He was waiting for me there.
Every other person whom I have met in my life – with the exception of one other – was an accident, an afterthought that was tied to the geographical location in which I found myself. But not him. Not Gary.
See, he was actually waiting for me there, although he did not know it.
It was like the time when we had arranged for him to meet me at a train station. And we, after searching for one another for a very long time, both sat in our respective locations waiting for the other, confident that they would show up and even knew that the other was even close at hand, but we did not realize that the other was a wholly unknown area of the station.
For a couple of years I had served the church where I was now at. In that time I had begun to look for more authentic models of how people made sense of the world. The most fruitful of these searches occurred when I had begun reading family systems therapy. Intimately involved in the lives of my parishioners, I found myself coming to better understand the persistent dysfunctions of the church itself by turning to resources that illuminated a greater complexity and interconnectedness of our broader social context. That rather than finding a linear, progressive causation of events, that our understanding of and responses to and caring for people is best served through opening up the complexities of each person’s social unit. I read Ludvig Von Bertalanffy, Murray Bowen, and Edwin Friedman. And through this, and over this time, I came to see that my personal direction in life had everything to do with meeting the needs of/caring for others through compassionately seeing the world through their eyes, meeting their needs on their terms, but especially in not trying to micromanage the society in which we found ourselves. And of course this meant that I had to understand myself much better than I ever had ever known before as well; how did I distinctly acquire and process information and find meaning in life? That would have to become the next step in my life.
What I knew of my religious life was that Thomas Merton had named my personal, contemplative experience of God, which undergirded everything else. My reading of Merton, which had begun in 1976, had named a decisively different dynamic of my experience itself compared to the religious system in which I now found myself. I realized that I sorely need to tease out this thread, balancing my service of others.
And so on one hand I headed off by myself with my wife’s blessing on an exploratory trip. I would interview in five graduate programs from Toronto to Washington, D.C., looking for a program that would serve to build my understanding of the complexities of how people made sense of life. And again, I did this out of a desire to serve people better…to care for them more deeply and realistically and holistically…and with actions.
But on the other hand I did all of this under the cover of attending an International Thomas Merton Society meeting that was taking place that year. The meeting itself was more scholarly and pedantic than I had anticipated, and for which I admit I was not fully prepared on many levels – but it was by no means disappointing. And it was there that I met Gary – Fr. Gary. And there was an immediate understanding, an immediate flash of commonality. He was a soul mate. And has been a wonderful friend, but mostly a mentor ever since. He has had more influence on my life than any other individual. Listening, he has recommended so many historical references over the decades that I cannot count them all. But also a brother? Like I never had. He gave me permission to live without care. And by that I do not me to not give a damn. No. But to be enthralled by everything to the point where you do not think in terms of goodness or usefulness or how I can personally acquire or get the most out of something to my own ends. Over time things ceased to be opaque through his modelling and counsel. I came to just see things the way they are. And in doing so God became everywhere and in everything. And this false dichotomizing of how I had been raised and educated fell away. And in forgetting myself I found myself. And I became one with other people. I no longer found myself at odds with people whose misguided religious intention was to illuminate their fantasies concerning a mysterious other world. Instead I found myself living life through the eyes of faith and action, here and now, in the presence of God.
Oh. And he had at one time been a Benedictine Oblate (more on that later), and had intimate knowledge and interaction with Catholic Workers (which would also come to play out in my life fifteen years on).
But for now, and after the ITMS meeting, I interviewed and found a program in educational epistemology complete with a psychological component.
And so once again we packed our bags, leaving the beautiful region which we had come to love, and once again headed into an urban centre half a continent away – Boston – to study full time, and once again to work full time (again in a parish), and once again to grow as our own young family (now with three children), full time…
…and to start learning how to train labrador retrievers (a first-time and definitely more than full time)…
When an archer is shooting for nothing
He has all his skill.
If he shoots for a brass buckle
He is already nervous.
If he shoots for a prize of gold
He goes blind
Or sees two targets –
He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize
Divides him. He cares.
He thinks more of winning
Than of shooting –
And the need to win
Drains him of power.
– The Way Of Chuang Tzu, Thomas Merton
Someone wired the weaver’s shed for me the other day. It is now set up to run off of either 12V solar/battery power, or 120V AC from a generator, through the same outlets, but not simultaneously.