April 2000, my Christian group invited me to attend a retreat in the mountains of Malaybalay, Bukidnon in Mindanao, southern part of the Philippines. We had a one week retreat inside the monastery. As a guest, we are following a time frame for prayer that the monks called “divine office”. We start to wake up at 3:30am, as we walk in the very dark road up the hill. I remember that the only light guiding our path is the moonlight and the stars above. Sometime, it will give me an enchanting feeling as the firefly gave an atmosphere of the unknown, silly me!
They have seven prayers a day that consist of Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers & Compline. Grand silence is observed after Compline that is 7pm. (Morning Prayer, Mid-day and Evening Prayer; the rest are prayers in- between)
The monks usually share some subject talk on monasticism during noontime, this really made me feel so bored. What I do is to stay at the back of the conference room and chew my favorite cinnamon gum. What a very boring session until they pass on a small pamphlet with a title Say Nothing, Think Nothing, Desire Nothing by St.John of the Cross. I don’t even know that a saint name John of the cross existed. Anyway, it struck me from the very start as I read this small piece of paper, a strange feeling going on inside me (the feeling is good of course). I kept it in my wallet and I didn’t know that this small piece of paper with the teachings of John will have a great impact in my life, with my ideology, my way of thinking and spirituality. Later on, I realized that it was the start of my “inner journey”. Everyday, I lived with this teachings and it helped me to grow more and more in the knowledge of God’s merciful love.
Sometime when I visited the Blessed Sacrament, I just sit their quietly, just sitting, not praying, but simply gazing in that white host. I will pull out that piece of paper in my wallet and read it word by word. I chew it very slowly until my spiritual tongue savor every bit of it. I was so full but I want more. I started to realize that all things that surrounded me are futile. All I needed is God nothing more. But God, in His different form, is everywhere you can find and experience.
I recall when I was in the monastery during our leisure time, I express this idea with one of the monk and he told me that the sayings of John of the Cross should not be literally taken. He also told me that it is impossible! I beg to disagree. What a poor monk, what a lack of faith. I was lonely with his opinion. I just sat down in one corner, meditated and smiled as I looked far in the mountain and the blue skies… saying to myself, I am lucky to understand and express in action this simple understanding that ALL THINGS are NO-THINGS (nothing).
Every little act I did inside the monastery brings me joy and profound happiness of the spirit that sometime I don’t understand. I am always thankful with every circumstances, carrying with me a happy heart while doing my daily chores. It’s like the feeling of someone you love is always beside you, courting you, making you feel so good and bringing out the best in you.
One of the greatest moment that I enjoyed most inside the monastery is when we celebrate the holy mass in the morning. Oh, it is so beautiful! As we worship the Lord together on top of the mountain. We don’t have any accompany of music but only the chirping of the birds and the gentle breeze of the wind. What a great privilege to receive the body of Jesus in the most Holy Eucharist! Experiencing all the divine graces surrounding me as it flow all over my body, my blood, my organs, my every cell, in the tip of my hair to the sole of my feet… I can feel my Lover all over me! What divine sweetness whenever I will unite with Him in the most holy communion as if I am in ecstasy! Its like I am a living monstrance, a walking monstrance. His countenance will surely shine in my face and I can intensely feel these blessing of love and profound peace in my heart. All I wanted after taking the holy sacrament is to just sit still and keep silent, as I contemplate the more on God’s great love for me. To make it simple is that, experiencing the extra-ordinary in the ordinary things, nothing supernatural okay.
Say nothing… little by little I learned to discipline my tongue whenever I wanted to complain, to reason out, to speak on absurd discussion or even cursing. One time I was inside the jeepney (a Filipino mini bus-type) I just look around all the passengers, everybody are busy discussing on many absurd issues, gossip, work, jokes, fear of the society, even the radio I am listening is so absurd (Please don’t get me wrong with what I am referring, the meaning of absurb). Oh God give me the grace to only use my tongue for your glory and whenever it is needed.
Another scenario that had happened, it was October 18, 2000. I just came down from the mountain of Malaybalay and I am carrying with me a profound peace in my heart. I decided to visit a friend to greet her a happy birthday. It was along Chino Roces Avenue in Quezon City. I went inside the bar and gave my girl friend (who was the lead vocalist of the band) a kiss, extending to her my happy birthday greeting and said goodbye. In just 15 minutes my brand new Nissan Pajero was carnapped! I just used it for only 4 days and now it was gone. Instead of being in panic, angry and in total devastation, I choose to remain VERY calm. God speak into my heart so gently, DON’T WORRY IM IN CONTROL. These material things will not make you happy. I didn’t even felt fear or any emotion that time but only PROFOUND PEACE coming from God. I called my dad and told him what had happened. My dad advised me to go home and rest, the insurance will take care of it. No bad day, no scolding, no blaming, truly the Lord is in control. In a month or so, I received the full amount of the insurance with only 1% participation fee. Praise God!
So many things had transpired with these simple teaching of life and desiring simple things that is only needed in daily basis. Now I basically understand what the scripture says… “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and everything shall be added unto you”. Up to now, I am experiencing all these blessings both tangible and intangible. It is really a great feeling to know that God loved me first, that He is so in love with me and He’ll do everything to satisfy my heart and soul. I only pray to remain in God’s grace, where there is profound peace, pure joy, simple happiness, and contentment of the heart, nothing more… But God who is all loving and powerful, is surely with us in the midst of chaos and adversity carrying us in His loving arms. His grace is sufficient!