I’ve had my share of surreal religious events, from people supposedly speaking in tongues to mass hysterical weeping to self-proclaimed modern-day prophets making grand pronouncements about the latest message they got from God. That’s what an overdose of evangelicalism does to you.
The daily prayers of Benedictine monks in the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Bukidnon are not as frenetic and theatrical. Just the opposite, actually: calm and understated. But that doesn’t make it any less memorable.
The evening prayer was particularly striking. The church was dark when I walked in, the only light came from a candle on the altar. The monks were wearing their robes with the hoods pulled up, covering their heads and half their faces. The silence was overwhelming, broken only by the tolling of bells. It was eerie yet serene.
I sat there gawking and the only thing I could think of was how awful it would be if I farted out loud. I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, really. I just came from dinner and I was so hungry I devoured my food like a famished lumberjack. I felt stuffed afterwards I was scared bits of fried chicken might come out of my nose if I burped. As the monks started singing hymns from the Psalms, I was fervently praying “Lord, please don’t let me fart.” God granted my request and I managed not to let out any disturbing gaseous emission.
There was a short Scripture reading, a stretch of meditative silence, another hymn and more silence. Then the monks started filing out of the church and that’s when I realized it was over. I hobbled towards the door, cringing in pain with every step. My legs were still busted from the climb. An elderly monk started talking to me as I was going down the stairs. All I could manage was a smile and a nod; I was too embarrassed about the whole trying-not-to-fart ordeal to say something intelligible.
I fared much better in the next two days. I was able to attend the midday prayer and the early morning mass at 5:30am. I had to wash my hiking pants though since they were caked with mud and I didn’t want to go to church looking like I just came from wrestling with a carabao on a rice paddy. The monastery has a strict dress code: no shorts or above-the-knee skirts, no sleeveless shirts. The guardhouse has a stack of skirts and sleeves that they will make you wear if you come in skimpy clothes. Yes, even guys will have to wear the guard-issued skirts if they are wearing shorts.
A group of nuns from a nearby convent attended the mass. It felt weird to be the only one not wearing a robe, like I was a heathen in the midst of saints. But it was also comforting to be anonymous. There was no pressure to prove my so-called spiritual maturity or to show people that God and I are so freakin’ close he tells me what he’s had for breakfast. I was just a lip-biting, ear-scratching, fidgety girl wearing a pair of mud-stained hiking pants and trying very hard not to fart.