road towards the New Monastery made me realize that my life has always been a life of an itinerant for I have never had a permanent place I can call my own and in a way reminds me that our life here on earth is a pilgrimage. To be aware that we are people on the way, that we have yet to arrive, that we are still searching for the goal and that we are all pilgrims.
It is interesting to note that the name first given to Christians was “People of the Way” as cited in Acts 9:2. This goes without saying that they were not just hearers of the Word, but also doers of the Word, that is, people called to walk in the Spirit, and not just live it in our minds and hearts. Therefore, to be followers of Jesus, we are called to bear our own crosses just as Jesus did when He took upon his shoulders the salvation of humankind by carrying the cross on the road to Calvary until he died shedding the last drop of his blood and until his final breath. The cross of Christ hence belongs to our Christian life, in the fate of our nation and of our global village when the hour of darkness seem to have engulfed us in despair and uncertainty now more than ever as the pandemic of the Corona Virus is far from over. It is to us Christians, not the failure of our life but the sadness that comes with the realization that we are all vulnerable and we do not have a lasting home here because whether we like it or not, we are on the way to God who is beyond all worldly fulfillment.
In some of my solitary walks when the evening shadows fall, I look up to the night sky and I am awed to see a bright star glimmering in the vast velvety heavens. Then I recall the story of the three wise men who followed the star in search for the new born King. It was a very difficult journey that compelled them to leave their comfort zones into strange new lands guided only by the radiant star and their hearts burning with love for the one true God. In the same manner, we are also summoned to set in motion by the power of God’s divine deed. We ourselves are moving toward the one who has come to us,
Yes, we are pilgrims journeying through life and we are ever in the process of changing, ever moving on as Jo Mari Chan’s song goes…”We’re on the road, we move from place to place and oftentimes when I’m about to call it home, we have to move along. Life is a constant change.” Yes, somewhere and somehow, we began the journey and suddenly, we find ourselves on the way, a way that keeps moving us forward and never returns to the same place.
So too, as I journey halfway through my life, God it seems have stopped me on my tracks and I am slowly taking His lead by shifting my gears to wherever the Ruah is leading me. “And suddenly, you just knew it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of new beginnings.” (Meister Echkart). After twenty five years of journeying as a Guardian Angel Sister, I feel that the Spirit is calling me anew. “We know we’re coming full circle with God when we stand at a similar crossroad where we made such a mess of life before but this time, we take a different road.” (Beth Moore). TS. Eliot also has this to say: “So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing. Only those who will risk too far can possibly find out how far one can go. We shall not cease from our exploration, and at the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
So where does this journey of a thousand perhaps a million miles taking us? Karl Rahner says that God is the name of our journey’s destination, ground of all being, sea to which all the water of our longing flow, the nameless beyond that lies behind all that is familiar, the unsolvable riddle, the boundless vastness in its purest simplicity of light, truth, reality and love. And God has given his word that He would allow Himself to be found by those who seek Him, those with the eternal heart, the human being.
And so, as I move out from this blessed place of the Benedictine Monastery, my temporary home for one month, I am called to embark on the journey once again like the Magi. It is a journey of the heart towards God without forgetting the past but living every moment of each day as a unique and irreplaceable gift of time from God. Likewise, mindful of the fact that everything is still future. All possibilities of life are still open because we are still in the process of finding God, of finding more of Him than ever before. Nothing is over or lost to those who walk toward God who is eternal youthfulness and whose nature does not know dismay. (Karl Rahner)
Mary Oliver in her poem “The Journey” quotes: “It was already late enough and a wild night, and the road full of fallen branches and stones. But little by little, as you left their voices behind, the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds, and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own that kept you company as you stood deeper and deeper into the world, determined to do the only thing you could do – determined to save the only life you could save.”
Furthermore, Jan Richardson’s wisdom strikes a chord in my soul when he said that we should not expect to return by the same road for Home is always another way and you will know it not by the light that waits for you but by the star that blazes inside you telling you where you are is holy and you are welcome here.
And so, the solitary star is reminding me not to be dismayed at the sights of pilgrims who are bent over by the burden of their hidden pain and perhaps of tourists who are busily moving about, distracted by the things of passing fancy, apparently moving in a single direction without a larger vision of this great enterprise of life in the vastness of the world we live in.
The solitary star in the dark night reminds me time and again that Jesus is here and continues to shine. He shines brilliantly in the midst of the chaos and uncertainties we find ourselves in our here and now. We need only to find time and slow down and discover Him in His life giving Word in Scripture, to lovingly gaze at creation’s majesty, to hear Him in the cries of the suffering poor and of our Earth Mother, in the breaking of the bread in the Holy Eucharist and in a very subtle way, in that gentle glow of fire burning in the firmament of our hearts. It may seem so small and so insignificant but it is so because we are sent forth in an eternal journey.
As I look up to this tiny sparkle in the dark of night, I wonder in which direction this star is to travel. And deep inside I know that it would have to move forward towards God. And to follow this guiding star one must have an attitude of “indiferencia” according to St. Ignatius of Loyola, that is, to look for God in all things since God is bigger than everything else we can perceive and imagine. Thus, He can allow Himself to be found from our flight from the world (fuga mundi) in silence and solitude and He can also come to meet us in the streets of the world, in the noise and haste of the marketplace. From the attitude of indiferencia therefore comes the ongoing readiness to hear a new call from God to tasks other than the present ones, to continually be willing to leave those areas in which one wanted to find and serve God. From it grows the willingness to be prepared like a servant for the sudden new command aware of the duty to be transformed and to have no enduring place other than the place of restless change that is oriented toward the resting God. It is an invitation to take courage in not focusing in only one way to Him but to be open to look for Him on all paths. St. Ignatius further states that this attitude of indiferencia is one that must govern the Christian’s passionate love of the cross for it is a love willing to be taken into the deepest sorrow of Christ’s passion and death but also in joyful hope in His glorious resurrection.
And so, as I move out and go forth into the world, I bear in mind that I am always a pilgrim wanderer in the land of perpetual departure, called to live a life of contemplation in action, called to be constantly open to the movement of the Spirit knowing that it may not always lead me to the place where I plan to go. I leave the Benedictine Monastery here in Bukidnon with a heart full of gratitude for the shower of graces received every moment of each new day. I am grateful for having quenched from the spiritual fountain of St. Benedict through the Benedictine monks who strive to live out an exemplary life of fidelity, of prayer and work, of quiet perseverance, of order and discipline, of serenity and harmony and of genuine hospitality to anyone and everyone who comes here seeking for peace, thirsting for God and for His will or simply to find rest away from the mundane everyday life in the busy world.
I thank God for my spiritual guide and companion, Fr. Pachomius, OSB for listening with respect and compassion to the inner movements of the Spirit in my life’s journey and for mirroring back to me the face of God hidden in the mysterious depths of one’s soul. In him I have found a brother in Christ and a friend of my soul. I am also grateful to the staff who have quietly rendered their services with a smile throughout my stay here. I am also grateful to Fr. Dirk Sanchez, Sr. Catherine and the Benedictine nuns, my dear niece Pam and boyfriend Robert, cousin Winky and wife Lyza.
Finally, the Lord is telling me: dear heart, get up and walk! The star is shining! There is not much to take along the journey and much will get lost along the way. But let it go… for the gold of love, the frankincense of longing, the myrrh of pain you already have. He will take them and you will find Him.
God is telling me that we must be on our way forward, to the path of an ongoing conversion of a mutually enhancing Earth-human relation. Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Sí On Care for our Common Home (2015) calls for us to examine our hearts, transform our social values and take action for global solidarity. It captures the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental justice in building and protecting Our Common Home. Hence, we are invited to a greening of the heart, so to speak, that is, to develop an integral vision of ecology, a recovery of the sense of intimacy, interconnectedness and sacredness of creation, the adaption of the classical virtues of compassion, humility, tenderness, patience and sobriety, a life of solidarity with the suffering peoples and creatures of the Earth community and the conviction that the gift of God’s love will continue to flood our hearts as we await the glorious promise of Christ.
Laudato Sí # 243 and 244 reminds us that at the end, we will find ourselves face to face with the infinite beauty of God and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude. Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature will take its rightful place.
In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good that exists here will be taken up in heavenly feast. In union with all creatures, journey through this land seeking God. “Blessed are the pure of hearts, for they shall see God.” Mt. 5:8
Sr. Marjorie Guingona, SAC
March 7, 2020
Monastery of the Transfiguration, Benedictine Monks
San Jose, Bukidnon