There was a Sunday afternoon when I was a child that I sat my mother down and demanded to know about life and death, where babies come from, and where we go. When my mother had answered all my questions to my satisfaction, I announced, “I’ve learned a lot today,” and left the room confident in my grasp of existence.
To say I’ve “learned a lot” from the Brothers, from the other interns and residents, from the time spent here in prayer and silence, would be a simplification of the same sort. To give in to my tendency to itemize and label each “revelation” and new awareness seems to me to be my thirty-three-year-old version of that same seven-year-old confidence: an only slightly more grown up “I’ve got this.”
During the nine months in the Monastic Internship Program, I always found it difficult to answer the question most commonly posed by guests during Sunday talking meals: “Why are you doing this program?” I think one particularly taxing week I may have responded with, “I heard there was treasure buried under the Chapel.”
As an adult, I haven’t been blessed with the same gift of certainty I had as a child. I cannot claim many affirmative statements about God, myself, or the world. I entered the Monastery with a list of questions ranging from the subject of theodicy to the definition of love. I guess my response to the guests’ repeated question should have been that I came here wanting an index of answers, one monolithic truth about who and what God is, a tremendously long, Roman-numeraled outline entitled “How to Be a Human and Do This Whole ‘Life’ Thing.”
But better than a great big cosmic sense of “I’ve got this” was the invitation to get comfortable in uncertainty. And more relevant than a clearly delineated blueprint of reality were often the quiet truths couched in the negative. “Love is not coercive,” a Brother told us interns. “Force is not of God,” a hymn repeated. And finally, from a James Martin, SJ book we read as a group, words that now speak to me from three Post-It notes on my mirror, “You’re not God. This isn’t heaven. Don’t be a jackass.”
Besides my being sleepy, my most intense experience of my time at SSJE has been one of gratitude. In the understanding I had of faith for most of my life, calling me an unbeliever would be generous. (A generosity often extended to me by those blessed with religious certitude.) By their doing and not doing, by their words and silence, mostly by their astonishing expression of grace, the Brothers have helped heal and widen the damaged and limited awareness of God, self, and faith that I brought with me nine months ago.
– Hannah Tadros