A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life

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Article Reviews

By Andrew Krivak (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)

What happens when a young person in a secular age feels God calling him to a decidedly countercultural way of life? The minutiae of such journeys have formed many a memoir. In A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life, writer Andrew Krivak looks back on eight years in the Society of Jesus with fondness, wonder, and occasional misgivings, but most of all with refreshing self-awareness and candor.

Largely free of rancor or personal agendas, A Long Retreat is also well-written. Other than a few moments where Krivak seems to overreach in his language, its 300-plus pages are a leisurely paced pleasure to read.

This is not light fare, of course: The reader must venture with Krivak far into the inner reaches of his emotional and spiritual life, and adventure consistently takes a back seat to self-analysis and contemplative reflection. There is little dishing of gossip (though Krivak surprisingly does not use pseudonyms here), and no stunning denouement to shock the reader-simply a straightforward and honest account of Krivak's journey through Jesuit formation.

From the disorienting first few months of his novitiate (a time that included the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the "long retreat" of the title) through years of study and work in Jesuit apostolates, Krivak encounters with open eyes a host of new experiences, from working with AIDS patients to teaching college students to learning how to pray in new ways. Each helps Krivak to "be taught again to see where grace is as well as the beautiful."

There are bumps along the way too: struggles living in community with other men of varying personalities, profound experiences of loss, unmet desires for companionship, the unwanted attentions of an older priest, and eventually the difficult experience of discerning a different call.

Krivak's years of work and study do not take him to the priesthood, but they do help him discern God's calling for him, and remind him of God's role "in our collective earthly pilgrimage."