This is an utterly fascinating documentary, like spiritual porn for my past-life Catholic-monk soul.
I have always been deeply enthralled by gothic art and history, and always will be. I’ve always been unshakably certain, since childhood, in the marrow of my bones, that I have lived again and again in gothic monasteries — they are a world of perfect familiarity, and something which I long for, even today.
In my teenage years, I was already telling my closest friends that I would become a monk. My best friend since early childhood, a writer, once published a semi-autobiographical piece in college, one of whose supporting characters (loosely based on me), appears at the end of the story, in our advanced years, as a Catholic mystic-monk offering him life-wisdom. After graduating from university, I even applied (handwritten pre-Internet letters in passable French!) to several monasteries while living in Paris, at the age of twenty three (and living with a girlfriend, no less). I was accepted at two: famed Mont St. Michel, at the coast of Normandy (I rejected after visiting and barely surviving the swarms of tourists, and realizing how un-contemplative it would be) and a Cistercian monastery isolated deep in the Pyrenees.
While in a period of discernment, one evening at a friend’s home in Paris, I happened on an old edition of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays. That book blew my world wide open — wider far, far, far than any bible ever could. His “Divinity School Address” confirmed perfectly my doubts about the entire Christian ecclesiastical project; “Self-Reliance”, and “Nature” spoke back to me latent intuitions about the true possibility of a this-world revelation excelling anything in the scriptures; and his timeless essay on “Transcendentalism” fortified my furtive, guilt-filled attempts to locate that revelation through the pointers in the one or two Zen books I’d been blessed to have read by then.
Emerson pointed the way to within. I was off to the races.
Next stop was Harvard Divinity School (a rest area on the break from Catholicism), then 90-day Winter Kyol Che at Shin Won Sah Temple in Korea (a break with Christianity and all monotheism).
And yet, there is this vast sentiment arising inside whenever I see or hear or read even the slightest thing about the gothic church, especially monastic community. It feels more like a gripping homesickness than anything else. Man, I’d totally live in one of those situations again in a fucking heartbeat; I feel sometimes like I actually belong there.
But let’s be frank: In order to live there, after what I’ve experienced through meditation, I’d need somehow to shut out completely the teachings that I’d linked with this so darkly since my youth. It’d be kind of weird living out some past-life’s experience by faking allegiance to — or faith in — the claims made in the main book on the syllabus. I’d be found out in short order, and they’d promptly bounce me from the place. And then this ancient homesickness would start all over again.
Better stick with the Zen Center job, after all. It’d really suck being burned at the stake all over again.
Many many thanks to Addison Hodges Hart for bringing this gem to my attention.