I call him “my little monk”. The first time he came to class with his companions, I was a bit intimidated by the habit they wore. It was voluminous and its regulators seemed unaware of time, weather and social change. The bulk of the cotton wrapped around their bodies occupied spaces that threatened the basic notion of spirituality, which was simplicity.
The color of their habit also did not bear any metaphor about the blue eternity and the whiteness of purity. If the sessions with me in the old seminary were a battle of symbols, they would have lost that first day. The gray color that their ancient superiors opted for was of the tainted, the nearly impure tone. But symbols operate also on inversion; in which case, they triumphed by self-effacement.
In the group, I immediately noticed the smallest member. The rest appeared to comport themselves in the bounty of their appearance. The person—the little monk—looks lost in the gray ocean of his identity.
In a discipline that is hallmarked by positivism, the notion that everything can be measured, I could have subjected him to rigorous measurement. Yet, I stayed with the impression that he was small. It was perhaps his delicate features and his tiny fingers peeping from the swath of the sleeves that made him look tiny.
How physical is priesthood? If he would be a missionary, would he survive the jungle or the scarcity of resources around his assignment?
Would he even survive his grand vestment?
One day, I called him to recite. He had an odd inflection but his logic was brilliant and his voice, loud and clear. It was an impressive performance. He stood tall for a moment but when he sat, he was again small.
On the last day, during the final exam, he was hunched over his exam sheet. He became the monk of old presiding over the preservation of illuminated manuscript. He even looked like one of those unpopular saints in churches. He constantly moved his lips. He was praying, I concluded.
Finishing the exam he handed me his paper with his two hands. They were tiny, I confirmed my impression. As he walked away, his habit made a sweep of the floor. There was majesty in that quick gesture.
He looked tinier as he vanished from the door.
I do not know if it was right to call him a monk. I was playing with the cliché of church histories. I wonder how he would face the dark nights of his body and soul when the shadows loomed and confronted him. I am even not sure if he would last the years of penance and prayers clothed in that sacred uniform of penitence.
Last Friday I was in the old cathedral of my city. It was the rehearsal of the wedding of my niece. The rains that came in the afternoons brought the wind inside where we were. As we waited for the members of the entourage, I walked around with my friend to survey the saints on the walls. They looked magnificent and regal but, except for a few, were not life-sized. They were, in fact, small. Their hands were pink or pale. The fingers of the monk-saints were so tiny as they peeped from the golden and red and black sleeves. They were the fingers of my little monk.
At the side altar, the patron saint of the land stood sacral and was even smaller than the smallest saints.
My little monk deserves a space in this holy hall.
I prayed that he survive the exam of my secular subject. I prayed, too, that he live healthy inside that huge habit, the grayness of that cloth, in the color that is tainted and a bit impure. I prayed for all the grayness in our human lives, in a universe that is drained of brightness, in a lifetime that begins in gray mornings and ends in sad, obscure nights.
I prayed for all the little saints. I prayed for all the little monks with their huge habit and powers.
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