A chaplain, his cerebral palsy, and the philosophy that guides him

Stephen Faller’s series of wise reflections on being alive

Three stories run through Stephen Faller’s philosophical memoir, overlapping in a way that, at a bare minimum, will make a reader say out loud, “What a remarkable person!” These threads are the narrator’s immersive understanding of Greek philosophy, his search for a vocation in ministry, and his cerebral palsy. The last came first and remains Faller’s context, condition, and companion on the journey, but never his scourge, excuse, or reason for self-pity.

The book is modeled on the countercultural philosopher Robert Pirsig’s classic book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. You don’t need to have been one of the five million readers of Zen in order to appreciate Faller’s work. (I ­wasn’t.) But it does shed light on some of Faller’s terminology and his philosophical mysticism. The same could be said about Plato, Socrates, Heraclitus, Thoreau, and Kierkegaard: they appear in the book but are not required reading. Faller’s quest for self-understanding and vocation is compelling on its own terms. 

Pirsig’s book tells the story of a cross-country motorcycle trip taken with his son, friends, and a shadowy figure named Phaedrus. Along the way, the narrator gives seminars on many of life’s persistent problems. Faller’s narrative follows the same structure, minus the road trip.