July 2018

East and West in monastic ritual

BY Marie Casamento SGS

Worldwide, regardless
of creed, culture or colour,
we stand, kneel, sit at the cave’s entrance.
Incense sticks clasped in the hands of Buddhist monks
raise their perfumed-smoke heaven-ward.
It is as if the world has stopped
in a moment of deep attentive listening
with the ear of the heart.

Furtive hard-hatted men
set about the task of laying pipes, draining water
from innermost chambers.
Work, work, work
becomes imperative
if rescue is to be accomplished.
Prayer and work,
work and prayer.

East and West join together
night and day to pierce the darkness.
Mindfulness permeates every step,
a regular order creates the frame.
Work and prayer,
prayer and work.
Thai women come bearing food, hot and cold,
to quench the thirst, savour the appetites of all.
Hospitality is evident,
respect for all paramount.

I light a scented candle
before a simple figure of Buddha,
and with St Benedict,
my prayer joins with the many
who pray, who watch, who hope –
hope beyond hope
that all will be well.

As if on cue
their faces appear on our TV screens,
young men shielding their eyes
from the sudden light that pierces their darkness.
“How many are you?’’ “Thirteen”
One by one with joined hands
they bow, introducing themselves
as if welcoming divers, families, viewers
to their space.

Even in the dank darkness of the cave
hospitality is the regular order of respect.
The question was asked worldwide:
“How could they survive so long?”
In the days to come
we met the self-effacing abbot of the group, the coach,
steeped some ten years in Eastern monastic wisdom,
teaching them mindfulness and meditation,
sharing out their meagre food, each according to need.

Over three days
the order of the day progressed.
Buddhist monks implored the God of the Clouds
to hold back the rain.
Specialist divers began the perilous task of rescue.

Day one, as the world hoped and prayed, four rescued
into the hands of medical teams.
Hospital beds and medical intervention began.

Day two, four more rescued
thanks to the skill of engineers, doctors and divers.
Helicopter and ambulance ferried the four to hospital,
each one treated according to his needs.
The monastic order concerning care of the sick
ministered with compassion and professionalism.

Day three, on the eve of St Benedict’s feast,
prayer to the God of the Clouds rewarded,
as the rains hold back enough to give safe passage
to the last four boys and coach.
Jubilation rings out, chiming chorus like the perpetual ringing
of Buddhist and monastic bells.

The community brought them safe so far.
The road to recovery will be long.
We who have been privileged to enter deep
within the cavern of vulnerability of these young men,
are changed for life, too.
In the years to come do we pledge to watch over and pray
if and when post-traumatic stress recurs?

Vulnerability shared unites the Thai people;
vulnerability shared unites the watching world.
The Thai people have a feast called Songkran,
celebrated for their new year.
Songkran, “a passage of transformation and change”.
May this transformation continue for the Wild Boars,
a truly resilient and tenacious group of young men.

Wild Boars we salute you!
Professionals and volunteers we salute you!
Vale Saman Gunan, you who made the uttermost sacrifice, we salute you!
Eastern monastics we salute you!
Eastern fathers who shared their wisdom with the West we salute you!
Benedict, cave dweller, whose transformation was PAX, we salute you!


July 11 is the Feast of St Benedict

Marie Casamento

Good Samaritan Sister Marie Casamento has ministered as a teacher, principal and art psychotherapist. Today, as in the past, she endeavours to live the maxim “to attend with a listening heart”. As a resident of Wivenhoe Village, near Camden in NSW, her aim is to be neighbour to all she meets. She enjoys drawing, writing and observing nature.

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