Looking for the Moon

Author: John Groden

Moon Point3

A man asks three bricklayers what they are doing:

“I am laying bricks,” the first one says.

“I am building a church,” the second one replies.

“I am raising the house of God,” the third answers.

We all want to have a deeper sense of purpose in our work and lives, but often a bit of perspective is more important than any “right” choice or job. As The Simpsons reminds us, reframing from a scarcity perspective (“I have to do this job”) to an abundance mindset (“I get to provide for my family/team/society with this job”) can be a path to joy independent of your external circumstances.1

I know that you all get so much pressure to *know* what you are going to do, to have it all figured out (or at least to fake the appearance of it). Thomas Merton, himself a wanderer who struggled with vocation throughout his entire life, wrote in No Man Is an Island that “Vocation is not a sphinx’s riddle, to be solved in one guess or else perish.” You can never know for sure what the *best* choice or job is since we can only see the truth partially,2 and it changes over time anyways! The psychologist Dan Gilbert calls this craving for certainty and finality the “end of history illusion” that many of his college seniors have: they recognize that their interests and motivations have changed in the past, but refuse to believe that they will do so in the future.

We are all works in progress, claiming to be finished. Do the best you can for now, reflect, then experiment again. There is a time and season for everything, and the only certainty is that the seasons will change. Merton also argued that, ultimately, each person has only one vocation: “...no matter who you are or what you are, you are called to the summit of perfection: you are called to a deep interior life, perhaps even to mystical prayer, and to pass the fruits of your contemplation on to others. And if you cannot do so by word, then by example.”3

The Jesuit Guide chapter discusses this practicality at length. Your consolations and desires are important data points, to be sure, but so are circumstances and needs. Regardless of your job title, you can still find meaning in loving your co-workers, providing for your family, being active in your community, and being proximate to the marginalized. Remember that work is only one of the many identities in your life. As Toni Morrison reminds us, “Your real life is with us, your family; you are not the work you do, you are the person you are.”

Incomplete Masterpieces

We describe the course arc as “cycles” of self-awareness, self-development, and self-gift because being a human being is a lifelong journey of discovery, failure, success, and return. You will never be “finished” with finding or earning your true self. Contemplation leads to self-gift, during which you learn more about yourself (and change yourself!), and so on. But we have planted some seeds and provided you with some tools to “live your way into a new way of thinking.” In the inevitable busyness of your early careers, we hope that you can rely on some of the time-tested, important but not urgent spiritual practices4 to remain grounded in God’s love and joy.

We are not naively telling you that every part of your path will be easy, or that five minutes of solitude will solve everything. In the final analysis, there are no short-cuts or life hacks to the good life. But the way out is through, and through an honest engagement with the reality around us. Pain not transformed will always be transmitted. The philosopher John MacMurray argued that authentic religion doesn’t say to “fear not, for nothing bad will happen to you”; real religion says “Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of.”5 Or as Viktor Frankl put it, “say yes to life, in spite of everything.”

Many of you have probably heard of the Jesuit priest and paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s prayer to “trust in the slow work of God.” But most people forget that the line came from a prosaic letter of advice to a friend and neglect to read the full and rich message:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate steps. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete. (Emphasis added)

Masterpieces in the making,6 each and every one of you. You are the author and protagonist of your own story. Live it well.

The Moon

JFK, while touring NASA, stopped to ask a janitor what his job was.

“Mr. President, I’m putting a man on the moon.”

Keep looking for the moon. Transform your pain. Love everyone you meet.

“The Way is tried, the Way is certain.”

The above was adapted from John's concluding thoughts for the students in the final class of the course.


[1] And please recall the hedonic treadmill — external circumstances and pleasures fade as we reset the goalposts. Get a good job, have to get a better job, etc.

[2] 1 Cor. 13:12, and “hevel” (i.e., smoke or fog or vapor, not just vanity) in Ecclesiastes.

[3] From The Seven Storey Mountain. Emphasis added.

[4] I.e., the integrations.

[5] Martin, James, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, HarperOne, 39, Kindle.

[6] Eph. 2:10, but the translations really vary. KJV uses “workmanship”, which is comparatively more concise and poetic.