In the winter of 2014, I spent three transformative months at the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael in the high desert of New Mexico. Last month, exactly five years since my first visit, and in the wake of a major car accident, I returned to pray and confess.Read More
When I traveled to the monastery in 2014, I shouldered a burden with me. Even now, with feelings of shame, I must admit that I’ve continued to carry it. Yes, it’s still here, arriving as an accusing whisper beneath my thoughts, demanding that I show how well I stewarded the experience of three months in a spiritual sanctuary – How are you going to better serve the world now? You had time for you, now what are you going to do for everyone else? etc. I assume that the voice is mine, but admitting as much would mean full capitulation into its trap. It can’t be. Somehow, somewhere along the lines of my conditioning, I’ve come to believe that the worth of my life is contingent on what I do. And while I pray that’s not true, it feels like it down to the marrow in my bones.Read More
In my short life, I’ve recognized personal growth as having taken place when nagging questions from my past no longer possess the same weighty relevance in my present. One of these recognitions occurred in 2014 during a conversation with Father Silouan about the worthiness of a life dedicated to monasticism.
My original question could have been harshly simplified as: “What good is a monk?” I mean, consider how they leave the world, civilization, and separate themselves from humankind in order to dedicate themselves to prayer and fasting and isolation. Isn’t this selfish? Isn’t this a life wasted?
I’m sitting in front of my computer screen now, cursor blinking, and I’m literally scratching my head over how to talk about truth. I keep thinking that there must be a story to share that will allow me to transfer my mental process to you. But, maybe that’s forcing it. I do know that truth can’t be forced.
I watch a dog being walked down the street – sniffing, peeing, barking, wagging – as its owner is on his cell phone – texting, flipping, reading, seeing. They are both engaged in the same general activity – going for a walk – but they are not having the same experience. What’s true for dog is not true for man, even though they are experiencing the same time and space. They experience time and space differently.
There wasn’t an immediately obvious place to clip on the mic, so we managed to secure it to his beard. Putting it there happened to deaden the open air sound of the tile-floored room where we were prepared to conduct our interview. This was an unintended bonus.
Jon, my videographer friend, had flown down to meet me in New Mexico with a large crate filled with camera equipment to help capture sights and sounds from the monastery where I’d been living for nearly three months. Unfortunately, it turned out that the monks refused to be filmed, so we resorted to recording some audio of them instead.
A reverent fear of God and relationship with Jesus served as the spiritual foundation in my parents’ household, and I am eternally grateful for their devotion – especially the unwavering hope of my mother. But children don’t remain in their parent’s home forever – at least that’s the usual plan – and sometimes the foundation they’d been raised on gets jack-hammered by doubts.Read More
I’ve observed the placebo group;
Those proverbial pill poppers enthused by scriptural salt tablets that promise immortality.
They are drinking from a communal cup, claiming wine is blood and bread is flesh.
I’ve seen their veneration of symbols of death;
Kneeling before headstones and instruments of torture.Read More
I wasn’t raised to kiss or venerate icons.
My spiritual leaders told me it was an archaic form of idolatry.
So I sought the attributes of divinity in nature, human faces and modern melodies.
I smelled fragrance of God on all of them.
But then I sought refuge with a brotherhood of monks.
They embraced me like the prodigal.Read More
Thomas Merton already lived out my struggle.
He’s a soul brother who penned thought and emotion more honestly than I allow myself to think.
His writing looks into a soul being magnetized to God, as the foundations of logic and intellect are stripped away.
Brother Tom, my accomplished and holy friend, you’ve told me how you went about becoming set apart.
You’ve been vulnerable in your sharing.Read More
It was sunny this morning as I walked to a coffee shop near Michigan Ave. on my way to the oldest Orthodox Cathedral in the city. I took a longer route to keep out of the shadows cast by the skyscrapers, so that I could stay in the sunlight and feel its warmth against my skin.
Last week, at this very same time, snow was beginning to fall.
Much has changed this week; so much of it good and most of it simply different than what I knew before. I haven’t left Chicago since my last letter, but I’m writing you from a different physical and mental space. What’s that saying about change? It’s our only constant? Yeah. I suppose I’m living that definition.
Before I left the monastery, I timidly told Father Silouan that maybe God was sending me back to the world to spread the peace and love I’d encountered in their refreshing monastic refuge with the chaotic world outside. He quickly laughed at me, which activated a pride that had remained relatively dormant for the last few months, and said some words that stuck with me ever since:
“The world’s gonna eat you alive,” he said.Read More
Academically speaking, I travelled to the Holy Monastery of the Archangel Michael to ask questions and conduct research for a series of essays. Existentially speaking, I was prodded by some vague longing to dive deeper into the mystical world of Orthodox Christian spirituality.
Now, I leave with the feeling that my journey is only beginning, as my monk brothers bid farewell to a man called Porphyrios. Dane, it seems, has been swallowed up by a new mode of existence.Read More
There’s no permanent trail leading to the ridge overlooking “Little Cappadocia” – those spired and spindling rock formations behind the monastery property that sprout up like stalagmites from the desert floor. But, if you’re willing to slug through soft sand and shifting hillside, you’ll eventually arrive at a vista point that rewards you with a scene that offers no assistance in replenishing your breath.
From here, you can witness the wind transporting white clouds swiftly overhead and their shadows changing the color of the earth-tone canvas below to a darkened brown. Lake Abiquiu’s blue coves cut away at the red rocks and the water beams like turquoise jewelry on native skin.