Friday, February 28, 2014

An Unusual Road to Monasticism

The following comes from the Catholic Exchange:
People sometimes wonder how I became interested in monastic life, which I am currently preparing to enter. It is hard to express, except in fragments and glimpses.
These are some glimpses of that kind: certainly not a “conversion story,” nor even a “vocation story”; but only pieces of the process, as I remember it.

I. Spring, 2005

I am a college student with a habit of staring holes through pages, people and other things. Studying the “Great Books of Western Civilization” has nearly caused me to despair of human reason. I can analyze everything and make sense of nothing, least of all my own life.
My roommate says I sometimes remind him of Siddhartha Gautama: the rich young man whose fixation on suffering and impermanence led him to become an ascetic and formulate the doctrines of Buddhism.
This is an undeserved compliment, but also a criticism. It’s not so much the ascetic religious founder, but the suffering-obsessed son of privilege, that he sees in me.
Still, this remark – and the recognition of my burned-out state – spurs me to resume the Zen meditation practice I learned in high school. Seeking some kind of freedom, some kind of wholeness, a truth beyond pure rational comprehension.
I am a very driven, very motivated, very frustrated person, academically and otherwise. This combination prompts my decision to leave college at the year’s end, with the hope of moving somewhere gray and unpleasant.
I want the opposite of “Siddhartha’s” indulged life. I want an end to luxury and useless intellectualism. I think about joining a Zen Center, a Buddhist temple, something of the sort. That seems like freedom, if anyone has it. That seems like truth, if that isn’t just a word.
Since age nine, when I borrowed my sister’s Walkman on a family trip, I’ve loved the long-defunct punk band Operation Ivy. After their frontman dropped out of public view, he was rumored to have become a monk. That has stuck with me.
So has the passage in J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, where Holden Caulfield puts this question to his boarding school roommate:
“Listen. What’s the routine on joining a monastery?” I asked him. I was sort of toying with the idea of joining one. “Do you have to be a Catholic and all?”
I even feel a fleeting impulse to pray, myself. In response to – what?  A sense of beauty? Gratitude? And it is not a mere vestige of childhood religion, which was minimal in my case.
But in the spring of 2005, I am an atheist of long standing – albeit, an atheist who was troubled by reading the Confessions of St. Augustine; an atheist who has joked that he might someday become a priest. An atheist whose closest college friend once mentioned an interesting author named Thomas Merton.

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