Tyler Blanski ’06 came to Hillsdale wanting to be a saint; he just didn’t know it yet.
These were danger days, when the strains of Minnesota sweet-strumming evangelicalism clashing with the lo-fi screeches of Beck’s “The New Pollution” rattled around inside his head. Both were pulling him toward Christ, but he did not know how.
This college has a knack for enmeshing a deep desire for community with Christ into the hearts of people like Blanski, enriching what was already made fertile by their hometown evangelicalism. Blanski’s memoir, “An Immovable Feast,” published by Ignatius Press this month, covers his discovery in faith, from teenage Evangelical hippiedom to collegiate Anglicanism, and finally — via marriage and an ongoing seminarian discernment — into the arms of Catholicism.
It was not an easy journey. It never is. Blanski first became interested in deepening his faith because of the beauty of poetry and liturgies he discovered at college. After reading a little about communitas and the City of God, he wanted to put the cult in the culture of his faith life. T.S. Eliot and Russell Kirk stuff. A dash of Antonin Sertillanges, just to keep that faith life intellectual.
So he entered Anglicanism. He looked longingly at Orthodoxy. Sometimes he slid around the ranks of Catholicism. All three offer tradition and ritual, which mainline evangelicalism generally disdains as non-Biblical. Anglicanism celebrates high liturgy (and is STILL Protestant) while Orthodoxy allures the romantics with incense and Eastern mystery. Catholicism claims universality and the completion of all Christian faiths. Not really understanding any of them, Blanski picked Anglicanism because its church community tugged at him most strongly.
But Blanski’s faith was still an isolated journey. Without a community for support, faith ceases to be an active reality. Once intellectual enthusiasm for religion fades — and it’s often hard to keep that enthusiasm alive outside of places like Hillsdale — voyeurism replaces it. Curiosity always wants to see, but never is willing to participate in the mystery. Blanski never fully face-planted into this pitfall because he continually sought truth, committing himself to a process of constant conversion that led him, well … to this book.
Since he graduated from Hillsdale and moved to Minneapolis (and then to the Anglo-Catholic seminary Nashotah House in Wisconsin), Blanski has been something of a indie-Christian phenomenon. He blogs regularly for The Huffington Post. He started his own record label and has self-produced two albums. He’s also published several books, advocating what he calls “Romantic Theology,” which overlays Pope John Paul II’s Trinitarian conception of marital love (man + woman + God = the love that binds them all into a unity) onto the poetic visions of theological poets such as Gerard Manley Hopkins and John Donne.
“An Immovable Feast” is Blanski’s attempt to unify his whole life so far into a narrative of continual conversion toward communion with Christ. The title — a play on Ernest Hemingway’s memoir “A Moveable Feast” — refers to the Mass, but more specifically to the Holy Eucharist, the simultaneous feast and sacrifice where time touches the timeless. The mass is special for Catholics because the service is Christ’s sacrifice on the cross; not a memorial, it is an unbloody co-redemptive participation in that sacrifice. Not recreated or replayed, but lived anew in the eternal now. The Eucharist plays the central role in the mass because by eating it, Catholics believe they directly enter Christ’s ultimate gift on Calvary.
For Blanksi — and nearly every Catholic convert — the story of conversion is the story of an intense desire to eat Christ’s flesh in the Eucharist. To “gnaw his flesh” as Blanski observes the original Greek in the Gospel of John reads. “An Immovable Feast” reads like a dialectic, as Blanski argues with himself (all while rocking out to bands like Arcade Fire and Radiohead), slowly coming to the realization that the Eucharist is love. In it is the community that he first sought. Everything must point to it.
Two things in particular mark Blanski’s story and make it worth reading. The first is his Brown Scapular, a cloth necklace typically worn as a Marian devotion. One of Blanski’s Catholic friends at Hillsdale gave him the Scapular to wear back in the days when Blanski poked fun at people with a Marian devotion. Because he respected his friend so much, Blanski never took the Scapular off — and still has not. He even wears it in the shower.
The second thing is related to the first. By explaining how his relationship with his wife, Brittany, developed, Blanski ties his Romantic Theology into an unexpected Marian devotion.
“There was something about the way things fit together, a kind of music. The way Mary and the saints all dovetailed in Christ, the way they brought glory to the Father in the loving bond of the Holy Spirit, was not only right, but elegant,” he writes. “The edges of where earth touched eternity, like the edges of clouds, seemed to disappear. The communion of saints was more than mood lighting. We all depend on one another, quite literally, for dear life.”
Blanski calls his marriage a “dress rehearsal for Heaven.” Like Mary and the saints in their own lives, Blanski and his wife are growing together on earth so that they can more perfectly unite themselves with God in Heaven — the eternally unmoved feast.