In “Home Coming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child,” bestselling author John Bradshaw describes his years in the seminary as nurturing, where he adopted many “new fathers” and “new mothers” to replace the abusive ones who raised him. He writes, “Another way to champion your inner child is to let your adult find new sources of nurturing for him.” Like John, my college years were a positive experience, a time in which I felt nurtured, cared for, respected because of the “new mothers” and “new fathers” in my life at that time.
In fact, I consider my four years at Saint Mary’s College a kind of “pilgrimage” in the way Pope John Paul II defined that word: “an exercise of . . . constant vigilance over one’s frailty, of interior preparation for a change of heart.” South Bend is home to all the key players–the guiding lights or sages–who accompanied me in my first mega spiritual awakening: the 1300 days I obsessed over one question, “Who do I want to be…for real?”
From my thesis advisor, Keith Egan, I learned the importance of words and poetry and mystics. He repeated verses over and over again, until they seeped into my unconscious mind, and imprinted messages on my soul like the one from T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” that begins “I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope….” A renowned scholar on Carmelite spirituality, Egan introduced me to the “Bookmark” of Teresa of Avila, a poem that packs the power of five Valium:
Let nothing disturb you
Let nothing frighten you
All things pass away:
God never changes
Patience obtains all things.
The one who has God
Finds nothing lacking
God alone suffices.
Joe Incandela, a brilliant professor from Princeton, taught a course called “The Problem of Evil,” which was a tandem with “Life 101” (it should have been anyway). The only problem with the class was that I left the room after 45 minutes of reading Thomas Aquinas with so many more questions than when I had arrived. I kept my notes, of course, and every now and then, I’ll e-mail Joe and grill him about all the crap in the world that doesn’t go well (stripes on plaid) with a God who is supposedly good and loving. Fifteen years later, he still offers me some philosophical and theological precepts to consider when tackling the riddle of terrorism, dying babies, and school shootings.
Professor Kaminski, a wise and compassionate mentor, must have been me in an earlier life. Because the incisive feedback that she scribbled on my “Women and Sexuality” paper in which I argued that everyone who has premarital sex will burn in hell, proved to be advice equivalent to five years of therapy: “I’d encourage you to approach this topic (AND EVERYTHING ELSE) with a tad more nuanced perspective.” Seeing some gray, she suggested, can save you from the very frustration and inconvenience you were running away from with zebra-stripe thinking. Moreover, acknowledging life’s contradictions diminishes its disappointments.
How right she was.
Where are your happy places? Who are the people who nurtured you there?