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A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious…

A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life

by Andrew Krivak

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After reading Andrew Krivak's excellent novel, THE SOJOURN, I very much wanted to read his memoir, A LONG RETREAT: IN SEARCH OF A RELIGIOUS LIFE, which deals with the eight years he spent studying and working as a Jesuit. I was interested because of my own very brief stint as a seminarian when I was only fourteen, an experience that left its imprint, and I've enjoyed reading a couple other such books - John Cornwall's SEMINARY BOY and Paul Hendrickson's SEMINARY: A SEARCH. Both of those books I could easily relate to, since both Cornwall (a Brit) and Hendrickson entered the seminary very young, as I did. Not so with Krivak. By the time he began his studies with the Jesuits, he had already completed college (St John's) and grad school (Columbia) and spent a few years knocking about, trying, I suppose, to "find himself." He'd even engaged in a summer affair which resulted in a pregnancy and an abortion, an experience he deeply regretted that haunted him for years.

The Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, are often considered to be the cream, or the pinnacle of religious orders in the Church, and have a long history of saintliness, missionary work and scholasticism. They also, supposedly, observe the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. But as I read of Krivak's experiences, I often wondered if very much was actually sacrificed. For example, very early in his novitiate years, he talks of spending time off at a "stately villa" on Lake Cazenovia in Upstate New York owned by the Jesuits, where -

"We ate pizza, watched movies, sat on the back lawn in warmer weather and drank a beer while the sun set ... that house in Cazenovia gave me some of those things I missed from my 'old' life."

Doesn't sound too tough. As a Jesuit, Krivak was also afforded many plum opportunities for further study. At Fordham - "a beautifully mapped out expanse of Gothic buildings, leafy trees and sweeping greens" - he studied "Plato and Aristotle, Aquinas and Augustine, Nietzsche and Kierkegaard." Later he studied theology at the Jesuits' Weston campus in Cambridge, where he was free to take electives at Harvard and other nearby schools. He traveled too, to Russia, Slovakia, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, often combining study and working with local residents and the poor. He also spent time at various retreat centers in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, usually set in idyllic, picturesque countryside.

Throughout all his years as a Jesuit, Krivak often chafed under those vows of poverty and obedience, having grown up used to having what he wanted when he wanted it. This shows up in small tiffs, like one with his superior over wanting to purchase a bicycle that would have to be special ordered at additional cost because of his height. And, despite those vows of poverty, he always seemed to have things like a Walkman, and tapes of his favorite music like U2, Springsteen or classical composers - things which don't really sound like necessities. And there was also a small stipend, often used for a beer and a cigar in the evening with a friend. It was the small niggling details like this that made me wonder, reading Krivak's story, if he was really going to be happy as a Jesuit. But it wasn't those things that finally changed his mind about the religious life. It was that third vow: chastity. He met a young woman and fell in love, and, as it turned out, celibacy was the deal breaker. And this is not a spoiler, because you know before you read the book that Krivak is no longer a Jesuit, is married now, with children, looking back at a particularly important time in his life. He is still a man of faith, still holds his Catholicism close, lives by its tenets.

Although there are long, meditative and explanatory sections here about the importance of faith and ritual, quotes and extrapolations of saints' writings and theology - parts I often found exasperating and overly detailed for a lay reader - I was in the end very moved by Krivak's years-long journey of faith. I think one of the elements which drew him to the Jesuits was the literary tradition of religious life. Krivak had read Trappist Thomas Merton's THE SEVEN STORY MOUNTAIN when he was very young, only around fourteen. So did I, and I read it again in my forties (while visiting a Trappist monastery), and found it still powerful stuff. Like me, Krivak is perhaps something of a loner, who loves books, reading and writing. I kept a partial list of authors he'd read - apart from the philosophers, theologians and church fathers. Here are just a few: Homer, Faulkner, James Dickey, Breece D'J Pancake, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Bruce Chatwin, Tobias Wolff, Gerard Manley Hopkins (okay, he was a priest-poet), Flannery O'Connor, Milton, William Styron (important for his memoir, DARKNESS VISIBLE, because Krivak fought his own battles with depression, seeking professional help for a time), and more. I've read most of these writers, so I know a bookworm when I smell one, so yeah, I enjoyed this book - a lot, in fact.

I think Andrew Krivak felt compelled to write this book, his personal story of that "Long Retreat." Writing it was, I suspect, a kind of closure for him, as well as healing therapy. In any case, I hope it was.

Since leaving the Jesuits, Krivak has been a teacher, and is also a poet. THE SOJOURN (2011) was his first novel, and it was simply superb. His new novel, THE SIGNAL FLAME, is a sequel. I can't wait to read it. This book? Very highly recommended, especially for anyone interested in learning about the religious life.

- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER ( )
  TimBazzett | Jun 28, 2017 |
This was a great read; the author surprising me again and again with his ability to know and reveal his innermost thoughts and desires as he relentlessly pursued God through eight years as a Jesuit in formation. It is a memoir of one man's path to understanding his true calling. The title of the book alludes to the Thirty Day Retreat that is a part of the beginning and end of Jesuit formation, but it's also a metaphor for the eight-year journey described so beautifully in the book. We meet him as he is about to finish his undergraduate education and begin his journey. Throughout his 8-year struggle he transparently shares with the reader his thoughts and feelings as he struggles to understand God's call to him as a specifically gifted individual both as he made the decision to enter the order and later as he finally decides to leave and marry. In between, there are travels to Russia and Slovakia, New York and Boston. All places where he goes to try to clearly hear what God wants to make of his life.

Along the way, as someone who was not familiar with the writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola or Ignatian spirituality, I found myself challenged to further study his life and writings. For the non-Catholic, many of the specifics of the author's journey may seem foreign, even strange. But all of us would benefit from a similar desire to discern the call of God on our lives as well as a similar insight into our own true motives as we do so. ( )
  MarkPlunkett | Aug 3, 2016 |
This is a 2008 book by a man who spent 8 years with the Jesuits. He tells of time and life during that period, and I found the account full of interest. While much of the time he was at LeMoyne and in that area he did also spend time in the Domincan Republic, Moscow, and Bratislava. One knows from the beginning of the book that he did not persevere in his Jesuit life so that I thought detracted from the reading, but his outlook is entirely affirmative and respectful of the order and of his Faith. This is a very worthwhile account telling of how today's Jesuits prepare for their role. ( )
1 vote Schmerguls | Sep 16, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374166064, Hardcover)

This gorgeously written memoir tells the story of one man's search for his religious calling--a search that led him to the Dominican Republic and Central Europe, to Moscow and the South Bronx, and finally into married life with a woman whose search for God coincided with his own.

In 1990 Andrew Krivak--poet, yacht rigger, ocean lifeguard, student of the classics--entered the Society of Jesus. The heart of Jesuit training is the Long Retreat, thirty days of silence and prayer in which the Jesuit novice reflects on the Gospels and tests his desire for the priesthood.
For Krivak, eight years of Jesuit formation turned out to be a long retreat in its own right, as he tested all his desires--for poetry, for travel, for independence, for love--against the pledge to do all "for the greater glory of God." And in this deeply affecting book the long retreat becomes a pattern for our own spiritual lives, enabling us to embrace our desire for solitude and perspective in our own circumstances, the way Krivak has in his new life as a husband, father, and writer.

The search for God is finally the search for oneself, St. Augustine wrote. Krivak's story pushes past the awful stories of scandal in the Catholic Church to reveal why a modern, forward-looking man would yearn to be a priest. Unlike those stories, it has an happy ending--one in which we can recognize ourselves.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:11 -0400)

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