An Everyday Search

Perhaps you’ve found yourself caught in the suffocating everydayness of life. Get up, eat breakfast, go to work, pick up the kids, make dinner, watch TV, go to bed. Wash, rinse, repeat. Every morning’s alarm might as well be the same. Even if the content of each day satisfies in general, the unrelenting sameness slowly kills whatever joy there once was. Life stretches unwelcomingly, perhaps frighteningly, ahead.

Binx Bolling of Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer knows what it is to feel desolate in the everyday. And, he offers a response: the search. What is the search? “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. . . . To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.” Life, having lost its tastiness, need not lose its potential. Keep searching: there may be something more.

The search injects a pace into our wayfaring. Over the next hill, around the bend, perhaps our eyes will soon rest on our goal. What goal? Happiness? What does that mean? We don’t know yet—but we know we must search; we must not suppress our desire for more than the everyday. To suppress the desire for more leads not to life but to a slow, apathetic death.

But we must have some sort of consolation in this search. A weary traveller cannot indefinitely walk the dusty path without receiving water and food. Catholics know this food, and know the ache it causes. True religion offers a pledge of future glory—a glory we taste but do not fully possess, an eternal glory experienced temporarily. This taste of glory does not spare believers the suffocating everydayness of life. But, as Bl. John Henry Newman notices about our fragile grasp of an “inward idea of divine truth,”

 

it is a question whether that strange and painful feeling of unreality, which religious men experience from time to time, when nothing seems true, or good, or right, or profitable, when Faith seems a name, and duty a mockery, and all endeavours to do right, absurd and hopeless, and all things forlorn and dreary, as if religion were wiped out from the world, may not be the direct effect of the temporary obscuration of some master vision, which unconsciously supplies the mind with spiritual life and peace. (Sermon 15.11)

Even in times of distress, the religious man can remember glimpsing a truth which offers him spiritual life and patient endurance.

Sometimes we need to wrestle with the God who allows the world to seem so hollow—as the psalmist laments, “My one companion is darkness” (Ps 88:18). But in this wrestling, another truth emerges. As Fr. Donald Haggerty puts it, “One of the lessons prayer teaches after a time is the impossibility of a quest for God directed and shaped by our own devices. There is no ‘managing’ our relations with God” (The Contemplative Hunger, 117). In opening ourselves to the search, in relying on the God who offers us himself as food and companion, we discover that our search for God has only been possible because he has been with us the whole time.

Still, at times we feel “like a dry, weary land without water” (Ps 63:1). Have we returned to where we started—the dryness, the confusion, the heaviness of the everyday? Not quite. There is something new here. The desire awakened by the search still burns beneath the dust. But in desire, we have met God, and he has given us a peace unknown before. For we know that if we believe in our God who came and lived this everyday life with us, and if we offer him “the nothingness we have come to know within ourselves” (The Contemplative Hunger, 131), we might not die but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on Dominicana and is reprinted here with kind permission. 

Br. Philip Nolan, O.P.

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Br. Philip Nolan entered the Order of Preachers in 2015. He is a graduate of Williams College and spent two years living in New York working for First Things

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