A Perilous Quest

by Daniel Murphy on January 17, 2006

Share Button

The Dan and Debra Murphy family has set out on a perilous quest: discussing and discerning a possible common vocation to serve love and life through beauty.

We’ve been moving gradually in this direction for some time.

*Debra has established a small Catholic press ("Idylls Press") to give voice to Christian personalism largely in the form of Catholic fiction.

*Rachel, our eldest, has founded a small business (she IS ithe business), "Silverlode," whose purpose is to create Irish Dance dresses and other garments and vestments of intricate and exquisite design that’s often inspired by Tolkien’s world.

*Dan and sons have collaborated on a Gospel life-form for men called "Men of the Beatitudes" (MoB). MoBsters support each other to lead honorable lives through an entrustment to the Holy Trinity that incorporates a five-part code of life that’s taken from Christian chivalry and personalism.

*Our third son, Luke, creates gothic, catastrophic scenes, plots, and characters.

*Our second daughter, Maire, played the title role in "Hamlet" as a freshman and continues her passionate engagement with theater.

*Our youngest son, Liam, has "Hamlet" as part of his name.

*Our elder two sons, John and Kevin, are doing visual and musical arts, including book illustrations for Idylls Press, songs, and are making in-roads towards film-making and -scoring.

We seemed to be marked people.

During our recent week-long hiatus at the Oregon Coast, between Christmas and New Year’s, we decided to be more intentional about this perilous quest of exploring a family vocation to love and life through beauty. We determined to hold a weekly family roundtable. Our first roundtable took place on Saturday, January 7. Here’s some of the things we considered.

These notes are a quick synopsis of a rich discussion.

1. About Beauty and evidence that Beauty has been “banished” (image used by Hans Urs Von Balthasar) from the Church and society more widely

–Ratzinger/Pope Benedict expresses concerns about the lack of beauty in the sacred liturgy.

–The funeral and rites surrounding John Paul II’s death attracted people, because they were done with beauty—solemnity, simplicity, lovely music, vestments, and gestures.

–Dostoyevsky observed that beauty would save the world.

–We responded (and still do) strongly to the cross-cultural beauty of "The Mission," particularly the interlacing of Western music with the native people’s voices and musical motifs.

–Modern culture has been formed, in large part, through various strains of nihilism, resulting in a quality that is neither hot nor cold, but vapid.

–Beauty is essentially an expression and emanation of goodness and truth . . . in right and captivating proportion. Mother Teresa often described becoming and doing “something beautiful for God.” This phrase suggests that moral goodness, self-giving that’s aligned with truth, emanates beauty—in other words, that our lives can be “beautiful.”

–Beauty has “inscape and instress” (described by Gerard Manley Hopkins): intrinsic “form” and “force.” Form (“inscape”) would be the right balance of truth and goodness; force (“instress”) would be the effect that one grasps through the senses. This grasping of beauty is a sort of rapture, a suspension, a recognition that is typically immediate and arresting.

2. Family vocation to love and life through Beauty

–Communion/community (persons in a relationship of God’s love) is the essential reality, because it echoes and comes from the inner life of the Holy Trinity—an incessant Communion of Love and Life.

John Paul II pondered this reality during one of his outings with university students—concerned about the question: Should one spend his time in this manner (with a small group, in the wilderness), when so much needs attention? He determined that lived communion is perhaps the most essential thing, precisely because it corresponds to and participates in the inner life of the Holy Trinity.

–Specific states-in-life (dedicated single, consecrated single, priest, married person) are “modes” for living one’s vocation.

–Works come from a God-inspired and –sustained communion of love and life.

–Like every human reality, communion, state-in-life, and works partake of both spirit and sense (spirit and matter).

–The basic questions we as a family are posing to God is: Are You calling us to embody, incarnate a new way of being as a family (serving love and life through Beauty)? What does this mean for us individually and collectively?

We then concluded by discussing practical things like keeping the work spaces and household in order, creating better organizational systems.

I wrote the following poetic rendering for my daughter, Rachel, on her 25th birthday (January 8, 2006). It suggests the nature of the quest and its dark, uncertain, but compelling quality.

Perilous Questing

On a morning bright with sun and sharply struck shapes,
I set out on a perilous quest
To who-knows-where. I don’t know why.
To what end? To what purpose? For whose good?

Lawns and fences and cheerful dwellings
Yielded imperceptibly to dust, brush, and dense forest.
Time of day and night was shrouded in thicket.
But, I set out, knowing that I must.

The path, once well carved, dissolved into wilderness;
North, South, East, and West were hidden in leafy canopy.
I scouted, camped, cooked, and set out . . .
Again, and again, and forever again.

This new going became a strange familiarity;
A fellowship of pilgrims appeared alongside me.
How did we discover one another? Mysterious companionship!
Together, we weird forest-travelers fathomed our way.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: