Ash Wednesday Hypocrites!

The article below provides excellent information on the western Catholic practice of receiving ashes on their forehead today. The handling of symbolism, identity, sincerity, and hypocrisy is deftly handled by this article. You could apply this teaching to many debates regarding the utility of symbolism and rituals versus say, worshipping false idols.

www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/03/02/ash-wednesday-catholic-242449

Are you a hypocrite? If your reading this, my bet is that you are not, at least not intentionally!

Happy Lent out there to all who practice increased devotion and reclamation of your desire to be in communion with God.

Pope Francis responds to attacks from EWTN, other church critics: ‘They are the work of the devil.’ | America Magazine

There is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.” He said: “I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil. I have also said this to some of them.”
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/09/21/pope-francis-ewtn-critics-241472

A Pope who strives to be pastoral and Christlike recognizes EWTN and a large faction of the flock has been coopted by non-Christian ideology and pseudo religion.

Historically, nation states and powerful people have attempted to use religious institutions to consolidate, preserve, or acquire power. EWTN has fallen into being an acquired voice of ultra right political conservatism. Look up it’s donor base and it’s mega commercial off-shoots. It has become a political communication tool equal to or greater than the cooperation of Evangelical Christianity by the far right (or by money and building funds).

Popes throughout the centuries have come into disfavor when standing in the way of the rich and powerful. Pope Francis is no exception. His vocal condemnation of economic exploitation, environmental negligence, and superficial religiosity has earned the ire of Catholics who have fallen prey to secular comforts and identity with a privileged class.

A man with one lung is standing up to inverted Catholicism – where religion is serving a privileged group rather than serving God and all his creation.

Conquest Opportunity

Pope Franics defined six foundational points for judging the future for the American and African Continents.   Briefly, he less than 60 seconds he enumerated them for us:

  1. Reality (Opulence versus loss of human dignity)
  2. Generation of Justice (Everyday is a conquest opportunity for everyone)
  3. Unconditional Commitment versus a culture of indifference
  4. History as a guiding Axis
  5. Be God’s people, not God’s elite
  6. Solidarity (Fighting against structural poverty)

As Catholics we are in the first week of advent.  Roughly four weeks of renewal by practicing increased prayer, use of symbolism in our masses and homes, and culmination on Christmas day, the birth of Jesus Christ.  It also starts the new “liturgical year.”  It is almost like a spiritual new year’s eve, you can use the time to sure up your spiritual base and make resolutions for the coming spiritual year.   

What a perfect time to give thought to social justice and our indifference to suffering (#3) here at home and abroad.  His message though is one of hope.  Each of us has a “conquest opportunity” (#2) everyday to fight social injustice.    It calls us though to see what is before our eyes and listen to what our ears hear:  suffering all around us in many forms.  We must face the reality (#1) of a broken economic system (nationally and internationally), world hunger, COVID, and housing/education/healthcare deprivation. 

To do this we must be educated beyond the social media fades and memes of the day.  History (#4) has all we need to know for now to move forward.  We have rich experiences with failed political systems, failed religious fundamentalisms, and misuse of science by omission (ignoring reality) or by commission (our great ability to destroy people with weapons of mass destruction or environmental poisoning of their water, land, air, or food supply).         

Now comes the hard part.  Pope Francis is not calling on the elite or calling us to be the elite (#5).  He is calling on us to act wherever we are, everyday, as if we were his disciples.  As if we were one of God’s people.  How are we measuring up outside of tending to the people within our family circle? 

The mountain top is high and I am saddened to say we will most likely not see the top of the mountain where we can say we achieved before us what is God’s intention and God’s plan for heaven on earth.  However, we are still called to strive for that spiritual perfection that aims by action to move us continuously in that direction.  No one of us alone can bear the weight of this calling. 

Go forth and conquer! Maybe not. Perhaps we can go forth and conquer our own desires and actions first during this advent. Perhaps after that we can act and do something ourselves rather than looking to what others can do. If we can do those two things moderately well – we won’t have to ask others to join us in solidarity (#6), they will join us of their own volition by seeing the peace in our hearts and glow in our souls.

There are so many opportunities everyday. All we have to do is look and act. Reading alone will not suffice. Most of you that are reading this are striving to do just that everyday. May some reflection time strengthen your resolve and bolster your energy.

A special prayer today to the physicians and nurses that are our last line of defense for our many sick and dying COVID patients. In the United States our nation is indifferent and defeated from within as the virus has run its course virtually unopposed and aided by a society willingly ignoring its deadly reach. Now we suffer together as one, some more than others.

A day for the Nation, A day for God

My vote was cast weeks ago, but still I was at the morning polls. My neighbors, my wife, and my daughter were all on this parking lot line. Inside I delivered donuts to the poll workers who represent the bipolarity of American life ensuring a fair and honest election across our great nation. My other two children have voted already. For the first time my family has voted as 1 voting block, uniform on the presidential ticket. The day is beautiful, The sun is shining. The Flag stands tall.

I am home now as are the two presidential candidates.  Both proclaim to be Christians.  May they join me in a day of prayer and action that resembles imitation of Christ in all words and actions. 

My candles and prayer space are open to all today virtually.     Above all I feel America has a pivotal choice today between two different American visions.   I have done my part to support the vision I believe is closer to the imitation of Christ in policy, practice, ideology, and speech.   Now it is up to other votes to get to the polls and vote their spiritual conscience.   I refuse today to watch the news and pundits.  They can wait for nightfall.  

Today is for contemplation and prayer that the God of my understanding will find his way into the hearts, minds, and hands of the remaining voters that have yet to submit a vote.  May their vote represent what is best for all humanity within our nation and all over the world.  May, if it be God’s will, the American people come out of this election with confidence, increased unity, and a greater sense of global responsibility.    

The following prayer is said to have been written by Stephen Langton, the archbishop of Canterbury around the year 1200.  May the Holy Spirit visit our nation, our homes, and our souls today and in the days to come:  

VENI SANCTE SPIRITUS

Come, O Holy Spirit, come! 
From your bright and blissful Home 
Rays of healing light impart.

Come, Father of the poor,
Source of gifts that will endure
Light of ev’ry human heart.

You, of all consolers best,
Of the soul, most kindly Guest,
Quick’ning courage do bestow.

In hard labor You are rest,
In the heat You refresh best,
And solace give in our woe.

O most blessed Light divine,
Let Your radiance in us shine,
And our inmost being fill.

Nothing good by man is thought,
Nothing right by him is wrought,
When he spurns Your gracious Will.

Cleanse our souls from sinful stain,
Lave our dryness with Your rain 
Heal our wounds and mend our way.

Bend the stubborn heart and will,
Melt the frozen, warm the chill, 
Guide the steps that go astray.

On the faithful who in You,
Trust with childlike piety,
Deign your sevenfold gift to send.

Give them virtue’s rich increase,
Saving grace to die in peace,
Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.

If you are home today and have some time, please join me in some quiet contemplation or solitude with a Gregorian chant.  You will not be alone despite the absence of proximal company.  Many across the nation and globally will pray with you for America to choose the right course. 

The delicate blend of fate versus self-determination is in play.  Sometimes the “bad” or the “evil” have the short-term upper hand, as if fate has favored their side.  The good must meet the effort of the bad equally and than some to compensate for the accidental fate that sometimes delivers us great blows.  In America, in my view, our blue and red voters are all of one God as our left and right hands are all of one body. 

They are not intrinsically good or bad until they act.  Within each voter is the imprint of being able to act in the imitation of Christ.  Their vote, their voice, and their intentions will be their barometer of where on their spectrum their desires for God can be defined.  The same measure applies to me. 

Godspeed and God’s grace to all of you this very special day.   

 

Wolf or Sheep?

My church leadership is silent regarding Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s letter to Donald Trump. Donald Trump has referred to the letter to conservative news sites as evidence of his support from Catholics. Nowhere is it mentioned this Archbishop is hiding from the Vatican. I guess it is wise not to feed this news cycle or this disgruntled letter-writer priest in hiding.  I will follow their lead and not post his letter here.

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The two of them together rebuke a society that is moving forward without them. One in power still, one not. There is clear evidence of both clinging and promoting ideas and policies that support maintaining self-promotion and, in some cases, positions that are directly opposed to Christ’s teaching. Yet, both cling to the illusion of righteousness.

In my opinion, they are the wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing, not the other way around. The delicate application of acquired power, whether in public service or religious service, is ripe for error for even those who started public service with good intentions to serve others. Both arenas also attract some hungry for power and attention who are not serving with good intentions for the public good or based on God’s calling.

Who are they individually, sheep that became wolves or always a wolf?  Or perhaps you believe I am mistaken and that they are pure sheep after all who are genuinely and genuinely serving the people and God? 

We know from history political and religious leaders have led congregations and nations to commit great evils in the name of nationalism or God.  Leaders such as these are gifted at vilifying the “other” and creating passionate divisiveness, hatred, and mistrust.  Their gift can bring pain and suffering to millions as well as destroy the political and spiritual institutions that they serve.  They can only do so as far as the people are willing to follow or, at least, remain silent.  

Who are we individually serving today?  I am serving many personally in different roles.  If I were saintly, my first serving priority would always be God, and through God’s lens, all other services would flow.  I am far from saintly, and my priorities can sometimes put the visible and imminent in front of the invisible and eternal. 

I serve my God in prayer, in thought, and actions.  I serve my immediate and extended family in the same manner.  Fellowship and work come a close third and fourth.  That circle is pretty narrow.   Kindness and compassion to my community is always an aim.  Farther away is the world’s poor, the alienated, oppressed, and suffering peoples by many afflictions.  What gets in the way of these noble pursuits?  Serving myself and defining my entitlements and pleasures in life can easily sidetrack the above intentions.  What good am I to others, after all, if I am miserable and discontent!  Even these noble pursuits can be a downfall of seeking spiritual graces or public acknowledgment above the good intentions of serving others.  Or perhaps even acquiring goods and power in the name of being better able to serve others leads to spiritual errors as well. 

download (4)Back to Carlo and Donald.  Who are they in their essence?  How did their paths of service begin, how was the journey, and what do they represent today?  The same question applies to their supporters.  Who are they, what is their experience, and what do they represent today?  How do Donald, Carlo, and their follower’s actions and beliefs stack up against the invisible and eternal?   I would imagine they see themselves as necessary warriors of their causes.    

How am I to not be silent without falling into being judgemental and self-righteous?  I find solace in prayer and by minuscule actions every day that serves the greater good.  More listening is called for now and reading. 

And I write.  I write here to try to ground controversy, hate, worry, and tragedy within the infinity of the invisible and the eternal.  I give my tiredness to God and here, to other bloggers.

I am disappointed today in humanity and myself—nothing exceptionally grand or novel about today.  In the sea of human failure and misery, my response feels wholly inadequate.  I know my intentions and awareness are essential but useless without a sea of change for others, sharing a vision of greater humanity toward others.   

In the face of people like Donald and Carlo, I can find myself wanting to fight like a wolf rather than a sheep.  Within each of them is also the essence of a sheep as we are all capable of being both at the same time.  The challenge is who did we feed, the wolf or the sheep.  I cannot be silent, but I cannot be a wolf being fed by conflict, war, and ego-driven battles of ideology and spirituality.  We must move forward and leave the history of social injustice, hatred of others, and discrimination behind us.  

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Is there a God?

An honest and ethical man has after 60 years of life, and much experience remained steadfast that there is no God.  His conclusions are based on a well-rounded education, including post-graduate psychoanalytic education, reasoned philosophical and scientific influences, and six decades of lived experience.  He is not ignorant of knowledge regarding the faith of his youth (Catholicism) or about the faith of others.  He has studied Catholicism and Judaism more than most believers.  He has due to his profession been present and intimate with priestly types who seek out professional counseling when spiritual manna alone was not enough.

He has searched for God.  Incidentally, while flying on a plane, he was seated next to a Airplane-Travellarge case that resembled a giant musical instrument case.  On further inquiry, he discovered the seat next to him was occupied by the Holy Statue of Fatima (also known as the Mary Statue).  The religious relic was accompanied by a caretaker as it traveled the United States for the faithful to see.  Many swear it has healing powers.  That coincidence did not result in an epiphany of Belief.  He has not found God by accident or by searching.  Nor has God granted him the Grace to allow him to know God.

If pinned down to articulate his metaphysical opinion, he would probably say he was a friendly atheist, or perhaps a pro-god atheist.  If discussing this with a fervent believer, he might even offer up an Agnostic position, avoiding threatening the foundation of Belief held by his audience.  Like religious believers, not all Athiest are the same and fit under one umbrella.  Check out the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Agnosticism and Atheism.[i]     You will find atheist old and new, friendly and militant, divided into roughly the same factions as any religious faith has within its congregation.

However, he is not just an Athiest.  He is my elder brother.  He has mentored me in education, in human relationships, philosophy, and life.  We have enjoyed life together on many occasions.  We have also shared suffering, misery, and death of loved ones.  We have applied the God test over the decades to many of our personal lived experiences and world events.

Faith:

It always came down to the word faith.  I have faith, and he does not.  He is no less a man than I and perhaps in the eyes of God, more generous and holy in action and thoughts.  If we were to visit a foreign land together where our faith or lack of faith was unknown, people would not be able to distinguish between us our good intentions for others and principles regarding social justice issues.  We are cut from the same tree.  We are both social workers.  He went the route of clinical orientation and therapy, where I went the hybrid route of social determinants and mental health wellness.   We also share some of the same fault lines within our character that has caused us both more than a small degree of trouble.   And yet, I have faith, and he has none.

Faith, in my view, can be given to you without your willingness.  An all-powerful God could easily bludgeon you across the head until you got it (my case) or reveal himself in more subtle ways.  Having a spiritual experience is consoling and sustains faith.  Receiving spiritual consolations is, however, for most people, an invisible or transient experience quickly discounted as coincidence, subjective experience, or spiritual imagination in overdrive.

Why has an all-powerful God not given faith to my brother?  Biblically many turn their eyes and ears from hearing God or God’s message.    I do not believe this to be the case for him or many others in the atheist camp.

He is a serious man who has given much thought to metaphysical realities and who lives a life dedicated to the betterment of humanity.  I mentioned earlier we both share the same fault lines, so I am not putting him up on a pedestal.  We are not undiscovered saints, just regular people meaning well.

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This man a day ago or two ago texted me a response to one of my posts.  He said, “I wish I had your soulful outlook and faith, but I don’t think that will ever come.” He does not need to challenge my faith or criticize my Religion[ii]. This was just what it was, a general reflection on our polar outlook on the existence of God.  His view is sort of a Kantian philosophy that religion is “basically resolvable into ethics, that everything else that preoccupy religious people – liturgy, sacraments, prayer, preaching, pious practices, etc.–is all finally about making us morally upright people.”  His non-belief and my belief stand as a testimony against the very identity of the other.  Without open dialogue, this can be very tragic.  Is this what Christ meant when he said he will turn brother against brother?

We both have reached a stalemate.  Not one of animosity or a brotherly intellectual battle, just an acceptance that all roads have been traversed, and neither of us can move the other on this issue regarding the existence of God.

The Morning Line?

My return text was a parable of sorts that his actions and behaviors would speak forracing themselves here on earth. After that, we both would meet roughly the same judgment when our day comes. Spiritual handicappers in the afterlife, perhaps even deceased relatives of ours, might be studying a daily racing form on how we will both finish the race, giving us morning lines and odds, give or take a few spiritual points. If there were bookmakers in Heaven, how would they set my morning line?

Mystics?

PrayerPierreLouisDelavalHommeEnPriere1826-312x380The day after this communication, my morning reading was called Experiential Knowing.[iii]    Richard Rohr states, “Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential and undoubted for a person.” Mystics don’t say “I believe,” they say, “I know” with quiet confidence and Humility.   Whereas most believers say “I believe” as they were taught to say in their respective faiths and strive to live up to the expectations of what their faith teaches.   He refers to this as a “Creedal Belief.” Creedal Belief gives us guideposts until we achieve a deeper level of understanding that is personal and experiential.

Survey 100 faith-based believers and ask them if they know and have experienced God in their lives?  Or take a short cut and visit Pew Research Surveys.[iv]   I was pleasantly surprised that in one study, 74% of Americans say they talk to a higher power, and 28% say God talks back to them!    This study looks at what Americans mean when they say they believe in God.  The study does not provide me with a percentage of people who would define themselves as believers (believe and follow a creed) versus Mystics (have experiential and personal experiences that they know without a doubt that God exists).

My estimate is if asked privately and confidentially, most believers would fall under the creedal belief side.  To doubt is a human experience.  The apostles showed their doubt and lack of understanding despite having witnessed miracles and spiritual consolations beyond our imagination.   In my opinion, genuine everyday believers have aspirational hope and faith.  They have had enough given to them to by historical precedence and spiritual traditions to lay a foundation for Belief.

Not everybody gets that foundation.  War, famine, poverty, trauma, suffering, disease, natural disasters, accidents, and other tragedies may destroy or strengthen the potential for Belief.  Where and when you are born will shape your spiritual orientation.  What you experience in life may bring that spiritual orientation to its fullest potential or extinguish it into non-existence.  There is no equity or fairness applied here.  Nor is self-determination, a primary driver who gets faith or spiritual consolation and who does not.   And yet, faith lives in the hearts of many.

My Belief:

I am no theologian and am not fit to speak for Catholic theology or any other faith.  I downloadknow there is a God today, but I am not a mystic!  My faith is too flimsy, and my discipline too weak.  A gentle breeze can move my Spirit into desolation and set me adrift in fear and desperation.  I need regular spiritual maintenance.

Prayer, reading, meditation, and fellowship provide me a guidepost for reflection and an anchor to being able to meet the responsibilities that come with suffering, success, joy, sadness, hatred, failure, or any other human experience.  Every situation is grounded in spiritual responsibility outside my self-interest.

My generation and my brothers have only witnessed roughly 3% of the years that have passed since Jesus Christ was here on earth.  We are missing witnessing directly 97% of the years that have passed since Christ was here on earth.  That 3% gets very small if we go back in time to Judaic traditions and beyond.  We both have minimal information first hand and volumes of conflicting information second hand passed down generation after generation.  Our sense of existence when mapped out against a spiritual timeline going forward or backward into eternity gives one a sense of the impossibility of truly knowing anything.

Catholicism provided me my central paradigm.  I am also a spiritual thief and willing to learn from the faith of spiritual cousins in Christianity, more distant cousins in Judaism and Buddhism, and fellow human beings with other belief systems or atheists and agnostics shy of heresy!  What do I mean by that?   Religious institutions and people can sharpen my faith by how they deal with suffering, hardship, and success.  We will know what is right by the results they produce.

Catholicism and some of its cousins, for example, have lost their way as evidenced by the child sexual abuse scandal and enmeshment in political issues that reflect poorly on the faith.  Historically religions have been used to wage war, persecute people of other faith, or denigrate and discriminate against people.   My current Pope is trying to rectify some of the serious errors and mistakes of the past.   This works for me, in addition to fulfilling my callings in life as they keep evolving and changing.

Parable:

images (40)Let me tell you what I told my brother yesterday in response.  I told him the story of two decades ago when kids had just spray-painted graffiti on my fence many years ago in New York City.  I was at that time in the right spiritual place.  I kept a large can of green paint in the shed and welcomed new graffiti as it came with an opportunity to paint that portion of the fence.   I was not at all vested in catching or worrying about the fence being spray-painted again by an emerging artist.  My Cuban neighbor came out and stopped by.  He was incensed and livid.  In a Cuban accident, he yelled with expletives, “they should be a church on every xxx corner, not for me, but those little xxx kids.” I received his support with a smile but advised him, Andre, we were once kids too, and I am sure we crossed a line somewhere.  He absorbed my calmness, and we resumed a peaceful day.  I painted as he talked.

The idea presented by Andre the Cuban was those kids needed a church.  He did not need a church, in his opinion.  This struck me twenty-years later enough to raise it in light of my brother’s lack of faith.  Perhaps, God gives faith to those who God has determined to need faith to handle their situations or to promote a higher purpose of God’s divine will.  Andre does not need a church to know not to spray-paint my fence!  He may benefit from a church or other spiritual consolations for other life challenges – but he knows to destroy another person’s property for social status amongst a peer group is wrong without a church on his shoulder.  Neither one of us did a thing to help the kids who were vandalizing people’s property—a missed opportunity to turn a negative into a positive all these years later.

The atheist around the corner may be living God’s will without knowing God by a name – a name prescribed by the various world religions who mostly genuinely believe their scripture or tradition to be the most accurate path to the divine life.

I can say “I know God Exist,” or I believe in such and such Creed.  I cannot tell an Athiest, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or another religious believer that I know my faith, and my Creed is the only way for them to achieve a holy life.  I simply do not know to a person God’s divine plan or divine destiny; I can only know my own experience.

Moral of the story?

  • Many paths: It is a mystery as to what is the best path to a holy life.  I suspect there are many paths, and some of us do not need a religious guidepost.  The non-religious among us may serve a purpose that we who are adorned with the garments of religiosity or spirituality cannot fulfill.  Divine Providence and Divine Mystery leave us all in the dark.
  • Judgment day: Every day, we are judged by ourselves, our fellow man, and an eternal benchmark against the history of humankind. The Athiest and the Believer leave the morning gate at the same time.  The spiritual oddsmakers assign weights and probabilities to each one when they should cross the line based on their circumstances and abilities.  It is the greatest horse race of all-time.  Much is given, much is expected.  Neither the Athiest or the Believer can judge each other’s performance relative to the other.  The Oddsmaker does not tell them today what to expect, where to finish, what pace to run, or if this is their last race.  Run today as if it was your last race.  Run according to your abilities and potential.  Every split second is clocked and measured.  It is not what you are labeled as belonging to, but how you perform your calling that matters at the end of the day.  What matters is the good you do today – tomorrows will take care of themselves.
  • Mystery: The moral of this story is that very few of us can claim to be true mystics.  If we are in the faithful camp, we cannot claim we have earned that faith through self-will and action.  We cannot even explain why we have faith and why others do not or have an equal or greater allegiance to another faith.  If we are truly blessed to be able to say consistently, and with the conviction that we know God exists by personal experience and revelation, we have truly been blessed through no fault of our own.  Perhaps, by God’s humor, we have only been called as God said, let me reveal some to this one, or he will destroy a lot of things in my house!
  • Living God’s word: We can undoubtedly offer people an explanation of our Creed of beliefs.  If they are attracted to how we are living and how genuine we are, we may be able to share our faith.  This assumes our faith is producing people living holy lives, as evidenced by our actions and behaviors.   Whether we are believers or mystics, it still comes down to what we do and not what we say.
  • Humility: We cannot assume or declare moral, religious, or spiritual supremacy.  Perhaps it is God’s will that my brother lives his life within an existential framework practicing humanist love for humanity free of religiosity.  That paradigm may have enabled him to reach specific people through God’s will.
  • Love: My Catholic faith does not separate me from the Athiest or other religious faiths.  In almost all issues, we will have common ground on what is the ideal moral and ethical action in most circumstances.  The areas of divergence and conflict are where I will and am challenged.  I am called to practice Humility while still be able to state what “I Believe.”  Liberation theology is an example of where religious beliefs can bring me into conflict with the current social and political order of western culture and unchecked capitalism.  The ideals of the dignity of life issues in light of scientific advances and medical options available that can alleviate unnecessary suffering or end life prematurely create animosity and confusion.  I love those who hold different interpretations of what is the right thing to do, especially when presented with choosing between two terrible choices, both of which will bring pain and suffering.
  • Legal law versus spiritual laws:  One question that pesters me, is should my faith determine the law of the land, or should my faith attract believers to follow my Creed when societal values differ from my spiritually discerned values?   I must walk patiently and, with wisdom, indeed discerned.  With human history teaching me how quickly religious institutions and nation-states can persecute thousands by genocide, alienation, and other acts of our evil, I am cautious about advocating my interpretation or that of my faith needs to be the law of the land.  I would much rather people desire what I have then be told to do what my faith says.

The Advocate:

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My Sunday readings today touched on the paraclete, or the Advocate, or the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit or Advocate helps us discern “true from false” and “good from the bad.”  Catholicism Catechism says that “From the beginning until the fullness of time, the joint mission of the Father’s word and Spirit remains hidden, but is at work.”

For Two Thousand Years, the Holy Spirit hidden in the background doing God’s work.  Athiest maybe holier than religious types if they are taping into consistently choosing “true from false” and “good from the bad.”

The 28% of Americans who reported they hear answers back from God, if you interviewed them, I could tell you most of them did not hear a clear auditory command or see a burning bush.  More likely, they experienced a gentle whisper or an epiphany of thought that may mirror the same revelation atheist experiences when deciphering right from wrong in certain situations; only the latter has no direct knowledge of the “Holy Spirit” at work.

For us believers, do we believe the Holy Spirit is only working with the faithful?  Of course not.  The logic, education, and set of moral principles that an Athiest uses to stand up for human rights or bash a corrupted religious institution may be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  The Athiest may not see or have gratitude for the gifts of oratory, a clever pen, or other talents that they possess as coming from any special dispensation cultivated within him, but God just maybe slowly at work. It is not that he is ungrateful, it  is simply that he cannot be grateful for what he cannot see.  His gratitude is more likely expressed directly to the people around him – and that should happen anyway!

download (2)My brother may not know God.  Neither the Paschal Mystery or Pascal’s wager bring him any closer to God.  He and many like him can be painted as an Archetype Athiest.  One who is blameless for being an Athiest and mostly living a meaningful and loving secular life.

Special dispensation:

Perhaps he has been given a special dispensation by the God of my understanding.  He is blind to a spiritual awareness of a defined God and free of the religious binds and toxicity that exist in many of our religious institutions.  He is at once outside the church or synagogue and yet unknowingly within it.  He is guided by a human conscience to do what is right – and he ascribes these principles originating from education and the power of human development, which is undoubtedly part of what makes him able to identify right from wrong.

Unknown to him is a gentle whisper, sometimes heard and heeded, sometimes unheard or ignored, just like the faithful.  He has a harder road than the believer for each action, and the decision appears to be uniquely his own.    He also must carry the weight of no afterlife, and the knowledge that all there is in life is what he has now.  As the clock winds down on him, every moment becomes more precious.   There may be no tomorrows or an afterlife.

Many a believer, despite knowing there is a God, will have the same existential crisis as their time nears an end.  Only the rare mystics face death with solemnity and confidence in the eternal.

In my God’s tent, the God of my imagination, there is room for many special dispensations.  Some will receive them here on earth and others only after.

How many artists died in poverty before their artwork was valued?  How many saints or now revered spiritual writers were once deemed heretical before being acknowledged as owning some spiritual truths.

There is a place for good men outside the church to hold the church accountable indeed and to be there for those in need who cannot, for one reason or another, turn to God.

I see God and humanity in my brother.  He is a good man and has lived a truly human life with great joys and great sorrows.  He sees the good in people as well and can see past people’s limitations too.   I hope he and other archetype Athiest can see goodness and principles in me and in the majority of people that share my faith.  Neither he nor I can claim a higher spiritual or moral ground.

If I am right about God existing through my 3% lense, I am confident that same God has a broad tent that will include Mystics, Believers, Agnostics, and yes, Athiest.

This is not faith, but Grace.  By the Grace of God, may our errors and human folly be overlooked and our genuine strivings to do good be captured in the odds maker’s books.  If there is a God, I honestly cannot say my brother’s odds are any better or worse than mine.

We have two brothers and parents that have already come to know the answer.  They aren’t sharing it yet with us.  May Grace be with them, with my brother, and each of you that have managed to read this post on brotherly love and spiritual divisions.

Is it God talking to me when the day after my brother makes that comment about the belief that my guided meditation is on mysticism versus creedal belief and the Sunday mass sermon focused on the Holy Spirit?   Was it God talking to my brother when the Lady of Fatima was sat next to him on a plane?  The faithful among us say of course while the atheist among us are unmoved.  Yet we coexist pursuing a moral world, living with suffering, and promoting compassion and love.

Artist Paul Gaugin was very much unappreciated in his day as are many artists, theologians, Catholics, and even Athiest today.   He died in poverty and obscurity.   Some say the following painting captures the artist expressing his own suffering and isolation, a self-portrait as opposed to the suffering Christ.  It is a shame that we value people more when they lay horizontal in the grave than when they are vertical and alive with us.

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How is his spirituality captured in this painting?  How is our spirituality (for believers) and morality (for Athiest) captured on the canvass that represents our life?

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[i] https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/atheism-agnosticism/

[ii] We both have ample opportunity to criticize the Religion of our youth.  Religion, though, we both firmly agree, is prone to the errors of men.  No religious organization is exempt from minute mistakes and severe grave actions that can only be called evil or, at the very least, not representative of any divine will.

[iii] Yes, And….Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, page 42.

[iv] https://www.pewforum.org/2018/04/25/2-beliefs-about-gods-involvement-in-the-world/

Morning Dews # 6

old_testament_stories_abraham_isaacPoor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i]  Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar.  There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son.  The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:

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I am not buying their version of these events.  They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.

My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation.  This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God.  The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac.  The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii]  The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.

Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars.  Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!

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How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?

Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer.  He is tested all along the way.  The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.

In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible.  However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar.  A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms.  Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.

At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine.  In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God.  The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son.    We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.

Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle.  He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.

My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth.  I did not come to bring peace but a sword.  For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.”   (Matthews 10:34)

We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.

In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of images (38)God.  He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles.    They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.

Where are we today?  In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!

We are a nation divided politically.  Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world.  Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions:  Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions.  Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other.  Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”

We have been killing each other since the dawn of time.  What are we to do in the face of such division?  Jesus proclaims:

“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”

I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God.  To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples.  While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh.  If you have, please contact me!  I have a favor to ask.

We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility.  There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides.  At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things.  The truth will not be all good for either side.

Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith.   Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well.  Today we are on God’s testing ground.  We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture.  We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined.  We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.

time

I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction!  And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions.  I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically.  Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.

What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth.  I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions.  I nowwill take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination.  So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead?  Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time?    I know my answer.  What would yours be?

Before I go, let me return to Isaac.  It appears as if he did okay and maintained his be46144e84c3fa4540bc88df707e2d85relationship with his father, Abram.  Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God.  I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.

Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week?  My blessings are too many to count.  Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering.   Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices?  And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?

What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle?  I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy.  In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships.  Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!

Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?    

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Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…

[i] Genesis 22:8

[ii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/abraham

[iii] https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/allegory

The way home

My page is dark. I have travelled deep into the forest while remaining in the company of others, working, toiling, loving. The silences between my writings are not absences of thoughts, only absences of thoughts worthy of the toil of exploration and expression.

Momentary emptiness, aloneness, silence screaming. Peace. The sentiment is I have gone as far as I can go. The path back to secular concerns is necessary as is the suffering, joys, and bewilderment that is our human condition.

Back to mundane task, simple prayers, reading the spiritual insights of others, and living in and of this world as I turn the corner towards home.

Tired.

This moment will pass and may prove to be pure folly, but for right now, everything is insignificant other then doing the next right thing over and over again on the journey back home.

Perhaps that was always the principle hidden by my distance from the quietness of the forest.

Happy New Year

Dear strangers;

We take much comfort in our sense of time and our utilization of time; however, we define its importance.  The journey from “birth to earth” for us is filled with time markers marking our days until our visible days are no more.  Our mortality creates a great sense of urgency and pressure to use our time well.     If you are reading this, we are entering into the year 2020 together.

New Year

We are not really strangers to each other.  We share our common humanity in all its beauty and ugliness.   We share a sense and desire for ultimate certainty regarding eternal truths or, at the very least, a sense of confidence regarding our ultimate purpose in life.  We seek to live a meaningful life amid a world that is uncompromisingly unpredictable, contradictory, and temporal.

In this temporality, I reach out to you to wish you and your neighbors a year filled with enlightenment and unity with each other.  Knowledge of what is truly important and connectedness to people close and far – warm, loving, and compassionate relationships wherever you go, may harmony and peach find you.

On a deeper level, I yearn for us to have unity with transcendent, eternal truths that bring us all closer to living a holy and sanctified life.    I wish that we each can have a glimmer of that ecstasy to nourish us and provide is strength when our physical and spiritual selves are battered by our secular life and human frailty.

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Wherever you are tonight or this a.m. preparing to face a new decade, know that you are unique in a way that far exceeds your own capacity to comprehend.  You have potentiality within you to further enrich your life here and now, in the future, and dare I say for eternity?

I say this with certainty that if you choose to embrace your potentiality, to accept that you are valuable to me and to many others, and to set out each day with the idea that everyone you meet has that same intrinsic value, it is going to be a great 2020 no matter the adversities and situational inconveniences that will face you.

3 amIt is 2:43 in the morning.  Most have gone to bed or are not far from closing up celebrating the New Year.   Some say 3 a.m. is a special time where pray life is especially revealing. Whether you be awake or asleep, sober, or in some other state of consciousness, connected to God or desperately alienated, happy or sad, successful or struggling, this late-night note is one of gratitude that you are you and have the opportunity to be an even better you in 2020.

May we together, by careful and measured discipline act quietly and humbly to improve ourselves.  May we may collectively enhance the world and its beauty one relationship at a time.  One pray at a time.  One moment followed by another, patiently allowing eternal truths to guide us every day that is gifted till the earth rises up to reclaim us back into its folds.

Perhaps when our time runs out, and our body gives up its last breath – we will not find ourselves in a state of regret or unprepared for no more tomorrows.  That is what I want for you – for everyone, that when we rest our heads at night-time to sleep, that peace and harmony are within our souls in case, morning never comes.

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Goodnight neighbor in this Common Era time 2020.  

 

Survival

Sitting on the beach reading a work of fiction a protagonist ponders with resentment, “Did his work have meaning or was it merely a means to survive? There was nothing shameful about trying to survive–it was the occupation of the majority. However, was it enough to live….and not even be sustained by a sense of purpose?”

Nesterov is with the military police in Communist Russia and is being promoted by his wife, an annoying visitor who is on the outs with establishment, and an underlying sense that he must do the right thing, even if it means death. There is no mention of God here, but you can feel the pull of Nesterov struggling to act in a transcendent manner.

We do not often if ever get faced with literal life and death choices to stand up for our principles. However, we are faced daily with the human striving for economic prosperity or safety, good social standing, and access to resources we deem valuable. Are we willing to compromise our principles or faith for the promotion of our self-centered desires?

Are we silent when we see injustice? Do we benefit from the misfortune of others? Are we willing to face our fears and perhaps even be courageous? Can we accept loss and sacrifice?

I imagine must of us see ourselves as well-meaning people, perhaps even worthy of being a protagonist archetype of good with just a little embellishment and grandiosity from an author with creative imagination. Digging a little deeper we could also round out our lives with our deep inner struggles with good, evil, and situational adversities that shaped our characters.

But is the mold done and the dye cast? Or are we still a work in progress, seeking perfection while fulfilling a transcendent purpose that is mostly beyond our intellectual and spiritual grasp?

It is easy for me to say survival is not enough – harder to practice it with perfect fidelity. Truth is I cannot achieve perfection here as I am chained to my human desires, instincts, and mortal flesh.

Only in prayer and faith do I stand a chance of spiritual alignment with a greater metaphysical truth.

It does not matter what our occupation is or activity at the moment, every action and thought is meaningful and connected to the whole.

Where do you find your meaning in life?

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