On the left side of this page there’s a sidebar, and on that sidebar are interspersed quotes. Like particularly pretty stones one might find by a riverbank, I’ve picked these up and have them displayed here, each pointing to a moment of insight or counsel, or reflecting a resource that pushed me farther away from the explicable and into some new course of life. Or gave me hope in the midst of a way that didn’t make sense to me.
Thus says the LORD: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.
Books have been my mentors my whole life. I’ve always been a reader and reading has generally caused me to lose focus on the present and lose focus on what I was supposed to be learning in a given context. I get distracted by books, and of books there is no end. One book leads to another, the rabbit trail leading to the rabbit hole, down we go.
When I think back on my life, I think of the books that were shaping my thoughts and assumptions during those various seasons. That would probably be the most effective form of self-biography, a list of books. To add to that, I probably could add writing I’ve done, self-biography that is not autobiography–telling my story directly–but telling of the deeper me through the guides that are compelling me further up and further in.
I wrote essays on CS Lewis and James Michener in high school, reading almost all of both of their works before I graduated. In my sophomore year of college, I was introduced to the early church Fathers, and more specifically to Tertullian. My Spring break of that year was filled reading through the two volumes of his writings in the Ante-Nicene Fathers. It took longer than that one week, of course, but it filled that week and expanded into all my life. The strange thing is that reading has never just been academic or intellectual for me. It has when required, but the reading I’m talking about–the kind that shapes and defines me–has been quite holistic. I loved the early church fathers, for instance, because they spoke of depths of faith, love, hope in the midst of trials, perseverance. Tertullian’s mix of brilliant exposition and sarcastic wordplay delighted me to the core of my being.
I did not, to say the least, have the stereotypical college experience. I was distracted the whole time, distracted by pressing problems and, more to the point, distracted by God. This is probably why, in my junior year, I resonated greatly with Wesley’s writings. He spoke of both my passions and my struggles.
This post isn’t about college, however. I’m in the midst of writing about my journey to and through PhD studies. The last post ended with me in the mountains.
I went there to write. Really. I was living in Pasadena, looking for jobs, and writing was the only thing that stirred my soul. That and answering “run a Christian escort business” when people asked me what I did for a living.
The mountains provided, even within their own modicum of chaos, a place I could be even more deliberate about my deeper quest. People thought I was running away from life. It was entirely the opposite. I was turning around and facing the always encroaching Void, letting its waves wash over me, no longer fleeing from it. If I did not have faith, I would not stand.
Hunting truth is no easy task; we must look everywhere for its tracks
Basil the Great
I continued to write, but more importantly for those first couple of years I began to read into the depths. Each season of my life has its theme books, and the four volume set of the Philokalia was the theme of those mountain years.
I found the early church fathers in college, reading through the ante-nicene Fathers set after graduating. I found John Cassian my first year in seminary, who radically upset my ability to subsist contentedly in the world as I knew it. The Philokalia was the progression of that reading, discovered because I wanted to read Wesley deeper, and sought out a source for his Makarios, a great influence in his life. I found Makarios in the Philokalia and also so many others. Niketas Stethatos being my favorite (if one is allowed to have such favorites).
Such writings showed me a map, a path to deeper places, deeper answers, deeper hopes. Also deeper restrictions, deeper limitations, stricter standards. I was like an Autopia car when the ‘driver’ lets go of the steering wheel, bouncing back and forth but making progress along the track. I was not good in so many ways. But God sought more for me, and in the flood of the Spirit’s work, there were levees that kept me isolated, kept me moving a determined direction. As much as I might have wanted to flood into other pastures, God established the way.
Hence I ought unceasingly
to give thanks to God who often pardoned
my folly and my carelessness,
and on more than one occasion
spared His great wrath on me,
who was chosen to be His helper
and who was slow to do as was shown
me and as the Spirit suggested.
And the Lord had mercy on me
thousands and thousands of times
because He saw that I was ready,
but that I did not know what to do
in the circumstances.
Patrick of Ireland
In the midst of this path, a path of both isolation and narrowed community, I found hope. I found renewal. I found a voice.
In the midst of this, I also rediscovered a couple of theologians I had first met in seminary. I read Pannenberg and his three volume systematic theology. I also read Moltmann. Both of which radically affected my understanding of God and this life and God’s work in this world. Moltmann affected me even more personally, becoming an actual mentor of sorts, and not just through his books.
Moltmann was the way God led me down the mountain and back into life.
Which is the subject of another post.