Nicholas Alan SSF
Br Nicholas Alan made his life profession in 2002, and is presently Guardian of Glasshampton Monastery.
Where does a vocation begin? For me it was more of a growing conviction only recognised in hindsight, but I remember a time when there was something about the words ‘monk’ and ‘monastery’ that kept leaping out of the page in books that I was reading. I was studying Theology at university at the time, and finding some of the critical theologians hard going. It was the books by monks and nuns that really captured my imagination – people like the Cistercian Thomas Merton, or Dom Henri Le Saux, a Benedictine who went to India taking the name Abhishiktananda, a Christian in Hindu robes. Here was a faith lived with integrity and abandonment to God, which called for a response from my heart.
It took me a while to make up my mind though. First I wrote to various communities for men in the Church of England, asking if I could live alongside their community for a while. They all seemed to say, Why not try the Franciscans? So I went to visit Hilfield Friary in Dorset, but I knew it was too early for me to join. I wanted to see the world. Eight years later, now living in Korea, I knew that it was time to return and get on with what I believed God had been patiently calling me to do.
Many things drew me to the Franciscans. Partly it was the corporate commitment to prayer at regular times each day. I had tried to do that on my own, using the SSF Office Book and re-connecting in spirit with the SSF, but it was so difficult on my own to maintain the discipline. I realised I needed the help of others in my prayers. And I didn’t like living alone. Community seemed to offer the balance of individual space and the companionship of others on a spiritual path. And Francis, full of wisdom’s folly, was a refreshing and exhilarating example of poverty and joy in his love of God and all his brothers and sisters.
But in the end, what kept me in the SSF was simply that these brothers and sisters were the people I had come to know and love. They were and are my family. How could I think of leaving them? And it wasn’t just them. Friendships with members of other communities, not just Anglican but Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Buddhist too were increasingly important to me. They were all part of what I had become. Of course the desire for a wife and family was still there, but somewhere along the line a choice had been made and one path followed with another left unexplored.
And in this company of brothers and sisters, both those with whom I live and pray and those I have visited and come to know as friends, with these companions I honestly feel that living this life makes a difference. People visit our communities and are changed: refreshed and revitalised in spirit, strengthened to live their own lives to the full. People and groups we visit find something in this crazy choice of ours that inspires them, just as I was inspired as a student. When you live this life for a while, you soon realise that it is not you who work any of these miracles, it can only be God. And if God is here, then the one thing necessary has already been found.