I had become an Oblate, affiliated with an Anglican Benedictine Community--the Companions of St. John, of the Christ Church Abbey. This obviously seems like a huge quick move on my part, but it really wasn't all that sudden. Nonetheless, it takes some explaining. And it also takes some backtracking, if you will. So let me start this part of my story a few years back, when I was still at DARPA--stemming especially from that time when I had my scary experience at the Los Alamos museum.
After I settled down in the Washington area, after cruising around more in the Library of Congress, delving more into the medieval Knights Templar, I slowly began to realize that I was maybe missing a crucial element in all this: Christ.
As I have put, I really wasn't much into church--maybe the mechanics of monasticism, but not at all in terms of Christ. Now I cannot say that I had some overwhelming faith experience, but the thought of Christ slowly gnawed on me. The Templars were originally the "Poor Knights of Christ," and throughout their existence they remained warrior-monks committed to Christ.
Maybe at my own poor level of understanding Christ, I might have been exactly where most of those illiterate medieval knights might have stood. Maybe it was "just the thing to do," to attend church, to follow the rituals, to follow the authorities and their perspectives about Christ, to be a part of the Church Militant (back then). This sort of implies a religious superficiality, which is not unfamiliar right unto this day.
Me? I wasn't even at the superficial level when I finally re-approached a church along with any potential encounter with Christ. Actually, the church turned out to be a cathedral--more specifically, the Washington National Cathedral, which is also the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington. Within itself a cathedral is oft composed of many sorts of ministries and communities, including a parish congregation. Sitting in for nearly a half-year, I decided to reactivate my membership into the Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church was the American representative.
Oddly, I eased into the spirituality of the National Cathedral through its music--not only its splendid music at Eucharist, but also it's lovely concerts. There were even visiting choirs, like from Clare College, Cambridge, as well as the Canterbury Singers. There were also "sacred" performances and lectures and visitations, ranging from the Dalai Lama to representatives of Environmental Action.
And when it came to Christ, I had occasion to study with some of the cathedral canons as well as attend workshops presented by the Shalem Institute (then attached to the National Cathedral). But in the end it was up-to-me when it came to a more refined understanding of who Christ might be. Along the way I found a "Theological Studies" program offered at a local university. It was a six semester course offered at night over a two-year period. This program at least helped me dig deeper, when it came to any serious conceptualization of Christ.
In addition to this, I had the good luck finding Fr. Benet once again. Remember, he was our chaplain at White Sands! After many years of service, he finally retired as an Army chaplain--and returned to his home monastery, which happened to be a Roman Catholic Benedictine Abbey located in the city of Washington. Over the years since I left White Sands we had kept in touch. So when he returned to Washington, I was delighted.
So--what with my moving more towards a serious sense of Christ, what with my Anglican membership at the National Cathedral and with my theological studies, I had the deep privilege of working with Fr. Benet. He was a very wise man, a lovely monk, who also was very tolerant--ecumenically speaking. In a very special way, he became my spiritual director. We would meet fairly often, either at his monastery or sometimes over a good lunch.
I was beginning to grow as a Christian. And, eventually, I decided that somehow I wanted to be more connected as a "monastic." As I have noted, over the years I had worked into the mechanics of monasticism. I felt even as an archetypal Knight Templar that I had to understand better the "monk" side of the warrior-monk. Up to now, my orientation had been mostly on the "warrior" side; but now the other side of this archetype required more serious exploration.
Talking over my interest in becoming an Oblate, which essentially is a lay person who aims towards living a religious or monastic life, Fr. Benet alerted me to an experiemental Benedictine community that was under the auspices of the Episcopal Church. I had come to know about the Holy Cross Fathers, but they seemed much more traditional than I desired. By this time I was like a wild horse ready for a race across the range, and religious conservatism wasn't for me! I guess Fr. Benet knew this when he made his suggestion about this experimental Benedictine community--called the Companions of St. John.
These Benedictines resided at Christ Church Abbey, which was located down in "old home" territory for me. They were located near Charles City, Virginia, in the old plantation country alongside the James River. Both Williamsburg and Jamestown were nearby.
As for the "experimental" part, whew! The Christ Church Abbey consisted of both male and female monastics. Back during the Middle Ages, there were dual abbeys--but in today's world, such circumstances seem very new and maybe even innovative. Anyway, Christ Church Abbey fit my comfort zone. I made contact and slipped down there once a month for Oblate training; and, wouldn't you know, but my Oblate Director was a lady monastic, who was also a retired Marine officer! Par for the course, ummmh!
Being a Benedictine Oblate actually fit my archetypal Templar pattern, in that though I now was monastically oriented I still remained out in the world serving as the "Arm" of the Benedictine Tradition. Of course it's not proper to think of this in military terms, but that doesn't mean I didn't.
At this time I knew that I was going to retire from the Army, but I still thought of myself as a knight. It's just that I needed to think in new ways about all this. My extra years at ACDA seemed a case where I was trying to "sheath" my sword, turning swords into ploughshares. Maybe that was in the forefront of my mind, but way back in my mind I knew that I still held the sword. But there was a difference. No longer would my symbolic Templar sword be dedicated to a crusade. Rather it would be wielded in good cause, meeting a challenge that serves Life.