Publication: First Things
Author: Milliner, Matthew J
Date published: August 1, 2010
In 1995, when I was a college sophomore (in more ways than one), I drove from New Jersey to California with a med school dropout named Becky, in pursuit of some derivative of Jack Kerouac's open-road fantasia. Rebelling against the Christianity that was far too normative for our adventurous tastes, our goal was to make it to an ashram in California. Eastern spirituality, we assumed, held some kind of answer. Along the way we reveled in the beauty of the Southwestern desert, allowing it to serve as a template on which we projected our dogmatically vague spirituality. We were textbook cases of Generation X, grazing on the warmed-over countercultural leftovers the previous generation hadn't yet entirely consumed.
Somewhere outside Amarillo, Becky even half-heartedly burned her bra. Santa Fe, Flagstaff - I hurried onward to Haight-Ashbury with great expectations, only to find it colonized by Ben & Jerry's. At the ashram, Becky decided she was going to stay. The guru quoted Origen in defense of reincarnation, but the teachings didn't grab me. After a meal at a vegan restaurant, Becky and I said our good-byes, and in December I set off, hitchhiking back across the country....
In the same year an elderly monk from Mount Athos also drove through the desert, looking to establish an American base for a very different kind of Eastern spirituality, one more remote (in many ways) from the American religious imagination than ashrams and gurus. He was scouting a site for the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Anthony in the Sonoran desert. For all I know, Becky and I drove right past him.