Newsletter Subscribe
Australian Catholics Subscribe

1993 – My monastery is silver

Terry Monagle  |  18 September 2018

My monastery is silver. It tracks through the suburbs from Surrey Hills to Melbourne. It the 8.24.

Being husband, father, brother, office worker, mortgagee, smothers me with demands. God’s powerful presence in prayer is equally insistent. Life consists in integrating and answering the demands of these two belongs.

How and where can I pray during the working day? How do all my activities as father, husband, son, brother, worker, interweave with this deeper belonging?

It starts: bring in the paper and the rubbish bin, put on the kettle, feed the cat, make the lunches, borrow train fare from the kids, sign that note, pull up the doona, shave, find a pair of socks, where’a a hanky, pack that bag, put in those bills and cheques, defrost the sausages, rush for the 8.24, think up that agenda, remember to make those calls.

During the morning busyness, the ear half-listens to the news summaries: Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, Bougainville, unemployment. Between 6.40 and 8.10 the heart sinks lower and lower, almost to despair. There can’t be a God in the world like that!

Life seems so frantic, the news so profoundly disturbing, the two so unconnected. The challenge to survive neutralises the challenge to respond to humanity. Our lives can feel shallow, our hearts despair.

These predicaments frame our spiritual lives. How do we, in busy urban Australia, worrying about two jobs, our children, the mortgage, the school fees, maintain an active spirituality? How do we satisfy our hunger for the infinite?

We all have our ways, expressive of our temperament, of preventing our profoundest instincts from being smothered. Here are some of mine.

Trains, planes, buses, trams. These, for me, are the best places for prayer. Rakes, brooms, spades, forks. These, for me, are the best tools for prayer. Hat, overcoat, walking shoes. Those are the best garments for prayer. Travelling, working, walking: in these are purpose but no straining of will. In these the heart can seek its goal.

I walk to the station in the morning. The air clears my head. The rhythm of the steps and the breath is a simple prayer, saying thanks for the morning.

On the train, the silver monastery, hiding in a corner with a small book, I read morning prayer from the Divine Office. It takes four stations. After that I just sit, half asleep, half praying a mantra, wondering about my fellow travellers, imagining how they live.

Work can be exhilaration, but often it is like gnawing on the same hard stones, meal after meal. The ache of boredom can become claustrophobic. Try as I might, many things I have to do are deeply frustrating. How can the boredom be transformed into prayer, made productive? How both to preserve a loving attitude to squabbling workmates and keep integrity?

You play the role, answer the phone, meet the deadlines. Lunchtime is a chance to make contact again. Sometimes I put on the jacket and work to one of the nearby churches; sometimes Catholic, sometimes Lutheran, my favourite is Anglican. The emptier the better, and it is better to walk out of the city centre. I drop into a steady, comfortable gait. As I walk, I take it easy and let the feverishness of the brain fall away, concentrating on the mantra of the walk. I sit in a pew or follow Mass. I think of Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, the people on the train, the unemployed who come to the city in the off-peak. In a small way, I enter into their suffering. Lunch hour is my great silence.

On the way home on the 5.59, I should say evening Prayer. I don’t, I’m too tired. The brain is empty, barely working. On Friday nights, in the winter dark, I wait forlornly on Richmond station for a connection, looking out across the lights of the suburbs, looking at my anonymous companions following their own trail of light to their homes. Each to their own, to a shared table, to those with whom they share it, to the space where everything allows them to name themselves, to be named by others.

At home, kids doing their homework, family meetings, doing the dishes, making phone calls, brining in the washing, watching TV, the crabbiness, the relaxation.

The discipline of loving in the family: the core and test of our spirituality. That one has low self-esteem, that one is joyous, that one is likely to win ‘bitch of the week’, that one is cross because we are tired while she is wide awake, that one wastes money, that one gives lectures, that one is lazy. Each with her beauty of spirit, blooming and fragile. Each one needing nurture, and being nurtured. We sandpaper each other smooth.

‘Thank you for this food, thank you for our guest and God bless the cook.’ The love of each, and the love of the group, give an inkling of the shape and hue of divine love. In the universe, we stand in that love. I pray that this love sustains those in Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, Bougainville, those on the 8.24, and those caught in all those wars in all those places whose names I can’t remember.

How do we prove our solidarity for those in the news? Prayer is too easy. The causes to which we give money (making sure we get a receipt for taxation purposes)? It seems like tokenism. Does political commitment count? Maybe, but that, too, is mixed up with self-interest. Later in our lives, when the children are independent, perhaps there will be a chance for some full-time service. Time will test our genuineness.

Last thing at night, the jog or the walk. The final mantra of the step and the breath. Sometimes with the partner, sharing the day, our first conversation of the day. Put out the rubbish bin, the paper stack, and the bag of bottles. Sometimes, in the bath, I finally get around to evening prayer.

Set the alarm for 6.25. Try again.

First published in Australian Catholics – October 1993, pp26-27.



Request permissions to reuse this article

Similar articles

25 years of Australian Catholics

Michael McVeigh | 19 Sep 2018

In 1993, the Australian Jesuits partnered with Vinnies, the Pontifical Mission Society and the Australian Catholic Health Care Association to launch a new magazine for the Catholic community.

2011 – How to be good

Brian Doyle | 19 Sep 2018

How to be goodFirst, pick up your wet towel and at least, for heavenssake, hang it up to dry.

2011 – A letter to Santa

Michael McGirr | 19 Sep 2018

A letter to SantaDear Father Christmas,
We are writing to let you know that your application for asylum in Australia has been denied. You will not be permitted to enter Australian airspace on December 24. The relevant matters are dealt with below. We are taking a bi-partisan approach to this matter.

2001 – My enemies are just like myself

Peter Thomas | 18 Sep 2018

The Dalai Lama and the Pope happen to be firm friends. Peter Thomas met the one with whom most Catholics are less familiar.

2004 – Why Sunday Mass?

Fr Andrew Hamilton | 18 Sep 2018

host being lifted upWhy do I have to go to Mass on Sunday? For generations children have asked their parents this question. Today many adults ask it too. It is an old and a new question, for though Mass remains the same, Sunday has changed.

This website uses cookies to give you the best, most relevant experience.

Using this website means you are okay with this.

You can change your cookies settings at any time and find out more about them by following this link