Words of Light and Hope from Jane McLarty, LLM
Towards the end of Martin Laird’s guide to Christian contemplation, Into the Silent Land, he tells a parable about a young man seeking to enter a religious community. The man is accepted as a novice, and after a year he feels he is ready to make his vows and has an interview with the abbot, who asks him why he feels he is ready to make his profession.
‘I like it here very much. Everyone is nice to me, and I like all the monks.’ He is sent back to continue his novitiate. After more than a year he comes back to the abbot and this time says, ‘I’m convinced this is what God is asking me to do. I don’t claim to understand it. Moreover, I’ve been studying our tradition and our charism. I identify with it very deeply and feel it confirms my interior call.’
He is sent back again to continue his novitiate, shattered by his second rejection. Eventually he goes to seek advice from Alypius, one of the monks thought to be wise, if a bit of a maverick. Alypius tells him, ‘Your problem is, you don’t know who you are. Let me tell you who you are. You are a ray of God’s own light. You are a branch on the vine of God. Because you don’t know that who you are is one with God, you believe all these labels about yourself: I’m a sinner, I’m a saint, I’m a monk, I’m a nurse.’ He tells the young man that he must first learn to be still and know who he is – the rest, in terms of his vocation, will follow. The two spend many hours together as the young man learns about stillness, contemplation, the nature of the true self. At last, at their final meeting, Alypius says, ‘You have mastered the question, “Who am I?” I would like to put to you another question: “Who is Jesus Christ?’”
The abbot, realizing that he has not heard anything of the young man for some time, sends for him and says, ‘I was wondering if you were still interested in making your profession. You don’t seem as keen to do it as you once were when you were making such a thorough study of our tradition. Have you gone off the idea?’ The young man looks at the abbot and replies, ‘Jesus Christ is my monastery.’