I have recently submitted my application to The Company of Jesus. Applying to a Third-Order Benedictine and Franciscan group is not something I would have anticipated even a couple of years ago. But so does life bounce along its merry ways, in all its peaks and valleys.
As part of the applications process, I was asked to submit a cover letter, and I’m publishing it here, in a modified form.
I suppose it all started with Advent.
I was in an increasingly dark place, coming to the end of my time at the cultish church I grew up in, about to be thrust into a darker wilderness of sadness, silence, depression and mental illness.
Those were dark days, when I wasn’t accustomed to darkness. When I didn’t accept and embrace it, as I do now. Hot rage filled me. Deep anxiety froze me. Depression levelled me.
Like a small toddler, I didn’t have my Words, all I could do was weep with no tears and yell with no voice. I was an ocean of doubt in a desert of certainty.
If anything, it got worse after we left the church.
A boy thinks he knows the people he grew up with. He hopes that maybe he was loved, or accepted. But he never was. The quintessential outsider, he didn’t fit in in a group of people who were already on the fringe of fringe groups. He wanted to make that his armor, but he was too beat up, too bloodied. He had no armor left, naked and alone in that desert dust. No one said goodbye, no one noticed. No one cared. He’s nothing but bleached bones beneath the Texas sun.
The depressive episodes surged. I started experiencing what I cheekily called “Shit Swims”, a strange, evil love-child of Depression and Anxiety’s unholy union. A more clinical word would be emotional flashbacks, caused by a form of complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, ostensibly brought on by 30 years of spiritual abuse. The fuck I know.
What’s a man to do when one moment everything is hunky-dory and the next moment there is no hope left in the world? When his head is literally bowed beneath the weight of hopelessness and despair? When not even the joy of his children’s laughter, or the caresses of his wife’s sweet touch is enough to wake him up?
We searched for a new church home for a couple of years, starting in the quasi-reformed, quasi-charismatic baptistic tradition, flirting with a liturgical Baptist church and finally settling into a Presbyterian congregation. We felt safe there, which is what we needed. We were able to heal, somewhat. We made lasting friendships. But over our time there we never really felt at home.
Meanwhile, I had started attending a weekly Anglican Holy Communion service. I dipped my toes into the liturgical well gingerly, consistently taking communion there, but never going much further. Like a small faun in the headlights, I was very leery and entirely weary, but over time the fear abated enough for us to join an Anglican congregation. My wife and I are even involved in the Children’s Chapel (I am a rotating Chaplain, and she is a rotating musician for the service). We’re still somewhat tentative in our involvement, having been burned before by Christian churches, but we’re hopeful.
A man agrees with Mr. Chesterton when he said that “We have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we” and mourns the childhood he never really had. There is great pleasure found in the joy, wonder and chaos of children. They’ve not yet grown old, and in their eyes and way of living a man sees God most clearly.
My interest in the Benedictine tradition coincides with my growing interest in various liturgical traditions. Over the last few years I’ve gone through a couple of sets of Anglican Prayer beads, using a handwritten prayer book that I’ve been compiling. I’ve been working on a book that I’m tentatively calling “The Book of Family Prayer” that takes elements of the different traditions I’ve studied (mostly Anglican and Celtic) and puts it into a growing collection of prayers and works that I intend for our family’s use. I’m a “Friend” of the Northumbrian Community (using their Celtic Daily Prayer book) and I’m fascinated with Celtic flavors of Christian liturgy.
A boy’s always felt himself to be an old soul without a home. A melodramatic description perhaps, but no less lonely. And while he suspects that those feelings of loneliness and wandering will never really leave him (at least this side of death), he also hopes that “not all those who wander are lost”, and that in the gentler liturgical tradition he has found an expression of the Way that is not so odious as he’s always seen. That perhaps he’s been found by God again.
Rich Mullins, the late Christian musician, is one of my “Patron Ragamuffins” (those broken men and women who’ve left this life and whom I greatly esteem). Through him I came to know Francis, and in particular I admire Francis’ love for the poor, for the natural world and for the birds and animals. But I tend to think that my bent, or “calling” would be for the Benediction Monastic tradition. I admire the tradition’s longevity, its balance, and its steadfastness. For an anxious mind such as mine, the simplicity of the hours is a welcome balm.
A young man is faced with a self-realization: “If what I was taught growing up was Truly Christianity, then I can’t be a Christian anymore”. This Realization necessitates a Question: “Do I reject the sheepshit Christianity I was taught, cart-blanche, or is it possible to find a form of Christianty that is less… odious?” He now understands the child who is raised in the Church and who rejects it all. He understands, and he doesn’t blame. He knows the pain and fear and judgment. He understands, but he cannot join his fellow casualties in their rejection of the Faith. Once again, he’s an Outsider to his tribe, but such is the bed he’s made.
I suppose that this is why I’ve applied to the Company of Jesus. Perhaps it is here where I can find the God (or be found by the God) I seek: listening amidst the prayers and balance of the Hours, suffering among the denizens of the hurting and poor, flying through the air and woods with the birds, and playing in the glorious chaos of children.
It started with Advent, and I suspect it will end with Advent, at least on this gloomy side of death. Still we live and still we die and still we wait and wonder at this crazy life. We wander through the hazy hills of Terra’s broken dreams, adrift within the sea of rotten, swollen expectations, hopeful that we’re not yet lost in this, our only life.