When a self-confessed “nature-loving hippie” felt drawn to a life of solitude and prayer, he decided to test his vocation in the UK’s only Carthusian monastery, in Parkminster, Sussex
The first time I ever met a practising Catholic was six years ago when I visited Bakonybél Abbey, a Benedictine monastery in Hungary, as a volunteer on a farming project. I was with my girlfriend, who had grown up as an Evangelical Christian; I had had no religious upbringing whatsoever. Despite the fact that I wasn’t baptised, I felt embarrassed to be living with a community of monks. Yet this introduction to the monastic life – with its emphasis on praying rather than proselytising – probably made a convert of me. The wordiness of Christianity had put me off, but the stillness drew me in. After my visit to Bakonybél, I was baptised and confirmed into the Catholic Church. I was 21. My friends and family often describe me as a “hippie” and were confused about this unlikely turn of events. Yet, despite my difficulties with some of the positions the Church takes up, I knew – from the experience of being part of the endless rhythm of prayer – that there was something more important at the heart of it.
In my early years as a Catholic, I was very interested in becoming a monk. Of course, this was a step that friends and family would never have even begun to understand. Yet I never quite crossed the threshold back inside a monastery. I thought I would give it time, and wait for God to guide me. It seems to have been such a more straightforward choice for others. Thérèse of Lisieux entered the Carmelites when she was fifteen years and three months old. Instead I dithered – I worked as a support worker, wrote, lived in a Catholic Worker community, and became a post-graduate student at St Benet’s Hall, Oxford. But all the time I was convinced that I wanted to become some manner of Benedictine.