Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Can you believe?

Can you believe that it is 4:00 am and the temperature outside is 79-degrees Fahrenheit? It's October 10th, after all, and I'm really quite ready for autumn temperatures to roll in. I'm not particularly fond of the heat and, since I'm up at 4:00 am, it goes without saying that this weather is preventing me from sleeping.

Since returning, I've written several posts *about* me but I've not had much that draws on much of the internal grist that I find helpful to write about. Since I'm awake, lucid, and hopeful that writing will make me sleepy I figure that I can write a bit about my internal life a bit.

It may come as a surprise for some that I found last year rather difficult. No, not spiritually or socially but, interestingly, academically. And no, it's not because I found the courses too rigorous or demanding. Instead, I was bored for almost the entire year. The philosophy courses I took were terribly dry and uninteresting and were not challenging. The saving grace of the year was the fact that I managed to take two phenomenal theology courses, one of which produced the paper that will be published this January.

It is easy to become overly romantic about the catch-phrase "Jesuit Mission." We can think of intrepid priests and brothers blazing trails through the Congo or visiting China. We can imagine scientists or scholars or teachers. We can envisage pastors and counselors. But can we imagine lethally bored graduate students? If you have a hard time imagining a bored Jesuit, then you can imagine how hard it is to be a bored Jesuit.

So it's been a welcome relief this year to find myself enrolled in courses that are very stimulating. Each of my four courses is helping me to think through a number of philosophical and theological issues and I'm amazed at the connections I am able to make between the subjects. Who'd have thought that one could range in a web of thought from Virtue Ethics to Hegel to Aesthetics?

In some ways, I'm finding a new cross to bear: I find many students of the other students to be boring. This is not to say that they aren't smart or engaged! Indeed, they often know much more on the subjects than I do. Nevertheless, I'm usually left cold by the points they raise in class. Often enough it's as though they are jockeying for profundity, hoping to make a good impression on the professor by asking (what seem to me) utterly pointless questions in a psuedo-erudite manner. It is perhaps a mark of my own immaturity but I often pose my father's litmus test on the points they raise. If a class comment or observation doesn't rank high on the "So What?" scale, I must admit that I tune that person out and begin thinking about more pleasant things, like dancing chimpanzees (Thanks Joe):

Let it never be said that graduate studies necessarily must drive the whimsy from a person!

Now don't read what I've written and assume that I'm in some spiritual crisis or having angst. I'm not. This blog is as much therapeutic for me as it is informative to others, so I'm merely offering a bit of a glimpse into my internal state.

I guess at the core is this: I can do this because I pray. I can work my way through readings, often inane class discussions, papers, deadlines, and such only because I feel called to do so through prayer. If I didn't experience such a call, if I didn't realize that this prayer had led me into something of an academic asceticism, then I'd be terribly unhappy. It is because I prayed last year that I found some of the courses bearable and it is because I pray that I find many otherwise insufferable people to be at least semi-bearable (If that sounds harsh, it is: I do not suffer fools gladly and it often takes an enormous amount of self-restraint to refrain from offering to them a few observations of my own).

So that's a glimpse into the academic state of affairs. I have been invited to do a book review for the Heythrop Journal and I'm also preparing a paper abstract for a conference this summer. I also have two independent projects in the works: I'm reading Totality and Infinity with a member of the philosophy department and I'm writing the course text for the "Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" course that I'm hoping to submit for publication.


Joe said...

Y'know, you don't read much about Jesuits blazing trails through the Congo any more.

I theorize this is because the machete has been de-emphasized in the formation process.

A bloody lot of good Hegel will do you if you can't hack through a thicket to get to some tribal village.

-Mr. Helpful

heather said...

Perhaps sitting through insufferable questions is sort of training for the kinds of people you will meet in your future career. I know that before I could deal with Jesus in my life I asked a lot of questions that probably put the hackles up of my pastor, but he graciously answered them until I could sort out a lot of issues. Jesus sure had his fair share of those kinds of questions from the scribes and pharisees. Philosophy left me high and dry myself - so much of it leads to humanism and away from God. Hoping your day is blessed.

Anonymous said...

Will you suffer "fools for Christ" gladly, at least?

Ryan Duns, SJ said...

That I can do!