It will feel so otherworldly when you hear a voice within you that is peaceful and kind. A voice that’s unburdened by the sense that everything you do is wrong and that your life is on the verge of collapsing at any minute. You’ll just be in the shower or lying in bed at night or reading a novel, and this voice will confidentially break through all the noise. From time to time, the voice will offer you a clear insight, and just like that you’ll know what to do in the kind of situation that might have terrified you in the past. Maybe, just maybe, this voice is what Christians call “the Holy Spirit.”
A few years ago, when I was having a particularly rough time, a friend of mine — who has often seemed more like a guide — spoke to me in a parable. Come to think of it, he didn’t actually tell me the parable; he simply suggested that I might benefit from tracking down and reading some of C.S. Lewis’s The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I set out to find the book at a library. Upon finding the book, I glanced through it until I found the part during which one of the book’s main characters — a boy named Eustace — wandered off from his siblings. Alone, he encountered a dying dragon. He got a thrill out of seeing how close he could get to the dragon, even touching it. He had, after all, “read only the wrong books.” As such, he drank from the dragon’s pool of water; he played with the dragon’s treasure, and he tried on the dragon’s jewelry. Eventually, he fell asleep in the dragon’s cave.
“This is, as I said and believe, a book about Heaven, but I must say too that it has been a close call. For I have wondered sometimes if it would not finally turn out to be a book about Hell — where we fail to love one another, where we hate and destroy one another for reasons abundantly provided or for righteousness’ sake or for pleasure, where we destroy the things we need the most, where we see no hope and have no faith, where we are needy and alone, where things that ought to stay together fall apart, where there is such a groaning travail of selfishness in all its forms, where we love one another and die, where we must lose everything to know what we have had.” -Wendell Berry in Jayber Crow
“When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.” ~Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes
I have been in graduate school for the better part of the past three-and-a-half years with a year-long break, which I spent abroad. Much of my studying has focused on the genre of memoir: reading it, writing it, talking about it. I’ve always enjoyed reading within this genre and a few years ago it somehow came about that I was writing a book-length memoir of my own. I’ve taken many “breaks” from that bigger project to work on smaller, essay-length memoir pieces.
“I may not know who I am, but I know where I’m from.” ~Wallace Stegner
“Wisdom…is knowing what you have to accept.” ~Lyman Ward in Angle of Repose
Reading, writing, and living take us on all sorts of enjoyable and not-so-enjoyable tangents. As un undergraduate student at Anderson University, I took an interest in the writing, speaking, and lifestyle of Shane Claiborne, who started The Simple Way, which is an inner-city communal living organization in the tradition of New Monasticism. In interacting with him on a visit, he kept mentioning this guy named Wendell Berry, a Kentucky farmer and writer. So I started reading Berry and could not get enough of him. The vision he offers of living in the contemporary world is maybe still the best I have found. But his literary mentor, a former professor at Stanford, was a guy named Wallace Stegner. I figured I ought to read him, too, which is how I came across Angle of Repose, a Western novel that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. (The New York Times showed its protest against the Pulitzer decision by hardly mentioning the novel or its author in their own pages.)