Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Re-Entry II--Feral Life

Yes, the question of re-entry is a tough one. Our last day in Mexico City, our group discussed what we would do, concretely, when we returned. I admit I was a tad annoyed. "I don't know yet," I huffed inwardly. "I need to process all this." Yet...yet...I returned to Berkeley a swift two weeks before classes were to start, with 2 syllabi not complete, students un-met, pre-semester meetings, then more meetings, taxes to do, etc. etc. People I hadn't seen that I was eager to be back in touch with. Old injured relationships that began to ache again when I returned to this context. My usual life swept over me with a powerful undertow. "I was in Mexico City? Who was I there, and how am I different now?"

Who was I there? Well, again I felt the tug of feral life, of knowing that all that I work to sustain here isn't necessary. Some of what I sustain here is very good, and some isn't so good. Feral life means, to me, to be pared down closer to what is actually necessary, and to be free to have or not to have the rest, or, more precisely, to be able to weigh its value. There is a tension between feral life and responsibility--I do not want to cede responsibility, professional or personal. That way lies infantilization. But to be able to let go of many of the tasks and roles that mark my daily life here is a nice reminder that I shouldn't just accept it all uncritically, and that I am not, when all is said and done, defined by what I do or don't do.

Feral life is a reminder of the importance of availability, the central dynamism of Ignatian spirituality. To be available is to be in a stance of readiness to respond to whatever God is calling us to, wherever, however. When Ignatius launched the Society of Jesus, he thought of availability literally, that his guys should be ready to travel wherever they were needed, right off, no hesitation. Later, though, with the founding of schools, the Jesuits couldn't be so flighty--in order that the Society as a whole be available to respond to the urgent need for good schools, some members' literal availability was curtailed.

Availability, fundamentally, is less about stuff you do than about who and how we love. People who are literally available all the time never form deep relationships, never carry important responsibility for others. To be thoroughgoingly available means that we must be ready to be called to have our literal availability curtailed for the deeper freedom to be with and for another. We cannot be truly available to respond to God if we have already marked out the parameters of our availability to human beings.

I suspect that good parents know this almost by instinct. To hold a newborn in your arms is to be overwhelmed by the drive to nurture and protect, to be available for whatever this phenomenally vulnerable little kid might need, forever. Availability of this deeper kind is manifested in commitment, not refusal of commitment.

Availability is, in part, willingness to have your heart broken, to have your imagination strained, to be willing to care for people even though your caring for them won't fix their problems. Immersion invites us to be available to a new set of stories, a new set of loves, a new piece of God's world to be joyful, grateful, and, sometimes tearful, for. I hope I am better at that.


  1. Thanks for this -- and what a great feline! I have been haunted by your take on availability. Implicitly, you're making a distinction between missional availability, which captures the "one foot raised" to be sent wherever one is called, and emotional availability, the opennes to -- as you so powerfully say "have your heart broken...have your imagination strained."
    In some cases, the first thwarts the second, because constant geographic displacement means relationship are diffuse, but perhaps not deep.
    Then again, having learned to love -- and love deeply -- displacement invites one to love -- and love again. Recklessly, even.
    What am I missing?
    And whatever it is, thanks!

  2. p.s. But back to the Cats -- do they not embody Ignatian indifference?!