“At death we will see that what we preferred to Him was naught.”
–St Francis de Sales
In 2012, age twenty-five, I decided to “try” Christianity in a serious way. The context was an upcoming Religion, Literature and the Arts conference at the University of Iowa. I had planned to present on the thinker most important to me up to then–Jean-Luc Nancy. One central line of his thought is the “deconstruction of Christianity.” Nancy’s Dis-enclosure (vol. 1) was one of my favorite books. A year earlier I’d translated his L’Adoration (vol. 2) for personal use. But as I contemplated my presentation, I realized: I need to come into comprehensive contact with what I’m deconstructing, if I’m to understand it. So, I made the wager: Let’s take the leap of faith in Christ and see where he takes me.
Now, I was no novice to Christianity. My mom had deep faith, and she shared it with everyone around her. We went to St Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and for me Church growing up was a life of service. Dad and I mowed the two-acre lawn every week or two in the summer months. Mom baked communion bread, prepared for worship as sacristan, and served on half the committees. I was in bell choir and played organ and piano for services. For my Eagle Scout project, I coordinated painting a Noah’s Ark mural in the Church nursery, which is there to this day. My mom taught Sunday School and Confirmation classes, and I never missed. We went to Saturday night services and some weekends doubled-up when we had extra commitments on Sunday. I recall deep discussions with the pastors at our Church in my early thinking years. So I’d heard the Gospel preached and seen it practiced through my childhood and adolescence.
In addition to that, my time as an undergraduate (2005-2010) had led me to numerous intellectual encounters with Christianity, most importantly Soren Kierkegaard. For the class “What is Faith?”, taught by Dan Boscaljon (the same mentor who invited me to present at the Iowa conference, 2011-2013), we were assigned excerpts from his work. I ended up absorbing and taking extensive notes on The Sickness Unto Death and Practice in Christianity. The class also introduced me to Thomas Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Paul Tillich, Nietzsche, and Freud — it was formative. Classes with David Klemm (I also did an independent study on Nancy with him) brought me into contact with Kant, Fichte, Holderlin, Schleiermacher, Heidegger and again Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling. So alongside my discoveries of Victor Frankl, Ghandi, Ramana Maharishi, Ken Wilbur and all the other figures from that time, my diet of Christian or post-Christian philosophy was steady. (Worth adding here is my help with the Free Lunch Program in Iowa City, bringing food to the homeless of that community. I volunteered for about five or six years there and became a veteran on the all-purpose ad hoc team of preparers, servers and dishwashers.)
By Spring of 2012, I was two years graduated from my B.A. Living alone back in my empty childhood home in Hiawatha, I pursued all these paths of thinking — and written till the pencils broke. When I resolved to “try” Christianity, my go-to reentry was Kierkegaard. I revisited The Sickness unto Death and Practice in Christianity before going on to Philosophical Fragments, Concluding Unscientific Post-Script, Judge For Yourself!, For Self-Examination, and The Moment. (This section of my bookshelf is brightly rainbow’d, for those who know the Hong and Hong editions from Princeton University Press.)
Very quickly, through meditation on Kierkegaard’s thoughts and words, Jesus Christ began to shine in my heart in all his glory and uniqueness among men. It is a mystery of the Lord how things progressed from here that Spring and Summer of 2012, but I wish to recall the broad strokes as I remember them.
From Kierkegaard, my book browsing extended to Christian authors I had never heard of. Foremost among them was Hans Urs von Balthasar. I read with enthrallment his Engagement with God and Love Alone is Credible, two works I cannot recommend more highly. Balthasar grounds his theology in a philosophical-type inquiry, as well as in the history of philosophy and theology, all while maintaining an attitude of worship (what he called kniende Theologie). So it was perfectly suited to what I needed — intellect and heart, broad learning and existential commitment. Here was the next direction for my leap.
Balthasar swung wide the door to the riches of the Catholic tradition. He taught me the fundamentals of Catholic teaching and encouraged me to enter — spiritually and physically — the mystery of the Catholic faith. To summarize a vast series of steps: I began reading classics of the ascetic tradition, from the Desert Fathers to John Cassian and Thomas à Kempis, while also beginning my own efforts at fasting, constant prayer, and submission to God. I turned to the Gospels and especially St. Paul with ravenous effort. Joseph Ratzinger’s Introduction to Christianity was a revelation for me, alongside his Eternal Life: Death and Resurrection and others. I began to overnight for days at a time at the New Melleray Abbey in Dubuque, Iowa, where many mysterious things took place. Their library gave me access to St Padre Pio’s letters, Henri de Lubac’s books on biblical exegesis and modern atheism, Charles Nicholet’s “Hope and Charity,” St Francis de Sales on repentance and prayer, and of course–St Therese of Lisieux. As cliche as it may be, her Story of the Soul was soul-altering for me. At the lunch table one day, I met a novice, Br Mark, who gave me my first rosary, the one I use to this day. One afternoon, as I exited the side door of the guest house, I saw for sure, for a flash, my mother sitting there on a bench (she is deceased since October 2003). Another afternoon, wandering under giant pines in an overgrown field of cord grass and wild rye, I stumbled upon an abandoned, decrepit statue of Mary and felt an indescribable presence of being at the end of time–at the end of my life, with nowhere left to go but into the Mystery of God. On one of the last evenings there, I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet between an adjacent cemetery and a cornfield. Mid-prayer I stopped dead in my tracks. Who was I…? Where was I…? All I knew was: God’s light enters the gravest darkness, death. Resurrection begins with our consent…
These and other mysteries culminated on the Solemnity of St John the Baptist, June 24th, 2012. (You can read the full account of this “conversion experience” and my Christian convictions at the time here: Becoming Timothy.) The details seem paltry to recount, but in the majestic corridor of that monastic sanctuary, Father preached passionately about the call into the wilderness for Christ and John the Baptist’s saying “He must increase, I must decrease” (Jn 3:30). I wept in my pew, and the weeping continued for forty-five minutes. I crunched myself into a windowsill after the service was over and watched in tears as the other communicants left. It was again a vision of time’s conclusion, the end of worldly play and the dawn of Christ’s reign in every slice and portion of matter. I was thrust into tune with my own sin and brokenness, but Christ’s mercy overwhelmed it like a flood, and he filled my grief with the sober ecstasy of his healing trust. That mix of sweet temporal sadness and exuberant heavenly gladness is like nothing I can describe in words, but it was vouchsafed to me that day, in heart and word, a marker of my destiny in Christ. That feeling returns every now and then, a foretaste of eternity on earth. That day, no doubt about it, I heard the call, heard John himself calling me: Nothing is truer and more beautiful than to go into the desert for Christ.
The monks eventually acknowledged me in the windowsill and approached. We went to a back room where I settled down, but immediately I realized they did not understand what was happening. I scared them more than anything. I felt uncomfortable, spiritual whiplash. (I’d been mishandled in a spiritual emergency before, so at least I wasn’t shocked at this.) How could they not see what had happened? Don’t they have resources to shelter and nurture me? Well, I can’t know their true thoughts, but at the time I felt illegible and alien. Plus, they reminded me, I wasn’t even Catholic! I had a long journey ahead of me, before there was any thought of joining a monastery. (Little did I know how long this journey would be…)
During these months of “trying” Christianity, I had started attending Immaculate Conception in Cedar Rapids, IA, often for daily Mass (though I could not take the Eucharist). I would go in by myself, too, and sing Salve Regina loud and clear. The parish was downtown, and one day I stopped to talk with a homeless couple. I had much pity for them. We talked about Christ, I gave them my little Bible. He had a back injury and worker’s comp issues. She had a history of sexual abuse. They would weep in the car, express their brokenness. I would counsel them and let them know they had a friend. But sadly, my efforts in other ways proved imprudent. I mishandled them, and the norm that developed couldn’t stand. Dollar amounts gradually increased from one night at a hotel for them to a week. Soon I was their go-to transportation method (often 40 minutes one direction). I gave them thousands of dollars, once bailing them out of jail through money wire (or so they said), once giving them money for a car (or so I thought). Their requests escalated to the point that I was hearing from them almost every day. Then I shook myself awake and realized they were using the money for drugs. I even probably drove them to get drugs once, under the idea that we were getting cheap “medicine” from a guy who sold it out of his apartment. I recount this all to my shame, as another layer of my story that season. I knew I was supposed to sell my possessions and give to the poor–but I did so without guidance, on my own, naively, inefficiently. I had to cut contact with Jamie and Dana, and this left a deep wound. (If they ever read this, my God how I love you! I hope you are okay.)
Meanwhile, my attempts at the local level to enter RCIA (Rite of Catholic Initiation for Adults) were frustrated when the director of the program cared more about spewing hate and politics than Christ (or so it felt to me). The edifice of my faith was beginning to break down. Some would say the devil was getting in and exploiting the weaknesses of other humans to bring me doubts in the very possibility of Christlikeness. I had written hundreds of Christian-inspired texts by this time, of course–but now I looked at them and said: This idiom is tired! I have said all I can say with this Christian talk. And so my revolt against goodness began. One afternoon at Immaculate Conception, alone and nervous as a criminal before the crime, I threw open the curtain on the tabernacle in an intentional act of blasphemy and rejection (I cannot recall the exact catalyst). Another day, at home, riddled with anger at the situation with the homeless couple and suddenly resentful of everything good in my life, I smashed a precious object of my-step mother’s against the wall in a rage of self-loathing and unworthiness. It was about that time that I returned to my previous philosophical staples — Bataille’s On Nietzsche topping the list of the dialectical negative — and Christianity was set aside.
Truth be told, I cannot line these details up chronologically. On August 25, 2012, I gave my paper at the Iowa conference. It was titled Faith vs. Utopia and contrasted Marx-inspired utopianism with the vision of Christian charity put forth by Pope Benedict XVI and the Epistle of James. My next post two weeks later, Me, Eased, Erased, and those that followed in Fall 2012, are a good indication of where I was headed — away from the Church and back to my vivaciously-nihilistic writerly self.
That vivaciously-nihilistic writerly self had control of my being all through my time in Berlin (Fall 2013- Summer 2019). However, Christianity never receded from my mind, quite to the contrary. In 2018 I completed a Master’s Thesis on the topic of messianity in post-religious thought. This had involved four years of long forays into the work of Walter Benjamin, Giorgio Agamben, Jacques Derrida, and Francois Laruelle. Interspersed in these years were revisits of Balthasar and new readings in Karl Barth, Eberhard Jüngel, and Adrienne von Speyr. I also kept studying Eastern religions, especially Sri Aurobindo, Tibetan Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, at varying intervals. I kept writing poetry, too, which for me is always a reach into the deep structure of the Logos where word and flesh meet. Well, this epoch is too multi-faceted to recount here. Perhaps another day.
Fast forward to Summer 2021: I have been living with Diane, the love of my life, for some years and growing immensely through her support, patience, and love… I have come miles toward resolving long-standing issues with alcohol and pornography addiction… I have steadied my meditation practice through the Baltimore Shambhala center… She and I have taken a deep dive into Sri Aurobindo and the Mother’s Integral Yoga (see Our Golden Change)… And then one day my aunt Carol writes me a brief note about the difference between the effort of yoga and the grace of Christ. I forget how, and I hardly took notice of it at the time, but that little seed sent me back to thinking about Jesus. Soon I cracked open Balthasar and my return to Catholicism began.
August 2021 I joined an RCIA group in Santa Fe and, on Holy Saturday 2022, I entered into full communion with the Catholic Church. It was everything the Spirit had promised me and more. I have not been the same person since.
And so, finally, to the announcement of Marian Weigh. While I was taking my RCIA classes, Bathasar, von Speyr, and Karl Rahner were my constant companions. I started making Catholic Content for a new YouTube channel, Marian Weigh, a mixture of my own spiritual exhortations and citations or elaborations of authors. On June 25, 2022, I set up a website to gather these videos and share my writings on Christ and the Catholic faith. (I see now it’s one day after the 10th anniversary of my first major conversion experience! The rhythm of God’s gift is incredible…)
I will continue to post on fragilekeys when things pertain to my profession as a poet, philosopher and writer, but the majority of my efforts will now be going to www.marianweigh.com. It is all in the spirit of my revelation from 2012 on the Solemnity of St John the Baptist: He must increase, I must decrease. I invite you to come along–come see what Jesus Christ has to say.