Your Life is Not About You

St Maximilian Kolbe | Westminster Abbey

I have a sweatshirt with this quote, not so much as to insult everyone else, but as to remind myself of when I am most at peace within my own skin. I am most at peace when I am unconditionally serving others. By service, I do not mean anything grand.

Service comes in many shapes and sizes. When I intentionally am looking out for the greater good of others, without expectation of reciprocal return, my life tends to be happier. It is easy to do this when things are going well. Harder when life’s misfortunes are at my doorstep. However, that is when I need this strength and spirit the most. Caving into any misery or misfortune by falling into the trap of “what about me” and the thousand versions of martyrdom that may accompany my anger, disappointment, and other feelings that accompany when life does not meet my expectations, is only selfish consolation, good for a momentary breath of acknowledging my sense of entitlement.

Most of the time, the situation and consequences are not about me. We often are victims of collateral damage by the actions of others in this world. It may feel personal and direct at the time, but often is just a byproduct of multiple interactions and complex dynamics creating an unfortunate outcome for us personally. It is insulting to our ego that it is not about us at all when these things happen: Health care crisis like COVID, MVCs resulting in life loss (motor vehicle accidents), job loss by organizational restructuring, or like the Ukraine people are experiencing now, War.

Maximillian Kolbe experienced this personally. He was eventually given sainthood for his faith and sacrifice at the hands of Nazi Germany. He was also made the patron saint for people suffering from and living with addiction.

The latter at first was confusing to me. He received this honor as the Nazi persecutors killed him with a lethal drug. However, on deeper dive, his teachings speak often to our attachments being given undue influence. His life was not an easy one, nor his death.

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I am thinking of and praying today for the Saints living and fighting in Ukraine today. Many are giving their all knowing only death awaits. They know today better then we all know that life is not about them. Putin, NATO, and other international influences are not putting the Ukraine people first. Mothers, fathers, and Children are needlessly being killed today.

Maximillian would not flee Ukraine today. Nor would he lift a rifle. He would however bear witness to the evil, serve the suffering, and sacrifice himself for his brother.

I must read more about him. His story reminds me of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also killed by the Germans. War brings out the worst in us, but also the bravest souls.

This article, “Be a Man: St. Maximillian’s Rule of Life” capture some teachings we could learn from today.  The Sober Catholic also has a piece on him.

Morning Dews – #5

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.

images (36)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 hedonismmotto 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?

Inner-Peace-Help-Me-God (1)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.

tinaI 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.

desicplesDid 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.

images (37)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.

covid deathToday, 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.

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For whom does the bell toll

John Donne, Ernest Hemingway, or Metallica?

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John Donne, a Catholic poet (late 1500s), concluded a poem with the same title above with “Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee. Besides this famous poem, his last sermon was called “Deaths Duel,” pictured above.

1441382571-hemingwaysquareHemingway uses this title for the story of Robert Jordan, an idealist demolitions expert who fought as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s father took his own life to allegedly escape a painful uncontrolled battle with diabetes. Hemingway himself accidentally shot himself with a shotgun one early morning.  Most call it a suicide. By the way, the Catholic Poet above once wrote a piece defending suicide.

hqdefault (1)“Take a look in the sky just before you die, It is the last time you will, Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky, Shattered goal fills his soul.” Metalica music has to be heard, not explained:  https://youtu.be/S93yQjQyVko.  This rendition is with the San Francisco Symphony.

Death I am afraid of is all around us before we recognize we are on our own deathbed.  It is alluded to in poetry, literature, music, and all of the arts.  The obituary pages hold on even today despite declining ads and sales in the Newspaper industry. It frames our lives and gives value to our every passing moment.

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I took a walk outside my house last night and glanced at a supermoon.  My son had mentioned it earlier in the evening via phone as something to take in during this quarantine.    Metalica’s song was on my mind.  Thankfully, it was not my last viewing of the evening sky.

The peak rush is hitting my area now of people preparing to leave this earth unexpectedly.  Emotions are raw and numb at the same time.  Towns are ghostly.  People are isolated.  The Bell is Tolling for all of us, if not today, then tomorrow.

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

I am not ready to say those words.  I believe in God, but I do not have any grounding in the multitude of scriptural references that describe life after death.  The mystery is despite the New Testament promises and the allure of other sacred text and many vivid depictions, still great.

It is natural to cling to the known and what we have when faced with the possibility of it all ending momentarily.  When confronted with the potentiality of death, I, at least, conceptualize it all ending.  That is a grave mistake!  The demise of my flesh is imminent, but all those around me and the activities that surround me will continue on.   And my faith captures it as a new beginning, with God’s grace, someplace other than Dante’s Inferno.  And if I do not die, there is still this, the people I love or have loved have been killed or will die regardless.  Loss awaits us all without an itinerary.

There is no escaping death.  We must turn and face it together with the poets, the authors, musicians, and any others who give meaning to life by defining end.

It is common and unceasing, and yet each one of us that crosses that threshold is unique and essential in a way we all will never understand while we remain behind.

How do we face it?  Know it is coming and value today.  Do not dwell in the past or in the future.  Celebrate the life of those around you while they are here to enjoy your company and laughter.  Care for the poor and the sick.  Eat, live, and pray.  Say meaningless cliches!  Let others anger roll off you and help them carry the weights that cause their rage and sorrow.   We share everyone’s losses, tragedies,  and suffering.

Let no trivial matter on your mind occupy space it does not deserve.  Give appropriate weight to meaningful things.  Act with intention and without delay, yet without the rush.  Destiny is here.  Right now.  Cherish it even with its struggles.

If someone you know is going off to the hospital to fight for their lives, make sure to say your piece before they go.  Not everyone gets to come home.  And while we all wait at home for this to pass, if we are so lucky to do so, let us make amends and care for each other, as if tomorrow is not guaranteed.   Perhaps words need not be exchanged, just little gestures or actions.

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Wealth, Debt, Giving and You

“Give enough that it feels risky — if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not stretching enough. If you feel destabilized, it might be too much.”

Let’s get uncomfortable together.  How much pride and security do we get from the size of our paychecks, savings, and the things we own? It would be easy for me here to attack the one percent that have an outsized influence on global poverty and income inequality.  I cannot affix blame on them uniquely as we support an economic system that legally sanctions and supports income inequality.  Let me dial this back closer too home.

I am by my own spiritual measure, failing in the area of desiring more wealth and security.  I aspire to productive principles of economy that are supported biblically to apply my trade honestly, work hard, and not be slothful.   These are admirable and desirable traits that not only serve me and my family but serve society.  This is not my sin or point of spiritual failure.

My lack of perfection is driven by my desire for financial security, my pride in what little wealth I may have, and my stinginess driven by fear of economic collapse.  Again, to a degree, none of this is necessarily sinful as prudence and avoiding gluttony or wasteful behaviors is admirable as well.

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It takes a negative turn though when my own financial security becomes more important than, well, what it should be!  How much is enough?  How much do I trust in God’s grace, God’s guidance, and God’s providence when it comes to money and material goods?

I fear economic failure.  I am in my 50’s and have been provided for all throughout my life despite living below the poverty line in my youth – I was never left wanting.  I have always had viable employment and never had any break in employment history – not even a week. And yet I am fearful of letting my family down or at not having provided my family enough.  This fear is driven by the history of my own youth, insecurity, love, pride, and selfishness.  The latter is not wanting to lose what I have or being covetous of what I do not have relative to others. Don’t get me wrong, for the most part, I have made my peace with material wealth and desire – but I am still not immune from fear and worry.  The latter can influence my politics, my career choices, my charitable dollars, and my behavior for good or bad.

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There is an exclusionary group that I cannot join called Resource Generation[i].  I am too old and too poor to join!  I do not have the problems they have to face today.  They are Millennials born to wealth that are uncomfortable with class privilege and committed to giving back wealth.  The Washington Post[ii] reviewed this non-profit group that’s helping young rich people give away their money today.  This article takes a cleaver to philanthropy and may challenge you to consider your affection for wealth.  A line that caught my eye from Resource Generation guidance on giving:

“Give enough that it feels risky — if you feel comfortable, you’re probably not stretching enough. If you feel destabilized, it might be too much.”

If any of you have ever gambled with any seriousness you may recognize this philosophy.   Professional gamblers that are successful play at stakes where they can temper a losing streak without going bust but not too low a stake that they cannot make enough profits to value their time and skill.

Problem gamblers will edge towards and past the point of betting that can “destabilize” their economic life.  Both the professional gambler and the problem gambler use both prudence (hard numbers) and feelings (situational awareness and enjoying gambling).  However, the problem gambler will put more emphasis on feelings and sensation than on hard numbers and prudence.   If you feel your gambling is destabilizing your life consider calling the National Gambling hotline[iii] for education and support.

Should not our charitable dollar principle follow the same path?  I don’t think I have ever walked into a church ready to lose 300 dollars as I have walking into some casinos or horse racing venues.  Come to think of it, should I ever be wagering an entertainment dollar on a poker hand or a horse when that same dollar can be directed at a better cause than my own gambling sensation or my desire to increase my wealth (the latter is unlikely!).

How much is too much?  I mentioned one-percenter earlier.  In the United States, you need an individual income of about 328,000 dollars or a family income of 475000 dollars to be in the top one percent.  However, must of us live in the top one percent globally, at least income-wise according to investopedia[iv], which by the way can sell you a course on how to invest to reach the worldwide 1%!

  • An income of $32,400 per year would allow someone to be among the top 1% of income earners in the world.
  • To reach the top 1% worldwide in terms of wealth—not just income but all you own—you’d have to possess $770,000 in net worth.
  • The bar to enter the top 1% wouldn’t be this low were it not for the extreme poverty that so much of the globe endures.

Considering wealth and society is a moral and ethical responsibility for every society regardless of spirituality even without spiritual or religious affiliation attached.

My nation (United States) boasts a strong moral high ground of which 70% of our nation proclaims a Christian orientation with another 6% having affiliation with other religious traditions.  That is 3 in 4 Americans hold religiously oriented values.

Christianity, Wealth, and America

President Jefferson[v] made his own bible by cutting out and pasting the words of Jesus Christ.  I raise this as the Red Letters in the bible apply to all Christian denominations.  There is no doubt that Christianity plays a major role in United States elections and policy formation.  We all see politicians including the current Commander in Chief seeking the Christian base.  Do our politicians, our policies, our economic system, and our Christian base support Christ’s teachings?

Today a group in Philadelphia called the Red Letter Christians[vi]  focuses on Jesus Christ’s message and what it implies.  Here is an excerpt from one of their articles on wealth by Shane Claiborne:

“In the radical economics of the early Christian church, it was said that God doesn’t look at how much you give, but how much you have left. They went so far as to say that if a Christian keeps more than they need while their neighbor has less than they need, the Christian is a thief.  If we have two coats, we’ve stolen one.  Or, as the apostle James put it in the New Testament, “True religion is caring for the widow and the orphan and keeping ourselves from being corrupted by the world.”

I don’t expect you to listen to Shane.  The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) reviewed Mark’s Gospel passage and the Beatitudes (Blessed are the Poor)[vii].

“Mark tells us [that] just as Jesus was setting out on a journey again, a man ran up to him, knelt before him, and asked, “Good master, what must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? Nobody’s good, but God alone. But you know the commandments: Do not kill; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; do not cheat; honor your father and mother,” and the man replied, “I have obeyed all these commandments since my childhood.”

Then Jesus looked steadily at him and loved him, and he said, “For you, one thing is lacking: Go, sell what you have, give the money to the poor, then come and follow me.” On hearing these words, [the man’s] face fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he was a man of great wealth.”

The NCR article explains this passage and Blessed are the Poor passage in depth.  The article in my judgment seems to support we need not give away everything to be holy, but we do need to change our outlook on wealth and on the poor if we are to hold ourselves up to be Christian.  Could we be more like Zacchaeus:    

“When Zacchaeus the tax collector encountered Jesus, he immediately repented, pledging to give half his money to the poor. And, if he had defrauded anyone, he would pay him back fourfold. (See Luke 19:1-10.)  Another author noted that Jesus rejoiced in this act, recognizing the reality of Zacchaeus’s conversion. He did not say, “That’s not good enough! You need to give away all your wealth!”

As an aside here, the recovery communities like Alcoholics Anonymous practice amends both materially and spiritually while recognizing limitations as well.  They practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection.  Financial matters are a serious component of recovery and spiritual happiness.   The same applies to Gamblers Anonymous and other self-help groups.  You do not need to be in recovery or have an active addiction though to be chained by financial gluttony and materialistic driven gluttony.  You can still borrow from the recovery communities, practice spiritual pursuit, not spiritual perfection.

The questions still for me is heavy.  How much of my excess earnings should go to my emergency fund, to my savings, to my children, to my debt reduction versus to my church, to the homeless, to poverty, to social justice causes, or other common good causes?

As long as I have any debt, and I have sufficient obligation, I am not comfortable with giving enough that feels risky even if it will not destabilize my economy!  My debt does not stop me from giving to my church or causes, but it does limit my giving.  What is your risk tolerance?

debtLet’s talk about debt.  Our nation is a debtor nation.  Under our current Commander in Chief, our deficit ballooned to nearly $1 trillion in 2019.  Our individual debt is bad as well.  See where you standard relative to your peers at debt.org (link below).  Do you know what your DTI is today?  The median household income hit $61,372 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s almost $20,000 more than it was in 2000. But the typical American household now carries an average debt of $137,063. That is not spoken about at parties.  Americans do not honestly discuss financial struggles.  They do vote out of fear though on messages of economic hope.

While most Americans have idealistic views on fairness and equality, at the end of the day most are struggling to make ends meet behind the white picket fences and cars with kids college stickers affixed.  Throw in a layoff or medical scare and many families are thrust into financial crisis.   Present a platform that raises taxes and speaks to other people’s needs and their vote might not be Christian-centric.

Am I willing to vote for politicians or support policies that will hurt me financially but help the common good locally or internationally?  I have voted this way, and it is never a clean slate as no candidate meets the Jesus Christ standard, but sometimes I do have reservations.

Selfishly – why should up and coming kids get free college education when others still have college loans?  Will raising minimum wage deflate my earnings by dollar inflation, making my purchasing powerless?  Seen from a selfish perspective, there are many local and international policies that I would not support – but from a humanitarian and spiritual perspective, I should be advocating for actively.  Are any of our leaders today champions for the common man or for the oppressed?  Do people even recognize these figures today?

mandela-thoreau-mlkThe current second choice for the Democrat nomination is a Jewish candidate whose policies mirror the Beatitudes of caring for the poor and addressing economic inequality.  The Christian base is apt to call him socialist and radical as Jesus was labeled in his time.  The front runner Christian Democrat has more centrist policies shying away from “risk” and “stretching” policies to change toward a more humane nation but nationally and internationally.  The Commander in Chief’s economic policies are in direct opposition to the Beatitudes as are many of his other policies. Three choices, all fallible, none nowhere near perfection.   The debate also includes how much can our nation give and stretch without jeopardizing our “destabilization” risk to our country? Americans are worried and are driven by fear economics.

Let me give you a little secret if you have read this far – you deserve it.   Every time in life I have weighed giving money that was risky for me (not in my budget or a loan that I would probably never get back) and still gave it I was always repaid in ways I would never have foreseen but financially and spiritually.

If I give only what is comfortable is it really giving or only feeding my own sense of moral righteousness?  What portion of my check should go to taxes that make America a greater place for everybody?  How should America support and lead the world on issues of world poverty and income inequality?  These are Christ-centric questions.  It is easy to answer the ten commandments and thou shalt not kill.      After that – things get interesting.

You and I are the 1 percent by world wealth standards or by proxy as we support income inequality worldwide.  Standing up to this will and is risky and a stretch.  In the meantime, we have the opportunity to give our time and money to good causes.  Before you do that though, balance your own books as well! In the end everything is connected.

cleverness

[i] https://resourcegeneration.org/

[ii] https://www.washingtonpost.com/magazine/2020/03/02/their-families-built-fortunes-these-millennials-are-trying-figure-out-how-undo-their-class-privilege/

[iii] https://www.ncpgambling.org/help-treatment/national-helpline-1-800-522-4700/

[iv] https://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/050615/are-you-top-one-percent-world.asp

[v] https://uuhouston.org/files/The_Jefferson_Bible.pdf

[vi] https://www.redletterchristians.org/mission-values/

[vii] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/peace-pulpit/blessed-are-poor-what-does-mean

VIII https://www.debt.org/faqs/americans-in-debt/demographics/

 

 

The Confrontation with an Atheist

They are as sure of the absence of God as you are in God’s existence. In rare cases, the passionate atheist and fervent believer can meet the eye to eye and wrestle, often to a stalemate, thru the evidence for and against the existence of God — and part after thorough and exhausting discussion, being better human beings.

Religious affiliation is of no consequence here except as evidence for the Atheist that no religious organization has established the primacy of owning the eternal truths that they purport to possess within their separate faiths.

The confrontation can be unnerving and unsettling for both parties. Both have world views that have far-reaching consequences. However, at the core of it all, what is missing is an underlying mutual understanding of the limits of our certainty regarding humanity in general and acceptance of the subjective experiences that allow for or disavow faith.

A Jesuit writer, today on the feast of the epiphany, wrote that a friend of his is an atheist, and his atheism he presumed was primarily grounded in a belief in the primacy of reason. His friend presented a different reason. He shared that he was aware that many believers in God experienced what we Christians would describe as the desire for God “written in the human heart.” “I’ve never experienced that,” he said. “If there is a God, that seems terribly unfair and perhaps even cruel.”  Powerful question. From a Catholic perspective, we acknowledge faith is a grace given to us, not something we can create through our own merit and actions. We believe it is there for the taking for anyone who seeks a relationship with God. On an individual level, how can we explain to a morally upstanding human being, a friend perhaps, why they have not had that spiritual consolation of grace? Many atheists have, by human measures, pursued a relationship with God with persistent, genuine, and sincere efforts and come up empty. Answering them with Divine Providence or God’s mysterious ways, explanations feel insufficient. Judging our friend’s effort and character also seems wrong or Jobian.

My atheist friends, I cannot answer for the absence of a spiritual spark within your heart any more than I answer why a fervent believer can have years of spiritual aridity. I cannot answer the questions regarding human suffering and misery in any manner that will comfort the non-believer.

I can say believers struggle with some of the very same ideological and practical concerns that atheist has about our faith or our religious institution.  I can further say I do not judge your disbelief or assign you any hierarchical position on the spiritual ladder of life. I have been in the Atheist camp as have many believers.  I can say I am willing to be present with you in good times and bad facing life’s graces and suffering. Yes, even graces can be a challenge.

Our joint actions together, no matter how inconsequential our work may seem, can serve humanity in as much as we both ensure our efforts are not evilly intentioned.

6733ae34-574d-46e4-ad2f-6607affc0d56-1998-000002555b4f069aPerhaps my faith in action for the “the greater glory of God” and your work for the greater good of humanity can ignite elevating a shared vision of human social responsibil08c86120-d1ed-42e1-8d18-d430e69e0abf-1998-0000025633cd5576ity.  The litmus test will be frequent and furious. Let us face each divide with genuine compassion, action, and, when appropriate, laughter at our human folly and gross inadequacies.

On my end, I pray today for spiritual grace for anyone who requires this consolation.  I also hope that no one closes the door entirely on the possibility of a higher power and remains open to possibilities.  People often speak about God closing a door for us and opening up another.  I am not talking about that door, I am talking about doors that we close to spirituality.

doorOn what grounds or merit do I write to you on this request.  I have had personal experience opening and closing that dam door.  I have set up shop behind it and barricaded myself inside with science, literature, competition, human relationships, philosophy, sports, and other not so worldly vices.  It took me a bit of time to realize that while most of these comforts hold great value, my life is better after I unbarricaded the door and was open to a relationship with God.  Sometimes I still let the door briefly swing shut on the winds of carelessness and inattention.  It isn’t long before life reminds me how important for me, at least, is an inner spiritual life guiding my mortal days.

For some dramong us, closing that door can be life-threatening and do unbearable harm.  Ask people in recovery about the spiritual aspects of 12 step programs – they are free of religious affiliation but very dependent on an ambiguously defined higher power.    Those open to genuinely following the spiritual elements of the 12 step programs tend to have more success in both recovery and happiness overall.  You can visually see their peace and serenity as you might see and feel when visiting a Trappist monastery.    

SHAIR-138-1

What might your higher power look like if you began to search again and were open to the possibility of God’s existence?   Maybe nothingness, but the journey will be rewarding even if you don’t achieve a mystical experience.    

  • For the Atheist out there, perhaps in deeds and actions, we can find a little spark of spirituality.
  • For those who are looking into religious organizations, my bias is the Jesuits and the Catholic Faith.
  • For those in recovery – the journey is yours to define a higher power, define one quickly and be open to change.

At the end of the day, a discussion with an Atheist, Agnostic, or person in recovery about God is not a confrontation.  It is an opportunity for people of faith to exchange experiences and beliefs that we hold dearly and an opportunity to get to know one another more intimately regardless of challenging questions and probing accusations about our beliefs.   We need not be grand apologetic orators or defensive about inquiry – for if we cannot answer a few questions, how strong is our faith anyway?   And somethings we will never be able to answer – as a relationship and belief in anything mystical will defy our imagination and ability to achieve concurrence among mankind probably beyond my lifetime.

 

4

The morning of day 4 of our Lenten Journey that I share with 2.19 Billion Christians? It cannot be. A century ago there were only 600 million recorded. Yet it can feel like we are only 600 million strong.

And even that number does not capture the loneliness of being a believer. Yes, having belief and faith in God can be a very lonely experience today. Yesterday at noon I was able to get to church. There is the consolation of the redeemer in the sacrament of the Eucharist, the comfort of the rituals, the wisdom of the liturgy, and a scattering of believers in the pews. Yet the experience for me was a very lonely experience.

Each of us carried into church the weariness of our sufferings and challenges of our deeply oriented secular world, spent sometime receiving graces and giving prayer, and left quietly 45 minutes later to return to an indifferent world. Sometimes the saintly most walk alone.

Once outside of the believer bubble we face unrelenting bombardment of human suffering, horrific clerical failures, negative news cycles, systemic injustices, and wide spread corruption on a national and global scale. Personally we may see these injustices directly affecting us or our loved ones. And on a deeply personal level we must also contend with our relationship with others and how they are treating us as well as how well we are living our the Christian ethos in our daily relationships.

Doing so with humility and in most secular circles without any reference to our spiritual principles can be daunting. Even with fellow believers, raising our shared beliefs when it is inconvenient is an easy way to kill a communication and possibly even a friendship. Many individuals do not hold the spiritual and moral norms of our faith despite perhaps espousing to do so and or even have been in the pew besides us Sunday past.

Belief has become a deeply personal experience that is not welcome in the public sphere. Genuine and non-ostentatious effort to raise our Christian voices are seen as hypocritical and ostentatious. To put it blatantly, our society including many Christians believe living Christian ideals as a nation is impractical, in-achievable, and idealistically naive. This is evident in our political representation (and votes) where we have anti-immigration, anti-social justice, and anti-poor poverty legislation. It is evident in our congregations as we have deep suspicions of the “other” on many different levels. And yet we believe and strive.

How do we persist? How do we grow? There are many tools of faith that exceed this post scope. Today I will share one from my morning reading from a Lenten guide (called the Little Black Book) that I picked up while traveling few weeks back when I visited a lovely church that had an open and warm greeting atmosphere as well as juice and cookies in the foyer for after church mingling. (I did not feel alone that day in Church despite being among strangers!).

The reading raised the idea of there are days when I think I am useless. There are days when I can’t seem to do anything worthwhile. The author challenges us to look at by what standards are we judging ourselves?

Are we judging ourselves by our individual standards or by the standards of others? Are we judging ourselves or others by material standards? Are we assuming we understand our role within the larger framework of good and evil or our role within the mystery of Divine Providence?

The author suggest that “God measures our worth by the love in my heart, the prayers on my lips, the faith deep within, the hope that never fails, the suffering patiently endured and offered to God.” I can certainly do better with the latter.

Saint Therese (the little flower) and other Saints have actually prayed to God to send them suffering so they may better serve him! I imperfectly in my prayers say “God, I don’t think I can handle anymore, but your will, not mine, be done.” Perhaps we should not be so focused on what we accomplish? This is so antithetical to western thought.

I so desire to write everyday to share my Lenten journey. Day two was wonderful and God provided me several living affirmations as I served others. Day three was quietly circumspect and day four just underway.

That being said I am living a Lenten journey while doing what God calls me to do. I cannot retreat from the world for forty days and live a contemplative life or writing blog post!. I am where I should be today. I do not know where I will be tomorrow or what sufferings or blessing will come my way. I do not know how my actions will serve God or serve as a vehicle for divine providence. I have only gratitude and surrender to God’s will.

This can be a very lonely experience, especially in times of spiritual aridity. This little sacrifice is feebly humorous when contrasted to the pain and suffering of others or to the greatest sacrifice ever given by the Son of God to redeem us before the father.

Perhaps let me simplify my message today with words from St. Catherine of Siena:

Have a wonderful and contemplative Lenten experience!

Transformation in Christ: Part XI

Holy Sobriety (Chapter 17):

Therefore, let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch, and be sober. (1 Thess. 5:6)

Thessalonians, a letter perhaps authored by Paul the Apostle, specifically invites us to be sober.[i]  Dietrich Von Hildebrand uses this letter of Paul to start his chapter on Holy Sobriety.

Sobriety & Holy Sobriety:

Sobriety for most people immediately conjures up that alcoholic seeking recovery and attempting to achieve sobriety.   In the scripture above Dietrich is speaking about not only sobriety for the alcoholic, but sobriety of the “heart, the mind, and the soul”[ii]  of all men.  He takes the comprehensive definition of a higher level of spiritual sobriety that men not become ensnared with worldly excesses in anything.  To partake in excesses is to devalue the inherent good of things by assigning them more value that what they are inherently worth, placing these things before other higher level values such as friends, family, self, or perhaps even God.

We can become equally inebriated with pursuing many substitutes for fulfillment that we are missing from the absence of a deep spirituality (connection to God) and love of things (animate and inanimate) with proper context and care.    In our material world this is evident in addictions (gambling, substance use, and alcohol, food, sex, and risk takers), wealth and status (cars, homes, watches, gold chains, money), power, competitions, sports, work, and just about any human endeavor (hobbies) that can be abused to satiate our human hunger or help us escape pain.

To review this chapter I cannot separate the two concepts though many readers would like a greater distance between their attachments to worldly things and the down and out alcoholic or drug addict or sometimes even super heroes:

tony-stark-and-carol-danvers-in-an-aa-meeting-1

The above depiction has super heroes (like Tony Stark) in an A.A. meeting.  We tend to exaggerate, romanticized, glamorize or vilify addictions.  It keeps it safe and distant from the every day man.  America now knows it is in every community – addictions by various names are reaping misery, spiritual devastation and death.

For this post we are all one and the same with a spiritual malady that has manifested itself in symptoms and sickness in various forms of human misery that separate us from God or from our fellow human beings.  To simplify I will use the term alcoholic to stand in for all addictions or excessive attachments we may gravitate to in life.

It is Noble to Abstain:

 Premise One:  It is noble to abstain (ascetic self-denial) of alcohol for both the non-alcoholic and the alcoholic.  For the non-alcoholic it is a luxury to be weighed along with all other life’s pleasures and assigned a proper context and value in their life.  For the Alcoholic there is no choice.   They do not have the luxury to imbibe under any circumstances to truly live a holy life.  The risk is simply too high. To borrow from Alcoholics Anonymous – this is my suggestion!

Premise Two:  This post may attract non-Catholic readership that are interested in sobriety and attend self-help groups.   The concepts discussed by Dietrich on Holy Sobriety are wholly compatible with recovery 12 self-help groups sense of living a sober life and having a “spiritual awakening” or “spiritual experience.”  These groups primary purpose is to not drink (or not use, not gamble, etc).  However, through a slow process of working a step program and fellowship the groups are a spiritual program.  They stay away from the “religious” affiliations but hit on many of the core values that one might find in the Sermon on the Mount and many other biblical references.  Countless writers have over-laid the spiritual principles of 12 step groups with the bible.   This post of course is written by as a review of “Transformation in Christ” so the author would love to have every reader has what he has – belief in Jesus Christ as your higher power.   If you are in the early throes of recovery – and are religious adverse, work your steps with a more liberal definition of your higher power.   Things can have a funny way of working out later if you stay sober.

Premise Three:  All addictions are not equal.  Addictions do not discriminate.  Addiction recovery may require medical intervention.  Addiction recovery may require self-help 12 step groups.  Addiction recovery may require surrendering to a “higher power of your understanding.”  Addictions are complex and often have physical, emotional, situational, spiritual, psychological, genetic, and other causal influences or drivers that are beyond our ability to address or judge here.  Get professional help if you have an active addiction and if you have a religious affiliation consider pastoral counseling as well.

Premise Four:   Holy sobriety is all-inclusive and if practiced conquers physical sobriety as well.  Despite seemingly giving up some “isms” in the form of addictions, limiting dependence on human attachments, and practicing a sobriety in all things Holy sobriety is “compatible with a life inspired and sustained by faith.”   It can and will be joyous even in the face of adversity and suffering.

Holy Sobriety:  

What does Dietrich say about Holy Sobriety?   It is marked by a life style that embraces genuineness, simplicity, blunt truthfulness, humility, meekness, patience, mercy, love of God and our fellow-man.  One sentence and we are good to go!   No, of course it is not that simple.  There are barriers and of course our inherent weaknesses as a species and our own individual failings and limitations.  We are as a collective and as individuals maturing spiritually and we alone cannot rush this process:

“There are certain successive stages which must be traversed; certain stages which must be actually covered.  If we ignore this rhythm which is the law of being; if we attempt to skip over the proper course of things and to secure the final result in one blow, if we even try to force some great plan – we fatally deprive that great thing of its depth and its inward weight, and substitute for it a mere counterfeit, bearing the stigma of flat artificiality.  It is only the paths that God has marked out for us that we can reach the high peaks of spiritual being.”

humble

I have to soberly strive for ascetic practices that do involve certain self-denial practices or even combat with excessive habits, attachments, or outright addictions.  These actions will require me to have a pretty good sense and awareness of my values and where they may be distorted or out of alignment with a higher order of values.  The removal of these barriers or at least intention to limit their choke hold on me doesn’t even address living a holy sober life – it only addresses eliminating a behavior.

The successive stages above speak to a slow process of spiritual awakening and elevated sense of our true metaphysical situation (size of gulf that separates us from God) including our blind spots, misaligned aspirations, real limitations, strengths and other graces that we may have been granted.  Living soberly is more than not just eliminating a negative aspect of our behaviors.

It is living a positive, meaningful, zealous and energetic life that strives for holiness while remaining grounded in the reality that our two feed are grounded here on this earth.  We are limited by our mortality, our own dispositions, and the random accidental nature of life and its problems.  The latter presupposes that our emotional response is always centered in the duality of our human limitations and spiritual aspirations.  There is an acceptance of evil while we still do what we can to fight evil.   We are still called to hunger for justice and to be peacemakers in this world.

Okay, I am sober physically and emotionally.  I have turned my will and my desire over to the God of my understanding.  I am joyously celebrating life’s graces and the world’s natural beauty.  I am loving my God (meditation, prayer, liturgy and mass).  And yet this is still not enough.

Holy Sobriety has an element of total surrender to God, an element of acceptance of our status in our lives today and crosses we have to bear, a profound awareness of our separation from God, a deep belief in God’s redemptive powers, and yet living life on an even keel despite our humanly traits to perhaps exaggerate our own personal experiences (our great crosses, heroism, humility or other grandiosity).  We will delve neither into great pessimism or optimism and yet not become a slave to rigid rules or totally be divorced from our personality and unique gifts!

There is a dynamic of Holy Sobriety that both contains immense energy and yet sublime peace and containment.  It is deceptively simple and complex.

Dietrich gives many examples of what Holy Sobriety is not as a measure of guiding the reader’s awareness of the many pitfalls of human aspirations and awareness.  Here is an example of his description of one such danger.

The Natural Idealist:

icarus

“Thus, his lofty mood involves a certain divorce from reality; his bold perspectives are never free from a trait of anemic thinness and of reckless illusion-ism.  He would storm the skies by flight, like Icarus – instead of humbly ascending step by step the narrow, steep, and laborious path that leads to eternity.  His attitude has something forced and high strung about it.  His enterprise is doomed to failure, for it rest on a gigantic illusion concerning human nature, whose dismal abysses he hardly suspects. He fails, in a word, owing to his ignorance of man’s need of redemption.”   

Perhaps even a greater danger is falling into the abyss religious illusionism.  In our zeal to attain and live a holy life we fall into a trap of believing certain private illuminations is definitively the voice of God.   Without thorough contemplation and due diligence of testing our “illuminations” against other possible explanations (like natural phenomena, our very own spiritual imagination, or co-incidental events) we act on our belief without even running it past a spiritual director for external validation.

Pursuing a spiritual life whether for genuine desire to be closer to God or because your life may depend on it (Alcoholics, Heroin/Opiate addictions, etc) remains an honorable path that requires patience and persistence.  Most importantly it requires increasing humility with each step up the ladder.  In my view the higher you climb the smaller you become relative to where you are going.

Humble: 

“The root of all ‘mystical illusionism lies in pride.”

 “Holy Sobriety, on the contrary, implies a humble admission of the fact that we, too, must pay our tribute to universal human weakness.” 

 If we were to apply the standards of “alcoholism” to man’s reliance and hunger for earthly things above mature spiritual living we would have an explosion of adults confronting countless dependencies that distract us from living truly spiritually driven lives.

A powerful chapter on living in Holy Sobriety that has universal value beyond people in recovery from an “ism.”  If none of this grabs you, perhaps this can enliven your spiritual  imagination:

quote-be-sober-be-vigilant-because-your-adversary-the-devil-as-a-roaring-lion-walketh-about-seeking-bible-281303

For me, seeking to live an holy life is not driven by fear of a vengeful God or the gates of hell.   I cannot begin to know nor trust in my ability to discern evil or holy doers in my midst.   I can barely keep my own motivations and intentions aligned with the virtues I hold to be proper and good for mankind.  If you believe in God however, you probably also believe in the opposite, an existence without God or worse yet an eternity with the devil.   

The only true glimpse we have of this however, is our daily actions and faith today to provide us a scent of  the future’s potential, both here on this earth and after we depart.  For most of to spend an inordinate amount of time on the eschatological matters is as abstract as the word eschatological itself.  The latter is important – but what we do while in seemingly eternal perpetuity of the end of times is more important.  We only have a limited time to contribute our being to human kinds spiritual development and ascension while hopefully working for the betterment of fellowman in real time, here on earth, today.  

Our eschatological destiny (death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind) is something we gamble with everyday.   Our destiny will probably not be revealed to us within our mortal lives.  In the meantime we have the pursuit of Holy Sobriety!

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[i] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-thessalonians-5-6.html

[ii] https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of-the-bible/1-thessalonians-5-6.html

 

Providence, Powerlessness, and Purpose

April 1, 2017

Today I find myself in control of my destiny.  My will and determination is paramount and the world is at my disposal.  If any frustration arises in me at their denseness, I recognize that not all can be blessed with the wisdom that I have attained and patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas.  I am kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, selfless in all my actions, and next to my fellow-man, as perfected in spiritual attainment as near perfection any human may achieve.  I need not pretend to enunciate how I have achieved this elevation, for to do so, would be contrary to my deep seated humility.  Suffice it to say, I have arrived at my pre-destined place, at one with God’s will, forgiven and renewed in the spirit, never to stray again on the path of un-holiness.   And this I do of my own free will and sheer determination as gifted to me by grace of God.

“In all ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”[i]

Today is April 1, 2017, by some it is called a national holiday for all atheist.  I do not begrudge atheist or humanists that are able without the aid of a higher power to live a life as close to moral perfection as humanely possible.  I am a humanist by nature, a philosopher by spirit, and an amateur theologian by self-appointment.    That is not enough for me to live the life that I believe mankind is destined to pursue.  Left to my own devices and self-deception I will fail to my own subliminal definition of self that although not as grandiose as the first paragraph, nonetheless is elevated above the reality of my actions and in defiance of my inherited and self-created limitations.    The chasm between the two will create a separation between me and my fellow man, between me and my God, that ultimately will bring chaos and failure to fruition if left to my own devises.

In earnest I am speaking about the dynamism of Providence versus Free Will.  We are powerless in the face of forces of nature, manmade circumstances beyond our control, and the limitations within our genetics and psychological make up that provide us certain strengths and limitations.  For us believer’s, we are also aware of a certain sense of pre-determination, which ultimately if some outcome is God’s will it will be done.  In the face of Providence and Powerlessness that is undeniably present in the human condition it could be easy to lose all hope and drive to pursue individual and collective action to fulfill a calling or life purpose.    When confronted with suffering on so many existential levels and deep rooted soul felt pain, it is easy to abandon Providence or Free Will or both.

The reality is today, April 1, 2017, I find myself in doing everything in my power to do God’s will, not mine.  My will and determination is important but only if it is informed and aligned with God’s will.  Patience is the rule of the moment when faced with brothers who remain obstinate to my will and my ideas while allowing for the possibility and in many cases the likelihood, that it is my own obstinacy that creates frustration and disappointment. I strive to be kind in all my ways, compassionate when called to be, and selfless in all my actions – but I am far from spiritual attainment and perfection.  Pride and humility are a constant dance in my head that color my actions in shades of hue that cannot be defined with any self-assurance of accuracy.

In the face of adversity we are called to make informed decisions and act on these decisions with a ferocity and commitment commensurate with the challenge before us.    What challenges are you facing today?  What is God’s will for you with this challenge?  What is your decision?  What actions do you have to take today?  Who can help you validate your thinking and your plan are in-line with your reality or with God’s intentions?

If you are facing a challenge today, may you find the help you need, the resources at hand, a decision to act in accordance with your destiny, and find serenity in your life:

serenity

[i] Proverbs 3:6

Magnanimity, Mindfulness & God

“This virtue of the great and the small, which always makes us look at the horizon.  What does magnanimous mean?  It means having a great heart, having greatness of mind; it means having great ideals, the wish to do great things in response to what God asks of us.  (It means also)……..to do well the routine……daily actions, task, meetings with people  –doing the little everyday things with a great heart open to God and to others.”  Pope Francis, June 07, 2013

Today’s entry inspired by reading:  the Church of Mercy by Pope Francis.  Rating:  10

Surely your head is nodding yes to a life of Magnanimity guided by your spiritual, religious, or philosophical ideals.  Meaning, even if you are not Catholic, you can draw from the Pope’s message to apply everyday actions to your idealism while keeping your eye on the larger picture.  It is not that easy in practice. Is your personal creed grounded and guiding you daily?  Is it pliable enough for self-correction as your wisdom grows yet rooted enough to remain focused on the horizon of your life journey?  Where do you draw meaning from in your life today?  Tomorrow?

In a recent training on the DSM V (Diagnostic Statistical Manual – the bible of Mental Health disorders)  Dr. Karnik, Ph.d  spent an inordinate amount of time on the human condition.  The eleven major organ systems (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nnjmrrQ6xOs) of your body and the inner psychological internal world and its conflicts immersed in a world of 7.3 Billion people with a history of 6000 to 7000 wars make it hard to pinpoint the cause of mental anguish and discontent without even touching the spiritual dimension. Perhaps though, our evolution has brought us to a place where spiritual awareness should and can be the guiding principle?  (This sidesteps religiosity and its abuses, misinterpretations, and all too human application).  Can life’s real meaning be solely derived from our limbic system primal drives (survival, seek pleasure, and avoid pain)?  Dr. Karnik applies these drives to addictions and the addicted person seeking the “right thing in the wrong place.”  Addiction, at its heart is a person seeking to obtain and maintain the Cortical lottery:  bringing the brain to its peak pleasure point, as much as it can stand, and staying there (http://www.happinesshypothesis.com/beyond-gethappy.htm).

Unfortunately the thin line between that point and death is very fine and the pursuit of that goal ultimately leads to the opposite result – abject misery.   The treasure chest of addiction can be quite broad:  substance use disorders (including ETOH/Nicotine), Gambling disorders, Behavioral disorders (sexual addiction, work addiction, gaming, Facebook, fantasy, stealing, risk taking, coin collecting, etc).  Fortunately we can enjoy pleasure in many of these areas legally and without negative repercussions if they remain in their respective place and time commitment relative to your life’s purpose!  Back to being Magnanimous!

Everything you do small and large should in some way support your purpose and your view of the horizon.  Defining that purpose takes time and perspective and the shape of its expression may change over time.  Your job will probably change many times over in your life time.  You may even change your career a few times.  Your hobbies and entertainment will vary as well.  Underneath all this distraction is the real you that relates to other people, to animals, the planet, the unknown existential spiritual realm, and yourself.

This is where mindfulness and spirituality come into play.  It is easy to suffer and be discontent amidst the distractions of life, the limits of our physical body, and the pulls of the limbic system drives without being mentally ill or disturbed.  You can still be pretty unhappy.  You do not need to be an addict to find unhappiness.  Spending time on being aware of yourself and your motivation for life can distil life imposing on you anxiety, misery, and suffering.  You will still have anxiety, misery and suffering!  However, these experiences will be relegated to their respective place and time commitment relative to your life’s purpose.  Sound familiar?

Where your time is spent and is it spent wisely?  I turn my worries over to action (if some action is available) and to prayer when events are outside my sphere of influence.  I am not an evangelist, though I am Catholic.  I am not purporting to tell you “the way” to spiritual enlightenment.  I am saying to find a “way “to avoid the entrapments of the meaningless, of materialism, habituation, and other frivolities of life.  I have wasted a great deal of time in my life on such things and pray others do not have to endure the same mistakes.

The metaphysical term love is the goal I have found sustains me.  Appreciating others and the gift of love in all its shapes, colors and sizes is profoundly rewarding.  Reading of heroic acts of love and self-sacrifice of others is inspiring.  Avoiding self-contempt is also worthwhile when falling into the trap of comparison to the truly gifted.  And forgiving self and others is a compassionate, mindful practice.  I often self-deprecate myself which could be mistaken for seeking approval or a reverse lack of humility!  The truth is I have an awareness of my faults and misgivings of which there are many, and I am sure, many of which I may not be aware of or have yet to commit.

I pray for anyone who reads this that you live a magnanimous life filled and informed by your personal purpose, surrounded by people of like mind, and blessed by God’s grace.

Catholic reference on prayer and meditation: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p4s1c3a1.htm

P.S.  Catholics do not own the market on mindfulness.  There is the rich tradition of buddhism and secular mindfulness meditation practices as well.  Personally I think they all lead to the same place….but of course, being Catholic I recommend my faith!

Meditation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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