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The Forum allows users to participate in conversations around shared blog posts, taped video encounters, and podcasts. Possible topics for such conversations include current events, Illichian concepts, and the intersection between Illich’s thought and that of others. The specific content of the conversation and the format in which it is conducted is left to participants.  

Join me in: A Relat...
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Join me in: A Relational Journey through Cayley's "Call me Ivan"

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Renee Uribe
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Call me Ivan

A relational view with a maternal twist of Cayley’s Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey (2021)


“‘Call me Ivan,’ said the gaunt, hawk-nosed man, as he extended his hand to those who had come to join us for dinner at our downtown Toronto commune in the fall of 1970.”


Call me Ivan”, are the first three words that welcomed me to the world of Cayley’s text. It was a continuation to my first introduction to Illich in 2019 where I was first drawn to the person of Ivan Illich by the website ( ) developed by the Brazil intellectuals and artists, Neto Leao and Isabelle Cedotti.[1] The title of the website is Gaze: The Way of Friendship. This website initially attracted me into Illich's gaze[2] [3], which has consequently led to a passionate sentipensante[4] connection with Illich. So, I was immediately brought in with Cayley’s narration in Introduction: Ivan Illich as I Knew Him


After attempting to read all things Illich since 2019, in Ivan Illich: An Intellectual Journey, Cayley has taken me by the hand, by the heart and by the mind. You could say ‘I have devoured’ this text, the whole book is filled with underlined passages, circled words/phrases, filled with additional comments and cross-references, as well as purple sticky notes sticking out with main themes. I believe that Cayley would find that his work has found a home, in my hands, mind, and heart. 


 To draw light to what I am describing, I will mention several of themes or thoughts in the sticky notes: Kuhn paradigms (p. 165); Christianity — triumphalism (p. 235), poetry (p. 243); maternal imagery, life=idol, death=prayer (p. 315); prayer, freedom=most precious, independence, renunciation & celebration as keynote of his philosophy (p.319); sacrum–doorway to what is beyond (p. 332); life, managerial missiology (p. 335); system, faith, revelation shaped and gave birth to the modern west (p. 337); woman’s body, private (p. 339); spirituality born in a system (p. 343); and family, modern state, private-public (p. 347). This limited list provides a description of some of the topics that have struck me the most.


What is my lens as I read Cayley? As the Argentine/Mexican philosopher of liberation, Enrique Dussel (also influenced and a friend of Illich, as so many Latin American leading intellectuals) insists, first one’s own locus enuntiationis must be described. Some of the themes listed above lead to hints.

I am a female;

mother of three young adult children;

intercultural life partnership of 30 years with a Colombian male;

have enjoyed a lifelong inspiration of a simple faith in Christ interconnected with a profound awareness of the realism of the historical and current triumphalism and systemic issues with institutional Christian structures (i.e., managerial missiology[5]);

 I come from white, middle-class USA background;

 I love all things Latin American (having lived in my life between these countries: Guatemala, Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, and Colombia);

 academic and lived experience as a theologian/missiologist currently undertaking a PhD in Practical Theology at the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.


But the easiest way to describe it is that my life experiences have led to a relational view with a maternal twist.


Cayley describes his own specific locus enuntiationis. After returning from his own experience as a “volunteer” in development in 1968 full of questions; he discovered an Illich text that “addressed these questions with impressive cogency and conviction but also spoke to me in a deeper, heartful way” (p. 2).[6] So, for the 1970 event about development, Illich was the number one choice for keynote speaker. What does this reveal about Cayley’s context at that time?


Cayley was in a part of a commune community in urban Canada (he was an alternative thinker and was pursuing this counter-cultural experience with others).


He invited Illich to a dinner at the commune (not at a restaurant), “There were no chairs in the room where we were eating, just mattresses covered with Indian bedspreads” (p. 1).


The rest of this essay delves a pursuit of a discovering as to what is revealed about Illich in the first sentence of the book and links to the rest of the text.


First it is important to highlight the four periods Cayley identifies in Illich’s career (p. 16-20):

  1. 1951-1969 Priest in New York, Puerto Rico, and work in Mexico with CIF
  2. 1970-1976 Prolific writing and speaking as a prophetic voice about modern institutions
  3. 1977-1982 Study of the roots of the myth of modernity within historical inquiry
  4. 1982-2002 Study of the from the age of instrumentality to the age of systems


“‘Call me Ivan,’ said the gaunt, hawk-nosed man, as he extended his hand to those who had come to join us for dinner at our downtown Toronto commune in the fall of 1970.”


I believe that it was important to Illich to have a close connection with those he was meeting at the commune.  “Call me Ivan” is a hint to this is his request to be addressed by his first name, while extending his hand.  Illich continued to identify as a Roman Catholic priest even after his 1969 forced withdrawal from official Church service (p. 2). Illich was beginning the second and busiest period of his career (p. 17). Cayley makes it clear that Illich did not want to be addressed primarily by a role, title, or anything else besides a human being called Ivan. It is important to note that he held an exalted rank of monsignor, an honorary title in the Roman Catholic Church (p. 41, 50) since the young age of 31. He is prioritizing his equal footing with this invitation to just call him, ‘Ivan”. But important to note is that Illich does highlight his cultural and ethnic aspect of his identity. Cayley brings to memory, “He indicated the correct Slavic pronunciation-Evan-rather than the English version of his name” (p. 1) [7]


Cayley finds it important to describe Illich’s physical appearance to create a mental picture as well, “gaunt, hawk-nosed man”. How do I find these characteristics connected with Illich physical appearance, identity, and chapters in Cayley’s text?


  1. Gaunt. What does that mean, I have no idea? I just looked it up in the online Oxford Dictionary, “lean and haggard, especially because of suffering, hunger, or age.” In the fall of 1970, Illich was 44. He was always thin (lean), but he must have already shown aspects of being haggard. My assumption is the wear and tear of his already challenging first period of his career was obvious at that time. Carlyle describes in detail, on one hand his involvement with the revolutionary, counter-cultural struggles of that time, in Chapter Two: Cuernavaca). And his struggle with the Roman Catholic Church highest authorities, Chapter Three: Church). Cayley describes the first struggle “Beginning in later years of the 1960s when CIDOC was associated with various currents of revolutionary thought in Latin America, Illich had been ‘shot at and beaten up with chains’ by enemies of his institution.” (p. 9). 


  1. Hawk-nose. Why is this important? Illich refers to his nose quite a bit. First, it represents his Jewish identity from his maternal line. And a memory of the consequences of his Jewishness during WW II. For example, as a young man in Austria in 1938, his nose was pointed to by a school official as a sign of “the blight that we must erase from our land” (p. 29). Also, the Jewish legacy of exile interrelates his Jewish and Christian roots as he understood them. He describes his life as a continual pilgrimage (the early exile is addressed in Chapter One: Exile). “Illich had seen himself as an exile–a man who carried his home on his back–from the age of twelve “(p. 306). Second, he would make fun of his own nose, making references to it being big.  Third, the nose, as one of the bodily senses of smell, highlights the importance of the senses as a way of knowing.  Chap. Nine: Embodiment/Disembodiment delves into Illich’s Fourth period of his career, as in the first half of 1990’s focus of “[his] reading and [his] teaching on the history of the senses” (p. 257).


  1. Man. A gender identity. One reason I find Illich so fascinating, and an ally, is that he can be a male but provides so many insights into the maternal. I hold to a Jungian concept of maternal and paternal as symbolic. Some of his missiological texts for the first phase of his career (Chapter Two: Cuernavaca and Three: Church), as well as Shadow Work (mentioned in Chapter Seven: Certainties) and Gender (Chapter Eight: Gender) have provided important insights and links for the type of maternal lens I have knitted together.


3.1 A man discussing gender and the maternal


I have the sense that he understands me as a biological mother and my mothering vocation, although obviously he was not a female or biological mother. Gender was the final book of his third period of his career [although personally considered it his first book, the previous ones he called pamphleteering (p. 17, 156)]. This period drastically concluded with controversies around Gender.


Chapter Eight: Gender has helped me to understand Illich even more so in these areas that are vital to my personal life and my research. Illich identification of the “genderless man” (p. 242) and a “modern unisex regime” (p. 225) identifies aspects that I sense in modernity. The complexities of these arguments “jump out from the page”, and this is not the moment to delve into the deep waters of gender related discussions. I desire to admit that his thinking resonates with me, and Cayley has assisted in grasping Illich arguments more profoundly.


I would suggest that part of this sensibility of the maternal was his priestly vocation and his understanding of the invisible, spiritual Church as the robust and mysterious She (in contrast to the institutional church which he gave the impersonal pronoun of It). Illich provides a critical understanding of the maternal. I conclude that he uses Jungian[8] perspective of archetypes and uses the maternal image as the nurturing mother but also the devouring mother. One example of this is his critical analysis of the history of the construction of mother tongue (p. 283-88). Another example that is possibly shocking statement, “The Church is a whore, but she is also my mother”[9]). From my research I trace this statement to the same interview Cayley mentions which took place in 1972 with Jean-Marie Domenach (p. 235, 242). The full quote is such,


That I have my roots in the church, makes it a mother, in a sense. We’re stuck with her for life, like you with your wife. And I also know from the Bible that she is a whore. And I wouldn’t be a Roman, a Roman Christian in the church that the Lord founded, if I didn’t have the courage to identify myself as the son of a whore. . .. Let’s accept the ambiguity of being sons of a mother who is unworthy but not one of us. It helps clarify our attitude towards the institution. [10] [11] [12]


This quote could be upsetting to some people. I am not sure as to the reason I have not found the complete quote in any of the Illichian literature I read. But I personally appreciate what I understand to be an Illich’s maternal archetypical metaphor.  It inspires me to embrace my own church Tradition with all its flaws, imperfections, and sins in the spirit of a Buber I-Thou[13] approach. It beautiful escapes a detached object-subject perspective. Also, this radical view of confronting study within the Christian Tradition connects with my own understanding of missiology as the study of the Church from the view of brokenness and vulnerability not from a lens of triumphalism.  Reminding of the US Christian writer, Philip Yancey[14] statement:


 In an odd way the very failures of the church prove its doctrine.

 Grace, like water, flows to the lowest part. 

We in the church have humility and contrition to offer the world, 

not a formula for success. 

Almost alone in our success oriented society,

 we admit that we have failed, 

are failing, 

and will always fail. 

That is why we return to God so desperately.


Illich shines a bright light down this path with I have chosen to walk with his “mixture of hardheaded sociology and mystical theology” (p. 16) with a “deep realism about the Church” (p. 16).


3.2 Illich contribution to maternal imagery to the academic missiological dialogue (highlighting David Bosch)


I desire to point out the link between Illich and the South African theologian and missiologist, David Bosch. Bosch was inspired by Illich’s poetic understanding and description of missiology. Bosch uses Illich in several arguments in the classic Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission: (1991)[15] [16] [17] [18]. The following Illich quote from the first phase of his career as a missiologist, 


The science about the Word of God as the Church in her becoming; the Word as the Church in her borderline situations; the Church as a surprise and a puzzle; the Church in her growth; the Church when her historical appearance is so new that she has to strain herself to recognize her past in the mirror of the present; the Church where she is pregnant of new revelations for a people in which she dawns . . . Missiology studies the growth of the Church in new peoples, the birth of the Church beyond its social boundaries; beyond the linguistic barriers within she feels at home; beyond the poetic images in which she taught her children. . . . Missiology therefore is the study of the Church as surprise (p. 493).


Cayley sums up much of the spirit of Illich in this quote and his vision of mission as such, “He imagined mission as a transformative encounter” (p. 61).  Another way to understand this “transformative encounter” is Illich’s face to face communication, gaze, conspiratio (p. 375-70) and many other basic concepts of his theological, practical, and personal forces[19] of his texts which are based on the trust built directly between people within conviviality (p. 2, 14, 136-39, 467) and friendship (a running theme in Cayley’s book). This contrasts with what Illich identifies as the characteristics of the age of systems (p. 19-20, 246-49, 307, 504n) and outlines a vital system analytic discourse (19, 20, 250-51, 323, 336, 341, 341, 504n). Cayley describes these concepts in a robust manner, knitting together Illich’s texts with other writers and Cayley’s own understanding, in a way that has led me by the hand to a more profound understanding of Illich’s thought.


With this maternal lens, researching a Colombian matricentric[20] context as it is increasingly intertwined and influenced by US Evangelicals, especially in the rapidly expanding megachurches, I am guided by Illich. I believe I am responding to Cayley’s question, “Can this conversation now revive?” I agree with the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in that Illich’s work is finally reaching “the hour of its legibility” (borrowed from Walter Benjamin) (p. 21 & 210). 


Finally, I will highlight a past section of the sentence. Illich “extended his hand to those who had come to join us for dinner”. This was a communal encounter, as several people were at the dinner. It is obvious that not just Cayley and others who resided at the commune, “to those who had come to join us for dinner.” Cayley does not begin with a description of the public event later that night at the auditorium with over 600 people. He first draws us into the intimate setting beforehand with a handful of people enjoying a dinner. He notes, “our guest seemed right at home, hunkered down with us on the floor” (p. 1). “On the floor” was an adaptation of “around the table” conversations. Illich’s flexibility as to creating spaces for conversations are found throughout the book.


 From what I have gotten to know about Illich, these types of “dining room consultations” or “living room consultations” (p. 4)[21]  or how he practiced friendship through conversations around the table, is the best way to describe Illich’s approach to life and to education. Chapter Fourteen: Illich’s Way of Life discusses this in detail. Illich in 1997 expressed, “but always with the idea of bringing people together those who took me seriously in more convivial circumstances” (p. 422). I have noted at the bottom of the page, “bring in those who wanted to learn in friendship,” Cayley provides a concrete and specific example, “During the years he taught at Penn State University between 1985-1995, there were numerous ‘living room consultations’ that gathered groups of twenty or thirty people for three to five days of serious talk, well-watered with ‘ordinary but decent wine’ and interspersed with good meals and long walks” (p. 423).


The relational lens with a maternal twist connects profoundly to this way of living and knowing, as I have experienced the joys of ‘around the table’ discussion, search for knowledge, friendships, and hospitality.



“‘Call me Ivan,’ said the gaunt, hawk-nosed man, as he extended his hand to those who had come to join us for dinner at our downtown Toronto commune in the fall of 1970.”


 Cayley takes the reader by the hand, heart, and mind to discover Illich in the texts from the four stages of his career. But above all I have discovered Cayley gently opening a door to his own friendship with Ivan who is now my friend. I have heard and accepted the same invitation that Cayley heard that day at the Toronto commune dinner, in 1970. . . a hand extended to mine with the welcoming, “Call me Ivan.”


[1] This website was sent my way by one of their family members, as they attempted to ask for donations to embark upon an adventure to continue to interact and interview Illich’s main friends around the world.

[2] A maternal lens can describe a mother’s first gaze of her child, which normally leads to a lifetime relationship with that newborn, as a similar way to my first glimpse of Illich through this website (quotes, videos of interviews with some of Illich’s friends: David Cayley, Christopher Kotanyi, Mother Abbess David, David Schwartz, and Sajay & Samer. Sajay and Samer’s interview (their last names were not included) was the interview which touched me the most, alongside Mother Abbess David’s interview. At that time, as a mother who enjoys her first gaze with her newborn has no idea of the adventures ahead together, so I would have never imagined the relationship I have developed with Illich and some of his friends. In Nov. 2019, I was able to join Neto and Isabelle in an interview in Oaxaca with another close friend of Illich, Gustavo Esteva (Cayley mentions him pp. 143-50, 199, 489n, 490n). (I join those who are mourning his recent passing.)

[3] The maternal twist is inspired in my own lived experience and the independent scholar, Genevieve Vaughan in the area of Maternal Gift Economy, inspires this metaphor, pointing to language as the first gift maternal gift.

[4] Sentipensante (Thinking and Feeling way of knowing) is added to scholarly writing by one of the many Latin Americans that Illich collaborated with, the Colombian Sociologist, Orlando Fals-Borda.

[5] Term coined by Peruvian missiologist, Samuel Escobar in “A Movement Divided: Three Approaches to World Evangelization Stand in Tension with One Another.” Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies 8, no. 4 (October 1991): 7–13.

[6]  This mirrors my own feelings as I have gotten to know Illich. He answers my questions with cogency and speaks to me in a heartfelt, profound manner.

[7] I do not write Evan in the phonetic manner Cayley does, due to technical difficulties).

[8] Jung is quoted in Cayley’ text many times (78, 114, 171, 361, 394, 450, 454).

[9] I am not sure that Cayley uses this exact quote but have found this quote in other Illichian texts, i.e., Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s article, “Ivan Illich’s true legacy: on the so-called ‘sacralization of life’. Conspiratio, Fall 2021, p. 48.

[10] original 1972 Interview in French with English subtitles, at 9:37 min.

[11] I will borrow Leao’s (2022) description of identifying the difference between church and Church, It and She. “It is important to make a clarification regarding the use of the words church or Church (capital C) throughout the text. When I use church, I mean the institution, the “it”, which embraces the bureaucracy, the administration, and the apparatus of the Catholic tradition. When I use Church, I mean the Mystical Body of Christ, the “She”, not always visible nor necessarily under the wings of the church. By making such distinction I am not saying that the Catholic church is not within the Mystical Body of Christ, to which I call Church, where Christ is the head (see St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, his first and second letter to the Corinthians and his letter to the Colossians). I rather use Church to embrace communities and forms-of-life not necessarily under the approval or recognition of the church to avoid narrowing the Mystical Body to one institution. If the analysis of this essay was one concerning the Lutheran church, or the Baptist church or the churches of Christ I would follow the same method of differentiation between the church “it” and the Church “She”. The distinction, not the way I apply it, between the church “it” and the Church “She” can also be seen in Ivan Illich, The Powerless Church (2018).”                                                                                                       

[12]  US Catholic Anarchist, Dorothy Day, uses this same metaphor in 1967 article,

[13] Martin Buber is not mentioned by Cayley, but was intended to be used as this unpublished chapter shows, “Echoes, Affinities, Resonances: Ivan Illich in Contemporary Thought” April 16, 2019 on DAVIDCAYLEY.COM,

[14] Reaching for the Invisible God. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

[15] This vital link to the academic field of missiology is not identified in Cayley’s book.

[16] I interviewed Bosch’s widow, Annemie Bosch for my doctoral research (2021). I asked if she knew of the links between her husband and Illich and she did not find any correspondence. But the specific Illich text Bosch is quoting was printed in Zimbabwe in 1973. It Southern Africa context could be a connection to be researched. Mission and Midwifery: Essays on Missionary Formation. Gwelo (Gweru): Zimbabwe:

Mambo Press, 1974.

[17] Transforming Mission (p. 436, 493 & 264-5 sounds like Illich’s reasoning but Illich is not quoted).

[18] “This is a well-informed and courageous study of the theology of mission and the first to implement paradigm theory for the understanding of mission." --Hans Kung

[19] Neto Leao has identified these three main lines of force that charge Illich’s text: theological, practical, and personal in his recent PhD (2022), as well as his article “How to read Ivan Illich” Conspiratio, Fall 2021, p. 90-112.

[20] Serrano, E. Por Que Fracasa Colombia? Bogota, CO: Planeta, 2016, based on extensive research of Colombian Anthropologist, Virginia Gutierrez de Pineda.

[21] I would suggest that Cayley add these terms to the index, as neither is listed but were vital terms for Illich’s life work and academic philosophy.


Posted : 06/07/2022 5:08 pm
Posts: 6
Active Member

great finds with a profound explanation.  many thanks to you for pointing that out. 😍 


Posted : 17/02/2024 5:26 am