When I was in 4th Grade at St. Rose Elementary School, my teacher, Miss Meikle, called me up to her desk during a quiet time in class. She showed me a manuscript of a novel she was working on. She pointed out one particular paragraph, where she characterized a “small, sandy haired boy.” She told me that the character was based on me.
I had never met a writer before, and I thought it was cool that this lady who could keep all of us hooligans in line could also find the time to write a novel. That got me thinking. Maybe this little backwater county I grew up in could produce more than coal miners and welfare checks. Maybe, just maybe, it could produce a writer or two.
“To be a writer” became one of my childhood dreams. I penned poems, journalized like crazy, and tried my hand at a song or two. They weren’t very good; they were syrupy emanations of raging hormones. (Nevertheless, I still have most of them.) I did not know at the time that they were the physical beginnings of a spiritual quest.
Lately I’ve been reading the late Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture. He refers several times to his list of childhood dreams, and how he tried to order his life to experience as many of those dreams as possible. Sometimes he experienced his dream explicitly – like “being in zero gravity.” (You’ll have to read the book to find out how.) He achieved some of his other childhood dreams in different ways than he expected.
I cannot help but think of the parallel in today’s Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus. According to some early sources, St. Ignatius’ childhood dream was to become a knight, fighting in service of a king. When a war injury made that dream physically impossible, his physical dream was gradually transposed to a spiritual one, one where he vowed to serve Jesus in the ongoing struggle between good and evil.
One of the ways he sought to do this was through a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. During this pilgrimage, he made stops in Montserrat and Manresa, both which were critical steps on his spiritual journey. He also began formulating his thoughts for the Spiritual Exercises during this time. Clearly, God was guiding and molding him during this important quest. With knightly zeal, he lived the essence of the life that he had dreamed about. He inspired – and still inspires – millions around the world.
Today’s first reading provides a spiritual itinerary, of sorts, a calendar of observances for bringing the community together in its collective quest to deepen its relationship with Yahweh. Just like the first reading, Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises can also be seen as an itinerary for a spiritual quest, one undertaken with the guidance of a Spiritual Director.
The Gospel, too, gives us some insight into our spiritual journeys, but from a different perspective. Jesus is clearly a different person when He returns home; His family expects Him to be unchanged, the same person He was before He left. This is impossible. A true pilgrimage changes the pilgrim from the inside, out. I can only imagine someone spouting off, “I thought you wanted to be a carpenter, like your dad. Isn’t that good enough?” It isn’t about “good enough,” it’s about what’s worthy of a child’s dream.
Even though I wouldn’t call myself a writer, I still write. Every day. Perhaps my childhood dream of being a writer wasn’t so much about making a living by writing as it was about engaging in the act of putting myself in the presence of the moment, and then trying to make sense of it on paper. In that sense, it’s more of a spiritual process than a physical one.
Perhaps today, in honor of St. Ignatius, we can attempt to recall our childhood dreams, and see how the hand of God has molded them into spiritual quests for His greater glory.
I bet that most of us are living our childhood dreams and don’t even realize it.
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