Monday, February 06, 2006

Vocation Discernment, Part II

My years in college were marked by two trends: my deeper involvement in music and my gradual disillusionment with the intellectual foundations of the post-Enlightenment Western world. Let me deal with the second one first, since it is easier and more obviously related to my interest in the ancient and medieval phenomenon of monasticism.

I entered the University of Chicago in the Autumn of 1988 ready to accept whatever assumptions were put forward by my teachers, especially if they were radical. The U of C undergraduate program forward a 'Great Books' curriculum but like most institutions of higher learning, also features many of the assumptions of modernism. For no good reason except that it was a shocking assertion for a hick from Green Bay, I decided that I didn't believe in God, or at least told some people that.

However, I was made uneasy in this assertion whenever I gave it a little thought. For one thing, at age 19, I was asserting that I knew more than my grandparents, and that seemed audacious to me. Not that I thought clearly about any of this. And here is where I am so thankful for my education. In college, I learned to think clearly, or at least to value such thinking.

The class that has always stood out in my mind as a turning point in my life of faith was a class in natural science. In it, we read Darwin and studied fossils and such. This class utterly convinced me that Darwin's theory of the origin of species was flawed (remember, I was not religiously motivated in any way at the time). I have written about this elsewhere on this site. This realization did not move me toward positing a Creator, but demonstrated how 'evangelical' the scientific profession could be. I began to be very suspicious of all sorts of 'proven' scientific truths.

In this same science course, I attended a symposium in which the origin of homo sapiens was debated. I was astounded at the collusion among those who insisted on the common African ancestor hypothesis to exclude anyone who challenged their theories. It happens that I thought the two scientists outside the mainstream had better arguments and data. Now, I am not a scientist and thus would certainly not try to draw any conclusions about human evolution from this episode. However, this happened at a time in which my personal life was suffering from a great deal of peer pressure (I was sought-after as a musician for theater and other entertainments) and it taught me that just because everyone says something is so, does not make it so. Furthermore, some space and silence for reflection is necessary to get an objective distance from the object of reflection. My own life was a bit like the symposium. I had so little time to examine my life and so many people telling me what they thought it was about that I was feeling a bit lost. By my junior year, I had almost entirely ceased writing music.

Then I made another good decision (not that I recognized it at the time: grace was obviously leading me). I had promised a classmate of mine when we were freshmen that if we ever had the chance, we would room together. For the first three years, it did not work out. Senior year, we had the opportunity, and though I was closer to others as friends at the time, loyalty to an agreement won out.

John lent me a book called "The Intellectuals Speak Out About God," and one of the essays in it convinced me of the historicity of the Resurrection. What a relief! However, this meant that I had to start rethinking a lot of my ideas. For example, I started to reckon that the Bible needed to be taken more seriously.

John also had a good sense of the homely goodness of real culture, as opposed to the problematic 'culture' of the academy, with its transitoriness and the jumble of ideas being bandied about all the time. I began to pay more attention to things, and as a result began writing songs again, in an earthier mode, backing off of the complex and arcane techniques I had cultivated to that point.

But this is to anticipate the musical side of the odyssey. If reason was that which got me back into church, it was the desire for beauty that God used to lead me into monastic life.

to be continued...

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Origen of Alexandria
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