The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.
Henry David Thoreau
By Monta Hernon
So few words, and such bleak ones. Yet they embody the predicament of so many who have given up on finding fulfillment or are stuck in a cycle of looking for it in the wrong places. Nobody wants to end up in the situation of living only for work, or working only to live.
But, the modern world places the highest value on the attainment of material goods. It is difficult not to succumb to the pitfall of continually seeking satisfaction in the pursuit of the next best thing.
How can young adults avoid this and instead inspire their imaginations and envision how their creative gifts can flourish? How can they discern the path they are meant to travel and the world they are supposed to build along the way?
The answer lies within a story.
“Our life on earth is an adventurous pilgrimage to heaven. It is the story of who we are, and it gives us ultimate purpose. Stories are the way we understand the grandest and most important realities in life,” Peter Searby, director and founder of the Riverside Club, said.
Searby, along with John Severance, managing director, Everhouse, and Riverside founding family, developed a retreat, “Threshold,” to help frame, within this context, the choices facing the young.
“It is by entering into stories in a variety of imaginative ways, that we come to better understand the true story we are living in,” Searby said. The inaugural Threshold event took place June 19-20 at La Salle Manor in Plano, with 22 men and women, ages 16-21.
Every tale needs heroes. Enter the League of Twelve. These are ultimate archetypes that each have their own super power or gift, have their own allies, and fight their own specific villains. They are designed to illustrate the unique nature of each human being who through a combination of these characters was designed by God for a specific purpose.
“God has given each of us a specific mission that He has given to no one else. It’s our personal calling. Discovering and following that path is how God leads us to fulfillment and back to himself,” Severance said.
The retreatants were asked to spend time considering which three of the heroes the most strongly match with their personality and passions. This involved honest self-examination of strengths and weaknesses and then the courage to share with the others present. For example, there were Givers (gift: empathy and the ability to read minds and hearts; enemy: self-pity); Counselors (gift: strategy and vision; enemy: manipulation); and Makers (gift: hand craft; enemy: narrow mindedness).
“Unlike the typical ‘personality test’ I’ve seen, I appreciated how the League of Twelve also includes your interests and gifts as core features of your hero archetype…It was fascinating to see how many combinations were made among the retreatants, but how each made perfect sense with their personalities,” Cecilia Jansen, 19, said.
“I’m not a creator or an orator. I don’t have those gifts. But, there is evil in this world. And what I can do is be a warrior and stand between the evil and those that have the gifts and are adding creatively to the Kingdom of God,” Jesse Paliakas, 18, said. (Warrior gift: strength or fortis; enemy: wrath)
After identifying archetypes, the next step was to try to find the connection between inner passion, gift, the type of work one is meant to be doing, and the Domain or world they are meant to inhabit.
“When someone discovers a gift, talent, insight that is part of the core of who they are, they begin to see the world differently. They begin to see the Threshold through which they must travel to follow their calling to create a Domain,” Searby said.
“Our vocation must be a creative endeavor where we put our gifts into action, in the home, business, studio, shop, parish. We need intelligence, skill and imagination to make something of the world. God does not make all of the world, He makes room for man’s creativity,” Severance added.
The retreatants were asked to develop personal mission statements and to design an ideal creative space that corresponded with their gifts and goals.
“It was really cool to see the fruition of the necessary combination of head and heart in all of the presentations,” Jansen said.
The beautiful property surrounded by nature didn’t hurt the process. “Being in an awesome place like La Salle Manor helped remind the retreatants of the beauty in the world around us, and fostering a deeper appreciation for that beauty comes with fostering a good community of peers who take those same lessons to heart,” Jansen added.
Coming full circle, Thoreau refused to enter full force into his family’s successful pencil manufacturing business. He went to live “deliberately” in a small cabin in the woods by Walden Pond for two years, two months and two days for self-examination and to discover the essential facts of life.
To avoid the quiet desperation Thoreau observed in so many, he offered: “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.”
Many of the young adults “Crossing the Threshold,” left the Riverside retreat having experienced what they called personal epiphanies. The suggestion for future groups? More time at the camp. “We were blessed with a fantastic group of young people who all had such different gifts to bring to the table, and it would have been great to have another day or two to get to know them better,” Jansen said.