Abbey in the Desert
I Ran by “A Flock of Seagulls” now fills the air with poignancy and drive. But the song has the leisurely start of Ravel's Bolero and of my own life; the five-minute record is in no rush to get where it’s going. It was like the endless twenty-minute run around the workout room track today, the air languid with a damask of women, heavy-breasted for such slight frames that I wondered if there was artificial augmentation.
One gets the sense from our anatomy that God intends us to be specialists; you can no more get milk from a turnip as the male nipple. He intends us as specialists spiritually too. One the monk, the other the activist, one the ascetic, the other Chestertonian. The trick is to discover what the specialty He intends. We are so influenced by culture and ourselves - though not our true selves - that it’s hard to tell.
When I was a child all my heroes were rugged individualists. It never occurred to me that God didn’t intend me to be Mowgli although that could’ve simply been the dislike of homework talking. But that’s the thing isn’t it? To be able to see beyond the laziness and sloth while understanding that laziness can also occur around things you are not asked to do. The man trying to nurse a child may feel laziness and sloth simply from lacking that calling.
So in college I inhaled Emerson and Thoreau as well as the hermit poets and poet hermits. May Sarton. Edward Abbey, drinking a beer in that desert wasteland full of orange monuments. I thirsted for their experience of nature. But more than the beauty of nature I think I saw individualism as a Stoic's form of control. I prided myself on my ability to survive. Survive not only physically but emotionally via the imaginative innerscape. I could be in situations that would drive the extrovert mad by daydreaming within, even while in the city, even amid a thousand distractions.
I never really noticed they were all pagans, Thoreau, Abbey, Dickinson and Sarton. Perhaps it was wisdom I worshipped, not God. "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?" scared the hell out of me for fear of which I would choose. I covered for them all, calling them cryptic Christians who were turned off by bad examples.
But eventually I saw the problem with individualism was that it was incompatible with Catholicism. And so there was the smash-up of my self-absorbed dreams of splendid isolation with an equally firm desire to please a God so worthy of love. What a remarkable train wreck! I hardly saw it coming. But far more difficult than giving up Abbey-like dreams of drinking at Arches was giving up the feeling of control. Suddenly I had to give my well-being to Another. And He whom I gave control didn't want what was easiest for me but what was best for me in the long run. And His long run is the very, very Long Run. Suddenly I was confronted by someone who wanted to potentially make my life harder and less happy and yet who still had my best interests in mind.