Psalm 119 and the Way of Tea

To end the winter well this Easter I thought of my time in Asia visiting different Zen and Seon Buddhist Temples in South Korea and Japan. I also thought of my time in a Catholic Monastery in the United States. I’ve been happily reminiscing about my inwardly formative times there. And, this being COVID-19 time with plenty of lockdown times, starts and stops I thought living monastically somewhat in schedule and structure would be fun to return to lifestyle wise. I’ve never been a full monk but enjoy the causal practice of striving to maintain a “drink when you are thirsty” type of generally once or twice a day or luxuriating in prayer more than twice a day on weekends. To make use of this time in building myself up spiritually, to be a better listener and better person. 
Thus, to get back into spiritual shape I have brought back an old monastic practice of mine. It is something I started doing back in my Bacchelors degree days when I was studying monasticism in the midst of a degree in Literature and more earnestly after spending some time in a monastery. It’s called Lectio which is prayerful reading and it often works best with the shortest of passages to deepen oneself spiritually and emotionally. I’ll describe the mechanics of it in more detail later. 
For today’s Lectio I found via the online daily monastic prayer site I use called Universalis. It’s the kind of several times daily prayer that the Roman Catholic Church uses for mostly priests, nuns, monks and those monastically inclined like myself.  I don’t pray quite so often but pray on occasion as a means of becoming edified or spiritually strengthened as one would a wall or a good pair of shoes. 
Today’s quote that struck me for Lectio was from Afternoon Prayer. None/Afternoon Prayer for March 27. It comes from Psalm 118/119. 118 is the Latin, 119 is from the New Revised Standard Version though most English Bibles would have it as 119.  I was struck by line 37. Lectio is reading but listening to yourself for something that speaks to you as useful in an area that needs improvement. Much like how Mike Holmes on the TV Home Repair show looks for areas in a house that are in need of improvement. As I say, don’t attack your bible but use it as building material. An edification can refer to a building. Edifying is being spiritually strengthened or improved like edifying music. Suffice to say, my heart quickened at line 37:
37Avérte óculos meos, ne vídeant vanitátem;*
  in via tua vivífica me.
Turn my eyes away from frivolous things:
  let me live by following your path.

"Frivolous things" struck me as how humour can be spiritually edifying, can bring us together, build us up morally and spiritually it can be inclusive. However frivolous humour is a different and less considerate one and can be destructive and hurtful causing us to “lose our brother” in the words of the Desert Fathers; the early Christian monks of Egypt. 

Frivolous things I say flippantly make me quickly wish I wasn’t so quick to speak and wish for a decent editor. Turning my eyes, to disregard and focus on the good; not editing my brother but trying to be positive in suggesting positive alternatives instead of merely saying Thou Shall Not / No / Don’t etc.
"Turn my eyes from the things I cannot change" as St.Ignatius says. A good answer to the flippant : "meh" and give little regard to. 

The second part of Lectio is for me to contemplate and apply these thoughts and words :
1) for what I have done or failed to do to feel compunction or grieve for my past less wise self. This grief is part of moving myself like a moving movie would be; inspiring. 
2) contemplating now, silence, slowness the moment of an absence of frivolity; a down to earth weighty earnestness and this is the meditation part of Lectio. 
3)Future focused I now apply line or verse 37.5. (Yes, Lectio, can be taken word by word or even a simple expression can be fruit for spiritual growth.

37.5 in the Latin confused me. I have a thing for finding opposites or antonyms for Gothic Necro cutlture. The opposite of dead or trying to paste up your face pale to look deathly sick or morbid. Vivifying : bringing life to.

Part of Lectio is sometimes looking up words. Vivifica. Hmmm. As its Latin I started by looking up different translations, I started by doing Psalm readings and comparing them.

37 Turn away my eyes that they may not behold vanity: quicken me in thy way.

I got from a parallel English Latin Psalter (on Psalm prayer book) from
Quicken me; to speed up.
I found some sources that listed Vivifica as a woman’s name from which Vivian and other names were derived from. 
Then I turned to one of my favorite tactics, studying parts of a word and its history using an etymological dictionary. Etymology is the history of words. It gives a sense of where words came from, how they evolved into the words and meanings we have now. Many words have a prefix and a suffix we might not be aware of. Often I’m not so aware and I _love_ history! So I looked up invigorate on and got this :

In + vigor+ate from the French Envigorer 1610  

So I looked up vigor : 1300s "Physical strength, energy in an activity" from Old French vigor "force, strength". Latin vigorem/vigor liveliness, activity, force.

What struck me here was the last line : from PIE root *weg- "to be strong, lively." 
Looking up Weg I got: 

Weg: Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to be strong, lively". and that it forms all or part of the words awake; bewitch; bivouac; invigilate; reveille; surveillance; vigil; vigilant; vigilante; vigor; waft; wait; wake (v.) "emerge or arise from sleep;" waken; watch; Wicca; wicked; witch.  

The hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by the Sanskrit vajah "force, strength," vajayati "drives on;" Latin vigil "watchful, awake," vigere "be lively, thrive," velox "fast lively," vegere "to enliven," vigor "liveliness activity;" Old English wacan "to become awake," German wachen "to be awake," Gothic wakan "to watch." 

After all this intellectual reading I contemplated. Part of Lectio is finding connections to what we already know, what is a part of ourselves and applying what we’ve just learned to ourselves. Bite sized pieces of knowledge because they are more easy to apply to ourselves. 

Vivifica mei : invigorate me, enliven me, life-force, strengthen me. The Latin coming from the French back to possibly Sanskrit Or Old English wacan to become awake and even part of the word bivouac.  

Bivouac reminded me of American author Henry David Thoreau writing of why he went into the woods to live, a quote mentioned in the movie “Dead Poets Society” with Robin Williams. In his work Thoreau writes of how we can, in living monastically we can learn and grow more and become more enlivened. He says ‘in inventing the bivouac’ Napoleon was able to conquer Europe. 
Bivouac was from the Italian and German meaning to stay up late and watch but to the French it meant leaving your pack and equipment behind in order to go forward or camp out elsewhere further forward, to be alert like a soldier in the early morning. When I was in a Buddhist Temple in Korea the monks had green tea or barley tea available for us just before morning meditation which was before breakfast to invigorate us enough to stay awake in our meditation. Like the second part of 119:37 or 119: 37.25 “In via tua vivifica me”: In your way enliven me.  

37Avérte óculos meos, ne vídeant vanitátem;*
  in via tua vivífica me.
Turn my eyes away from frivolous things:
  let me live by following your path.

 Like following a path to a bivouac : a camp with no tents or equipment, where monks keep vigil. A monastic park in a way. We can do that for even a weekend to a temple or a monastery. Path like the Chinese word do for Daoist, a way a way of the ninja, samurai or in China Korea or Japan a way of tea.
In solitary meditation in via/ in your path/ vivifica me / enliven me that I may not grow drowsy but instead alert like the Gothic word wakan to watch. To not regard vain or frivolous things but be more down to earth. To live by meeting others over tea, away frivolous things ! We will be earnest and speak frankly with each other.  Chado the way of tea. 
Later I’ll post some of my writings on different ways of staying alert during meditation without the use of caffeine, that require internal work only from the Manual of Meditation I’ve been working on.

About the Author

Matthew William Thivierge has abandoned his PhD studies in Shakespeare and is now currently almost half-way through becoming a tea-master (Japanese,Korean & Chinese tea ceremony). He is a part time Ninjologist with some Jagaek studies (Korean 'ninja') and on occasion views the carrying on of pirates from his balcony mounted telescope.

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