I'm a terrible "blogger." You'd think that the vanity of having my own "domain" and website, with my own blog, with my own devoted reader(s?), would be enough to keep me writing on a more regular basis. Apparently not.
I've actually been on a pilgrimage of sorts since the middle of January, in search of the next place to land after my New York City lease expired, crystal clear on the overall "big picture" mission of my life yet beautifully in the dark about what God or the Universe would put before me as a specific "next step."
My poor friends and family have watched helplessly as I have, with absurd rapidity, flitted from inspiration to inspiration, sifting through opportunities until a few took truly solid form and placed me (as of Monday, March 15th) back in good, old Raleigh, North Carolina--where I first started the "adult leg" of my spiritual journey as a freshman at Duke back in the fall of 1996.
Perhaps I will retrace my steps some day and attempt to relate some of the more beautiful moments and encounters with which I've been blessed over the past two months. For now, I have a pressing "inspiration" to relate that happened today and made it imperative that rather than going home and getting some much needed sleep (since I've been sick all week) I go straight to Uncle Vanya's Russian restaurant, grab some black bread, caviar, and a Baltica beer, and share what I can of what seems most important from today.
While working today (for my new company--more about that another time) I received a Facebook notification about an event at St. Paul's Catholic Church. The esteemed James Martin, SJ (that means he's a Jesuit Priest) was giving a talk about his latest book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. I was already scheduled to get together tonight with my friend Adam, who is probably the most genuine male friend I've made in New York in the two years I've been here. Adam doesn't have much interest in the church, so we are now going to hang out on Saturday. It seemed very important that if I had a chance to learn more about St. Ignatius Loyola, I had better take it. Adam, good man that he is, was supportive and accomodating.
Let me tell you why St. Ignatius Loyola, and Fr. Jim's book about how the great saint can still be relevant in our lives, are so important.
Will Willimon, who was the Dean of the Duke Chapel when I was an undergraduate and who singlehandedly kept me connected to the Christian Church through his wonderful mentorship, once told me a story about the "Introduction to Jesus" seminar he used to teach to Duke freshmen.
There was a football player taking the class who had never read the Bible nor been a Christian. I have no idea why this guy was taking the course (easy A?), but he apparently got very engaged with the text. At one point he stopped the class with a question and asked, "Dr. Willimon, I don't understand it. We are reading all of these stories about Jesus, and he was a badass! He threw over the tables of the moneylenders in the synagogue. He called men away from their jobs during the middle of the day, and they followed him. He publicly called all of the hypocritical leaders of his community vipors and snakes. He even went knowingly to his own torture and death without a single complaint. So what I don't get is... how come all of the Christians I meet are such pussies???"
Amen, football player dude, amen.
St. Ignatius Loyola gives us a way around this unfortunate problem, which I have experiencde in nearly every spiritual circle in which I have ever traveled. It is an indisputable fact that Christianity and Western Civiliation in general have been dumbed down, immasculated, and rendered nearly inert compared to earlier heights at which they once functioned. Those post-modernists who are obsessed with their own narcissistic ability to deconstruct anything in their path may take delight in this thorough devolution, but I don't.
I'm perfectly willing to concede that the Church, the West, and the White Man have all committed terrible crimes against humanity--and that sucks. But I see no reason to take that obvious fact and "leap" to the conclusion that all of the things from the Big Evil Three are bad--or to get even more facile and conclude that everything is now merely relative.
For people like myself--and granted there may not be many of us--who find ourselves with a healthy level of testosterone and a deep need to channel our inherent aggression into something more interesting than sex or money, St. Ignatius Loyola serves as a hero and a model for how pride, vanity, ambition, and pure drive can be sublimated into a life full of determination, love, brilliant scholarship, and selfless service.
As Fr. Jim describes so well, Ignatius Loyola started out as a wealthy, narcissistic, hot-headed, women-seducing jerk. Kind of like how I imagine the stereotypical frat boy wishes he could be. Yet through a leg injury and a few well placed books about the lives of the saints and of Jesus of Nazereth, Loyola was transformed into a "contemplative in action," founding an entire religious order and ultimately changing the world. Throughout his transformation, however, he remained always a MAN, in the very best sense of the word. Strong yet humble, courageous yet tender, selfless yet true to himself, doing everything in his power to serve God's will while always realizing and accepting that his efforts may lead to nothing.
Thomas Merton has become another beautifully masculine hero of mine, and in Mystics and Zen Masters he talks about the Jesuits in China, inspired of course by Loyola and led by Matthew Ricci, SJ. Merton describes Ricci as a man who "divested himself of all that belonged to his own race and adopted all the good customs and attitudes of the land to which he had been sent..." who , "like Jesus, 'emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant,' and, like St. Paul, became 'all things to all men.'"
I don't want to spend any time defending Christianity or mission work in this piece. But I do want to pay homage to these men, these mensches, who found what they believed was a noble calling to serve and who sought to fulfill that calling, not with arrogant condescension, but with deep respect for the world in which they found themselves and the people with whom they lived. I still, quite frankly, don't know what, if anything, I can share with the world that would be of value. The years I have dedicated to a search for Truth and the Illumination with which I was blessed last year seem to demand that I share what I believe I have learned.
For now, I simply want to continue to integrate those world-shattering experiences while modeling myself after these spiritual heroes who have come before me, and by whom my heart is captivated. If I ever am called to "teach" or, better yet, to simply share the gifts with which I have been blessed, I hope that I will hold fast to the Jesuit ideal that Merton, Martin, and others so beautifully portray.