Aloneness is a hard fact of life.
It is one of those ambivalent things we keep dear in the heart, polar in value, veritably containing some good and some bad 'something'.
Most of the time, aloneness as a life condition is pulled tense and tight by the extreme forces of the everyday like the need to be yourself, to run away from it all, to keep silence--or the need for company, to have a company to keep, to be be with a crowd, to be one with the crowd.
Seminary life had taught me what aloneness is, understood in a metaphorical and poetic way the way Rod MacKuen had proposed in 'Alone', the book of lyrics he wrote sometime in the 70s or 80s.
The three years of exile that I had gone through had taught me the same things about aloneness, the lessons coming in parallel.
I had kept the MacKuen book when I was in the seminary and together with Carlo Caretto's' 'Letters from the Desert' and Thomas Merton's 'Seven Storey Mountain', these three books served as my guide to confronting the aloneness that afflicted each aspirant to the religious life.
For the religious life is basically a life of aloneness.
It is simply a matter of between you and your god and either you go the right way by ending up talking to insects and animals like St Francis of Assisi or you go nuts like that Silas, the albino of a monk who was most happy killing for his god. There are traces of the Crusades here, those mercenaries in the name of a god that created empires, blessed emperors, and permitted the killing of other people in his name. This was a dark history of the triumphalist Catholic church for which that church must be sorry for, agonize over, and ask for forgiveness and pardon.
I read St Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross (what a morbid book, his 'Cloud of Unknowing', with all the symbology for a cosmology that is so medieval you either hate him or you go his way), and some other spiritual writers but I never liked many of them. They used a strange language that did not even promise anything poetic at all. So I dumped them as soon as I got acquianted with the titles of their books. In those days, we had to remember the titles of books we read, remember even the year they were published, where, and under what circumstances such as: who signed for the 'nihil obstat', who did the 'imprimatur'?
So back to this aloneness thing.
It is a discipline, this capacity to be alone.
When you get to reach novitiate, which I did for a year at Quezon Hill in Baguio in the same house where the Crisologos summered prior to the patriarch of a governor's assassination at the cathedral in Vigan, aloneness is a fact of life.
You live alone in your room, with your empty bed, with your cold pillow, with your cold crucifix, and with your too delicate conscience.
Many times, silence is imposed, the silence that is physical and material even if inside you there is that noise, thaere is that revolution going on, there is that rupturing of the volcano of emotions and doubts and unbelief.
I went through the novitiate, and I am recalling it now because of its resemblance to these three years of exile that I had gone through in another land.
Like the novitiate, in exile you have to go through a kind of ceremonial cutting of the 'umbilical cord' connecting you to all that is familiar and fair because in these you have a security blanket of some sort.
In the novitiate, you go to another land, another place, another phase, another territory, another topos of the soul seeking and searching for its God, the God that is unknown, unfamiliar, nameless, immutable, eternal.
As in exile, in the novitiate, you have lost those landmarks and you have to travel your way into that spiritual journey of a lifetime.
You grope in the dark, find your way in the new territory, spell out the redemptive even as you go figure what is good and what is bad and what is in between.
The novitiate is like that: you live alone, talk to yourself, talk to your God and listen to your soul.
You can even talk to your guardian angel, except that you do not ever report to your novice master that you are hearing voices coming from heaven or you are able to hear the singing of angels in the early hours of the morning before the lauds. Even if you do experience those things, deny them before your novice master and do not even share those with your brethren. You will be accused of having lost your mind.
Because people who are supposed to be alone are simply lonely, that is all. But their loneliness is shared with their God who is the Supreme Alone.
Because people who are in exile are supposed to be talking to themselves, and if they are not 'legal', they should forget talking to other Filipinos especially those who have reasons to look for monetary gain by taking advantage of your precarious situation.
But there is more to aloneness, in exile as well as in spiritual life.
It is that capacity to listen to the 'inner voice' without announcing to all and sundry that you are hearing voices.
It is that capacity to reflect and put two and two together in the attempt to understand the mystery of your life.
It is that exploration into the dynamic of your relationship with your God who is the same God of other people, not yours alone, but also the God of others, whether these 'others' go to your church or not.
In aloneness, there is a celebration of our being accompanied by the life-forces, by the same energies that sustain us each day and that preserve and maintain the universe.
To be alone is to be attuned to all these things.
In exile, aloneness is heightened by the fact that you have all the time to listen to the 'inner voice'.
You live alone.
And that phone card that you buy for five dollars is not easy to come by.
So you have only yourself and your thoughts for company--and that makes aloneness a gift or a challenge, a virtue or its lack.
Or you can chose to be sick with that sickness of the soul called aloneness undefined.
A. S. Agcaoili
May 30, 2006