We move a lot. For me, it’s the hardest part of this Jesuit life. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., often called the second founder of the Jesuits, once famously said that “there is nothing more practical than falling in love.” He failed to mention that, while it may be practical… it ain’t always easy.
It’s not easy opening yourself up to new people and places while simultaneously grieving the old ones. If you move a lot then you have to do this over and over again. This itinerant loving certainly has something to do with finding God – it’s like the eternal game of hide and seek – but… it sure ain’t easy.
When I was a novice we had an older Jesuit living with us who called himself the “Geezer in Residence.” His name was Jack and he delivered wonderful homilies filled with heartfelt wisdom. One day he told us that there would be a real temptation in our Jesuit lives to simply float along like aloof bachelors, but that we, like everyone else, were called first and foremost to be faithful lovers. We are meant to fulfill our vocation as lovers.
He was right. The aloof bachelor approach is the easy way out. But finding God is neither a simple game nor a one night stand. Finding God is falling in love, and this finding God, this falling in love again and again, requires your whole heart. That’s why, when you pick up and move or when you’re asked to leave, there is an emptiness that settles into your chest, like the wind has been knocked out of you, and you feel like something is suddenly missing. It’s a breathless sort of longing that makes up the other side of loving.
I’m leaving Chicago in a few days for my next assignment (I’ll be teaching in Seattle). In casual conversations I make dismissive jokes, throw in witty comments that cover up the real grief that I feel anticipating my departure. When I sit in prayer and think about this transition tears come quickly, but the words on my lips are mostly, “Thank you.”
This unexpected marriage of Grief and Joy has given birth to a beautiful child. Her name is Gratitude.
Grief and Joy are like that really amazing couple, the one no ever expects to stay together, only somehow they do. They are faithful lovers, and when we spend time with them we are reminded of what love is really about.
Grief and Joy host great parties where we all laugh and cry, drink and sing, and go home late, exhausted and mysteriously alive. We are held tightly by their love until we have no other option but to breathe our last sighs of gratitude and, as we go, understand again the gift of this life.
The only thing to regret is leaving a place with no one to miss, moving on without a pinch of longing, without reason for grief, never having breathed in the joy of a place and its people. We all leave eventually. Our last breath may as well be one of gratitude.
It’s certainly not that I have nothing to look forward to, but searching only for the next good thing is a consumptive way of living. It’s the way of the aloof bachelor where people become mere objects and no one is missed because everyone is casually and callously dismissed. The aloof bachelor is always searching, forever falling, but never in love.
The faithful lover lives in a hope that discards neither the past nor the painful present, in a hope that holds the beloved close come what may. The faithful lover looks forward with a hope that lives in God, a hope inspired by the power of the eternal Spirit. The hope of the faithful lover lasts beyond death and departure. We are called upon to give witness to that hope, to be faithful lovers, continually falling in love that we may find God again and again and again.
I’m grateful for the many people who have reminded me of this when I haven’t been still enough, haven’t listened enough, to remember it myself. It’s because of them that I feel held by God in this transition. And in this warm embrace there is only breath enough for a single word, a word of thanksgiving. As a part of this embrace I no longer feel like I’m leaving, instead I feel as though this departure is another moment in the long exchange between one faithful lover and another. No matter where we go, in God’s eternal life dwells our eternal gratitude.
And so, I say again and again and again: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.