There are many things that Doug Lynam has to think about now that he no longer wears a robe and lives in a monastery. Socks, for one. Do they match? Should he care? "How does this color thing work?" he wondered aloud in his office this week while sporting a muted gray pair that did not in fact clash.
But after decades as a committed seeker, he at least has found his calling. He wants to help schools build better retirement savings plans, so their teachers can leave the classroom at a time of their choosing with dignity and grace.
His path to that purpose had some unexpected stops along the way.
In his early teenage years in Naperville, Ill., Mr. Lynam dabbled in Christian fundamentalism. "I found community, family and friendship," he said. "But the theology was very conservative."
Then came the longhaired hippie phase. "They talked about peace and love," he said. "But there was a lot of smug satisfaction about shared values. What were they doing to help and serve others? The answer was, not much."
He sought guidance at St. John's College here in Santa Fe, a school known for its rigorous, traditional curriculum. "Kant and Hegel have lots of answers, but there isn't an answer," he said. "There are signposts."
And then came a stint in the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in 1994 and 1995. "I didn't want to kill people for a living," he said. "And there was no pressing global conflict or need for my service."
While it all may seem somewhat flighty, Mr. Lynam, 43, said the bouncing around merely reflected a restless soul who was nonetheless committed to doing good. "Why did God put me on this earth?" he said. "If I can't figure that out, how do I pick a career or spouse, or operate in the world? I felt like I needed to answer that question fundamentally before I could be of use to anyone."
It was his thesis adviser from St. John's who invited him to become a Benedictine monk, and the appeal was immediate. "If you're really searching for the meaning of life, where better to find it than a monastery?" Mr. Lynam said.
The commitment required oaths of celibacy, obedience and poverty. The three monks in residence in Santa Fe did paid work as teachers and pooled their funds. One of the senior monks managed the money, Mr. Lynam said.