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How one man gave up spirituality for the sake of real religion

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In my youth I was – temporarily – dazzled by Ernest Hemingway, even to the extent of wanting to go and watch a bullfight (I didn’t). I was reminded of Hemingway when reading An Immoveable Feast by Tyler Blanski (Ignatius Press), a candid and funny account of his search for God as a young man.

Hemingway had written a memoir of his own youthful forays into writing in Paris in the 1920s and called it A Moveable Feast: “moveable” because life then seemed fluid, exciting and impermanent. For Blanski, on the other hand (he subtitles his book “How I gave up spirituality for a life of religious abundance”) the Feast’s immutability, its unchanging, to-be-discovered richness and permanence, is what gives it its unsurpassed wonder and beauty, compelling devotion.

Blanski could be that other young man who once wrote “Our hearts are made for Thee O Lord, and they shall have no rest until they rest in Thee.” In his restless, unsatisfied and confused search for religious truth, he embraced evangelical Christianity in his youth and then entered an Anglo-Catholic seminary in the woods of Wisconsin. Along the way, there was Hillsdale College, a liberal arts college where he (reluctantly) discovered “There is no civilization without religion, no culture without ‘cult’.”

Blanski had already rejected the secular ideologies of his schooldays – “global warming, the gay rights movement, and a woman’s right to choose”. Hillsdale forced him to ask himself an obvious question for someone who was “spiritual” but definitely not “religious”, “By what principle did I believe God was in the sunsets, but not in the tabernacle?”

His early 20s were spent house-painting to make money, guitar-playing with friends, writing furiously when alone in his garret and slowly coming to recognise his sham metaphysical constructions for what they were: “I felt like I had been living like the walking dead. My “spiritual” life was not life, not really. And against my flimsy cardboard version of Christianity stood religion, ominous with its warnings and demands and first principles. With religion there was no shortcut to the heavenly holy of holies. Here the pain of Good Friday and the sorrow of Holy Saturday went before the bliss of Easter…”

Thoughtful, provocative, honest and funny, Blanski’s book is worth reading by anyone of any age who finally stumbles into the Catholic Church after many wrong turnings and false paths. Something of the author’s amusingly uncompromising personality comes across in this piece of dialogue which will make the reader laugh, remembering their own younger fixations and follies: breaking up at one time with a girlfriend he told her: “It’s not you, it’s me.” “What do you mean? Allison asked. “I’m becoming a monk.” “You are?” “Well, just for a year.” “You’re a real jerk”, she said and hung up. I hung up too, and breathed the rarefied air of celibacy…”

There is a happy ending. Blanski eventually married Brittany, who had once been a member of the atheist club at university as well as an activist for LGBT rights; they both converted, entering the Church on the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul and he now works as the pastoral associate of faith formation in his parish in Wisconsin.