Thursday, May 12, 2005

In the gloaming...

Alice Elliot Dark wrote a story entitled "In the Gloaming" about a young man who returns home to die of AIDS. The beauty of the story is captured in those fleeting moments of transition between day and night, that period of time where all the world is bathed in a heathery light, known as the gloaming. As day gives way to night, all the world is transformed, even if but for a few moments. As the man's life ebbs, the transition of life to death is not made idly or smoothly but involves a transformation wherein his reality - and the reality of his family - is changed forever. In the gloaming of his life all things are made new and seen afresh, just as his life is given up to the still night of death.

It seems to me that I have been in something of a gloaming. I entered the Society of Jesus with the intent to serve God as a companion of Jesus by helping others. I'd scarcely consider myself naive, though I would admit to being a bit idealistic. This idealism has all but faded as recent events have certainly marked a transition - perhaps even a maturation - in my life.

The election of Benedict XVI and recent shake-up at America magazine have left me feeling dejected. I'm not alone in my despondency, to be sure, but of late my hope had begun to be eclipsed by nagging suspicions that I don't belong in the Jesuits, that I might not even belong in the church. In idle moments - and believe me, I have many of them - I scan the on-line newspapers, blogs, and religious columns and I often find myself siding more those "liberal dissidents" rather than triumphant troubadors of orthodoxy.

I've been praying about this a lot...many late nights walking down back roads and through Native American cemeteries. I pray easier at night when all the world is asleep and I can feel my own smallness in the enormity of God's creation. Things are so very different at night, still and calm and peaceful; I am very different at night, receptive and searching. It's because of this that I tend to walk at night which is, by contrast, so much more peaceful than the day. Though the setting is the same, there is a clear distinction between the land during the night and the land during the day. There is an apparently neat and easy split between the two - dark and light, night and day.

So I took a walk this evening and questioned my purpose...I suppose the "desert experience" of being somewhat alone in Wyoming will raise such questions. Since I'd eaten supper earlier than usual, I embarked on my walk just as the sun began to set and the landscape was transformed by a new light, by a fading light, by the gloaming. And as I stood there watching creation take on a new and vibrant hue, I knew that darkness would inevitably fall and that soon all would be shrouded by a moonless night. Transfixed by this sight and the ambiguity it posed, its mediation between night and day, all the questions I have been wrestling with - "Do I want a family?" "Should I go back to music as a career?" "Should I go and do my PhD, or go to law school, or to medical school?" - fell silent. Day and night ceased to exist and there, between the two, was a whole new realm of time and vision that erased my fears and anxiety and, in their stead, I found but one word: dialogue.

Now it might not seem like much to you: dialogue. If my zeal and enthusiasm was to be a servant of Christ and the church, then my role may best be expressed as one who will seek to interpret and to initiate dialogue between parties. If women seek roles of leadership in the church, how do I listen and engage both sides in order to bring them to discussion. If gays and lesbians and transgendered persons seek greater recognition, then I will listen to their narratives and stand by them as an empathetic listener and proactive dialogue partner. In the ecumenical and inter-religious forum, perhaps my best service will be to be attentive to the other traditions and to seek more common and fertile ground in which seeds of mutual respect and admiration might be planted.

I think part of my difficulty in many ways is that I'm always looking for answers. It's frustrating to be on an Indian Mission where there are so many problems - alcoholism, drugs, domestic violence, chronic unemployment - and it seems that there are no answers to these problems. I can't solve their problems...hell, I can't even seem to make a dent. But I'm realizing that my job is not to "change" them or to give them answers but rather is to companion them on their journey as a people. They must find and appropriate the answers that will address their own lives, otherwise it is nothing less that imperialism or gross imposition.

There is no end to dialogue, no way to exhaust the riches mined from either party engaged in open and honest discourse. Perhaps my role as a Jesuit will be nothing more - and certainly nothing less - than one as an able companion for dialogue, one who can offer an ear and a discerning heart, to see how parties are being led and how they might best follow the promptings of the Spirit. Regardless of current events - I say tremulously - this is the best service I am able to offer.

I think I joined the Jesuits in part to find and to offer answers. Surely this is why I love academics so dearly. Nevertheless, I doubt seriously my ability to offer good and pat answers to any "problem" or issue that presents itself. Maybe all I have to do is to keep asking questions and, when a good answer presents itself, to take account of it, note it, and then ask, "but what if..."

I'm not accustomed to writing longer posts - I'm generally too lazy - and I suspect that as nutty as I am, this is a bit more personal than usual. Tough. Some will think it silly and others will think it trite and still others - probably those who know me - will think it insincere. In studies I have embraced the "gray" area of life, advocated that in dealing with matters of faith there was much of a premium placed on silence-in-the-face-of-mystery rather than empty words expressive of very little. Perhaps my life and vocation is to be a perpetual gloaming, mediating the shift of night and day, faith and doubt, belief and unbelief, gay and straight, man and woman, black and white. Such would be consistent with a process of maturation that enabled the appropriation and incorporation of a method into one's very life or very being.

I fear I'm rambling and becoming incoherent...if it's quite something to experience, it is something else to express. If my gesturing toward some meaning has had any effect then let it be this: that the decision "for" or "against" is antithetical to the gloaming experience of "both/and" that is commensurate with so much of our Catholic faith "both fully human and divine," "both sinner and loved" etc. Things are so different when cast in a new light, familiar yet foreign, when we take the time to see the world through gloaming eyes.
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