Transformative ‘No’

There’s a wonderful poem by Rumi called “The Howling Necessity” where the protagonist is asked: “Why did you stop praising?” “Because I’ve never heard anything back”.

“This longing you express is the return message”. “Listen to the moan of a dog for its master. That whining is the connection”.

Throughout the various quests in my life, there have been many moments where I too have experienced a heart-felt ‘moaning’ or ‘longing’ – a yearning to live fully from my whole being – my existential self – in some sort of service which was not determined by finances.

I had a romantic dream of living humbly in a base community in Latin America working alongside the Jesuits and serving the needs of others.

In my early twenties while searching to ‘name’ my yearning, I sought out my first Spiritual Director.  After several visits and chats, he announced to me that I had a vocation to mission and ought to consider doing a vocational retreat in a convent.  That, I can tell you evoked the loudest NO ev-er!

This was to be my first encounter with a ‘NO’ that resonated deep within me.  Closing that door, did not suddenly open a new door but rather intensified my ‘howling’ which was indeed to become a necessity.

It was this ‘howling’ and my interest in Monsignor Oscar Romero in San Salvador which was to eventually lead me to Community & Adult Education and to work in Ballymun – while not Latin America – it came close as the work was rooted in liberation theology with its preferential option for the poor!

My next encounter with a transformative ‘No’ was the day I got engaged!  From the moment the ring went on my figure I knew …  It took another two years for my ‘No’ to move from a discomfort, to a whisper, to a thunderous roar in my spirit, not to mention strange allergies breaking out in my body. Before I eventually acknowledged a ‘something’, avoidance continuing to be my preferred choice for another while!

Parker Palmer has a wonderful way of putting it:

“Some monsters simply will not go away. They are too big to walk around, too powerful to overcome, too clever to outsmart.  The only way to deal with them is to move towards them, with them, into them, through them. We must learn to befriend them…In the process we will find them working for us, not against us, working for life, not death”.

The monster I was truly grappling with was really not the relationship but rather avoidance of meeting ‘me’ head-on.  I was so full of fear at the time that I would rather have stayed hiding behind someone else’s life rather than making my own life what it is today.

Recently, I was called for interview for a course I truly wanted to do.  On the day of the interview, I prepared myself spiritually.  On my way to the venue, every light was green, my path was clear – the omens were all good. I purposely chose to arrive early to continue my prayer and to ensure I was centred and ready to throw myself into this marvellous opportunity.

However, as the interview process unfolded, I was utterly amazed to find myself becoming really uncomfortable. As is my wont, I pushed that away. But still it persisted.  I regrettably realised, as much as I did on the day of my engagement: “this is not for me” with the other part of me going “oh no” desperately wanting this ‘no’ to be my ‘yes’! You see, acute intuitiveness and discernment is a direct outcome from time spent in silent contemplation. Whether it’s a ‘yea’ or a ‘nay’ once you hear it, you cannot but hear it. There is no hiding.

At the end of the day, I realise that it really is not so much about a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ but rather an eternal Truth which touches and resounds in your heart. It’s this Truth guiding you to give your ‘yes’ or guiding you to give your ‘no’.  The reality is:

“Once you have an inner knowledge of your true vocation, you have a point

 of orientation. That will help you decide what to do and what to let go of, what

to say and what to remain silent about, when to go out and when to stay,

who to be with and who to avoid”

(Henri Nouwen).

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