Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Why is it so difficult to have certainty?

I'm a big fan of Ellis Peters's Brother Cadfael novels. For the uninitiated, Brother Cadfael is a Welsh-born English monk who lives in the 12th century and who solves the mysterious crimes that are rampant in the town beyond his monastery walls.

Br. Cadfael came to the monastery after forty years as a Crusader, soldier, and sailor. He's conversus rather than oblatus, which makes for some interesting perspectives (his) on the nature of the Benedictine order to which he belongs, the nature of Divine justice, and the vagaries of humanity.

One thing Cadfael has is certainty. He's certain about the existence of God, the fact that His justice will eventually prevail, and that sometimes humans have to act as God's hands in daily life. He's certain that he can heal the sick (Br. Cadfael is the herbalist and assists the infirmarian in his duties) and bring wrong-doers to justice. Most of all, he's certain of his place.

"We do what we must, and we pay for it. So in the end, all things are simple."

That's a line from the last Brother Cadfael novel, in which he goes recusate in order to rescue his son (conceived during the Crusades) from death.

Being in this business has made me aware that most things are far from simple, far from certain. I envy the certainty that my pal the chaplain has, that all things are for the best. I envy the simplicity that allows a person to see that their life has reached its effective conclusion and thus refuse further care.

I'm thinking of spending a week or so at a convent somewhere. I'm not sure whether it'll be Benedictine or Buddhist, but I think the silence would be useful. Not as a way to reaffirm vocation; as Opus Dei advocates, the vocation I've chosen sanctifies itself every day. Perhaps as a way to settle doubts; whether or not there's some Universal Being up there, it makes sense to decide whether to believe or not, once and for all.

"Agnosticism as a belief system is akin to immobility as a form of transportation."--Life of Pi

For some reason the thought of a week of silence, discipline, and thought is sounding better and better every day. Not as a retreat, mind you, in the typical sense of the word, but as a regathering.


Kim said...

While at Notre Dame last month, we stayed at the Holy Cross Seminary on campus (my bro-in-law is a Holy Cross priest). Just walking into the seminary gave me a sense of peace.

We had a busy weekend and were in and out a lot, but I can imagine spending a week of quiet, thoughtful time would be wonderful.

Lioness said...

I absolutely must get my hands on The Life of Pi in English, everyone seems to have loved it. I, er, found brother C. a bit dull, sorry. I was actually heartbroken bcs really, XII century! But no, still don't like it. Bloody hell.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

This place is recommended by the owners of a retreat center I went to one summer:


It's one of the places I would consider if I needed a quiet, contemplative break from things.

I think there's also a book one can buy about sancutaries and such places all over the US.

may said...

it must be difficult...to live without being certain of the most important thing. i am clueless about the people you mentioned, but i'm personally very certain that there is Someone who knows everything and every reason. if you don't mind, may i ask (no, i'm not trying to be mean or something) why you don't have that certainty?

Anonymous said...

The Jesuits made me skeptical as a kid, medicine has made me a cynic. But go wherever you have to go to get a grasp of some serenity. There are a lot of people that depend on you Jo, and a lot more that don't know it yet.

Anonymous said...

I like Trappists, they are terribly simple and contemplation-oriented. They are also hard to find!

UnsinkableMB said...

Silence and solitude is a great way to reconnect to Spirit whatever you think that is (yours or a Higher Being). For me, if I lose that connection, I am thrown off balance. Definitely take the time to reconnect! I hope it works for you like it does for me.