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Thursday, November 30, 2006

Gonzo Mysticism

This is the first in a series of commentaries on books on my recommended reading list. This is not a complete review of the book.

One of my most memorable Muppet characters is that of the Great Gonzo. He appears to be some sort of bird of prey such as a vulture. When he is first introduced in the Muppet Movie, he explains to the main characters(Kermit the Frog and Fozzie Bear) that he is following his dream to be a movie star. He plans on breaking into movies by going to Bombay, India. When asked about going to Hollywood instead, he replies that 'getting rich and famous in Hollywood was just doing it the easy way.'

This scene kept coming to my mind as I read Charles de Foucauld, a biography by Jean-Jacques Antier. More about the Foucauld/Gonzo connection later.

The situation in India’s movie industry has improved since The Muppet Movie was made, but we will ignore that for argument’s sake.

Briefly, Charles de Foucauld was born into a wealthy French family, lost both his parents at a young age, and descended into atheism and debauchery. As a young man, he joined the French army and served with distinction. He traveled extensively in Africa and the Middle East, writing books about his discoveries. Through the grace of God and the help of a few holy souls, he came back to the Faith. He eventually became a monk in the Sahara desert, and died there at the hands of the Muslims he had come to serve and convert.

This is an extremely simplified summary of the life of a holy man. I read this book because of my own experience with Charles de Foucauld. Years ago, I had a spiritual advisor, a priest, who gave me a prayer that Foucauld had composed. I was facing a lot of challenges at the time, and the priest told me that the prayer was written by a man who never converted a soul. I think his point was that, in the eyes of the world, both Foucald and I would be considered failures, but God sees things differently.

Here is the prayer:

My Father,
I abandon myself to you.
Make of me what you will.

Whatever you make of me,
I thank you.
I am ready for everything
I accept everything.

Provided that your will be done in me,
In all your creatures.
I desire nothing else, Lord.

I put my soul into your hands,
I give it to you, Lord,
With all the love in my heart,
Because I love you,
And because it is for me a need of love
To give myself,
To put myself in your hands unreservedly,
With infinite trust.

For You are my Father.

I love this prayer, and keep it on my PDA so that I can read it any time. The abandonment of self to God is a constant challenge in one who is so attached to the world, so any encouragement or inspiration can help.

I thought of Gonzo while reading this book because Foucauld seemed to be following the most difficult path to sanctity. In his spiritual journey he briefly joined several monasteries, finding each one not austere enough for his preference. He then became a monk, and even there wanted to live in the most austere surroundings. Like Gonzo, he did not want to take it easy, so he moved to one of the most desolate areas of the Sahara.

One incident bothered me more than the others. For a while, Foucauld was living in a hermitage near an oasis in the Sahara. This oasis was a center of trade, and had a French military outpost nearby. He was very busy, tending to the spiritual as well as physical needs of travelers as well as the soldiers. He was so busy that he found it difficult to lead a life of solitude and prayer, and this was one of the reasons he moved on. In my opinion, he was leaving a place where he could serve God as a shepherd to the large number of people who sought him out. He appears to have wasted his gifts by seeking an isolated place to serve God. I wonder what would have happened if Foucauld had stayed out of the Sahara.

To answer my own question, I suspect he would not be where he is today, Blessed Charles de Foucauld. I also suspect that I would have never discovered him and his spirituality, which has been at times a great consolation to me.

Blessed Charles de Foucauld:

1 comment:

Therese said...

I stole your prayer and put it on my blog. I hope you don't mind. (I also linked to you in my awkward kind of way.) I'm printing this prayer out and taping it to the bathroom mirror tonight!

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation
Now restored with the help of some cement!

Prayer to Our Lady of the Mysterious Decapitation

Mary my mother, take my hand today, and all days.
Lead me away from all occasions of sin.
Guide me in fulfilling your last words in the Gospel,
"Do whatever He tells you."

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