TO FORGIVENESS AND JESUS:
By Kenneth Wapnick, Ph.D.
The next two years were difficult ones, as I struggled not very successfully to integrate these inner and outer worlds in my personal and professional life. The completion of the dissertation had strengthened my faith in this inner world, but that placed a strain on my external functioning. I went along as best I could, but my internal fear was still unknown to me. I knew only that "something" inside me needed protection, and that this concern must come before anyone or anything else. Unfortunately, it did. Two years later, in the summer of 1970, my wife and I separated (later divorced), and our one-year-old daughter remained with her. I moved to upstate New York and took a job in a state mental hospital.
Despite this upheaval, a marked change for the better began to occur in my life. A striking experience made it clear that this abstract inner world was far more personal than I had thought. I suddenly knew there was a God, and things began shifting into focus around this new Person in my life. I had never known such peace or happiness. There were difficult moments, to be sure, but I learned how even these could easily pass when turned over to God. Moreover, this acceptance of Him also brought with it an acceptance of Judaism. I felt God transcended the religious forms themselves, but for the first time I felt comfortable within them and grateful for the thorough Jewish education I had received.
Without any conscious awareness of what I was doing, since I was ignorant of such customs, my life became increasingly monastic in form. I lived within an ordered schedule which would have seemed ascetic to an outsider, but was pure joy for me. Nothing really mattered but God. Aside from my time at the hospital, I lived practically as a hermit. By the close of my first year I felt that music, having led me to God, had taken me as far as it could. It was no longer needed to fill the place in my life that He alone now filled.
Circumstances took a turn for the worse, however, as I found my living schedule increasingly more difficult to maintain. Thinking I was spiritually lax, I applied myself more diligently, and for a time was able to continue my basic life style. After a serious case of flu, however, I found it impossible to continue any form of spiritual activity or discipline. This state of internal disquiet remained for several months. Throughout it all, though, I never lost my faith in God. I knew that all I needed was to hold His hand and somehow He would get me through. I had read enough of the mystical literature to recognize I was going through a form of the "Dark Night of the Soul," a spiritual crisis that often foreshadows and accompanies a significant change in one's life. I had no idea what that meant specifically, which was probably good. If I had known what God had in mind for me, I would have run to hide under the bed and stayed there.
Finally, some light broke through my darkness. A series of steps led me to the books of Thomas Merton, who, after a startling religious conversion, entered the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky to become a Trappist monk. Astonished to find that there were people actually living a life totally dedicated to God, I arranged to spend five days at this monastery later that summer. The fact that these monks were Christian never occurred to me as a problem. I knew they loved God as I did; everything else seemed unimportant.
Things began moving more rapidly now. Despite my lack of concern with Christianity, I did think it would be helpful to have some knowledge of the Catholic Church before visiting the monastery, especially since Merton had written so much about his priesthood. Therefore, I attended early morning Mass regularly in July. Much to my surprise, I had the same feelings I once had when listening to Beethoven. I knew these experiences were of God, but who would have thought I would have them in a Catholic Church?
At the end of the month, I did something I had delayed for some time. I gave away all that I owned and took a furnished room on the hospital grounds, hoping that divesting myself of possessions would magically bring me peace. Although that was not to be, I did feel good about my next step, and eagerly awaited my trip to Merton's Trappist monastery in the middle of August.