Several months ago, I came to a startling realization and I have been trying to work it out ever since. It came about as a result of working on a writing exercise, “Describe your idea writing spot.” I began thinking about that and realized I would first have to start by describing a region, the southwestern United States, specifically, northern New Mexico. I think most great writers are defined by the region of the country they called their own. Think of Dickens and you think of 19th century London, Faulkner and you picture the south, Flannery O’Conner, the same. John Steinbeck is inseparable from Salinas and Monterrey, California, even though he lived his last years in New York. Nathaniel Hawthorne brings up vivid pictures of Salem, Massachusetts. You get the idea. Location, setting, plays a prominent role in most great literature going right back to Scripture. Think about many important events in the Bible – often we are given detailed descriptions of the place where the scene occurs while the people involved go unnamed. Think of the story of the road to Emmaus; we know the name of one of the travelers, but not both. Yet, we know exactly where the road to Emmaus is.

My region would be northern New Mexico; the land haunts me, it is beautiful and stark at the same time. There is no reason that man should survive there, yet there have been American Indian tribes there for ages unknown. The architecture of the place is unlike that anywhere else, the adobe buildings seem to grow up from the ground, as if planted from seeds. It is also full of spirits that seem almost tangible, from those of the Native Americans to those of the first friars to explore the land from Spain; their presence seems to permeate the land, especially their old mission churches near Santa Fe and Taos. When I go into the mission at Taos, I can still see those friars who braved all kinds of danger to bring Christ to the New World, doing so out of great love, both for Christ and the native people they encountered, despite the bum wrap they get today. Their love shows in the Churches they built and the art that fills them.

Location is inescapable for any writer; a story without a setting is no story at all.

While I thought about all this, I came to recall my own conversion to the Church. The recollection was sparked when I stumbled across a book in my library that I had long forgotten about. It is by Fr. Michael Casey titled Sacred Reading¸ about the ancient monastic art of lectio divina, prayer while reading and meditating on Scripture. Lectio, a key element of monastic spirituality, played a critical role in my own conversion because it provided a bridge between the supposed sola scriptura foundation of my Presbyterian youth and the Church. Through the Scriptural foundation of lectio, I saw that faith in the Church, no less than in Protestantism, truly is founded on Scripture. It made straight my path to Rome. Then I remembered that one of the monastic vows made by monks is stability, the promise to remain tied to a certain monastery, a certain location, for life. Then I realized this is the exact opposite of the Franciscan spirituality of the mendicant, the roamer, the friar tied to no specific location.

This all hit me like a lightening bolt. For some time, I have felt that there was something amiss in my trying to follow the spirituality of the Franciscan Third Order, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Suddenly, here was the answer. Location has always played an important part in my own life; I chose to live in west Texas because I loved the land and wanted to be a part of it. I can’t say I feel quite as strongly about Colorado, but I do love the mountains, the exact opposite of the desert. The mountains are an inescapable feature of life here in the Springs.

I realized I had to explore this further, to see if it was real. I have made contact with the Camaldolese in Big Sur about their Oblate program and hope to spend regular time each day this Lent returning to the practice of lectio and reading and meditating on the Camaldolese Oblate Rule. I feel I must come to fully understand monastic spirituality and what it could mean for me.

I don’t know where all of this leads, but I feel it is highly important to follow the trail wherever it goes, even if it leads (figuratively) to a hermit’s cell in the desert. I just wish the desert could be in northern New Mexico.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on February 27, 2007 8:00 AM.

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