Friday, August 7, 2009

8 August : Solemnity of St. Dominic : 'Speak, friend, and enter'

While staying with the nuns in Prouille, that wonderful place, fr. Simon Tugwell O.P. wrote a poem about Saint Dominic, Homage to a Saint, which he included in The Way of the Preacher. I am particularly struck by these lines:
He founded an Order, they say.
Say rather: friended.
He was their friend, and so
at last, in spite of themselves, they came.
He gave them an Order to found.
Reminding me of some passages written by another former Oxford resident, J. R. R. Tolkien, in The Fellowship of the Ring. The company stands before the Gates of Moria and trying to figure out how to enter:
'What does it mean by speak, friend, and enter?' asked Merry.

'That is plain enough,' said Gimli. 'If you are a friend, speak the password, and the doors will open, and you can enter.'
The password isn't really secret at all, as Gandalf finally realizes:
With suddenness that startled them all the wizard sprang to his feet. He was laughing! 'I have it' he cried. 'Of course, of course! Absurdly simple, like most riddles when you see the answer.'

Picking up his staff he stood before the rock and said in a clear voice : Mellon!
The doorway opens slowly and silently, and the secret is explained to the Fellowship:
'I was wrong after all,' said Gandalf, 'and Gimli too. Merry, of all people, was on the right track. The opening word was inscribed on the archway all the time! The translation should have been : Say "Friend" and enter. I had only to speak the Elvish word for friend and the doors opened. Quite simple. Too simple for a learned lore-master in these suspicious days. Those were happier times. Now let us go!'
Saying 'friend' is a sure way to get through to the heart of the other, perhaps just opening the doors a little, but still. I'm still remembering something that happened to me sitting on a bus in central London, twenty years ago. Tired and alone in a strange city, I must have appeared a bit lost as I was slow to discover that I had come to the end stop. The bus-driver, a black man, went over to me and said, 'Are you all right, friend?'

My friend Pedro (or Martin - his 'name in the Order') would say that this man might have been an appearance of Saint Martin de Porres, except that I think that the friendly man was in fact the bus-driver and didn't appear from nowhere to save my life. But still, this man touched me deeply just by addressing me as friend.

So, yes, I can imagine Saint Dominic friending an Order; he would indeed Say 'Friend' to people and they would come in spite of themselves (whatever fr. Tugwell means by this, this particular point is not mentioned in his Notes on the Poem).

It used to be simple to join St. Dominic's crowd - the Order of Preachers. You knelt down before Saint Dominic and placed your hands between the hands of the Master General in a feudal gesture. No postulancy, no novitiate, no temporary profession - just receiving the black and white habit from the hands of the Master to wear it for the rest of your life. Imagine! Just by being friended.

Of course, by joining the Order you suddenly become a member of the Dominican Family, adopted as it were, putting you in a rather different position than a 'Friend of the Order'. All sorts of things suddenly being overwhelmingly expected of you - or frustratingly nothing, as the case may be. It's the sort of thing that may need figuring out. Like a riddle. There is no secret password, but you have to mean it.


Faith said...

Happy St. Dominic's Feast Day to you, too! And happy blogging. I'll link to you.

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