Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Welcome to "Monastic Muse," an account of my personal
monastic journey over a number of decades. Following this
story, it will be necessary to go to the Index and select the
earliest input--which is the "Introduction" and then move your
way forward.

[This site is dedicated to the memory of an esteemed friend,
the late Rt. Reverend Leonard Vickers, O.S.B., 3rd Abbot of
St. Anselm's Abbey, Washington, D.C., and 8th Abbot of
Douai Abbey, Woolhampton, England.]

(1) Quo Vadis ?

Where am I going? Actually the question peers back as well as
forward. So, first, where have I been? After snow-birding out in
Southern California, where I have a large and loving extended
family, I decided to move away from the Washington area and
settle permanently in the San Diego region. That was some 15
years ago--and until this very day I remain happy with this
decision to move West.

Volunteering in my new community, I spent at least a dozen years
as a trained docent naturalist--first serving at the San Diego
Natural History Museum and later with California State Parks
at the Tijuana River National Estaurine Research Reserve.
I felt this community service appropriate for one who honors
the Benedictine Tradition with its emphasis on community
and so many facets of such.

Additionally  I am connected with a Communion that historically
has come forth from the Benedictine Tradition; and, also,  I
befriended an inter-faith  congregation which serves both as a
fellowship and an academy,  These communal connections consist
of friendly people who enjoy one another, sometimes study together,
and oft are engaged in social justice projects.

We live in a Craftsman bungalow, a Greene & Greene architectual
design featuring natural light and materials. And I added lots more
outdoor living space by building a small park of patios, tropical
trees and plants, where I can sit, be quiet, and truly enjoy the birds
and the butterflies. My little dog rolls in the grass and makes me
laugh. It's a place of peace and beauty, perhaps reminiscent of
those Benedictine gardens of old.

As for my monastic orientation, alas I am too far away from the
nearest monastery. And I no longer feel comfortable driving any
great distance on the freeways. But I have found the "virtual
world" of the WEB. I start my mornings by visiting a favorite
monastery's website, where I can listen to their Lauds beautifully
sung. And there's Vespers at night, sung by many Benedictine
communities on YouTube. Also, I have begun providing myself
with occasional "retreats" via YouTube, finding marvelous
monastic presentations by renown monks and other religious.
Indeed, there's a lot of different possibilities to engage the
monastic life aboard the WEB, and actually forge shared
friendships. This new technological outlet may be a godsend
for those now elderly or unable to find an immediate monastery.

And all these years I have stayed true to my commitment towards
"my" Pantocrator, the Lord of the Universe, who I have studied
from lots of different perspectives. Again, working into websites
and blogsites, I have written a fairly large amount of essays and
stories that are mostly about "Seeking God" from various angles.
I have thoroughly enjoyed writing these essays and stories,
giving freely of my time and energy to do so.

However, I do wonder if I can squeeze out another story, in
which I try to make complex issues more comprehensible in
straightforward language. I may have reached my zenith, but
we will see. As for my essays, I've touched upon all sorts
of subject matter. I still will have three on-going essay
sites. One is past-oriented, relating ancient Scripture to
our own modern knowledge-base; another is future focused,
discussing cutting-edge mostly scientific theoretics that
somehow manages to connect with the Mystery that presides
over the All of us. And I'll continue my sojourner collection,
where I continue to seek and sift through the seemingly
never ending path that I trod.

Finally, quite awhile ago I completed my "Benedictine Beacon"
essay site. Over the years I compiled a fairly large library
of books by Benedictine authors. These books were a big assist
in terms of my own monastic-oriented formation. So I decided
to share the thoughts of some of these books on this particular
essay site as well as my own commentaries. Perhaps they might
prove helpful to others, as these great Benedictine books
proved helpful to me.

Now at the end of this journal, I can only reiterate over
and over what a wonderful treasure I discovered in the great
Benedictine Tradition.


(2) Metamorphosis

If I may, I should like to present Panikkar's discussion via quick, under-
standable points. Quoting from pages 10 through 16 in his book:

• By monk...I understand that person who aspires to reach the ultimate
goal of life with all his being by renouncing all that is not necessary to it.

• The monk is the expression of an archetype which is a constitutive
dimension of human life. This archetype is a unique quality of each
person, which at once needs and shuns institutionalization.

• One does not become a monk in order to do something or even
to acquire anything, but in order to be...

• Human perfection: The perfection of the human individual is not the
fullness of human nature; it is not nature but personhood. Yet there
are people who actualize their dormant potentialities and others who
don't, people who reach a high degree of humanness--and others
who don't.

• I shall call the *humanum* this core of...humanness that can be
realized in as many fashions as there are human beings. Religion
is a path to the *humanum*. [Also] the poet, the intellectual, the
craftsman, the man of action...all express different facets of it.

• The archetype of...the monk is an expression [that] corresponds to
one dimension of this *humanum*. Monkhood is a dimension that
has to be integrated with other dimensions of human life in order to
fulfill the *humanum.*

• The monk within the institutionalized framework often suffers from
the fact that his vital impulses toward full humanness are curtailed
merely because they are absorbed in the total institution.

• One of the crises of present-day monasticism is precisely this kind
of *quid pro quo,* that something which belongs to human nature
as one of its constitutive dimensions loses a good part of its force
and its universality once it becomes a particular form of organized

• The monastic vocation is essentially personal...[involving] the
search for the center...[which] immanent to the human being...
but at the same is transcendent.

• Monasticism is not a specifically Christian, Jaina, Buddhist, or
a sectarian phenomenon; rather it is a basically human and
primordially a religious one..

So--reading over these initial points, I began to realize that my
sense of being a monastic might not be so strange after all.

Working through over the years, I couldn't help noticing something
about myself. I tend to be an integrator. I suppose this began
when I worked in government. Data would come from everywhere,
from all different sources, from a variety of disciplines--and it was
my task to keep up with all this, putting all this different data together
to reach an appropriate conclusion. Indeed my earlier university
background involved three academic realms that I seamed together
into one. And at Georgetown I played in different academic fields,
threading them together to better understand the Great Story.
Integration came naturally for me.

Consequently, when I read the following--I thought "a hah." To
quote: "While traditional monasticism tends toward simplicity
through *simplification*...with the accompanying danger of
reductionism, contemporary monasticism seeks simplicity through
*integration,* with the consequent danger of an eclectic
juxtaposition." [Panikkar, p. 33.]

There's little doubt that I have an eclectic approach to life; yet, I
have always felt fairly focused on my goals. As an integrator, I
worked to attain or support a particular result. So I cannot plead
guilty to being a dilettante, just fiddling around without any sense
of commitment. Rather just the opposite, in that I wished to "seek
God" via many avenues. We need all the tools at hand just to
even approach the contours of this Mystery.

So--in the end, with the help of Raimundo Panikkar, I had found
a way for me, albeit non-traditional and far more universal. But I
had at last found Peace.

(1) Metamorphosis

It would seem that I wasn't the only one concerned about the
future of the Benedictine Order, to quote:

"Clearly thtis order of monks which once provided the very
structure of early medieval European society is in no position to
play the same role in post-modern America. A few thousand
monks have no chance of affecting this vast and complex
society the way their predecessors influenced the fragmented,
rural peoples of the Old Country in the Dark Ages."
[Terrence Kardong, O.S.B., THE BENEDICTINES, 1988,
pp. 199-200.]

As for myself, I had to admit that when I get this uptight over
an issue It has to be personal. Long a student of History, I've
read about movements that come and go. I knew about the
rise and fall of empires and governments, even religions.
There's a life-cycle involved in all this. It's in the nature of
things that everything is born and dies.

Yet we cling to the idea of rebirth, of resurrection, of
transformation--the idea of "metamorphosis," which is about
a "change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a
completely different one."

So here I was, before my abbot's death, seemingly ready to
identify in Benedictine terms. I really had set forth heart-and-
soul on "seeking God," whether via scholarship or contemplation.
Also, I began to understand another ingredient that predisposed
me to the Benedictines. It's best told in a small story I heard.
It's about a news reporter encountering a Jesuit priest and a
Benedictine monk. The reporter asked about what the Jesuits
were best known. In turn the Jesuit mentioned their great
intellectual character, talked about the great universities their
Order had created. As for the Benedictine monk, he said simply,
"We are Civilization."

I never forgot that story. From the very beginning of my meeting
the Benedictines, I felt that these people were the most "civilized"
I had ever met. They were not only cultured, but they were
virtuous and upright people. And historically they had uplifted
countless others down through the ages!

So the Benedictine character had become my ideal, and now it
seemed that the Benedictine future itself was in jeopardy. Perhaps
selfish, I had to wonder how I would work through my own sense of
being a monastic--especially if the Benedictine under-pinnings
might eventually collapse.

I worried too much, and in the end I need not have worried at all.
At this point an interesting priest popped into my life and made
the situation better. An expert in inter-religious dialogue, Raimundo
Panikkar taught at places like UC Santa Barbara and Harvard.
But most important for me was a conference held sometime around
1980, over which he presided as the respondent. It was sponsored
by the Aide Inter-Monasteries (A.I.M.), which is the Secretariat of the
Benedictine Confederation. Coming out of this monastic conference,
Raimundo Panikkar published a book in 1982 entitled BLESSED

When I saw this book, especially the monk as "archetype" as part of
the title, it only took me about 20 seconds to decide to buy it. (I'm
glad I did, because it is now out-of-print.)

(2) Death & Dissolution

So I set out, focusing on those ancient ruined abbeys and those
still standing great cathedrals that were once Benedictine. I started
with Canterbury Cathedral, went to nearby ruined abbeys, and also
visited Ely Cathedral, St. Alban's Cathedral, Wells Cathedral,
Bath Abbey, and Tewkesbury Abbey. These are still living churches,
under the Anglican Communion. As I browsed through these
religious edifices, I had occasion to hear the beautiful choirs of
both Wells Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral. At Canterbury
I actually was able to sit in the ancient monks' stalls as I joined in
Vespers. And at Ely Cathedral, I later discovered a paper by Peter
Sills--then Vice-Dean of Ely--entitled "A Spirituality for Everyday Life
& Work," which is a beautifully thorough account of the Benedictine

So I had visited the crucible(s) of the Medieval Benedictines in
England. Yes, they were gone from these ancient abbeys and
cathedrals, but their spirit seemed to have flared-up in recent times.
The Anglicans were fanning the coals.

In the midst of this English journey, I did stop off at my late abbot's
monastery and paid my respects. After a hiatus of nearly three
centuries, the Benedictines did return to England. However, their
more recent abbeys are once again bordering on being old, along
with a dwindling membership.

Now more than 1500-years old, I suppose it is not surprising that the
Benedictines would see destruction and dissolution over their long
lifetime. On the other hand, *rebirth* also seems to loom big in the
Benedictine horizon. This put to mind my late abbot's crest. His
overall crest was spliced into three parts: two of these were historical
crests of the two abbeys where he was abbot; and the third section of
his crest consisted of the Benedictine Tree, which is depicted as a
tree once struck down that somehow always grows back. So the Tree
represents this positive idea of rebirth, which is well taken since it
comes from the Benedictine experience.

I pondered over this issue of a Benedictine rebirth during my long
flight home. Today the threat isn't some king who kills off monks, but
rather the threat is far less transparent. Perhaps it is a malaise, a
general feeling amongst the populous that institutional monasticism,
even institutional religion, no longer seems to apply to the issues we
moderns now face? It is hard to put your finger on it, but the sad
statistics are like a barometer that tests the climate.

A number of years ago I had read there there were only some
10,000 Benedictine monks in the world. There were more Benedictine
Sisters. But in both cases their numbers were falling, and the average
age in the monasteries was beginning to creep upwards due to the
lack of current vocations. I know for a fact that some Benedictine
monasteries have had to sell their property and double-up in order
to make ends meet. Others have sadly had to sell their schools, in
that they were no longer able to maintain them.

So life is definitely changing for the Benedictine world. Still, there's
considerable interest amongst some laity--and this is reflected by
yet another statistic I saw, that noted there were at least 40,000
Benedictine Oblates in the world. These Oblates are considered a
"Secular Order," the Benedictine Arm out in the world. According to
the dictionary, an "oblate" is a person dedicated to the monastic or
religious life but has not taken full monastic vows. As for the future,
I do wonder if eventually that the transmission of the Benedictine
Tradition may ultimately fall on the shoulders of the Oblates.

(1) Death & Dissolution

All through my seeking and exploring I had a Benedictine lifeline--
my good, gentle abbot. Ours was a comfortable friendship, one
that I cherish unto this very moment. But my lifeline began to
slip. One day my good British abbot made mention that he was
returning to England. His home abbey there had elected him to
be their abbot--and they had claim over the one in Washington.
Also, it was obvious that my good abbot pined to go home. So
in time he left for England.

I was really sorry that he had left. But being just sorry soon
turned into sorrow. Within a year after he left for England, my
good abbot suddenly died. This was shocking news for me.
I became angry over the waste, in that my good abbot was in
his prime, had done so much for so many people, and would
have continued his Christ-centered life as a good pastor and
abbot. To be taken at this point seemed cruel and unjust.

I guess that I was angry for him; but, eventually, I realized
that my good abbot would never have approved of such
feelings. Still the loss of my Benedictine lifeline was near a
spiritual catastrophe for me! I moved from sorrow into a
prolonged sadness.

Beyond this personal event, my observation of the Benedictine
Order--in general--became more intense, more concerned.
Periodically I would read statistics about the dwindling number
of religious, about the average age creeping steadily upwards.
Even some monks were discouraged over what might happen
to the Benedictines in future. Pausing, I remembered the very
last thing my good abbot said to me, "pray for vocations." He said
that he was returning to only 20 monks in his English abbey,
whereas when a young novice he had entered a community of
80 monks. Those numbers represented the statistics in a nutshell
when it came to the future of the Benedictine Order.

After my Benedictine lifeline was cut, I felt that I was slipping
away from my moorings. On the other hand, it sometimes seemed
as if my moorings were slipping away from me. My periodic visits
to the monastery became even less frequent. There seemed
little there that now touched me spiritually. I felt that somehow I
had moved on and out of the Benedictine world. It was a bleak
time for me.

Naturally, Providence fiddled with me. I came across a rather
unique book published by the British Library, entitled THE
BENEDICTINES IN BRITAIN. Published back in 1980, the
book was an exposition of the British Library's celebration of
the 1500-year anniversary of the Benedictines. The book
included marvelous illustrations of manuscripts, religious art,
and beautiful drawings of ancient abbeys and cathedrals once
manned by English Benedictines. As part of the history of the
Benedictines in Britain, there was a sad chapter that discussed
the terrible Dissolution of the Benedictine Order in the year
1589 c.e.

King Henry VIII had broken away from the Church of Rome, and
he decided to bounce out religious orders such as the Benedictines
and the Jesuits. A goodly part of this effort involved land-grabbing,
since the monasteries oft included vast tracts of property. The
Dissolution also involved heinous executions as well. It was a
dangerous times then for monks in England.

I cannot explain, because I hardly knew my own mind when it came
to this decision, maybe prompted by this book, but I decided to make
a special journey to England. Perhaps I thought of it as a "farewell,"
if you will--a farewell to my good abbot and, indeed, also a farewell
to the Benedictines.

(2) Enthusiasm

One bright Sunday morning I was reading the Washington Post
Magazine. I latched onto an article about John Haught, a
theologian who taught at Georgetown University. Professor
Haught specialized in the study of "Science and Religion."
Rushing off to Georgetown, I discovered that its Graduate School
offered a Liberal Studies Program for mature students. It allowed
for an interdisciplinary approach in a number of academic realms.
I decided to give it a try.

So--scurrying about I managed to acquire recommendations from
a high government official, a dean at one of my former universities,
and my good abbot. Smiling to myself, I realized that each of these
men represented major parts of my life. Somehow I squeezed into
Georgetown, trekked off to see John Haught, who agreed to be my
academic mentor, and began professional studies that integrated
philosophic, religious, and spiritual approaches with contemporary
science theory.

My Georgetown program mainly concentrated on Quantum Physics,
Astrophysics, and Evolutionary Systems. And eventually I wrote a
thesis entitled "The Play of the Cosmic Process: A Synthesis of
Teilhard's Cosmogenesis and Bohm's Theory of the Implicate Order."
A mouthful, I know, but I loved every minute of all this hard work.
Indeed, Georgetown almost became "home" for me. After my degree,
I spent an additional two years as a Scholar of Advanced Study.
This time around I concentrated on the new theoretics of cutting-edge
technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, CyberSpace, and
NeuroArchitecture as they might apply to Teilhard's sense of the
Noosphere. I studied with a Rensseleer-trained engineer who
worked in Washington and taught at Georgetown.

After all this effort I began to get an inkling where I might head.
By this time I had slowly stepped into the budding Internet world,
working with one of those first boxy-like Mac computers. In those
days there was the old "UseNet," where discussions were fairly
wild and wooly. Periodically I would submit small segments of
some of my Georgetown articles. I felt that perhaps I might begin
to freely share what I was gaining from this venture with others.
But much of this was to come later.

To top off this special period of my life, I remember one evening I
was with Francis Jean--my Benedictine Oblate friend--and as we
were leaving one of those Smithsonian lectures, I mentioned my
wonderment over the joy and enthusiasm these scientists seemed
to embody. They were on the edge of understanding, yes, but
it seemed something *more* as well. Francis Jean put it nicely.
She reminded me that the root of the word "enthusiasm" is
"en Theos."

Well, there you have it. Via other avenues, via other labels, these
scientists were broaching what I believed to be new understandings
of God. Through scientific discoveries, through science theory,
there was something new--beyond earlier religious and philosophic
concepts--when it came to the pursuit towards comprehending the
Ground of Being, the ancient Logos-Pneuma translated into the

In time some scientists would begin to write God-oriented books.
Some scientists even won the Templeton Prize, a high-paying
honor that focuses on Science and Religion. And besides these
scientists writing these sort of books, a few famous Benedictine
monks had begun to move into this field of Science and Spirituality.

See two such landmark books:


• Fritjof Capra & David Steindl-Rast, O.S.B. (with Thomas Matus,

All this was a wonderful time for me, full of joy and energy and
enthusiasm. Little did I know that I would soon be exchanging
this happy time for a long period of sorrow and sadness.