Help Through the Desert

When I talk about Growing in Love and Wisdom, I often start by talking a bit about my own faith journey thought Buddhism and back to Catholicism (the subject of another book I’m in the final stages of editing).

In telling people about my abandonment of Catholicism at the age of seventeen, I share that when I told my high school chaplain of my decision, his response was “Well, Sue, you’ve entered the desert. And all you can go is keep on walking until you reach the other side.” I add that I didn’t really find that advice all that helpful and walked out of the chaplain’s office feeling very alone. (He did add something like “Go with God,” but having just told him I didn’t believe in God, that didn’t do much for me.)

At a recent book talk, someone referred to that comment, asking what advice I would give someone in that circumstance. Essentially, from where I stand now, what would I have said to someone like my seventeen year-old self?

At various times, I have thought about what I wished someone had said to me at the time. I might have benefited had someone suggested that I read Thomas Merton’s Seven-Story Mountain (which I found extremely helpful when I read it years later during my difficult transition from Buddhism back to Catholicism), or even Augustine’s Confessions. By those I mean: Something that would have clued me into the struggles of faith other thinking, questioning people had undergone. Something that, if nothing else, would have let me know I wasn’t alone and that it was OK to experience what I was experiencing.

I would have also benefited had the chaplain offered to be available if I needed someone to talk to, or recommended someone else I might have talked to. Even if I never took him up on it, the invitation would have meant something.

Of course we live in a different world now than in 1974 when I had the conversation I did with my high school chaplain. I suspect he had never read Thomas Merton (and maybe not even Augustine’s Confessions) and so could not have made that recommendation. And he may not have had any recommendations for people I might have talked to.

It is much easier today to walk with people like my seventeen year-old self and I feel privileged whenever a young person struggling along their faith journey comes to speak with me. And I pray that something in my own experience can be a source of guidance and strength to them.