“He saw himself as an object, very small and distinct like a fly walking on a clear window pain; and it was unmistakably a fool.” Have you ever felt that way? Was it ever total and complete degradation leaving you isolated, alone, and perhaps humiliated?
I hope not. I hope so! I don’t know what to hope for you. This description above was written by C.K. Chesterton regarding St. Francis of Assisi and his journey into what some consider madness. At the juncture in his life above, he had failed at being a military knight, returned home and failed his father by stealing from him, and left town in dramatic fashion barely clothes with nothing and headed into the wilderness during a winters snow. In the moments after his departure, when he found respite in some cave or dark place, his rejection by family, friends, and even the church was complete. How did he ever come back out a changed man?
A detour describing the Tumbler of our Lady is presented here as well. In brief, the tumbler (jongleur) performs in front of our Lady. A juggler, acrobat, or tumbler standing on his head in front of the Blessed Mary. It takes a great freedom to be a juggler or acrobat as well as great discipline. The analogy Chesterton uses of course goes deeper. He drives it right into the heart of asceticism, more commonly known as self-denial and sacrifice. Takes the fun right out of it. Except St. Francis models asceticism that leads to great joy. I think of the marathon runner after they break through the pain, the artist that toils to the point of madness while achieving greatness, or the master craftsman that attends to every detail as if each represented the whole. All three practice self-denial to achieve something transformative, and though not envisioned, brings lasting joy beyond their understanding.
“But God, who knew his [the tumbler’s] intentions
And his great sense of duty
And the love for which he did his acts
Did not wish to hide his deeds;
Thus the Lord wished and bid
That the works of His friend
Be known and manifested,
Because he had joyfully served His mother,
And so that each one would know
And understand and see
That God refuses no one
Who in love trusts himself to Him,
No matter how he does his duty,
So long as he loves God and does right.” (Feminae)
St. Francis does not remain in that state of mind of being a fool. A transformation occurs and he emerges from the darkness somehow different. Chesterton puts it this way: “And as he stared at the word “fool” written in luminous letters before him, the word itself began to shine and change.”
There is an element of complete surrender here that perhaps only saints achieve. Many people who have hit “figurative” bottom in their lives experience this emptying making them more available to a spiritual transformation. I don’t just mean alcoholics, gamblers, or drug addicts. I mean anyone who played the part of being the fool.
Many never get this experience as they are too angry blaming others for their situation or to self-absorbed or even afraid to confront their own shortcomings. An eternal facade of perfection prevails over facing any risk of public humiliation or shame. To do otherwise might mean loss of material, status, or even relationships that one values. Sadly, in the end, corrosiveness possessiveness creates just the opposite results, individuals destroyed from the inside out clinging to something or set of things that in the end, cause their existential fall.
If you have played the fool, you are not alone. You have plenty of company. To be rare a amongst your peers, harnessing your folly through true humility and action can lead to a spiritual transformation. You may still be seen as a fool to some, but you will not care. The corrosiveness inside you will be gone. You will shoulder the pain and weights of many when before you could barely carry your own.
New research shows that people that rely on Fox News and conservative media bought into the narrative pushed by Trump in the early weeks of the pandemic and treated COVID 19 less seriously than people who got news from other sources. This increased their chances of getting COVID, their family’s chances, and our nation’s health. Not one study – but three studies. It is plain as day anecdotally to everyone – but now it is backed by research that Trump and his supporters amplified sickness, economic devastation, and death. By the way, we lead the world in numbers of infected and deaths.
Are you a fan of Fox News and ultra-conservative news sites? Of Trump? Then you are a big part of the problem – both COVID and the inability to confront the racial outrage in our country. Let me put it this way, Republicans accepting Trump and the group below is like me saying my Catholic Church only had a few bad apples (think sex abuse). COVID and racial discrimination deniers live in the culture of Fox News and the homes they reach. It is up to the people in those homes to force change.
Trump is counting on them to ignore reality – he is counting on you to do the same. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/the-data-is-in-fox-news-may-have-kept-millions-from-taking-the-coronavirus-threat-seriously/2020/06/26/60d88aa2-b7c3-11ea-a8da-693df3d7674a_story.html
I cannot throw rocks without looking myself in the eyes as well. In the analogy above, I referenced the Catholic Church. I have made it my intention to not feed into the elements of Catholic extremism or errant application of theological positions held by our church traditions. This is not an easy thing to do. It required change. Long ago, I joined and, after some time, quit the Knights of Columbus. The organization is filled with passionate and good people. The organizational structure, however, is prone to human error and purpose “drift” from its original intentions. Built into its fabric are too much ritual, secrecy, and financial conflict that promotes unhealthy spirituality – in my view. For this Catholic, it was something I had to withdraw from as the organization, in my opinion, overreached in purpose and its attitudes towards people unlike them. That is but one example. The Knights are an arm of the Catholic Chruch that I have stopped supporting. They are good people with a noble purpose. Many are living spiritual lives and practices that, by comparison to my actions, I feel are exemplary role models in Christ-like living. I left them before recent news articles came out with much of the same criticisms (including the National Catholic Register). The only way the Knights will reform some aspects of their organization is if internally, members leave or stop feeding those elements.
I have had meetings with a priest in both my former parish, my current parish, and the parish I have visited when the message is given seemed to cause me spiritual conflict.
As a silly example, a non-threatening one to for sure. I visited an unnamed catholic college campus that also had a seminary and a national shrine on the campus. After having some quiet prayer time at the Shrine, I visited the book store the way out. This store had “Thou shall not steal signs” posted throughout the store. The store was in the middle of nowhere, attracting only believers. The message hit me the wrong way and cost them a sale. That was not enough for me. I spoke with the staff on hand and then sought out a priest and discussed the same. The message in that store next to a national shrine of prayer did not reflect the welcoming and embracing message of Christ. It echoed commercialism and accusation.
I returned home and penned a letter to the university president. He offered to send me an Ignatian Bible that I had an interest in free and promised to revisit the store policy. Whether he did or not, I don’t know. I did not accept the offer. My motive was not to be silent on things small or large. I always purchase something from local bookstores or spiritual places I visit to support the community to have such sites. It cost me thirty minutes or so time, engaging people in a friendly manner and penning a letter on something trivial. Would not a true Christian say something like proceeds from sales supports the national Shrine and other Catholic programming? Scholarships may be available for items that you are interested in but cannot afford. Ask to speak to Father James! Perhaps the store is a victim of desperate sinners stealing bibles or other Catholic merchandise? Should we not be giving it away when we can or at least engaging the less fortunate who might be tempted to steal?
How does this apply to President Trump and the Fox News/conservative news media? Both support many elements of Republican and traditional values and even some Christian values. It applies as we cannot stand quiet on small things or important things when the arms of our political idealogy or faith are hijacked and used to promote harmful idealogy or act in harmful ways. The example I used of thous shall not steal, and the Knights of Columbus is somewhat mundane. My direct conversations with the priest regarding sex abuse scandals and church leadership is not silly.
You can be anti-Trump and Anti-Sex Abuse or other Catholic actions without renouncing conservative or Catholic identity.
I have gratitude for the gift of my faith and the gift of democracy, which includes the complexity of Catholicism (liberal to conservative) and the United States political system (liberal to conservative).
Trump and the extremist right-wing media are outside acceptable spiritual and political practices for any moral and ethical person. That does not mean Republicans and the conservative ideology is evil – but it does mean it’s base must stand-up to its internal rot. You have a choice between two flags.
As Catholics, we must stand up to Sex Abuse and other forms of non-Catholic behaviors by priests and our followers. Many Catholics are moving to an anti-Trump platform now. The Christian evangelical community is also showing signs of movement in this direction. It is too little too late for the current damage done by Trump to our country.
Hopefully, our nation’s healthcare and racial injustice tragedies will lead to our society becoming a more compassionate, just, and democratic nation as the founding fathers envisioned.
Religious beliefs and Political ideology are intertwined but not untangible when necessary. Now is a time where it is essential. Act now, especially if you are a Trump supporter – you are in the best position to counter Trumpian ideology. Research issues from scientific or accurate journalism. Pray with an open mind. Pen a letter. Get to know people outside your social circle. Be inquisitive – how can so many people disagree with me? What do they know that I don’t know?
If you or a family member are on your death bed due to COVID (or any other reason), I hold nothing against you regardless of your political affiliation or religious belief. I pray that you have time to find peace with your loved ones and to reconcile any misgivings as you prepare to exit our known temporal existence. My faith teaches me we all leave this world imperfect. We can be active even while on our death bed by reaching out to family and God to make things right – like the penitent thief who said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” For the rest of us that are healthy and well, more is asked of us today. It is not easy, for sometimes we must confront our own beliefs and the affiliations we hold dear.
My church leadership is silent regarding Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s letter to Donald Trump. Donald Trump has referred to the letter to conservative news sites as evidence of his support from Catholics. Nowhere is it mentioned this Archbishop is hiding from the Vatican. I guess it is wise not to feed this news cycle or this disgruntled letter-writer priest in hiding. I will follow their lead and not post his letter here.
The two of them together rebuke a society that is moving forward without them. One in power still, one not. There is clear evidence of both clinging and promoting ideas and policies that support maintaining self-promotion and, in some cases, positions that are directly opposed to Christ’s teaching. Yet, both cling to the illusion of righteousness.
In my opinion, they are the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, not the other way around. The delicate application of acquired power, whether in public service or religious service, is ripe for error for even those who started public service with good intentions to serve others. Both arenas also attract some hungry for power and attention who are not serving with good intentions for the public good or based on God’s calling.
Who are they individually, sheep that became wolves or always a wolf? Or perhaps you believe I am mistaken and that they are pure sheep after all who are genuinely and genuinely serving the people and God?
We know from history political and religious leaders have led congregations and nations to commit great evils in the name of nationalism or God. Leaders such as these are gifted at vilifying the “other” and creating passionate divisiveness, hatred, and mistrust. Their gift can bring pain and suffering to millions as well as destroy the political and spiritual institutions that they serve. They can only do so as far as the people are willing to follow or, at least, remain silent.
Who are we individually serving today? I am serving many personally in different roles. If I were saintly, my first serving priority would always be God, and through God’s lens, all other services would flow. I am far from saintly, and my priorities can sometimes put the visible and imminent in front of the invisible and eternal.
I serve my God in prayer, in thought, and actions. I serve my immediate and extended family in the same manner. Fellowship and work come a close third and fourth. That circle is pretty narrow. Kindness and compassion to my community is always an aim. Farther away is the world’s poor, the alienated, oppressed, and suffering peoples by many afflictions. What gets in the way of these noble pursuits? Serving myself and defining my entitlements and pleasures in life can easily sidetrack the above intentions. What good am I to others, after all, if I am miserable and discontent! Even these noble pursuits can be a downfall of seeking spiritual graces or public acknowledgment above the good intentions of serving others. Or perhaps even acquiring goods and power in the name of being better able to serve others leads to spiritual errors as well.
Back to Carlo and Donald. Who are they in their essence? How did their paths of service begin, how was the journey, and what do they represent today? The same question applies to their supporters. Who are they, what is their experience, and what do they represent today? How do Donald, Carlo, and their follower’s actions and beliefs stack up against the invisible and eternal? I would imagine they see themselves as necessary warriors of their causes.
How am I to not be silent without falling into being judgemental and self-righteous? I find solace in prayer and by minuscule actions every day that serves the greater good. More listening is called for now and reading.
And I write. I write here to try to ground controversy, hate, worry, and tragedy within the infinity of the invisible and the eternal. I give my tiredness to God and here, to other bloggers.
I am disappointed today in humanity and myself—nothing exceptionally grand or novel about today. In the sea of human failure and misery, my response feels wholly inadequate. I know my intentions and awareness are essential but useless without a sea of change for others, sharing a vision of greater humanity toward others.
In the face of people like Donald and Carlo, I can find myself wanting to fight like a wolf rather than a sheep. Within each of them is also the essence of a sheep as we are all capable of being both at the same time. The challenge is who did we feed, the wolf or the sheep. I cannot be silent, but I cannot be a wolf being fed by conflict, war, and ego-driven battles of ideology and spirituality. We must move forward and leave the history of social injustice, hatred of others, and discrimination behind us.
(0) Endings Always Bring; New Beginnings
A blogger that writes pieces longer than myself! The art of deep thought and wrestling with life’s meaning does not fit well in. Tweet or a meme. This post hits resentments, loss, and worries. My spiritual response….
What lamentations or resentments do I hold today against others? I can think of a few, and despite having gently nudged them out to sea, sometimes the damn fools wash back up on shore!
Some journeys can be slow. The book of Genesis finished this a.m. The importance of patriarchy and wisdom passed on from father to son is not lost in this book. Like modern times, fathers of the past had errant sons too. Jacob, while preparing for death, tells his sons, “Simon and Levi are brothers; Instrument of cruelty are in their dwelling place. Let not my soul enter their council” for the various ill-deeds their tribes performed. The rest of the brothers seemed to get off very well with their father’s blessings and prophecy, with Joseph being the leader of them all. Families are not perfect and Joseph forgave his brothers their ill will even after his father passed.
Meanwhile, in Matthew, Jesus is growing his ministry with miracles and words of confounding wisdom. The scribes and Pharisees are asking for signs and laying traps for Jesus. He is foretelling many will not listen to what is before their eyes. They listen with the intent to carry out their agenda – not the agenda of God or truth. Jesus drops the artificial ties that we all define our relationships by, even his blood relatives, by declaring, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” This is telling me my brother and sister are not defined by blood alone. it is also telling me if I listen with an agenda in mind, I am apt to not truly be listening.
And today, my meditation speaks to the “Mysticism of the Streets.”[i] Richard details the 1100 years of the desert fathers and then introduces St. Francis bringing monastic life and theology into the practice in the streets with other people. In ordinary life, the Friars of the Franciscan order followed not a life of solitude, but life among the people:
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”
My Grandfather’s hard work, stoic nature, and disciplined mind came into my heart this morning. He was a quiet man. If whispers came to him that I broke a window or a fence in the community, he would, without words, ask me to join him to help with some project. There I was with him in hand mending a fence I broke, or a window shattered—no words needed to be passed. Quiet work, job done, no words exchanged. None needed. I was not moved to write this morning, which happens often enough.
I had the day off today by surprise. The governor made Juneteenth day a holiday. I was going to go to the gym but instead scheduled to give blood at the blood bank and visit a friend I had not seen in some time. I like to think I was doing a service, but a small part of me thinks I was avoiding the gym!
At the blood bank, a German lady serving the juice and cookies decided my name was German, and I was not to spend the 15 minutes reading a book alone. She pulled in another German lady to boot. We discussed Germany, my Grandfather, and Grandmother, the town of Ubrirkichen, stonemasons, the arbitrariness of money, and families torn apart by WWI and WW II. She knew exactly where the town was and her accent mimicked by Grandmother.
I had not thought of my Grandfather before this morning for some time, and an hour or two later, his immigration to the United States and strong character are celebrated. Elsa, his wife, my grandmother, is remembered as well for her love, principles, and tenderness. I do not remember her being beautiful in the way she is in this picture. I remember her being beautiful as a grandmother with a warm and delicate smile. Both of them were quiet people, but stronger than anybody I knew, perhaps that is still true today.
Happenstance? I think not. Patriarchy, history, and remembrance made real hours after my a.m. spiritual reading bought my Grandparents’ love and lives into my mind.
My day did not include much solitude or prayer today. It did include giving blood, sharing history with two German ladies, visiting an old friend, returning home to plant some flowers, joining my wife for dinner out, giving up the television room to my daughter and her friends just when I wanted to sit and watch the bloody news, and now writing this morning dew as the silences from the past and present have blessed me today.
Somehow scripture seemed intimately connected to my day without any conscious effort on my part – just gentle whispers of grace. These two grandparents left indelible images in my heart, and one of them gave me stubbornness as well, which sometimes serves me well and other times, not so well!
What would their words be today if they were here? I don’t think they would have to say a thing. They might start pruning a tree or inspecting a crooked door for repair, but words of guidance no need, they teach only by doing.
The Old Testament and The New Testament came alive for me today in subtle ways. Someone else reading the same exact passages would walk away with different sentiments and thoughts. How these sentiments and thoughts guide our lives is the test of true spiritual discernment.
[i] Richard Rohr Daily Meditations page 43.
Esau gives away his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. A steep impulsive decision considering the firstborn gets double or more of the inheritance when their father passes! A youthful and rash decision for immediate gratification. Jacob manipulated his brother’s immaturity to have the firstborn birthright. At first glance, we could interpret this as merely brotherly gesturing and joviality. However, the Old Testament does not tend to present joviality or gestures. Every passage has intended purpose, and this passage captures brotherly jealousy and hatred and foreshadows further division.
A Baylor University Graduate thesis summed it up this way: “The primary thesis is that YHWH both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), giving rise to what I have dubbed a theology of deception. Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between both how the text means and what the text means, with theological aims, this study examines the various manifestations of YHWH as Trickster in the Jacob cycle. Attention is given to how the multiple deceptions evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise.”[i]
This is truly horrific. Isaac calls to his son Esau and says, “Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death.” He then asks Esau to go and prepare him an exquisite “savory meal” so that he may eat it and then bless Esau in the presence of God before his death.” Esau takes off at once to prepare the meal. Jacob and his mother, however, prepare and execute an elaborate scheme and deceive Isaac. Jacob brings him a meal first, dressed up as Isaac, and received the blessing reserved for Esau.
Prepostouris? $36.5 billion is stolen from the elderly every year by financial abuse. Jacob clearly deceived his father and would be defined as financial elder abuse today! “It is estimated that $30 trillion will be inherited in the next 30 years . The result is a significant percentage of children and grandchildren fighting for what they believe is their fair share of inheritance while either one or both aging parents are still alive.” If your getting on in years, please save your loved the trouble and lock down your intentions now by a legal will and make peace with everyone so that their are no surprises. That is a legacy worth sharing.
My vision of Jacob has always been somewhat colored by Jacob’s Ladder story, which comes a little later on in Genesis. He rests his head on a rock and settles in for a night’s sleep while on his journey away from Esau’s wrath and has a beautiful epiphany known historically as Jacob’s ladder. God speaks to Jacob in this dream: ‘And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest'” Jacob exclaims, “How full of awe is this place!” This is the Jacob my Christian roots celebrate and remember! Jacob, by this point, has now entirely supplanted Esau and becomes a patriarch in Jewish biblical history.
In Matthew chapter 11 today, Jesus entirely supplants John the Baptist, who is sitting in jail at the moment. Poor John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He bought people knowledge of the Messiah’s coming, as Jesus proclaimed John the Baptist is a prophet, as it was written:
“Behold, I send My messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way for you.”
John the Baptist life demonstrates extreme faith, humility and obedience. Biblically, both John and Jesus miraculous birth were predestined and revealed by an Angel. John was born first, and Jesus later.
Jesus preached that the time for preaching and prophets are done. He is bringing us final knowledge.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Paul MccCarren, SJ captures this message as Jesus telling us now is the time to “take on the burden he carries, the hardship of turning to God’s desires rather than our own.”
Before my hand hit the keyboard this a.m. my paint brush etched out the above drawing. The Old Testament representing Knowledge and the New Testament capturing practice. Esau replaced by Jacob. John the Baptist replaced by Jesus. Esau and Jacob account replaced by John the Baptist and Jesus Account?
I am left feeling Jesus and YHWH perhaps do have a sense of Jovialty. I do not believe following the way prepared by John the Baptist, foreshadowed by the Old Testament, and bought to fruition by Jesus Christ presents us with a “light burden.”
Hidden within both text are linkages and foreshadowings that unravel one moment and disappear next. Everyday is a new canvas.
We are left in the present moment practicing the embodiment of our knowledge in our everyday actions.
The moral lessons in these two accounts are too many to draw out here except one: My first born son owes me a savory dinner!
Jesus Christ is my bodhisattva. Walking in his steps is filled with challenges, failures, and ever unfolding mystery. Everyday starts afresh with a blank slate for which I can live in the present moment relying on the knowledge of the past and the practice today of being aware of what is God’s will.
While it is true we will have our share of adversity and suffering here on earth, truly walking God’s path provides the ability to project calm, joy, and peace to others no matter what the circumstance. We do not have to wear suffering on our sleeves, we can carry that weight in prayer and with others when called to do so.
Have a beautiful and blessed day where ever you find yourself physically and spiritually today.
An honest and ethical man has after 60 years of life, and much experience remained steadfast that there is no God. His conclusions are based on a well-rounded education, including post-graduate psychoanalytic education, reasoned philosophical and scientific influences, and six decades of lived experience. He is not ignorant of knowledge regarding the faith of his youth (Catholicism) or about the faith of others. He has studied Catholicism and Judaism more than most believers. He has due to his profession been present and intimate with priestly types who seek out professional counseling when spiritual manna alone was not enough.
He has searched for God. Incidentally, while flying on a plane, he was seated next to a large case that resembled a giant musical instrument case. On further inquiry, he discovered the seat next to him was occupied by the Holy Statue of Fatima (also known as the Mary Statue). The religious relic was accompanied by a caretaker as it traveled the United States for the faithful to see. Many swear it has healing powers. That coincidence did not result in an epiphany of Belief. He has not found God by accident or by searching. Nor has God granted him the Grace to allow him to know God.
If pinned down to articulate his metaphysical opinion, he would probably say he was a friendly atheist, or perhaps a pro-god atheist. If discussing this with a fervent believer, he might even offer up an Agnostic position, avoiding threatening the foundation of Belief held by his audience. Like religious believers, not all Athiest are the same and fit under one umbrella. Check out the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Agnosticism and Atheism.[i] You will find atheist old and new, friendly and militant, divided into roughly the same factions as any religious faith has within its congregation.
However, he is not just an Athiest. He is my elder brother. He has mentored me in education, in human relationships, philosophy, and life. We have enjoyed life together on many occasions. We have also shared suffering, misery, and death of loved ones. We have applied the God test over the decades to many of our personal lived experiences and world events.
It always came down to the word faith. I have faith, and he does not. He is no less a man than I and perhaps in the eyes of God, more generous and holy in action and thoughts. If we were to visit a foreign land together where our faith or lack of faith was unknown, people would not be able to distinguish between us our good intentions for others and principles regarding social justice issues. We are cut from the same tree. We are both social workers. He went the route of clinical orientation and therapy, where I went the hybrid route of social determinants and mental health wellness. We also share some of the same fault lines within our character that has caused us both more than a small degree of trouble. And yet, I have faith, and he has none.
Faith, in my view, can be given to you without your willingness. An all-powerful God could easily bludgeon you across the head until you got it (my case) or reveal himself in more subtle ways. Having a spiritual experience is consoling and sustains faith. Receiving spiritual consolations is, however, for most people, an invisible or transient experience quickly discounted as coincidence, subjective experience, or spiritual imagination in overdrive.
Why has an all-powerful God not given faith to my brother? Biblically many turn their eyes and ears from hearing God or God’s message. I do not believe this to be the case for him or many others in the atheist camp.
He is a serious man who has given much thought to metaphysical realities and who lives a life dedicated to the betterment of humanity. I mentioned earlier we both share the same fault lines, so I am not putting him up on a pedestal. We are not undiscovered saints, just regular people meaning well.
This man a day ago or two ago texted me a response to one of my posts. He said, “I wish I had your soulful outlook and faith, but I don’t think that will ever come.” He does not need to challenge my faith or criticize my Religion[ii]. This was just what it was, a general reflection on our polar outlook on the existence of God. His view is sort of a Kantian philosophy that religion is “basically resolvable into ethics, that everything else that preoccupy religious people – liturgy, sacraments, prayer, preaching, pious practices, etc.–is all finally about making us morally upright people.” His non-belief and my belief stand as a testimony against the very identity of the other. Without open dialogue, this can be very tragic. Is this what Christ meant when he said he will turn brother against brother?
We both have reached a stalemate. Not one of animosity or a brotherly intellectual battle, just an acceptance that all roads have been traversed, and neither of us can move the other on this issue regarding the existence of God.
The Morning Line?
My return text was a parable of sorts that his actions and behaviors would speak for themselves here on earth. After that, we both would meet roughly the same judgment when our day comes. Spiritual handicappers in the afterlife, perhaps even deceased relatives of ours, might be studying a daily racing form on how we will both finish the race, giving us morning lines and odds, give or take a few spiritual points. If there were bookmakers in Heaven, how would they set my morning line?
The day after this communication, my morning reading was called Experiential Knowing.[iii] Richard Rohr states, “Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential and undoubted for a person.” Mystics don’t say “I believe,” they say, “I know” with quiet confidence and Humility. Whereas most believers say “I believe” as they were taught to say in their respective faiths and strive to live up to the expectations of what their faith teaches. He refers to this as a “Creedal Belief.” Creedal Belief gives us guideposts until we achieve a deeper level of understanding that is personal and experiential.
Survey 100 faith-based believers and ask them if they know and have experienced God in their lives? Or take a short cut and visit Pew Research Surveys.[iv] I was pleasantly surprised that in one study, 74% of Americans say they talk to a higher power, and 28% say God talks back to them! This study looks at what Americans mean when they say they believe in God. The study does not provide me with a percentage of people who would define themselves as believers (believe and follow a creed) versus Mystics (have experiential and personal experiences that they know without a doubt that God exists).
My estimate is if asked privately and confidentially, most believers would fall under the creedal belief side. To doubt is a human experience. The apostles showed their doubt and lack of understanding despite having witnessed miracles and spiritual consolations beyond our imagination. In my opinion, genuine everyday believers have aspirational hope and faith. They have had enough given to them to by historical precedence and spiritual traditions to lay a foundation for Belief.
Not everybody gets that foundation. War, famine, poverty, trauma, suffering, disease, natural disasters, accidents, and other tragedies may destroy or strengthen the potential for Belief. Where and when you are born will shape your spiritual orientation. What you experience in life may bring that spiritual orientation to its fullest potential or extinguish it into non-existence. There is no equity or fairness applied here. Nor is self-determination, a primary driver who gets faith or spiritual consolation and who does not. And yet, faith lives in the hearts of many.
I am no theologian and am not fit to speak for Catholic theology or any other faith. I know there is a God today, but I am not a mystic! My faith is too flimsy, and my discipline too weak. A gentle breeze can move my Spirit into desolation and set me adrift in fear and desperation. I need regular spiritual maintenance.
Prayer, reading, meditation, and fellowship provide me a guidepost for reflection and an anchor to being able to meet the responsibilities that come with suffering, success, joy, sadness, hatred, failure, or any other human experience. Every situation is grounded in spiritual responsibility outside my self-interest.
My generation and my brothers have only witnessed roughly 3% of the years that have passed since Jesus Christ was here on earth. We are missing witnessing directly 97% of the years that have passed since Christ was here on earth. That 3% gets very small if we go back in time to Judaic traditions and beyond. We both have minimal information first hand and volumes of conflicting information second hand passed down generation after generation. Our sense of existence when mapped out against a spiritual timeline going forward or backward into eternity gives one a sense of the impossibility of truly knowing anything.
Catholicism provided me my central paradigm. I am also a spiritual thief and willing to learn from the faith of spiritual cousins in Christianity, more distant cousins in Judaism and Buddhism, and fellow human beings with other belief systems or atheists and agnostics shy of heresy! What do I mean by that? Religious institutions and people can sharpen my faith by how they deal with suffering, hardship, and success. We will know what is right by the results they produce.
Catholicism and some of its cousins, for example, have lost their way as evidenced by the child sexual abuse scandal and enmeshment in political issues that reflect poorly on the faith. Historically religions have been used to wage war, persecute people of other faith, or denigrate and discriminate against people. My current Pope is trying to rectify some of the serious errors and mistakes of the past. This works for me, in addition to fulfilling my callings in life as they keep evolving and changing.
Let me tell you what I told my brother yesterday in response. I told him the story of two decades ago when kids had just spray-painted graffiti on my fence many years ago in New York City. I was at that time in the right spiritual place. I kept a large can of green paint in the shed and welcomed new graffiti as it came with an opportunity to paint that portion of the fence. I was not at all vested in catching or worrying about the fence being spray-painted again by an emerging artist. My Cuban neighbor came out and stopped by. He was incensed and livid. In a Cuban accident, he yelled with expletives, “they should be a church on every xxx corner, not for me, but those little xxx kids.” I received his support with a smile but advised him, Andre, we were once kids too, and I am sure we crossed a line somewhere. He absorbed my calmness, and we resumed a peaceful day. I painted as he talked.
The idea presented by Andre the Cuban was those kids needed a church. He did not need a church, in his opinion. This struck me twenty-years later enough to raise it in light of my brother’s lack of faith. Perhaps, God gives faith to those who God has determined to need faith to handle their situations or to promote a higher purpose of God’s divine will. Andre does not need a church to know not to spray-paint my fence! He may benefit from a church or other spiritual consolations for other life challenges – but he knows to destroy another person’s property for social status amongst a peer group is wrong without a church on his shoulder. Neither one of us did a thing to help the kids who were vandalizing people’s property—a missed opportunity to turn a negative into a positive all these years later.
The atheist around the corner may be living God’s will without knowing God by a name – a name prescribed by the various world religions who mostly genuinely believe their scripture or tradition to be the most accurate path to the divine life.
I can say “I know God Exist,” or I believe in such and such Creed. I cannot tell an Athiest, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or another religious believer that I know my faith, and my Creed is the only way for them to achieve a holy life. I simply do not know to a person God’s divine plan or divine destiny; I can only know my own experience.
Moral of the story?
- Many paths: It is a mystery as to what is the best path to a holy life. I suspect there are many paths, and some of us do not need a religious guidepost. The non-religious among us may serve a purpose that we who are adorned with the garments of religiosity or spirituality cannot fulfill. Divine Providence and Divine Mystery leave us all in the dark.
- Judgment day: Every day, we are judged by ourselves, our fellow man, and an eternal benchmark against the history of humankind. The Athiest and the Believer leave the morning gate at the same time. The spiritual oddsmakers assign weights and probabilities to each one when they should cross the line based on their circumstances and abilities. It is the greatest horse race of all-time. Much is given, much is expected. Neither the Athiest or the Believer can judge each other’s performance relative to the other. The Oddsmaker does not tell them today what to expect, where to finish, what pace to run, or if this is their last race. Run today as if it was your last race. Run according to your abilities and potential. Every split second is clocked and measured. It is not what you are labeled as belonging to, but how you perform your calling that matters at the end of the day. What matters is the good you do today – tomorrows will take care of themselves.
- Mystery: The moral of this story is that very few of us can claim to be true mystics. If we are in the faithful camp, we cannot claim we have earned that faith through self-will and action. We cannot even explain why we have faith and why others do not or have an equal or greater allegiance to another faith. If we are truly blessed to be able to say consistently, and with the conviction that we know God exists by personal experience and revelation, we have truly been blessed through no fault of our own. Perhaps, by God’s humor, we have only been called as God said, let me reveal some to this one, or he will destroy a lot of things in my house!
- Living God’s word: We can undoubtedly offer people an explanation of our Creed of beliefs. If they are attracted to how we are living and how genuine we are, we may be able to share our faith. This assumes our faith is producing people living holy lives, as evidenced by our actions and behaviors. Whether we are believers or mystics, it still comes down to what we do and not what we say.
- Humility: We cannot assume or declare moral, religious, or spiritual supremacy. Perhaps it is God’s will that my brother lives his life within an existential framework practicing humanist love for humanity free of religiosity. That paradigm may have enabled him to reach specific people through God’s will.
- Love: My Catholic faith does not separate me from the Athiest or other religious faiths. In almost all issues, we will have common ground on what is the ideal moral and ethical action in most circumstances. The areas of divergence and conflict are where I will and am challenged. I am called to practice Humility while still be able to state what “I Believe.” Liberation theology is an example of where religious beliefs can bring me into conflict with the current social and political order of western culture and unchecked capitalism. The ideals of the dignity of life issues in light of scientific advances and medical options available that can alleviate unnecessary suffering or end life prematurely create animosity and confusion. I love those who hold different interpretations of what is the right thing to do, especially when presented with choosing between two terrible choices, both of which will bring pain and suffering.
- Legal law versus spiritual laws: One question that pesters me, is should my faith determine the law of the land, or should my faith attract believers to follow my Creed when societal values differ from my spiritually discerned values? I must walk patiently and, with wisdom, indeed discerned. With human history teaching me how quickly religious institutions and nation-states can persecute thousands by genocide, alienation, and other acts of our evil, I am cautious about advocating my interpretation or that of my faith needs to be the law of the land. I would much rather people desire what I have then be told to do what my faith says.
My Sunday readings today touched on the paraclete, or the Advocate, or the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit or Advocate helps us discern “true from false” and “good from the bad.” Catholicism Catechism says that “From the beginning until the fullness of time, the joint mission of the Father’s word and Spirit remains hidden, but is at work.”
For Two Thousand Years, the Holy Spirit hidden in the background doing God’s work. Athiest maybe holier than religious types if they are taping into consistently choosing “true from false” and “good from the bad.”
The 28% of Americans who reported they hear answers back from God, if you interviewed them, I could tell you most of them did not hear a clear auditory command or see a burning bush. More likely, they experienced a gentle whisper or an epiphany of thought that may mirror the same revelation atheist experiences when deciphering right from wrong in certain situations; only the latter has no direct knowledge of the “Holy Spirit” at work.
For us believers, do we believe the Holy Spirit is only working with the faithful? Of course not. The logic, education, and set of moral principles that an Athiest uses to stand up for human rights or bash a corrupted religious institution may be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Athiest may not see or have gratitude for the gifts of oratory, a clever pen, or other talents that they possess as coming from any special dispensation cultivated within him, but God just maybe slowly at work. It is not that he is ungrateful, it is simply that he cannot be grateful for what he cannot see. His gratitude is more likely expressed directly to the people around him – and that should happen anyway!
My brother may not know God. Neither the Paschal Mystery or Pascal’s wager bring him any closer to God. He and many like him can be painted as an Archetype Athiest. One who is blameless for being an Athiest and mostly living a meaningful and loving secular life.
Perhaps he has been given a special dispensation by the God of my understanding. He is blind to a spiritual awareness of a defined God and free of the religious binds and toxicity that exist in many of our religious institutions. He is at once outside the church or synagogue and yet unknowingly within it. He is guided by a human conscience to do what is right – and he ascribes these principles originating from education and the power of human development, which is undoubtedly part of what makes him able to identify right from wrong.
Unknown to him is a gentle whisper, sometimes heard and heeded, sometimes unheard or ignored, just like the faithful. He has a harder road than the believer for each action, and the decision appears to be uniquely his own. He also must carry the weight of no afterlife, and the knowledge that all there is in life is what he has now. As the clock winds down on him, every moment becomes more precious. There may be no tomorrows or an afterlife.
Many a believer, despite knowing there is a God, will have the same existential crisis as their time nears an end. Only the rare mystics face death with solemnity and confidence in the eternal.
In my God’s tent, the God of my imagination, there is room for many special dispensations. Some will receive them here on earth and others only after.
How many artists died in poverty before their artwork was valued? How many saints or now revered spiritual writers were once deemed heretical before being acknowledged as owning some spiritual truths.
There is a place for good men outside the church to hold the church accountable indeed and to be there for those in need who cannot, for one reason or another, turn to God.
I see God and humanity in my brother. He is a good man and has lived a truly human life with great joys and great sorrows. He sees the good in people as well and can see past people’s limitations too. I hope he and other archetype Athiest can see goodness and principles in me and in the majority of people that share my faith. Neither he nor I can claim a higher spiritual or moral ground.
If I am right about God existing through my 3% lense, I am confident that same God has a broad tent that will include Mystics, Believers, Agnostics, and yes, Athiest.
This is not faith, but Grace. By the Grace of God, may our errors and human folly be overlooked and our genuine strivings to do good be captured in the odds maker’s books. If there is a God, I honestly cannot say my brother’s odds are any better or worse than mine.
We have two brothers and parents that have already come to know the answer. They aren’t sharing it yet with us. May Grace be with them, with my brother, and each of you that have managed to read this post on brotherly love and spiritual divisions.
Is it God talking to me when the day after my brother makes that comment about the belief that my guided meditation is on mysticism versus creedal belief and the Sunday mass sermon focused on the Holy Spirit? Was it God talking to my brother when the Lady of Fatima was sat next to him on a plane? The faithful among us say of course while the atheist among us are unmoved. Yet we coexist pursuing a moral world, living with suffering, and promoting compassion and love.
Artist Paul Gaugin was very much unappreciated in his day as are many artists, theologians, Catholics, and even Athiest today. He died in poverty and obscurity. Some say the following painting captures the artist expressing his own suffering and isolation, a self-portrait as opposed to the suffering Christ. It is a shame that we value people more when they lay horizontal in the grave than when they are vertical and alive with us.
How is his spirituality captured in this painting? How is our spirituality (for believers) and morality (for Athiest) captured on the canvass that represents our life?
[ii] We both have ample opportunity to criticize the Religion of our youth. Religion, though, we both firmly agree, is prone to the errors of men. No religious organization is exempt from minute mistakes and severe grave actions that can only be called evil or, at the very least, not representative of any divine will.
[iii] Yes, And….Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, page 42.
Poor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i] Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar. There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:
I am not buying their version of these events. They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.
My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation. This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God. The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac. The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii] The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.
Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars. Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!
How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?
Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer. He is tested all along the way. The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.
In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible. However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar. A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms. Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.
At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine. In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God. The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son. We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.
Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle. He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.
My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthews 10:34)
We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.
In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of God. He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles. They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.
Where are we today? In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!
We are a nation divided politically. Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world. Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions. Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other. Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”
We have been killing each other since the dawn of time. What are we to do in the face of such division? Jesus proclaims:
“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God. To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples. While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh. If you have, please contact me! I have a favor to ask.
We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility. There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides. At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things. The truth will not be all good for either side.
Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith. Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well. Today we are on God’s testing ground. We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture. We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined. We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.
I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction! And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions. I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically. Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.
What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth. I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions. I will take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination. So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead? Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time? I know my answer. What would yours be?
Before I go, let me return to Isaac. It appears as if he did okay and maintained his relationship with his father, Abram. Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God. I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.
Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week? My blessings are too many to count. Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering. Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices? And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?
What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle? I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy. In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships. Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!
Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?
Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…
[i] Genesis 22:8
Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other. Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed. Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death. Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.
This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment. It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined. Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.
But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life? Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect. To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly. And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this motto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained. Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity? This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning. Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?
The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets. We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above. I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting. I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session. That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.
Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces. The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting. Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune. Nothing is ever enough. Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.
The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.
- Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
- A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
- Lay up your treasures in heaven
- Do not worry about your life
- Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
- Build your house on a rock
Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages. No back and forth or interpretation. A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.
Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations. Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something. We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.
I can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds. They had perhaps an advantage over us. God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law. I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle. Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.
These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth. Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat. Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”
Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.
In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.
Did this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled. However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas. Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side. What does it mean?
Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.
First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face. Our ancestors before us have seen it all. The wisest among them were ready for when their time came. If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.
Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God. In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now. The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.
- Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay. He did not promise storms will not come. As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
- Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today. Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you. You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone. The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have. That is not as sad as it sounds. I trust in many people today. I love many of those same people. Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me. I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them. My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome. This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
- Living rightly: What does that mean? In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are. Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
- Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance. Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing). Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
- Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints. Most of us have other callings. It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child! Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly. We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan. We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again. Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.
Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love. This was not reserved for those who were perfect. It was for all of us.
These steps match the steps for any profession. Find the manual and start working (act now). Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms). Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly). Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help). Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.
There is so much in these few pages and this post. How can you translate this into anything worthwhile? Build on what you have now (strengths). Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection. Throw in extra time when needed. Journal, read, and be curious. Let others in that will support you.
On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy. I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle. About the only joy that bike bought us was watching him crash. The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing. Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash. Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.
Everyone wants a cheat sheet. The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet. Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians. If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written. Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove. The rest is up to you. I don’t recommend a unicycle!
The answers are not only in the bible. Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older. A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years. They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.
My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ. His followers are far from being free of error. There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history. I am not limited to models from Christianity as well. Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them. They are not free from error either. At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.
I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah. The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east. Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.
Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority. Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions. Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations. Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.
You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it. It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts. This has been a hard post to finish. My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth. Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored. I am not a mystic or a priest. Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.
Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires. Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it. No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you. They too can make errors.
To what end is this post. It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people. You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones. You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times. Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament. And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.
If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison. If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes. You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death. Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.
Today, three thousand people will perish from COVID. An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty. Upright hard working people just like me and you. Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.
In my view, we only have one answer. Still the storm and take refuge in prayer. Take stock in your circumstances. Find acceptance for what is today. Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you! They maybe two different things. Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others. Pray for them. Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life. Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.
In my a.m. reading In the Old Testament, Noah just landed the Arc on dry land, and in the New Testament in Jesus Christ is fulfilling the law of prophets. In Matthew Chapter 5, he succinctly lays out the steep climb of what it is to be Christian in 48 lines.
Again, I diverge to the most prominent question. How could Noah of built such an Arc in his time and boarded it for so long with every creature known to humanity? I direct your attention to the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church as presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul the II, on April 23, 1993. This document, delivered to one of my favorite Popes on my birthday, will provide you the answer about how to approach the scripture of Noah’s Ark.
My take on the story is that Noah was faced with a very angry God who was much displeased with humanity, and Noah was called to take action to the highest degree – building an Arc as directed by God and face the criticism and laughter of neighbors near and far. His actions would lead to a covenant with God that would later be fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
My spiritual interpretation is, “what kind of Arc should we be building every day in our lives for when we hit troubled times? Again, I apologize to the fundamentalist and spiritually insecure (not necessarily the same thing) and advise you not to read my blog. My experience and prayer life has led me to reject fundamentalism in all its forms and reject rigid “Phariseesims” as pseudo-religion akin to pharmaceutical overdosing – numbing the soul without approaching God.
More fighting words, and yet I do not want a fight. You be you – if your understanding of God must be pitched in the fundamentalist tent. My tent is intended for a broader portion of humanity that could not adhere to fundamentalist views if you paid them a year’s salary. They are inquisitive, open-minded, and curious people with and without a religious background that yearn for a deeper meaning to life in the face of the hollow secularism that faces our society today.
What they most often are seeking is to quote today’s second Catholic mass reading, is to “conduct themselves with reverence during their time of so sojourning” here on earth.
The answer is laid out in 48 lines in Matthews’s gospel and what is commonly known as the Beatitudes. Practice them, and you will be well on your way to living a sanctified life and drawing closer proximity to God.
There is an unfortunate catch. It is a common cliché we often say every day as a motto for success in our secular lives. We say it and hear it all the time in work and sports – go the extra mile, and you will be successful.
Jesus says to the crowds, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” And he does not limit this to your friends and family. This is taken for granted. He is speaking about people who harm you, gossip about you, steal from you, or otherwise, in short, are considered your enemies. Matthew 5:38 to 42 is a steep hill.
Taken literally and followed to the letter, you may just prove you have been called to be a Christian martyr and saint, recognized by many, or simply dying in silence and known by God alone. Most of us do not have the stomach or the discipline to live the Beatitudes entirely, and especially this idea of “Love your Enemies.” Many of our enemies would use our faith against us and our loved ones if we applied this rule indiscriminately. Just a few paragraphs before Jesus preached, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Sometimes we must stand up for ourselves and the oppressed. Sometimes to turn the other cheek would not only harm us and others but the one who is doing the slapping. Yet, we can set the boundary with the offender while intentionally loving the slapper all the same.
In our interconnected world, we are often reduced to a sense of helplessness at the hands of more powerful forces than are what available in our trove of defenses. Sometimes we may even fail to act with the full measure of our God-given abilities as well to uphold the morality that we believe is right and just.
Join me on any experimental exercise. List your top ten recurring thoughts that you create angst or unpleasant associations. For most of us, we have recurring fears and emotions that are powerful and consume our energy, perhaps not at the level of obsessive-compulsiveness, but yes, enough to dampen our mood and enthusiasm. Our thoughts, especially when they are negative, should be good servants, not our master. If you have a list, now jot down the emotions that accompany these thoughts. Most often, they will be potent emotions and sometimes very threatening or even overwhelming. These are the things that create displeasure and dissatisfaction in our life.
What do they have to do with the Beatitudes or Noah’s Arc? If these thoughts and emotions are “outsized,” they will leave us little strength for living to our full capabilities to live, drawing ourselves closer to people and closer to God. They are barriers to living your best life.
I cannot read your thoughts. If yours is anything like mine, I had fears for loved one’s health and happiness, health concerns, financial worries, employment concerns, and a certain amount of pride (flip side fear of loss of status). Or perhaps past mistakes or future anxieties about tomorrow?
Many of these things can be negatively affected by my own actions as well as influenced by relationships with others that are outside my control. A bulk of them, when scrutinized closely and sitting quietly with the emotion and with prayerful intention, simply seep away in the retreat of God’s presence. What is left is manageable with compassion, caring, love, and action – for ourselves and for others.
The archetype Noah building his Arc is preparing for when the storm comes. The Beatitudes as well prepare us for living God’s intentions today here on earth and for weathering storms and being genuinely ready when our sojourn on earth ends.
What remains after we have done our part of building our Ark as designed by our calling and conducting ourselves with reverence in all that we do, is to forth our trust and faith in a compassionate and loving God for all the troubles and challenges that seem to be greater than us.
I challenged you to the exercise above again. Contemplate your troubles and your emotive experiences in all their rawness, and then bring them to God. My a.m. mediation focused on “Spiritual things must be tasted more than understood.” The bible and scripture are only dead letters if not read with the intention of not just understanding, but translating centuries-old writings to our current culture and our individual experiences.
My challenges in life have included the trauma’s of years past, the misgivings of my own errors, and the angst of measuring up against my own expectations and those of others and my God. I often missed the mark or mismeasured!
While God is present in every moment, from the most glorious to the mundane, I have found him to be most present when I have fallen hard on the harsh realities of life. When our journey brings us through dark and lonely times.
Across the world, people are praying 24/7 in adoration chapels such as Tyburn Convent below. Sitting in silence is the most challenging prayer for me, personally. I have a tendency to want to be in charge. This has always been an illusion as the old quote goes, Man makes plans, and God laughs.
The spiritual silence of an Adoration chapel is maybe too unnerving or too Catholic for you. Here are 25 natural animal live cams that may provide you with some quiet reflection time and natural beauty of the world: https://parade.com/1015445/rachelweingarten/best-animal-live-cams/
Without the pause in life, serious self-examination and spiritual growth are impossible.
Whatever your higher power’s name is, find time to be with the greatest source of grounding and power that has alluded definition since man first gazed at the sky. If you do not have a higher power, consider interviewing people who beam with grace, peace, and compassion.
My morning readings bought me up and down the mountains of spiritual scripture and self-examination. My list of ten was easy to list, and sorrowfully many of my worries were very shallow and mundane. Capturing them and naming their nature and the emotive experience they have on me put light on where I can have lest investment in trivial things and more trust in the God of my understanding.
This entry was meant to be brief when I started writing with the single strand of “Go the Extra Mile.” Instead, the old and the new testament provided a lesson to prepare by building a spiritual lifestyle, to reflect on my worries and my actions, and to share spiritual contemplation and the roadmap of the Beatitudes.
If you are in the midst of a coronavirus struggle, an active addiction, job loss, or personal struggles of the common variety, I hope you find the time to sit down and name them, experience them in their rawness, and then give it to God. Then get up and go the extra mile with trust that you will be able to handle whatever divine providence holds for you, maybe good, maybe bad.
P.S. sometimes, troubles and trauma or addiction require more than prayer or meditation. Take some time and name the troubles and their impact on you – and then you can decide if professional help is needed. No reason you cannot do both. Of course, sharing your troubles with people you trust or a fellowship of people who can relate can be greatly beneficial as well. A problem shared is a problem halved?
Roadmap for a better life:
This morning I am confronted by locked gates barring entrance to the most peaceful and gracious place detailed in Genesis, the garden of Eden:
“So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24
This confronts me as rather harsh and offends my spiritual orientation of God being a loving God. On further reflection, I wondered, do we perpetuate what God did to Adam and Eve in society?
While we do not have the powers of God, we do yield significant power individually and collectively on others. How many parents have barred an errant child out of love from returning home? In our society today, it is expected that children leave the safety nest of their homes. If the parents were successful, the home represented a garden of Eden where everything was provided for including instruction on things not to do or ingest (drugs, cleaning chemicals, alcohol, etc.). Internationally we sanction errant nations from global access to needed commodities.
Are we harsh and unloving parents when we know to take a son back in may cause more harm in the long run? Are we a harsh and unloving nation when we sanction a nation that is committing global atrocities and genocide within their own country?
A little further on, I am confronted with the numerical challenges of the family of Adam and his offspring. The Cain and Able story teach us about jealousy and revenge. How did they live for so long? On a positive note, Jubal, a son of Cain, introduces a family of flute and harp players as early as Genesis 4: 21. Music was important in human history from very early times. It is the first note of leisure activity in the Bible. But what about living 900 years!
Here we have fighting words that can lead to alienation amongst believers and even alienation from scripture. If you are the spiritually insecure type, stop reading here, and have a blessed day. The truth of the age depictions in the Bible is that we do not know if they are literal (by God’s miracles), symbolic (representing status and power attributed to the patriarchs), or even containing some hidden numerological meaning. The latter points were present in Hebrew culture at the time.
I treat the age question as a mystery. No theologian has convinced me that Genesis was meant to be literally intended, and archeology has not supported ancient man living that long as of yet. That does not mean it did not happen – it means the genealogy provides me a connection through descendants from Adam to Jesus Christ. This lineage is provided for a framework that I may better intuit the word of God today and how my religious formation has been determined or influenced by centuries of scripture before my time.
The fundamentalist positions assumed by many Catholics today could be described as unconscious or naïve. Most Catholics who are literal readers of the Bible do not realize that this method is not a part of their faith tradition and that such interpretations have been repeatedly discouraged by Catholic scholars, pastors and bishops.[i]
The Old Testament is filled with contradictions and complexities that have plagued religious scholars and laypeople from the moment the ink dried on the papyrus paper or scroll. We argue to this day and, sometimes, reprehensible, draw blood in the name of God.
The new testament is not free of its challenges as well as Jesus Christ’s favorite teaching methodology was parables, and we have four distinct Gospels reporting on the life of Jesus Christ.
What most it of been like to be John the Baptist? Imagine you are called to do what he did. Prepare the way for Jesus Christ and turn over your followers before being beheaded yourself? What does this teach us about humility?
In Chapter 4, Satan Tempts Jesus repeatedly three times while Jesus is at his weakest. All three times, Jesus refutes Satan with words and actions. Angels then minister to him as Satan departs, and quickly the ministry of Jesus Christ is detailed from recruiting the apostles to performing great miracles. This happens in 25 lines of scripture, no more. (Matthew Chapter 4)
How do we apply Chapter 4 to our lives without the evidence of the miracles that Jesus demonstrated in his time or Jesus Christ himself standing before us?
In the Silence and moment when Satan departs, I imagine, at the bleakest and weakest point before he begins his ministry, Jesus sits in Silence and wholly given himself to God. Then the angels came, and only then. My grandfather once watched me fight three kids, and only when I was done fighting and pinned to the ground, did he smilingly free my dog butch to come to the rescue. They scattered unharmed. That moment of stillness had never left me when I looked across the street and saw him just standing there watching. Sometimes we have to fight our own battles and God will step in when it is right to do so.
This connects to my morning meditation reading today:
“silence is almost too simple”
“silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world”
“it is the refusal of all technique”
Nothing against prayers, rosaries, and other contemplative prayers – but sometimes, just Silence is best. You will not know what comes after silence until you have experienced sitting with intentional silence and allowing yourself to be open to what comes. Reading scripture is only a starting point. Living it is the greatest challenge.