The president of Seattle University, Stephen Sundborg, was talking with a group of faith leaders last Tuesday. The 7000 students who were returning to campus this weekend were on the mind of this university leader who has watched students come and go for 20 years now. And so were the challenges he sees the younger students facing in particular. The culture they have been raised in, he suggested is so overpowering, so ubiquitous, so non-stop, that it sometimes seems inescapable. It is so “thick” that “I’m afraid we don’t think our own thoughts anymore, and we don’t even realize that the thoughts we have are not our own,” he suggested. It constantly whispers its assumptions, this culture—in the technology that brings us non-stop media, in the wall-to-wall messaging that keep us from thinking for ourselves, in the forms of alignment that keep us in our bubbles of reason, in the striving and the acquiring.
President Sundborg is a Jesuit priest, steeped in Ignatian spirituality. At the center of this spirituality is the Examen[i], the simple daily practice of replaying the events of the day to become increasingly aware of God’s presence, and of our own spiritual centers, of the Spirit’s voice that speaks from the center of who we are. Ignatius understood, in other words, that a deeper knowing of ourselves leads to a deeper knowing of God and of the culture of heaven as it compares to the thick cultures that shape our mindset and compete for our loyalties.
Culture, it turns out, is a pretty good modern translation of what Jesus meant when he talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, as he does setting up the group of parables Matthew strings together, including over these several weeks of Sunday readings.