The Novitiate

Contact Us

Table of Contents

Search Site

home  Home

Google listing of all pages on this website

Site Map

Toby Johnson's Facebook page

Toby Johnson's YouTube channel

Toby Johnson on Wikipedia

Toby Johnson Amazon Author Page

Secure Site Comodo Seal

Secure site at

rainbow line

Also on this website:

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Toby Johnson's books:

Toby's books are available as ebooks from, the Apple iBookstore, etc.

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III

Gay Spirituality

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

Gay Perspective

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

Secret Matter

SECRET MATTER, a sci-fi novel with wonderful "aliens" with an Afterword by Mark Jordan

Getting Life

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE:  A Fantastical Gay Romance set in two different time periods

The Fourth Quill

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

Two Spirits
TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

charmed lives
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: GaySpirit in Storytelling, a collaboration with Steve Berman and some 30 other writers

Myth of the Great Secret

THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

In Search of God


Unpublished manuscripts

About ordering

Books on Gay Spirituality:

White Crane Gay Spirituality Series

rainbow line

  Toby has done five podcasts with Harry Faddis for The Quest of Life

rainbow line

  Articles and Excerpts:

Review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

About Liberty Books, the Lesbian/Gay Bookstore for Austin, 1986-1996

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

Why gay people should NOT Marry

The Scriptural Basis for Same Sex Marriage

Toby and Kip Get Married

Wedding Cake Liberation

Gay Marriage in Texas

What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

rainbow line

Gay Consciousness

Why homosexuality is a sin

The cause of homosexuality

The origins of homophobia

Q&A about Jungian ideas in gay consciousness

What is homosexuality?

What is Gay Spirituality?

My three messages

What Jesus said about Gay Rights

Queering religion

Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

Is there a "uniquely gay perspective"?

The purpose of homosexuality

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

Waves of Gay Liberation Activity

The Gay Succession

Wouldn’t You Like to Be Uranian?

The Reincarnation of Edward Carpenter

Was I (or you) at Stonewall?

Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Mysticism of Andrew Harvey

The upsidedown book on MSNBC

rainbow line


"It's Always About You"

The myth of the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara

Joseph Campbell's description of Avalokiteshvara

You're Not A Wave

Joseph Campbell Talks about Aging

Toby's Experience of Zen

What is Enlightenment?

What is reincarnation?

How many lifetimes in an ego?

Emptiness & Religious Ideas

Experiencing experiencing experiencing

Going into the Light

Meditations for a Funeral

Meditation Practice

The way to get to heaven

Buddha's father was right

What Anatman means

Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal

The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika

Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva

John Boswell was Immanuel Kant

Cutting edge realization

The Myth of the Wanderer

Change: Source of Suffering & of Bliss

World Navel

What the Vows Really Mean

Manifesting from the Subtle Realms

The Three-layer Cake & the Multiverse

The est Training and Personal Intention

Effective Dreaming in Ursula LeGuin's The Lathe of Heaven

rainbow line

Gay Spirituality

Curious Bodies

What Toby Johnson Believes

The Joseph Campbell Connection

The Mann Ranch (& Rich Gabrielson)

Campbell & The Pre/Trans Fallacy

The Two Loves

The Nature of Religion

What's true about Religion

Being Gay is a Blessing

Drawing Long Straws

Freedom of Religion

rainbow line

The Gay Agenda

Gay Saintliness

Gay Spiritual Functions

The subtle workings of the spirit in gay men's lives.

The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

Proposal for a study of gay nondualism

Priestly Sexuality

Having a Church to Leave

Harold Cole on Beauty

rainbow line

Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Not lashed to the prayer-post

Monastic or Chaste Homosexuality

The Monastic Schedule: a whimsy

Is It Time to Grow Up? Confronting the Aging Process

Notes on Licking  (July, 1984)

Redeem Orlando

Gay Consciousness changing the world by Shokti LoveStar

Alexander Renault interviews Toby Johnson

rainbow line

Mystical Vision

"The Evolution of Gay Identity"

"St. John of the Cross & the Dark Night of the Soul."

Avalokiteshvara at the Baths

 Eckhart's Eye

Let Me Tell You a Secret

Religious Articulations of the Secret

The Collective Unconscious

Driving as Spiritual Practice


Historicity as Myth


No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

The New Myth

The Moulting of the Holy Ghost

Gaia is a Bodhisattva

Sex with God

Merging Religion and Sex

Revolution Through Consciousness Change: GSV 2019

rainbow line

The Hero's Journey

The Hero's Journey as archetype -- GSV 2016

The  Gay Hero Journey (shortened)

You're On Your Own


rainbow line

Seeing Differently

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"

Adam and Steve

The Life is in the Blood

Gay retirement and the "freelance monastery"

Seeing with Different Eyes

Facing the Edge: AIDS as an occasion for spiritual wisdom

What are you looking for in a gay science fiction novel?

rainbow line

The Vision

The mystical experience at the Servites'  Castle in Riverside

A  Most Remarkable Synchronicity in Riverside

The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

rainbow line

The Techniques Of The World Saviors

Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby

Part 2: The Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara

Part 3: Jesus and the Resurrection

Part 4: A Course in Miracles

rainbow line

The Secret of the Clear Light

Understanding the Clear Light

Mobius Strip

Finding Your Tiger Face

How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

rainbow line

Joseph Campbell, the Hero's Journey, and the modern Gay Hero-- a five part presentation on YouTube

rainbow line

About Alien Abduction

In honor of Sir Arthur C Clarke

Karellen was a homosexual

The D.A.F.O.D.I.L. Alliance

Intersections with the movie When We Rise

More about Gay Mental Health

Psych Tech Training

Toby at the California Institute

The Rainbow Flag

Ideas for gay mythic stories

rainbow line


Kip and Toby, Activists

Toby's friend and nicknamesake Toby Marotta.

Harry Hay, Founder of the gay movement

About Hay and The New Myth

About Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first man to really "come out"

About Michael Talbot, gay mystic

About Fr. Bernard Lynch

About Richard Baltzell

About Guy Mannheimer

About David Weyrauch

About Dennis Paddie

About Ask the Fire

About Arthur Evans

About Christopher Larkin

About Mark Thompson

About Sterling Houston

About Michael Stevens

The Alamo Business Council

Our friend Tom Nash

Second March on Washington

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"

rainbow line

Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter

The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

Love Together: Longtime Male Couples on Healthy Intimacy and Communication by Tim Clausen

War Between Materialism and Spiritual by Jean-Michel Bitar

The Serpent's Gift: Gnostic Reflections on the Study of Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion by Jeffrey J. Kripal

The Invitation to Love by Darren Pierre

Brain, Consciousness, and God: A Lonerganian Integration by Daniel A Helminiak

A Walk with Four Spiritual Guides by Andrew Harvey

Can Christians Be Saved? by Stephenson & Rhodes

The Lost Secrets of the Ancient Mystery Schools by Stephenson & Rhodes

Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises by Adrian Ravarour

In Walt We Trust by John Marsh

Solomon's Tantric Song by Rollan McCleary

A Special Illumination by Rollan McCleary

Aelred's Sin by Lawrence Scott

Fruit Basket by Payam Ghassemlou

Internal Landscapes by John Ollom

Princes & Pumpkins by David Hatfield Sparks

Yes by Brad Boney

Blood of the Goddess by William Schindler

Roads of Excess, Palaces of Wisdom by Jeffrey Kripal

Evolving Dharma by Jay Michaelson

Jesus in Salome's Lot by Brett W. Gillette

The Man Who Loved Birds by Fenton Johnson

The Vatican Murders by Lucien Gregoire

"Sex Camp" by Brian McNaught

Out & About with Brewer & Berg
Episode One: Searching for a New Mythology

The Soul Beneath the Skin by David Nimmons

Out on Holy Ground by Donald Boisvert

The Revotutionary Psychology of Gay-Centeredness by Mitch Walker

Out There by Perry Brass

The Crucifixion of Hyacinth by Geoff Puterbaugh

The Silence of Sodom by Mark D Jordan

It's Never About What It's About by Krandall Kraus and Paul Borja

ReCreations, edited by Catherine Lake

Gospel: A Novel by WIlton Barnhard

Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey by Fenton Johnson

Dating the Greek Gods
by Brad Gooch

Telling Truths in Church by Mark D. Jordan

The Substance of God by Perry Brass

The Tomcat Chronicles by Jack Nichols

10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Improve Their Lives by Joe Kort

Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same Sex Love by Will Roscoe

The Third Appearance by Walter Starcke

The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann

Surviving and Thriving After a Life-Threatening Diagnosis by Bev Hall

Men, Homosexuality, and the Gods by Ronald Long

An Interview with Ron Long

Queering Creole Spiritual Traditons by Randy Conner & David Sparks

An Interview with Randy Conner

Pain, Sex and Time by Gerald Heard

Sex and the Sacred by Daniel Helminiak

Blessing Same-Sex Unions by Mark Jordan

Rising Up by Joe Perez

Soulfully Gay by Joe Perez

That Undeniable Longing by Mark Tedesco

Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman

Wisdom for the Soul by Larry Chang

MM4M a DVD by Bruce Grether

Double Cross by David Ranan

The Transcended Christian by Daniel Helminiak

Jesus in Love by Kittredge Cherry

In the Eye of the Storm by Gene Robinson

The Starry Dynamo by Sven Davisson

Life in Paradox by Fr Paul Murray

Spirituality for Our Global Community by Daniel Helminiak

Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society by Robert A. Minor

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences by Glen O'Brien

Queering Christ by Robert Goss

Skipping Towards Gomorrah by Dan Savage

The Flesh of the Word by Richard A Rosato

Catland by David Garrett Izzo

Tantra for Gay Men by Bruce Anderson

Yoga & the Path of the Urban Mystic by Darren Main

Simple Grace by Malcolm Boyd

Seventy Times Seven by Salvatore Sapienza

What Does "Queer" Mean Anyway? by Chris Bartlett

Critique of Patriarchal Reasoning by Arthur Evans

Gift of the Soul by Dale Colclasure & David Jensen

Legend of the Raibow Warriors by Steven McFadden

The Liar's Prayer by Gregory Flood

Lovely are the Messengers by Daniel Plasman

The Human Core of Spirituality by Daniel Helminiak

3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

Religion and the Human Sciences by Daniel Helminiak

Only the Good Parts by Daniel Curzon

Four Short Reviews of Books with a Message

Life Interrupted by Michael Parise

Confessions of a Murdered Pope by Lucien Gregoire

The Stargazer's Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

Conscious Living, Conscious Aging by Ron Pevny

Footprints Through the Desert by Joshua Kauffman

True Religion by J.L. Weinberg

The Mediterranean Universe by John Newmeyer

Everything is God by Jay Michaelson

Reflection by Dennis Merritt

Everywhere Home by Fenton Johnson

Hard Lesson by James Gaston

God vs Gay? by Jay Michaelson

The Gate of Tears: Sadness and the Spiritual Path by Jay Michaelson

Roxie & Fred by Richard Alther

Not the Son He Expected by Tim Clausen

The 9 Realities of Stardust by Bruce P. Grether

The Afterlife Revolution by Anne & Whitley Strieber

AIDS Shaman: Queer Spirit Awakening by Shokti Lovestar

Facing the Truth of Your Life by Merle Yost

The Super Natural by Whitley Strieber & Jeffrey J Kripal

Secret Body by Jeffrey J Kripal

In Hitler's House by Jonathan Lane

Walking on Glory by Edward Swift

The Paradox of Porn by Don Shewey

Is Heaven for Real? by Lucien Gregoire

In Search of Lost Lives by Michael Goddart

Queer Magic by Tomas Prower

God in Your Body by Jay Michaelson

Science Whispering Spirit by Gary Preuss

Friends of Dorothy by Dee Michel

New by Whitley Strieber

Developing Supersensible Perception by Shelli Renee Joye

Sage Sapien by Johnson Chong

Tarot of the Future by Arthur Rosengarten

Brothers Across Time by Brad Boney

Impresario of Castro Street by Marc Huestis

Deathless by Andrew Ramer

The Pagan Heart of the West, Vol 1 by Randy P. Conner

Practical Tantra by William Schindler

The Flip by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Scissors, Paper, Rock by Fenton Johnson

Toby Johnson's Books on Gay Men's Spiritualities:

Perspective cover
Gay Perspective

Things Our [Homo]sexuality
Tells Us about the
Nature of God and
the Universe

Gay Perspective audiobook
Gay Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Matthew Whitfield. Click here

Spirituality cover
Gay Spirituality

Gay Identity and 
the Transformation of
Human Consciousness

Gay Spirituality   is now available as an audiobook, beautifully narrated by John Sipple. Click here

charmed lives
Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling

edited by
Toby Johnson
& Steve Berman

secret matter
Secret Matter

Lammy Award Winner for Gay Science Fiction


Getting Life
Getting Life in Perspective

A Fantastical Romance

Life in Perspective audiobook
Getting Life in Perspective is available as an audiobook narrated by Alex Beckham. Click here 

The Fourth Quill

The Fourth Quill

originally published as PLAGUE

The Fourth Quill is available as an audiobook, narrated by Jimmie Moreland. Click here

Two Spirits: A Story of Life with the Navajo

with Walter L. Williams

Two Spirits
audiobookTwo Spirits  is available as an audiobook  narrated by Arthur Raymond. Click here

Finding Your Own True Myth - The Myth of the Great Secret III
Finding Your Own True Myth:
What I Learned from Joseph Campbell

The Myth of the Great Secret III

Search of God in the Sexual Underworld
In Search of God  in the Sexual Underworld

The Myth of the Great Secret II

The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell.

This was the second edition of this book.

rainbow line

Toby Johnson's titles are available in other ebook formats from Smashwords.

Marynook Novitiate of the Marianists

The first year of religious life is novitiate, a year of monastic training outside the formal educational system. It is focused on spiritual development and initiation into the styles and lore of religious life.

high school, I joined the Brothers of Mary (Marianist), the order of teaching brothers who taught at my high school in San Antonio, Texas. The school, Central Catholic, is loosely connected with St. Mary's University which the Marianists also run in San Antonio.

MArynook Old Main
For my novitiate year with the Society of Mary, I lived on a farm in the Mississippi River bluffs of Wisconsin, a life wonderfully monastic, prayerful, and peaceful. The novitiate was called Marynook, a Catholic pun on the name of the lake in the town of Galesville, Lake Marinuka, named for an American Indian “princess,” granddaughter of Winnebago Chief Dakora.

We rose early to spend a couple of hours at prayer before breakfast and housework chores each day. During the m
orning we attended classes in theology, scripture, prayer, and asceticism (the practice of religious discipline). After lunch we played soccer or softball for an hour or two and then worked around the property, picking apples in the orchard, bringing in bales of hay from the fields, clearing brush, or inside, doing laundry, making apple sauce from the orchard harvest, preparing dinner.

The late afternoon was taken up with spiritual reading and prayer. The recitation of the rosary was followed by dinner. Most of our meals were eaten in silence while one of the novices read to the rest of us. Over breakfast we were usually read the life of some saintly character; over lunch, news and social commentary; over dinner, a religious but often entertaining novel. To celebrate special occasions the rule of silence was dispensed and we were allowed to talk.

And at any rate, every evening after dinner we’d always have an hour or two of recreation when we could do as we wanted and talk as we pleased. Usuallyon an outing every week or two we’d get an all-day recreation to go on an outing, climb a mountain, swim in the Mississippi, or ice-skate on the lake. While the Marianist novitiate was definitely “monastic,” we were teenagers and a kind of summer camp quality was programmed in to keep us entertained.

After recreation the evening generally consisted of meditation, study period, night prayers, and bed. Except during the recreation periods, we were supposed to maintain silence and at night we were bound under a strict Grand Silence, which was not to be broken for any but the most extreme emergency.

marynook main entrance
The conclusion of night prayers, called Compline in the Catholic Divine Office of Hours, was especially spiritually touching. Most nights Compline ended with the prayer Hail, Holy Queen. It’s a familiar Catholic prayer. We did our prayers alternating daily between English and Latin. The Latin version of this prayer has a beautiful and haunting Gregorian melody, Salve Regina.

chapelOn special feasts of the Blessed Mother, they’d turn out all the lights in the chapel except the spotlight on the statue of Mary (on the left in the photo) and we would sing this poignant melody in the dark. It was magical. Then as the ritual ended and we would stand up from our places in the pews, we would begin to recite under our breath Psalm 51, Miserere Mei.

We’d whisper this aloud to ourselves as we walked down the two flights of stairs, then out into the courtyard and over to the dormitory buildings and up the stairs there to our rooms. “Have mercy on me, O God, According to your great kindness, And according to the multitude of your mercies, Erase my iniquities, Wash me completely from my iniquities, And cleanse me of my sins.” The psalm is quite long and took all the way to the room to complete.

In English, it’s a little guilt-ridden, isn’t it? What would eighteen-year-old boys know about real iniquity? But in Latin, it was entrancing, especially the way the muffled drone of the chant rose and fell as we came round and round down the stairwell, then dissipated into the darkness as one by one we went different directions to get to our rooms.

marynook courtyardOur nights were quiet. The presence of God hung over the house, bearing us into solitary sleep and away into our dreams. I especially liked the nights. I remember lying in bed watching the clouds blowing over the river-worn bluffs across the valley from the novitiate. I cherished the solitude of that time. During the day we had very little time alone. Despite the silence, we were together, the thirty-some novices and about six faculty, almost all the time. 
novitiate class

The Novicemaster, Father Herbert Pieper, S.M., was a wonderful old man with the quick mind and mentality of a rebellious teenager.
Herbert Pieper SMHe taught us to cherish the styles and rules of religion and monastic life not out of fear of punishment but out of personal responsibility. And he introduced us to some of the most avant-garde ideas in modern Biblical scholarship. He played taped lectures to us from retreats for nuns by the then very far-thinking exegete Barnabas Ahern, C.P.

Fr. Ahern was a Passionist. It’s an order that preached retreats, especially for other Catholic religious orders; Ahern inadvertently helped foment the sea-changes that happened in American Catholicism in the 1960s by telling nuns and school sisters what the Bible really was.

Like those nuns, we learned that the holy texts had to be interpreted in the context of their own times and according to the genres and literary forms in which they were written. It may seem obvious in an English literature class that poems should be studied as poetry, novels as fiction, and literary criticism as expository prose, but that’s not how the literature of the Bible has traditionally been studied. The poetry, fiction, cultural commentary, theater, history, and legalities have all been lumped together and treated as though they were all alike with the same subject matter and same rules of interpretation and same literal authority.

Modern Scriptural exegesis, for instance, showed that the Book of Job was a Hebrew endeavor at a Greek tragedy; Job was no more historical than Oedipus, though, like Oedipus, he was a kind of Everyman dealing with important human issues. This form criticism, as it was called, revealed that many of the stories in the life of Jesus were recounted in an ancient Hebrew allegorical style called midrash which applied traditional cultural symbols to current events in order to place the events in a larger context. The visit of the Wise Men to the Infant Jesus was a prime example. According to modern scholarship, the story of the Magi was not intended to describe an historical event; it wasn’t written in the literary form of an historical account. It was an allegory about the universality of Jesus’s wisdom which his followers would later recognize applied not only to Israeli Jews but to
Greeks and Persians and Egyptians, even Romans.

Indeed, the gospels themselves were epic poetry more concerned with meaning than with news reporting. These were heady thoughts, radical discoveries for teenage boys.

 (I would later have Barnabas Ahern as a Scripture professor at C.T.U. (Catholic Theological Union at Chicago) when I was with the Servites. Barnabas Ahern CPHe was a remarkable man; I served Mass for him once and he went into ecstasy at the Consecration—the other server and I looked at each other in wonderment, thinking maybe he had died and we should call for help, but then came to and then wept profusely throughout the rest of the service.)

The Assistant Novicemaster, Brother Mel Meyer, was an accomplished and multi-talented artist and sculptor. Bro Mel Meyer ona his scooter in EuropeHe had just spent the previous year, studying for a graduate degree in medieval art history, driving around Europe on a motor scooter, visiting monasteries and photographing Gothic churches. Chartres CathedralHe showed us slides of his photographs of cathedrals, like Chartres, and of stained glass windows. Bro. Mel romanticized monasticism.

making frescosHe had us make our own frescos; he got us to call ourselves monks, not teaching brothers. He taught us we were part of a long history, and showed us religion as art-form and expression of beauty.

I was appointed house librarian and given the job of recataloguing the library of devotional literature of several thousand volumes. 
library The problem with the library at Marynook was that librarians had rotated through that job every two weeks for years just like through the jobs in the barn or the kitchen; there’d been no consistency in how the books were organized. So, for once, one person was going to recatalogue the entire library following the same organizational scheme and interpretation of the Dewey Decimal system. It was a great assignment.

in the snowIt kept me from being assigned to the garden or barnyard jobs, for which I was especially grateful when the temperatures were below freezing and the fields were covered with snow.

I did work in the kitchen— and that proved to have significant consequences in my life. It meant that one day I was going to be able to say I knew how to cook for large groups. (That's how I got the job at the Mann Ranch Seminars, where I would meet Joseph Campbell, ten years later.) This was one of those things like in Arthur Schopenhauer’s idea of life like a novel where chance events turn out to be leading agents in the structuring of your life.

Brother Cook, who was in charge of the kitchen, was newly assigned to the novitiate this year. And halfway through the year he was hospitalized in nearby La Crosse. The novices weren’t supposed to know the truth, but it was understood that he’d had a nervous breakdown under the stress of managing the kitchen, especially sticking to the tight budget. He was gone for several months, and three of us who’d seemed to enjoy being assigned to kitchen duties were allowed to take over his role. We learned to cook for thirty to forty people and to manage a professional kitchen.

cooks in kitchenIronically, one of the other novice cooks got over- enthusiastic and, just before Bro. Cook returned, prepared a celebratory dinner, with Cornish game hens and a dessert of Dates Supreme with whipped cream. He blew the budget for the rest of the year. 

Poor Bro. Cook. I have wondered, in retrospect, if Brother’s nervous breakdown were more likely a sexual/homosexual crisis brought on by his being assigned to the novitiate with all these sexually-repressed but hormonally-maturing young men. Whatever it was, his crisis would change the course of my life.

As librarian, I was able to spend long hours, in the dead of the starkly beautiful Wisconsin winter, reading and studying the books. I discovered a God much grander and more worthy of interest than the moralistic and doctrinaire God I’d been taught about in catechism. I discovered the mystics. I discovered the appeal of the divine wilderness, where no one is at home save God. And it was not unlike the wilderness of stars that I had for so long yearned to traverse in science-fiction fantasy.

St John of the Cross -- Salvador DaliI learned about Brother Lawrence and the “practice of the presence of God,” a fundamental aspect of what I would later learn as meditation practice. I read Saint John of the Cross. (The Salvador Dali painting, The Christ of Saint John of the Cross, hung in the stairwell outside the library.)

I discovered the Jesuit paleontogist/ mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin before most Catholics were allowed to know about him and his vision of evolution as the self-creation of God.

Thomas-Merton-looking-like-TobyI fancied myself a disciple and fellow traveler of Thomas Merton, the 1930s communist-radical turned Trappist monk and social commentator who’d become a spokesman of American Catholicism after his spiritual autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, was chosen by the Book of the Month Club. He too romanticized monasticism. (I would grow up to look surprisingly like Merton.)

Read more about Marynook--with a funny story: The Daily Schedule

Read more about the Novitiate experience: The World Navel in Trempealeau State Park

In July 2020, the Marianist Social Justice Initiative released a YouTube video titled: Living Our Marianist Charism: Embracing the LGBTQ+ Community. This strikes me as remarkable. Here's a link:

A Recollection of Winona, MN and the Guardian Angels

In Catholic mythological tradition, Oct 2 is the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels. That became a special day in my lifestory in 1963 in my year of novitiate with the Marianists. The novitiate, called Marynook, was in the little town of Galesville, Wisconsin. On that date, the novices got a field day to visit Winona, MN, just across the Mississippi. It was a glorious day. It was fall.

Here I was a young Texan who'd never really seen seasons, now in the northern Midwest. I'd never known there were such trees or such autumn colors. They drove us over in the back of an old farm truck and we camp songs, like children at summer camp, and especially the "Lalalala lala" chorus from Edith Piaf's song "Milord." (Little did we understand the prostitution subtext--it was just fun singing.)

They left us at the base of the bluff below the public park Garvin Heights. And we climbed up the road to the top. This was the real magical moment for me. There were autumn leaves flowing down the road, a foot deep, as though we were walking down a riverbed. With an enormous rustling, like a waterfall.

    The Introit verse from the mass that morning was from Psalm 91 "He has given His angels charge over you that they should bear you up lest haply you dash your foot against a stone." I think those words rang through my head all day as we clomped around the bluffs--with a magnificent view both to the east beyond the Mississippi and to the west looking out on rolling hills filled with autumn mists--and nearby a lone, still-standing chimney of a house long gone. I remember feeling profoundly nostalgic about that house and that chimney--though I was only a teenager.

     On the way down, a bunch of us decided to skip the long walk down the road and just run down the hillside. Neat for 17 year olds! One of those runs you start and keep getting faster and faster and more and more out of control. Great fun! But how do you stop?

   One of the other novices tripped and fell at the bottom and sprained his ankle. That inspired a sort of joke about irony of his haply dashing his foot on the feast of the Guardian Angels. I have told this story many times in my life, partly in jest and partly in profound respect for the irony of myth--and the twisted humor, perhaps, of "God."

   The novice who sprained his ankle was my best friend in the novitiate class that year, Ralph Siefert. We were kind of "class leaders" together--that's a whole 'nother story.

    But I am remembering Fr. Ralph Siefert, OSM here. Ralph died on August 20, 2021 -- in a "breakthrough" case of Covid. He was wonderful man; he was President of Chaminade College Preparatory, a Marianist high school in St Louis County. RIP, my friend.

rainbow line

Toby Johnson, PhD is author of nine books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, four gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality and editor of a collection of "myths" of gay men's consciousness. 

Johnson's book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness won a Lambda Literary Award in 2000.

His  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our [Homo]sexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was nominated for a Lammy in 2003. They remain in print.

FINDING YOUR OWN TRUE MYTH: What I Learned from Joseph Campbell: The Myth of the Great Secret III tells the story of Johnson's learning the real nature of religion and myth and discovering the spiritual qualities of gay male consciousness.

 back to top

BACK to Toby's home page

valid html

Essential SSL