Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Life You Save May Be Your Own

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in You”: St. Augustine, favored author of Thomas Merton

Listening to Speaking of Faith's Krista Tippett the other day, she interviewed Paul Elie in a segment entitled "Faith Fired by Literature." He discusses his new book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, a literary pilgrimage through the lives of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy.
His thesis is that through literary works, each of these authors found their own authenticity to grow and be themselves, while making a difference in the world. Through each author's own struggle to become them-SELF, they found an integrity that saved their SELVES and thus fueled their writing and work in the world.

For example, Thomas Merton's restlessness provided a tension in his life as a monk and writer. It fueled his on-going questioning about how he was to serve God and grounded him with a sense of determination that drove his contemplative life, his inner journey. He, having gotten to the monastery of Gethsemane in Kentucky, which he thinks is really the perfect place on God's earth for him, he then proceeds to imagine other places that would be more perfect, and he does this scarcely leaving the monastery for the next 20 years.

Paul Elie writes, "He imagines monasteries in the Andes or on an Indian reservation, or hermitages in France or in the hills of Italy, or in the Far West or in Alaska, again and again thinking, 'If I could only find this place that was ordered to my peace and solitude and experience of God, everything would be right.' And this is what, in his case, one of his mentors identified as Augustinian restlessness. "We are restless until we rest in you." And this feeling of restlessness was the core of Merton's spirituality."

Ms. Tippett later asks Mr. Elie to tell the story of the title of this book and what that phrase means to him. Mr. Elie explains that it comes from a story of Flannery O'Connor's.

"The story was originally called "The World Is Almost Rotten." But O'Connor's friend, Sally Fitzgerald said, 'Call it "The Life You Save May Be Your Own"' because at the end of the story the protagonist drives down the side of the road off into the distance, passing one of the signs that were on the side of the road in the '50s, telling people to wear their seat belts because the life you save may be your own. This, to me, is the pattern of pilgrimage distilled into an expression: "The life you save may be your own."

So the process of pilgrimage is how we take others' stories and, while remaining faithful to them, make them our own.

As a resident in a CPE program, I couldn't help but relate this to what I am experiencing here. It is through my experience of others' stories and, while remaining faithful to them, hear my own story. I then learn how to connect my story and by my SELF with patients to become whole in my pastoral functioning. Through these dances with death and birth and trauma that I am forming my own sense of SELF that is now fueling my theology and work at the hospital.

Yes, I provide pastoral support to patients who experience spiritual crises.
Yes, I provide pastoral presence to family members in trauma situations.
Yes, I pray with folks for God's presence to be known, felt, and ingested.

And, it affects my own life. Each day, through each visit, in every interaction, I'm saving my own life.

How are you saving your own life through your inner or outer journey, right now?

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