Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Trying To Say Something

It was a cold, long winter that year. It felt colder still to me, having recently returned home from an undesired holiday excursion to the southwestern part of the continent of Asia. The previous year had been a busy one. I had spent a large part of it abroad - if Texas may be considered "abroad." Anyhow, it ought to be: for what impressed me most about Texas was it's breadth. The sky there was huge. My favorite moments had been in the early mornings, before marching (literally) to class. I would arrive some time early out in the parking lot where we formed our Squadron, lie down on a curb with my bag as a pillow and just look at the early morning stars. Before sun-up, the stars were much brighter; I'd even see one or two "shooting" stars every so often. At that early hour approaching dawn, the line of the horizon was clear and crisp, with the corresponding effect being that the sky appeared very much broader than I had ever noticed in the more mountainous terrain of the Northeast. The saying goes that "everything's bigger in Texas." Well, I don't know about every thing; but the sky certainly seemed bigger. Anyway, it was under those stars, I think, that my heart first began really to grapple with the idea that God was calling me to the priesthood.

Now, in the cold of March, all that seemed distant past history. I had returned from Texas and entered college. I had subsequently dropped abruptly out of college. Leaping at the desire to cope with previously made commitments in light of my new soul-felt urgings, I put in some active duty service time, and even spent a little stint overseas. And now I was in full application to the seminary.

All sorts of disparate pieces seemed to be falling together into place. Crooked and erratic lines along unlikely paths seemed to have met their mark after all, and a convergence was showing itself before my mind with an unlooked for clarity. But the clarity was like the light of those March mornings: bright and cold. The earth appeared to be waking from its winter's slumber all around as the days grew longer and the nights began to lose their sway. But the temptation inhale very deeply in expectation of an early spring fragrance would be cruelly disappointed by the biting cold of winter, which still hung on the air. The sun had brought light to scatter the darkness, but not yet enough warmth as to cheer men's hearts.

Setting out on my new course brought an overwhelming sense of peace, and not nearly as much anxiety as I might have anticipated. The routine of my daily life struggled on continuously. There were long work days and visits to friends in college. I was reading Augustine's Confessions and picking through old Dostoyevsky novels.

I remember almost everything about that time with startling clarity and precision. But I can't remember starting this blog.

I remember reading a friend's weblog and thinking it would be fun. I recall picking the title Veritatis Visio from a line of a prayer by Saint Thomas Aquinas that I liked particularly. I remember thinking it terribly unlikely that anyone would much care what I had to say. And I know that it was around March 2003 that I started blogging really in earnest (for the first time).

But why? I can remember the interior motives and dispositions attached with nearly every development that my life took at that time. be they significant or mundane. But I can't recall what inspired me to start emptying my mind onto a public webpage on a regular basis. Really, it's a rash thing to do, now that I consider it. Once you "publish" across this medium, there's a very real sense of commitment and inexorability.

Now, I know what you (if there are any of "you" left who check this page with any regularity after my long hiatus) are thinking: this is a swan song. He's retiring.

Honestly, I've thought about it. I don't think it would be any great disservice to anyone. And like I said, I can't remember what firm purpose I had for this page to begin with. "To gain a vision of truth," surely; but I'm in my fifth year of the Seminary and have plenty with which to occupy my time pursuant of that same goal. However, no, this is not my swan song. It is a reexamination of purpose; an apologia for this blog's existence; and, tangentially, an apology also for its occasional long periods of silence.

Perhaps my purpose at first was unclear. But I think I know now what it was I was trying to do. I was trying to say something. "Come, let us reason together" (Is. 1:18). Actually, the Lord invites us to accuse him, to argue or refute him, if we can. Back in the early days of my discernment, there was a lot unsettled in my mind and heart. And the world's common response to what it unsettled unsettled me even further. That response is fideism. "Have trust, and everything will be OK," said the sages of the world. Trust science, or the market, or the President, or the UN, or genetics, or the human spirit - some of them even had the dim enough wits to tell me to trust myself! And against all of this I railed. Yes, even against trust in God I railed. And so I blogged.

I always felt the urge to "figure things out." Sometimes this has been to a fault; sometimes my trust in God had not settled me when it should have done, and I have fallen into somewhat rationalist tendencies. But at its heart, this urge is a wholesome one. I saw so many providential lines converging in my own life and recognized a profound ordering in the way that God had arranged my life, my vocation, and even the world around me. And I know behind all of these mysterious shapes and signs was a puzzle, cleverly designed: not a puzzle that could be ultimately "solved" and this "dissolved", but a puzzle nevertheless that could (as any puzzle) be figured out. And the wonderful part was that in each figuring out of one component, the searcher after truth stumbled onto ten more facets of more intricate design to test his mind against. That was my quest. The fideists of the world and of the cultures I had encountered (political, religious, ethnic) for either brief or extended times had all reacted against this tendency of mine, and I knew that somehow I had to carry it with me into my vocational discernment. So here I am, obeying the Lord's invitation to Isaiah, with the spirit of Jacob, arguing and wrestling and throwing ideas out to be controverted or ridiculed or celebrated or dismissed. All I ask as I continue is that no one ever "take my word for it."

Yes, all along, I've been trying to say something. And hopefully it doesn't confuse the matter to observe that I don't know what that thing is which I have been trying to say. In fact, the very reason I think I have stumbled into this hobby is because it afford me an opportunity - at my own leisure - to work out what it is that I might be trying to say. Hence, the sporadic timing of my posting when my mind is being otherwise bent and bounced by academic strains. Hence, the vicissitudes of topic matter and thought processes and opinions which I have shared on this page these few years.

It's hard to say something, nowadays. I read a lot because the men and women who I read all have tried saying something. Sometimes, those who said a lot were really only saying one thing; those who said little were actually saying many things; those who said the most - sometimes - turn out to have been saying nothing. But they all tried to say something. And I think it is an essential truth about humanity that they all had something to say. Those who said nothing simply failed to say what it was they had to say. That's what my "vision of the truth" is all about, I suppose. It's about glimpsing the truth that I think I have to share (since I think we all have something to share) and in the process learning a lot through failed essays and attempts (pun intended).

Thanks to whatever readers I still have for your patience. With your permission, I'm going to keep at this. I feel certain that I have something to say. I won't promise that I'll end up saying anything. But I'm going to keep on trying.