‘Still Point’ explores crisis of faith
By Jean Torkelson
“Still Point” by Regis Martin (Ave Maria Press, $11.95) is available at Amazon.com.
What do you desire in life? What do you fear?
For all but the most wooden of human beings, these are among the questions that, at some time or another, vex the mind and haunt the 3 a.m. hour. They are also among the questions that form the nucleus of “Still Point,” the latest book by Regis Martin, professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and a sought-after speaker on college campuses, for television programs, and at workshops and conferences.
Martin was in Denver Oct. 10 to give a talk on Vatican II and the opening of the Church’s Year of Faith. But in “Still Point” he turns his attention from the major events of the Church to the inner, still questions of the human heart, including his own. In a brief, elegant 93 pages, he tackles the most universal of human experiences and makes it his subtitle, “Loss, Longing and Our Search for God.”
In an interview with the Denver Catholic Register, Martin talked about his book’s theme, which traces back to painful moments in his own family, and the loss, longings and fears—the desperate desire—that afflicts every human being.
In fact, Martin wanted to call his book “Desperate Desire” until he looked up the phrase on the Internet and realized the title would consign his book to the steamy company of X-rated romances. But he said “desperate desire” still rings true, because it’s every human being’s desperate desire “to live forever, to be free and be happy … to commune with beauty and not be betrayed by fasehood.”
But he likes his second choice of title, too. It’s from a line by T.S. Eliot, his “favorite modern poet,” and refers to “the still point of the turning world.”
Martin calls the still point “the point of insight or joy or discovery where nature and grace come together … where we somehow encounter the mystery.”
In “Still Point,” he knits three family deaths into the narrative—the death last year of his father; the sudden death of his mother from a heart attack in 1995, and his estrangement from his brother, Kevin, who died of AIDS a quarter of a century ago, leaving behind a sibling relationship “conflicted and stormy.”
“When suddenly the most significant people in my life are missing, what does it mean? Where are they? It’s a fair question,” he said. “I try to revisit those moments and relate them to this larger theme of the ‘still point’—grace intersecting with nature. The still point is where grace suddenly comes into the picture and enlivens the scene and gives us a way out.”
For the Christian, the way out is embracing the cross of Christ. Yet while faith provides an answer, it doesn’t negate the pain of asking the question. Martin explores the ways believers and nonbelievers approach the great mystery of existence and notes that some, despite being passionate faith-filled believers like the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, are in such “soul’s distress” that “the reader’s own heart nearly breaks.”
Martin said he has been personally spared that kind of anguish—the dark night of the soul.
“I haven’t really had struggles with the dark night,” Martin said. “Certainly the thought crosses your mind that if this is it—what good is anything? The only prospect for hope is the prospect of heaven and being united once more with those we love—that’s the desperate desire.”
His next book will likely dive even more deeply into these questions, though not necessarily by choice. He is considering writing about his battle with prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in January.
“The experience has given me an idea for a book, a kind of memoir on mortality,” Martin said. “What is it like when you get a prognosis that could prove to be a game-changer? It looks as if I’ve beaten the odds, I’ve put the demon to flight, at least for now, but that sort of (prospect) hangs over all of us, all the time. Yet I think it is also very freeing because we are all sentenced to die—we just don’t know when.”
In the meantime, Martin said, there is a remedy, at least for now.
“We should live our lives with the awareness of our end … living in the ‘still point,’ as if every moment was an intersection with grace, and with God.”
Jean Torkelson: 303-715-3122; www.twitter.com/DCRegister