Category Archives: Uncategorized

A Very Indifferent Jesuit 1954

It pleases Jesuits to call themselves “Ours”. Ours were not to own property, were to regard the Superior as the instrument of the will of God and were to have as little as possible to do with Externs, all those who were not One of Ours. I am an Extern of long-standing now, but for […]

A Season in the Sun 1947

Novitiate time was like no other before or since. There were no calendars about and none of us had wristwatches, so time was a public rather than a private commodity. It was stored in large Seth Thomas clocks in the hall and the ascetory and dispensed to us in small particles by the Manuductor from […]

The Two Ways 1946

The figure of two ways or paths is a well-worn trope in religious traditions. The moral pilgrim is confronted with a fork in the path of life. One way represents the way of virtue, an arduous and even dangerous path, but in the end rewarding; the other, the passage to evil, is temptingly attractive but […]

I Think I’ll Pass on the Bulgarian Monastery 2012

I am sitting, this late November day in 2012, beside a pool in the Ritz-Carlton in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Yesterday, before I left New York, I received a phone call from my first wife. I almost didn’t pick up when the ID flashed, but since this was her first call in 40 years, I […]

Tales of the Northern Isles

James Hilton put his Shangri-La somewhere in the Himalayas. What with the snow and wind and the Chinese checking the lamasery registries every morning, no one is much buying into that these days. No, if there’s a Shangri-La, it’s likely in a place where the white sands beckon and the soft winds blow. In the […]

Busra–Once Sham 1972

From Suweida on the western side of the Jebel Druze the black asphalt road from Damascus heads due south along the slope line of the mountain and then slowly descends back onto the plain at the southwest corner of the Jebel. The plain, like the mountain behind us, was now black, but here and there […]

Imitatio Muhammadi: Moral Modeling in Islam

The Imitatio Christi, composed by the German monk Thomas à Kempis (d. 1471), is a classic of Christian spirituality, widely read and translated from Latin into a variety of languages. It is not of course an instructional manual for the imitation of Christ—How does one imitate the Son of God?—nor is it, more plausibly, about […]

At the Tomb of the Prophet 1988

It’s 5 A.M. in Jedda when I touch down. The atmosphere here beside the Red Sea feels like the inside of a sauna, fiercely hot and dripping damp. I struggle through customs and look about for my guide. No foreigner wanders the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia unaccompanied, Zayd al-Badawi, my former tutor, philosopher and guide […]

Religion, Tolerance and Violence

Religion we think we know and violence we know very well indeed, so let us turn directly to the troublemaker of the trio, tolerance, and save the easier notions for later. Literary critics are extremely fond of the figure of “unpacking” when it comes to explaining a word or a notion or a concept. I […]

Sufis and Jesuits: Religious Orders in Islam and Christianity

There are numerous scholastic tracts in Arabic on the theory and practice of Sufism (tasawwuf) or what would be called in Christian terms, Muslim ascetical and mystical theology, For most Muslims the reality  of Islam was, however, the tarîqa or brotherhood into which Islam’s ascetics, the Sufis, began to assemble themselves. As in Christianity, the […]