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#1634 - Tuesday, December 2, 2003 - Editor: Jerry

My Monastery Is Silver

Extract from Fragments: Moments of Intimacy by Terry Monagle, published by John Garratt Publishing

My monastery is silver. It tracks through the suburbs from Surrey Hills to the city. It is the 8.25.

Being husband, father, brother, office worker, mortgagee smothers me with demands.  God's powerful presence in prayer is equally insistent.

Life consists in integrating and answering the demands of these two belongings.

How and where can I pray during the working day? How do all my activities as father, husband, son, brother, worker, interweave with this deeper belonging?

It starts. Bring in the paper and the rubbish bin, put on the kettle, feed the cat make the lunches, borrow train fare from the kids, sign that note, pull up the doona, shave, find a pair of socks, where is a hanky, pack that bag, put in those bills and cheques, defrost the sausages, rush for the 8.25, think up that agenda, remember to make those calls.

During the morning business the ear half listens to the news summaries: Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, Bougainville, and unemployment. Between 6.40 and 8.10 the heart sinks lower and lower, almost to despair. There can't be a God in a world like that!

Life seems so frantic, the news so profoundly disturbing, the two so unconnected. The challenge to survive neutralises the challenge to respond to humanity. Our lives can feel shallow, our hearts despairing.

These predicaments frame our spiritual lives. How do we in busy urban Australia two jobs, children, mortgage, school fees, maintain an active spirituality? How do we satisfy our hunger for the infinite?

We all have our ways, expressive of our temperament and opportunities, of preventing the smothering of our profoundest instincts. The following are some of my idiosyncrasies.

Trains, planes, buses, trams; these are for me the best places for prayer. Rakes, brooms, spades and  forks: these are for me the best tools for prayer. Hat, overcoat, walking shoes: these are the best garments for prayer. Travelling, working, walking, in these are purpose but no straining of will, the heart can seek its target.

I walk to the station in the morning. The air clears my head. The rhythm of the steps and the breath is simple prayer saying thanks for the morning.

On the train, the silver monastery, hiding in a corner, I read from a small book the morning prayer from the office of the church. It takes four stations. After that I just sit, half asleep, half praying a mantra, wondering about my fellow travellers, feeling empathy for their lives. Imagining how they live.

Work, can be exhilarating but often is like gnawing on the same hard stones, meal after meal. The ache of boredom can become claustrophobic. Try as I might, many things I have to do are deeply frustrating. How can the boredom be transformed into prayer, made productive? How to both preserve a loving attitude to squabbling workmates and keep integrity?

You play the role, answer the phone, and meet the deadlines. Lunchtime is a chance to make contact again. Sometimes I put on the jacket, step out with the target of a chapel about 2 klms away. Sometimes Catholic, sometimes Lutheran; my favourite, Anglican. The emptier the better, and it is better to walk out of the city centre. I drop into a steady, comfortable gait. As I walk, I take it easy, and let the feverishness of the brain fall away, concentrate on the mantra of the walk.

I sit in a pew or follow Mass. I think of Bosnia, Cambodia, Burma, South Africa, Somalia, Tibet, the people on the train, the unemployed who come to the city in the off peak. I enter in a small way into their suffering. Lunch hour is my great silence.

On the way home on the 5.59, I should say the evening prayer. I don't, I'm too stuffed. The brain sits empty, barely working at all. On Friday nights the forlorn moment is waiting wearily in the winter dark on Richmond station, looking out across the lights of the suburbs looking at my anonymous companions, travelling their own trail of light to their anonymous homes. Drawn out through darkened suburbs, magnetised to that square of light out there, each to their own, to the one table, to the one person where they exist, to their space where everything allows them to name themself, to be named , to have themselves invented by others, to be filled with the light, in that one small place.


Lay people, no less than monks need a rule, a deliberate scheduling of God time and activities within our busy and volatile lives. We need regular habits of prayer, meditation, active giving, self-denial, and worship. We need to focus each day on our relationship with God, regularly day after day, even if we break our pattern many days. We need to read and talk spiritually and perhaps and most previously with your partner. We need a mantra for the walk to the bus stop, to play quietly in the background, that swells in us unbidden while we work on that spreadsheet at work. Perhaps for some keeping a journal will be a natural bent.

The rule is going to be different: for the busy parent, young retiree, student, elderly person, person on a pension with mental health problems, and for men or woman. Attention to God can’t be left to chance. The traditional dichotomy between the active and the contemplative lives is false.


Last thing at night the jog or the walk.  The final mantra of the step and breath. Sometimes with the partner, sharing the day, our first conversation for the day. Put out the rubbish bin, the paper stack and the bag of bottles. Sometimes the evening prayer in the bath.

Set the alarm for the 8.25. Try again.

Extract from Fragments: Moments of Intimacy by Terry Monagle, published by John Garratt Publishing. RRP $29.95.

20% Book of the Month discount for CathNews readers (until 24/12/03, mention CathNews when placing order, no other discounts apply). Click here or call 1300 650878.

For those without hope, there’s Despair- Move over management gurus, someone’s selling mediocrity & dissatisfaction

New York, Dec. 2: Think positive! Teams work! Work is the Elixir of Life!

Ok, no one has ever uttered that last statement. Still, nothing is more irritating than those smarmy motivational posters that exhort employees to produce more and work harder.

Slackers and malcontents take heart: At last someone is promoting cynicism, mediocrity and dissatisfaction with life in a world awash in books, videos and management gurus selling success. Motivational maven Dale Carnegie must be spinning in his grave.

Texas-based Despair Inc. is blanketing America with 2.3 million catalogues, just in time for the holidays. The company is pitching its anti-motivational calendars, caps and mugs to an audience fed up with their workplaces, co-workers and managers and ready to embrace the caustic humour its products promote.

Co-founders E.L. Kersten and Jef and Justin Sewell weren’t thinking about all that when they launched Despair Inc. in 1998. But the dotcom crash, a sour stock market, the rash of corporate scandals and rising unemployment have helped fuel worker discontent — and, as it turned out, the company’s sales: revenue is just over $5 million today, up from a mere $200,000 five years ago.

Kersten contends there were those who scoffed at the motivational pap that managers spoon-fed their staff even when the economy was booming, and who gravitated toward Despair Inc.’s warped brand of humour. But after more than two years of economic turmoil, there are more.

“Everybody is cynical about something,” Kersten said, “even the optimistic individual.”

Take Deepak Chopra, the eternally optimistic guru of spirituality and fulfilment. He can’t stand all that motivational stuff. “When you have major issues like corporate scandals, a war going on, and politicians hyping themselves, that is all the more reason to despair and to be very cynical about the human condition,” Chopra said in a phone interview.

Chopra doesn’t have the Despair Inc. catalogue. He had never heard of the firm, but said that he agreed with its philosophy. “I would also poke fun at the things we hold dear as examples of success,” he said.

Retired teacher Bob Geary, 60, of Harwich, Massachusetts, got a taste of Despair when its catalogue arrived in the mail this month. He ordered a calendar for his son’s office. He said the calendar reminded him of the corporate retreats he used to attend and the motivational exercises he was required to do.

“I participated in many team-building exercises,” said Geary, who retired in June. “So, I thought the posters were a hoot. At the time, I took those retreats very seriously. Now, I can see the humour in them.”

Julie Price of Boston, a 30-year-old web design specialist, was at a mall two years ago when she saw the company’s anti-motivational wall calendar, read it, and burst out laughing.

“I decided to buy the calendar on a whim, and it was hilarious,” said Price, co-founder of an online networking group called The Dining Scene. “It was also refreshing, especially when you’re used to getting that success stuff shoved down your throat.”

She has bought greeting cards for her friends with cynical messages and continues to buy Despair’s calendars, which she displays at home.

Despair doesn’t sell its wares in retail stores any more. Instead, it built a website whose twisted humour is designed to goad the unhappy, dispossessed, and unemployed into buying.

One demotivator is specifically geared to the love-starved. Called BitterSweets, they’re made from flavoured sugar and they look like pastel candy conversation hearts.

But while most Valentine’s Day candy hearts have messages like “Love U” and “Be mine,” BitterSweets are stamped with mocking messages such as “Time2DumpU,” “Tradin’ You In,” and “CthatDoor?”

Appropriately, Despair’s launch was sparked by bad news. “I was working for an Internet start-up with two friends,” Kersten said. “We got our stock-option grants and discovered that we were not going to make as much as we’d thought.”

They were bemoaning their situation when one of them opened the mail, found a motivational poster, and started mocking it. Soon, they were putting handmade posters sporting cynical slogans such as “If at first you don’t succeed, failure may be your style” in their cubicles, and co-workers were asking for copies. That’s when they knew they had a marketable idea.

They started the company with $75,000 in capital, money raised from savings and the buyouts they received after they were downsized by their employer, a Texas dotcom.

Despair has hit a nerve in America’s workplaces.

“Our fans tell us that they see these things, these foibles in their own companies,” Kersten said. “Even if you work for a great company, you know that there are things that are being done that are not productive. But we don’t see a lot of HR directors handing out our posters in the break room.”


  Toyota to give car designs more Japanese flavor

TOKYO - On Monday, Toyota Motor Corp launched an initiative to incorporate more elements of uniquely Japanese culture, philosophy and spirituality into its product design and development.

The sense of hospitality and well-being epitomized by the Japanese teahouse already has international recognition, according to the company, which feels that if its automotive products could embody more of this sense, along with leading-edge technology, it will be able to offer customers something that its foreign competitors cannot.

Toyota wants its designs to convey a sense of spiritual richness, alongside safety, concern for the environment and functionality.

The redesigned Crown sedan, which is scheduled to be launched this month, will be the first to reflect the auto maker's new thinking.

"This is not a matter of simply turning back to the past," executive vice president Akihiko Saito told a news conference on Monday. "We want to build into our products Japanese creative values that already have global acceptance."

(Asia Pulse/Nikkei)  

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Jerry Katz
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