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When I was thirteen years old I left home to enter a seminary designed to prepare young men for the Roman Catholic priesthood. I was filled with idealism and had a driving desire to aim as high as possible in my life, following the example of boys a year or two ahead of me in school whom I greatly admired. That spirit was so strong in me that it overcame the deep attachment I had felt keenly all my life to my family, to both my parents and brother at home, and my larger family of grandparents, uncles and aunts, and a host of cousins. The homesickness I felt year after year tore at my heart, and yet I stayed with the monastic regimen for twelve years. Only a few months before ordination to the priesthood I was stirred enough by the longing for a bigger world in which to live and think that I left the security of that life and began my wanderings.
The Servite Order that was family all those years had been founded in Florence, Italy, in the year 1233. It was an ancient order dedicated to the image of the sorrowful mother of Jesus. A Jungian psychologist might say that those intense years of religion had a marked anima focus, not simply on a mother figure, but specifically on a mother who suffers as a witness to her son's driven, idealistic life and torturous, disillusioned end. The community was not strictly speaking monastic, but partly contemplative and partly active -- my colleagues taught in colleges and high schools and served in parishes. But even in these active settings the style of life was characterized by intense community and dedication to contemplation.
The only bad memories I have of thisexperience of religious life, in addition to the separation from my family, was the tendency in it toward authoritarianism. It wasn't always the case, but frequently enough I had to live under the control of "superiors" who felt it their duty to maintain strict observance of rules and customs. I've always been a sensitive person who only needs a hint of direction and a suggestion of correction. For the most part I do my rebelling in imagination, and so I didn't fare well in authoritarian atmospheres.
Otherwise, the religious life was filled with pleasures. I could live out the solitude that is part of my nature, and yet I would never be isolated -- the community was always there for support and companionship. I was surrounded by men of character and good will, as well as idealism and humor. I was fortunate to be in a Catholic community that loved the world, deeply appreciated culture, and never despised earthly pleasures, Without sex, without money, and without much exercise of free will, I lived a satisfying life.
When I finally left the order, I left most of religion behind. I lived as an agnostic of sorts for a while. In my monastery days I had studied music seriously and had written and directed a considerable amount of music, and so, once out of the order, I planned on the life of an academic musician. Unexpectedly, my love of theology and religion stayed with me. I received degrees in each field and then took up a career as a college professor, followed by many years as a psychotherapist.
With the publication of my two books, Care of of the Soul and Soul Mates, in another unexpected development I received many invitations to speak in churches. I found myself in grand, lofty pulpits and on stage and in crowded bookstores talking about the soul. One time a Catholic priest on Cape Cod invited me to speak. The church was filled with people, and he insisted I speak from the pulpit. As I stood there looking at the people, the church, the pastor, and my position in the pulpit, I asked myself. "How did I get here? Here I'm doing what I hoped to do when I was thirteen. It has all come full circle. But none of it is literally as I expected it to be. This priesthood and spirituality I had sought so ardently takes form now that I have become a, family man, a husband, and a writer."
Over many decades my raw thoughts and emotions about priesthood changed tone and color through an alchemy almost entirely unconscious to me, and they gathered a weight and form that I could never have predicted. In my life now both the priesthood and the monastic life are made of subtle stuff -- not literal ways of life, but possibilities powdered so finely that they have become values, nuances, styles, and elements of character giving my life a certain tone and color.
This book of meditations attempts to capture that alchemy for the reader. I believe we all, men and women, have much to gain by reflecting on religious community life as a spirit that can be fostered within our ordinary, secular lives. It is a spirit that can deepen our values and experiences, nourish our souls, and reveal sacredness where one previously suspected only secularity. The meditation form is suited to this process because it is a collection of seeds, not a fully articulated conclusion, that germinate like perennial flowers in the midst of a worldly life.
These meditations come from my youthful experience of religious community and the subsequent interiorization of that experience. While our society may not seem terribly interested these days in monastic life, it is clearly hungry for a kind of spirituality that is neither divorced from ordinary life nor escapist in tone. We may not need new leaders and new philosophies as much as the recollection of old images from the past. Monasticism may appear to be dying, but that fading of a way of life offers us an unusual opportunity to regard it with increased imagination, drawing its lessons and attractions into our own lives, no matter what external shape our work and home life may take. The ghosts of the monks still speak. We have only to listen to them with subtle attentiveness.
The doings of the gods are filled with Providence. Chance events are not unrelated to nature or the weaving and winding of the allotments of Providence.
Everything flows from Providence, and alongside it is Necessity, and whatever contributes to the entire universe of which you are a part.
Marcus Aurelius, MeditationsMeditations. Copyright © by Thomas Moore. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.