That Ms. Sundel happens to be Jewish is a sign of the Jesus Year's widespread appeal. “Want to know what's weird?” she confides. “I was brought up more religious than your average Jew. Like my parents are the kind of people that will tell me that they're going to disown me if I don't marry a Jew. But they immediately got it – as did all their friends. In a weird way, their Jewish friends in their 60s in Florida are some of my biggest supporters. They saw it for the quest aspects and the discoveries.”
She pauses. She has the over-conscious sensibility of one who has become a believer – in something – despite her natural instincts. “I thought maybe I would be taking more heat from religious Christians, but in fact they're like, ‘I never thought about 33 as being such a special year.'”
Reinvention, it seems, is an incredibly powerful image. Even the strangers who showed up to buy her stuff off Craigslist expressed a surprisingly deep admiration for what she was doing.
When her grandfather died midway through her Jesus Year, she was alone in Paris, devastated. A guy from Canada she knew only as Joe contacted her, one searcher to another. “He said he wanted to be a kind of like an angel to me, to tell me that what I was doing was meaningful and that it had effected him,” she recalls. “Honestly, that moment alone was worth the whole year for me.”
A visit to Joe's blog, NoFixedAddress, reveals the epiphanies of a young backpacker out on a gap year. “I've learned that the world is full of people quick to tell you the things you can't do, the things you shouldn't do and the things that won't work,” he writes. “The instant you ignore them, you will meet the people who will tell you all the things you can do, all the things that are possible, and how to fix the things that aren't working.”
What would Jobs do?
It's not insignificant that on the last day of her Jesus Year, Ms. Sundel ended her blog post by quoting Silicon Valley icon Steve Jobs, who consistently interrupted his business ventures to embark upon spiritual quests: “You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.”
Ms. Sundel's epiphanies, sprinkled throughout the 33 – yes, 33 – pages on her Tumblr blog, are not unlike what you'd hear on a Sunday morning in any reasonable place of worship. “The ideas, I think, are in line with Jesus's teaching: to help each other, and try to see the good in other people. To have meaningful connections to other people, and not just superficial ones.”
The now 34-year-old is back in the United States and is pitching her Jesus Year project as a book, a sign that today's path to enlightenment has not only been paved by Jesus, but also by Eat, Pray, Love's Elizabeth Gilbert.
“I'm not surprised,” Prof. Mitchell remarks. “It's a trademark of today's technologically savvy, social networking young adult. They have to be creative and innovative in terms of thinking about the possibilities of earning a living.”
Chris Koentges is an award-winning Vancouver writer. Shelley Youngblut is western editor of The Globe and Mail, based in Calgary.