Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Later in the day...

Now, at 10:18AM, sitting in the Union at RMIT, with some copies of Chaplinesque – the newletter, not the weblog – in front of me, plus a sign saying, “THE CHAPLAIN IS IN! Chaplaincy @ RMIT” – I feel like I am selling something! And I feel incredibly foolish.

What am I selling? Maybe that’s the question for me to ask myself, sitting at my little pamphlet laden table? Not a plan, anyway. I simply don’t believe that “God has a plan for my life” as the fundier folk say. That’s pretty far from my theology, my idea of wholeness or “salvation,” if you want heavier words.

What I do believe is that there are opportunities to deepen both our experience and understanding of ultimate reality in the present moment, and that this can come from preparation by research, reading, talking, considering, by mindfulness. It can also come in taking time to simplify the mindset we generally use to encounter present reality by the practice of meditation and contemplation techniques that are found within the Christian tradition as well as in every other sacred tradition I know. And there is always – in the very middle of it - an element of gift – “grace” is the theological word here – in that this awareness can happen to a variety of people who do or do not prepare for it, and do or do not believe in it anyway.

And I believe that the heart of my ministry at RMIT and La Trobe, as well as what I do at St. Peter’s Eastern Hill and around the Diocese of Melbourne, is to provide times, places, and ways for people acquaint themselves with that reality, and to practice and experience their own opening into that deeper reality in the particularities of their own lives, history, and hopes.

I see the way of Jesus as the way for me to get there. And I am aware that a lot of people, perhaps the majority today – at least what I see in Melbourne – do not see institutional religion as a viable source for a living and vivid living tradition, and I am sorry, for it. For me, Christianity, Anglicanism, the Parish Church system all function as a viable path for me and has since I was 21 years old. I find room to meet God in the church and I see Jesus as a deep and spacious picture of the fullness of God in human form. But that’s not what I am pitching here, that’s not the most important thing.

The most important thing is for people to understand that their needs, desires, deepest selves, are largely unaccounted for by the icons and vocabulary of popular culture, as lately introduced. This is not to say that daily reality is tainted or unreal, it is not. But it is designed for mass consumption, to be chewed up easily with no great effort or aftertaste. And reality is bigger than that! We are bigger than that! Sometimes reality bites back!

So my ministry is to help people open the boundaries for self-understanding as well as for transformation; of themselves, their perception of the world and, finally, the world itself; by means creating a community of exploration, education, conversation, and a certain openness to that unexplainable gift that just might be in the centre of everything.

And now the hour is over. I got one phone call from someone on campus in the middle of it, had several people walked by and glanced at the table, pamphlets, me, with some curiosity but no great malice: nobody laughed, no one threw anything, I got through it. Time to go to the office.

Memories of Dom Aelred Graham OSB

When I was twenty three years old I met a man named Aeldred Graham, he was a Benedictine monk, from Ampleforth Abbey, York, and had studied at St. Denis’ at Oxford. When I met him he had just retired at the Abbot of Portmouth Abbey in Rhode Island in the US. He was the author of a number of books, including one called “The Love of God, which was according to Thomas Merton, the best book on that subject. He had also written several books on the dialogue between Christians and Buddhists.

I was able to spend some time with him. He gave me some instruction on how to do zazen meditation and then we talked for some time over several days. These conversations changed my life. He said:

If you are given something good, you don’t have to protect it, because it will stay with you. This means that you don’t need to be vigilant, or preoccupied, or overly concerned with orthodoxy, because God, who has begun a good thing in you, will see it through to the finish.

You need a sense of humour for the religious life. Partly because it comes from the realm of faith, an assumption that, in the end, “all will be well.” So there is room to grow, room to breathe, room to enlighten, room to kid around, so we can take the chance to be childlike, because the one essential thing is perhaps a gift, from someone else, somewhere else. So the world is bigger than we might think. And we can trust it. “There is a God and it is not you!” So there is room for ebullience and laughter in the tension between where we are and where we think we are.

So we need to practice the religion of Jesus rather than a religion about Jesus. This is to participate in the life of God. Not with the spirit of a child, but in the spirit of an adult, a friend, where the one thing that is important is the return to the Father, the creator, the unitive source, “that we all may be one as you are one.” It is a unitive vision, where all is found in participation in the one.

For God is closer than we might think. We are created, redeemed, inspired, with every breath and every motion, by the same spirit of God, the same spirit of creativity, the same spirit that renews, the same spirit that breathes us in every instance.

I needed to remember that today.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Sunday morning...

Sunday, June 26, 2005, 9:39AM. I just drove out to the Alfred to take communion to friend from St Peter's. This was the first time I had done this and it was a good experience, felt right and like a stretch. I don’t think I could write about it much, except that it felt like a right extension of the ministry I’ve had with this person and it brought me great joy. That’s enough to say.

Yesterday went well. I was feeling tired on Friday afternoon, then had some friends to dinner, which went well. But it was wonderful to take shoes off after they left and to know that I could keep them off for awhile, could actually sleep in and not shave the next day if I didn't want to.

I ended up shaving, but I did sleep in, then drank coffee and read some of “Thomas Merton, The Intimate Journal” in bed. I finally got dressed and started to clean the house. There were still shirts that hadn’t been ironed since getting back from the trip. I ended up getting a lot done, with some major neatening, which makes my inner compulsive-organiser feel good. But I also spend over an hour looking at other peoples photos on, a photo site. I had though of going to a museum or gallery, but this did the trick, gave me a space to consider other peoples clear vision. One guy in Boston did a series of portraits that were so simple and loving and good, it was like a massage to look at them. That’s what I go to a gallery for, cleansing the sight.

The Merton book is also good for that. It’s a careful selection from all the journals he kept over the years and I think it is a good overview of Merton’s process and style, gives a sense of the music of his mind, the way he saw and considered things. I have read him since I was in my early twenties and he still speaks to me with his authentic voice, his passion and concern in articulating what is might mean for God to dwell in flesh, his flesh, Jesus’ flesh, our flesh. He tries to be a place to incarnate that awareness and that gift in the midst of his daily life; as a monk, a moody man, a member of world living in the centre of the 20th century, even while being based in a cenobitic – and though his efforts, eremitic and contemptive – monastic community in the middle of Kentucky.

And his struggle with balancing all of that gives me hope and helps me to frame the struggle I live with, keeping conscious and awake and alive in the middle of a world that is often too noisy and settles for too little. Merton’s words keep me sharp in the struggle to remember what is most important. How simple that is, and how difficult – at least for me – to keep it simple.

Here’s a quote from the book that I liked:

April 16, 1956

Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infinitely rich, full of inexhaustible interest opening out onto the infinite possibilities opening out into the infinite further possibilities for study and contemplation and interest and praise. Beyond all and in all is God.

Perhaps the book of life, in the end, is the book of what one has lived and, of one has lived nothing, he is not is not in the book of Life.

I have always wanted to write about everything. That does not mean to write a book that “covers” everything – which would be impossible. But a book in which everything can go. A book with a little of everything that creates itself out of everything. That has its own life. A faithful book. I no longer look at it as a “book.”

Friday, June 24, 2005

for the weblog

for the weblog
Originally uploaded by Chaplinesque.

in case you wondered...

Friday morning

And it has been an odd week. I have done what I needed to do, maybe a bit more, but it's felt uphill the whole time. And every night when I take off my clothes and get into bed I feel like I want to stay there a long time. Tomorrow I am going to sleep in!

But I might take the day and do a mini-retreat instead. Go to a local museum or gallery, walk through a park (though it is cold in Melbourne right now!) or find a very quiet space and just sit there. At least I might take some time at the gym and do some serious and gentle stretching. Does all this sound like California ego-cruising? Sorry, but those tendencies are in my genes. We're talking 4th generation San Francisco here!

It also relates to my Rule of Life. I need to take some time and remember what I am about, as well as about my meaning and ministry; who I am and how I live that out. I see my spritual director next week, and maybe what I am thrashing about here is a template for when I get together to talk with her. In the end, it all has to do with attempting to stay balanced in an un-balanced world.

And that's why I need to keep quiet time and quality time on my schedule, not just sleeping in but keeping in touch with deeper rhythms that refresh me and help me remember what I am about. Yeah, that's the thing.

Gee, I feel better already, it is sure good to share! Have a good weekend!

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

It's been awhile...

And I might be in a bit of a mood. Not moody, in the sense of anger or depression, but a kind of listening - like a low level of prayer - for something to be revealed. I am at RMIT today, after two days at La Trobe, and I think I should do busy things, see people, make plans, accomplish actions: but I hope I have the grace, sense, ability to just sit somewhere, look 'round, do some journal work, let things come clear.

But just to show that I am actually quite active, here's a program that is coming soon at both campuses. Let me know if you are interested, the date is tba...

Thomas Merton
Contemplative Actions

Does Mysticism End In Politics?

The life and work of Thomas Merton is a deep and wild journey, born in France, raised in France, England and the US, he ended up as a Catholic monk, Zen master, poet, artist, mystic, spiritual writer, cultural critic, political animal and hermit. His life and writings are a kind of koan concerning the connection between individual enlightenment and social connections, the nature of the “true self” and the place of the neighbor in the configuration of that self. Come to an overview and discussion on Merton’s theories of how an “inner” mystical consciousness can lead to a deeper participation in the “outside” world.

Robert Whalley has taught classes, led seminars and conducted retreats in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years while he has worked as a teacher and chaplain in higher education. He moved to Melbourne in 2001 to be the first director of The Merton Centre and is Anglican Chaplain at La Trobe University, Bundoora, and RMIT University, Melbourne .

For further information call: Rob Whalley at 0438-069-258

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Today's Sermon

Some time ago a student came to me with a question: she was going to a Christian group on campus and they wanted her to get more involved with future Bible studies, gatherings, ministries. She was worried that this commitment might affect her studies, her life and work as a University student, and when she shared this with someone in the group, she was told that if she really loved Jesus, then sharing the Good News had to be the most important thing in her life. Studies had to come second to her commitment to the Lord.

She asked what I thought, I said, “That’s not necessarily true.” But when I read the Gospel for today, it brought it back to mind.

Jesus says, “As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

That is the call given in the reading of Matthew we heard today. And it needs to be taken very seriously by each of us as ministers of this God. But how do we take that, how do we live it out in our days and ways? Do we need to give up everything and bring souls to Christ by handing out pamphlets in the local shopping centre? I don’t think that’s necessarily true. In fact, I think that type of heroism, linked up with a certain amount of the wrong kind of guilt, can be the worse thing for our relationship with God and Jesus, as well as our relationships with our friends, neighbors and ourselves. It has to do with trying to do the right thing, but for the wrong reason, sometimes the worst reasons!

You see there are a lot of us around who try to prepare and do great things because of a need for some official accreditation, from God or the family, or simply for other people’s praise or approval. This touches everybody to some extent. And religion can go wrong here, be very toxic, can feed off that kind of guilt, where we need to be better people, more faithful, better doers of the word, trying a little harder everyday in everyway. Better and better. Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers,* cast out demons. In other words, work harder, do more. Go for the spiritual gold, those ultimate prizes! C. S. Lewis writes in the Screwtape Letters, “She’s the kind of person who lives for others. You can tell the others by the hunted look.” Do you know people like that? Are you a person like that? Are you trying to do too much for Jesus? Is this really necessary?

I think that part of the Good News of the Gospel has to do with not being a hero: it has to do with forgiving ourselves, letting ourselves be forgiven for being who we are. I used to have a terrible habit that would show up three or four times a year when I’d decide that I was finally going to get into good physical shape. I would resolve go to the gym and do a very serious workout on a regular basis. And I would prepare. I built momentum! I talked to more athletic friends about regimens and aerobics and free weights, and I’d plan to lift weights in the morning and run on the treadmill in the afternoon every day! One year I joined the local college team for a nightly class to get into shape for the football season. And on the third day, I couldn’t get out of bed. It had seemed like such a good idea at the time. I figured that if I had enough will, enough desire, if I really worked for it, I would get there; win the prize, get the glory, finish that race. I probably saw too many movies where will power won the day. I never got there, and I sure felt guilty that I didn’t.

Twenty-plus years later, I find that that the exercise I do is, in some ways, less important than the stretching I do before: stretching both in preparing for the workout that follows as well as identifying and easing the injuries that have come in my daily life. That has become a regular practice for me and I learn from it. Because now when I stretch I take time to listen to the recent history of my body in the world, noting where soreness and stiffness need to be honoured, limits need to be known and acknowledged before they can be moved and enlarged, if they in fact can. Then I go to do a workout that works for me based on who and where I am at the time. And that’s not too far from prayer and discipleship in ministry. We have to start where we are.

Preparing for ministry, just like stretching, takes time. Sometimes we need to take it easy, to let ourselves be forgiven in order to forgive others. We need to let our own sicknesses be cleansed over time from the toxins of time, and maybe not even cured, at least right away. We need to let our own outcasts be reconciled into communities of caring: we even need to let our own dead die and, by grace sometimes rise into new memory and meaning. This is the work of being alive to the Gospel, and it this takes time: God’s own time, time that we don’t constrain, don’t judge, don’t squelch with expectation, don’t overrun by saying, “now I need to, do this now, do this better, do this or else.” A writer named Urban Holmes wrote that Christian conversion is a "marinade rather than a glaze.” He says, “We are transformed by being soaked in the gospel." and this plain process takes time, time to be changed ever closer to the likeness of Christ.

That’s part of the rhythm, the motion, the dance we see in the Four Gospels, throughout the Old and New Testaments; times for celebration, times for rest and renewal, times for listening and learning, times for giving it all over, times for taking it all in. Certainly there are moments when we need to be agents of mercy and healing and love, but not always! And not always just for others, but sometimes for ourselves, loving the neighbour as the self. And sometimes when we even have to face the fact that we don’t know what time it really is!

Has someone ever told you, “when you said such and such” – and they will remember specific words, “it changed my life.” – and you don’t remember telling them anything like that! You just show up, be open and kind and listen to what is there, and something else happens in the middle of it all. That often comes when you give up the need to be a hero.

Thomas Merton, the Roman Catholic monk and writer, an authority on Zen Buddhism who died in the sixties, wrote this to his good friend, Jim Forrest, who was working as a minister in the Catholic peace movement during the Vietnam War.

"Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on… you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. And… gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

"The big results are not in your hands or mine, but they suddenly happen, and we can share in them; but there is no point in building our lives on this personal satisfaction, which may be denied us and which after all is not that important…

"All the good that you will do will come not from you but from the fact that you have allowed yourself, in the obedience of faith, to be used by God's love. Think of this more, and gradually you will be free from the need to prove yourself, and you can be more open to the power that will work through you without your knowing it.

"The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth… [but to] serve Christ's truth…. [because] The real hope, then, is not in something we think we can do but in God who is making something good out of it in some way we cannot see. If we can do His will, we will be helping in this process. But we will not necessarily know all about it beforehand…"

Last month I was away on an extended retreat, and one day while I was on my way somewhere else, I walked into an empty church that was crowded with a kind of pregnant waiting glory – that is, the reality of grace, of prayer and presence. It was an amazing moment: the resurgence of patience and hope and patience, where I remembered again that the tradition that I stand and the way I follow does have a heart and much room for the surprising reality of God’s love. With all the extraneous stuff in the church- the guilt, the business, all the talk and trouble we get into together, there is something newborn and true right in the middle of it.

And what I took from that, and what I remember today, in wrestling with our Gospel for this morning, is simply this. That the ultimate place we minister in is found is in a silent surrender to the reality of what is: day to day, here and now: with all the truth of who and where we are and what we can and cannot do at this moment. But all this in the light of the fact that we are created in the beginning by the Father, met and loved right through the middle by this God-with-us Jesus, and inspired to the end by the intimate breath of the Holy Spirit. That is the gift I remembered that day, that I bring to you this day. An awareness of grace, depth, and riches in everyday life, the real meaning of the sacrament of the present moment: the only place from which our ministries might proceed. How much of daily reality does shine in every fragile passing moment with love and somehow ever newborn life? How much of our ministry can begin in simply saying, “Thank you, I am glad to be here”? And that might be enough for now.


Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I have been back from the trip to Italy for almost two weeks and it has been.... it is difficult to say in English. There is a Venutian word, roughly transposed as TGDRFC@C, which implies the degree of ambivalence, combined with the forward thrust of anti-sloth, and some overtones of the late sixties, but let's just say it has been quite a week.

I went to the Dr. last week for a recurrent chest infection that I had first in April and he put me on a regimen of steroids. I realize I just cannot take them. It is a bit like cocaine, too much energy, a feeling of deep righteousness, racing thoughts, a tendency towards rushing to conclusions and premature anger. In some ways I like it a lot, but it doesn't feel like the sort of thing I should like - leads me towards a kind of true-beleiver mindset, like a family-first conservative or fundamentalist, but I think I will avoid steroids in the future.
Anyway, they say flying eastward is rougher.

This morning I did wake up early and do my series of stretches with prayers. It's been over a month since I was that systematic about being a body at prayer.

Here's some journal stuff from the end of the month is Assisi.

I know that my mind has relaxed quite a bit. The beauty of the place, even the grandeur that was Rome, and the beauty of Travestere, the day at La Verne, even everybody singing "Hey Jude" so loudly on the bus to Orviette, those things will stay for awhile, and it may be that something has shifted somewhere in me, something has relaxed or moved away or towards the center. That is just a hunch; but the future and how I live it will be the proof of that.

So what do I want to say? Make notes maybe on how Trajan’s market and the ruins under the commune affected me. All that order and elegance under the dirt for centuries, All the precision of language, trade, engineering fallen silent and excavated after almost 2000 years to be considered and photographed by tourists from Tokyo, London, Melbourne and Fairfield California. It is impossible to see that place - both Rome and Assisi - and now see city malls in the future - whether San Francisco Centre or Melbourne Central, as anything but passing phenomena – sad somehow in their pretensions and gaudiness.

More memories: the sounds of the bells, the amazing paintings in the Basilica, the friendliness of the people, walking into the plaza by the fountain by the church of Maria sopre Minerva, as well as the one in front of Clare’s church, the roasted vegetables, the lovely gelati in the evening, and those amazing porchetta sandwiches that were sliced and sold from the mobile cart by the Saturday market.

And the surprise that has come a few times here, of walking into a church and hearing some soft resonance in the air, almost inaudible but undoubtedly there, that comes in an atmosphere where there has been prayer over time. There was a small church in Rome that was crowded with that kind of pregnant waiting glory – that is the reality of prayer and presence: the resurgence of hope and patience that happens in a few moments of silence and grace where I remember again that the tradition that I stand in does have a heart – with all the extraneous stuff in the church, there is something newborn and true in the middle of it.

Maybe that is what I will take with me. A place I might learn more often to proceed from. Is is simply found in silence and surrender. For so many years I used to feel that I needed a running start to get anywhere. That’s why I made endless plans and outline, tried to organize and structure everything, and consequently smoked so much dope in the sixties, as a kind of balancing activity; why I choked on term papers and final exams, feared being found out as insufficient, took years to complete tasks, assignments, classes, projects, degrees, life in general: because I needed some great momentum that came from resolve or intent or other peoples praise, or an official accreditation from someone or somewhere in order to get where I should get, be who I should be, do what I felt I had to do or be. I was so noisy and so needlessly busy!

And part of what I see here and remember once again is that the ultimate place one stands in is found is a silent surrender to the reality of what is.It is not often this clear, the awareness of depth and riches in everyday life, the real meaning of the sacrament of the present moment, To go back to Eden Phillpot’s quote: at this precise moment, being 4:59PM on a Sunday afternoon in the shaded garden of a convent on a hill above he church of Santa Chiara in the village of Assisi with my trusty iBook named Chip, I do see right now that the world IS full of magical things and in this fragile, passing, evanescent moment, my wits can see a bit more of the reality of how much does shine in every fragile passing moment with love and somehow ever newborn life. And I am a happy and a grateful man.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Finally online

I am - at last - online at RMIT!

Just to be official, my email is:

And I can actually receive mail in my office!

Test this thesis, send me some mail!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Reflections on Italy - note from my May Retreat journal

What am I about at this point? I probably just need to find a quiet place to pray for awhile. We went to Santa Chiara this morning and I was moved to tears very quickly. “Create in me a new heart, and renew a right spirit within me” came to mind. Heart and Spirit: what does that mean today? Time to shut down, I think - the computer, that is - and go and pray.

I usually find retreats tough to get into and well worth the trouble. This is all reminding me of days doing retreats at Mt Calvary Retreat HOuse in Santa Barbara in the 70s and 80s, which is awhile back. 25 years since I started seminary. I’ve been doing some catholic reading: Cunningham’s book on Francis, then June Singer’s book on Jungian therapy, which I started and put down 25 years ago. Now reading a book by Richard Rohr on contemplative prayer, which is just what I need.But let’s go deeper.

Something is happening here. I am in a bit of a persona, feeling tired, fearful, angry. Part of that is my back is still sore, though that is getting better. But there is something very holy here, it hits me walking into the churches as well as along the streets. My dreams are going weird, and it is as if I am making some wide turn in my life journey. I don’t think I am going to get a revelation, but I feel like my understanding of life might get deeper.

I thought of some lines for a poem earlier.

This city is built on Roman ruins, Franciscan foundations, blood and war, hope,
Tourism, Eurodollars, major UN grants, and prayer.
The streets are noisy with commerce and eloquent in silence.
You walk with saints, soldiers, entrepreneurs and pilgrims over millennia,
Music comes and goes, and children and bells run through the streets without reason.
The stones witness it all and still endure, seem soft as flesh,
As if they could meet your touch and respond to your hand.

The stone façade of the church of Santa Chiara is pink and blue
Like the inside of God’s mouth; cradling prayer for awhile
Till it spills like wine into the plaza outside and falls into everyone’s open mouth;
With the fresh air of the morning and flecks from old portraits and icons,
Garlic from the nearby café and exhaust from a German bus that just went by.
All settle on your head like a bright scarf gifted you by a passing stranger
Who kisses you on both cheeks, then goes on her way, laughing.

Reading this several weeks later, and now back in Melbourne and past jet lag, it is almost like it happened to someone else. But it is in my heart, deeper than my mind, not easily usable - if that makes sense - but there, waiting in its own time, to make its way known.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Afer a week of being back in Melbourne with jetlag and a return of a chest infection that is finally yielding to cortisone (a drug which gives me energy and a sense that I can control my own destiny and probably a few others as well - hence a pill I shouldn't swallow too often) I finally feel like I am at home again.

The time in Assisi, as well as Pisa, Rome and the UK, was wonderful. And it was a real pilgrimage and retreat. I am still unpacking what I've learned. I did keep a journal and will likely share some edited impressions of some of the gifts of the time; if they are real gifts, they need to be given again.

But not yet. I am now in the phase of trying to organise daily life and work, and trying to see how the gifts of the time away fit into the texture of my daily life in Melbourne. It is so good to be home!

From an English paper

From the News.Telegraph Website.

Reality TV in monastery changes five lives forever
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 30/04/2005)
Five men, ranging from an atheist in the pornography trade to a former Protestant paramilitary, have found their lives unexpectedly transformed in the latest incarnation of reality television - the monastery.

More Oh Brother! than Big Brother, the five underwent a spiritual makeover by spending 40 days and 40 nights living with Roman Catholic monks in Worth Abbey, West Sussex.
The experiment, which will be shown on BBC 2 this month, was designed to test whether the monastic tradition begun by St Benedict 1,500 years ago still has any relevance to the modern world.

Although participants were not required to vote each other out, they faced the challenge of living together in a community and following a disciplined regime of work and prayer. By the end, the atheist, Tony Burke, 29, became a believer and gave up his job producing trailers for a sex chat line after having what he described as a "religious experience".

Gary McCormick, 36, the former Ulster Defence Association member, who spent much of his early life in prison, began to overcome his inner demons.

Peter Gruffydd, a retired teacher, regained the faith he had rejected in his youth and Nick Buxton, 37, a Cambridge undergraduate, edged closer to becoming an Anglican priest.

The fifth "novice", 32-year-old Anthony Wright, who works for a London legal publishing company, started to come to terms with his childhood traumas.

The three-part series called The Monastery shows the five abiding by the monastery rules, with a strict timetable of instruction, study, prayer, reflection and work duties. They are also shown holding intense and often painful sessions with their religious mentors, individual monks assigned to guide each of them on their spiritual journeys.

At the end of one of these sessions, Mr Burke, his voicing breaking with emotion, confessed his feelings in a video-diary entry. "I didn't want this to happen," he said.
"But something touched me, something spoke to me very deeply. It was a religious experience. When I woke up this morning, I didn't believe in this but, as I speak to you now, I do. Whatever it is, I believe in it."

The participants, none of whom was a Roman Catholic, shared meals with the monks, worked in the grounds and joined in the daily office, from early morning Matins to Compline. They were also obliged to follow the monks' rules of silence, obedience and humility.

At the start, the new arrivals were sceptical and discipline did not come easily - two of them were reprimanded for leaving the monastery "looking for virgins and cigarettes". By the end, they all conceded that the experience had made a profound impression on them. Fr Christopher Jamison, the Abbot, said that the monastery had been delighted with the results