Eastern religions fascinated me, as they did for most of my peers during the 60’s hippy revolution. While it may have been a fad for most and kitschy for some others, it turned out to be the pathway that led me back to Christ. I was rather bored and put-off by pious talk and saw nothing of a radical spiritual change in the Christians that I had come to know. So I was rather enamored with the dedication of the Eastern mystics and their lifelong goal centered on surrender of self to gain enlightenment. That type of self-sacrifice and practice that permeated their every living moment fascinated me. They were not of this world which seemed a proper response to a greater and higher reality. They abandoned all for their goal: family, friends, comfort, riches and power. Their incessant prayers and meditations were a way of life that superseded this world and thus they treated it as if it were nothing but a dream: maya. There was however a dark, hidden power that seemed to resonate with humans: the spiritual power that come with enlightenment. The books were full of miraculous deeds and superhuman feats whether real or imagined and thus full of an ungodly lure to self that was often overlooked as a stumbling block to true self abandonment. Spiritual pride, it seems, is a problem for all religions but it is a staple in the East as well. It is a religion that sees a need to conquer emotions and rid the mind of any non-tranquil reaction to which one might be subjected (a false tranquility, perhaps) but not centered on Christ and His love. I also was also put off by what seemed to be an annihilation of self, as a drop of water dissolved into an ocean. So Eastern religions served as a template for my ideal of dedication and seriousness in the development of the human spiritual life and the goal of reaching some kind of perfection in terms of virtue and truth but there were problems in a great many areas which I could not overcome or shake. But they seemed to, at the very least, make a heroic attempt to truly seek that which is more real than this world and far more important as well.
So I had been raised a Protestant and even went so far as joining the Presbyterian Church while in high school. But I was soon bored and disillusioned as to the intensity of this experience and found that there was no real experience of being a Christian in a radical and goal driven sense. It was all just a group hug and fellowship and some words about Christian living, which in my mind at least, most didn’t or couldn’t abide with in any serious manner. So like most impetuous teens, I quit going to church and fell away from all of Christianity but nevertheless sought to understand a purpose to my life and something worth living for and dedicating myself to in a radical sense. I looked to philosophy and found it complicated and unhelpful as there were as many philosophies as there were philosophers. It seemed to be a crap shoot and nothing but an intellectual exercise or distraction: an intellectual distraction that could consume your life without any real hope of a happy and sure end. Then I stumbled into the East and found that there were people who actually lived according to an end that they had discovered or at least believed in and lived it in a radical way. It was rather exhilarating until I suddenly understood that the Western mind just cannot wrap itself around Eastern thought easily and also found that, as with all spiritualities, there were many dangerous aspects looming in their religion that seemed more like the occult than a true spiritual life founded in Truth. And yet, the Eastern religions had endeared themselves to several Western ‘saints’ that they had discovered and revered as well. One of those was St. John of the Cross. Reading this most illustrious saint was a great help for me; and a Grace I attribute to God and the working of the Holy Spirit, present from my infant baptism and found through a chance recommendation by Buddhists of all people. I’m sure this would have scandalized St. John of the Cross had he though that would ever be. God does work in mysterious ways, however.
It was the reading of St. John of the Cross that broke down my previous barriers to Christianity. I found in him a dedicated monastic, a man who lived a radical life of self-abandonment to Christ and a man who sought intimate union with God with a single-mindedness I had not witnessed in Christianity before. He was a seeker and by all accounts he was a finder as well. That he was a Catholic did not deter me in the least. For I found within his writings a love and a purpose that I never knew existed in Christianity. So a journey began in my soul to unravel what Catholics truly believe and to see if people of the mold of a St. John of the Cross still walked among us and might actually be sought out and found. It was a fascinating, joyful study and spiritually it was almost overwhelming. Where I felt lost in Eastern mysticism, I found myself at home with the thoughts and the prayer life of a St. John of the Cross. It opened up scripture to me and gave it new meaning and gave me new insights. It revealed Christ as my All and presented Him as the goal Whom I needed to surrender myself with all my love, all my heart and all my energy. It opened up the possibility of transforming myself in Christ to become what God wanted us to be: perfect as our Heavenly Father is perfect. Not that the journey and dedication were not rigorous and demanding of our time and energy but that the glimmer of a possibility of such a possibility that God’s Grace could transform a man’s soul and that this seemed to witnessed over and over again was for me a light of incredible brightness. It drew me like a moth to a candle on a dark night. Christianity was real. Transformation in Christ was real. God was the end for which we were made. And eternal joy and happiness was a condition of being in His presence for an indescribable eternal moment; an annihilation of the old man in the process of being led, and perfected by surrendering their will to God’s. There was no need to believe that this world was a mere dream (which I was unable to do anyhow); as I can believe what I truly see and feel. There was no need to aim to discover that I am god myself and just did not know it, or in reincarnation or in a long procession of good and bad karma. All these concepts were unacceptable in my Western mind and therefore I could not wrap my mind around them (thanks be to God); and now I had no reason to try. I had a found a map for my life that I could actually read.
The circle was closed; the travel was from East to West and I am to this day, thoroughly assured that Eastern religions are false religions and happy to have made my way to Catholicism through that tiny mystical gate. Indeed, by recognizing what was good in the East led me to see what was Truly Good in the Great Religion of the West, Christianity. I am most happy to be at home in Rome, having crossed the Tiber, and I have no reason to ever take another journey or detour in this spiritual life. This path is well worn and is the path of countless saints (and sinners of course), but most of all it resonates with the very center of my being. It is the place where my soul finds its nourishment and its rest.