The Meaning of Life in 10 Questions… Rev. James Martin, S.J.

We started the Meaning of Life series with the intention of showcasing some of the amazing minds that we are fortunate enough to work with in the creative industry. Ultimately though, all of the great people working behind the camera with us are only part of the story. We’ve decided to open this up to some of our subjects and have them explain themselves. “The meaning of Life” may be a little far flung to answer in only ten questions, but hopefully these interviews will serve to distill some of the inspired and captivating energy of the people that we are lucky to meet and photograph.

There was a time in my life that I thought, just maybe, I should become a man of the cloth. My mother told me that if was meant to be, that I would most likely hear some sort of divine calling. Fortunately for this blog, divinity never spoke to me. The same is not true for Father Jim Martin who is currently in the lead as my favorite subject of the year. Jesuit Priest, author, editor, and Colbert Report Chaplain, I’ll let him tell the rest…

1. Name one actor in one movie to represent you as a teenager?

Well, I wasn’t as cool as Matthew Broderick in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” I wasn’t as, um,  resourceful as Tom Cruise in “Risky Business,” and I wasn’t as geeky as pretty much every other male movie-teenager (at least in the 1980s, the Golden Age of Teen Movies), so I’ll go with John Cusack in “The Sure Thing.”   Plus, my friend’s parents swore he was a dead-ringer for me.  And vice-versa. I couldn’t see it, though–even when I had hair.

2. What is your preferred vehicle or mode of transportation?

Amtrak’s Quiet Car, that is, when the riders are actually quiet.

 3. What is your favorite beverage for creative inspiration?

Altar wine. Which I only drink during Mass, of course.

4. Name your favorite band/singer and album?

No contest: Elvis Costello’s “My Aim is True.”  Greatest album ever recorded.   The soundtrack to my freshman year in college.

 5. How did you get where you are today?

After I graduated from the Wharton School of Business in 1982,  I took a job at General Electric, in their finance division.  After a few years, I started to realize that I was in the wrong place, and that I needed to do something else.   But after spending so much time in business, I couldn’t imagine what that “something else” would be.  One night I came home, turned on the TV and stumbled on a documentary about a Trappist monk and writer named Thomas Merton.  The life he led seemed so appealing, so beautiful, so romantic, that I started to think about entering a religious order, though I knew zero about it.  From that inchoate desire, however, God was able to work.  In the end, God gave me an answer to a question that I hadn’t even asked.  People think that “getting a call” is some supernatural or mystical thing; often it’s God just working through simple human desire.

6. Where do you source your inspiration?

That’s easy, too. Any inspiration I receive comes from the original source of the word: from the Holy Spirit. The one who in-spires, who puts the Spirit into you.   That doesn’t mean everything I write is divinely inspired–needles to say–but I trust that the desire to write about something, and the talent to do it, comes from God.

 7. What is your philosophy on creating and inspiring?

First, write only when you have something to say.  Second, trust that God will move you when the time is right to say it in the right way.  And third–since there should always be a third thing–edit and re-edit your stuff as much as you can.  Then edit it again.

8. Describe a defining moment in your career that has led you to where you are today?

In the mid-1990s, when I was working in Kenya during my Jesuit training, I visited a refugee camp outside Nairobi, and felt a passionate desire to write about what I had seen: the poverty, the struggles of the people, and the hope and resilience.   It took me several tries to get the piece published, but it finally appeared in America magazine, where I work today.   That was the beginning of my writing life.  It also taught me that the desire to communicate is itself a gift, and should be reverenced–and paid attention to.

 9. Name one person you dream of encountering and why?

Oh, that’s easy, too: Jesus.  For what I hope are obvious reasons.  Hope he’s happy to see me, too.

10. If the world is ending in 2012, how will you change your life plan?

That question was once asked of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, a 16th-century Jesuit, who was playing pool at the time.  He was asked by a fellow Jesuit: What would happen if the world were about to end?  What would you do?  “Keep playing pool,” he said.  In other words, your whole life should be lived with the end in mind.  It’s quite clarifying.  Why would you want to live any other way?

Make sure to follow @JamesMartinSJ on twitter and if you’ve been inspired by his thoughts today, I highly recommend Between Heaven and Mirth, his latest book which explores the deep connections between humor, laughter, joy, and faith.