1. "I and God alone are in the world."
My wife and I were married April 27th, 2011 on the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland - a simple wedding atop the cliffs with only family present (and the smiles and tears of onlookers). Instead of spending our money on a three-hour "show", my wife and I proceeded to travel throughout Europe on our own.
I distinctly remember a moment of reflection I had when we stayed in the little seaside village of Manarola in the Cinque Terre region of Italy. The village has many pathways leading down to the waters, and if one is extra adventurous, one can climb past the jutting rocks that protect the docks like teeth. I sat down right beside the waters edge, as the sun was shedding its last bits of light on the world. Everything was behind me, and all I could hear and see was the vast grey expanse of the waters, the hints of sunlight embers still flickering on the rocks.
For about a minute, it felt like I was totally alone in the world. And the quote came back to me from the abbot Allois - "I alone and God are in this world"1. And then the silence of the waves and the world and the great dark sea.
A sobering feeling.
2. The Last Anchorite and Fr. Lazarus El Anthony.
No living Christian has ever moved me in my spiritual life as much as this former atheist turned Coptic Orthodox hermit. Living in the same area as my patron saint, St. Anthony of the Desert, Fr. Lazarus is known for being featured in several films and media - The Last Anchorite, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, and a video series called A Monk's Life featured on the Coptic Youth Channel.
His words cut right to the heart. In fact, so much so, that the film Last Anchorite made me break down in tears at the thought of separation from God, Who is Love itself. Fr. Lazarus is a living embodiment of the spirituality desert fathers of old.
3. Discovering Russian Orthodoxy.
The spirituality within Russian Orthodoxy is something that changed my life as a Catholic, and I have never been able to look back since my encounters with it.
It began when I was reading Crossing the Threshold of Hope by Bl. Pope John Paul II who mentioned St. Seraphim of Sarov. I encountered other mentions of this name online, by the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, and other places - many times, his name was mentioned alongside that of St. Francis of Assisi. From these places, I decided to investigate more about this saint.
While travelling in Europe with my wife in 2011 on our honeymoon, I looked into as much as I could on this man, and was often astounded at what I read. His life radiated the love of Christ, so much so that it left an immediate impression upon my heart. One thing resounded within me from reading him, and it was that I needed to know the peace of Christ. If there is one thing I note about St. Seraphim, it is that his life reflects the peace that passes all understanding.
But my journey into Russian Orthodox spirituality and its traditions and saints did not stop there. I read The Way of the Pilgrim, which introduced me to the Jesus Prayer. Never had I read such a profound and beautiful work in such a long time - I began to practice this prayer in my own life, as best I could.
For my baptism, I prepared myself by studying St. Theophan the Recluse, and it was a sobering experience. He taught me to wake up from sin, from old habits, and to live "awake" in Christ.
The list could go on forever, and though some of the anti-Catholic sentiment within Russian Orthodoxy was bitter for me when I encountered it, the saints and writings within it have all helped me grow in Christ, to stand firm in Him and not waver, and to do my best to pray without ceasing.
4. Reading The Pilgrims Progress as a child.
When I was a child, I vividly remember reading this famous work of John Bunyan's by the fireplace in my family's old apartment. If I remember correctly, it was around the time that I had stopped going to church on a regular basis, finding more solace and spiritual rest in books and solitude than in hearing the same old paranoid sermons about the Sabbath and end times at my local Adventist church.
The copy I had was an heirloom of sorts, passed down to me worn and with the beloved scent of a book well-loved. Complete with Victorian-style illustrations, the work fascinated me with its depiction of the allegorical journey of a Christian homeward bound to be with Christ in Paradise. It has influenced my spirituality ever since, and despite the fact that now I can pick out its Calvinistic/Puritan elements within the text, it hasn't changed the timeless character of the book for me as a Catholic.
It is a book that I feel I am living out still.
5. Howl by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.
Often, we hear people speak of a particular album that changed their life - this was mine. Released by a band that was more known for swirling guitars and brooding atmospheres, Howl was instead a stripped-down collection of folk, Gospel, and roots music. The rebellion and leather jacket James-Deanery of the band's prior releases was gone, replaced with lyrics that depicted an earnest search for Christ, for meaning, and for love. Of course, not every song was like this - but for the most part, the album's lyrics depicted my search for salvation, my turning back to God, and my fears of dying unreconciled to God.
1 - Verba Seniorum, XI:v
Source: Ascending Mt. Carmel (Blogspot)
Used with permission.