Written by Michael Fones
Monday, 25 June 2007 14:53
I've a link in here to David Ian Miller's interview of Brother Christopher, 52, the head of the New Skete dog-training program and a monk since 1981. While the story's predominantly about the dog training program the monks founded, one section caught my eye - a passage about Br. Christopher's conversion. Here it is:
Br. Christopher: I majored in international affairs in college but became more and more fascinated with religion. One of the books I read at that time was "The Seven Storey Mountain" by Thomas Merton. That book really spoke to me personally. It told a story that I could identify with, about a young man finding himself and wanting to make his life as meaningful a response to God as he could.
Miller: So you weren't always religious?
Br. Christopher: I was nominally Catholic. Church wasn't really that meaningful for me when I was younger. It was something that I was obliged to do. It wasn't until I got into college that I started asking much more serious questions, and I went through a personal conversion that helped me to see the importance of spirituality in my life.
Miller: What sort of conversion?
Br. Christopher: I was in Europe at the time -- after my freshman year in college. I was planning to go on a year abroad program to Tunisia during my sophomore year. I was right where everyone said I was supposed to be from a professional point of view. I had plenty of opportunities, I was meeting a lot of fascinating people and I was in a program where I could basically set myself up for a career in the Foreign Service. Yet inwardly I was just incredibly empty and basically unhappy.
Miller: What happened?
Br. Christopher: I think that the more I lived with that, the more it caused me to humbly say this isn't much of a life, living without any kind of meaning, without any kind of values -- personal values that are grounded in something transcendent, and so it was just a very humble prayer: "God, if you exist, I can't believe in a myth. Please meet me at this level." And it happened in just a very remarkable way, where, all of a sudden, I just realized that God reached out to me. It was something that I couldn't deny or doubt, and it left me with sort of a peace that has been a part of my life certainly ever since.
This is a pretty common pattern among conversions. Something happens to upset our "business as usual" attitude. It could be the loss of a job or a girlfriend or boyfriend, a divorce, serious illness (think St. Francis or St. Ignatius of Loyola), or a move. People who "hit bottom" with drug addiction or alcoholism, or whose criminal behavior catches up to them and lands them in jail. All of these are what's known as "liminal space." Br. Christopher was immersed in a foreign culture.
The difficulty is, so much of our behavior is bent on keeping us from experiencing these liminal states. We work hard to keep our job, our health, our relationships intact, and often are fairly successful in doing so. And these are good things, don't get me wrong. But when they are stripped from us, we often begin to ask deeper questions about meaning and purpose, and these can often point us towards God.
The challenge for the Church today - and always - is discovering a way to invite Catholics to invite the Lord to enter our lives fully, as Brother Christopher did in his young adulthood. What's preventing us from asking the Lord TODAY, "Meet me here, as I am, today, Lord. I want to know you, love you, follow you. Help my unbelief!"?