About 15 years ago I wondered openly if God was calling me to a monastery. I was chest deep in Thomas Merton’s writings and thought I might be hearing God calling out to me through them.
Thomas Merton, as many of you know, was a Trappist monk who lived at the Monastery of Our Lady of Gethsemane outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Like all Trappist monks, when he took his religious name, he took the name “Maria” which was abbreviated to “M” to be placed before his religious name, which was Louis. So, in the monastery, he was Father M. Louis Merton.
He wrote a small library about the spiritual life, especially about monastic spirituality. His spiritual journal The Sign of Jonas was formative in my maturing as a Christian. I was able to overlook the Mary stuff in his writings because it wasn’t in your face. Mary’s shadow lurked in the corners of his theology. Merton wrote so movingly about the spiritual life that I wondered if God was asking me to spend my life praying in a monastery.
So, like the bible says, I sought to “test the spirits” to see if they were from God or from my own feeble imagination. Being an impressionable twentysomething, folks wiser than I suggested I visit a monastery.
So I did. In fact, two of them. Holy Cross Priory, an Anglican monastery in Toronto, and the St. Augustine’s House, a Lutheran order in Oxford, Michigan. Down the road from St. Augustine’s House was a larger, Catholic, Benedictine Order of Monks who had a special relationship with their Lutheran brothers (and sisters) a block away. The two groups of monks would occasionally meet at early evening for vespers.
So, a group of us wandered down the road one night to pray with the Catholics. We arrived just before supper and were invited to stay and eat with them. So we gathered around the table to pray. I was expecting maybe a bible reading, or a psalm, or a hymn, something like we do as Lutherans.
But no. This little band of monks began a boisterous prayer to MARY, thanking HER for her provisions.
My protestant blood curdled in my veins. It wasn’t an appropriate prayer, I thought. It felt like we were putting Mary where Jesus or God should be.
On the way out the door we passed a small side-chapel where a statue of Mary spread her arms over a tiny altar. Well-worn kneelers at the foot of the altar invited the passerby to say a prayer and light a candle. Which a few people from our group did. Including the Lutheran abbot and a few Lutheran pastors.
My Lutheran innards clenched in protest. Lutherans do not kneel before anyone other than before Christ.
That’s when I realized that God probably wasn’t asking me to be a monk. Thomas Merton’s writings may have led me as far as they could. Now it was time to find another spiritual guide.
So I...(read the whole thing here)