God speaks to me in such funny yet astounding ways. Only he can weave seemingly random elements of my life from the past and the present to gently prod me into the future.
University of Toronto, PHL307H1, Spring 2002
I remember the course on the philosophy of Augustine of Hippo well. It was taught by a young-looking Ph.D. student named Sarah Byers, and I remember not being terribly impressed by her because of how young and inexperienced she looked. Until she started teaching, that is. Over the few months of the course, we struck up a friendship, and once, we had lunch together, and she shared with me how she had been struggling with her Ph.D. until she read a book that changed her life. That book was The Intellectual Life by some obscure French guy whose name I could not remember at the time. I didn’t bother then to note the title of the book, but I remembered the impact that the book had on my instructor’s life. We kept in touch over email after she graduated, and for some reason, I asked her for the title of the book that changed her life. For reasons I cannot remember now, I purchased the book, but never read it.
Singapore, November 2011
I. Over the last few weeks, I have been noticing some movements in my spirit:
1) I have begun to detect a slight yearning to study rather than to just read. By study I mean the desire to dwell more deeply and go more slowly over the material, to “chew” them and to derive deeper insights and understanding from them. I still don’t know what to make of this new yearning because it is quite new to me (and I haven’t decided whether to act on it).
2) Alongside the new yearning to study, there has been a growing desire for a more ascetic way of living. I find that I want to simplify my life; that I yearn for more solitude and silence, and that these desires are not an end in themselves but a means to free me for something more… and I have a vague sense that the more would include intellectual work. This new development is rather mysterious to me as I certainly do not take naturally to a simple life and I have been very content to coast with my intellect instead of stretching it.
II. Over this same time frame, my eyes had ‘randomly’ fallen on the spine of “The Intellectual Life” on my bookcase a few times, but I did not think much of it at the time. But this morning, something spurred me to take it and to flip through it. My stomach flipped and I had goosebumps all over when I read this:
Do you want to do intellectual work? Begin by creating within you a zone of silence, a habit of recollection, a will to renunciation and detachment which puts you entirely at the disposal of the work; acquire that state of soul unburdened by desire and self-will which is the state of grace of the intellectual worker. Without that you will do nothing, at least nothing worthwhile.” – A. G. Sertillanges, O.P., “The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods”
What is more, when I turned to the Table of Contents, my eyes fell on headings such as these:
- The Intellectual Has a Sacred Call
- The Organization of Life/ Simplification
- The Organization of Life/ Solitude
- The Organization of Life/Preservation of Interior Silence
In one surreal moment, I felt my entire life being held in God’s hands and the overwhelming conviction that even though I do not know where I am going, he knows the plans he has for me, and that I just need to be faithful to the present moment.
I don’t need to know the plan. I just need to hold His hand.