We were never meant to live a purely secular life.
– Thomas Merton
For a year and a half we tried unsuccessfully to live secular lives. We made friends, went to work, established a business and a home, participated in local politics, and took our kids to swimming lessons like everyone else. And it was the most flat and empty existence. Everyone at the church we attended went through the same motions. We found them flat and empty as well. That is not meant judgmentally. It is just that as people who are deeply connected with the natural world and know yourself as a part of it you have nothing in common with others who live in the opposite way, using the natural world to their own ends. And the same is true when it comes to God. In the religious life, one totally devoted to the contemplative experience of God and of serving others from that standpoint, you are likewise a part of something larger, and to consider using that to your own ends is a gross anathema. Everyone else lived with unbridled egos; we were slaves of Christ. Or to paraphrase Merton, To be a human in a rhinoceros herd is to be a monster (Raids On The Unspeakable).
After a year and a half I received a phone call one day from out of nowhere. The man on the other end of the phone said that he was the chair of a church in northwest Manitoba and that they had been told about me and that they thought that I might be the right person to serve their church as clergy. So we talked about why that might be. They phoned back a few days later on a conference call. I was not looking for a job; I agreed to travel there for a visit. It was an odd opening, I never had seen myself as clergy, yet here I was being pulled in that direction. I cannot say that I saw doing so as a part of my identity. I stayed with relatives in Winnipeg on the way there. And on an early February morning that was -40 degrees I headed into a driving wind that all but obliterated the road. No one else was out, and I mean, no one else was out. I drove for five hours north by northwest under overcast skies across open prairie meeting no one and hoping that my truck would not freeze up. And at last I entered parkland geography, mixed fields, boreal forest, and bush in rolling terrain. Occupied farm houses from the 1930’s stood along the highway. I drove through forty miles of heavily forested upland, and then the sky cleared, and the wind dropped, and the temperature rose, and I crested a hill and looked down into the most beautiful valley, and my jaw dropped. The people awaiting me were generous and hard working, farming in the summer and logging in the winter. Mixed ethnicities, they had all struggled financially growing up, many only getting electricity and running water into their homes ten to twenty years earlier. And they had a very simple and sincere faith. I was deeply impressed. A week later they asked me to be their pastor. I think for the first time in my life since graduating high school I felt like I had found a genuine community. And without knowing it I had entered the next phase in my life, although it most certainly would not end behind a pulpit.