On the Radio

I’m settling in at the Starbuck’s down the street from where I was scheduled to do a radio interview last night, when the phone rings.  I answer it, and my mother says, “are you alright?”  I say, “Yeah,” emphatically, wondering why she would think otherwise.  It’s about 7:05, and the show I’m scheduled to be on at 8:20 has just started.  They said something about a tornado, and “don’t worry, Father Mark is alright,” she tells me.  Not only am I alright, but I’m clueless about the storm, possibly a tornado, that ripped through New York City last night.  I’ve just walked across Manhattan, and it wasn’t even raining.  My mother reassured, I settle in to my light sandwich and chai tea, as I listen to the show to try and calm my nerves a bit, and get a feel for what they are talking about tonight.  It’s my first radio interview.  Shortly, I’ll be in the studio, and I don’t know what to expect.  I’m happy to discover that it’s “faith and culture” Thursday, where they discuss the intersections of popular culture and faith—right up my alley, and in many ways the theme of my book!  I’m feeling a bit more comfortable, and glad I wasn’t able to do the show the night before during which they answer questions about the mass (not that I have anything against that, but it just wasn’t as good a fit!).

I head over there early, and I’m glad I did, because there’s a not-so-fast and a bit complicated security procedure to get in the building, and I’ve just entered behind a band that’s playing in one of the other studios.  Off I go up to the 36th floor, where I arrive finally only about 5 minutes early.  And wait.  It’s an interesting place.  The waiting area is kind of what you might expect, a spacious advertisement for Sirius XM, with ticker-type displays showing what’s playing on various channels at that moment.  I’m ushered down past a row of studios, to the studio of the Busted Halo show.  It’s a small rectangular box, not even as big as my room, with equipment and four people.  Ruben Blades is in the next studio over.  I say hello to Father Dave Dwyer, the host, and Robyn, the producer.  She shows me the chair the microphone, and the headphones (which seems strange, because Fr. Dave is only a few feet away from me).  I announce that this is the first time I’ve done this.  Don’t be afraid to get too close to the microphone, I’m told, and just talk, the sound guy will take care of everything else.  “Did you hear about the tornado?”  Father Dave asks.  And I tell them about the phone call I’d just received.  Great way to break the ice.  And we’re off!

Sure, I was nervous, but I was surprised at how comfortable I felt.  I was a little self-conscious.  I noticed that my arms were talking too, which seemed kind of silly.  And, since there were three other people in the room to my left (Fr. Dave was to my right), I found myself instinctively looking in their direction from time to time.  As I settled into the conversation it got easier, and it seemed like we were speaking for more than 20 minutes, in a good way.

It was fun.  We got to talk about general ideas about encountering God in all things, especially in culture.  We talked about the book.  We spoke a little about my experience of my vocation.  And it just seemed like a fun chat, though I felt a little under pressure to respond quickly, and avoid “ums.”  It seemed to go OK, and it was a good way to cut my teeth for a couple other radio interviews I have coming up, where I won’t have the advantage of being in the studio.

It’s strange this new moment in my life where I find myself now speaking frequently about “my book.”  I’m hoping it remains clear to people as I go about this that as much as the focus might be on me sometimes, as with this interview, the most important thing for me—and the reason I wrote the book—is in hopes that I can help people to better connect with God.  I hope that I did so last night with my little foray into the radio world.  Today, it’s back to ordinary life, where hopefully I can do the same, outside of my book.  Thanks for reading/listening.  And if anything I’ve said or written has helped you get better connected with God, please share that with others.  You needn’t give me any credit because, really, all the credit goes to God!  Happy Friday!

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Are You Sirius?

Some of you might be familiar with The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM radio.  They offer a variety of Catholic programming, including my friend Nancy’s favorites, “The Catholic Guy” and “The Busted Halo Show.”

I’ve been invited to be a guest on The Busted Halo show this Thursday night, September 16.  The show runs from 7-10 pm, and they’ll be having me on for a teensy-weensy bit of that, from about 8:20 or 8:30 pm until, at the latest, about 9:00 pm.  I’d love to have you listen to the show, and leave your comments and questions here.

We’ll be talking about my experience as a Jesuit, my ministry with young adults, and my new book for young adults in their 20s and 30s, Already There.  If you don’t have Sirius radio, you can do what I just did, and sign up for a seven-day free trial membership.  It takes about 5 minutes!  Come join us!

Pretty Good Advice, or Did I Really Write That?

For the past three years I have helped to lead a retreat for young adults at our Jesuit Retreat House in Atlanta.  The last one was about a month ago. The other day, the woman who works at our retreat house (who really does the bulk of the work for the retreat) wrote me, sending along an attachment.  You wrote this really nice letter last year, she wrote, and I’d like to send it out again.  At first, I didn’t even remember having written the letter!  Then, I opened it, and started to wonder anew if I had even written it!  It was a really nice letter!  Thoughtful, well-written and offering some pretty good advice.  Some advice, I thought, that I could do well to remember myself!  Here I am, I thought with a smile, giving myself some well-needed advice!  It was a great grace.  And even though by then I had remembered writing the letter, I still found myself a bit incredulous: did I really write that?

Here’s an excerpt from that letter that perhaps you might find helpful, especially if you need to be reminded of a good experience you had with God, and the people that were there with you:

” . . . I know that your choice to come on retreat was only one of many you have yet to make.  I invite you to let one of those be to be deliberate about remembering the graces of your retreat experience.  Many of you expressed the desire to hold onto the consolations of the weekend, but you also shared your fear that the many cares of your lives might make this difficult.  So, let this letter serve as a reminder to set aside some time to reflect, to journal, and to speak with others about what this weekend meant to you.  Pay attention to what struck you the most, and begin to ask: Why?  What is God trying to tell me?

This process of discovery will be helped by such things as attending mass more regularly, and finding a group of peers also seeking what God desires for their lives.  I also encourage you to find a spiritual director whom you can meet with on a regular basis.  The spiritual director won’t tell you what to do, but will help you to see the direction in which God is leading you.  You might also try to make a silent retreat of 3 to 5 days.  Silence makes room for God like nothing else.  Ignatius House can provide you assistance with both these things.

If you made a friend this weekend—or a few—do more than just Facebook each other.  Get together, and get to know each other better.  Do the same with God.  Get out of the house, and meet God away from your everyday distractions!  You’ve undoubtedly found that upon returning home from the retreat, your life hasn’t changed as much as you’d hoped.  There are still many of the same challenges.  But there is also something new happening.  This is the beginning, as the prophet Jeremiah speaks about, of “a future full of hope.”  That hope lies in your choice to let this be not just a pleasant weekend, but one of your life’s turning points.  Trust that God, with your help, will make the change you need happen.  But pray also for patience with the fact that this may happen in God’s time, and not as immediately as you would like . . .”

This was something that I know I need to hear right now, and there are things here which I know I need to continually remind myself of.  And just leave it to God, that infinite trickster, to send me a reminder, using my own words!  God is good, and doesn’t have a half-bad sense of humor.

The Song of Muldoon

My friend John commented that the last post reminded him of Song of Songs, a.k.a. Song of Solomon.  This book of the Bible is often trotted out as a way of proving that God is not stuffy (true!) and/or God doesn’t think sex is evil (also true!).

This because of its opening lines, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!  For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out; therefore the maidens love you” or, further on, “Upon my bed at night I sought him who my soul loves.”

But with all its poetic flourish, some if its descriptions seem less than flattering, like:

“How beautiful you are, my love, how very beautiful!  Your eyes are doves behind your veil.  Your hair is like a flock of goats [I bet you say that to all the girls! ], moving down the slopes of Gilead.  Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved.  Your lips are like crimson thread, and your mouth is lovely.  Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.  Your neck is like the tower of David, built in courses . . .”

Hey, this stuff might have worked back in the day, but I doubt few would be flattered today to be compared to livestock.  We have found our own time-appropriate ways of expressing such things.  We often hear them in songs, see them in movies, and read them in books.

This summer, I was fortunate to pick up Tim Muldoon’s new book, Longing to Love.  It’s a moving account of his relationship with his wife from their early days of dating, through a time of distance, up through their wedding and the struggles of married life.  Muldoon offers his own poetry in the book, saying of his new marriage: “My heart was full.  Never before had I known such a pervasive sense of rightness, of being at home in this world.  Never before had I felt so right in my own skin, this flesh made word to her, this earthen vessel holding gifts to her that only I could give.”

Muldoon tells the story of his love affair with his wife in both poetic and down to earth ways we can relate to.  He is honest about his failings, and his reluctance to face some of the difficulties in his marriage.  He also share his struggles with their decision to adopt their two daughters from China.  And how, when they did decide, he fell in love a second and a third time.

It’s a short book, which can be read in a few days.  But it is also a rich and honest book about love, marriage and life choices that people today can relate to.  It’s a short investment with a long return.  I definitely will recommend it to the couples whom I preparing for marriage.

“In the end,” he concludes, “I have learned to attend to the whisperings of desire to find the places where God might be inviting me to grow, to change, and to stretch toward the freedom of the real me, the person who can share joy with the women he loves most.”

Call it the song of Tim Muldoon, with a Celtic and Chinese score.

Vocation Crises

I’m as concerned about increasing vocations to the priesthood and the religious life as much as the next person. I try to do my part to encourage those who are discerning such a life, and get involved in the Jesuit efforts at inviting others to share our life as much as possible. I want people to have the joy of living the life that I have the privilege of having been invited to. I also know that this life isn’t for everybody. But I am convinced that there is a life that is for everybody–a life lived in relationship with God.

So, when I think of a “vocation crisis” these days (and I think I have even a greater awareness of it when I’m in Europe, as I am now), I think more of the fact that it seems that fewer young people are even making a choice to live a life that involves God. I meet lots of young people who are dedicated to a sort of humanism (for lack of a better word), but whom are indifferent to the question of God’s presence or influence in their lives. Yet, how can you fault many of them who are doing generous and even heroic work for others in need? And how can you can convince them that they need God, when many of them are living much better and more virtuous lives than many who do claim a relationship with God or Jesus? If we believe our theology–“the desire for God is written in the human heart”–it seems that we could appeal to some sense that they have that they are missing something. But what if they don’t? Christians as committed as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died for his faith in God, have questioned whether we really do have this innate desire for God. Of course, he did it in the context of profound evil. Yet, there are many today who are working to help others in similar situations of evil, in may different parts of the world. Many of them are not motivated by God or any religious impulse. Or are they, and they just don’t know it? In the context of today’s greater social and cultural awareness, this appears a very arrogant thing to say. I want to believe it is true but, like Bonhoeffer, I am starting to have some doubts.

Given these realities, I’m starting to think about how we as Christians might address what seems the real vocation crisis that lies at the heart of all the others. How do we convince people that having a relationship with God is important, when they seem to be getting along well enough without it? Often at times of crisis people seem to be more aware of this need. But does that mean that we have to wait until we can be crisis counselors? That doesn’t seem to be the right answer. And while we could set about manufacturing a crisis for somebody, I’m uncomfortable with the moral implications of this strategy. In my own case, I hope that people would see that my relationship with God is the thing that drives my life, but often enough this doesn’t seem to register with those for whom God is not on their radar screen. Even the natural or even skeptical questions I might expect (and welcome) are never asked. Yet there has to be some way to break through this all.

I have friends who consider themselves non-religious. Yet, they have spiritual inclinations that help me see God seeping into some of their cracks. But it’s a slow process. But maybe there is also something of an answer in it. It may be that for many it just takes a long time for God to break through. But I’m going to keep thinking about how I might be able to help.