Photos: (Left) A beautiful example of Father Brandt’s work in the art of book binding. (Right) Father Charles Brandt with Tide Change’s Editor in Chief, Catherine Hedrich.
There are many ways to live one’s life. One of the less traveled, but more transformative paths, is that of contemplation. Last week, I met a unique and interesting man, who embodies this life choice, Father Charles Brandt. As I write these words, it is also the 50th anniversary of Thomas Merton’s passing, which took place on December 10th, 1968. Merton was not only a prolific author and influential thinker; his journey was this era’s modern version of the contemplative lifestyle.
Father Charles had not expected to have an in-person conversation with the author of The Seven Storey Mountain, a book that established Merton as a living spiritual guide to the divine embodiment he wished to experience. Yet, that impromptu meeting with this discreet and humble servant in the life art of letting go, until one reaches the empty space where we meet our divine connection to all that is, was an important turning point in Father Charles’s life. Thomas was to offer a clear direction, not to where Father Charles would find his answers, but just as importantly, to where he would not.
Eliminating a possible path and redirecting your search inward is a step one takes to refocus, as Thomas Keating’s meditation mantra points towards, “your willingness to be present to God and to accept his action within you”. Normally an article about a conversation with a man who has experienced almost 100 years of life would begin with a more biographically detailed description of his life, but like his chosen path, I intuitively realize that the written rendition of our two-hour conversation should focus on the essence of his journey, Father Charles’s purpose, which is to share God’s life with others.
As a natural seeker, Father Brandt has lived an equipoised existence, a perfect blending of the right and the left brain. It is a sublime balancing act of being in this world, but not of this world. In order to find the answer to his search, which was about the profound desire to know God while in the human experience, Father Charles Brandt finally chose the path of the hermit monk’s life of reflection, meditation and contemplation, with frequent interludes back into the active and inclusive work of the beautiful art of traditional book binding both in Europe and North America, as well as extensive professional and academic forays in the fields of ornithology, photography and contractual projects with museums.
An activist for local environment and conservation projects on Vancouver Island where The Hermitage, his contemplative sanctuary is located, Father Charles is a renaissance man in the truest meaning of the word. With over 25, 000 photographs archived in only one of his two Apple computers, he continues to share his enjoyment of the beauty of nature where the Divine is most obvious in its creative manifestations.
Thomas Merton’s prayer’s first line states, “I have no idea where I am going” and that is the first step to actualization, the realization that we are not guided by the rational mind alone. We are so much more. With Father Charles now finalizing the details of the covenant to ensure the continued existence of the Hermitage as an important mid-island space for the contemplative path, we are truly gifted with a shared opportunity to discover our own spark of creation. When we reach that empty space, “Prayer is an empty imageless act of the will, which is reaching out to God, not as how we imagine Him to be or in His works, but as He is in Himself”. This is our true nature and our journey’s end.
“Something has spoken to me in the night…and told me that I shall die, I know not where. Saying: “[Death is] to lose the earth you know for greater knowing; to lose the life you have, for greater life; to leave the friends you loved, for greater loving; to find a land more kind than home, more large than earth.”
― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again