My Father, Andy Catlett, and Me

I sat last night with my dad and his wife and my girls for a great meal, salmon grilled on cedar planks and beet salad, and did what we normally do when we’re with family. We talk about things in common, things good and things we’d like to be better. We talk about our travels, our victories, the books we’re reading and the music we’ve heard that stirred us in the deepest of places.

During my second cup of coffee, buoyed by dinner and dessert, the conversation turned toward our family and I watched something happen.

My dad began speaking from a place of wisdom that I hadn't seen from him before.

I didn’t completely agree with where we landed in the discussion, but I saw the wisdom coming out. My tone here likely sounds surprised, and it isn’t because I have ever believed my father lacked wisdom but because it’s a new place in our relationship. My dad has always lived younger than his age – he always related well to my friends in when I was growing up – but something changed.

I saw and heard that language that only comes through the academics of passing years. He spoke of my future with memories of his past, making peace with ghosts of his own that had yet to haunt me in the hopes that they never would.

It was a conversation in time, as I read through Wendell Berry’s brilliant short novel Andy Catlett: Early Travels. Berry is a singular voice of goodness in a landscape of poorly chosen words and wasted opportunities to sing gold into the ears of eager readers walking the world of text-language and verbal efficiency. If you have never read him, please do because you will be better off for the effort. You’ll also want to plant your own garden, but that’s another story.

Andy Catlett, the main character, talks about time. He talks about visiting his grandparents and the farmhands he has grown to love and in each case – regardless of his fondness or fear of each character – he speaks of their wisdom. They are graduates of the school of passing years. They have seen death, hate, birth, life, lean times and flush times and have lived long enough for the wrinkles in their faces to soak in the reality of life lived through a glass darkly.

We are starved for wisdom in my generation. We are starved for mentors who have lived long enough to not only know better but also to offer a realistic alternative. If you doubt that, look at how many of us are seeking out long-dead spiritual writers and long-irrelevant liturgies and spiritual disciplines to try and bring some order to our lives beyond what pop psychology blogs are willing to donate to us.

In spiritual formation, here’s what this looks like:

This is what the Lord says, “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.” But you said, “We will not walk in it.” (Jeremiah 6:16)

We must search for those who have walked long and far enough into the Christ-shaped horizon to know where the good way is, to know the real from the false, the eternal from the temporal.

And the temptation to say, “We will not walk in it” is incredibly high. For all of us.

In the age of Google, we are reticent to confess that we don’t know the good way anymore.

People of wisdom must rise. You are needed. You are being born and shaped right now through pain and struggle. Don’t fight it, be educated by it and let it flow out of you to those of us hungering to know the good way.

We must see the good way or the world of our fathers, of Andy Catlett, and of my line will disappear like beach-bound footprints on the shore at high tide.