[dropcap type=”4″]S[/dropcap]ay the words, “Roman Catholic,” and what are the first images that pop into people’s minds?
Monks and nuns.
Colette Lafia’s new book, “Seeking Surrender,” is a story about herself and the long, enduring friendship with a Trappist monk, Brother René, of the Abby at Gethsemani, the same monastery where the great Thomas Merton lived for so many years.
Colette begins with a week-long retreat where she and her husband, Mark, seek the calm of a stressful life. Colette is consumed with the desire for a child, her biological clock on overtime and the pain of failure is palatable. She does what we all do when we are faced with cases such as this: we pray, we plead, we negotiate with God.
Many “why” questions are asked: why no fertility, why no baby, why no big family? Enter Brother René stage right.
The Lafias’ visit to Gethsemani coincides with Brother René’s 50th anniversary as a Trappist monk so that the stage for this future relationship between Colette and René is set at a very high level.
Both Mark and Colette are taken with the utter simplicity of the celebration of Brother René’s golden jubilee and for the joy and gratitude with which he celebrates; it was a learning experience for both Mark and Colette, and is important for us to understand as well.
Both Mark and Colette manage to find some of the peace they seek in the silence of the monastery.
Lafia’s book has a particular structure to it that not only tells the story, but helps us to understand the surrender necessary for peace. After the initial narrative, she begins each new section with a sketch of something happening in her life – usually a trial – then a letter to Brother René, a return letter from Brother René, and then a reflection for the reader to help them understand the process of surrendering.
From a quality standpoint, Lafia’s writing is some of the better I’ve read in which she elevates her prose to the poetic. What follows is an example:
“Writing my letters and receiving his letters becomes an essential part of my life. In the intimate exchange, I am whispering across pieces of paper, trying to make sense of what confounds me and listen to what resides in my heart. The voice of this monk speaks back to me from the scratches of his pen, a man who has lived most of his life in a monastery, rising in the middle of the night for prayers, walking down the long corridor of his mind, until he enters a quieter room, where he hears the language of his own heart.”
Abundant metaphors permeate Lafia’s work; it’s the kind of language that is elevated above the mundane, and brings us closer to God.
Lafia explored those small moments in life: swimming, hiking, bike riding, an ailing father, as moments in which we can surrender ourselves to find the calm that pushes us along in love and charity.
Finally, Lafia outlines the practical steps to surrender.
Do Mark and Colette finally have a child? No, but it’s not a spoiler alert because this book is truly about the journey and the joy and peace found in learning to accept the will of God.
Surely, in this pervasive world, this is something all of us need to learn to do.