Saturday, September 13, 2014

Episode 32: Monastic Murmurings

On outdoors:
  • Swan Creek Mountain Bike Park: Tacoma's MTB Playground
    • Trail Notes: arrived at dusk and did the outer loop three times. Definitely need a headlamp with the bike lamp to light the way. Jason, Sean, Dmitri, Jeremy, Jeremiah and a couple others- the most so far! Can't wait to do it during the day.
  • Camp Muir: Mt. Rainier's main base camp
    • Trail Notes: We headed out from Tacoma around eight-thirty and arrived at Paradise a little before ten in the morning after a cup of coffee. Sean and Nicki were the companions for the day. With lots of wind coming from the northwest, we departed from the lower parking lot of Paradise ten-fifteen. Trail mix, cheese balls served as fuel. In a little under four hours, we reached base camp at two-thirty and had the BEST quinoa salad, courtesy of Nicki. Super good! The ice fields on the way up were slippery. No crampons, and headwind that eventually died down made it worse. Altitude sickness kept us deliberately judging our efforts. Retina burn from the snow fields also kept things interesting. I drank 48 oz. of water- way too little for a six and a half hour round trip.

On bookshelf:
  1. This Place Called St. Martin's, John C. Scott, OSB
  2. Dark Night of the Soul, John of the Cross
  3. Into the Silence, Wade Davis
  4. Spiritual Writings, Flannery O'Connor

On media:

  1. Anton Bruckner: Symphonies
  2. Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo & Juliet

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Episode 31: Grace

Previously and most recently, I started reading some of Flannery O'Connor's writings, first her short stories for class and now some of her spiritual writings. Below is a quote on from The Province of Joy, on the section titled "The Cost of Faith" and afterwards an essay on her short story, Everything that Rises Must Converge. Enjoy :)
I don't assume that renunciation goes with submission, or even that renunciation is good in itself. Always you renounce a lesser good for a greater; the opposite is what sin is. And along this line, I think the phrase "naive purity" is a contradiction in terms. I don't think purity is mere innocence; I don't think babies and idiots possess it. I take it to be something that comes either with experience or with Grace so that it can never be naïve. On the matter of purity we can never judge ourselves, mich less anybody else. Anyone who thinks he's pure is surely not.
I sent you the other Sewell piece and the one on St. Thomas & Freud. This latter has the answer in it to what you call my struggle to submit, which is not struggle to submit but a struggle to accept and with passion. I mean, possibly, with joy. Picture me with my ground teeth stalking joy - fully armed too as it's a highly dangerous quest. The other day I ran up on a wonderful quotation: "The dragon is at the side of the road watching those who pass. Take care lest he devour you! You are going to the Father of souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon." That is Cyril of Jerusalem, instructing catechumens. (To "A," January 1, 1956) 

St. Martin’s Abbey

Gus Labayen

Illuminating Grace Accepted:
The Parable of the Prodigal Son
Flannery O’Connor Everything That Rises Must Converge

RELS 201 | Introduction to New Testament
Fr. Killian Malvey

The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept is a different thing.

-Oswald Chambers

Divine grace is what is provided to us by God which is undeserved. It is shown in the salvation of sinners and the resulting blessings He has given us. Our experiences with grace is provided freely by God. It deeply resonates with our human spirit and is available to anyone who is willing to accept this by its nature. This is edifying throughout time and, in this case, our readings of the short stories of Flannery O’Connor and the parable of the Prodigal Son. Here I will discuss the main characters Mrs. May from Greenleaf & Julian from Everything That Rises Must Converge and how they accept grace. I will also relate these short stories to the Prodigal Son and how the Father acts with compassion in the right though totally unexpected way.
In the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) the younger son took his portion of what would be his from his father and squandered it away in dissolute living. Then a famine came and he set to live with the pigs. This son came to his senses and came back home saying “... ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands’ (Luke 15:18-19).” The father sees him, embraced and kissed him. He says to slaughter the fattened calf and to get the finest robes and put a ring on his finger saying “... for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” Suggested by the parable’s title, where the focus is placed on the fault of the son, we can observe how ungrateful he was to his father. Though in the light of grace, the father becomes the focus when it states plainly that his son was dead to him. The father disowned him and wanted no business with his son though he was “filled with compassion” for his him; filled with illuminating grace, this most edifying act was a change of heart where any ordinary father would have scolded and disgraced him. This is also shown the in the sudden acceptance of grace by Julian to act as an instrument of grace.
Julian takes his overweight Mother in Everything That Rises Must Converge to the YMCA on Wednesdays to reduce her blood pressure. Most of the story takes place on the bus to the Y and shows a racist Mother and the thoughts of Julian bent on sadistic spite. As the story comes to a peak, the mother admires the negro child accompanied by his mother saying “Oh little boy!... Here’s a new bright new penny for you, (418)” but is knocked down by the mother. Julian is reminded of the old home she grew up in with Negro slaves that he never got and attempts to teach her a lesson, scolding her for the way she’s acting and recursively mirrors his actual rejection of everything that his mother stands for. In what becomes the most shocking is when the mother suddenly changes and says to Julian, “Tell Grandpa to come and get me… Tell Caroline to come get me (420),” referring to better times in the mansion she grew up in. She sees her son in a true light, the truth of how his son has been treating her. Crumpling from an apparent stroke, Julian suddenly is illuminated in the a light of losing his mother saying “Mamma, Mamma!” As he is running towards lights, it goes further showing that though he has suddenly seen the truth of the situation, the “lights drifted farther away” and has to confront his feelings of guilt and sorrow. This symbol of light is also shown in Greenleaf.
Mrs. May in Greenleaf is confronted by the bull, a sign of fertility and sacrifice.  The story ends with the bull piercing her as she gazes into the bright sky like she “has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable (333).” The overreaction to kill an innocent bull resulted in her own death though she realizes this too late. However, there is hope as the end, Mrs. May “[is] bent over [the bull] whispering some last discovery into the animal’s ear (334).” These are the points of O’Connor’s short stories- a revelation usually at the expense of a character’s life. The message of grace available to everyone, even to the sinner that ironically becomes an instrument of grace.
In my new life as a monk, in the Prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict, Benedict says “What is not possible to us by nature, let us ask the Lord to supply by the help of his grace (RB, Prologue v. 40). It is evidenced that authentic prayer is what is genuinely good in my life. Romans 12:9-21 gives insight to what is good, “Let love be genuine… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.” When hardships arise or a restlessness of heart becomes the usual, no matter how little, it is only by coming to God and accepting his grace that fulfills the soul. The acceptance of grace then becomes an act of our spirit, of “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things (Galatians 5:22-26).” May we all live by example in our journey as followers of Christ.

- 行者劉暢

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Episode 30: Monastic Murmurings

On outdoors:
  • Cyclocosm? Cosmo Catalano, bike racing personality. I'll say the best out there. 
  • June is the time to come off the high of the Giro, race the Dauphiné & Suisse tune-ups in preparation for Le Tour. In the meantime, watch the World Cup in Rio on ESPN. Go USofA.
  • Riding is non-existent at the moment. Only machete bush-whacking in the woods. A tubeless conversion for the mountain bike is a little more complicated cloistered in a monastery. Anyone want to lend me a mountain bike?
On the bookshelf:
  1. Into the Silence, Wade Davis
  2. Searching for God, Cardinal Basil Hume, Archbishiop of Westminster
  3. Maurice & Therese, Patrick Ahern
  4. The Long Rule, Basil the Great
  5. The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824, Harvey Sachs
On the organ:
  1. Prelude & Fugue in G minor, BWV 558, J.S. Bach & a LONG Fugue in C minor
  2. Nun Bitten Wir, BuxWV 209, Dietrich Buxtehude
  3. Hymns of Worship, 3rd edition
  4. Introits, Antiphons, and Vespers of St. Martin's Abbey (with improvisation, transposing, and singing!)
  5. Piano is minimal at the moment. Sight-reading WTC Vol. II and his Busoni Chorale Preludes
- 行者劉暢

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Episode 29: Desert, Dinner, Desserts, and the DEvil

Reporting from the monastery: good morning, blogosphere! I've been having dessert everyday and I LOVE it. When I first came in, I had dessert after every meal because, let's be real, if there's temptation in the form of ice cream and either pie, cake, cookies in any variety or hybrid form, who's not going to indulge? Be my guest. But that was soon short-lived as dessert soon just becomes part of dinner, then it just becomes dinner because one has it before dinner, making it "dinner" and dinner "dessert." If I don't watch myself, I could be eating to the waistlines of the other monks here (I jest since I don't think I'm capable of losing or gaining much weight in the first place)! So as lent approached, a simple form of self-improvement came in the form of giving up desserts. At the Old Town Bicycle the snack/dessert station was within arms reach, usually consisting of Philippine dried mangos, or dougnuts from one of the delectable doughnut shops in Tacoma (sooo good). Here at St. Martin's Abbey they're about a half-minute walk and I've gotten better at resisting such temptation for 40 days and 40 nights. Long arduous days in a monastery. Tell me about it. Now that we've celebrated the Easter season (50 days), I'm one step closer to becoming a saint.

The desert on the other hand should be taken much seriously. As the city can be a place of good people, good families, good ideas, and good business, the desert teaches us what's really important in life; all the better with a proper fat bike to take you across the vastness of the dessert.

Can you think of a life-changing event, like the carpet pulled out from under you, then, when you suddenly realize you're on your butt that sitting isn't so bad after all? I'll start with an unoriginal reflection, since the monastic life is at the heart is contemplation!

Our desert is any place where we confront God. It is not a change of scene, nor a place to run from our failures, nor a heroic adventure that does something for our ego. Our desert experience may be tedium, weariness, disappointment, loneliness, personal emptiness, emotional confusion, the feeling that we have nothing to give, the conviction that we constantly fail God in prayer. You just have to keep on keeping on in prayer, and you are not aware of "progress," because there seems to be nothing by which it could be measured. There are no paths in the desert except the ones you make by walking on them.

It is the place of truth, but also of tenderness; the place of loneliness but also of God's closeness and care. The journey is precarious, but he is faithful, even though our own fidelity is shaky. In the place of hunger and poverty of spirit we are fed by the word of God, as Jesus himself was in the desert. Part of our poverty may be that we are not even aware of longing for God, only aware of the suffocating burden of our own sinfulness, of the slum within. But the desert is the place of confrontation not just with our sins, but witht he power of God's redemption. You come to see it as the place where there can be springing water, manna to keep you going, the strength you never knew you had, the surprise of the quail that plops down at your feet, a tenderness that cares for you and a knowing of the Lord. These things are not the promised land, but they are tokens of love and may be sacraments of glory. Your life, your prayer, can be the wilderness to which you must look steadfastly if you would see the glory of God.

Now if that was a bit of too much Christianese, bear with me. The author, Maria Goulding probably hasn't ridden a fatbike across the Sahara dessert. But I think she can imagine it would be a little easier with one. Surely biking across the United States is far easier that walking it (though I did run into a gal who was doing that very deed).

The purpose of the desert is to confront ourselves. Imagine that crazy duo in the video not going through sand dune after sand dune from the Nile to the Atlantic, but through street and highways with traffic, rain, snowstorms, forging water, and having to drink and eat. What a feat! They confronted themselves in a very physical way, feeding the body to work for them, to get them and their tool, the bicycle and their equipment, across a barren land full of danger and adventure.

Now how does that relate to the current situation of monkdom? Well, my friends, not much. But I've had to dig deeper than that so I'll elaborate. Have you been in the toughest situation in your life and decide how much longer can I go? If you can't rely on your energy, faith, or other family, what or who do you rely on? Definitely not evil, which is the devil without the D... that's what I've figured out and for you to decide for yourself who one can rely on in the tryingest (yes that's a word as of right now) of times. Call me when you find out ;)

- 行者劉暢

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Season 3 Preview: A Bone

Reporting from inside the monastery (yes, this is allowed and no I'm not breaking any rules):

I'm here to throw you a bone. All is well here. This blog is going through revision and you will certainly be notified of such changes. In the meantime, the things I've been devoting my time to are below:

All things cycling:
Lots of reading. On the bookshelf:
  1. Pope Francis: Conversations with Jorge Bergoglio by Sergio Rubin and Francesca Ambrogetti
  2. Complete [Short] Stories, by Flannery O'Connor
  3. No Man Is An Island, by Thomas Merton, OCSO
  4. In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
  5. City of God by St. Augustine of Hippo
  6. Strangers to the City by Michael Casey, OCSO
  7. Thoughts Matter by Mary Margaret Funk, OSB
On the newsstand:
  1. The New York & Seattle Times, and Olympian daily
  2. Al Jazeera America
  3. RomeReports. All things on Pope Francis & Vatican City
On the music stand:

  • Piano:
    • Brahms 6 Short Pieces Op. 118, No. 6 in E-flat Minor: Intermezzo
    • Scriabin Preludes
    • Debussy Petite Suite
  • Organ:
    • Yes I'm learning! And no, nothing worthwhile mentioning. Soon. Bach is in the works.
  • Sacred:
    • Lots and lots of course! Chant, hymns, spirituals and modern stuff. Updates soon. Promise :)
Until next time,

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Finale- Episode 28: Across 2 Worlds

Merry 2014 and Happy Christmas 2013 to all from the Pacific Northwest! My father used to typewrite his Christmas letters since he was 18 and so I sought out to do the same. After high school, we rotated writing Christmas letters and stopped for a time. Now, I present to you not only a Christmas greeting overdue, but the most important parts of my formation as an adult, which left off around 2012.


The Great Learning

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the world, 

first ordered well their own States.

Wishing to order well their States, they first regulated their families.

Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons.

Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts.

Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts.

Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge.

Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.


Things being investigated, knowledge became complete.

Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere.

Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified.

Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated.

Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated.

Their families being regulated, their States were rightly governed.

Their States being rightly governed, the entire world was at peace.

— Confucius

As my commencement ended in June 2012, I was an ocean away in the Philippines, in my homeland where my ancestors labored, loved, lived and left a legacy for their kin. I, a sand particle who humbly sought from their spirit what they have left for us- tangibly and spiritually. So I spent most of 2012 as a wandering soul going back to the drawing board, seeking the meaning of life, not only through what other people told me, but from within myself. My degree in hand, I set out to have real experiences of action after years of academic study. Socrates, the first philosopher said ipse se nihil scire id unum sciat, "I know that I know nothing." Taking it to heart, a bicycle with the goal of seeking purpose in a country that I knew the most (but barely knew) came to fruition, listening and deciding for myself what the divine has gifted us.

First of all, that God exists. In my particular experience of life as a twenty something Filipino, first generation American Catholic can with all my entire being can say, I say hell yes. On the contrary, with devout divorced parents of the faith, Catholicism became a contradiction within itself at the most inconvenient time, the parabolic height of my musical growth. I was playing secular music and learning about secular history: of World War I and the atrocities committed to humanity by humans, nationalism and its artificial boundaries, of grinding metal against flesh, and Nietzsche's “Gott ist tot.” I was playing Prokofiev’s 1st War Sonata and I came out traumatized from war without having to step onto the frontlines. I simultaneously mourned the death of the Romantics, my faith, and my family. A lifestyle change was long overdue, to take responsibility not only for my music, but for my religion and education. So I financed my last year of college because my parents were incapable of cooperating. Then I spent the weeks of paperwork, meetings and fundraising power I could muster and flew myself to Macau, the Special Administrative Region of China to teach. Docendo Discimus (By teaching we learn), my alma mater's motto, became my mission though that was only the beginning.

I taught the kids of Macau, but more importantly I learned from them, because innocence is the best teacher of Truth. My ministry in music became charity for the numerous 15th century Portuguese churches, but quite selfishly for my salvation. I found the closest sacred space, the closest church in the historic part of Taipa hill, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, off of the cobbled streets where most came to take pictures and where I soon frequented. I went from being paid for my artistry as a musician in the States to being present on my own accord playing church folk hymns on an old Casiotone SK-1. It didn’t take a spiritual director, a monastery or a friend to tell me that there is a God. I found it was our own experience, that feeling of oneness, the connection to everyone in a sacred space, that inspired us to prayer. That closeness to the divine is what holds me not only in the universal Church that I was born into, but now a church I fully accept as my own. A shade of life ended and realized that if I were to return to America it would be to search for such communities in a place that I really knew little about. So I did.

A pilgrimage sets one directly in communion to a path traveled by many. Though paradoxically enough, my public “pilgrimage” was inversely a personal search for God. "A soul ride to contemplate the divine and its manifestation through family" was my purpose. I stayed at direct Benedictine ancestors of St. Martin’s Abbey of where I am entering as a level 1 monk. And I took detours to a Thai Theravada Buddhist Temple as well as the Islamic Society in Boston. I received a much more diverse experience of the divine than expected. More importantly, I met the people of the northern tier of United States of America. And at the time of the presidential election, I heard the opinions of every person's walk of life, from Republicans & Democrats, to social workers and hippies, to Amish people and Muslims; though we share one thing- our humanness. I traveled with Kyle, a colleague and dear friend, where we were at similar crossroads of "What now?" Our paths separated in Fargo as he found work but I still had a soul ride to finish. At St. John's in Minnesota were 200 monks who seemingly came out of nowhere with people my age seeking the same thing. An assurance of such sincere holy men working together calmed my restless heart. I cooked Macanese-Portuguese Feijoada for family in Toronto. I almost retired in the New England were it not for the impeding winter and hurricane Sandy approaching.


A lacerated kidney and pneumothorax, short for God’s wakeup call to reassess 2013 and my discernment of a monastic call. M
onths of 40+ hour weeks enraptured and lured me more into bicycle heaven. Since my employment at the shop, I was able to practice a skill less readily emphasized- biking. But more importantly consistency, organization, and valuing work and play. Then I got a mountain bike for diversifying what we have been taught to do- follow the good road but also be yourself. My talent as a cyclist ended almost as quickly as it had started after a fall into shrubbery and my own elbow bruising my kidney and lung. I sat in the hospital thinking- I love what I'm doing. On the surface of retail, I found monasticism to teach the opposite - dispossession in favor of having the singular goal of salvation through the reminder of Christ’s offering of salvation for the world. After digging deeper, the shop also fostered many of the same values a monastery possesses- community, food, work, leisure, learning, and a sense of humor. It became a global message, starting from the individual, to the family and to the world, just as Confucius said!

After being acutely reminded of my mortality, the fear of God came to the forefront. I set up camp and laid under the torrential downpour of the summer, with flashes of lightning moments apart and miles within and I, laying under tent poles, fabric and insulated down feathers staring up into the heavens praying, my heart racing, fearing God and for my life. Then, I awoke like nothing happened because I lived to tell the tale. In fact, as I remembered later that night coming to a threshold that I see many of us come to do: to do nothing. A restlessness of spirit, an imperfect person, and a vision to help humanity becomes a burden when nothing is done.

We humans have a talent for suffering but we also have a talent for loving. Is there a validation for a just suffering? Buddhists describe suffering as one's attachment to the world- family, career, things, even time, past and future. Hence it is logically sound to conclude that once one lets go of such things, what is left is the present (that's why it's called a gift!). What's left is to be in the moment of what we call life, to smell the roses, to notice the grandeur of nature, to hear the silence of the night, and to notice how our soul, mind, and body are three but one in the same. Why should one worry about that Debbie-Downer co-worker, or our significant other's inadequacy of an ideal relationship, or how we interpret other people's faults that may well be the same shortcomings of our own. For the good of the order but most importantly ourselves, commitment to living out an authentic life should be our mantra.

An annual week in Lake Chelan with my second family was my summer vacation. Though it acutely reminded me of my blessings being raised in middle class America- away from poverty & discrimination much of the world faces every day. An entitlement of rest and relaxation is a valid feeling, but to quantify work vs. leisure is only a shade to living a balanced life. In my case, it's manifested into a conscious decision to humbly insert myself into the ancient tradition of monasticism according to the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia, a short rule of a practical man who sought to unify a broken world, and created the father of cenobitic Western monasticism. But I thought: how does such an ancient custom apply to today?


Mortals, escape with me from a false world! Christ calls. Away! Life be our voyage fair,
Safe riding o’er the surge of cares and lies!
One quest alone employs the lonely Monk,
How he may reach the Haven of true peace,
Where never comes the strain of breaking hearts.
O happy life, all music, free from sorrow!
Where is the prudent seeker of true gain
Will part with all the world and choose the Cross?
Indeed, I escape from the world to a place I find sincere holy men seeking God.

A more simple life was called for to take to heart years of active discernment. In the world, I took this chance to implement monastic vows as readily as I would in the physical walls of the monastery. In all three- chastity, poverty, and obedience (as well as humility and stability), it became clear that learning, reading and talking about the Benedictine way of life was essential as living them out. Committed to a Christ-filled life with family and sharing it with the world is the focus of my life. 

I was blessed with employment where my heart and passions reside- in music and bicycles. Old Town Bicycle has me the product manager and as a liturgical musician for the Seattle Archdiocese, mostly at St. Rita of Cascia and St. Nicholas in Gig Harbor. It was an honor to be a part of many funerals and weddings and to share and experience a time of celebrating and mourning with respect. I was afforded time with my family that I wouldn’t have found otherwise. Mom decided to move out to Tampa and is enjoying life taking care of her parents as they get older.

Being back in the Pacific Northwest has afforded me exploring this area- hiking Mt. Ellinor in Olympic National Park and up in Ellensburg, biking to Seattle to visit friends and sight-seeing, skiing with my brother at Crystal Mountain, and mountain biking at Capitol Forest outside of Olympia. The beauty of this area is proof of God’s majestic creation. I hope to summit Mt. Rainier in the coming years.

So I am pleased to announce that I'll be joining the American-Cassinese congregation of the Benedictine Order at St. Martin's Abbey. My postulancy will start January 19th where I will pray, chant, work, and eat in communion with the monks. Of course, I will also be able to study, sleep, bike, and play piano! Letters, visits (via the guestmaster), and prayers are welcome. A deep thanks to the entire communities for whom I've had the pleasure of knowing since my youth to the present day. I humbly ask for your prayers as I continually pray for you.

Gus Labayen
5000 Abbey Way SE

Lacey, WA 98503
United States

Until next time.