On the Search

Photo by Jordan Chin

Photo by Jordan Chin


“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.”

- Walker Percy, The Moviegoer

The muffled hum of the silver 2018 Toyota Corolla seemed to intensify as the starry blue, red, and yellow dome of the Basilica of The National Shrine came into view. My Puerto Rican friend, Ivan Denizac, rented the cultured compact car for our spring break road-trip to the U.S. capital.

We were on a spiritual mission in the kind company of the Benedictine monks at St. Anselm’s Abbey. 

We drove past the basilica on Michigan Ave, a road that dissected the Catholic University of America. The hair on my back stood up as I saw the signpost marked “Theological College” on the right. I read online that many of the monks taught courses at the university. 

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. || Photo Courtesy of Flickr

National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. || Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Driving through what felt like America’s religious capital, every worry about my 19 credit hours, homework, part-time internship, part-time job, impending graduation, and making as much time as possible for friends I may never see again, evaporated in an instant. It was almost as if my senioritis had been excised by the sanctity of the air.

We arrived at the monastery by 5:15 pm. With one hand on the rail, Father Boniface wobbled down the chapel stairs to greet us. We were just in time for the vespers, an evening service. We put our bags in our rooms and joined another retreating duo in the chapel. 

Twelve or so monks entered the room, divided into two groups, and filled the altar pews.

Father Christopher, the monk we made visiting arrangements with, handed us the vesper schedule and we took part singing the opening psalmody.

The holy men alternated singing and reading, and the lesson was given by Brother Matthew Nylund. Brother Nylund was born right here in New York, went to Fordham, and did graduate work in history at Columbia. 

It was almost as if my senioritis had been excised by the sanctity of the air.

The vespers concluded around 6:00 pm, and we joined the procession to Supper. Our supper of bread and butter with colored green and sausage soup was simplistically satisfying. I had seconds. As we ate, Brother Dunstan Robidoux read aloud from a story about the search for a lost child. 

There was a short break after supper. The nighttime prayer, compline, was the last service before bedtime. Ivan and I used this time to reflect on the day so far.

We had started on the road at 6 am. I got carsick. However, he drove steadily through the entire four-hour drive, even as I, the failed travel companion, was asleep for much of it. Earlier, we had visited the Washington Monument, the White House, and the recently opened Museum of The Bible. Ivan was exhausted, but there was no way either of us would miss the closing service. 

The 7:00pm compline was a series of psalms and prayers. Everyone retreated to their dwellings afterwards, though there was no curfew.

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

As I lay in bed, a rush of familiar panic rose like a gorge in my throat. 

Suddenly, I remembered I was sick with the flu from December to February because the immunosuppressants I take for lupus compromise my natural defenses. The lingering flu was an ominous signal of what was to come. 

I remembered Leah Arrasmith, a girl who often sat beside me in Microeconomics last semester, who committed suicide on January 29. Crushing melancholia squeezed tears from my eyes as I hoped upon hope that her soul had finally found peace. 

I remembered my roommate, who had been diagnosed with lymphatic cancer shortly after Leah’s passing. He was forced to withdraw from school for chemotherapy. 

Lastly, I remembered receiving the rejection letter from my first application to doctoral studies in theology. 

Despair threatened to swallow me whole. At St. Anselm’s, guests had 24 hour WiFi, no curfew, their own keys, and near unrestricted access to the library and kitchen. However, I almost broke the only rule: you could not disturb the peace and tranquility with noise.

I admit the retreat was an escape plan. I know now that my escape was a factor of “the search”.

For the millionth time since this year started, I wanted to scream.

A pacifying light illuminated my mind just as quickly as the darkness had tried to extinguish it.

I realized I was fine, and I was going to be fine.

For the first time since this semester started, I felt calm. Despite a series of unfortunate events, I understood life would go on. I basked in this light until God’s eternal tranquility had completely transfigured my inner turmoil into a new-found strength. 

I admit the retreat was an escape plan. I know now that my escape was a factor of “the search”.

I found God, the object of the search many years ago. Angsty anguish had blinded me to his presence. The tragedy of life in a post-fall world always reinforces divine separation.

We need always, and everywhere, to feel his glorious presence. 

OpinionJordan Chin