Jim Conlon is the author of Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Journey. Invisible Excursions interweaves the author’s personal journey with critical events (e.g., Vatican Council II, war, politics and social unrest, arts and popular culture) that have shaped each epoch and explains how these events have influenced the spiritual journey of the people at that juncture in history. Below is a Q&A with him about his book…
What is your book about?
Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Journey is about the evolution of culture and theology over the past decades, which I have organized into a series of seven epochs. Simultaneously, I trace what I term invisible excursions; that is, experiences that touch all of us at a deep level and that over time allow new understandings to germinate within us and lead us into uncharted territory.
This book is part memoir and part cosmological commentary. In it, I interweave the following: (1) my personal narrative, beginning on the shores of the St. Clair River in Southwestern Ontario, through my seminary years, and into the present; (2) critical events (e.g., Vatican Council II, politics and social unrest, art and popular culture) that have shaped the times and both influence and reflect the spiritual journey of people at each juncture in history; (3) the contributions of three giants (i.e., Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, and Matthew Fox) who provide the basis for a rich and viable alternative to traditional theology; and (4) the story of the Sophia Center, including how it can serve as a model for holistic spirituality.
For a short preview of the book, please visit: https://vimeo.com/43161586
Why did you write it?
I have been at Holy Names University since 1984, during which time I was privileged to gain a unique perspective on the Sophia Center and the major components foundational to its present and future: creation spirituality, the universe story, and the great work. I wrote Invisible Excursions because I believe this program can be an inspiration for those emerging as a counter force in this country and around the world. They seek to manifest a vision not based on reactionary, fundamentalist conformity, but rather on a new global civilization that both fulfills our human destiny and responds to the needs of the earth.
In some ways, my personal journey can serve as a microcosm for the story of each person who has been engaged in a journey over time. Each of us is influenced by the cultural DNA referred to in this book. With this in mind, I choose the subtitle A Compass for the Journey.
What are you hoping people will learn from it?
Primarily I hope people will gain a deeper perspective on their personal spiritual journey. I hope they will recognize the impact of society, personal circumstances, and the evolution of thought (i.e., as articulated in the work of Teilhard de Chardin, Matthew Fox, and Thomas Berry) on their lives.
I hope readers will join with me so that together we can listen to the cry of our wounded world and prepare to respond to the great causes before us. It is time to heal the chasms that divide us, and through aspirations of the heart, ponder our destiny, passion, and purpose. The principles I have expressed are intended to delineate a practical approach forward into a world of hope—a world as we would like it to be, that flows out of this cultural epoch and that is open to the promptings of a spirit that celebrates sacredness, creativity, and the work of justice.
How does culture affect a person’s spirituality?
I am convinced the cultural context of our lives has a profound impact on how we view the sacred and gain perspective on the divine. During each of the epochs discussed in this book, we gained unique insights into the divine. These build upon each other, bringing us to the present moment in human/earth history.
When we are unaware of the influence of culture, spirituality tends to become irrelevant and out of date. At its worst, ignoring the impact of culture can result in a tendency toward fundamentalism. Nevertheless, a balance is essential. If we allow our spirituality to be totally defined by each cultural moment, we lose track of the enduring focus of our spiritual principles.
In what direction do you believe America’s culture is headed and what sort of effect will this have?
One of the insights of sociology is that for every trend there is a counter trend. As contemporary society makes a “right turn” to a more conservative perspective, there is also emerging in our midst a perspective that is innovative, contemporary, and relevant for our time.
Through the emergence of creation spirituality, the universe story, and the great work, we have arrived at a fresh, zest-filled countercultural spirituality that is both relevant for our time and alive to the defining moment in human/earth history. I believe this new epoch will continue to emerge from the depths of our cultural soul. It will be nourished by an intimacy with the natural world as well as by poetry, music, and art that draw inspiration from the wonder of the universe and from the instincts of our psyche to awaken to the health, harmony, and beauty that life has to offer.
How can people affect their culture or at least how can they respond to it?
I believe society today needs deep cultural therapy. This will require an understanding of how we got here and what holds us back from becoming more than we ever thought we could be.
The spirituality described in this book is designed to empower each of us to be more fully who we are and what we can become. To achieve this will require a new literacy that is revelatory of what separates us from each other, the planet, and our notion of the divine.
Each individual will be more effective and influential if he or she joins with others on the journey and realize that we can do together what we could never do alone.
What sort of reaction has your book received?
The following are among many comments offered about the book:
“Invisible Excursions evokes hope and offers inspiring insight at a time when much has gone awry in both church and society. I found in these pages renewed motivation to believe in achievable harmony and energizing peace among all that exists. A truly encouraging book! –Joyce Rupp, author of Praying Our Goodbyes, The Cup of Our Life, and Open the Door.
“Invisible Excursions awakens memories, acknowledges struggles, reinforces hope, culminating in a joyful and inspiring journey.” — Diarmuid O’Murchu, Sacred Heart Missionary Order
“Just wanted to send my congratulations for Invisible Excursions. I know Thomas is smiling down on you.” — Brian Swimme, Cosmologist and Author
“Over the past 24 hours I have devoured Invisible Excursions: A Compass for the Future and am still savoring the reading like a superb meal with promise of health and energy ahead.” — Dr. Margaret Berry, Greensboro, North Carolina
“Bravo – well done … very exciting, timely and necessary. So pleased and excited about the birthing of this gem … good for you, Jim!” — Harriet Tubman Wright, The Wright Resort
What did you learn about yourself as you wrote the book?
I have always felt self-discovery was an important aspect of any writing endeavor. Through writing this book, I have been able to write my story as a model for others to remember, and to recount the invisible excursions that have been the benchmarks of my personal journey and that continue to guide me into a future that remains mysterious and always unknown.
I learned that self-knowledge is a precious thing, and that what happens in our personal lives can be understood as a microcosm of a greater shift taking place in the wider world. From this place, we are able to comprehend our place in the universe and perhaps gain insight into what is still possible for us to do.
I learned with deeper conviction that the Sophia Center story, and the story of those whose lives have shaped it, are stories worth telling. The process of writing and telling stories will keep the soul alive, enhance the imagination, and allow meaning and purpose to flow into existence.
I also learned that when we embrace the mystery of an unknown future the road ahead becomes clearer and the compass for the journey becomes our trusted guide. I learned that intuition, and what I call the sacred impulse, are our most trusted guides as we move forward to make sense of our lives and the direction we are called to follow.
For more information, you can visit http://www.jimconlon.net/