The novel ‘All We Know of Heaven’ moved me. The young man, having entered the monastery, enjoying a solid novitiate, suddenly struggles mightily with lustful thoughts, bringing to a halt his ability to sleep and the endurance of inner turmoil. His days become drudgery and toil. Even more devastating is the fact his severe temptation is homosexual in nature, calling into question his very worth as a man. His fearful thoughts force him to nearly attempt self-castration, going as far as cutting himself before stopping himself. Within our personal struggles, battling our deepest demons, exist the greatest opportunity for grace, within our wounds Christ comes at us the strongest, within our brokenness is the greatest opportunity to know the love of God. “…where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. (Romans 5). An area Dr. Nichta and myself discussed in depth yesterday was the idea of self-knowledge elevating contemplative efforts. To know who I am is to become a more effective seeker of God. Brutal honesty is necessary in realizing my weaknesses, for within my weaknesses is the area for the greatest growth, and therefore the pouring down of the greatest graces. Ultimate victory must come through the defeating of that within us which is the furthest from God. Freedom comes from the expanding of faith, hope, and charity, opening ourselves to the gifts of the Holy Spirit, acquiring the understanding to know the things that take us away from God, the wisdom to to discern the difference between enslavement of the flesh and the freedom of spiritual expansion. Immediate sensual gratification, the indulgence of all our wants, desires, fantasies and worldly desires is placing ourselves in slavery to immaturity, an undisciplined childish approach to life, a diet of candy and sweets. Everlasting freedom is spiritual warfare, the task of doing the things in our heart we know are righteous. God’s ways are not foreign and unknowable. We are gifted with a conscious. It is the discipline, the accomplishing of the difficult that is our demanding task.
In the novel, contemplate this episode. After a community vote, the young man is accepted, personally by the abbot, to swear solemn vows. Previous to the scene, the young man sat outside the meeting, slightly able to hear, distinguishing a heated argument. The loud voice of Martin, the Irish monk the main character developed an infatuation with, experiencing an episode in which he expressed his feelings to Martin, became audible. They had not spoken since. Martin ignoring him intensely. Martin could be heard yelling and arguing with the abbot. Relying upon reason, self-conscious, the main character prepared to be rejected, dejectedly aware of his failings.
“This is the grand silence. Forgive me,” Dom Jacques (abbot) whispered as he sat down at his desk, “but I wanted you to know that the lengthy chapter had nothing to do with you. We took the vote before any shouting began. In five minutes, that was all over. We’ve accepted you. Congratulations.” He pointed to a chair, and Antoine (main character), shaking in the knees, went to sit. Relief washed over him so suddenly that he nearly missed the chair and fell on the floor.”
“You should know,” the Abbot continued, “that Brother Martin and I have been at odds.” His expression was sober. “An argument broke out between us over the possibility of his transfer to another abbey. I was thrown off balance. I’m afraid. Not prepared for an outburst in chapter, I lost my temper.” The Abbot folded his hands. “And as it stands, I think Martin is resolved to leave religious life altogether.”
Antoine’s mouth dropped. Though tension had melted when he learned of his acceptance, this was now checked in thinking that he might have had something to do with Martin’s leaving.
“Reverend Father,” he said, “There’s something you should know.” He blinked several times. Straightening his back, he stumbled on, hardly knowing what to say. “When I asked to be moved in the dormitory because of my mattress, I told you a lie. My request had nothing to do with a mattress. Truth is, I am strongly attracted to Brother Martin.”
“The matress?” Dom Jacques asked.
“Yes. I told you that my mattress was shaped for someone else and kept me from sleeping. But you see, it was really Martin who kept me awake.”
Antoine closed his eyes for a moment and tried to rephrase his tumble of words. “Yes. Please understand I’m…I think I’m attracted to Martin. What I mean is…I think I’m a homosexual.”
The Abbot waited for more, but Antoine had nothing more to say. A moment went by and the Abbot looked at his watch.
“Yes,” he said. “Each of us has his burden to bear. Listen, Brother, it’s getting late. You’d best get to bed.”
Antoine stood and walked to the door on unsteady legs. He hesitated, thinking the Abbot had not heard correctly. Perhaps he should repeat the confession. The Abbot spoke again.
“Antoine,” he said. “Pray for Brother Martin. Pray for God’s blessing upon him. You of all people might be in the best position to do that.”
“Yes, Reverend Father.” Antoine stood at the door for a moment, then he left the office and made his way to bed. There it was, simple and straightforward: a request for prayers. Nothing more. His heart pounded as if it slipped into a higher gear. He felt winded. Even if the Abbot had completely misunderstood his confession, the deed was done. He had claimed something sexual about himself, and what was more, had announced it aloud. There was no going back. He did not want to go back. A new sense of identity had begun to bloom, and he felt he knew himself far better than before. The confession left him stronger.
That is a powerful scene. The young man’s anxiety was unfounded. His fears stronger than reality. He would come to terms with Martin, understanding Martin’s clashing with the Abbot had nothing to do with him. Even deeper the psychological healing of understanding himself, developing a profound sense of who he was allowed him to overcome his personal inclination toward sin. Ambiguities replaced with certainty, self-knowledge allows for personal growth upon a deeply spiritual level.
Other thoughts mingle, yet I want to leave everything. Let that resonate. An ending with something lighter. Now for something different. My secret garden, Cain Park provided mesmerizing, tantalizing meditation, exotic in nature as Chinese acrobats entertained, beauty displayed, the joy of life played out upon the stage. The Golden Dragon Acrobats. Here is a video clip. Wonderful night of observing physical grace refined. These remarkably athletic and skilled young men and women naturally put a smile upon the face. Spellbinding, this young lady was a personal favorite. I met her after the show. She was with a group selling memorabilia. Her beauty, exuberance, strength, joy, and innocence were captivating, disarming, invigorating and a blessing from God to encounter.