Thursday, June 28, 2007


Reflecting Further on my Ongoing Midlife Journey

I am using these words of T.S. Eliot quoted in an earlier post to open these reflections that continue, broaden, deepen, and dovetail with that same earlier post located below.

Old men ought to be explorers

Here and there does not matter

We must be still and still moving

Into another intensity

For a further union, a deeper communion

Through the dark cold and empty desolation,

The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters

Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

(T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”)

From Confusion to Fusion

T.S. Eliot’s (1971) powerful tapestry of words gives me a perfect backdrop for this reflection. It conjures up images that seem impossibly irreconcilable: being old and being explorers, being still and still moving, intensity in the midst of desolation, and endings as beginnings.

Eliot strikes at the heart of the paradoxical situation that middle adulthood essentially is all about. Eliot puts me right into the field marked by a need for a fusion of opposites – the arena of my midlife self and the seemingly contradictory changes and challenges it offers.

Fusion, I must say, began with some confusion. As I began stepping onto that initially dreaded land of the “experienced,” the territory of the so-called mentoring group, those who are considered “senior” partners in whatever human enterprise they find themselves in, a bewildering array of changes began to take place in my life. As I was pushing past 40, I knew I was in my midlife transition stage (Levinson, 1978). The frenetic pace I was keeping at work, the energy I was putting into so many initiatives, the “edifice complex” that was keeping me busy all day, most days, as I ran myself weary from one activity to another, the many more plans I had on the drawing board, having been given authority and power quite early on in my “career” – everything that for me, then, seemed “brilliant and outstanding,” at some point, began to fray at the edges.

The fabric of my life – or what I thought it was – was beginning to take on a new “structure” (Levinson, 1978, p. 41, 61). I had what most men in their late thirties aspired for – advancement, affirmation, position, power and concomitant prestige. I was accorded a much-coveted position of leadership and authority. By 38, having occupied various posts and earned a postgraduate degree abroad, and rewarded with two concurrent and even more prestigious posts, I had “become my own man” (p. 144). I had arrived. Or so I thought.

Dark Cold and Empty Desolation

The appellation “flourishing forties” (Sheehy, 1999) could not have been more apt for me. The much-sought-after “culminating event” (Levinson, 1978, p. 31) rang more than true for me as I basked under the glow of relative success and popularity. I felt high up on the ladder. Being an avid and regular mountain trekker, I compared my life to the exhilaration of being on the summit of some mountain, on top of the world, as it were.

But it did not take long for me to feel the pull of the more, the higher, the better, the nobler, even as I also felt dragged by disillusionment and disappointment. A crisis soon loomed in the horizon of what, up till then, I thought was an illusion-free adulthood. Coming as I was from the “morning and spring” of my life, (Jung, 1933) busy as I was with my search for “individuation,” that crisis precipitated a bewildering “slide into darkness” (Wicks, 2003). A situation similar to the one I alluded to earlier in an earlier post has once again brought me face to face with the need for what Levinson refers to as “de-illusionment” (Levinson, 1978, p. 192). A certain erosion of trust on my part and that of others has once more led me to come to grips with more than just the crisis of limits. It had led me through my own desert experience, to the “dark cold and empty desolation” of being suddenly considered a pariah by those who were not exactly sympathetic to my personal life-dream. And it had to happen just when I thought I had gone past the midlife transition stage without glitches, just when I have reasons enough to believe that I have in some sense “arrived” with hardly any scratches.

I am staring what Levinson seems to be referring to as a “marker event” in the face (Levinson, 1978, p.54).

That “marker event” of what I still feel is a personal rejection has again catapulted me to a personal Passover replete with my own figurative unleavened, tasteless bread dipped in the bitter herb of disappointment and disillusionment.

From Fusion to Integration

A sudden “reversal of fortune,” on second thought and deeper reflection, actually does me good. In my mind, I have always known with the New Testament letter writer that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 3:14). Conceptually, I agreed with Jung who said, that in the autumn of a man’s life, “man’s values and even his body tend to undergo a reversal into the opposite” (1933, p. 107). From college and on into postgraduate work, I have always subscribed to developmentalists like Erikson, who thought of psychological balance as a fusion of opposites: trust and mistrust, autonomy and a sense of doubt, intimacy and isolation, etc.

But my experience of rejection leads me now, to more than just a superficial understanding of Jung’s and Erikson’s ideas of wholeness as a mere fusion of opposites. This midlife issue that is before me, I would like to think, continues to bring me to the heart of what integration really stands for, what midlife individuation is all about - a change in the whole area of relationships with myself, the world, and others (Levinson, 1978, p. 195). I know I am at the crossroads of Erikson’s “generativity and stagnation” stage. I am face to face with the famous polarities of midlife individuation (pp.197-198). But I am realizing very gradually that this process of individuation is never an either/or situation, nor is it a shuttling back and forth the two extremes, now acting this way, now acting that way, in a mutually exclusive sort of way, but more akin to an acceptance of mystery in one’s life, the capacity to live with paradox, more like the ability to “have patience with everything unresolved and try to love the very questions themselves” (Rilke, 1934).

This crisis, like others that took place before, is leading me into the heart of the need for me to go from mere fusion towards full integration.

Relinquishing and Receiving

Levinson (pp. 197-198) spoke of only four polarities that needed to be worked through: the young/old polarity, destruction/creation polarity, masculine/feminine polarity, and the attachment/separateness polarity. He spoke of the need for “resolution” of each of the four. Coming as they do, more or less at the same time frame as Erikson’s seventh psychosocial stage of development called generativity versus stagnation, and given the stage’s central issue as that of coming to terms with one’s own mortality (Jacques, cited in Levinson, 1978, p.196), the consequent call towards interiority (Neugarten, cited by Levinson, p.196), towards a gentle turning inward to the self, all lend themselves more closely to notions of spiritual growth and faith development.

The crises that I faced, and still face, as I navigate through midlife brought me, and still bring me, right into the core of Levinson’s fourfold polarities, Kohlberg’s (1984) Postconventional stage of morality based on Universal Ethical Principles, Erikson’s (1963) generativity versus stagnation stage, and Fowler’s (1981) 5th and 6th stages, namely conjunctive faith and universalizing faith respectively. For many years since my ordination, I have been occupied with mentoring tasks as a counselor and teacher. I felt generative and productive in the various pursuits I undertook as a superior and as a clergyman. Though a celibate living in the context of religious life, I was gradually finding wholeness in a relatively happy and well-adjusted big seminary community which I both “fathered” and “mothered” in a sense through the charism of leadership. I was cognizant of my “need to be needed” (Erikson, 1963, p. 266) and I felt on the whole fulfilled to be “establishing and guiding the next generation” (p. 267). Generativity for me assumed a variety of forms, from counseling and teaching young people, planting hundreds of trees, to constructing new buildings and organizing three non-governmental organizations to help the poor members of the surrounding communities where I was. I lived the equivalents of “productivity and creativity” (p. 267). My “life structure” (Levinson, 1978, p. 193) felt like it was pretty well set even as I went through my midlife transition, that is, until the crisis set in.

When that happened, I knew that Levinson’s “resolution” tasks (p. 198) were not sufficient by themselves. I knew I needed to do more than just grapple with the four polarities. That was when Erikson and Fowler particularly proved insightful and helpful. Erikson taught me that focusing solely on “generativity,” as I did in those earlier frenetic years, was not what integration is all about. I realized that I also needed some form of “stagnation” if I were to weather through the crisis. I realized I needed also some “fallow time” to sift things through, to pause awhile and mull over life in general and to restructure it along broader and deeper lines that cannot be answered for solely by success and achievement. Fowler (1981) taught me that growth entailed moving away from a dichotomous “either/or” form of knowing towards one that is more “dialogical” (p.185), one that is able to see the many sides of an issue simultaneously, one that sees lasting value and truth even in the “sacrament of defeat” (p. 198). Fowler touched me immensely as I grappled with losses big and small, but which opened me to the ever-expanding vistas of love, justice, and the call to social responsibility and human solidarity.

My slide into darkness has brought me, and still affords me, the possibility to rise once more into a certain newness and freshness of perspective. The path towards integration now looks more like a journey with “two crucial and difficult moves, relinquishment and receiving” (Brueggemann, 1986, p.3). Like the Biblical prophets, I feel like being called to go beyond performing mere roles, and help deliver people out of stifling self-centeredness and barren self-serving commitments. But that relinquishment and receiving has to happen to me first. I realize now I have to relinquish so much in order to receive a whole lot more.

Naming the Ghosts that Haunted Me

This “dark night” that I began to experience with the onset of my crisis, helped in no small measure by my Christian faith and my training and total life experience, led me to identify some illusions that I was clinging to for dear life. Two of the ways by which I tried to bolster myself during these confusing times were what Sheehy calls RAMM and SNAG (Sheehy, 1999, pp. 69-71). I was, and still partly am, that “resurgent angry macho man (RAMM),” and the “sensitive new age guy (SNAG).” At times, I foundd myself often dwelling on my losses and defeats. I saw myself repeatedly rehashing in my mind the affront and the perceived “injustice” done to me. My resentment showed the extent of what appears to be my narcissistic injury, and forgiveness didn’t come easy in my heart. My anger and touchy sensitivity literally kept me snagged and snarled in many senses. Like St. Paul, I found myself in between the horns of a dilemma, “for I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” (Romans 7:19).

With therapy and a whole lot of enlightened reflection, I am becoming adept at pinning down the issues behind my low grade resentment at life and the world. I gradually realize the extent to which I hitch my self-definition and my self-esteem on external realities, not excluding power and position. A great deal of my self-image, I now realize, is tied up to my role, or the roles I do, as perceived by people around me. The fact that I have been given such roles early on in my early adulthood all through the midlife transition years may have led me to put my midlife transition issues on hold for some time. When the “marker event” came, everything came rushing down on me with full force, thus releasing the highly defensive stances of my vulnerable-sensitive self.

I found myself as the epitome of what Dostoevsky’s character of the Grand Inquisitor in his Brothers Karamazov (1990) says about men in general – that they have always been attracted to “magic, mystery, and authority” (p. 255, cited by Yalom, 2003). I was in search for illusions, that is, magic (or “miracle” in the aforecited translation). In the same way, I was always in search for answers, instead of “loving the questions themselves.” And authority stood for the prestige that I thought I was entitled to.

The stagnation pole of Erikson’s seventh stage now assumes the form of a stepping down from power, and taking on only teaching and mentoring roles, directing retreats and conducting seminars for various groups. I know, by experience that, sooner than I think, the stagnation phase would revert back to the pole of generativity as I am sure to find immense fulfillment in doing what I now know, I really love to do: writing, teaching, counseling, and preaching.

A deeper reflection on Fowler makes me examine the foundations and moorings of my faith and now find myself hovering between stage 5 and stage 6, conjunctive and universalizing faith, respectively.

A Pilgrimage of the Heart: Faith to the Rescue

As I get to the process of de-illusionment, and coming to terms gradually with the backlog of midlife issues that have come tumbling down on me, a concomitant reflection on my life of faith proves beneficial. I find myself beyond being categorical and monolithic in many ways. I realize that “faith is not the clinging to a shrine but an endless pilgrimage of the heart” (Heschel, in Dresner, 2002, p. 15). There is more openness to truth in me no matter where it comes from, and I have noticed my ever-growing passion and commitment to justice and solidarity. As a professor of Moral Theology, I find these realizations tying up with what appears to be the stage of moral development that I find myself in, if I were to use that model of Kohlberg as the only model – the stage of Universal Ethical Principles (Kohlberg, 1984, pp.173-175). For a long time now, I know I have moved from a rule-oriented towards a principle-oriented moral reasoning that values persons never as means but ends in themselves. I have long graduated from that narrow definition of moral as legal, and I knew that, though there are some moral absolutes, their application in concrete, and in vivo can never be absolute in every case. The symbols and rites of my Catholic faith tradition have become more than just meaningful to me but fostering them, celebrating them, and presiding over them have become a source of immense fulfillment and gives a lot more meaning to my life at this stage in my life.

At the same time, I feel a strong pull to work for greater human solidarity, unity and universal compassion for all races, religions, and nations deep inside me. The widening rift between the so-called Christian and Muslim states continues to bother and challenge me in a positive sense, leading me to dream on and devise ways by which I could contribute towards the attainment of such noble dreams. Vicariously, I share in the successes of individuals like Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and others whose vision for the world goes much farther than their short early lives could take them.

Into Another Intensity

My pilgrimage is far from over. Reeling as I still am, from both my perceived and real slights and injuries, I see myself still as the perpetual and consummate mountain trekker who may have conquered heights, but not the final summit of everyone’s ultimate dream. The road is long and winding. The challenges remain, and the stakes are high, but the reward is certain. There is still a lot of need for inner work and self-processing. “God ain’t done with me yet,” as an old 70s era poster puts it. But with St. Augustine, I am a firm believer that in this pilgrimage of life and faith, “solvitur ambulando” (cited by Cousineau, 1998, p. 104). Things are solved while walking. For while one mountain’s peak can make me “be still” and breathless for a short while, the ultimate summit of perfection and spiritual growth would have me “still moving into another intensity, a further union, a deeper communion.”


Brueggemann, Walter (1986). Hopeful imagination: Prophetic voices in exile. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the United States Catholic Conference (1991). The new American bible. South Bend, Indiana: Greenlawn Press.

Cousineau, Phil (1998). The art of pilgrimage: The seeker’s guide to making travel sacred. Boston: Conari Press.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor (1990). The brothers Karamazov. Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Dresner, Samuel H. (Ed.) (1983). I asked for wonder: A spiritual anthology by Abraham Joshua Heschel. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company.

Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1971). Four quartets. New York: Harcourt Publishers.

Erikson, Erik H. (1963). Childhood and society. 2nd Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Fowler, James W. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Jung, Carl G. (1933). Modern man in search of a soul. Translated by W.S. Dell and Cary F. Baynes. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc.

Kohlberg, Lawrence (1984). The psychology of moral development: The nature and validity of moral stages. Essays on Moral Development. Volume II. San Francisco: Harper and Row, Publishers.

Levinson, Daniel J. (1978). The seasons of a man’s life. New York: Ballantine Books.

Rilke, Rainier Maria (1934). Letters to a young poet. Translated by M.D. Herter Norton. Revised Edition. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Sheehy, Gail (1999). Understanding men’s passages: Discovering the new map of men’s lives. New York: Ballantine Books.

Yalom, Irvin D. (2002). The gift of therapy: An open letter to a new generation of therapists and their patients. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Monday, June 11, 2007


Journaling as a Way towards Greater Spiritual Literacy

Journaling as Journey to the Self

The journaling process, understood basically as keeping “a personal record of one’s thoughts, experiences, and inspirations,” which “records events, activities, ideas, feelings, struggles, and meaning into one’s life” (Johnson, 1990, p. 614) has for long been hailed as among the important activities for those who have seriously embarked on an inward journey to the self. Introspection is a conditio sine qua non of deeper self-awareness and self-understanding. Owing to the fact, however, that the human person is more than just his or her intellectual self, such self-knowledge and self-understanding can lead to genuine and healthy self-acceptance only if the individual-in-journey can integrate what I personally refer to as both “headsight” and “heartsight” in a gradual process that respects the integral nature of the human person as endowed, not only with the capacity for insight, but also with the capacity for deep and varied feelings at any given time in his or her lifespan. It is a well-established fact among therapists and counselors that insight alone is not enough to propel a person onward to mental health, affective maturity, and sound social adjustment. Neither is mere emotional activation sufficient for the purpose (Young, Klosko & Weishar, 2003, p. 57).

This short essay attempts at articulating the nuggets of learning that accrued from this meaning-making and formative process that journaling has been for me in the recent past. By drawing on a few selected snippets of my own journal, I hope to affirm and validate said invaluable nuggets of learning that represent the happy marriage between theory and practice in the important inward journey that journaling essentially is. I hope, furthermore, that this essay could inspire seminarians who are my intended primary audience, and all others who have taken to the serious task of embarking on the “longest journey, the journey inward” (Hammarskjöld, 1976).

A Conspiracy of Human Faculties

Mind-heart-body-spirit integration principles must have something to do with the meaning-making, and formative nature of the journaling process. Human experience, for it to be understood and made sense of in its totality, needs the full cooperation of all human faculties. What is perceived by the mind, what is felt by the heart, and what is grasped by the human spirit, all come to full significance only when the body participates, when the whole person is engaged. Journaling, which engages the whole person, is one such human process that needs the “conspiracy” of all the internal and external human powers. Said powers are put in collaborative mode in the process of journaling, which then leads towards attaining full significance of one’s experience.

Writing as “Reading”

First in the list of learnings is the paradox of writing that translated, at least for me, into veritable “readings.” That which Dorff (1995) refers to as an inward “meditative movement” that starts from surface to depth, and from the depth back to the surface of life, which is the process of journaling, indeed, became a “revelatory” experience (pp. 157 - 161). The journaling process afforded me “fresh readings” both of who I am, and who God is in relation to me. Like what Colombas (cited in Studzinski, 2000) said about the lectio, it became for me a way to “reading God,” and which gave me “a living connection with a real presence” (p.621). At some point, by “reading the texts that life itself provides” (p.623), I acquired additional insights on my ongoing journey towards “differentiating” myself, and my search for the internalized object representations that shed light on the process of the “birth of the living God” in my life (Rizzuto (1979). Immediately following is part of my journal entry last September 20, 2004, which hopefully illustrates this first, and other succeeding nuggets of learning:

A moving account presented by Oprah in her daily show earlier today got me glued to the TV screen for some time as she recounted the story of Mattie Stepanek, a 14 year old boy, who, for years suffered heroically from a rare degenerative muscular dystrophic disease. I have heard about the story before, but this was the first time I got to know a little more detail about Mattie’s incredible, extraordinary saga of poetry writing (since he was three years old), peacemaking, and the joyful acceptance of the inevitable.

Mattie was a fighter and a dreamer. He fought all his life against unimaginable odds, owing to his rare sickness that also took the life of three other older siblings earlier on. He dreamed about meeting personally with Jimmy Carter, living life to the full, devoting his time to poetry, dreaming and working for peace in the world, to conjuring up future possibilities in what he knew was his limited time on this earth. He adored firefighters and wanted so much to be able to get onto a real fire truck.

This great little boy of barely 14, was a giant in faith, in trust, and in love for the God he believed in. He believed so much in prayer, and offered his own suffering for others. Though tiny and frail, this little boy was really a towering character when it comes to facing suffering with courage and ebullient, contagious joy.

Mattie, for his young years, was a prophet who did more than speak about God. No, he did not preach about Him. He lived his faith in God and preached His existence a lot more eloquently by the way he lived – and died. He was a prophet with an urgent message – a message that could not wait for perfect conditions for it to be delivered. He brought forth that message with alacrity and unmistakable joy through his frail body wrapped in tubes and lines that would have weighed anybody else’s spirit down, eaten as it was by a progressively debilitating disease. He was, physically speaking, a walking stop watch. His end could come any minute, and he knew it. But the prospect of dying any minute did not prevent him from allowing his spirit to soar high, far beyond any time limit, in order to drive home the message that it is possible to live life to the full even if one is dying a slow, sure, and obviously painful death. Nothing, not even muscular dystrophy, could prevent him from publishing several compilations of his own poems for his 14 short years of life here on earth.

Alone in the privacy of the Rectory dining room, I could not go on with my early dinner. I was choked with awe, and struck with utter admiration for a boy who was all of 14 but who taught a man who was well into his forties precious lessons for life. I cried my heart out, not out of sadness for Mattie, for I knew, and he knew, he was going to that happier place with his creator and God. I cried, not out of sadness for him, but for myself, and so many others like me in the world, who do carry on with life, but who cannot carry forward a message and a meaning to share with others. I cried not for a young life wasted, but for so many adults’ lives lying fallow and sterile with so many concerns that have nothing to do with man’s “ultimate concerns.” I cried for the muzzled prophet in me, who may clam up at times, and who can easily give in to the forces of discouragement and despair that he sees in a world of violence, terrorism, and social sin. I cry for the reluctant leader (king) inside me, who has allowed cynicism to block all enthusiasm to give his contribution towards the building of a more loving, just, and compassionate world. I cried for the priest in me who may have sacrificed his younger visions and dreams on the altar of the expedient, the convenient, and the tried and tested earthly wisdom.

I cry not for Mattie. I cry for myself. I cry for a world rendered less meaningful by the demise of a towering priest, prophet, and king that was this little boy of 14.

I got temporarily “lost” as I allowed myself to be carried by an inner force that told me to savor those moments when God once more revealed Himself to me in that liturgy of daily encounter with God in and through the mundane elements of my daily life. Deep within me, I knelt down figuratively before an overwhelming manifestation of a God who continues to live and to show Himself in the modern-day prophets He raises time and time again. As the TV blared with noisy commercials after the touching program, I was lost in a prayerful, worshipful, grateful mode before the altar that was now my life. Those few, precious minutes ended up much better than the longer time I spent in formal prayer earlier today.

I saw Mattie on TV. I saw his pain, his joy, his courage, and his unflinching faith – all the way up to the last minute of his short life, succumbing physically to a deadly, disease, cuddled by an equally ailing, but loving, soon to be bereaved (for the fourth time) mother. I looked at mother and child. I saw Michelangelo’s La Pieta in concrete. Beyond the tears that clouded my eyes, I saw a vision I would not have exchanged for anything else in the world at that time.

I saw God … I saw Him smile that wide-eyed, innocent, and winsome smile of courageous hope in the then emaciated face of a dying boy Mattie. The young poet, the writer, the enthusiastic peacemaker has gone home to the Father, but left traces of the love, workings, and the presence of the same God in his short earthly life, in his “heartsongs” and other writings.

Love, says Kahlil Gibran, is a joyful trembling. In the presence of this awesome love of Mattie’s God – and mine, I broke into inwardly trembling sobs of happiness at the great gift of the person of Matthew Joseph Stepanek to me and the rest of the world.

Experience as locus theologicus

Theology is basically reflecting on God. But insights on God do not just happen in the abstract. Theologizing can only take place by using eminently human tools and wisely employing said tools to make sense of Him who chose to relate with His creatures by irrupting into human history, by becoming part of our collective and personal experience. God revealed, and still reveals, Himself in history. Scripture is basically a record of a people’s faith in the same God’s workings in their collective history. But God also reveals Himself to everyone here and now, in the daily experiences of every believer. Scripture is the historical text of a people’s faith trajectory. Daily experience is the text that individuals who share in that same faith trajectory, can and ought, to “read” as they go on searching for the same God who became all things to all women and men, and who shed off His divinity, and took on the form of humanity (Phil 2:6-7). Daily life is the running text that manifests to us contemporary human beings, the saving and loving presence of this same God in concrete. Human experience, therefore, poses as a potent source for an eminently existential mode of theologizing. Said theologizing, however, need not always be the academic kind, the sublime sort of “armchair theology” that does not quite leave the premises of the classroom and the hallowed halls of theological institutes and libraries. I refer to a theology that makes for a personally appropriated truth about God personally acting and living for me, in the here and now of daily life. Here is a portion of what I penned down on Sept. 28, 2004 where I write about a persistent physical affliction that spontaneously arose almost a year earlier:

Now that I am not in control of anything except my own life, now that I am not in-charge of anything or anyone, there are no anger outbursts to disturb my peace and that of other people. But something else took their place – little tiny skin eruptions that cause as much distress as those external irritants in the past. And the net effect of both is just the same – the loss of serenity, the lack of acceptance of reality, and a loss of interest in prayer.

Today, as in many other days, the first reading at Mass is from the Book of Job. Job’s story is one that I find myself relating to on a very real and concrete sense. I am surprised at the sudden close affinity I feel for Job and his “sores.” I am surprised at how much more meaningful Job’s story has become for me, a story that I had always known in the head, but not in my heart.

My itches, discomfort, and distresses have allowed me to revisit an old story. That old story of a distant personage by the name of Job has now become mine. But it has also challenged me to fully re-appropriate not only Job’s experience, but also his response to a God who allows the suffering of the just.

Perhaps the parallel between Job and me ends just there – in the experience of suffering. But I find myself unable and unworthy to push the comparison further, for I was not as accepting and resigned as he was. To my shame, I have not readily found God in all this. I saw it as an undeserved affliction. I looked for causes and retraced all my steps in the recent past. I heaped blame on a whole lot of things. I even suspected the food that people shared with me. And most importantly, through all this, I failed to see God and his subtle workings in and through this experience, which, after all, does not come anywhere near that of Job and of many others.

Fresh Readings of Old Realities

Nowhere is this phenomenon of God’s gentle self-manifestation more true than in the way my journaling has led me to come to grips with powerful feelings of both joy and sadness, etc., with successes and failures, with internal and external conflicts, even with suffering – my own, and that of others I care for. Indeed, “all can be read for the deeper messages they may contain” (Studzinski, 2000, p. 624). The process opened me up to fresh readings of what I considered old truths, affording me additional surprises to an already mysterious enough existence that is human life in its entirety. Getting into the act of writing that is eminently personal and honest, it could not but lead to a “revelatory” experience. In my case, it has helped unfold a developing conviction that my “operational theology,” in some ways, still has some catching up to do with my “professed theology” (Jordan, 1986). It has afforded me the chance to give a close look at my own “object relations” as applied to the God I profess to believe in, and love (St.Clair, 1986). What follows is part of my entry for October 7, 2004:

An insight came to mind as I drove from Dundalk to Columbia for class. These past days when I feel tested by lack of health, when time that I could otherwise spend for more reading, is spent focused on my self, my woes, and my discomfort, not to mention having to spend time to go to the doctor, the lab, and what appear to be long minutes applying medicine to my strange skin eruptions, I had been wondering why I have never been successful at praying about my sufferings. I realize that all these years, I have not been able to lift up my pain to God in prayer, at least, not as naturally as I would lift up joyful events to Him in prayer.

I get spiritually paralyzed during moments of suffering. I just get petrified. Prayer does not seem attractive and appealing.

This has bugged me for as long as I can remember.

I realize now somewhat belatedly that my image of God is really that of a parent, specifically, the image of mother. As a child, when I was in pain, I always expected Mother to know what ails me, and to know exactly what to do with my pain. When she did not come to my rescue, I would, I have come now to realize, make some kind of a “sit-down” strike against her, acting passive-aggressive to one I expected to have solutions for me.

I was being passive-aggressive with God whom I look at as my parent who should “parent” me when I am in distress. No wonder I do not pray as I ought. I realize now that I am actually making the equivalent of that sit-down strike.

I wonder what St. Paul would tell me were he to come to me today. “When I was a child, I acted like a child …But now that I am a man …?

Reading Wisely, Becoming Whole and Holy

Journaling, as a way of reading my own personal “signs of the times” has a focusing quality that tends to keep the clutter and the extraneous noises of life away. Writing that is meditative, the type that makes one embark on that journey inward, has that added benefit of leading one towards healing. Honest acceptance of what goes on from deep inside, acknowledgement of the real feelings either for or against anything that happens from without, can open up stuff and issues that may not have been sufficiently dealt with in the past. There is a sense of coming home to oneself that ensues, even as there is an overlapping sense of coming home to a God, who, I realized more than a few times, was there, walking with me to my own Emmaus experience of sadness, dejection, and confusion (Lk 24:13-35). One is healed. One is made whole, and one becomes holy. From my false images of God brought about by my faulty object representations of Him, in the “idols” (Jordan, 1986) that I, in my own private logic, have created in childhood, I felt gradually liberated. My wholeness, therefore, spilled over into holiness, as I learned to relate to a personal God, instead of an idol against whom I would make, what I call, my “sit-down strikes” that showed themselves in dryness and lack of interest in prayer.

What immediately follows is a part of my journal entry for November 5, 2004:

I have always loved music. As a child, I have always desired to be able to play the piano, but since my parents then had no means to have us learn the piano, I could not. Later, in the seminary, through self-study, I was able to get by up to a certain extent on what we then knew as the harmonium. Music, I always knew, had a way of making prayer more existential, more felt, and more real to me. Somehow, I knew that through music, I could get in touch not only with my inner self, but with God, to whom my “mind and heart” easily could be lifted up to. Even before I got to hear St. Augustine’s famous words, “qui cantat, bis orat,” I already knew that singing and playing music for the Lord somehow led me closer to Him.

The lecture on African-American music and religiosity interested me a lot. I already knew the basic truth that through “spirituals” the former slaves were able to put meaning to their difficult lives of continual suffering, and to “ritualize” or “sacramentalize” their emerging basic faith and religiosity in a way that was patently different from the way their masters did. Music, for them, was not just something to while away leisure time, if ever they had it. Music was, for all practical purposes, equivalent to a sacrament, a sign, a powerful ritual that pointed to the depth of their meaning-making according to their own brand of biblical hermeneutics.

I knew I was treading on sacred ground when some of their music was being played in class. Although I may not have appreciated the structure, the melody, and what appears to me as a repetitive mode of their musical phraseology, I knew that that was their way of connecting with the sacred in their lives. I knew that that was their way of giving external expression to their Christian hope, which by absolute necessity, had to be kept underground. It was their version of the early Christians’ faith-in-the-catacombs. It was their way of externalizing something that would not have been allowed to be translated openly into a system of symbols that they felt was a monopoly of their powerful masters, a set of symbols that obviously translated into structures of oppression, injustice, suffering, and pain, all of which were contrary to what their biblical hermeneutics led them to be convinced of.

Prophecy as a gift from the Spirit of God uses a variety of symbols and languages. What the former slaves could not do openly in word and public preaching, they did in song. In the oppressive experience of their own Babylonian and Egyptian exile, they found their own “harps” which they played by the equivalent of the “rivers of Babylon.” There, they “sat and wept.” There, they sang their songs. In their prophetic imagination, they were proclaiming and raising an alternative consciousness, not necessarily, in the minds and hearts of their masters, but in their own hearts and minds. In a situation where they were oppressed by their own experience of “kings” and powerful “princes,” their hopeful imagination led them to conjure up an alternative society where salvation need not come to them as doled out by their oppressors but by their own emerging prophetic and salvific faith community.

Spirituality is eminently a personal search, a personal journey. And being personal, it ought to be eminently idiosyncratic. It ought to capitalize on all the elements of a person, or a people’s giftedness. Gifts vary from person to person, from culture to culture, from people to people. Union with God as a process and a goal need not always be done according to the terms of the minister, the missioner, and the apostle. That would be tantamount to treading on people’s sacred ground.

I still have to grow more in my ongoing search for my own meaning-making symbols and methods that connect me to the God of my faith. Whilst there is nothing wrong with using the universal symbols that the Lord offered to us as legacy, like the Eucharist, there is also nothing that should prevent me from using my own that capitalizes on my idiosyncratic gifts and talents.

I need to personalize my very institutionalized faith. I need to break ground and explore how to help others also define their own sacred grounds, their own secret inner gardens of peace and salvation.

Perhaps it is time I used more of what I enjoy more in prayer – music. Qui cantat, bis orat, after all.

Reading Fully, Seeing Truly

Studzinski (2000) reminds us that spiritual illiteracy is a big problem in the twenty-first century. A culture awash in information, but needy in terms of formation, is what characterizes our times. Priestly formation, for one, is still heavily focused on the academic aspect. Pastors are trained to read profusely, think objectively, write scholarly, and preach passionately. Formation is lopsided in favor of academic training. Despite the many outstanding and brilliant documents from the Church, holistic, integral formation that caters to the whole person, seldom goes beyond the planning mode. Written texts by way of scholarly writings, including Scripture, become the minister’s primary focus of concern. But to be fully rounded, “the other texts that life itself provides” (p. 623) need to be paid attention to. Ministers not only ought to be well read. They also need to be clear eyed. They need to have that “sacramental stance” vis-à-vis reality that is the vehicle for the hidden holy, the icons and representations of a God who has come “to pitch his tent in our midst” (Jn 1:14). For us priests who mediate God in sacramentality, it is not just a question of reading fully, but seeing truly the many varied and subtle ways God comes and reveals Himself to His people. If so, then, we ought to become God’s transparencies. “What we have heard … seen with our eyes, looked upon and touched with our hands … we proclaim now to you” (1 Jn 1:1-3). In sum, the journaling process has helped me become more spiritually literate, and thus, better able to “find God in all things” to use the famous words of St. Ignatius.

Dorff, F. (1995). Meditative writing. In Wicks, R.J. (Ed), Handbook of spirituality for ministers. Volume 1. New York: Paulist Press (153 – 173).
Hammarskjöld, D. (1976). Markings. New York: Alfred A. Knopf Publishers.
Johnson, B.C. (1990). Journal keeping. In Hunter, R.J. (Ed), Dictionary of pastoral care and counseling. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Jordan, M. (1986) Taking on the gods: The task of the pastoral counselor. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.
Rizzutto, A. M. (1979). The birth of the living god: A psychoanalytic study. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
St. Clair, M. (1986). Object relations and self psychology: An introduction. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.
Studzinski, R. (2000). Reading and ministry: Applying lectio divina principles in ministerial context. In Wicks, R.J. (Ed), Handbook of spirituality for ministers: Perspectives for the 21st century. Volume 2. New York: Paulist Press (613 – 627).
Young, J.E.; Klosko, J.S. & Weishar, M.E. (2003). Schema therapy: A practitioner’s guide. New York: The Guilford Press.

Fr. Vitaliano Chito Dimaranan, SDB
Lantayan Journal - DBCS
June 2005

Monday, June 4, 2007

SOLVITUR AMBULANDO: Some Milestones in my Ongoing Journey of Faith and Life

Old men ought to be explorers
Here and there does not matter.
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark, cold, and empty desolation.
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
(T.S. Eliot, “East Coker”)


Pilgrim Learner on the March

Longstanding Christian tradition has always used the analogy of the “way” when referring to the path of Christian belief and spirituality. At some point in the history of Christian spirituality, in fact, a believer was oftentimes referred to as a viator, a wayfarer (McGrath, 1999, p. 78).

This short essay deals with some select milestones in my own personal spiritual journey as a viator. As a contribution to Don Bosco Center of Studies’ pastoral-theological journal LANTAYAN, it veers away from the purely theological mode, and goes more towards the side of the pastoral – and somewhat more psycho-spiritual, and integrative – pole.

As one who has always loved nature, and who, for long has been passionate about long treks and hikes up mountains, the traditional image of wayfarer strikes me as more than just an empty analogue, but an existential reality. It has led me to define myself, through a personal mission statement, as was the fad in the late 80s, as “pilgrim learner,” a perpetual wayfarer and student in the school of life.

A Pilgrim’s On-going Story: Loving the Very Questions Themselves

Per Agrum ad Sacrum

Climbing up mountains is an arduous activity that is not for the faint of heart and weak of knees. It costs. It pains; and it can be discouraging at some point. But for those who persist and persevere, the rewards are great. Such rewards do not primarily have to do with achievement, such as reaching one’s goal, the summit. They have to do with the very struggle, the process itself of conquering one’s limitations, fears, and insecurities, and the consequent ability to transcend oneself and go beyond said limitations. Beyond these psychic rewards, though, are those that ultimately stand for one who is in search for inner meaning and connectivity to a God who makes Himself known in one’s daily experience.

For almost two decades now, I have learned to see life and faith as epitomized by those long and arduous climbs as a pilgrimage, a path that leads one through rough, uncharted terrain, a path that has taught me that quick answers to perennial questions do not come easy, and that as one plods on through life’s vicissitudes, one learns to have “patience with everything unresolved,” and “to love the very questions themselves”(Rilke, 1934). Like the pilgrims of old, who braved the elements out in the rough, I have learned to live life as a pilgrim, a viator, who may need to go through difficulties and trials (per agrum) and, hopefully find connection and intimacy with the sacred (ad sacrum), the divine, the God who is to be found in all things, who reveals Himself in my daily experience. Per agrum ad sacrum has thus become my own concrete image representation of this ongoing search for meaning and intimate connectivity with the God I have always claimed I believed in.

Per Agrum: The Dark Cold and Empty Desolation

Poetry and music, apart from nature, have been my faithful companions in my pilgrimage. They have put me in touch, not only with my own self, but also with the deepest core of common personhood that I share with the rest of struggling – and victorious - humanity. Poets have been my “mighty good companions” in the journey (Morneau, 1995, p. 151). Rachmaninoff’s deeply moving melodic masterpieces, Tchaickovsky’s bombastic, brilliant, and colorful chords, Hopkins’(Gardner, 1953) plaintive poetic prayers, Thompson’s (1979) faith-filled and flowing verses – why, even pop songs belted out by unsuspecting chanteurs and chanteuses – all reflect, for me, the wondrous reality that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God” (Gardner, p.27). Sharers all in the same human nature, they spoke to me of that “holy longing” that Rolheiser (1999) sees as the basis of all spirituality. T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (1971), particularly “East Coker,” spoke to me in a particular way as I entered through my midlife transition just as I underwent what Wicks (2003) calls a bewildering “slide into darkness.” A confluence of events, that happened after giving my best all through the most productive years of my early adult life, led me “through the dark cold and empty desolation” that Eliot (1971), I would like to believe, was speaking about.

Home Is Where One Starts From

To say that I underwent the dreaded midlife crisis precipitated or aggravated by the confluence of events I refer to above is an understatement. After ten years in leadership and enjoying the trust of superiors, and after pouring my heart out to tasks assigned to me, tasks which I would like to believe, I did responsibly and well, the unforeseen turn of events after the change of guards brought me to the dark basement of disappointment and anger. I was disappointed with people who I thought were friends. I was angry with God for allowing me to suffer unjustly. I was even angrier at those who, to my mind, caused my suffering. And I suffered deep within for feeling that way at all against anyone. I was tested to the core, and my spirituality was put in the proverbial crucible. My “operational theology” as against my “professed theology” (Jordan, 1986) was put to the mettle. But deep inside, I knew that there was no way I could skirt the process of growth that this crisis was leading me through – the naming, claiming, and the taming process that psychological and spiritual growth is all about. “Home is where one starts from,” as Eliot (1971) wisely counsels. It was a call to come home to myself, a call to self-responsibility. As in the story of Adam, God asked him to “name” every creature if he was to have dominion over them (Gn 1:20), I knew I was being called to “name the ghosts that haunted me,” as it were. I was being called to put a handle on whatever it was I felt, to name my issues and claim them for my own, instead of resorting to blame. Only then can the taming process begin.

Peregrinatio as a Coming Home to Self

My recent inward journey precipitated by my crisis experience gives full meaning to the root word (agrum) of what the pilgrims of old engaged in. For the dedicated pilgrims committed to finding what Countryman (1999) calls the “hidden holy,” it was far from going on a luxury vacation. It meant going through the agrum of discomfort, danger, and difficulty. It meant going out of their comfort zones, as they engaged not so much in searching for answers, as trying to find their “way.”
My own inward pilgrimage was helped by some invaluable mentors. I dug deep in my treasure trove of personages and idealized figures of the past, and found myself not wanting for models to emulate. Said group of mentors ranged from poets to prophets, from mystics to former mischief-makers – saints in their own right who were really sinners like me and the rest of humanity – who found, not so much answers, as a path that leads to love, a path that leads to meaning, to integrity, and to holiness, understood as wholeness. Nouwen, Merton, Kreeft, Tillich, Kushner, Rupp, Augustine, Therese of Lisieux, Teresa de Jesus, John Bosco, Hopkins, Thompson, Paul of Tarsus, Barrett-Browning, Rosetti, Unamuno, Hammarksjöld, Bocelli, Church, Groban, and a host of others, accompanied me as I wended my way through the “longest journey, the journey inward”(Hammarskjöld, 1976). With their help, I gradually came to realize that wholeness is a journey that starts from oneself, ineluctably marred by brokenness; that life is all about “growing strong at broken places” (Ripple, 1986), and that “home is where one starts from.” Through their prose, poetry, music, and musings, I was able to do a reading of God manifesting Himself in daily life, and find His indwelling presence in all things, in the tradition of St. Ignatius. Poets, in a special way, like Hammarskjöld did, offered me “markings that point the way to God and the Kingdom” (Morneau, 1995, p. 148). Pilgrimage for me, meant not only going up mountains, but also, and more importantly, going deep into myself and finding the stirrings of a God who really was calling me to wholeness and holiness, a God who was speaking in and through the unfolding history of my personal life.

Milestones along the Way

This pilgrim’s approach to life taught me that living and growing entail constantly making a “step into the unknown territory,” “a continual moving forward” (Chödrön, 1997, p. 20). It connotes having to go through uncharted, unpaved, and therefore, difficult paths, where milestones are a welcome gift to guide one’s journey. In retrospect, as I went inward and backwards through prayerful reflection, I realized I had been blessed by not just a few such milestones. As I grappled with midlife issues made more intense by the series of events referred to above, I came face-to-face with God’s invisible hand which guided me all along, starting from my childhood. Blessed with two loving and doting grandmothers in my early years, I learned about God through the mediation of two strong-willed, brilliant, and prayerful women. Although I saw a pattern of insecure, ambivalent attachment to my mother due to her absence on certain significant occasions, I realized I had internalized a caring, watchful, and tender object representation of God early on (Rizzutto, 1979). Object relations theorists and their work came in handy as a tool for my inward journey. I therefore find no difficulty relating to an image of God, not so much as father, but more so as mother.

Writing, and the ability to pen down insights, thoughts, and reflection, especially through journaling, has helped hone my skills, both at getting to the core meaning of experiences, and seeing the hand of God in unfolding events. Apart from affording me a valuable means for emotional catharsis, journaling has given me a tool to do a reading of God’s presence in daily experience. Since the time I slid into the basement of desolation with my personal and developmental crisis, I found a solace not so much in reading others’ works, as writing my own thoughts and insights on the dryness and desolation that enveloped me.

What constituted another milestone in this pilgrimage to my inner self were the many friends and confreres whose lives and experiences resonated with my own. By writing, I “read” God’s wondrous and mysterious workings in and through my pain and solitude. By resonating with my thoughts, I found valuable companions who walked with me through my Emmaus experience of abandonment, disappointment, and anger. Through the tears that often flowed in abundance, both literally and figuratively, the “parched land, desert and steppes” representing my proud, defiant, blaming, self-sufficient, and untamed self, began to “bloom with the abundant flowers” (Is 35:1-6)of self-acceptance, forgiveness, and inner serenity.

Looking back at my life, I find that there were certain trigger events that could either make or break a pilgrim’s resolve. Said trigger events, are, of themselves, clear milestones in the path to growth. One such trigger event happened just as I was just moving into the sixth full year of priestly ministry. Young and relatively brimming with energy, I was getting bored with the routinary and functionary job I was doing as school administrator. I wanted more. I longed to be given the chance to go for further studies, a desire that, in my low self-esteem, I could not verbalize before superiors. Just when I felt I was at my lowest ebb, just when I was dreaming of something big to please my parents and do them proud, the news that my mother, who lived 9,000 miles away, had suddenly died at a relatively young age of 63, came to me. The jarring news immediately plunged me to a deep emotional crisis. It opened up issues related to my ambivalent relationship and insecure attachment to my mother. It was a case of my inner world collapsing under the weight of clashing emotions that see-sawed from grief to anger, from dejection to disappointment, and from deep sadness to self-pity. The event released a Pandora’s box of issues I never knew, let alone acknowledge, I had. It was to be another important and significant milestone that dotted my pilgrim’s path to wholeness.

The crisis that the loss of my mother engendered led me years later to investigate a little more closely on the role of my family of origin in the development of who I became. Owing to a sense of abandonment, and belonging as I did to a big family where parental attention had to be divided between work and children, I realized that what Jordan (1999) refers to as “self-atonement procedures” as far as I was concerned had to do with achievement, being over-responsible, reliable and self-reliant. Behind the façade of responsibility and fidelity to duty, however, there lay a subtle film of anger, resentment, and a conflicted, ambivalent, and paradoxical intimacy with my mother. No wonder I could be overcritical and impatient on many occasions with her, even as I nurtured tender and loving feelings for her. Instead of naming and acknowledging the stories I really told myself, stories of “abandonment,” I blamed her and projected on her my unacknowledged inadequacies and insecurities. The depth and intensity of my grief when she died suddenly became a wake-up call for me to work towards a reframing of my personal story. My mother ended up being my most influential mentor in life and in death, and her passing a major milestone in the pathway that gradually led to my coming home to myself.

Work, Duty, Responsibility, and Self-Differentiation

The immediately foregoing milestone neatly dovetails with the next, which is the experience of being in control, in power, and saddled with a big responsibility. After I eventually earned my ecclesiastical graduate degree abroad, I was suddenly catapulted to leadership roles, something that I knew I needed in order to prove my self-worth to my parents, and again, do them proud. But by then, my mother had died. Even so, I found myself pouring out myself totally to my work. I did more than was expected of me. I found immense fulfillment in achieving, in performing, in keeping myself in the limelight. Ten years after, with the shift in top leadership, from which inner circle I also had to step down, I saw myself as one of those whom Nouwen (1981)calls the “filled and unfulfilled” (p. 23). I realized that my story was that of an “abandoned” child driven by an inner resolve never to abandon my charge, my community, my responsibility, and my multiple tasks and commitments. At the end of ten long and, by any standard, highly productive years, I felt limp and depleted like an empty sack, angry and disappointed that no one was there to appreciate all the work I put into my role. It was once again, a wake-up call for me to do an overhaul of my “self-definition”(Jordan, 1999, p. 78). It was clear I had not, in the words of structural family therapists (Friedman, 1985), adequately “differentiated” myself from my family of origin, as was obvious in the level of anxiety I felt about not coming up short with my tasks and responsibilities. Ten years being in the thick of things, while at the same time being on the thin ice of self-definition was too big and influential a milestone to be glossed over. Once again, a crisis eventually became an impetus, and a painful one at that, for growth and further development.

Being Still and Still Moving: Integration via Spirituality

My adventure up mountains in long multi-day treks started when I was bored as a young priest. Basically afraid of heights, I took up the challenge, and formed a climbing group. With the energy that came from the anxiety that a less-than-ideal sense of self-definition engendered, I found fulfillment and escape in long distance and cross-country treks. Paradoxically, I learned the art of being still while still moving in the famous words of Eliot (1971). Close to nature, awed and interiorly silenced by the majesty of God’s creation, I found connectivity with the God on whom I also projected my disappointments and resentments. As I trudged and traipsed mostly in exterior silence, I fell interiorly still. I was blessed with endless hours of reflection and introspection. I learned the art of communing with God through the awesome majesty of creation, whose presence showed itself through brilliant light by day, and cold, howling winds by night. Poetry, prayer, and presence before the pure, pristine beauty of the world-mothering God became integral to my expanding spirituality. I was “being still,” but “still moving.” I may have been a “pseudo-poet” who gloried in the words borrowed from others, but I was on the way to becoming authentically faithful to who I was, less driven to serve and worship what Jordan (1986) calls the “idols” that I have created for myself. At about the time I got the passion of trekking, I started the habit of going regularly for short reflective walks early in the morning, whilst the rest of the world around me was just awakening.

Peregrinatio as God-Think

Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are redolent with stories of journeys and setting out on foot. Abraham, for one, was told to “go forth … to a land that [I] will show you” (Gn 12:1). He was even told to contemplate nature and see “the dust of the earth,” “the length and breadth of the land,” (Gn 13:16-17), and to “look up at the sky and count the stars” (Gn 15:5), and see in them signs of God’s forthcoming abundant blessings. His descendants, led by Moses, wandered through the desert for forty years, en route to the promised land (Ex 16 ff). In both cases, the journey was clearly one that was per agrum ad sacrum, a pilgrimage fraught with as much promise as pain, delight as well as disappointment, fulfillment along with failure.

But it was precisely the “dark, cold and empty desolation” that led to “a further union, a deeper communion.” The journey itself, the process, the moving forward, are what brought God’s people to inward stillness, that eventually convinced them of the veracity of God’s promises: “Fear not … I am your shield” (Gn 15:1). It was their “still moving” that led them to “be still.” It was what made them think and see for themselves the glory of God understood as presence, as shekinah, as dwelling in their midst. Theological reflection, as these stories tell us, is, at bottom, first and foremost, God-think, before it becomes God-talk. And both happen only when we are willing to go through the reflective and prayerful movement called peregrinatio.


Solvitur Ambulando: Journeying with the Risen Christ to Emmaus

We have now come back to where we started. All the milestones presented above speak of an ongoing journey. My path as a pilgrim-learner is dotted by a growing list of such milestones, some more important and significant than others, not one of them any less growth-enhancing and purifying in the long run. Each and every one points to the reality of life as a calling to move on, a calling to journey on through the rough fields and uncharted pathways that may even be filled with grief, disappointment, and a whole lot of “unresolved questions.” But the story of the grieving disciples on the way to Emmaus (Lk 24:13-23), reflecting as they walked, tells us that all along, the Risen Christ was journeying with them. They set out on foot dejected and forlorn. Little did they realize that, as they walked and as they talked, as they prayed, reflected, and swapped stories, a new chapter of God’s story – the story of God’s indwelling and salvific presence to His people in Christ, was being written. The two disciples’ grief and sorrow, like mine, were becoming major milestones in the ever expanding pathway toward fullness and fulfillment in Christ.

St. Augustine, the great mischief-maker turned mystic and saint, ever so earthly, ever so practical, one whose God-think fueled so much God-talk down through centuries of systematic theological reflection, a saint as worldly as he is heavenly, a man who traversed his own version of “per agrum ad sacrum,” who single-handedly became mentor and model to so many, including myself, had a flash of divine inspiration when he said: “solvitur ambulando” (Cousineau, 1998, p. 104). Things are solved while walking.


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