"When I was thirteen, we lived in Youngstown, Ohio, and my family got `evangelized' by a group of traveling Baptists; rather abruptly we switched to the Baptist church," he recounts. The Baptists encouraged study of the Scriptures, and, his religious inclinations reawakened, Michael became a "serious student of the Scriptures." Such study affected him intensely: "All my religious feelings coalesced around Scripture, and at thirteen, I first articulated a call to ministry."
Because he was a good student and "word-oriented," the combination of rational examination and evangelical study of Scripture allowed him to "concretize" his faith. "It was a stage along the way," he reflects. "Until I realized that though you can do a lot with words, you can't do everything with words."
Two or three years beyond seminary, while he was pastor of a congregation, Michael "recognized the limit of words," a revelation that led him to the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in Washington, D.C. where he studied spirituality with Gerald May and Tilden Edwards. (He became close friends with May, and later they worked together to "define commonalities between spiritual direction and psychiatric counseling.")
"What really happened during those two years at the Shalem Institute," says Michael "is that I discovered contemplative prayer. I found a way to pray, to move into God, to return to the kind of wordless experience I had as a child."