Another Birthday Tomorrow–do I have anything new to say?

Another Birthday Tomorrow–do I have anything new to say? March 5, 2024

Tomorrow is my birthday (#68)–the fact that my youngest son finds a way to travel from Colorado annually to help Jeanne and me celebrate the auspicious event indicates that birthdays are still a big deal in our house. Permit me in this post to ramble a a bit as I mark yet another orbit around the sun.

This year Justin scheduled his flights so his eight-day visit would have the last two Friars home games as bookends, so perhaps the real reason he always visits during the first week of March is more because the Friars regular season is always winding down during the week in which my birthday happens to fall. Whatever–its great to have him here and I can pretend that I’m the real reason. But if it’s because of the Friars I fully understand–Friar fanaticism runs in the family.

Although a loss last Saturday in the first of the two games was a bummer, the universe has found ways in the past few days to let me know that it also is celebrating my natal day. For instance, my birthday falls on a Wednesday this year. Since I am not in the classroom on Wednesdays, it will be easy for me to cancel office hours and head out with Jeanne (who is also taking the day off) and Justin to a couple of southern New England craft breweries. Bovina will be coming as well–every day is party day as far as she’s concerned!

Best news (other than my birthday, of course) is that I got a strong bite from a possible publisher on one of my sabbatical books late last week. Hopefully we will have a Zoom conversation next week during spring break and will move toward a contract (be in touch with Big Bird about that!). In her initial email the editor expressed interest in nudging my liturgy manuscript away from memoir more toward spiritual guidance and growth.

That’s fine with me and I look forward to hearing what sorts of adjustments she has in mind. I’ve done this enough times now to not be “that author” who refuses to make any changes. My last book on prayer was undoubtedly the one that I changed the most through multiple drafts with my editor, and the result was far better than what I originally submitted. But this business of being the spark of spiritual growth for anyone caught me up short. What business do I have being a spiritual guide for anyone?

I mentioned this moment of insecurity to Jeanne–after laughing at me, she pointed out that the whole point of this blog for the past dozen years has been spiritual growth and direction. As usual, she was right. What I have been doing on this blog is putting myself out there as one example of a person seeking to figure out how to put the various aspects of his life into a coherent whole–relationships, family, profession, faith, political beliefs, eclectic commitments, idiosyncrasies , , , all of the pieces that make up every human life, except that here just my unique pieces are on display. In this I often think of one of my favorite philosophers and writing models, Michel de Montaigne, about whom I have written often. He writes that

We are all patchwork, and so shapeless and diverse in composition that each bit, each moment, plays its own game. And there is as much difference between us and ourselves as between us and others.

Montaigne was one of the first authors in the Western tradition to make himself the subject of his observational energies–by doing so, he empowered others to do the same, not be trying to fit into some Procrustean mold provided by tradition or the expectations of others, but rather by recognizing one’s own uniqueness and modeling both the enjoyment and the challenge of becoming comfortable in one’s own skin, while at the same time seeking relationship with what is greater than us. If I have anything to say about spiritual growth, it is because I am willing to be transparent, sometimes uncomfortably, about how that  process has gone and is currently going in my life.

It’s one of those “icon or idol” issues that I’ve written about frequently concerning the teaching life. A teacher should not seek to be a model (or idol) for a student or anyone else. Rather, a teacher should be an “icon,” someone pointing toward something else of importance and value. I’m doing the same thing in this blog. I would not wish anyone to be like me, but I am more than willing to use my own story to point toward something greater.

I have often used the blog post closest to my birthday to make a list of things I am thankful for. That list remains the same: Jeanne, Caleb, Justin, Alisha, Bovina, my vocation, my students, my friends, my colleagues, my faith, the Friars, the Red Sox . . . you get the point. But today I particularly want to thank you, regular and occasional readers, for doing me the honor of reading this blog over the past dozen years. I often have said that writing is my most important spiritual practice, but without consistent evidence that what I write  hits home in a positive and/or challenging way with someone my efforts would be the sound of one hand clapping. I am most grateful–Happy Birthday to me!



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