What Won’t You Do?

Mark Collins, the ex-Navy seal navy, took a liking to the Kid from the quiet corner of the bar. He finished his whiskey and set his draft gentle down, and sighed. The Kid’s back was to him, but he had seen the fear in his eyes when he came in and knew trouble was following. Sure enough, the Thompson street gang entered the bar less than a minute later, not rushed, but not aimless either. They had a mark, and the Kid knew it was him. He turned to face them with nowhere to turn. The bartender slipped in the backroom for an errand as if he had seen this movie before. 

Mark had only been out three months from active duty when he stood up quiet-like and the gang boss Malcolm noticed. Malcolm stared past the Kid’s shoulder and made eye contact; no words said. Malcolm saw Killers’s eyes, he thought, much like his own. Without a word exchanged, he changed direction and headed for the door. His four delinquents followed him faithfully – somehow trained to know spontaneously and without direction when to retreat. 

The Kid had no idea why they retreated – he remained frozen, just staring at the door. The bartender returned as if he had missed nothing. 

Mark gently but firmly guided the Kid to his table and said Kid, you can’t fear those that can kill you, and after that have nothing more they can do to you. But I will warn you, fear him who can take more than your life, fear him. And then he ordered the Kid a burger and a soda. This was not the end of it, Mark knew, but for now, things were peaceful. Malcolm would be back for the Kid or maybe even Mark. He would have to chew on that a bit and develop a plan. 

Jeremiah was the Kid’s name. Mark had a feeling Jeremiah could handle himself against anyone of the delinquents with a bit of training – but not four, and not Malcolm. Something had to be done and done quickly. Jeremiah was about to learn about fear, men, and faith. Faith in good men, faith in himself, and faith in God. Some things are worth more than your life, Mark thought, but he preferred living nonetheless if he could manage it without sacrificing his integrity. The first step would be to see Father Jimmy for some projects around the church to keep the Kid busy and watched. The second stop would be solo recon work on just what sort of trouble he was facing.   The Kid’s future will be up to him, but Mark knew how to mentor kids; it came second nature to him at the core. He was not worried about this one finding his path – if just given time. 

Tom Cruise in 'Jack Reacher,' Based on a Lee Child Book - The New York Times
Scene from Jack Reacher film

Have you seen this script before? What do you expect from these archetypes? How would this fictional novel portray how we hope we would act and behave if in the same situation. Would we act or find a way out?

I am not a fiction writer. Here, the opening scene sets the stage for a pending battle between good and evil, with a Kid’s life in the balance. The principal thought of one’s integrity being worth more than one’s life is not something we genuinely contemplate in our daily lives, at least not most of us. It is a frame we hear often in Hollywood – there are things worse than death.

Yet we face integrity challenges every day, only most of them are not life and death decisions. They are more nuanced and less visible. You know what integrity means, right? But do we all share the exact Definition?    Websters gives us a starting point: 

1firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic valuesINCORRUPTIBILITY

2an unimpaired conditionSOUNDNESS

3the quality or state of being complete or undividedCOMPLETENESS

Still, even with an agreed definition, we are left guessing what the measuring stick is for incorruptibility, soundness, and completeness. I guess Putin and Biden feel they are incorruptible, sound, and complete with their own “moral code” of belief and principles. Arguably two of the most influential and powerful individuals in the world today – and I fear we do not know what they “won’t do” to maintain or increase their nation’s interest in the world.  What is your True North? Your moral compass?

Set Your Moral Compass True North - Ethics Sage
On Being an Ethical Person Blog by http://www.stevenmintzethics.com

Meatloaf’s I will do anything for Love album uses the undefined “that” to frame the struggle with the phrase “but I won’t do that!” Meatloaf meant the “that” to be defined by the listener, not his songwriter. I guess he had a code for integrity as well. His own life story included a meteoric rise and crash – and a comeback with Bat out Hell. He passed at the age of 74 recently.   

Back to my fictional hero Mark, the Navy Seal, who we assume will be the good guy, knew to fear somebody who could take more than your life? 

It is easy to violate our integrity with words or actions in this world. If we let someone or some group take our integrity, we will suffer a thousand deaths before our life ends. When we sacrifice that, we create our own hell on earth, living with the consequences of having betrayed our own code, hurt others, and offended the deity we hold to be supreme for the spiritual among us. Mark knew if he stayed seated and did not stand up for the Kid, he would be a silent accomplice to whatever came next. To be silent would haunt him the rest of his days. Malcolm would have taken a piece of his soul from him, today in this world, and into the next. 

Whatever your vacation or spiritual belief,  whether politician, musician, writer, plumber, or any other profession or trade, you have personal code written indelibly within your conscience. It is built into the “karma” of life and death. Violate it, and you suffer as do others. Sometimes you are given a chance to redeem yourself – take it. 

In my faith, Jesus Christ taught his disciples the following:

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that, have nothing more  that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 

That “him” in my world frame is the God of my understanding who prescribes a way of living that is hard and sometimes unconventional with western society and perhaps even with the religious institution that tirelessly carries the faith’s message generation after generation.  I must face that “God” moment to moment and be judged by the high standard set by his example, Jesus Christ. 

Let no man or institution sway me to violate the integrity of the message as delivered by the beatitudes, guided by love and compassion, mediated by reason and discernment, practiced with firm adherence, soundness of mind, and completeness of action. 

The battle of evil and good is played repeatedly in our daily lives, in our work, our social life, and in the cultural expressions of our great artists and writers.   It is not a metaphysical “devil” or “angel” on our shoulders, but our mind’s eye has all the tools to know what the next right thing is to do. We must know, though, before our foot hits the floor each morning – What we won’t do to get what we want!

Somethings cannot be taken from us – we must actively consent and be willing participants. That is when we cross into the metaphorical threshold of hell. Walk carefully.

Sadly very few Hollywood films capture man’s search for spiritual wholeness in a manner as theatrical and compelling as what today’s movie audience desires. That is part of why they are so comforting – the swiftness of good conquering evil while we enjoy buttered popcorn in the fancy theater seat or other food comforts from the luxury of our homes. We combat evil vicariously without the risk of actual confrontation with our own evil demons.

in hell swerk GIF

Death Penalty, Divine Law, Universal Reality

Pursuing the death penalty is currently in vogue for Trump oriented republican GOP. It is one issue among several that is used to promote rallying the base, getting votes, being perceived as tough, and stoking the Fire of class warfare.

Never-mind that justice of life in prison is the greater punishment. Never-mind that death penalty cases cost society more in legal resources than letting the villain rot in jail. Never mind that the families of victims suffer for years following the legal folly wars rather then swift application of life imprisonments with no parole. The in vogue GOP vote getter is let’s make a statement locally and bring back execution by firing squad:

https://www.npr.org/2021/05/20/998600135/south-carolina-reinstates-firing-squad-but-not-without-legal-challenges

American opinion has shifted as of 2019 with an upward trajectory:

Gallup Poll—For First Time, Majority of Americans Prefer Life Sentence To Capital Punishment

The Republican GOP is moving in many states to eliminate ballot initiatives where the public can vote on one issue up or down. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/22/us/politics/republican-ballot-initiatives-democrats.html?referringSource=articleShare. They are fearful of their own base switching positions on the death penalty and other issues.

The National Association of Evangelical Christianity starts out with a neutral statement affirming conscientious commitment of both streams of Christian ethical thought. The position statement then points out however, that the American system of justice is incapable of carrying out Capital punishment in a manner that is ethical or safe enough to not kill innocent people: https://www.nae.net/capital-punishment-2/ .

Economically and ethically the Death Penalty is a losing proposition. Still the GOP clings to this issue.

My faith is clearer on Capital punishment, but only recently. Pope Francis released an encyclical in 2020 finally stating capital punishment is wrong: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/committees/death_penalty_representation/publications/project_blog/pope-francis-encyclical-death-penalty-opposition/.

Hopefully you and I will never be in the position to weigh with a prosecutor if we wish to pursue the death penalty against a villain who murdered someone we love. That gives us some objectivity for a moment. However, we are still very much by the power of our democracy responsible for Death Penalty law and application in the United States – Pro or Con.

As a follower of Catholicism I am theologically bound by the Popes Encyclical. Spiritually however, as a member of the faith, I am also bound to oppose my own faith if I come to believe we are at odds with divine law or even universal reality. The latter is a nod to Catholicism as our faith is limited to upholding the Christian ideal – not the day to day human reality of what circumstances prescribe. In the case of the death penalty however, we have the ability to oppose it theologically and as a universal reality – we have other legitimate choices for justice to be served. Seventy percent (70%) have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

It isn’t pretty aging and dying in prison: https://theappeal.org/death-by-incarceration-pennsylvania-photo-essay/. These human beings are invisible to us: https://www.penalreform.org/blog/elderly-life-sentenced-prisoners-a-forgotten-and-invisible/.

Incoherently I almost wish every life timer inmate had access to ending there life 7 days after self-request. Lock them up, toss away the key, let them decide to wait for human decay or check out sooner by state assisted suicide.

I would be dead wrong. Ultimately, in my faith there is no villain. The radical life of Christ and the radical calling of Christianity treats the villain as if he were my brother, as if he were me.

Christ modeled this by preaching the beatitudes (spiritual ideals unlocking the mystery of a holy life) and by dying on the cross (carrying the sins of all men including the very villains that crucified him).

In the gospel of Matthew (5:38) Jesus offers the following words:

The universal reality is we will not let murderers go free to murder again when we can stop the violence by using life term incarceration or the death penalty. The divine law is we will not take life when we have other alternatives.

Instinctually though, when faced with heinous crimes, we want swift and violent justice. The villain must be executed. The villain is not worthy of divine law. The villain is not of us, he/she is something other, an aberration – an animal.

We do not want to accept the villain as one of our own, as our brother, as ourselves. We do not want to turn the other cheek. We do not want to find it in our souls to treat the villain with mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and even love. We don’t want to hear we can do this while still keeping society safe. We want immediate and final justice now, not justice differed to God’s judgement. We want blood now. That emotion is what the GOP counts on to get your vote – the blood vote.

Politics aside, the GOP supporters and the Villains are my brothers in Christ. Radical Christianity calls me to absorb sin and absorb violence for the sake of the savior. There is no “other” or Villain. How can I do that in this world?

It is just as hard now as it was in Christ time. We cannot be silent. We must oppose political parties or policies that promote degrading human dignity while not harboring hatred or ill-will to those supporting the travesties of unjust governance. We must protect the public from murderers (even legal murderers) without hating the murderer.

I am far short of living this ideal in words or in actions. I am hopeful my fellow man and my God can show me mercy, compassion, and forgiveness for my hurtful words, omission of action, and other shortcomings I possess.

The assault on human dignity feels relentless to me. The humanness in us seeks heroes and villains for every issue. With that as the starting point we almost always fail to meet each other’s expectations, never mind meeting a higher ethical or spiritual bar.

We can eliminate the death penalty in the United States. One note, one conversation, one vote at a time.

You can start here regardless of your political ideology, but especially if your a red state: https://www.ncadp.org/action. Renounce the death penalty without giving up your party or demanding justice when justice is due.

Imagine a justice system designed with mercy, compassion, and rehabilitation in mind – even for lifers who will never leave the prison : https://www.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=d7bb68ee71b5413e838a906dcd5b4124 walls. The Danish are leading the industry in services and architecture: https://www.archpaper.com/2017/12/denmark-prison-rehabilitation-architecture/.

I would rather anyone getting out of prison be exposed to humane living with dignity and respect then further indoctrination into degradation and suffering. Those experiencing the latter only come out meaner and further testify against us with more crime and violence.

Catholics have long known Prison Ministries are vital: https://www.catholicprisonministries.org/. There is a soul within all of us worthy of saving. As one body in Christ (or one collective humanity) we suffer as one and are called to carry each other’s weight when needed. Some might say we carry the collective cross of humanity on our shoulders as Christians. Others might say we are doing a terrible job of carrying our own cross, never mind that of our brothers. Both statements are true. Within each of us lies the potential for good and evil. How do we orient our words, actions, and political affiliations to seek the good above evil in all things?

Eucharistic Coherence

Catholic forums and the USBC are ablaze with the meaning of the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The term of the day is “Eucharistic Coherence.” George Weigel does a pretty good job summarizing in one article called “The Challenge of Eucharistic Coherence” on February 3, 2021.[i]   Why the uproar now? 

We have a Catholic President who does not politically support “Right to Life” issues regarding the unborn sufficiently to align with Catholic values on this serious issue[ii] despite the rest of his life and his values being consistent with the overall dignity of life values that the Catholic Church teaches (care for the poor, access to healthcare, housing, education, equality, dignity, capital punishment, immigration, etc.).    He is perhaps the anti-trump where the flip is historically accurate where his actions, at least legally on the right to life front, were aggressive but poorly lacking everyplace else. 

The Catholic Church is unsure of itself and rightly so about President Biden and the Sacrament of the Eucharist.  The act of committing abortion meets three elements required that would easily preclude receiving the Eucharistic Sacrament:

  1. Abortion fits the Catholic Church definition of a “Grave matter” or a “Mortal Sin” as Catholicism considers the unborn child fully human from conception.  Abortion is murder.
  2. Full-knowledge of the sin being committed is also a factor.  No doubt President Biden is fully aware of his commitments to Catholicism versus his oath as president.  The latter is a civil authority not aligned with Catholicism in all areas of law. 
  3. The person must freely choose to commit or act or plan to do it.

To my knowledge, President Biden has not met any of these conditions.  However, the Catholic Church would say he is complicit, as is our nation that ignores this issue, and many others, the dignity of life whether or not we commit an act or do not actively criminalize and incarcerate non-Catholics and Catholics who do not follow our moral definition of when life begins.    

At issue is what to do about Catholics who willfully receive communion while not in a state of grace suitable for receiving the body and blood of Christ.

I have myself, on occasion, felt unworthy of communion and willfully opted out until, with the assistance of a confessor, I sorted somethings out to bring myself somewhat closer to an acceptable state of grace to participate in Holy Communion. Was that necessary? I can make the theological case that if I approached communion with genuine intention and placed my faults, the sacrament could absorb my sinful state without blemish.  Was I guilty of grave sin?  I have been guilty of grave sins or sins that are of grave matter as any premeditated “sin of a serious nature deliberately committed is a rejection of God’s law and love.”

Have you been historically or recently guilty of grave sin?  Before you answer this question, read “What is a Mortal Sin?” [iii]. I myself am a fan of Dante’s work detailing sins:

Who among you are free of capital sins such as pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth?  All of these are an affront to God by Catholic definition (Capital sins).  Or how about St. Pauls list: 

Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”

The Catholic Church has rules for the faithful (doctrine, traditions, etc.), and many of these rules are not suggestions! Immersing oneself in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Article Three[iv] is only a starting point for conducting a spiritual examination before receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist each Sunday.  Aside from the prohibitions that are brief, this article contains 21 pages on the Eucharistic Sacrament’s beauty and meaning. 

Think of it as an elaborate invitation to the most prestigious human gale, ball, event, or wedding.  You are invited with the expectation that you will come prepared.  There is no expectation that somebody else has to check you at the door for proper attire, etc.!  They were some serious robes to the Last Supper.

What to do when these rules are not followed gets religiously complicated quickly. The Church has rarely managed well its power dynamic with kings, autocrats, dictators, or presidents. Ex-communication is the method used and authorized by Canon law:

“In Roman Catholic canon law, ex-communication is a censure and thus a “medicinal penalty” intended to invite the person to change behavior or attitude that incurred the penalty, repent, and return to full communion.[3] Ex-communication severs one from communion with the Church; excommunicated Catholics are forbidden from receiving any sacrament and refused a Catholic burial but are still bound by canonical obligations such as attending Mass or fasting seasonally. Excommunicated Catholics, however, are barred from receiving the Eucharist or from taking an active part in the liturgy (reading, bringing the offerings, etc.).[4] They are still Catholics per se, but are separated from the Church” Wikipedia has a list of excommunicated people from the first century to the current![v].

How many Catholics on Sunday morning conduct a sincere spiritual examination of their state of grace before receiving communion? If equipped to perform such an examination, what percentage would be short of the required grace defined by the Catholic Catechism?

I am less worried about President Biden’s state of grace than my own. I also have a hard time believing that one sinner or a thousand receiving the Eucharist with meaningful intention while not in a state of grace can in any way diminish God or the body of the church. I hold the sacrament as so powerful that it can heal any who come to the table willing to be healed.

The charge being levied at President Biden is Eucharistic Incoherence. I levy the same charge at myself and those throwing the stones first at Catholicism’s broad incoherence historically and current. As an institution we are far from without blemish and “more is being revealed” to us individually and collectively everyday as our humanity strives towards spiritual coherence.

We do strive to be and behave the opposite virtues of the “seven deadly sins.” What are they anyway?

Most of us are there trying our best to live a holy life, falling short individually and collectively. Celebrate and strengthen each other as these virtues are all around us everyday – people doing the right thing in the face of adversity. Let us not rush to judge or condemn with superficial knowledge and righteousness so quickly and may we receive equal consideration when our time for judgement comes today or at the end of days.

The Eucharistic Celebration, at its most basic level as originally intended, is miraculous and uniquely Catholic. Many words and paintings try to capture its essence, but only a personal journey and faith can truly reveal its meaning. Coherent or incoherent post I cannot decipher. I have not answered the President Biden dilemma that is apt to be misused by dividers and antagonist rather than by sincere soul-searching believers seeking coherence within and outside the faith.


[i]https://www.thebostonpilot.com/opinion/article.asp?ID=189316

[ii] https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/politics/a34205908/joe-biden-stance-on-abortion/

[iii] http://www.saintaquinas.com/mortal_sin.html

[iv] https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P3W.HTM

[v] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_people_excommunicated_by_the_Catholic_Church

Locust and a scattered mind?

No one today would seriously claim that God has sent a swarm of Locust to Africa as a form of justice. In the book of Exodus it was one of 10 plagues delivered against Egypt and its pharaoh. The Israelites were enslaved and God demanded their freedom by signs.

Who symbolically speaking represent the enslaved today?

1) Third world countries with high poverty rates?

2) Indentured migrant workers?

3) People working two and three jobs and still falling in greater debt?

4) People falling into poverty due to capitalism giant market changes (whole towns decimated), medical calamity, war, famine, and other misfortune?

5) Human trafficking?

6) Child labor?

7) Unfair compensated laborers?

8) Incarcerated people for undue cause or disproportionate sentencing?

9) The homeless, uneducated, addicted, or otherwise disenfranchised?

10) Refuges or immigrants?

To the powerful of the world what signs might an angry God send to demand protect the poor, help the sick, eliminate injustice and inequality?

1) Earthquakes and Tornados?

2) Dictators and despots?

3) Great fires?

4) Floods?

5) War, brothers against brothers?

6) Martyrs – people killed for their faith? St. Valentine was beheaded. Happy Valentine’s Day! Christians, Buddhist, and Muslims are killed, tortured, and imprisoned today for their beliefs.

7) A corrupted priesthood?

8) Corrupted Governments?

9) Virus outbreaks, diseases, and deaths

10) and even Locust.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/02/12/hundreds-billions-locusts-fueled-by-conflict-climate-change-are-swarming-east-africa/

Read the paper tomorrow. We have not God’s Kingdom on earth but Dante’s Inferno!

I do not claim these evils are God sent. However, how much of our suffering is mankind driven?

Shy of God descending from the heavens, what sign would we accept today other than putting our finger into Christ wounds? Actually, symbolically we maybe doing just that by knowingly acting in a sinful manner?

Divided we stand and divided we will fall, each according to our measure of imperfection and God’s infinite mercy?

In the prism of our distorted spiritual and religious identities lies hidden the power of all healing, the answer to all suffering, and the elimination of all gluttonous desires and other human afflictions?

I do not have the answer for you regarding locust, fires, despots, wars, poverty and other forms of human suffering – and if I did it would you listen? I am afraid my answer cannot infuse your belief. It must come from your innermost hunger to transcend both the joy and the suffering of the present moment for a higher measure.

The F Word Challenge

Scientists study if the ancient wisdom of Forgiveness can improve sleep. Not the “F” word you were expecting?  Forget about that word – this F word is more important for your health.

forgiveness1Modern-day fellowship programs recognize Forgiveness for it’s restorative power and pathway to peace. Therapy models wrestle with its place in the overall schema of past harms done and the client’s empowerment journey. Perhaps some harms done exceded the luxury of Forgiveness? Christianity certainly embraces this practice: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”  The ultimate redeemer forgave his persecutors while on the cross.  

I challenge you to consider forgiving yourself for any misgivings and regrets in some symbolic and meaningful way. Of course, do what you can to mend any broken fences, but then bring the rest to a close with a commitment to avoid the same errors in the future. 

As for the forgiveness of others – when is it okay to let go of the toxicity? Can you do it safely without harm or without undue malice? Perhaps it is done only in your prayers, sincerely and compassionately?

At the very least you can get a better night’s sleep.  Remember I mentioned scientists?  The Washington Post Wellness section reports scientists demonstrated forgiving others as well as yourself can be beneficial for your sleep:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2019/10/21/having-trouble-sleeping-try-forgiving-someone/

There is even an “International Forgiveness Institute” with a purported 20 step forgiveness model! (https://internationalforgiveness.com/about-us.htm).

I don’t think you need 20 steps!  Many will tell you they can show you a way to practice forgiveness and maintain peaceful living in only 12 steps with plenty of good sleep.  There are so many resources and references to the art of forgiveness.  It is not something to do lightly nor to fear – if handled with the care that you deserve.  

forgiveness

If not an enlarged future – perhaps just a good night’s sleep!

download (1)

Take the Challenge!

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

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

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

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

In 1985 the Pope, John Paul II, said:

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

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

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

meister 2

https://www.eckhartsociety.org/

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

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

thank you

 

Suffering and Providence

The Sad Joyous Truth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tears

She passes through this Word, enduring with true gentle patience every pain and trouble that I permit her for her own good.  She accepts it courageously, choosing my way over her own.  And she suffers not only patiently, but gladly.”  Pg. 163

At first glance, my human instinct is to repel this idea with many objections:

  1. What word?
  2. Gentle patience with every pain?
  3. Someone permits the pain for her own good?
  4. She accepts it courageously?
  5. And gladly?

And it only gets worse.  The someone who allows these tragedies to unfold for this women is God the Father, and the word is his words as revealed to her.  My child, you are going to suffer significantly, I could alleviate your pain this very moment, but I will not.  You will come to understand and be glad that I have given you such troubles.

Most of us do not have such direct revelations as this women.  But if we did would we not protest grievously?  Do we not protest today our major sufferings much less our mild nuisances in life?  Do we ask for more suffering gladly? Should we ask for more suffering?  I dare say not!  And her suffering was extreme.

This quote is from The Dialogue, Catherine of Siena, in the chapter called Tears.  The concept of accepting suffering, meaningless, accidental, or purposefully inflicted suffering by another, is not new for Christian contemplatives.  file-20171016-21977-1jxc9twOur role model and Savior Jesus Christ taught us with the ultimate sacrifice.    Yet I struggle with the concept to ask for more.  Despite how little suffering I have carried relative to others and the vast potential to suffer greater indignities and pain, I do not dare to ask for more.  Much less to be happy to receive more pain – and not to glorify me but to it praise God!  A silent sacrifice devoid of any intent of self-promotion or seeking selfish spiritual consolations.  Yes, send me more?

These two sentences almost passed me by as an absurdity for anyone but the saints.  And then a wave of the confrontations I have experienced in life with misery, pain, and suffering overtook me.  o-WIPE-TEAR-570My childhood adversity score is quite high (google ACE study and test yourself).  My adulthood included a few self-inflicted wounds as well as externally inflicted losses.    By all accounts, I have pretty good reason to question the existence of an all-powerful and personal God.  Accepting one also necessitates reconciling that God “allows” my misery and much worse atrocities to exist.   And still, I believe.

In retrospect, human free will, and their decisions contributed to my pain.  Other pains are built into our lives by genetics, nature, accidental causes, and human mortality.  Amid these life events a combination of personal resiliency and many supportive people, I have been able to experience the highs and lows of a volatile life and catch glimpses of angels in our midst at work.  I have also in retrospect seen my evolution transformed many times over, and I say this with minimal ego, in fact, as sometimes I am rowing the other way as the forces of good carry me onwards.

How has pain and suffering shattered or nourished your faith?  I have experienced both in my journey.  It is sad to admit, but my sense of faith has been most robust under two conditions:

  1. When I am in the midst of personal failure, loss, or witnessing unfathomable suffering, and
  2. When I am in the presence of holy people, in meaningful pray, or reading the saintly works.

I would like to believe my faith grew in leaps and bounds by my own works and by my sincere gratitude of the favors granted me in life.  They have provided me with the strength and resources to practice compassion, empathy, and love for others.  While these things do strengthen my faith – they have not jettisoned me into serious contemplation and soul-searching as the first two conditions have nurtured.

The first two conditions have given me a base of humility that transcends human definitions.  My ability to handle misery and pain in the face of adversity is undoubtedly wanting.     Any received praise and platitudes, individual achievements, or other standard measures of the worthiness of a man fail me when held in comparison to the lives of the genuinely saintly or the gold standard of holiness.

All is not lost though.  The tears that we experience can be transformed.  Have you ever had tears silently and sadly flow gently as you experienced a melancholy understanding of both crushing loss and joyous peace?  I have learned through suffering more than I have learned through successes. man

I am still unable to ask God for more.  In my prayers, I do express, “Your will, not mine, be done.”  Sometimes I add I trust in you to give me what I can handle, but God I myself am incapable of handling anymore.  I am keenly aware of being careful what I ask for from God.

To accept my lot with patience, courage, and a happy disposition calls for significant growth!  And I have been working at this for a very long time.  As I reread this passage, it is no longer foreign to me.  You and I have lived it whether we recognize it or not.  This is like one of those films that never closes the chapter, only ignites the mystery and leaves you wanting the sequel, yet you know only you can write the ending.

LaSaletteTears

“The picture above represents a most unusual apparition in which Our Lady of La Salette was seen by two children Melanie Mathieu and Maxim Giraud, in the small French village of La Sallette, located near Grenoble, on September 19, 1846. She first appeared emerging from a globe of light, weeping over our sins.”

 

 

The fallible Army of God

Arise each morning as if prepared for war.  Your foe is admirable in strenght, in numbers, and persistence.  Cleverer than most and evasive when needed, confrontational when least expected.   You are keenly aware you cannot fight this war alone – but nor can you control your brothers in arms actions, the soildiers you may lead, or the superiors above you to make the right decisions as well as commit to action with determination.   Your army and your discipline will carry you through the day.  

There will be losses and pain.  There will be some amongst you who are traitorus, cowardly, or simply incompetant.  Some rare men will rise above your measure of men and carry those who cannot carry themselves.   You will, if you look honestly enough within yourself, may find your own actions wanting when compared to the most bravest and noblest amonst us – the self-less, natural warriors of our cause.              

Today our war is an internal war.  Our Holy Army is filled with imperfect and outright immoral men embedded in our ranks from the church pew upwards into the highest offices of the catholic church.    

The news and relevations of our church’s  misuse of power and abuse of women, children, nuns and others is symbolically and literary a spear in the side of Jesus Christ, our church, and our faith.  Many are walking away from God as the vessel of his living word is so abused and tarnished by the actions of the faithful – that any spiritual or theological truths cannot be grasped through the burning fire of our Sodum and Gomorrah.  

I met with a priest this week and was provided the mercy and grace of the sacrament of confession.   On the issues of the Church crisis the providence and direction of the church was less clear as Pope Francis and the 190 church leaders meet today.   Our leaders have more than stumbled badly – they have given away vast tracts of any semblance of moral authority.  our congregation is badly battered, beaten, and tired. 

With this emotive experience, two readings fell into my hand this morning.  

Thomas kempis, from the Imitation of Christ said “I am so weary of all that I read and hear and see, for only in you is that I will or can desire (pg. 19).”  How true is this writing from the 1400s today. 

And yesterday a book arrived as recomended by a family member out of the blue, the Dialogue by Catherine of Siena.  The introduction and prologue alone directed by attentions:

“how storm tossed and offensive to God the world is….page 26” 

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and her 4 petitions that set up the as of yet unread book: prayer for self, prayer for the Holy Church, prayer for the whole world (especially for Christians that have rebelled), and prayer for divine providence for a particular certian case.   

Today and hopefully everyday I rise armed with prayer of my 4 petitions, perhaps slightly altered in style and verbiage, but nonetheless, armed to face the days external challenges, my own self-conquest when my very own desires are too heavily weighted with worldly concerns, my trust in an ultiamte divine providence no matter how many actions we take to subvert god’s ultimate will, and openness to a living and merciful god.   We are colelctively fallible through our own free will – our immorality and transgressions are our way, not Gods. 

Whether you are fighting yourself, fellow man, or the Devil himself – do not go to battle alone, unprepared or unarmed.  Everyday is an opportunity to seek greater perfection through prayer, discipline, and action no matter what battlefield is demanding your attention.  

“Alle Shalle Be Wele!”

I woke up bone tired today.  The task ahead felt like aimless drudgery.  I cannot see the whole of my efforts supporting people who help people suffering from addictions or mental health.  Nor can I see the progress of those in recovery as the clinician’s fallacy continues – as those that do recover leave and others are ready and waiting to take their seat leaving the professional with an unending procession of people in desperate need.  

In Delaware and nationally there is a focus on the Opioid epidemic.  The tragedies and pain suffered by families and the community is often turned into anger and rage at the professional provider community (sometimes warranted) and even the self-help community.  Missing in this dynamic is a true understanding of the dynamic and evasive monster that addiction can be in its various forms and how difficult it can be for the “addict” or “alcoholic” to use and maintain the recovery tools provided by either or both groups above – sometimes leading to death shrouded in mystery.  Throw into this mix serious and persistent mental illness and we have a ship in a great storm.

ship with oars

My role professionally is one of many and my Oar is tiny in the great sea of human misery.  I trust in my fellow oars men (and women) are pulling with equal vigor and some through natural talent and sheer determination are carrying the greater weights.  I do not possess at times the vision of God’s hand guiding our plight as the apostles did on the fishing boat.  If in my own vocation my sight is limited – how obscure is my vision of God’s way? Without this vision and never-ending work within and outside my vocation – I am ripe for burnout and disappointment. This is especially so when my faith is under attack, my spiritual adviser has taken ill, and my nation is abandoning the poor and downtrodden in troves.  

At my fingertips in a Catholic book club on-line this a.m. Veronica Mary Rolf mentioned her article that was published in the UK at a site named “Transformation: Where love meets social justice.”    The article tells of the life of Julian of Norwich and her theological teachings despite herself being “unlettered” – meaning lacking formal training back in 1390!   

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Veronica captures the trial and tribulations of those who serve others perfectly below based on her readings about Julian:

“What has Julian to tell us about the process of transformation? How can we work to make ‘all things well’ in our world without losing heart? Anyone who has ever served the poor, the persecuted, or the marginalized knows that the two greatest dangers are disillusionment and burnout. The problems are so vast and our efforts so small. In our frustration, we may try to dictate solutions instead of eliciting creative collaboration. We become exhausted, infuriated, and sometimes feel betrayed. We question how we can continue when the odds seem stacked against us.

Julian would tell us that we must go into the “ground” of our being in order to “live contemplatively.” Like her, we must develop a daily practice in which we learn to rest and breathe in silence and stillness, becoming aware of the turbulence in our minds, releasing thoughts and letting go of our emotional attachment to those thoughts. We need to become ever more aware of being aware, in order to experience the deep interconnectedness of our own awareness with divine awareness. And then we must rely on divine awareness working in us and through us if we are to make a difference. We cannot do it alone. And we cannot do what others must do for themselves. We can only evaluate, advise, encourage, and empower.”

Whenever we are tired or downtrodden – if we look for it, strength and inspiration is all around us.  I have yet another writer to explore….and reminder to find strength in God at all times, good and bad.

“And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.” 
― Julian of Norwich

Please visit Original source for Veronica’s article below.    A must read:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/veronica-mary-rolf/alle-shalle-be-wele-julian-of-norwich-and-process-of-transformatio

 

 

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