Monday, December 6, 2010

Pinoy Expat: Blogging the Gospel

Originally published in Pinoycentric on June 13, 2008
Almost everyone and his pet has a blog these days. Teachers blog, and so do celebrities like artist Jim Paredes and his daughter Ala. Even international star Lea Salonga has one. So who’s to say this Pinoy monk can’t too?

Cenobite monk Dom Lawrence has been blogging for four years now from the confines of an abbey in the desert of New Mexico, and he finds it a very influential vehicle, not to mention it’s free.

“It has helped me a lot in doing my part in bringing the Word of the Lord to His faithful without having to actually leave the portals of my monastery. By blogging, I am able to send a clear message of the Gospel to God’s people and give them a chance to meditate and reflect on it on their own time and convenience,” says this Benedictine monk who hails from Naga City.

A teacher for 20 years at the San Beda College Grade School, Dom Lawrence joined the religious community Monastery of Christ in the Desert in 2002. When he got to New Mexico, he had romantic notions of “flowing habits, candlelit cloisters, awesome plainchants of an ancient Gregorian music echoing among dimly lit Gothic arches in the cloister corridors inside a monastery.”

The reality was a world away: At the monastery, aside from the eight-times-a-day community prayers, his days were spent doing laundry for community brothers, and washing dishes, scrubbing floors and toilets.

And then he discovered blogging in 2003. “I had been keeping a daily journal of my thoughts, aspirations, and reflections on the kind of life I live inside the monastery, and I thought, why not publish them online? My family and friends in the Philippines will surely love to read and follow it on the Net.”

Discipline, structure in monastic life
In his blog, Tales from the Cenobite, Dom Lawrence shares with an international audience stories about life inside the monastery. Here, everything is done in schedule, he says. “If a monk doesn’t show up for prayers or work, someone will fetch him from his room, and it will be embarrassing.”

Lunch or the main meal of the day is done in silence, Dom Lawrence reports. There is a monk who sits by the pulpit and reads Bible passages or book excerpts about the lives of saints. Prayers are chanted before and after meals.

Lunch consists of fish, chicken, or turkey, with fresh or cooked vegetables, with lima beans and vegetable salad. No beef or pork is served. “When the cook is Vietnamese, we have stir-fried vegetables. Kung ako ang cook, gisado din,” he says. The monks usually have cheese and whole-wheat bread, which they bake themselves, or whatever is left over from the midday meal.

Watching television is discouraged, so the once-a-month DVD marathon (occurring every first Thursday at 7:10 p.m.) is something monks look forward to.

“We’re allowed to watch any movie as long as it’s not violent. No torrid kissing scenes and sexual scenes. No nude scenes or breast exposure. Even shots of men and women in underwear and swimming trunks are not allowed. That’s how conservative our community is,” says Dom Lawrence.

Despite living separate lives from the rest of the world, the monks stay updated on current events with free online subscriptions to leading US newspapers.

“Importante ang Internet connection sa buong cloister,” says this monk. “The whole community panics when there’s no Internet!” Almost every monk has a laptop. Dom Lawrence usually checks his e-mails any time between 7 a.m. and 7:10 p.m. every day, when the connection is available.

There’s a firewall that filters all inappropriate and malicious Websites, but Dom Lawrence gets to update his Friendster, Myspace, and Youtube accounts.

Keeping in touch
Away from the Philippines, Dom Lawrence follows local events through Websites of major TV stations and newspapers. “Updated ako sa lahat ng kaganapan, mula sa national news down to the provincial news, pati na rin sa celebrity news,” he says.

Like most Pinoys in the world’s “texting” capital, this monk also has a mobile phone, but he uses it only on errands like shopping for the community, bringing a brother to the doctor or the airport, or buying supplies for the monastery’s gift shop, which he runs.

Despite the rigidity of monastic life, it’s exciting, he says, because people in the outside world find it unusual.

In this Q&A with former Pinoycentric intern Marge Gonzales, this monk reveals more about his Internet activities (they do Friendster too!), his devotion not just to his mission but to his blog (and how time management helps a lot), and that a monk is human, after all.

Pinoycentric: When did you start blogging?
Dom Lawrence: I started bloggingin the early part of 2003 in and later shifted to

You mentioned that you have a very tight schedule. How do you manage to blog?
I’ve given up some of my free private moments so I can update my blog regularly. Our daily prayers have 10- to 15-minute intervals, so instead of going to the kitchen, I go up to my room and blog. It’s really time management. When my posts are rather lengthy, I make the draft during the evening after compline [last prayers for the day] just before I sleep at 9 p.m. I save it in Word and the next day, shortly after the 7:10 a.m. Mass, I go online and simply copy and paste the draft I wrote the previous night.

Being a cloistered monk, you’re isolated from people outside the abbey. Doesn’t the Internet goes against the idea of isolation?

I still am cloistered and physically isolated from people because although they read my blog, they do not get to see me in person or hear my voice, hence the idea of being cloistered is still intact.

How does it feel when people read your site, leave comments, or even become your online friends?
It makes me feel connected with them in spirit, and in the end, I am able to make myself instrumental in their edification without having to show myself in person to them, or their hearing my voice, or talking to them face to face.

Are you allowed to chat or maintain social networking profiles (Multiply, Friendster, etc.)?
Not chatting, but Friendster is allowed, although I haven’t updated my Myspace or Youtube for almost half a year. My time is spent mostly on blogging.

Do you have any blogging limitations as a monk?
Actually noong bagu-bago pa lang ako nagba-blog ay pinagbawalan ako ng superior ko dahil siguro naisip niyang baka kung anu-ano na lang ang ipaglalalagay ko sa blog ko, compromising the community or putting it in a bad light. Pero nung nakita nilang puro reflections at homilies ang nilalagay ko ay okay na rin sa kanila.

Siyempre, hindi ko naman pwedeng i-blog ang away-away dito. Just like any other normal community of people of different thinking, lalo na sa community ko na iba-iba ang nationality, expected na talagang magkakaroon ng conflicts every now and then.

Minsan nga nag-blog ako ng isang post about something–nagalit ako–but I had to sanitize it and put the rest of the story in my other blog at ni-link ko na lang ito at Tinagalog ko talaga para hindi mabasa ng mga Amerikanong nagbabasa ng blog ko, lalo na ang mga kaparian, mga madre, at ibang monghe sa ibang congregations and monasteries.

Minsan makulit din ang utak ko eh. Pag may mga hinaing ako na gustung-gusto kong i-release ay talagang sinusulat ko pa rin at ipinapadaan ko na lang through a reflection or meditation at tinutugma ko ito sa readings of the day para hindi lalabas na nagra-rant ako. Pero hindi ko pwedeng i-pinpoint ang isang erring brother or bitchy monk or whatnot sa blog ko.

Do you think this new medium helps your mission?
Blogging helps me reach out to total strangers. In my site, for instance, one can find religious meditations and reflections as well as spiritual insights that inspire people and give meaning to their day-to-day encounter.

Alternative sources of spiritual inspiration linked to my blog by bloggers of different religious orders and congregations may give them interest too. If you take a closer look at their blogs, you’ll be surprised at how their blogs generate so much traffic every day.

Do you encourage other monks, priests, or nuns to blog?
Yes, if their tight schedules will allow them to do it.

What does the Catholic Church have to say about religious people who blog?
The Catholic Church has been so liberal about the religious who blog and has been very supportive of it. Even superiors of religious orders (monasteries) and congregations, both men and women, have their own blogs.

When do you get to come home to the Philippines?
We are allowed to go home every two years. Since I went home last year [2007], my next home visit will be in 2009. Monks are allowed to go home for anything urgent, such as a death in the family member or the serious illness of parents, so I was able to come home again in August 2007, when a family member passed away.

Does a monk have crushes too?
Siyempre, oo naman. Tao pa rin naman ako kahit consecrated na ang aking katawang lupa at kaluluwa at buong pagkatao para sa Diyos. Kaya nga ang tanging panlaban ko na lang pag umaatake ang ganyang klaseng passion sa isip at puso ko ay ang magdasal, magrosaryo ng nakadipa sa loob ng room ko, at ang maligo ng maligo umaga at hapon.

Sa monastic life ang kalaban ng isang monghe ay hindi ang kapaligiran niya kundi ang sarili niyang passions–passion for anger, passion for love, passion for sex, and passion for self- gratification. These are all stumbling blocks to a smooth and pious way of life for a monk. Kapag hindi malampasan at mapaglabanan ng isang monk ito ay asahan mong after some time ay tiyak na hindi siya makakatiis at lalabas siya to go back to the world where these passions that he cannot control can be freely achieved.

Kaya nga meron kaming stages of monastic formation sa mga bagong pasok. In order to attune them finally for only one passion–passion for God and nothing else–the process of monastic formation starts from postulancy of six months. One becomes a novitiate for a year, then three years in simple vows. If the monk, after these years of monastic formation and training, has proven himself to be worthy of becoming a permanent monk, then the community votes for him to be able to receive the final consecration of perpetual vows.

Do you have any message for your Filipino readers?
I am very delighted that among the different races who blog, the Filipinos all over the world have the most beautiful and interesting blogs (content wise), and have the most unique and distinct layout. I am very proud of Filipino bloggers. Keep blogging your thoughts, your aspirations, and your lives as they give inspiration to our own countrymen and to the whole world. Mabuhay tayong mga blagistang Pilipino!

To the Filipinos in general: Life is not that difficult if you will take the lead in accepting the challenges of life and making a name for yourselves in any venture you may have Mabuhay tayong mga Pilipino!

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