There is a hollowness in my metaphysical gut. It’s not depression. Depression feels like being a small, guttering flame trapped between a thickening wall of glass and an abyss. It’s not fear. Fear feels like little rat-teeth tearing at your sanity when the clock on the nightstand is stuck at three, always three. It’s not anticipation. Anticipation feels like seeing the man you love strolling down a long, brick walkway and you are too far off for even your loudest shout to get his attention. This hollowness is none of the things I recognize. It might have something in common with sadness. When I try to put it in words, to explain to those who know me why I’m not smiling as often, I simply say I feel sad all of the time – but that’s not accurate. Words are never accurate.
I have been obsessed with the lives of the monastic religious. There was a rather silly week where I was upset that I can’t be a Jesuit. I don’t meet the four basic requirements: I’m not Catholic, I’m not male, I’m not debt-free (the mortgage counts) and, even if I were to suddenly fit the first three requirements, I’m almost too old to be admitted. Oh, and I’m married. Marriage is kind of a deal-breaker for monastic life. I’m smiling as I write this – hollowness be damned. I love my husband. He’s been a constant friend and ally for nigh near half of my time on this (sad, sad) Earth. He is my magnetic North.
So I can’t be a Jesuit and I can’t be a Trappist Monk and I can’t be a Nun. It seems I’m stuck out here in the secular world. Maybe I can apply some of the rules for monastic living to my life as it is, and find something to replace this hollowness? It was Thomas Merton who got me into this whole examination of contemplative Christianity, so I turned to YouTube and Google (where else?) to help me learn more about the life of a Trappist monk. There are three basic sections of Benedictine Rule, or the principles that shape monastic life. The first is Stability, which is a life-long dedication to a community and to relationships. The second is Obedience, which is to follow the instructions of the Abbot and God’s word. The third is Conversion, which is the willingness to be open to God as he works through you and the people around you. There is much more to the monastic Rule, but these three principles give me a place to start to make my life more meaningful. Maybe if I can imbue meaning and spirituality into the structure of my secular life, I will find that I am not so far from who I am meant to be. I really don’t know, but that’s my hope.
As is often the case with spiritual seeking, there has been a confluence of input lighting my path. I am reading Foucault’s Pendulum, by Umberto Eco and amongst the humor and the intuitive leaps of the narrator & company, there is a strong thread of the idea of an all-connecting spirituality. Oh, and Jesuits just entered the plot, stage right (they’re EVERYWHERE, once you notice them!). One Friday evening, mind all mush from a week of intense concentration at the day job, I decided to let Netflix entertain me. I picked an indie film named Something, Anything. As is the case for most Netflix descriptions, it was scant and only faintly evocative of the actual story: A woman suffers a loss, and re-evaluates her life. That could be … anything. Or something? I decided to give it a chance, and the huge, intense (and intensely sad) eyes of the lead actress convinced me to finish the film. There is an awful, heart-wrenching scene near the beginning of the movie (the loss) and many quiet, almost shy scenes of contemplation. And, wouldn’t you know it, she ends up visiting Gethsemani Abbey, Merton’s Trappist monastery. Something, Anything isn’t a movie for the general public; there’s no action, there’s no sex; there’s very little dialog. It turns out to have been the perfect movie for me, at the perfect time. Even the exercises in my craft class have these gorgeous lines that speak to me on a spiritual level. In Ode to the Lost Luggage Warehouse at the Rome Airport, Barbara Hamby writes, “…you take a careful waltz through the months, and find nothing in the midst of so much.” In Driving the Heart, Jason Brown writes, “Hearts travel at night.” And those lines connect like the information narrator & company of Foucault’s Pendulum feed into Abulafia (their “super” computer), and I start to sense a vast network of meaning and hope thrumming around me, but nearly hidden by the rush and furious sound of our modern, status-and-thing-focused culture. It’s enough to make me think that maybe, in my own quiet way, I can find what I need.