Help Wanted: Consecrated Artists for Christ

I am looking for Catholic and other Christian artists (of any type – visual artists, performing artists, musical artists, etc.) who are interested in exploring the idea of an institute of consecrated life dedicated to artistic creation and ministry to artists. This proposed institute would have both a residential community (probably located in either New York City or Los Angeles to start) and the ability for members to live individually. In addition, it would include both vowed members (professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity in celibacy, and obedience) and non-vowed (or alternately-vowed) associate members, who can be either married or single, Catholic or non-Catholic Christian.

Visit the links on this post for more information about the vision of the institute. Fill out the contact form below if you would like more information, including a more recent draft document describing the proposed charism of and rationale for the institute.

I look forward to hearing from you. Prayers for discernment appreciated.

St John Paul the Great and St Genesius, pray for us.

Yours in Christ,

Cole

Consecrated Life and the Artistic Vocation

Last academic year, I was a member of a vocations discernment program here in the U.K. (Compass, which I highly recommend.) Three of us Catholic young adults interested in religious life met with two group leaders from apostolic religious congregations (a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest and Faithful Companions of Jesus sister) one weekend a month for nine months, to learn more about religious life. This year-long discernment solidified my sense of call to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In addition, I have also continued to discern how my sense of calling to an artistic and academic vocation fits into my sense of calling to the consecrated life. You may have noticed that the theme of a community that blends religious life with the practice of theatre has been a common thread on this blog:

Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe

Offending the Audience

Theatre Company Brain Dump

More on a Christian Theatre

What Should a Professional Christian Theatre Look Like?

On a Benedictine Theatre Company

Thoughts on a Religious Theatre Community

New Ways of Making Theatre

And on my PhD program’s blog Transpositions:

Towards a Eucharistic Theatre

Thoughts on Consecrated Life for Artists

Image
Pelican altarpiece by Fr Marko Rupnik SJ, Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, USA

I am ready to explore the next phase of how these two vocations – the vocation to the consecrated life and the vocation to art-making – go together. Stay tuned.

Towards a Eucharistic Theatre

My proposed dissertation title is ‘Towards a Eucharistic Theatre: Communion and the Moral Responsibility of the Theatre Artist’. I explain the phrase ‘Eucharistic theatre’ in my recent post at Transpositions.

(Posted from the family ranch in Gove, KS – I went on my first cattle round-up today!)

Why the Unicorn?

Several people have asked me why I named my blog The Unicorn Triumphant. I wrote the following explanation a couple months ago and put it up on the blog as its own page, but if you subscribe to the blog via e-mail or an RSS feed reader and don’t actually visit the blog (which is how I read almost all the blogs I follow), then you might not have seen it. So, I thought I would give it its own blog post, in case any of my regular readers were wondering what ‘The Unicorn Triumphant’ meant.

(Also, at the time this blog is set to publish, I will be sitting in a movie theatre in Oxford with my friends, hopefully in costume, about to watch the opening credits roll on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt 2. Talk about a hidden encounter with Christ!)

***

The Unicorn Triumphant is a reference to the final tapestry of the seven Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters, the medieval branch of the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, a set of tapestries also known as The Hunt of the Unicorn.

The Unicorn in Captivity

The Wikipedia entry on the Tapestries is here.
The museum’s online tour through the Tapestries is here.

The seven tapestries depict the hunting of a unicorn, who is killed by a spear in the side. In the final tapestry, the unicorn is alive again. This tapestry, called The Unicorn in Captivity, is the tapestry I think of as The Unicorn Triumphant. One symbolic interpretation of the tapestries, and the one I mean to reference, is that they portray the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ, whom the unicorn symbolizes. The final tapestry thus portrays Christ’s Resurrection.

The Unicorn Triumphant, to me, means that Christ, the pure and sinless Son of the Father, is alive again. We are an Easter people, because Christ is triumphant over death and all evil.

In addition, the Unicorn Tapestries are my favourite visual artwork, and when I studied at NYU my favourite place to rest and recollect was sitting in the Unicorn Room at the Cloisters, gazing at the images of the unicorn in the Tapestries. Referencing them reminds me of that time, and also expresses my love of the Middle Ages and of fantasy stories.

Finally, The Hunt of the Unicorn shows how art can lead us to a hidden encounter with Christ.

Wildest Dreams Wishlist for 2010

Bonnie Gillespie is an L.A. casting director and author. She also happens to be one of the most positive voices around (online or offline), and her writing always exudes joy, confidence, and love. A feature film she cast, Another Harvest Moon, premiered recently, and is getting buzz for its excellent cast. In this week’s installment of The Actors Voice, Bon’s column at Showfax, she mentions the “wildest dreams wishlist” she asks all her directors for when she first starts working with them – basically, who in their wildest dreams would they want in these roles, “if money is no object and all offers will be taken seriously.” Bon’s suggestion for this New Year is that, yeah, goals are good, but think about what, in your wildest dreams, you want to see happen, this year and beyond, for you and for the world you’re in. As she says, “‘Why have blocks?'” Dream it, do it.

In that spirit, here’s my wildest dreams wishlist for 2010:

1) Get a predicted First degree on my exam results from all my tutors.

2) Go on an awesome promo tour for The FellowsHip: Rise of the Gamers this summer, with my director and the rest of the FellowsHip, as a kick-off for a wide studio release in theatres nation-wide.

3) Write my extended essay on theatre and theology, with a topic entirely of my own choosing, and have it be both exciting and inspiring to myself, my supervisor, and other artists. It will be publishable and reach a wide academic and artistic audience. I’d say what the idea is, but I have several stewing that I like. I think if I had to pick right now, it would be on how to run a Christian theatre company, perhaps looking through the lens of the Rule of St. Benedict or the Dominicans. Hey, it could even jumpstart a movement.

4) Be cast in a lead role in The Hobbit. (Hey, it’s wildest dreams, right?)

5) Be accepted into a Masters-to-Ph.D. program at St Andrews or Oxford in Theology and the Arts, with a supervisor who’s just as passionate about the type of art I want to do as I am.

6) Plant the beginnings of the Unicorn Triumphant Theatre Company by producing The World Over here at Oxford, in a production at the Oxford Playhouse or OFS Studio, in tandem with Fr John at the Chaplaincy and his dreams for a Chaplaincy drama group.

7) Lose 15 more pounds and get a 6-pack.

I think seven dreams parallel my earlier seven goals nicely.

Bon also talks about wildest dreams for the world in which one moves about, like the acting industry. What would I like to see in the world of theatre?

1) A renewal in theatre like that in literature that came out of the world of the Inklings (and Inklings-by-association and -by-influence), from which we not only got brilliant manifestoes on religion (The Everlasting Man), education (The Abolition of Man), and art (Tolkien’s essay “On Fairy-Stories”), but also great art that revived old ideas for new audiences (the pinnacle of which was The Lord of the Rings, but which also included the Chronicles of Narnia and Charles Williams’ Arthurian poetry).

2) Christians taken seriously as artists again.

3) A plethora of new branches of college/university theatre programs that provide professional training equal to that at Juillard, NYU, or Yale, but that are fed by the deepest roots of the Christian tradition.

4) Recognition in the wider artistic culture that the artist has a moral responsibility to his audience, to live with them in community and compassion, and that self-expression alone does not great art make.

5) Less related to the artistic world, but definitely related to the world in which I move: A return to actually doing theology in an academic theology program, instead of doing socio-historical-linguistic criticism and calling it theology. The Synoptic Problem is not theology, it is only a preparation for doing actual theology.

6) Increased church support for Christians who have vocations as artists, even those Christian artists who don’t do explicitly Christian art.

7) World peace. ‘Cause, you know, it’s wildest dreams and all.

What about you? What are your wildest dreams?

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Holy Grail

It’s been an exhausting but happy week. We wrapped principal photography on The FellowsHip: Rise of the Gamers, though we have a couple days of pick-up shots this Friday and Saturday. I also received an e-mail informing me my visa was issued yesterday, which is a load off my mind, as it took longer than expected and I was worried I had been rejected for some reason and wouldn’t be able to leave on time. I leave for England on Sunday, barring any further pick-ups. I should arrive at the Kilns next Monday morning, Lord willing.

It’s time now to return to my series on why I’m becoming Catholic. I’ve finally run into some close family friends who are not too keen on my decision, grilling me on the Catholic worship of Mary (she’s not worshipped, she’s venerated – worship is reserved for God), Catholic belief in “earning” one’s way to Heaven through works (rejected by the Church early in its history as the Pelagian heresy), and Catholic focus on extra-Biblical practices and beliefs (the Church put together the Bible, and even the Pope is subject to the authority of Christ and the first Apostles – not to mention that sola Scriptura is itself an extra-Biblical doctrine).

I admit that I still have much to learn about Catholic doctrine and spiritual practices, and thus I don’t yet have the most robust answers to my challengers. But there is one important reason why I am pledging allegiance to Rome:

The Catholic Church has the Holy Grail.

No, I’m not about to write about some conspiracy theory involving the Templars or the Merovingian line. Rather, I realized that everything I love about King Arthur and the Quest for the Grail – the greatest legend of Western Christendom – can be found in the Catholic Church. When I participate in the Eucharist, even as a witness (since I have not yet been received into the Church), I participate in the reality behind the story that stirs the deepest longings of my heart. At the moment of consecration, the wine in the chalice becomes the very Blood of Christ, and thus the chalice itself becomes the figure of the Grail, the Holy Cup that holds the Blood of our Lord.

I think sometimes, in order to fully understand the rituals in which we participate in the “real world,” we need to enter into them through the side-route of the imagination. One example related to Lewis is the letter he received from Philinda Krieg, whose son Laurence, after reading The Chronicles of Narnia, was concerned that he loved Aslan more than Jesus. Lewis responded by saying:

…Laurence can’t really love Aslan more than Jesus, even if he feels that’s what he is doing. For the things he loves Aslan for doing or saying are simply the things Jesus really did and said. So that when Laurence thinks he is loving Aslan, he is really loving Jesus: and perhaps loving Him more than he ever did before. Of course there is one thing Aslan has that Jesus has not – I mean, the body of a lion. […]

Now if Laurence is bothered because he finds the lion-body seems nicer to him than the man-body, I don’t think he need be bothered at all. God knows all about the way a little boy’s imagination works (He made it, after all) and knows that at a certain age the idea of talking and friendly animals is very attractive. So I don’t think He minds if Laurence likes the Lion-body. And anyway, Laurence will find as he grows older, that feeling (liking the lion-body better) will die away of itself, without his taking any trouble about it. So he needn’t bother.

3/ If I were Laurence I’d just say in my prayers something like this: ‘Dear God, if the things I’ve been thinking and feeling about those books are things You don’t like and are bad for me, please take away those feelings and thoughts. But if they are not bad, then please stop me from worrying about them. And help me every day to love you more in the way that really matters far more than any feelings or imaginations, by doing what you want and growing more like you.’ That is the sort of thing I think Laurence should say for himself; but it would be kind and Christian-like if he then added, ‘And if Mr. Lewis has worried any other children by his books or done them any harm, then please forgive him and help him never to do it again.’

The full text of this letter can be found in Volume 3 of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. I’ve quoted most of it here, but the entire book (in all three volumes) is worth buying and keeping handy on your shelf, as it’s full of joys like this letter, in which Lewis’ love for his readers, especially the young ones, shines through.

Just as Laurence was learning to love Jesus through the imaginary figure of Aslan, I learned to love Christ through the figures of King Arthur and Aragorn (the good king), the Bishop of Digne in Les Misérables (the merciful priest), and numerous “suffering servant” figures in literature, film, and T.V. (like Frodo and Jean Valjean). For me, the painted pictures of Jesus on the walls at Sunday School didn’t become fully real until I saw flashes of Him in stories, and was able to realize that all that I loved in Camelot, in Middle-Earth, and in Hugo’s novel was completed and had its source in the Kingdom of God.

This sense of story being wrapped up in history was begun for me around the time I read G.K. Chesterton‘s The Everlasting Man, and came to its fruition in terms of my relationship with the Roman Catholic Church when I read Charles WilliamsTaliessin through Logres and Region of the Summer Stars.

Next up: Taliessin.

Read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

ETA: As always, if you decide to get your own copy of one of the books mentioned above, please do so through the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s online bookstore, powered by Amazon. Doing so helps support the work of the Foundation, including holding study programs, founding C.S. Lewis College, and maintaining Lewis’ home, the Kilns.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – C.S. Lewis & the Catholic Church

During the Ignatian Silent Retreat I attended in January 2007, I found a book called C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church, by Joseph Pearce. An excellent book, it takes a look at the similarities between Lewis’ theology and Roman Catholic theology. Pearce also examines possible reasons why Lewis never became a Catholic, as J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic) hoped he would.  The two primary reasons he points out are leftover unconscious prejudice from his childhood in Belfast – where he had “been (implicitly) warned never to trust a Papist” (Surprised by Joy) – and actual theological differences, for example about the importance of Mary.

Now, I had noticed that Lewis used expressions that we never used in the Presbyterian Church (USA), but I hadn’t really thought of them as Catholic before. For example, in the essay “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis says,

“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

We Presbyterians, for whom the Lord’s Supper is a memorial rather than the mystical Real Presence, don’t use the phrase “Blessed Sacrament,” and I would never have considered pieces of food as holier than my fellow human being.

Lewis also referred to the Mother of God as the “Blessed Virgin,” a title which you will not hear at many Protestant churches. The most glorious title I’d ever heard for her growing up was “the Virgin Mary,” which was more a term of distinction (“Which Mary?” “The Virgin Mary”) than a term of honor.

I also remember a letter that Lewis wrote to “Inkling-by-association” (i.e. not an official Inkling, but a like-minded friend) Dorothy Sayers on the subject of the ordination of women, in which he argued against female ordination because it

wd. cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christendom, and…wd. be the very triumph of what they call ‘practical’ and ‘enlightened’ principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent the Bridegroom to whom we are all, in a sense, feminine.

Sayers replied

If I were cornered, and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer ‘of all humanity’

but that

It would be a pity to fly in the face of all the Apostolic Church, especially just now when we are at last seeing some prospect of understanding with the Eastern Church – and so on…

You can find the full part of Lewis’ side of the conversation, and more of Sayers’ side, in the second volume of The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper.

The reasoning both Lewis and Sayers used – that a church should take into account “the rest of Christendom,” throughout time and space, when making decisions about its ecclesiology – was unfamiliar to me. As a Protestant, I had not been raised to temper my interpretation of Scripture according to the great body of Church teaching over the past 2,000 years, or to feel hesitant to separate myself from other denominations when they were united in a particular (opposing) view. (Besides, in the world in which I grew up, I thought Protestantism was the prevailing view.) My church was not arrogant enough to teach that one’s own interpretation of Scripture, if one felt it to be Spirit-filled, was always right. However, the Tradition of the Church was just not emphasized, much less explicitly offered as a corrective to too much solitary Bible reading and interpretation. It may have been so among the older, wiser, or more educated in my denomination, but as a young person growing up in Protestantism I felt that “the Tradition of the Church” was seen as a set of out-dated beliefs and practices that we were slowly starting to outgrow and “make relevant to today’s world.” (Needless to say, as a child raised on King Arthur and C.S. Lewis at home, I didn’t necessarily see Tradition as a bad thing.)

The sense of the sacramental; the use of seemingly archaic terms of reverence and devotion; the willingness to humble oneself before the Authority of Christ’s Church – all these were new experiences that I found in Lewis, and later came to find in the Catholic Church. They awakened me to the old desire for Camelot, the sehnsucht of my childhood – similar to the longings for “the North” that Lewis describes in Surprised by Joy. And as in Arthur’s court long ago the knights briefly gazed upon what they most desired, turning towards Rome I glimpsed the Grail.

Next up: Charles Williams, Taliessin, and the Grail.

Read part 1 and part 2 of this series on my journey to the Catholic Church.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – Jesuits & C.S. Lewis

After graduating with a B.F.A. in Theatre and Psychology from New York University, I moved to Baltimore to enter a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology at Loyola College in Maryland. As evidenced by the name, Loyola is a Jesuit college (soon to become a university). During orientation, we were introduced to the concepts of cura personalis (care of the whole person) and Ad majorem Dei gloriam (to the greater glory of God), two of the mottoes of Jesuit education.

Loyola was the first Christian school I had attended. I had been accepted to Wheaton College in Illinois outside of Chicago for undergraduate work, which is where my father, grandfather, and a number of cousins had attended college. I had loved Wheaton, and had been in awe of its existence as an intentional Christian community of scholars “for Christ and His Kingdom,” as Wheaton’s motto goes. However, I also wanted to study to become a professional actor, and Wheaton did not have a theatre major, much less a professional training program. As a matter of fact, there did not seem to exist a Christian college of Wheaton’s faithfulness and academic caliber that also provided professional arts training. (This gap is one I hope the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s C.S. Lewis College can fill.) The other school to which I had been accepted was NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, which has one of the top undergraduate theatre programs in the country. I asked my dad, who I knew was pleased that I had fallen in love with his alma mater, for his advice. He said:

“What do you want to do?”

“Become an actor.”

“Then go where they do that best. In this case, that’s not Wheaton.”

So, I went to NYU, filled with great excitement at having been chosen for a spot, but part of my heart still belonging to Wheaton. I don’t regret that decision, because I received an excellent practical education and gained friends who are very close to my heart, but many times I wish I had not been exposed to the profane and lascivious content that made up a significant amount of the curriculum.

The dirt and filth that ran thickly through the veins of NYU’s artistic culture sullied my spirit enough that I gladly welcomed the refuge of a small Christian college, with grey stone statues of saints lining the walkways of the grassy quad. On the south end of the lawn stood the large stone chapel, with a cross rising on a pinnacle above its main door. I attended a couple services in that chapel, but while I always felt welcome, I always felt separated, and a little embarrassed, because I knew I was a Protestant worshiping as a guest within Catholic space. (I had applied to the Psy.D. program at Wheaton, but, though interviewed, was not accepted. I’m glad now of it, because I think that I would no longer be comfortable in an Evangelical Protestant atmosphere. That, and I would not have wanted to disappoint Wheaton by possibly leaving clinical psychology partway through the first year, as I did at Loyola.)

However much I felt out of place as a Protestant, though, I always felt part of the mission of Loyola as a Christian. I loved being in an academic environment in which I could trust that the faculty and staff, and the majority of my fellow students, shared the same basic worldview as I did – which was definitely not the case at NYU, in which the religious worldview, much less the Christian, was in the minority among the faculty, and became less prevalent among the students in my program as the semesters went by. It was nice to have allies again.

Sadly, though, I left Loyola after only a semester. I loved the school and the faculty, but I realized that the practice of clinical psychology was not for me. I loathed doing psychological testing, and didn’t trust it, but it was about half the curriculum for the first two years. I decided that I was not willing to put up with it for that long, partly because my conscience rebelled against it, and I took a leave of absence to decide whether I would transfer to the pastoral counseling program, or another program at Loyola or elsewhere. In the meantime, I went back to acting, and that became my career after I withdrew from Loyola and did further career discernment, which has lasted for two years (and which you could say is still going on).

When I decided to take a leave of absence, I signed up for an Ignatian silent retreat held in January at the Loyola Jesuits’ retreat center in southern Maryland, on the banks of the Potomac River. I hoped to spend the week in discernment about my future academic path, hopefully with a decision made by the end of the retreat (hah!).

Well, I ended up failing miserably at the silence requirement, to the (charitably unexpressed) annoyance of my spiritual director and some of the other retreatants, but I learned three very important things from that retreat:

1) My prayer life was that of an absolute beginner, and I was not nearly so advanced in the spiritual life as I had thought myself.

2) I was chockful of pride, and rebelled against obedience to spiritual authority. Every time my spiritual director gave me suggestions on how I should spend my time at the retreat, I bristled, gave him reasons why they wouldn’t work (and inwardly thought, “He just doesn’t understand me and how deep my thought really is,”), and did what I wanted anyway.

3) C.S. Lewis’ theology was a lot more Catholic than I realized.

Next up: C.S. Lewis and the Catholic Church.

Read part 1 of my multi-part series on my journey to the Catholic Church here.

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Beginning

On Monday, May 11th, 2009, I decided to become a Roman Catholic.

The pin-pointing of a particular date and “conversion moment” may sound a little Protestant (even evangelical) of me, but it was far from a road to Damascus experience. It was more like the road to the Whipsnade Zoo. If I may be permitted to reference the conversion story of our beloved C.S. Lewis:

I know very well when, but hardly how, the final step was taken. I was driven to Whipsnade one sunny morning. When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo I did. Yet I had not exactly spent the journey in thought. Nor in great emotion. “Emotional” is perhaps the last word we can apply to some of the most important events. It was more like when a man, after long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake.

Surprised by Joy

Like Lewis, I was on a relatively unimportant car trip, mine from home to my job as an actor with a touring children’s theatre company. It was about 7:00 in the morning, and I was just at the start of my 20-minute drive. Rolling down a gentle, forest-shaded road near my Baltimore apartment, I was thinking about states in life, vocations, and what I could and could not do if I joined the Church. I had the thought, “Well, I’ll just wait and see what I decide about joining the Church. Option A is open to me if I determine the Church has the authority it claims to have, and Option B is open to me if I determine the Church doesn’t have that authority.” My next thought was, “Wait. I already believe it has that authority.” It was at that moment that I realized that my spirit had already submitted to the claim of the Church upon me some time ago, and was simply waiting for the rest of my mind and heart to catch up.

I was raised in the Presbyterian Church (USA), a mainline Protestant denomination. I was baptized around my 14th birthday, at the same time I was confirmed, because the church we attended in Texas when I was a child practiced adult baptism only (I don’t remember its denomination). In confirmation class, I remember learning about total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints (the five points of Calvinism, i.e. TULIP). The idea of limited atonement (that Christ died only for the elect, not for everyone) didn’t seem quite fair to me, but my pastor gave me what I now know is an Arminian understanding of atonement and of predestination. (He basically said that God is like a parent who knows that, given a choice between peas and carrots, you will choose peas, because he knows that you hate carrots. He doesn’t make you choose the peas, he just knows that you will.)

I love my church (especially the bagpipes on Heritage Sunday!), but it always bothered me a little that the Presbyterian Church and other Protestant churches came out of schism. I respect the reformers for taking a stand on conscience, but there were also reformers who stayed in the Church and worked from within, and since the Body of Christ is meant to be whole, it always made a little sad. But I had never even thought of leaving my church until I came to Loyola College, a Jesuit institution, as a doctoral student in clinical psychology.

This is Part 1 in a multi-part series of my journey into the Catholic Church. Next up: Jesuits and C.S. Lewis.

“A Zoo of Lusts”

I’ve fallen behind in my reading plans for Oxford, but that’s okay, because none of them are required. I’ve finished re-reading the Gospels, and will move on to re-reading the rest of the New Testament. I haven’t read any new theology books on my list, but next up is Davies’ and Rogerson’s The Old Testament World. I plan to start in on my Greek textbook exercises this week. Chapter 1 is learning the Greek alphabet.

My current reading is not academic, but rather spiritual. On the suggestion of a priest I talked to last week, I’m reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. I fell in love immediately. As a friend of the author writes in the Introduction, Merton is a born writer. I’m at the point now where he is at Columbia College and becoming a Communist. His descriptions of his soul, looking back at himself, remind me of one of Lewis’ statements in his own spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis writes:

For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.

Merton, too, speaks of examining himself after leaving Cambridge, and finding “the same old story of greed and lust and self-love, of the three concupiscences bred in the rich, rotted undergrowth of what is technically called ‘the world,’ in every age, in every class.” But he didn’t yet recognize these festering abcesses in his soul as such, and blamed his flaws on his upbringing in a relatively well-off socioeconomic class and in a capitalist society. It was only later that he was to recognize them as spiritual failings, and submit himself to God for their remedy.

At church the other week, we were discussing how every time we feel as if we have finally conquered some sinful inclination, God allows us little to no time to revel in the victory before revealing to us another deeper and harder battle yet to be fought within our own souls. If we take the time to examine ourselves truly and fully, asking for the grace to see with God’s sight into the depths of our hearts, what zoo of lusts will we find there? I know I’m terrified to make a full inventory of my particular menagerie. Spiritual autobiographies like those of Lewis and Merton are comforting, I think, because we realize that, alone as we feel in our sins, there are others who have been just as terribly ashamed – and yet how completely were they redeemed when they gave themselves up to God, for Him to do as He would with them!

We will never know what good we gave up each time we sinned, but thankfully, God can make each sin a felix peccatum that is the occasion for grace, and that can be used for both our good and for the good of our neighbor. Merton says that the selfish rebellion into which he descended as a youth ended up being good for him, because God let him see what a mess he made of his life when left to his own devices. It enabled him to see how much he needed God. And Lewis’ atheism helped him immensely as a Christian apologist. Besides giving him credibility with many outside Christianity, it also enabled him to understand how someone could not believe in God, and how to speak to that person. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been better for Merton, Lewis, and us if they and we had never sinned, but since they and we have, the only remedy is to let God use the sin for good. And that means submitting to His will for our lives, and living with the consequences of the sin. And that, I think, is the most difficult part. I know it is for me.

I really didn’t mean to write a sermon when I started, I promise! I meant to write a paragraph or two on Merton’s book. But as you can see, The Seven Storey Mountain inspires spiritual self-examination, which I’ve only touched on at a shallow level. I’m going to sign off so I can get back to reading it.

Btw, I’ve linked to a few books in this post. If you’re interested in purchasing them, especially Surprised by Joy, please consider doing so through the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s online bookstore, run through Amazon.com. That way, a percentage of your purchase will go to support the Foundation’s activities.

Also, Diana Pavlac Glyer, whom I mentioned in a previous post, has now written her own post about her two-week sabbatical at the Kilns. Read it here! You can also get her book, The Company They Keep, at the Foundation’s bookstore. It examines the Inklings (especially focusing on Lewis and Tolkien) as “writers in community,” and the different kinds of influence they had on each other as members of a writing group. I read it last year, and highly recommend it, especially if you’re a writer, or are interested in the Inklings’ creative process.