Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Week in Review: Go in Peace, Gulliver

I recognize that this blog is not the norm in Catholic blogs, if “Witness” is a Catholic blog. For one thing, I don’t go in for politics, not most of the time. Generally, I am writing about my experience as a meat-and-potatoes Catholic man, working out his salvation one day at a time, one post at a time.

Even the rare “political” post linked to the previous paragraph, about certain comments of Cardinal Burke, had a personal point. It celebrated my female friends in the Church, who are dear to me.

The highly personal nature of some posts may annoy or offend some readers. It may even make you squirm. That’s all part of the deal, I think. This, I am saying, is what it is to be a Catholic man today, at least for this one Catholic man. Not always easy to live. Seldom easy to write about.

But my experience is all I have to offer. I am not a priest or theologian, any more than I am a political commentator.

So when I look back over the posts of the past week, or any week, I see my life. For example, this week:

Thursday morning, after serving at mass, I cleaned my office. I do this every time I complete a major project and want to signal a fresh start. The project this time had consumed more than two years of my life: the research into my years with Gulliver the guru, followed by three and a half drafts about all that. The writing totaled more than 250,000 words, which I finally boiled down to about 20,000 in eighteen excerpts on this blog, beginning with a prologue.

In cleaning out my office, I threw out virtually all of my notes about Gulliver, including drafts of a book I tried to write thirty years ago, when it was all much fresher in mind. That cleared a lot of space in my office.

If you haven’t read my posts about Gulliver, you can begin here. That post, written Monday, was meant to sum up the story and put an end to it.

But then came Tuesday and a message from a reader-friend who wanted to talk about abuse at a Catholic school he had attended. That led to this post, about how I, an abuse victim myself, could possibly be a happy Catholic today.

Then another reader commented on my last memoir excerpt, in which I said I might never have the final word on the Gulliver story. I called the unwritten “final” post on Gulliver “Pilgrimage.” The reader wrote:

Oh, come on now! You HAVE to give us Pilgrimage. Wean us off your very interesting blog gently. We'll be looking for Pilgrimage—you Webster Bull !

So Wednesday I posted a piece called “Lessons of the Camino,” which at one time might have been the final chapter to the second draft, completed sometime last summer. It wasn’t really “Pilgrimage,” however. That story is still living itself out, as I tried to explain.

Then came Thursday and the office cleaning, followed by the melt-down. Until now, I haven’t written about the melt-down, which occurred later in the day, triggered by incidents that seemed to have nothing to do with Gulliver. But there it was: tears and rage—feelings I suppressed for so many years but felt many times while writing about Gulliver. The melt-down wasn’t pretty. I can only hope it was the last biggie. I won’t write any more about it.

I was consoled Thursday afternoon by a reader comment on my final Gulliver excerpt, “Merton: To End for Now.” That anonymous commenter wrote:

Webster, this is so beautifully and bravely written. Your honesty about who you were, what you went through and who you are today is incredibly inspirational. I feel healed just reading it and this did not even happen to me! You may be helping to heal others in a way you don't realize. I have been reading your posts and I have just a few comments to share. Having read some of Gurdjieff's teachings and talked with a handful of people about this work, I was never a fan. To be truthful, I put this in the category of the danger of the times we live in (well actually since the 60's really) when the focus of our culture began to be more on ourselves and our own intellectual growth and superiority. Self-improvement, self-remembering, the age of enlightenment are all in essence self centered. The simplest way for me to account for the joy that people receive when they come back home to their Faith or discover true faith (mine and yours is the Catholic Christian faith) is that real joy comes from being "Others" centered. To me, that is the secret of life and the teachings in Scripture and all of the teachings of Jesus were about giving - always giving. There are many books where the author tries to over intellectualize the Christian faith to the point where I don't even recognize it. The Catholic faith is rich in tradition, history and wisdom. Yes there is a lot to wrap your head around. It's stimulating to the intellectual mind, which of course is wonderful. However, when you want to enjoy the richness of that faith, wrap your heart around it....it is then that you can enjoy the fullness of that gift . Webster, by sharing your pain and triumph with "others", you have in turn received joy. It's so simple, yet so difficult for us all to walk that walk. For me,The Church has been the gift that keeps on giving. And a reminder to me that I still have much work to do.

By Friday, I was writing about forgiveness and settling down around the conviction that I was done with Gulliver. I could bid him go in peace, and good riddance. The metaphor of turning away from Mt. Doom and heading home to the Shire, which I used in the Camino post, is very real to me. A spiritual advisor has warned me that, as long as I focus my attention on Gulliver, it will be hard for me to bring more attention to Christ. So I am doing everything possible to keep Mt. Doom in my rear-view mirror now.

By Saturday, I was writing about the present, particularly about a book I was reading and a film I had just seen. I was delighted to see that my post about an earlier film, “The Theory of Everything,” had been my most-read post all week long. My readings in the Catechism have resumed, and my posts about them too. And I have begun to turn my attention back to my forthcoming pilgrimage to Montreal and to the possibility of new (paid!) memoir projects.

I am hoping that the Ides of January (Thursday) marked a turning point in my life as a writer and a writing Catholic. Tune in next week to find out!

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