Friday, October 12, 2012

Pilgrimages, Spiritual and Literary

The other night I went to my church writer's group meeting. It's a ragtag group, a few church people who are interested in writing but living busy lives. In fact, we're so busy that only one other member showed up. I was early, but that was OK. I had some rough drafts with me to work on.

That church writer's group is not a group that exchanges rough drafts. We have only met once, before last night, and we talked about our goals and how we planned to meet them.

Since only 2 of us came to the group, we had plenty of time to talk about my church friend's recent trip to the Abbey of Gethsemene. He was headed to Kentucky for a wedding and decided to stay 2 extra days at the home of Thomas Merton.

He had a great trip. We talked about the worship services. We talked about his conversation with some of the monks, one of whom was alive when Merton was there and considered it his life's great grace to have known Merton. We talked about silence: how refreshing it is and how hard to find it in regular life.

He talked about his conversation with a monk who told him that you realize your heart's yearning by praying.  I wondered if he meant "realized" as in to recognize or as in to come to fulfillment.
Yesterday I dug out my journal that I was keeping in 2004 when I went to Mepkin for the first time. I wrote about my yearning to go back, about wishing I had a job that would allow me to get to places like Mepkin Abbey and Lutheridge more often.

Oddly enough, now I do. At the time, I was yearning for a job that would put me geographically closer. Instead, my job morphed into an academic job that gave me more leeway about when I take vacation.  The yearnings of my heart realized?

However this week has been one of those weeks where it would be nice to be close enough that I could just drive out to one of my spiritual landscapes for an afternoon. I'd like to take some hours to walk the grounds and to sit in silence.

Maybe this afternoon, I'll give myself a break and take a virtual walk by looking at old photos.

Our talk of Merton reminded me of a plane trip where I devoured Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own:  An American Pilgrimage.  Oddly, I wasn't the only one:  I saw another man in the airport holding area reading the book too.

What a great book.  It hits all my favorite bases.  It looks at the lives of 4 great American writers:  Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy.  It uses the lens of faith, particularly the Catholic faith, and place and community and the history of the middle part of the 20th century.

Maybe this week-end I'll give myself a retreat of sorts by rereading this book.  I remembering consuming it in great gulps when I first read it back in 2004 or 2005 when I first read it; I could scarcely bear to put it down.  I could use that kind of delight and nourishment.

Here's a Flannery O'Connor quote for your Friday:  "I don't think you should write something as long as a novel around anything that is not of the gravest concern to you and everybody else, and for me this is always the conflict between an attraction for the Holy and the disbelief in it that we breathe in with the air of our times." (quoted in Elie's book on page 155)

No comments: