Is God Dead? – Part Three

Angry with God today?

Is anger understating your feelings towards God? Or if not today have you ever been enraged, hateful, irate, indignant, or resentful? Perhaps you have been accusatorial of God’s benign presence in the midst of suffering or even assign him direct responsibility for evil or pain that has afflicted you?resentment

Denying God today?

Or you are by now beyond God, you have no anger or hatred with God, for you have come to deny the existence of any deity at all.  If you have reached this point, then yes, God is Dead to you.  You are not alone in your position:

“”According to the latest international survey data, as reported by Ariela Keysar and Juhem Navarro-Rivera in the recently published Oxford Handbook of Atheism, there are approximately 450-500 million non-believers in God worldwide, which amounts to about 7% of the global adult population. And according to the Pew Research Center, if we broaden the category to include all non-religious people in general — those unaffiliated adults who do not identify with any religion — we’re talking 1.1 billion people, which equals about 16.5% of the global adult population. As such, “non-religious” is actually the third largest “religion” in the world, coming only behind Christianity (in first place) and Islam (in second). Thus, there are more secular men and women on planet earth — many of whom are atheists and agnostics — than there are Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Sikhs, Jains, or Jews.”

The Decision to abandon Faith

If you are among the people who have never had a dark night of questioning God’s existence, count yourself as truly blessed.  Your experience is not the norm.   Understanding this will prepare you for helping those unfortunates who do not hold your gift of grace and cross your path in a state of disbelief.

For the rest of us mortals who have had experiences with great anger or outright disbelief, I believe the root of our malevolent state of being to be the conundrum of pervasive suffering and evil.  And it sometimes leads to people quietly leaving the faith or leaving with thunder and wrath.  What to we really offer people who suffer the unjust misery and suffering?  Do we condemn their lack of faith?  Their lack of trust in God?  What decisions they have made or actions they failed to take to avoid such suffering and misery?

What have we done? 

When you have experienced suffering, visible for all to see or hidden from public view, who did you turn to for help?  Did you turn to God and find silence?   Perhaps you turned to friends in times of great strife?  Did your friends offer you platitudes or condolences? How many times have you heard or even offered yourself these traditional phrases:

  • “I will pray for you and your family”
  • “I am so sorry for your loss”
  • “He was so young. God must have called him home”
  • “You will get over this in time, God is at your side, have faith”
  • “God heals all, you have to have faith”
  • “No one truly knows God’s plans”

Hit with deep personal pain or witnessing unexplainable tragedy – these responses from people of faith are simply insufficient unless accompanied by other more tangible actions.  Often they are not accompanied by more than a passing smile and perhaps a sympathy card.  These responses, despite being well-meaning and genuine, come off as shallow and incongruous with the situation. This is not enough.

The mass shootings in the United States highlight the issue.  People don’t want prayers – they want action.  Family members with a loved one in the throws of addiction don’t want prayers, they want help and recovery for their loved one.  People who have lost a child to evil don’t want condolences, they want their child back.

If not you personally, the global suffering we witness every day is so overwhelming that we become numb to human tragedy. We are so often powerless to effect change in the constant stream of misery that we witness everyday – if not suffered personally.

Are we not secretly at times separated from the suffering person and cognitively distancing ourselves mentally for our own sanity – hoping we cannot or will not suffer the same fate?  If not would we not be in a perpetual state of immense grieving and uncontrollable sobbing?

Our approach to coping with suffering, evil, and even death itself is the greatest “cleaver” of faith that our society faces today.  We have attempted to white wash life in an illusion of control of our destinies.  We have come to expect a life where we are entitled to certain possessions, status, health, and other temporal acquisitions if only we work for it and others are not irrationally cooperating!

We are unprepared for the crushing blows of major disappointments, grave injustices, personal failure, violence, and other soul shattering experiences.   And when they strike us our spiritual foundation is often found wanting and unable to sustain us through the storm – we blame God or deny him.  Or we blame others and deny them.

We mistakenly believe if we do everything right, if our government does its job, if our doctors are practicing good medicine, if all the “others” would only do their part – we would be safe from tragedy.   And yet we see everyday innocent people swept up in tragedy.  How do we maintain the illusion of suffering that it only comes to “others” until it comes for us?

We should be yelling from the roof tops and in the streets about the injustices we see daily.  We should be consoling the poor and the suffering not with platitudes and prayers but with blood, sweat, and tears.  We can pray too – but let that be quietly and in private for our strength and perseverance in the midst of immense suffering.  We cannot be blind to suffering.  We cannot be numb to evil actions.  We cannot ignore our neighbors near or far.  We should be listening and hearing voices of disbelief and anger towards God and embracing these voices with understanding and love.   We can only do that genuinely if we do so prepared and with spiritual grounding – spiritual love that transcends the human experience.

Spiritual Foundation?

This denial of suffering (and our mortality) coupled with a weak a spiritual foundation leaves us vulnerable alienation from fellow man and God.  We are unprepared for genuine response to the suffering of others or for when it visits us uninvited.

God is not dead when suffering strikes us – our spiritual immaturity has left us unable to reach out to God or hear his whispers.  We are dependent on temporal things and human affections before God.  When these human possession are threatened we become unmoored.  We are unable to cope with the slightest inconveniences, never mind great misery and suffering.

Analyze your own Suffering? 

I know a little about suffering – though not enough to claim martyrdom. My family was engulfed by alcoholism. My parents, whose hearts and souls were contradictorily of pure intention and love, were compromised by their disease progression, domestic violence, the onset of poverty, and eventually premature death for my father. Myself, and my six older siblings took in more than our share of hidden and not so hidden emotional and spiritual bruises. Two of us would go to our deaths in a state of great suffering.  Our suffering was both visible and invisible.  We were Catholic and all attended Catholic School.  The church, nor our community, had answers for the particular flavor of suffering that afflicted my family.  My accounts of shame, pride, fear, failure, success, and struggle to cope with the meaning of life and the presence of God exceeds this post.  I however knew God from an early age and my relationship with God and the Catholic Church was complicated from the beginning.

Suffice it to say I had good reason to doubt in a merciful and loving God.  And yet after several rounds of a contentious relationship with God – I am in the camp of God is alive and well and it is our souls that are asleep and dead to God.   My suffering bought me to places that I would rather not go.  At the same time, it liberated me from certain preconceived notions about myself and about humanity.  My suffering, and witnessing suffering in others, has bought me closer to God and closer to mankind.  That is  where I am today.  How did I get here back with the God that I once declared he was dead?

Rediscovering God? 

gratitudeFirst, let me give you the cliché answer that Catholics will tell you – by God’s grace.  I say this as I by myself have created nothing.  Any revelation or spiritual consolation that sustains me is not of my own making.    There have been countless books, several priest consults, spiritual books, spiritual retreats, and many hours of contemplation that have restored my faith.  Beyond that there were everyday people that beamed with God’s grace that had something I once thought was naivety but later I came to understand was hard earned wisdom.  And there were periods of turning my back on God, of self-destruction and self-absorption that in my case, were necessary to help me expand my horizons.

Transforming Suffering?

Rediscovering God has not eliminated suffering for me.  Rediscovering God has transformed suffering into something meaningful beyond comprehension.   I almost feel like my cross to carry is insignificant relative to others (and it is) and yet feel like it is too much for me.  The truth is I am not able to manage pain and suffering with any dignity unless I do so through God.  Some greater than me in spirit pray for God to give them more suffering if it is his will.  I can barely manage “God’s will, not mine, be done” before my mind’s eye is fixed on my next human affection (or affliction!).

I have been discussing suffering that is undeserved (in my view) and unjust.  Unexplainable suffering.  There is another kind of suffering.  Some people are angry as they have come to recognize their lives are built on fraudulent temporal things like power, greed, selfishness, lust, and other human desires that at the end of the day leave them empty and miserable.  There is simply not enough human pleasure to satiate the human spirit or feed our narcissistic self-importance when we are living contrary to the laws of God.

Transforming Love?

Rediscovering God transforms love as well as suffering.  I mentioned people who are suffering require “tangible actions.”  Expression of selfless love to a person who is suffering can take many forms.   It is given without expectation, carefully, and thoughtfully.  It is devoid of any expectation of returns.  It just is living to do the next right thing.  It knows no boundaries.   Receiving love as well is an art of willful gratitude and openness without ownership.  We cannot possess it and freeze it in time.  It is also limitless and infinite if we respect its true God given essence.

Integrating Love and Suffering:

God is present no matter the temporal reality that we are experiencing at any moment.  Our cooperation in the moment with acceptance of what is, intentional spiritual consciousness of how we are called to act in any given moment, persistence and patience while in the throws of darkness, and immense gratitude when experiencing love and joy, are all fluid and one with God’s will.  If only I was always on this spiritual high.  If we all lived this way no suffering would shake our faith.

Wait a minute – you don’t know what I have been through?  

I have known death of loved ones.  I have known personal failure.  I have known sickness and poor health.  I have witnessed many people suffering.  And yes I have no idea what you the reader have been through.

I know of your suffering as I know intimately of global suffering all over the world.  In my prayers I can be bought to tears by our inhumanity to each other.  In contemplation I can become overwhelmed with emptiness and lack of understanding. In moments of   confusion and helplessness, I like Job, want answers now.

I believe that a thoughtful and open minded journey exploring one’s faith, one’s suffering, and one’s life long loves or joys can restore and strengthen lost faith.  I also believe finding genuine faith that is well discerned will improve us and the people around us.

This three part series on “Is God Dead” was ignited by a new reading of the Book of Job.  I have learned that you and I should challenge our faith, ourselves, and those around us when faith is in question or when we or a neighbor is suffering.  It is a call to universal arms that we fight suffering, love one another, and embrace spirituality.  Mine just happens to be Christianity in form.

God by another name?

ec81e2a33b68c57b057c1ff99a0ca76b--heart-designs-thich-nhat-hanh

The name on the shingle of the church is secondary to the actions of people inside the temple. What we do with love and suffering outside the temple is also testament to the fidelity of the shingle holder’s ability to carry the word of God. Those without a shingle (without a church) are not off the hook either. The 1.1 billion people have a shared social contract with us based on moral evolution as a species that shares many of the values shared by our religious institutions.  That being said, I would be remiss and lacking an authentic voice if I did not say find a catholic spiritual advisor, preferably a Jesuit, to explore the faith and your objections to Christianity today, gently and with love.

thCELJAR0P

 Secular benefit?

There is evidence out there that faith is good for your general well-being and happiness.  Review the science if you are skeptical.  Many “well-being” models of therapy employ techniques that are borrowed from religions with rich spiritual practices and traditions.  Mindfulness, Yoga, Tai Chi and many forms of meditation can trace portions of their practices to religion.  They can be helpful in and of themselves – but let me say they are also temporal and missing the main ingredient, genuine spirituality and connection to a higher universal meaning.  Some orthodox religious believers see these practices as dangerous and even heretical in nature.  I do not prescribe to this assertion but can see their point that practices aimed solely at self-soothing, avoiding pain and discomfort, and seeking personal peace can be misapplication of effort and ultimately spiritually limiting.

How can I return to God?  

I firmly believe you cannot “crowd source” faith.  It is helpful to have company of faithful people – but ultimately faith is an individual responsibility.  Without individual responsibility religious institutions and your faith run the risk of becoming human created cults operating on superficial clichés of dead letters quoted in ancient text.   The institutions and their believers can become enveloped in the very evils that faith preaches against.  My church as well as every religious institution has to reconcile this threat everyday.  No one individual or set of individuals owns the faith of any great religion.  Study history and you will find grave errors by every religious institution  known to mankind executed in God’s name.

This by the way is what I take Nietzsche meant when he said “God is Dead.”  Individuals ceded personal responsibility for their faith to rigid religious institutions and became docile in their beliefs.  Ironically his philosophy was used by Nazi Germany to let a charismatic leader lead a docile people into being partners in one of the greatest evils of all time.

Simply stated:

Love your neighbor as yourself and help alleviate suffering whenever you see it. Simple. As for God’s role and responsibility, pre and post Christ, I believe it is still up to us to live up to his expectations, not the other way around.

The Longer Path:

I was struggling to bring this three part series to a close.  I was keenly aware that the pain and suffering that people are experiencing cannot be relieved by my writing alone.  I am deeply saddened by our collective isolation and alienation from God.  I am aware that as long as I am mortal my search for proximity to God and spiritual transcendence will never be fulfilled.

Suffering remains a part of our experience – both in human misery and in spiritual distance from our creator.

I went to retire last night and was provided closure to this post by para phrasing Pope Francis:

“….we must love God and our neighbor – and this is not comfortable. It is demanding, and requires us to strive, which means having a decisive and persevering will to live according to the Gospel.”

“the Lord will not recognize us on account of our titles, but only on account of a humble life, a good life, a life of faith that results in works.”

“Spending our lives for the good of our brothers and sisters for Christians means that we are called to restore a true communion with Jesus, praying, going to Church, approaching the Sacraments and nourishing ourselves on His Word. This maintains us in faith, nourishes our hope, revives charity.”

“In this way with the grace of God, we can and must spend our life for the good of our brothers and sisters, struggling against every form of evil and of injustice.”

I mentioned earlier comforting those who suffer with tangible actions.  The sufferer may also be ourselves.  Faith is not a passive activity.  It is not waiting at a bus stop for the God bus to arrive.  It is inside us and all around us to be lived and participated in every moment.

Strive to understand suffering and faith today

Make a e decisive and persevering will  to live a holy life today 

Restore a true communion with God (through exploration of your faith)

Join the struggle against every form of evil and of injustice

Find time for spiritual contemplation daily to make sure you take full ownership of your faith and your works and that they are truly aligned with your greater purpose here on earth, consciously and actively  

May this post find you in a good spiritual place ready to embrace love and suffering with resolve and appropriate intentional living.  Thank you for visiting my site today.

Is God Dead – Part Two

As long as man has known God and God has no man both have been disappointed and aggrieved.  Before examining if “God is Dead” it maybe helpful to understand that we are not the first individuals or generation to question how a personal and all powerful God could seemingly sit idle as tragedy and evil rains on earth.

th78BX3VY0

Turn to the Book of Job in the Old Testament and read of his plight.  An innocent and upstanding man of God crushed by a test of loyalty posed to God by Satan himself.  My Christian roots of course lay on a foundation of Jewish tradition.  In essence we share the same God – but are torn apart by our lack of knowledge on how to truly live a holy life despite quite strong belief that we hold the most authentic words of God and tradition in our respective religions.

A new translation was published and released last week by Jewish scholar Edward Greenstein.  What could be new about a book centuries old and studied and translated by thousands of biblical scholars?  You have to buy his book to really grasp the tenuousness of truly understanding the complexity of translated religious text passed down through the centuries, told in different languages, and stored on fragments of paper.  Even if were able to ensure the accuracy of every word, comma, and cultural reference – we would still be left with applying the meaning to today’s world.

If anything, Greenstein’s publication of an ancient text and review of old assumptions and definitive meanings celebrates that the living word is truly never beyond exploration and interpretation.  The revelation of the text meaning and its application to our moral actions is ever changing despite core elements being beyond malleability.  The challenge is knowing the difference.  In today’s world we have greatly lost the art of religious and philosophical discourse, that contrary to popular belief, can actually strengthen faith rather than destroy it.

As mentioned in Part I, Nietzsche is famous for his quote God is Dead.  I have used him academically to both defend that God is Dead as well as to defend years later that God is alive (and it is religion that needs saving by man).  One can see this today as churches seek more lay person involvement, more transparency, and accountability.

greThe Book of Job presenting an honest and innocent man persecuted by Satan to settle a wager with God. Job enters a conversation with friends and eventually his deity (Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, Elihu, and God (referred to in the book as the diety, Eloah, or El as described in Jewish Tradition). Jb’s friends are clinging to salvation theology as Job rallies to hear from God directly.  Below is a very thin capture of some ideas exchanged – but a full reading of Job is required to capture Greenstein’s narrative that Job was not a passive recipient of suffering – he was vocal and very much aggrieved at being subject to such suffering.  Ho would your friends support you today if you rallied against God?  Here is some excerpts to give you a flavor – but far from the dialogue and interchange of reading the material in it’s entirety:

E: “Pray, Listen and Know Yourself”
J: “That Eloah grant what I hope for? That Eloah would comply and crush me! Release his hand and cleave me!”
B: Espouses traditional retribution wisdom – explains J’s suffering has a cause, even if he is not aware of the offenses.
J: “It is all the same. And so I declare: The innocent and the guilty he brings to the same end. While (his) scourge brings death to fools, He laughs at the trials of the spotless.”
“Very few are the days of my lifespan – Look away from me, so I may have a respite. Before I go and do not return, To a land of darkness and deep-shade; A land whose brightness is like pitch-black, Deep-shade and disorder; That shines like pitch-black.”
Z: Can you fathom the depths of Eloah?
J: I am not inferior to you. Do you think I know not that Eloah is greater than I. Do you not know I have learned the same wisdom as you? “He removes language from orators.” He abuses his majestic power. How can we present our grievances? “It is an argument with El I desire.”
E: “Does a sage such windy speech. It will be proven false.”
J: “My spirit has been bruised, my days are on the wane, my grave is ready.” Why does El care?
E: You speak from “The place of one who knows not El.”
J: “I make an outcry – is there no justice.”
Z: There is divine justice. You lack patience and understanding. Where is your humility?
J: Your responses are futile to my situation. I am innocent and blameless and have no recourse.
E: “Your own mouth denounces your crime, As you adopt a devious tongue. Your own mouth condemns you, Not I; Your own lips testify against you.”
J: I seek El always. I tell the truth. I am an honest man. “But east I go, and he is not (there); And west, but I do not discern him. North, in his concealment I do not grasp (him), He cloaks (himself) south, so I do not see (him).
J: “I know you will return me to death, the meeting house of all who lived.”

hqdefault

Reading the book of Job did not necessarily bring me relief that our God is a merciful and just God.  It certainly did not “solve” the problem of suffering or “prove” the existence of God.  Job’s retorts are cutting with cunning and desperation – yet defiance.

It did however shine on light on the importance of honesty, soul searching, and dialogue with friends, family, and God on the true meaning of life including love and suffering.

How could we look at suffering today without referencing the book of Job?

End of Part II – Is God Dead?

 

Is God is Dead? – Part One

How can I put this succinctly? God, in my time of need you abandoned me. I suffered when I was unable to defend myself in my youth. My voice was taken from me. My youth was stolen. To this day I carry scars of your indifference. As a child of God, I like Job, was blameless for the tragedies and suffering that surrounded me. I need not detail them here for you. You know them in detail. My readers need not know my details as well. They know when you have abandoned them. I am not alone, if people are honest. They had to face your absence when they were most in need of you.
Our priest despite detailed accounts by St. Theresa of Avilla (the Dialogue) laying out their perverse ways – are centuries later no better if not worse than the common thief. The child sexual predator is indeed at the bottom of the hierarchy in any jail – disdained and spit on by convicts and jailors alike. And yet our church has provided a safe harbor for them, equipped with a home, disguises of various bright colors, retreat houses, legal supports, transfers, and access to innocent children. If you are a personal God who uses all that is available to you, how have you not used spiritual warriors and institutions of justice to expose and end this evil harbored within your own church? Surely this was a place for execution of Divine Providence. Were these priest truly acting safely under the stewardship of the devil, reveling in their free will knowing that you would not act?
You prosecute or abandon the holy as well. Our church makes saints of martyrs who died in your name. Where were you when they were they murdered for preaching your message? You left Mother Teresa for decades, dry of spiritual consolation while she fed and served your impoverished and sickly children. And what about those children? Worldwide Genocide, Rape, War, Abortion, Starvation, Diseases, Disasters, Legalized murder, Illness, Disabilities, and crippling Pain crush good people. Is this Diving Providence?
I am not counted among the Holy caste or included in the group of those who perpetuate great evils. I am just an everyday man seeking your presence and striving to do the next right thing moment by moment. Your benign indifference left me scarred and battered. My trust in mankind and you fractured. My trust in myself a shambles. My heart and soul riddled with shame, fear, anger, self-debasement, and sadness. Eventually numbness and survival took precedent. My ways became far from perfect and I made many grave errors along the way. I was no longer blameless like Job, and I was left weak and fragile in the ways of holiness despite yearning for your saving grace. My weakness and fragility only further debilitated my ability to serve you and grow in living a virtuous life. I have gave up on you several times in early life – even having claimed you to be dead to others in the height of my pain. Nietzsche was my God, philosophy my safe nhaven, and alcohol my friend. While I have ownership today of my personal responsibility in my failures, the landscape of good and evil inheritances is dispersed arbitrarily in this living hell. Is this divine providence?
I do not know how to be a good apologetic for the faith in the face of this world’s unjust and oppressive nature. Sure I could give my subjective experiences and suffering. I could tell numerous stories of my perceptions of when you have answered my prayers or simply knocked me in the head when I was too stubborn to pray. The grace that I perceive you have given me can be seen though as either a) blatant delusion and spiritual narcissism or b) insignificant relative to the immense suffering of others. Where is their help?
Surely a God of your power could provide a way for us to develop spiritual formation without spiritual deprivation and for some, a misery so profound here on earth, that hell is seemingly recreated. Like Job, I demand you reveal yourself.  You no longer have credible witnesses on earth. The church has fallen even though its edifices stand tall and its pews collect the wounded still each Sunday. More have left quietly in sadness and disbelief or with great anger and rage. Is this your divine providence?
Priest today are incapable of defending the faith. Their sermons on suffering and salvation are reaching few. Even spiritual direction one on one is lacking substance to explain the state of things – relying on strained salvation theology that is over two thousand years old.

trinity-salvation-saving-grace-plan

Show us how we are supposed to live a sanctified life amidst the evil and suffering in this world.  Where is the evidence of Jesus’s atonement for us, where is the holy spirit guiding mankind?

End of Is God Dead Part I

The Teachings of Meister Eckhart: An Invitation to Experience God in Every Moment

The Teachings of Meister Eckhart: An Invitation to Experience God in Every Moment

I listened to this book via audible (amazon) authored by James Finley.  Now I have to go to the source – 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart.  James’s handling of the mystic’s sermons served a ten-thousand-foot view of contemplative thought that polished some of my jagged edges in my spiritual practices.  His writings and thoughts were not free of controversy, making him even more attractive to some seeking controversy rather than spiritual harmony with God.

You need not go to the 13th century to find controversy – I advise against it as most will pay you no mind quoting a 13th-century mystic, which although quite relevant today, is still not considered a doctor of the church.  Pope John Paul II did quote this mystic though, and he has many Catholic/Christian believers that are inspired by his writings.

In 1985 the Pope, John Paul II, said:

“Did not Eckhart teach his disciples: ‘All that God asks you most pressingly is to go out of yourself – and let God be God in you’? One could think that, in separating himself from creatures, the mystic leaves his brothers, humanity, behind. The same Eckhart affirms that, on the contrary, the mystic is marvelously present to them on the only level where he can truly reach them, that is in God.”

His works are free on the web, and he has a society following him today.  As with all mystics I imagine, there is an issue of transcendence without having ever done the work of knowing any form or grounding of our spiritual direction.  There is always a danger of misinterpretation and spiritual unmooring when reading a complicated mystic, from a different century, who has lived a life immersed in prayer, that many of us may never come close to in our practices.   I could teach the basic mechanics of chess in about a day and perhaps, if you have natural talent, even provide some complex strategy and tactics that may give you enough confidence to play solo in amateur events.  It is doubtful though that you would be able to elevate your game beyond the literal and into intuitive knowledge and mastery at the level of the great masters of the game.   Try flying a plane after having flown a kite.

Today, there is a tendency to want to leap right into the deep end of the mystical thought without any firmament to support the great weights one may encounter – or even the ability to be open to spiritual revelation.  Worse yet some run off with a misinterpretation and act in truly evil ways under the premise of knowing the true word of God, but in essence, are suffering from ego-driven narcissism of the spiritual variety.  James Finley discusses a lectio-divino process of reading his sermons:  pray, read one sermon, pray again, read the same sermon again and highlight, pray some more, read commentary, pray more.  He did not say exactly this – but it is clear it is not light reading or light prayer that one comes to know Eckhart.

meister 2

https://www.eckhartsociety.org/

https://philocyclevl.files.wordpress.com/2016/10/meister-eckhart-maurice-o-c-walshe-bernard-mcginn-the-complete-mystical-works-of-meister-eckhart-the-crossroad-publishing-company-2009.pdf

We do not have eternity here in our mortal shells to come to know and act in concert with divine direction.   We will, in all likelihood, pass away like those before us in a state of spiritual imperfection.  We strive to be one with our creator nonetheless and count on God’s grace and mercy.

thank you

 

Suffering and Providence

The Sad Joyous Truth:

Finally, you have found my blog page; you itinerant idiot.  For those of you who have been here before do not pat yourself on the back.  In all likelihood, you are much worse off now than when you last visited.  Tell me it isn’t so, honestly, can you do that today?   I don’t think so.

Catherine has written to me about you.  She says you live in such wretchedness, stinking of death, beclouded and darksome for want of light, going about singing and laughing, spending time on vanities, pleasures, and indecency.  I did try and defend you and your honor.  No sooner had I responded to her a new letter arrived detailing your actions.  Oh, how I wish I could rescind my letter.  You all are indeed lustful, drunkards, and gluttons, so much so that you make a God of your belly.  You cannot pass the hour without being hateful, spiteful, or proud.  And despite the unnatural protrusion of your belly, the incessant clutter in your homes, the unyielding thoughts, and desires swirling around in your head and perhaps even your soul, you walk around singing and dancing.  I will not detail here what she has said about you, we both know it will only be used as gossip by the others or turn into unnecessary denials or minimizations by you to save a little face, lessen the shame.  stampsDon’t be ashamed by my knowledge. Catherine felt it necessary to send me my very own letter.  The envelope had excessive stamps covering over to Catherine’s return address on the envelope.  No, I don’t know why she still does not use e-mail.

I could not stand her viciousness against you all, and especially the contents of my letter.  I visited her.  It didn’t go as intended.  I knocked on her door, perhaps a little too loudly, and it opened of its own.  She calmly said the door was unlocked as she was expecting me.  I tell you I was disarmed right there and stupefied.

On my honor, I tried to take up her attack on your honor.  She would have none of it.  Let them speak for themselves she said, we both know you came here as it is you I have offended.  I tell you now that this is not so, I was there for you as well as me.  We had it out.  Well not really out, I would start in with any number of justifications and excuses and fall into silence by her one or two-word convictions that belaid the truth of this situation.    It got so, I would start a sentence, and she would be smiling, and my sentence would crumble mid-way.  Eventually, I crumbled in a heap onto her couch.  And then she said, okay, now you are ready.

This was an unexpected turn.  My self-righteous anger was indeed quelled.  Catherine calmly went about her way, describing in detail how all of my body’s senses had become corrupted and utilized for my very own self-fulfillment.  My eyes see the world with a possessive intention, my ears listen for opportunity or threat to my self-worth, my touch craves the love of another to fulfill my sense of being loved, and my sense of smell draws me to the kitchen to provide me momentary pleasure that is never satisfied.  It was a long afternoon – but I tell you I did not notice the hour arm on the clock spinning towards evening.

It was not all bliss this time spent.  My anger welled up at my God as well as at my self in torrents.    Why does God provide me so many trials and temptations?  Why does not everything come labeled with directions and intentions?  Why is this devil that I cannot see at the door of my soul?

I cannot detail all she said, but I am sure she will be willing to meet with you.   In a matter of hours, I came to see and feel my imperfections.  Despite entering into her house hours before feeling overly confident in my morality and justified in my martyrdom at the injustices her letter incurred on my psyche, I was indeed slipping into an unconscious false sense of self-mastery.  I was the master of my ship, so to speak as if Iship had built the damn boat myself and controlled the winds and the seas.  Let the boat rock a little, or the skies turn dark, and I was apt to hurl invectives at the unfairness of it all and my hopeless situation being far worse off than any others on the sea.

Catherine explained to me that through a daily re-orientation, I would come to experience joy through my senses in a way that provided me glimpses of God’s providence for me.  She said, “the imperfect soul comes to perfection by fighting these battles, because there he experiences my divine providence, whereas, before this, he only believed in it.”  She then listed the perceived injustices and suffering I have experienced in life (death of loved ones, failures, humiliations, desires denied) as well as the good times (successes, family, catastrophic near misses, and other blessings).  I came to understand that when I am truly living in a state of piety, humility, and holiness that Joy and Suffering are the same.

I cannot believe I have written these words together:  Joy and Suffering are the same.  Catherine helped me see there is nothing wrong with “singing and dancing” when it is properly ordered in celebrating God and our human relationships on a spiritual level.  And on the suffering, no matter how terrible the tragedy up to and including the loss or imminent death, each instance of suffering is an opportunity to deepen our faith.  Catherine took my hand and said if you truly understand the nature of human suffering and divine providence you would pray for more suffering to be put on your plate – and I believed her as I trembled at the idea of carrying more, despite how light my burden is today.

In life, for Christians at least, we are waiting for momentary consolations and ultimate revelation when the time comes to an end of our world as we know it.   Catherine says God gives us this great weigh of labor (suffering) lest the virtue of patience grows rusty waitwithin us.  Impatience, she says, will corrode our soul.  How often do I pray “Gods will, not mine, be done” but am secretly hoping God’s will matches my timeline and my outcomes?  If he sends me suffering and delay am I open to it in a joyous and spiritual matter as an opportunity to deepen my faith and fulfill providence as only God understands it?

I am in one of those transition points in life where success is not guaranteed (is it ever?) and my anxiety and attachments to what I have today is at odds with the journey that lay ahead.  This worry is contrary to truly following God’s direction, praying for discernment, accepting joy and suffering as they may come, and completing the actions and responsibilities that are my charge, in God’s name and not my own,  without any ownership of worldly or spiritual experiences being of my design.

Catherine whispered to me that God would purge me of my selfish and disordered love, whether temporal or spiritual and prune me, employing many trials so that I may produce more and better fruit.  If I am open to God, I will come to care equally about trial and consolation.  I will not be seeking my consolation or fulfillment – but rather to honor, glory, and praise of the God that I seek.

I know some of you have met Catherine, and some of you have not.  I am saddened to inform you she will not be home if you visit her in Siena.  She did, however, jot down some notes for you not only on Suffering and Providence  (pg. 297 to 307) but on the contemplative spiritual life as she experienced it.  She called these notes left for you, “The Dialogue.”

If you cannot lay your hands on her notes in Siena, I can refer you to a seller nearby who has taken the time to make many copies of her notes.  She apparently has written to others besides me.  Oh, and before I go, let me apologize for calling you an idiot, although that was Catherine’s word, I should not have used it against you seven centuries later.

37ac6e58-cdba-4eb9-bb78-0f14b6cd185e (1)

 

The Golden Ticket

Imagine that the world’s religious leaders announced a contest that Five Tickets would be randomly distributed in places of worship the world over this weekend.   These very special five people would receive an all-expense-paid trip ticket to tour and the greatest mystical revelation that has been kept secret for centuries.  The leaders of the major faiths have been given a revelation to select five people to gather together, and present them at a time and chosen the place, to experience a revelation of the secrets of the universe, man’s creation, and God.  Not even they know the revelation, but each has received identical directions to offer the contest to humanity.  A random drawing in places of worship this weekend.  And one of these five people would be chosen for a very special prize at the end of a week of staying in this secret place.

I imagine the places of worship would be filled this weekend with believers, atheist, agnostics, and media types, cynics, and just those that are curious.  The winners are selected already – but by the direction is given already if they are not in the service this weekend, alternates will take their place.   By Sunday at 3 P.M. the world will know the five selected for this spiritual journey, or if by the absence of the first selected, who won entry as an alternate.  By next Sunday the five will have a further revelation for the world, especially the one who wins the special prize.

ticketYes, this is the story of Charlie and Willie Wonkers Chocolate Factory.  Willie Wonker only called five and only one, after careful vetting for character flaws, would remain to the end – Charlie Bucket.  The bible tells us a similar moral fable; only it is lived out in history with real trials of men being chosen by God to receive revelation and then tested by the trial of human experience and perseverance required to live a holy life.

Alas, don’t hang me on the stake for using the word “fable.” Within our faith, we use the phrase “parables,” and in our theological lens, the great thinkers and leaders of the church sort out what is deemed historically accurate versus reality versus literary devices.  All I have to say on the matter is “all is not what it seems” on the surface, and thorough inquiry and discernment are required for any serious interpretation of the bible to hold reasonable certainty of true understanding.  We must not forget we are over two thousand years away from the lifetime of the historical Jesus Christ and the bible and the Gospels are the “living word,” not a dead historical text.  And yet, as some interpretations and revelations may provide new insight, certain fundamental truths remain unalterable and unchangeable in time.

Invitation to seek God:

avilla

But let us return to the invitation to the Chocolate Factory and the invitation to know God.  How are they different?

  • We each are given a golden ticket – if we are open to finding it. Once found, it comes with great responsibility, and each person’s ticket comes with individualized direction, expectation, and calling for action.  This ticket is existentially inside all of us and can be found, if we are open to God’s presence, through contemplative prayer as defined by God, and specifically prescribed for you.  No two tickets are alike.  Your calling is distinct and special.  No one can tell you what God has inscribed in your soul for revelation and direction. Willie Wonker gave away five tickets – God gives everyone a ticket to use or not use.
  • No one is absent of character flaws when viewed through the lens of God’s perfection. We bring them to the table as an intrinsic part of our nature, and while we seek perfection, we pray for God’s mercy and grace in light of our many imperfections.  Willie Wonker expelled 4 of the 5 ticket holders.  God will not expel you if you seek him out with true humility and ask his mercy.
  • We have a rich spiritual and theological tradition in Christianity the provides us both the tangible word of God (Gospels) and the existential mystical experiences of our rich contemplatives (Saints, Martyrs, Theologians). The first provides us grounding and teachings that we can hang our coats on, a foundation of morality and spiritual direction that gives us form and definition.  The latter keeps us humble by blowing away our sense of truly knowing the Godhead and being able to claim we are the sole owners of what is the proper way of holiness and oneness with God.
  • Wilie Wonkers land is a tale of humankind’s morality and teaches very basic shared values.  The bible’s tale is infinite in meaning and interpretation and is momentary and timeless simultaneously.
  • Our words and experiences cannot define the Kingdom of Heaven, the definition of Sin, and the infinity of the word Love with any certainty.  We have glimpses and scents of each from our subjective experiences and from what has been granted us by the summation of our intellectual capacities, human experiences, spiritual traditions, the word of God, and divine graces.  Our language is simply insufficient.
  • Our Science, although profound to our sense of our wisdom is inadequate.  In our narcissism, we claim greatness by visiting the moon and yet we 1.3 billion people live in extreme poverty, 22000 children die every day due to poverty, and we are rapidly destroying the only home we have despite our science informing us we are doing so.    If only we had to just make chocolate.

Spiritual Hunger:

However, we remain hungry for these eternal truths are coded into our being, into our innermost depths.  If we are not attuned to them, we may go down the path of human folly trying to fill this void with synthetic human accomplishments or pleasurable distractions.  These things are not bad in and of themselves and are quite necessary for the betterment of humankind, but they are not divine and cannot fill the spiritual depths found in our souls.  To attempt to do so is to simultaneously corrupt the value of our accomplishments and pleasures and take us, farther, away from spiritual truth.

So, what is the Golden Ticket to knowing God, and where can I find it?  For Catholic, the way is clear, and the form and practices of religious beliefs are codified in the sacraments and church traditions.  Let me pause here and enter into heresy!  It is not enough that we are steeped in Church rituals, traditions, and practices.  History has taught us that our church and its leaders can be fallible. I will not detail our shared historical errors here, for they are well documented and common ammunition for the anti-Catholic crowd that feeds on believer’s moral failings, whether clergy or not. I will focus on the power and mystery of contemplative prayer.   This is where we take individual responsibility for testing our thoughts, beliefs, and actions against the God standard.

Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, and Mysticism:

Assuming a well-founded base of spiritual development and a sincere desire to live a holy life, seeking contemplation of the mystical saintly order is perhaps pure folly.   For most, I fear it is a form of spiritual grandiosity dialectically opposed to the humility required to be truly present with God.

A candidate for contemplation prayer is anyone with the desire to know God more deeply.  A candidate for the contemplative prayer of the mystical variety, however, is not attainable for everyone.  It is to use a medical term, contra-indicated and dangerous to recommend or guide one to pursue it if there is not ample evidence of proper preparation and a true calling by God to do so.

Yes, as elitist as this sounds, one cannot be a contemplative mystic and truly transcend the human experience without an invitation.  How many of us on reading this phrase might secretly agree with this premise for everyone else – but believe we can achieve this lofty goal by sheer determination and will-power.   We are, after all, generally good people seeking to live a holy life – or we would not be reading a spiritually oriented blog.  How could God not choose to grace us with spiritual consolations if we place ourselves selflessly at his mercy?

How horrible that I start with what most of us are not and never will be!  I start here to celebrate our imperfections, not as points of pride, but as a starting point of humility and pursuit of perfection that we will never achieve.  Who among us can follow in the path of John of the Cross, Teresa of Avilla, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhart, and others?  Even amongst these, there is controversy and hidden danger of falling into spiritual distortions.     I am drawn to St. Ignatius and Ignatian Spirituality.  Of course, the original contemplative is Jesus Christ. Think of Jesus Christ preparation for his ministry and going into the desert or the many times he went off to pray with or without his disciples.

What I realize for myself is that I need the prayer of many different styles in my praying-hands-277x300everyday life as I require high maintenance to strive for living a truly spiritual life in our secular world.   Jesus Christ provided us a very simple guide on how to pray in the Gospel of Luke and Matthew when he provided us the Lord’s prayer.  Prayer, however, is not simply a recitation of rote words.  It is an on-going conversation that requires time, patience, and discernment.  Almost all prayer involves elements of contemplative prayer.   Freeman defines Contemplative prayer as involving the following elements:

  • Interiority: going into “our inner room” (Mt 6:6)
  • Silence: prayer is about brevity, simplicity, and trust
  • Calmness: freedom from anxiety and obsession with material things
  • Mindfulness: focusing on God’s Kingdom before all else
  • Presentness: living in present moment, free from fear of the future[i]

And yet we cannot force the outcome, we can only put our physical body and soul in a place where we can be open and receptive to God’s grace:

silent-prayer-and-contemplation-3-638

We all probably already are contemplative prayers!  Many of us practice Lectio-Divina prayer.  This involves scripture reading, followed by meditation and prayer – sort of a guided meditation allowing the spiritual imagination to find space and time to be present with God.  A smaller number of us may even get to experience intensive contemplative retreats where we can spend enormous amounts of time in perfect silence and adoration of God.  Even with these intense spiritual excursions, few of us have contemplative, mystical experiences that compare say to St. Theresa of Lisieux.  And most of us are not called to go live in a hermitage and spend our lives totally in prayer and adoration to God.

That being said, I truly believe Catholicism today is missing interior ownership of seeking the mystical life to guide our “civilian life” is all our secular affairs.  How many Catholics have read the “Cloud of the Unknowing.”  And how many Catholics could integrate this anonymous work into their faith without becoming lost in its anchorless mysticism?

Cloud of the Unknowing:

cloudOne could easily misinterpret the work as being fundamentally Buddhist as the writer speaks about the emptying of oneself.  They would be wrong as the emptying of oneself is merely a process of coming to acknowledge we are nothing without God.  I loved the visual in this work of sending intrusive thoughts to the Cloud of Unknowing beneath my feet and setting my gaze on the “Dark Cloud of Unknowing” as I set aside time to contemplate one word (Sin or Love).  How could I pray in this formless way without having a firm foundation and understanding of what it is I am praying to and seeking to join?

Our rich early Christian contemplative writers and even modern-day authors have a treasure chest of spiritual knowledge acquired from innumerable hours of reading, listening, thinking, praying, confessing, and receiving spiritual direction.   And yet we should still strive to grasp the “Fallen Nature of man versus the Glory of God.”  And yet again, all our striving is for not without divine activity intervening and providing us grace and mercy in all our actions.

Perhaps even furthering this depressive thought is that no matter how far we go with cleansing our sinful lives and living by holy virtues – “suffering will plague us unto death” and we will “never have complete security on earth.”  How would this work as a sales pitch for Christianity!  This classic Christian writing said just that in the 14th century.

Ah, secretly I want to be elevated in God’s graces, receiving constant consolations and graces, and perhaps even be called to a solitary life of prayer and adoration – even to the point of a vow of poverty and singular purpose in life.  And then God whispers in my ear, “you do not know what you are asking,” and I quickly agree as I think of the lives of the great saints and martyrs.  Yet I can still seek to pray and strive to be with God:

unkwing

But I am not off the hook of his calling.  I am not a Christian mystic of the saintly variety, but I am called to contemplative prayer.    This contemplative prayer is where I am to discern the intent of my every thought and action and realign them when they come up short of divine expectations.  And often this involves facing responsibilities and task I would rather not volunteer to do.  There simply is no end here on earth to injustices that require righting, service that requires workers, and suffering that requires prayers. threadContemplation and Action are intimately intertwined in my life – but the moment they are separated, it is not long before everything is unraveled for me and faith hangs in the balance.

But sometimes we don’t have to go far to begin.

This blog entry was interrupted by Saturday mass, and the Responsorial Psalm was simply stated: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”  The second reading deserves some contemplation as well.

IMG_2752

[i] https://blogs.sjcme.edu/theology/jesus-was-a-contemplative/

 

Stuttering, SLPs, PWS, and MHP?

A letter to myself and fellow Stutterers:

Stuttering is a very individualized experience.  Its impact on me and fellow stutterers cannot adequately be measured over a lifetime.   Nor can it be universalized by causation, severity, age of onset, duration, or best strategies to mitigate the negative effects of our stuttering and movement towards confident communication skills and maximum fluency.

As such, it could be a very lonely and debilitating handicap in life if not handled with care, commitment, and dedication.  Despite it feeling this way, stutterers are indeed not alone – 70 million people worldwide are with us.   They share our histories of pain, disappointments, shame, fears, and failures.  More importantly, they share our transformation stories of healing, hope, strength, perseverance, self-acceptance, and compassion (no matter how we speak), speech therapy skill sets, self-help fellowships, and success stories, large and small.

This piece is on recovery and living with stuttering from my experience.  I will not focus on the early years of avoidance, shame, and willful self-defiance to force my way through painful experiences and situations.  As fellow stutterers, we know what they are and how devastating they can be.     This piece is about finding peace with myself while still working hard to improve my communication skills.

Three pillars of “Know thyself”

pillars

Pillar One:  I had to come to understand the exact nature of my stutter, its physiological expression, emotional toll, frequency, and most common circumstances of appearance.  I had to become aware of secondary features I had adapted for survival like word substitution, avoiding speaking situations, silence, or other speech nuances that infiltrated my speech patterns.     After labeling and defining these quirks and consequences of my speech, I had to go one step further before anything else was to be accomplished.  Stuttering is not my identity.  It is not my essence.  I needed to define and believe myself to be worthy of being present in any situation regardless of how I speak.  I had to develop a healthy sense of self and who I am.  Stuttering may be a small part of that – but it will not and may not be an outsized definition of my identity.  A bad speaking event is just that – not a condemnation of me or you as a worthy human being.   Finding PWSs (People Who Stutter) is an excellent place to explore and share your healthy identity.  Some of us may even need professional mental health counseling, but studies show we will not need professional help any more than the rest of the non-stuttering world.  Resource:  National Stuttering Association to find PWS like you for fellowship.

Pillar Two:  I had to take ownership of stuttering.  This Pillar will be very confusing as it consists of two opposing textures in one spiral column, ever evolving.  I had to accept my stutter may appear at any given time and that I do and may stutter the rest of my life.  This acceptance is not giving up efforts to be a better communicator.   It is an acceptance that I do not know the degree or upper limits of my potential to be a great communicator and preferably free of any form of stuttering.   Self-acceptance is one texture of the column’s swirl.  The second is, yes you have guessed it, am I willing to go to any lengths to improve my communication skills – shy of self-self-flagellation and martyrdom!

Pursuing improved communication skills can be a life long journey that should be enjoyed and celebrated.  It is the pursuit of perfection, the same as an athlete or artist pursues their crafts.   This involves researching and making commitments to self-improvement to learn skills to improve speech with an SLP Speech-Language Pathologist) and perhaps other self-improvement strategies (ancillary self-care strategies that improve overall health and reduce anxiety and stress).   What lengths am I willing to go to in my effort to address speech dysfluencies.  I cannot count the times I have said to myself if only I did not stutter I would or could or should have done this or that activity or goal.   I hate to say it, but in hindsight most of the time it was a cop out – not all the time as sometimes it was prudent to not put my stutter on display.

Pillar Three:  Having reviewed the first two pillars we have a sense of our identifies as a valued human being, a keen of understanding of stuttering and its impact in our life, and what if anything we are willing to do about it.   Pillar three is about our character.  Do you have the courage to commit to action and persevere in your actions, including a healthy dose of humility as it will involve asking and using others for help?   This may not just be finding an SLP.  It may be finding a self-help group or asking family members or friends to be of help for you to practice specific speech goals.

Perhaps contact knowledgeable people to find a stuttering intensive program and immerse yourself in foundational skills related to your speech patterns and vocal apparatus.  It may involve significant monies dependent on your treatment targets.  Improving speech is about identifying barriers – large and small, and removing them one by one to obtain your goal.  Note when I say it is about character – it is not about successfully being free of stuttering – it is about pursuing improving our communication skills to our  fullest potential by taking actions steps, by trial and error, and keeping what works and moving on, ever growing and contributing to the art of actualizing our fullest communication potential in every circumstance.  You get to be the hero in your own story no matter the result as our effort will stand tall and our identities intact.

Hard Skills:  Programs and Techniques

In hindsight, I tend to minimize today the efforts I have put into speaking fluently.  That is a disservice to you if I do not provide a brief view of my journey.  Here are some of the things I have tried over 20 to 30 years:

Types of Programs: 

  • Three-week intensive speech therapy program. Everyone slowed speech down to a really slow rate of speech and slowly over three weeks raised the rate of speech while learning specific skills to work with consonants, vowels, sentence structure, breath, and total awareness of the body.  Specific teaching on vocal cords, vibration, articulators, etc. I did not get help until my young adulthood.  The sooner, the better in my book.  (Rating:  must do at least once in a lifetime if you have a significant stutter.)
  • One-week refresher program with an SLP and once a week after that: built on skills learned above.
  • Attended self-help groups National Stuttering Association and Stuttering Foundation of America. NSA closer to my core beliefs than Stuttering Foundation.   Attend at least one NSA function if you stutter.
  • McGuire Program or some variant in D.C. (don’t remember and not impressed), not knocking it as I don’t even remember its name!  My memory is the exposure aspect, and principles were similar to McGuire. It is listed here as this has worked for some and not for me.  I had to check it out – it may have been worth the time, you never know.
  • Individual SLP follow up many years later – slipping into bad speech form without realizing it and added stress.
  • Apps: Speech for good app S4G (play with delayed feedback – can use with smartphone and wireless earplugs).  There are many cheap apps that can be fun to play with and practice.  Do get something that you can record and listen to your speech and share with SLP.
  • Speak-easy devises – very costly. My impression is if you don’t have to get this, it would be better to learn skills without this device dollar for dollar.
  • Toastmasters: I did Toastmasters when speaking to groups was a greater demand in my life.  It is not aimed at stutterers.  Get some confidence under your belt before trying this group.
  • Psychotherapy: An awesome counselor who helped me work with my outlook on life integration of a healthy self despite my discomfort with stuttering and the nature of anxiety and depression as it relates to stuttering including generalized fear and anxiety.  I have learned in life to use experts when I can – it just makes everything easier.
  • Experimentation: There is so much out there in public presenting and singing world that you can play with your voice and experiment with to just have fun.  I have used many different apps to just vary my speech practice and keep it interesting.

As you can see from the above, I tried many things and avenues over the years, and I also have had to date a successful career with many promotions in a field that is totally dependent on oral communication.  That is not to say I have not had dysfluencies and still do to this day.   In truth, I recently re-engaged an SLP to refresh my “in the moment awareness” of my speech and to brush up on skills due to a pending promotion.

Here are techniques labeled hard-skills (HT) and soft-skills (SS).  Hard skills are direct speech applications and soft-skills adaptations to the environment, self-care, or other strategies.  Some may seem silly.   Of course, working with an SLP is ideal.  Like golf, ideally you want to learn base skills correctly the first time, so a qualified SLP can model and provide resources.  You can also find videos on the web of specific skills mentioned.

  • Find a role model (SS): James Earl Jones is my role model and sometimes reach for my James Earl Jones voice which for me means abdominal breathing, deep voice, very clear enunciations, and good posture.   You can hear him breathing and James Earl Jonespreparing his entrance into new phrases when he narrates the bible (audiobook on Audible).  What makes him a great voice on TV is his vocal clarity and focus on each syllable and deep voice.
  • Easy On-set (HT): I can hit vowel sounds at the beginning of words with too much force in my vocal cords causing a “hard attack,” and the vocal cords lock up.  Practicing utilizing an h sound before the onset of the vowel, at first exaggerated and then less so, gives you the muscle memory to avoid hard attacks with vowels when you see or feel them coming you can use this skill (long or very short h sound).  https://www.sltinfo.com/easy-onset/
  • Soft-contact (HT): Mostly used when encountering consonants (sometimes called plosives such as /b/, /d/ and /g/ – an SLP will coach and model light articular contact to soften and be gentler with the word being pronounced.  https://www.sltinfo.com/fluency-shaping/
  • Pro-longed speech and slow speech (HT): Both of these fluency shaping techniques I learned in the emotionally hard three-week intensive way back when.  To this day, my rate of speech and breath management can affect my communication clarity.  When I rely on these today, it is not apparent that I am using prolonged speech or slow speech – though I purposefully am focusing on the slightly exaggerated enunciation of every syllable, slightly slower rate of speech, and overall better breath management.  For me, speaking to quickly is a negative habit trying to get in all I have to say in one stream (why risk starting and stopping!).  Biologically and psychologically it is an anxiety ticking bomb that alerts the body to danger (lack of air) and is setting up a psychological fear paradox:  speaking too fast to avoid dysfluency creates an increase in tension as my oxygen is depleted.  Not to mention the thought processes of trying to stay on target with the content of my thoughts.    The goal here for me is not to be super monotone or dragged out – it is to speak within the range that my body can support with diaphragmatic breathing and great vocal clarity.  Yes, sometimes it is just easier to speak without good vocal hygiene – the question is, can I afford to do that as a person whose stutter can vacillate greatly?

 

 

  • Meditation (SS): I am a fan of relaxing the whole body.  If you can do this and incorporate diaphragmatic breathing as well – awesome.  Like it or not, anxiety and tension can amplify stuttering and hurt performance (speech or otherwise).  This skill cannot be used only in a crisis – it is a way of life.  I recommend mindfulness-based meditations and guided meditations.  This is not only good for your speech but for your general health and well-being.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_DTmGtznab4:  This is a 30-minute meditation that may be too hard to do initially without sleeping from John Kabat Zinn.  I use an app called headspace for shorter meditation, and my apple watch has a one minute “breathe” exercise.

 

  • One-item practice (HT): This is a little annoying – but practice one skill at a time at designated speaking opportunities.  Develop the confidence that you can call on these techniques on demand.

 

  • Exercise, nutrition, hydration, and sleep (SS): Like anything else, if you are tired, weak, sick, beat up, and otherwise not at your peak your performance may suffer at your most vulnerable point.  For stutterers, that is utilizing your maximized voice.   Each of these offers you an opportunity to network and speak with non-stutterers while pursuing great health.   You could even throw in a hobby here – anything that gets you out and lessens stress.

 

  • Cancellations or pull outs (HT): As I become aware of repeated words or sounds, I can choose to stop and recognize what is going on, take a cleansing breath, and then continue with the work correctly.

 

  • I have not mentioned MHP yet (Everything technique): It is my higher power.  For me, it is spiritual.  I give to my God what is his to handle, and I do everything I can to handle what is my responsibility.  There are things and events that we do not control – some of which may throw our speech for a loop.  That is okay – my identity, and my reality is not defined solely by my speech (Second Pillar).   If you do not have a higher power get one (Only kidding, sort of).  Seriously if you have a faith use your faith it to support your journey – if you don’t ignore this paragraph!  If you do not consider a mantra to re-enforce your daily positive approach to every speaking engagement.

 

posture

  • I might also add here that stuttering can be very traumatic and train our bodies to act neurologically, making fluent speech very challenging. We expect progress, not perfection!   This loops back again to self-acceptance.

Check out these coping tips for people who have PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome).  I firmly believe they apply to cope with a history of stuttering and future speaking engagements:

  • Self-regulate your nervous system

No matter how agitated, anxious, or out of control you feel, it’s important to know that you can change your arousal system and calm yourself. Not only will it help relieve the anxiety associated with trauma, but it will also engender a greater sense of control.

Mindful breathing. If you are feeling disoriented, confused, or upset, practicing mindful breathing is a quick way to calm yourself. Simply take 60 breaths, focusing your attention on each ‘out’ breath.

Sensory input. Does a specific sight, smell or taste quickly make you feel calm? Or maybe petting an animal or listening to music works to quickly soothe you? Everyone responds to sensory input a little differently, so experiment with different quick stress relief techniques to find what works best for you.

Staying grounded. To feel in the present and more grounded, sit on a chair. Feel your feet on the ground and your back against the chair. Look around you and pick six objects that have red or blue in them. Notice how your breathing gets deeper and calmer.

Allow yourself to feel what you feel when you feel it. Acknowledge your feelings about the trauma as they arise and accept them. HelpGuide’s Emotional Intelligence Toolkit can help.

breath

Various Links:

https://westutter.org/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/stutteringhangout/

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm

https://www.sltinfo.com/category/stuttering/

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm

https://www.stutteringhelp.org/electronic-devices-software-and-apps

https://speecheasy.com/smartphone-apps-reduce-stuttering/

https://specialsupplies.com/toobaloo-auditory-feedback-device-345?_vsrefdom=adwords&gclid=CjwKCAjw6vvoBRBtEiwAZq-T1aqWAXS0ynMgJW2VFaLijZlLPJO71DE-fzD_pdbzfycwJS14_OOHlhoCWioQAvD_BwE

MG Hospital

Two nurses fired for emptying local area hospital geriatric med/surge unit for Holiday Weekend:

Thirty-six patients were unexpectedly discharged from MG Hospital in Gaitlin, Tennessee.    Patients and their loved ones were overjoyed and seen celebrating at Fourth of July parade on main street the following day.  fMany in an impromptu decision agreed to meet up at the firework show.  Some were still wearing hospital gowns and medical IDs.  They said the discharge nurses were like angels on roller skates as they watched red and blue explosions ignite the sky.

Family members described the chaos at the hospital the day before as discharge social workers, ambulettes, transporters, and other personnel struggled to keep up with the two palliative care nurses that descended on the unit and provided intense patient n2education – often bringing patients and their families to tears accompanied with in some cases uncontrollable sobbing.

Our news reporters uncovered that this result was listed in their termination notice and was lifted directly from a nurses shift summary notes.  However, our reporter was able to get a confidential copy of this summary, and the full sentence was not in the termination summary.

It read;  “A code was accidentally called when Mr. Ernest Blackburn was heard uncontrollably sobbing.  Security and medical staff promptly arrived for a behavioral emergency but were quickly informed by RN Clancy and Mrs. Blackburn that Mr. Blackburn was uncontrollably sobbing at finally being free to get the hell out of here.”

Hospital administrators, however, were none too happy.   They had left early for the fourth of July holiday, and Unit 3B was filled and fully staffed.  Despite the unit being a med/surge unit, all of the staff worked the Ghosted unit.

Only one of the thirty-six patients were, unfortunately, readmitted.  Mr. Gasten reportedly had heart pains during the firework finale and was returned by the high imagesschool fire department volunteers before they realized he had only been fighting with Mrs. Gasten about staying for the entire firework finale.

Hospital administrators further officially stated that premature discharges place patients at grave risk, but that was not free to discuss what risk was posed for any of the 36 patients due to privacy laws.  One administrator was off the record quoted as accusing the two mavericks as effectively greenlighting euthanizing geriatric patients by removing necessary life-preserving medical treatment.

All this patient informed choice, and declining top of the line medical treatments was interfering with discovering more effective ways to treat chronic disease he said.  “How will we know what works and will not work if we don’t get to try?  We are in the business of saving and prolonging lives no matter what the cost – anything short of that is not our mission!   There is a case against all this patient informed choice – we are overwhelming them with unnecessary options.  Why am I paying for these specialist doctors for if we can’t apply for the best medicines at the end of the day?  They come here for hope not for waving the white flag.”

IMAGE-FOR-SDM-2-e1534551145572

The final straw was the unauthorized and expensive use of the helipad.  Two patient families did a go fund me the initiative to bring their loved ones home by helicopter – hand although the transport did not cost MG Hospital dime, the termination notice cited “unauthorized use of expensive MG Hospital helipad.

Administrators were also miffed as both patients released toilet paper confetti all over Gaitlin Tennesse with MG Hospital signature colored toilet paper series – MG prides itself on soft touch medicine in everything they do.   That soft touch, apparently, does not apply to its staff.

End Note:  This account is, of course, a fictional account.  There is no “Memorial Gardens Hospital” in Gatlin, Tenessee.  Palliative care and hospice care provide comfort. But palliative care can begin at diagnosis, and at the same time as treatment. Hospice care begins after treatment of the disease is stopped, and when it is clear that the person is not going to survive the illness.

Our best medicines often come with negative side effects that seriously reduce the quality of life while only marginally extending life span as measured by time.   How much additional suffering and time in a hospital should a patient bare to extend life 1 hour, one day, one month, six months and in many cases have no guarantee of results?  Is a patients life living at home for 90 days more valuable than an inpatient stay for 20 to 30 days with multiple treatments and eventual discharge that may extend life to 180 days?

The abacus of our life span and individual decisions regarding aggressive and perhaps even experimental treatments when return to health is in all likelihood impossible is an ethical dilemma that our death-defying culture has not yet adequately traversed.  Facing death with grace and reverence and making medical decisions that are truly in the interest of the patient while being mindful of equity and appropriate use of medical resources is indeed terrain most of us are not comfortable with being the decision maker.

From the armchair of philosophical, spiritual, and ethical debate, it is an easy call.  When the bell tolls for you, a loved one, or a patient you are treating – the cloud of unknowing is always in the air. The hospital administrators or direct care professionals are neither right nor wrong in these issues.  The responsibility is yours to prepare and inform your family and your doctors about your preferences and choices for end of life care.

How can we face life and death decisions without a sincere spiritual reckoning?  I spiritual classic that I have not read but have only received morsels from is entitled the “The Cloud of Unknowing” by an anonymous fourteen-century monk.  Father Richard Rohr sites the following passage in his blog;

“Thought cannot comprehend God. And so, I prefer to abandon all I can know, choosing rather to love him whom I cannot know. Though we cannot fully know him we can love him.” 

Father Rohr than says “In the later stages of the journey, of course, loving becomes its own kind of knowing—the deepest kind of knowing.”

If we seek a contemplative life in the midst of our worldly business we will be better able to face our own mortality and the mortality of others and will intuitively know, I believe, what the best decision is when faced with medical decisions that are highly complex.  At the end of the day if we are driven by a love of the selfless variety – it is highly likely that we will find the correct path.   Another book I have to acquire – the journey of exploration never ends.

ttt

The Rabbit Hole

A recent article sent me down the Rabbit hole of the intersection of politics, psychiatry, and spirituality.  It has laid bare for me the difficulty of how to share the spiritual path in a secular society as well as how to live the spiritual path oneself.  Here is the journey:

The Martial Personality (MP) archetype was recently explored in the Psychiatric Times by Ronald W. Pies, MD.[i]  Ronald’s opening statement may resonate with our shared readers:

“The great challenge of our moment is the crisis of isolation and fragmentation, the need to rebind the fabric of a society that has been torn by selfishness, cynicism, distrust, and autonomy. At some point there will have to be a new vocabulary and a restored anthropology, emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness that pushes people toward connection rather than distrust.”1

Dr. Pies estimates this is a causal factor of societal disintegration in the US has only worsened in the past three years. He sees the MP archetype’s growing prominence—and, in some circles, acceptance as a significant driver.  He even provides us a mythical creature for reference:  the “Aresian Personality”—named for Ares, the Greek god of war!

Ares

 

Ares aside, Psychiatric diagnosis and clinical presentations often cut across several diagnostic categories that can muddy the waters of MP:  “Despite substantial overlap with several conditions or disorders, I believe that a distinguishing feature of the MP is the individual’s sheer delight in causing harm, discomfort, or chaos: something akin to schadenfreude (from the German, Schaden (“damage, misfortune”) + Freude (“joy”). Though this term is usually defined as “malicious joy in the misfortunes of others,” psychologists Shensheng Wang, Scott O. Lilienfeld and Philippe Rochat have argued that “The process of dehumanization may lie at the core of Schadenfreude.”9 Indeed, I would argue that schadenfreude turns one’s fellow human beings into objects whose sole purpose is to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control. Think, “School yard bully meets Machiavelli.” This is not a bad conceptualization of Ares, and of the MP.”

These are powerful words that loom large in both our historical consciousness and current day threats to world peace and individual suffering.  Who can you identify today in your social circles, workplace, or the political stage today that exhibits these Machiavellian behaviors?  Whatever we call this personality type it is definitely antithetically opposed to a healthy social contract or a spiritually lived life.

Dr. Pies wrote this article from his field of expertise and was very careful to insert language into his piece to say this is not an attack piece on Donald Trump – but a societal issue.  This logic follows as we see this behavior increasing in every sphere, and its acceptance by people allows it to flourish.  What this means is it does not let Donald Trump, Republicans, Democrats, you or I off the hook for supporting people who dehumanize life.

Dr. Pies though turns to Anthropology though for answers.  The field of anthropology itself has a strong propensity to be hostile to religion and spirituality in all its forms despite many of its experts being “Christians hiding in plain sight.” The article does not mention spirituality’s demise and modernism’s rise at all as a potential key to an Anthropological solution despite calling for “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness.” 

As a biased Catholic I here Pope Francis (modern day) and biblical references providing us the solution to today’s inhumanity to man:

  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness…” Galatians 5:22
  • “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” John 13:34
  • “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12
  • “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ [] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:36 to 40

In the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science had an article called “The Crisis On Modern Day Spirituality” from a Muslim perspective:

“Humans would be more humane if spirituality is always included in intact personality, they do not separate between the world and hereafter, the material and spiritual, and the existence of equilibrium so humans could bring this world into a civilization that is humanizing a man.”[iii]

The modern-day atheist or secularist will invariably point out that both Christianity and Muslim religions are responsible for the world’s greatest divisions.  At their extremes, they become vehicles of hate and persecution of non-believers.    There is ample evidence to support this assertion if you do a little digging.

Let me make a distinction here that I believe anthropologist will support as well.  Belief in a spiritual reality existential to our human understanding can be vastly beneficial for individuals and society.   Religion run riot can definitively be a harmful tool when in the wrong human hands and distinctly non-spiritual.   The test of one’s true ownership of spirituality (and organized religion) is in the thoughts and action of the believer judged against discerned and authentic higher spiritual principles.

Alcoholics Anonymous comes to mind as a small-scale test of this idea.  Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) uses the phrase “Self-Will Run Riot” to describe the mindset of an alcoholic that his needs dictate everything without consideration for others.  This could easily fit into the Martial Personality!  A.A. is a grounded example of a spiritual program that is a self-help group grounded in spiritual steps.  They go to great lengths to use the phrase like God of your understanding, Higher Power, or Power Greater than ourselves to ensure the program is free of religious affiliation and available to all who are suffering from alcoholism.  And yet their program is distinctly a spiritual program.  The members that truly take the deep dive into the 12 steps in thought and action are most likely to recover and lead happier, and richer lives filled with purpose and meaning.

Let us return here though to the macro problem faced in our westernized secular society today.  Most Americans recognize a decline in basic human values and in anger are pointing rage at others for societies major issues.  A neighbor of mine from Cuba, in accented English, once lamented they need to build a church on every corner, not for me, not for me, but for these kids these days!  He may have had a few expletives as well.  In other words, his lament was kids these days lack a moral compass.  Nowhere in our conversation was our moral failings or what our spiritual response should have been to the miscreants who spray painted my fence twenty years ago!  At that time, I was in a good spiritual place and had l kept a can of paint in case of repeat and was calmly painting the fence.  I believe this calm response angered my neighbor even more!  We were entitled to our rage and retribution!

A spray-painted fence is unimportant.  Job security, access to health care, slander, violence, hatred, meanness, greed, and countless other vices (think seven deadly sins) grip our families and society today despite or perhaps even contributed by our nation’s wealth of resources and desire to maintain or add to our perceived elevated status globally.

Our current president thrives on “Make American Great Again” with a form of nationalism that is fueled by hate, fear, and division.  Many of his followers staunchly support his views with a religiosity that leaves no room for objective discussion.  It is difficult to engage healing the rift as most Americans are so entrenched in their political identity (red or blue) that genuine reflection and authentic soul searching is beyond their grasp – top threatening their very existence.   Our nation has been at war with some nation or nations 93% of the time that our nation has been in existence.

There must come the point where we have to reconcile as a nation our spiritual fabric versus our internal and external relations.   How can we as a nation support “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness” to each other and to the world community?  How can we use our leadership position in the world to change the way the world is supporting dehumanization today?   

If we have Martial Personalities in power, it is because we support what that means as a nation.  We must face the hypocrisy of our nations dialectical positions when they are presented to us and demand realignment both domestically and internationally.

An article on societal disintegration that omits any reference to spirituality is a glaring sign of how far we are from spirituality as a society.  Our original monetary proclamation “Out of Many One” and its successor “In God We trust” affirms our nation was born a spiritual nation.  moneyEisenhower said the slogan on the dollar affirms “the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource in peace and war.”

Our society needs spiritual warriors now more than ever.  Not the preaching type with the megaphone.  No, spiritual warriors in every stratum of society that live and model spiritual principles in every walk of life – educators, janitors, senators, lawyers, plumbers, artisans, nurses, bus drivers, sportsmen, clergy, accountants, bankers, policymakers, media, farmers, traders, retailers, CEOs, and all the other fields of labor.  Pontification is not the answer.  Living and seeking spiritual perfection is our ultimate calling as individuals and as a nation.

The rubber hits the road when sacrifices are called for to address global issues of poverty, global warming, immigration, violence, and growing scarcity of resources.  Our nation’s elite and our people, in general, do not want to cede the economic advantages that we hold today globally.  We fear our high moral road will place us at a severe disadvantage to other world powers that will not follow the same spiritual path.

Our politicians are acutely aware that voters support ideas but not necessarily sacrifices to achieve these ideas.  They need to see that in their communities, in their inbox, and at the ballot box to give them the courage to promote real change.   As long as we are debtwedded to money (and what it buys) and political ideology before principles, we will be adrift in misery and turmoil.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  Matthew 6:24

Oddly many readers and friends will agree with me on these spiritual points and the meaning of life.  Actualizing and living up to these standards is a daunting task moment to moment.  Who is your master today?  What motivates your behavior every day?  Are you on autopilot or do you consciously consider your thoughts and actions as they relate to a higher spiritual principle than your self-gratification?

For example, would I pay 3.99 for a coffee from a brand that only pays living wages throughout its distribution chain including the labors on the front line or chooses the 2.99-dollar coffee brand whose profit margin is driven by cheap labor and exploitation of children and underdeveloped nations?  Can I even afford to buy fair labor products if I supported only fair wage products?  Probably not.  I would probably have to purchase less and pay more if I truly support fair wages and truly do not support child exploitation and world poverty.   At least in the short term.  In the long term if everyone shopped this way supply and demand chains would force policymakers and corporations to adjust their economic models that put profit over people.

Our products and markets count on lack of transparency.  If you knew the shirt you were buying for $27 was capitalizing on child labor or paying its workers below poverty wages would you still support that brand?  I am afraid we do this every day.  In fact, in our business circles, there is great pride in widening the profit margin by deflating wages, increasing working hours, suppressing benefits, and even increasing risk of negative outcomes (think health and safety in health care, environmental contamination, or food chain safety).

Unless we demand products and services that are built on and produced by ethical companies that support human dignity, we are individually and collectively partly responsible for dehumanizing conditions all over the world including in our very own backyard. Here are some examples of initiatives to support this idea:

https://www.livingwagenetwork.org/get-certified

https://borgenproject.org/5-clothing-brands-that-pay-a-living-wage/

https://actonlivingwages.com/

Imagine trying to sell these points in a political campaign – the masses eyes will glaze, and your opponents will marginalize your ideas as socialist, naively idealistic, and perhaps even anti-American and evil.  And rightly so.  It is not a message that can be sold – it must be lived by many through devotion and practice of genuine spiritual principles on an individual level to inform macro level economics and political ideologies.  What is your 401 K had a fund that invested in only labor-friendly stocks and provided a return of 9% but a sister fund making the same widgets returned 12% without fair labor practices – which fund would you pick?   Do you even know what your investments support worldwide?

What do you choose today: “to feed one’s twisted need for pleasure, power, and control” or to feed a society based on “emphasizing love, friendship, faithfulness, solidarity, and neighborliness?” 

I argue we do not have a Trump problem or even a Martial Personality Disorder problem – but a societal problem of spiritual poverty (not necessarily religious orientation). This poverty makes us vulnerable to permit passively behaviors and actions that we would not be able to stand for if we were intimately connected with our innate spiritual cores known by many different names.   Anthropologically, philosophically, psychiatrically or sociologically you do not have to look far to see that our nation is suffering from a deficit of morality and spiritual groundedness – with the latter including many people with firm religious affiliations.  Religious affiliation does not assure spiritual groundedness.

Spiritual transcendence takes patience, faith, love, and action.  And even then we have not assured anything – and yet I say this is the path to pursue true happiness and peace.  I myself am high maintenance and struggle with this pursuit daily.  I envy those believers who seem to just float on a cloud of belief, at least externally.   Even my envy is counter to my spiritual desire of acceptance of divine providence.

My faith challenges me to accept my own faults and the faults of others while not becoming complacent with what is and to seek what should be individually and collectively with my fellow man within my sphere of influence.  Clearly, most of us cannot individually change our nations political climate, leaders, or worldwide positions.  Nor can we individually change other people’s actions, especially those on the MP continuum!  We can however collectively moment by moment change our immediate environments and relationships with everyone we meet – which in turn can cascade into changes that appear outside of our sphere of influence.

transcendence.jpg

[i] https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/couch-crisis/martial-personality-and-decline-communal-values

 

 

The Greatest Gift on this Father’s day

I am up before others this a.m. preparing for the day.  Morning prayer has greeted me and light reading provided some insight and perspective from which to view the day.  The sun is shining, my cat is snoring, and the birds in the backyard are singing, I kid you not, this is not just a cliche.  The birds are truly singing.

My daily ritual includes gratitude for the gifts I have been granted.  On this Father’s day, I am blessed to have three wonderful children, each of whom I am equally proud of their uniqueness, and individual accomplishments.  Each child has had their own share of adversity and each is truly paving their own path.  Of course, they have been blessed with being raised by a literal “Mother Theresa” for a role model, my wife.  The gifts that I have been given in addition to my priceless family are too numerous and dare I say onerous to write down here.  They include the magnificent and impossible, promises unnamed here, adversities and pain, and the mundane everyday gifts that life presents.  Yes, adversity and pain are gifts, and perhaps the greatest gift of them all minus one.

Tielhard de Chardin reminded me of the greatest gift this morning, despite his having passed decades ago:

“In the life which wells up in me and in the manner which sustains me, I find much more than Your gifts.  It is you Yourself whom I find, You which makes me participate in Your chardin1being.  You who molds me.  Truly in the ruling and in the first disciplining of my living strength, in the continuous play of secondary causes, I touch as near as possible , the two faces of Your creative action, and I encounter, and kiss, Your two marvelous hands–the one that holds us so firmly that it is merged, in us, with the sources of life, and the other whose embrace is so wide that, at its slightest pressure, all the springs of the universe respond harmoniously together.”  Teilhard de Chardin, SJ, 1881-1955

I have needed much-disciplining in my life, much sustaining, and on-going molding – may God’s creative actions continue to be prominent in all of our lives.

Happy Fathers day and may we all strive to be like the original creator, the original father, in all our thoughts, actions, and deeds.

chardin

Noa

I am up too late tonight.  I am somewhat in the valley of my mood range despite having no outward claim to be disgruntled, angry with my creator, or otherwise disenfranchised.    To the contrary, I have many gifts to be grateful for, including among them adversities that have ensured I am well grounded in humility and empathy for my fellow man and sometimes even for myself!  These adversities have also demanded I have it out with my conception of religion, of people of faith, of spiritual seeking people, and ultimately of God.

At pivotal points in my life, psychic pain and suffering pitted against belief in a merciful and personal God have come into sharp contrast and confrontation.  I like to think “I” have come through these events stronger and better prepared for suffering, yet I know that alone I would not last a second in some of the valleys I have traversed or may have to face down the road apiece.

What if I chose not to face those valleys?  What if life was so unforgiving and so merciless in my perception, in my reality for me, that it became unworthy living?   Most would not judge me well.  On the outside, I have all the “trappings of normalcy” sprinkled with my unique madness that makes everyone a little different, a little more mysterious.    Would you be in any position to judge me?  Can we ever really know the sufferer beneath the smile of the ones we love or the stranger next door?

Intellectually I can hold court with rational support for both sides of this debate.  I have no interest in doing so.  We would have to prioritize the issue on several levels:  societal values, individual rights, medical cost, impacted loved ones, moral and spiritual weights, philosophical underpinnings, and perhaps basic ethics.

There is a higher measure here — deep sorrow. Noa Pothaven died young and incited a Euthanasia debate that she did not want.  Her story and suffering will be a book a film no doubt – but will we learn and change anything?

Neo

Noa Pothoven

Noa suffered repeated trauma at the hands of others.  The stories referenced below do not focus on justice for Noah or efforts to prevent future traumatic events to girls and women.  Our professionals were not able to provide “trauma-informed care” to save this woman from the demons of her past experiences and the presence of deep psychic pain today.   Two major systemic failures leap out here in criminal justice and mental health fields.  Timely and effective prevention of sexual exploitation and violence and swift justice for acts of same is not an accepted or supported norm in our societies.  The mental health systems are not built to provide surround care and nurturing when these horrible acts transpire in a manner that truly embraces recovery.  Of course, this is an overgeneralization.

There are a wonderful therapist and crisis counselors doing awesome work and interventions out there.  They are just not armed with the resources to provide the system of care required to insulate and care for victims of horrendous crimes care.  We will never know where Noa would be if either of these two systems were fully and appropriately able to combat sexual violence and treat victims promptly and for as long as necessary with comprehensive care in a culture that does not allow for victim blaming and shaming.  Even in the absence of assault, we have to be responsive to people with mental health conditions that lead to self-harming behaviors.  Our observations cannot grasp the reality and suffering present within the mind of the person contemplating self-harm or suicide.  Eating disorders, major depression, bipolar disorder, addictions, alcoholism, and countless other maladies defy common understanding unless you experience it or are clairvoyant.   Help and provide hope rather than judge and run away.

I cannot type a word against Noa or even the “End of Life Clinic” pictured below.  They have a team of nurses and doctors that help people legally take their own life.  I wonder what they charge – rather callously, this post deserves no humor.

120307070200-netherlands-euthanasia-clinic-story-top

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2018/mar/17/assisted-dying-euthanasia-netherlands

The article above details their work.  To do the work they do I imagine they are a deeply caring lot that faces pain, controversy, and death every day. Taking on that duty of trying to reasonably provide an option to people living with unbearable pain while ensuring full faculty of mind is a terrible endeavor, not to mention morally confounding. 

deathIf we were doing our work well, they would not have a lot of business.  We are failing our youth in areas of education, nutrition, poverty, safety, civility, spirituality, and overall universally, global respect for all people (women, men, children, of every race, of every nationality, of every sexual orientation).  It is not just a Netherlands problem or an American problem, but a universal moral and spiritual failure.   

Hats off to our hospice and palliative care specialist as well that help people make informed choices, access treatments and define advanced directives that speak for them when they can no longer speak for themselves.  I owe this field an apology of sorts as I often make jokes about their grim reaper role, underneath it all they give care when it is most needed and most complex.  They are not at all “End of Life Clinics” despite many people they see are heading towards death’s door with dignity and respect.  palliative care

Euthanasia is a serious question, but can we first treat people with dignity and respect before they reach death’s door or before they reach such immense suffering that they are asking to kick the door in?  Hopefully,Phil_GatesOfHell they are not by this act kicking in the Gates of Hell as Catholic doctrine teaches voluntary suicide is contrary to church law.  Again can we work with what we know to be true and attempt to create heaven on earth by acts within our ability here and now on earth. 

Can we start with praying for Noa and her family and then go out and act on the greater good in each of our communities?  Prayer if well informed, can lead to noble and honorable action here and now supported by the grace of God.  The photo is of Rodan’s Gates of Hell.  I do not believe suicidal gestures and actions doom one to enter these gates.  I do believe we have to wrestle more earnestly with issues of human dignity, come to understand human suffering and expand our access to the mystery of the divine nature within all of us.  

Euthanasia is happening here in America legally, illegally, and in-between the two with a nod and an extra push on the morphine button.   Are we much different than the Netherlands?

“Death by euthanasia is 4% of all deaths in the Netherlands. Is that a slippery slope? I don’t think so,” said Pleiter. Much of the demand was coming from the baby-boomer generation, he added. “They are thinking differently about the way life ends. God and religion are less dominant in their lives. They want more autonomy. But every case is unique.”  In 2017, some 6,585 people chose euthanasia to end their own lives in the Netherlands, about 4.4 percent of the total number of more than 150,000 registered deaths in the country, according to the Regional Euthanasia Review Committee which strictly monitors all cases.

In the U.S., suicide is the tenth leading cause of death.  This number, representing only about 1.3 percent of all deaths, does not accurately account for deaths due to underreporting, intentional deaths by overdose, alcohol-related deaths, and suspicious deaths (with hidden motive and intentions). Legal or not, we have too many people successfully taking their own lives.

Additional Facts About Suicide in the US

  • The age-adjusted suicide rate in 2017 was 14.0 per 100,000 individuals.
  • The rate of suicide is highest in middle-age white men in particular.
  • In 2017, men died by suicide 3.54x more often than women.
  • On average, there are 129 suicides per day.
  • White males accounted for 69.67% of suicide deaths in 2017.
  • In 2017, firearms accounted for 50.57% of all suicide deaths.

https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/mortality/lcwk9.htm

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/06/world/europe/noa-pothoven-instagram-euthanasia.html

https://nypost.com/2019/06/04/netherlands-teen-raped-as-child-legally-euthanized-due-to-unbearable-pain/

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-7103019/Dutch-girl-17-legally-ends-life-euthanasia-clinic.html

Anyone want to join me on vacation to the Netherlands?  Pack light we can save on baggage fees and return airfare.    Okay, maybe the post needs a little dark humor.  

It is quiet now.  Three-twenty a.m. in the morning.  It is the most trying time for people who are struggling with mental health – no one to call and silence and quiet all around.  Spiritually it is a great time to pray and can be an equally challenging experience in times of desolation.  Woe is the person who faces both at the same time (sickness and desolation), yet they often come hand in hand.  Find solace in prayer and if nothing else works wake everyone the hell up – people love a little drama in the middle of the night!

darkness

The Advocate Mystery

I began a four hundred and fifty-mile drive on Thursday morning from Dover, De to Lake Erie, PA with a van full of people.  In the past, I drove straight to PA and then headed west.  In my head, I thought I will change drivers as soon as we hit Delaware.  It was a rather selfish thought.  PA border is only about 50 minutes into the trip not counting our pickups of other passengers.  We had 11 altogether but only one co-pilot. About ten minutes shy of PA mapquest takes me south into Maryland and around PA.  data=dJnypup-aH6hKQy04r3j26MU6GM6AY2yo4muwNgh0QNG5g423UskcruI_keuN3R32zFjUrMn838PC4xibTUMHUVDRO5BLTDSsUXpvT9HfZnLbFpc2Db7XH-KSKfvznOowcEgrhNFSphCkQtEKrC6IB1pZrLsaojrKtc,iXZ0QkvBL1haSlcoCYt8qeNYvGX5f2uCKIRmFq

I had my co-pilot check the map three times.  I could not believe this route was accurate – but it was the quickest way.  I drove more than my fair share before we hit PA and than some.  I told my co-pilot my evil plan and God’s fix.  Does God ever play tricks on us?  Do we recognize them as they happen?

Friday was uneventful without any sign of foul play comes to mind.  On Saturday though, I decided to leave the group for a while and told them as I left I was going for a long walk.  On the way to the dorm room where we had accommodations, I stopped off at a beautiful church on the grounds of Mercy Hurst College.  I found myself alone in the church.  I prayed for the deceased, for family, and for many in need.  I took some time in silence and then leafing through the missal I fell on the stations of the cross.

5_simon_the_cyrene_assist_jesus____artist_unknown

This church had beautiful tile mosaic depictions of the 14 stations of the Cross that capture Jesus Christ journey to his death –  “The Via Dolorosa” or the Way of Suffering.  In a darkened church, I read and prayed at each of these stations unperturbed and walked around the interior of the church as I took in the details of each mosaic and each station of the cross.  mercy I sat down after that and the Church bells rang for the second time while I was there.  It dawned on me that only an hour and a half ago or so I told a group of people I was going on a “long walk.”  The “Long Walk” came to be, but not as I had imagined it.  The “Way of Suffering” is quite something alone in a darkened church and led by contemplative prayer.  Was this another play on my own words?

IMG_2415 (1)We can get so busy sometimes in our lives that we can miss small or even very big signs as we rush about in our worldly concerns.  My wife returned to our room and said don’t forget your cross is over here on the desk.  Just a few minutes earlier I saw the silver chain and cross on the desk and did not recognize it as my own. There was something to this moment, but it wasn’t revealed to me at that time.

Sunday arrived and mass was held at 11 a.m. in the same darkened chapel, but this time with lights on!  You can look up the readings for the sixth Sunday of Easter for context (2019), but here is a small segment of the reading:

I have told you this while I am with you.
The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives do I give it to you.
Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.”  (Jn 14: 25-29)

The priest delivered the homily by walking down the aisle so he was practically horizontal to me as he seemed to direct his words to the believers that occupied the last two rows of the chapel.  There seemed to be a gulf between the front rows and the rear that he would not deter him!  Nonetheless, his voice and inflections were booming.

The personal revelation came to me.  Others will call it coincidental or post-event reinterpretation favoring one’s special status or place.  Believe me, I have no such status among men and if anything, just need to to be hit over the head a few times more than others to accept what is plain as day to everyone else.

Sundays Gospel pointed out the power of the Holy Spirit as well as how dumbstruck and fearful the apostles were with their newfound responsibilities to preach the word of God without Jesus Christ here in their midst.   The early church struggled to form a semblance of narrative to describe the gift they have received.  It was totally unexpected that the Messiah would leave them with an intangible mystery guide.  “God’s love for perishing humanity initiated salvation history and his action of sending his only son.”  They were it.  They would have to face hostility and persecution.  They would have to live and preach the word of God.  They would have to pray, seek, and listen to the advocate.  They would have to live by faith in the absence of Christ in the flesh.   They surely did not understand it at the time.  And even after Christ passing, the apostles and even the church today struggle to define the “advocate” without retreating to mystical nature of the Holy Trinity:  The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  Only one has truly been visible to mankind.  Yet, the Catholic church has detailed the gifts and gruit of the Holy Spirit in the Catechism:

III. THE GIFTS AND FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT

1830 The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

1831 The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.

hs

What does this have to do with me?  I started my trip on Thursday not necessarily looking for signs of the Holy Spirit.  I would like to believe that I was open and ready to be led should I be granted any consolations however undeserved.

Honestly, life has been wearing me thin and this break away with family and my daughters dance studio to a regional Dance event for aspiring dancers was a welcome break.  My only real duties were driving and occasional chaperone errands – must of which were covered by Dance Moms.

From the get-go – a conversation started.  My plan to only drive a short-time was ridiculed rather quickly and gave me a reminder and reverence for God’s plans.  My selfish desire and humorous plotting were sabotaged without a word being said – and in my heart, I felt it was a cosmic joke upon my selfish thought.  Was this the Holy Spirit?  I cannot convince you even though it is not the first time I have had a spiritual experience while driving.  Do not take shortcuts or take the easier road, bear what is yours to carry seemed to be my message for the trip.

Be careful what you say and be mindful things may not be as they seem.  The long walk was indeed longer than I had ever planned despite being very short in actual distance.    God’s idea of a long walk was very different than mine.  Was this the Holy Spirit?  I cannot convince you even though I assure you I had no intention of symbolically and prayerfully walking the “Way of Suffering.”  Praying and symbolically walking the stations of the cross on Saturday ignited awareness of true suffering.

And now for the tricky revelation.  The lost cross (misplaced on my desk) and its place in this story.  Midway through the homily, the words that came out of my mouth the day before, “I did not recognize it as my own,” came to me from Saturday.   The meaning that hit me was to own my suffering without complaint, to trust in God, to give up a false sense of entitlement, and to accept unfair hostilities and slander.   On the latter note, it does not mean to let these things go unchallenged, but to not let them grab my ego, my pride, and my sense of justice.

Through pray and self-reflection a reasonable response mixed with patience, action, and faith is called for at this time.   I found myself praying for my perceived oppressors.   All seven of the gifts of the Holy Spirit can be found in this short trip to Erie Pa.

That little cross on the desk is my very own.  My little sufferings and tribulations are my own.  My advocate is there if only I have eyes to see and ears to hear.  The hostilities I face unfairly, the judgments against me, and my perceptions of stress are out of whack with the reality of God’s love for me and you.

If we look for it, if we pray and find time to be silent with God, we can encounter the Trinity and perhaps even be guided by the Holy Spirit.  If we experience this we have experienced God’s love.  I have much to be grateful for in this world.  I, however, must not become too attached to these gifts as they all are temporal and of this world.

The present moment is real and what we have to work with today.  Yesterday and tomorrow are out of our reach. We can learn from the former and prepare for the latter – but not to seriously as to exaggerate our own omnipotence.

Nine hundred miles and twenty-five dance performances later I hope I am a little wiser and a little closer to God.  Yet I know the gulf between God and myself is beyond my mastery, like the priest yelling to the back of the church, the gulf is real and only passable by God’s love and mercy.  In the meantime, paying attention and looking for the Holy Spirit within us and around us, is the gift Jesus Christ left us:

“An encounter with divine love is an encounter with God’s own self, and the Advocate is this a personification of that divine love.”  (May 03, 2019:  Jesuit Review, M. Simone)

A drive, a long walk, and a Crucifix.  Finding God in our daily lives is a personal calling.  Without God, each of these events is just a meaningless circumstance, a figment of my fertile imagination or lack thereof!

I have read about the lives of many saints and am sometimes jealous of their consolations received and spiritual strength.   Then I pause and think of their hardships and trials and take a pass!  Sometimes the mundane is all we can manage!

I still cannot bring myself to ask for more suffering like Catherine of Sienna.  I justify it in my head saying it is not good to test God to save me from more suffering by giving me the strength and courage to carry a bigger cross.  And yet, if you can read this, you share with me our greatest challenge that lay ahead – our eventual mortality.  I can only say, “God’s will, not mine, be done.”

cross

 

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: