Friday, March 27, 2009

Responses from Lithuania

In the summer of 2003, a young man by the name of Tomas Butvilas spent a few months with us here at Mount Michael, discerning what he wanted to do in life. Ever since then, he has kept in contact with us and often visits our website. Tomas in now happily married and has completed his doctorate degree there in Lithuania. Although I was unable to be present for his wedding last July, I did visit him this past Christmas vacation. Tomas has been following the articles on vocation related material and thought he would write some comments as well. What follows are Tomas thoughts and responses to some of my questions.

Part One

Tomas Butvilas, PhD

Assoc. Prof. at Mykolas Romeris University, Lithuania


First of all I should say at least few words on myself and introduce the links that connect me and Mount Michael Benedictines. Few years ago I have had a great opportunity to taste monastic life waters and stay at Mount Michael (further in this text - MM) for a while. Especially at that time and even earlier (when I studied at UNO back in 2002) I found monks who are deep in their spirituality and at the same time they put all of it into practice, and so combine their way of living with the outside world that develops and grows quite rapidly along with all its cosmopolitan, individualized, and money-based interaction ideologies. Although it could sound a bit sarcastic, namely MM's monks would stand firmly in their choice to live the Benedictine way. I do remember quite well some lessons of such way that Fr. John Hagemann and others (as Bro. Jerome, Abbot Theodore, Abbot Michael, Fr. Daniel, Fr. Richard et al.) have taught me - be patient and LISTEN. In the beginning, as Fr. John would agree, I wasn't so patient or eager to listen, but later on I did learn how to roll along step-by-step and always listen what my consciousness and the whole environment that I'm in would tell me. The main teacher on becoming that way person was the social surrounding, i.e. environment. Thus, when I read Fr. John's recent articles on vocation, its roots, and psychological influence, I thought it would be good to share with few lines from my own experience and the "smart" guys who do researches in vocational psychology area.

There are many different psychometric tools (e.g. Minnesota Importance Questionnaire, Minnesota Job Description Questionnaire, Satisfaction or Satisfactoriness questionnaires, Holland Test etc.) that could help assessing ones abilities, linking towards some kind of work type and career making ways. However, psychologists (Berns et al.) and research methodologists (Denzin&Lincoln et al.) would argue these days the effectiveness of those tools/instruments as the main reason of it - is already conceptualized more phenomenological approach to individual life experience and choice makings. Thus there is a great need to discuss a bit more on the main factors and possible challenges that could make an important influence on ones vocational direction and decision making processes. As we all clearly know from various sources on definitions (e.g. Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia, etc.), vocation is closely related to a religious life, though it could be related to other social spheres as well. Mainly vocation (the calling) is understood as central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. From this very point of view we could identify few possible approaches to this phenomenon: one would be specifically theology centered (i.e. associated more with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single persona etc.), while another one - socially oriented. Let's dig deeper particularly on this last one.

Namely both classical and postmodern social theorists (Durkheim, Weber, Giddens, Barthes et al.) as well as psychologists (Richardson, Savickas et al.) and social constructionists (Hacking, Lyotard, Wapner) stress decentralized modern life that creates a culturally pluralistic and interconnected global society lacking any single dominant center of political power, communication, or intellectual production. On the other hand, this perspective implements the environmental importance to individual's choices in life. Thus, as psychologists R. Berns and U. Bronfenbrenner state, the ecology of environmental model on the basis of micro, macro, and mezzo levels is the main determinant for some kind of person's vocation within today's globalization conditions, in which media and pop cultures are predominant and so consequently form our images of what is appropriate, and what - less appropriate or not modern/popular.
Reflecting on Fr. John's previous touching articles about making choices in our lives, I would argue the imprint from birth phenomenon more than being socially molded and formed as the whole social environment that surrounds us is the main factor and challenge at once while we consider to become this or that. This very environment may nourish our decisions, abilities and skills or crush them down forcing its own traditions and popular ways of living. Although Fr. John in his recent article "Called From All Eternity" supports this environmentalist idea saying that other people (like his great uncle Franciscan Friar) make much influence thru their live personal examples and so strengthens our own decisions. Finally, even though I just tried shallowly to analyze just one perspective on the factors and challenges that affect ones vocation, there are numerous other perspectives on which I'd lovely learn more from much skilled and experience-equipped experts.

Part 2
Fr. John’s and Dr. Tomas’ Conversations
on Daily Life and Other Neat Things

Fr. John Hagemann and I just recently got a thought about starting some kind of conversations session on various things in life – both religious and lay. This would be quite a small step towards all of us who are concerned by existential issues, e.g. vocation, family life, decision making, self-awareness, loyalty etc. In some ways it may remind the Socratic dialogues and the antique style of teaching and learning, i.e. while walking and asking the master. Thus, in our conversations with Fr. John we will try to touch different kinds of socio-cultural and psychological activities within our daily life and routine. Hopefully this would become a kind of contribution to all of those who dare to search and ask. Finally all of us will certainly find. This first conversation between Fr. John and me is going to be mainly about my first impressions and experience while I spent some time at Mount Michael back in 2003. Note that Fr. John’s questions will be presented in bold and mine – just in ordinary letters.

So the first question would be:
What was the value for you in spending time in a Benedictine Abbey? Did it help you at all? And if it did help you, how did it help you?

Well, Fr. John, as I used to tell you in the past and during your last visit to Lithuania in 2008, being at Mount Michael in the beginning was some kind of a mixture between tasting the waters of monastic life and also spending some time in a different culture. The last-mentioned one is, in my opinion, in most cases the main reason for the biggest part of foreigners who come to another country and wish to escape from the feeling of boredom. Exactly this natural feeling (along with other needs that a man has), according to the psychologist C.D. Fisher et al., is an emotional state experienced during periods lacking activity or when individuals are uninterested in the activities surrounding them. That happens to everyone and the possibility to spend some time in totally new socio-cultural environment and also to get some bonuses from it (e.g. strengthening lingual skills, broadening ones social circle etc.) in many cases is seen as a basic way-out of being bored. Actually, I don’t want to say that I was totally bored while living in my native country, but having an opportunity to see other culture (even in the name of studies, love or discernment) and communicate with different people, who have various approaches to things, were quite main factors of my arrival and stay at MM Abbey.

However, as you well know, deep in my heart I had a great desire to live communal life, sharing my abilities and skills for the wellbeing of others. From time to time I was caught by the wish of holy solitary and the chances to combine prayer and work. Thus, Benedictines as well as Jesuits (later we could talk a bit more about their positive influence to my thinking), were seen as the right point of fulfilling this desire of mine. Especially American Benedictines, who are in many ways different than Europeans (by the way there is a French-rooted priory in Lithuania as well), have attracted me and I thought this is the place where I could realize my dreams and goals in life. So, after all, as you may assume, I felt quite a mixture of various feelings about being at MM and, of course, one of the most important was to ponder whether or not I’m suitable for such a living style.

Speaking about the value of spending time at MM Abbey, I could state that I was gifted abundantly with plenty of choices to use my skills and knowledge within the Benedictine day-routine and in that regard I have had a great opportunity ever – to FEEL what a real life is being as a member of that community. Spending some time in the sphere that you are interested in is the best way a person can do in his/her life. By the way, this is how Japan society is built having in mind the vocational training – students, according to Sh. Fukuyama, before they choose study field at the higher education level have to experience the real situation of their desirable profession.

The second question is about was it embarrassing to you when you realized that a monastic vocation really was not your calling?

About being embarrassed or feeling other negative emotions was not a real part of what I’ve gone thru. First, I was quite happy to understand that living in community for the rest time of my life is not what I’d love to do most. The second thing was that I really took that time as an advantage for myself because I could compare my routine at home (in Lithuania) and here at MM. This truly has helped me to sort things out. Also, as I’ve mentioned in the previous article on the factors that could make an affect to our vocation, the whole social environment (not only MM but Lithuanian community in Omaha, Creighton Jesuits, other friends etc.) helped me during this discernment process and eventually has led me into a certain decision making – to continue my jobs as a lay person.

To the question “Do you have any regrets that you spent this time in a Benedictine Abbey?“

I suppose, I’ve already answered in those lines above and repeatedly I could add that no regrets should be felt as every moment in our live are the great lessons. Thus every situation that we are going and living thru in our lives is always as a new chance to start things from the beginning. I mean, my stay at MM back in 2003 was a wonderful moment filled with deep conversations on spirituality, outside work (gardening, ground keeping etc.), knowing culture, learning language, meeting different people, and most importantly – answering to myself whether or not this is my calling. I’ve got my answer and it came to me by not having just few correspondences via Internet communicational tools (Skype, Messanger, E-mails or whatever) with vocational Director, but spending the real time in the real place!

And lastly, would I ever advise others to have the same experience that I‘ve had?

– without any doubt I can firmly stress that only by being in presence and experiencing lively those things that matter in your live we can make a right decision at the given moment. Of course, some of you might argue about that and point directly to one of the great psychological mental imagery methods – visualization. Yes! I can partly agree with it – visualization in some ways helps people to project themselves in certain positions that they would love to be or act (additionally see also K. Randolph, R. Finke, W. Fezler et al. works). However, nothing will change the value of a real experience.

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