War

www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/world/europe/putin-speech-russia-ukraine.html

It is roughly 4:30 a.m. in Russia, a country whose people I appreciate for their rich culture, brilliant writers, and stoic chess players. The authors though, stand out. Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Turgenev and so many others.

My soul has a Russian influence from these writers. These authors often went to extreme depths searching for God and the meaning of life. I don’t think it was driven by the long winters. They capture the suffering of the Russian people caused by war, poverty of the peasant class, the long scourge of Stalin’s rule, and war. It is in their genetic DNA to be driven to nationalism extremes and seemingly always immersed in class warfare.

Ukraine has only been independent of the Soviet Union since 1991. It shares borders, people, and a long history with the Russian people. Today, this morning, actions are being taken to reacquire portions of Ukraine or all of it. I fear for the people on the ground that will pay the price for this newest clash of nations.

Internationally, other nations are voicing opposition and threats of economic sanctions or complete silence.

It is unreal. This belongs in the history books or Hollywood. But it is real. Death, economic unrest, war traumas, and global distress are taking place now. Prices will rise and the poor will suffer. The wealthy will capitalize on the opportunities created in wars wake.

Right now American politicians are hedging bets, looking for away to come out the other end of this as a better candidate.

American people are disinterested and disillusioned. We do not hold the spirit and strength demonstrated by our grandparents to stand up for freedom and international order. Part of this attitude may even be healthy – not assuming we hold the answers and the moral high ground. I am not naive enough to believe things were simpler then, they were not.

We have the advantage now of a few decades more knowledge and instant communications. And we still don’t know how to have international order.

Where is God and our faith today? Putin is a cold blooded killer. He has no moral or theological limitations. Prayers and faith will not alter his course. He is not the heart and soul of the Russian people. Their government system and centralized power in the hands of the few make this aggression and other atrocities possible.

Whatever is happening on the ground now is man’s doing – not Gods. We collectively are failing humanity. More authors of human toil and suffering may be born today or tomorrow.

Four a.m. is for some God’s time. A time of solitude and prayer in the deep quiet of night. The Ukraine is about 4880 miles away from me, by crows fly distance. My prayer goes to them – I have nothing else to offer but that and a single voice of opposition to nation to nation aggression and war.

Update: war commenced at 5:50 a.m.

There are no coincidences? 

Last week I pondered the lack of certainty that is embedded both in the Bible and by the priest and theologians that dedicate their lives to sharing the Bible throughout the ages:  

When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priests fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner that can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.

On Friday, two days after that post, I had 30 minutes to kill why in town before picking up my wife

from work. I had just recently bought three fiction books via Amazon and had no reason to go to the public library but went in anyway. Two books were in the new arrivals section display caught my eye. The Pastor, by Hanne Orstavik translated by Martin Aitkin and Birds of North America by the Audubon society.    Hanne Orstavik book was translated from Norweigen. 

The book itself looked tiny and is a work of fiction. When I picked it up, I did not read or delve into the background, which led to one funny revelation. I was many pages in before it was revealed that the Pastor was a woman. I had assumed the Pastor was a man. On revelation, the irony of my error perfectly matched some of the conflicts that the main character endured in the book.    

I have just finished the book. As described in Amazon today, the book is “A thought-provoking, existential novel – as Liv searches for meaning and identity in her own life, she must find the words to connect, comfort, and lead others.” I would have known that the main character was a woman and that the book would cover some serious spiritual questions if I had taken a moment to reach the prologue. I did not, as I was rushed and had other books to read anyway. But for some reason, I picked up The Pastor that night. This was backup. About halfway through, I ran into this passage on page 193 by the main character Liv. Liv had a visceral reaction to a conference speaker describing how he was increasing church membership and outreach by, in essence, “dumbing down” the message and delivering it in terms that young believers could grasp and believe with assured certainty. Liv, having recently come face to face with untimely deaths caused by suicide, was shocked at the speaker’s cockiness and self-assuredness.     She fled the conference in the confines of her room said these words:   

“Stay with me. Tears trickled down my cheeks. There I sat, the Pastor weeping. With no way of comforting myself, unable to save me. The man who’d been giving the talk, going on like that about blessing, how certain he’d been. “I speak from the Spirit of God.” How could he be so certain? I didn’t have it in me to say anything of which I was certain. I couldn’t, I wasn’t capable. But they could, just how unfathomable to me. My job, which I’d accepted by joining the clergy, was it to be able to point and say that somewhere certainty exists? Something solid and true? Something that won’t ever fail?”

And a little further on down the page, Liv reaches the following conclusion: 

“But trying to get rid of contradiction and ambiguity couldn’t help, the fall would still be bottomless, for the Bible couldn’t ever be as tightly woven as that. And what kind of certainty would it give, if not a single question were left?” 

Two powerful statements answer a question I had reflectively posted the day before about the quandary priest face when consoling the bereaved, especially the bereaved for unexpected and untimely deaths. In the fictional character named “Liv,” the humbleness required to be a devout follower of Jesus Christ and the complex mystery of the Bible are clarified in the art of a fictional character living a complicated Pastors life in a foreign land. 

Finding this book was completely random and unexpected. Finding the passage above resonated with the spiritual question of the day regarding uncertainty (of laypeople or priests) and sincerely supporting the bereaved was timely. I would say more about these two statements – but I think they speak for themselves better than me muddying them with my interpretation. 

Many would say mere coincidence.    Bernard B. Beltman M.D. wrote an article in Psychology Today

entitled “There Are No Coincidences,” where he points out the contradiction on that phrase and summarizes the challenge here:     

“Coincidences exist. Coincidences are real. Saying that there are no coincidences stops inquiry. Challenging the statement forces us to make sense of its ambiguity and explore our potential involvement. You can choose the random perspective and with a wave of a mental hand, dismiss most coincidences as not worth further attention. Or, you can seek out their possible personal implications and make life into an adventure of discovery both about yourself and the world around you. As you explore, you may uncover the latent abilities hidden within you.”

Subjectively I believe in Coincidences.  Of that I am certain! Too many have occurred to me that have knocked me off my center of objective stoicism and non-belief in such events.  They are unexplainable.  The above example is only a trifle and easily explainable as a consumer of vast amounts of literature is bound to find countless crossover connections between materials.   I do not intend to convert stoics or non-believers of coincidence – they have a faith of sorts all their own, defended by a different set of principles or philosophers.  As Beltman suggests, rather than fight over the unknown, let’s just delve into the mystery of the potential meaning of coincidences when they arise with discernment and dialogue – open to whatever may come. 

I don’t know if I recommend Hanne Orstavik’s book.  I found the writer intriguing and the storytelling good.  The subject matter dancing around suicide and deep theological challenges spun in a time-warping manner.  However, if you expect existential answers and certainty – you may be left wanting more.   Perhaps the Audobon Bird book can provide more certainty! 

Perhaps this quote from the internet web of images captures the mystery of coincidences.

Post-note: The hardest tragedy is the loss of a child. The following resource is scored 100 out of 100 by Charity Navigator. If you are interested in giving consider the Sudc Foundation: https://sudc.org/grief-resources/#

If you have lost a child recently or ever – my heart, compassion, and prayers have you in mind today. No discussion of coincidences, theology, mystery, causation, or other abstractions can change the reality of the loss of your loved one. I found this message particularly powerful.

What if you finally meet God, and God looks like your worst enemy? | America Magazine

Even more astounding, Aquinas speaks of the beatific vision as something utterly satisfying yet inexhaustible. Come life’s end, we will see God, but we will still not comprehend God. We will not “take God in,” as we say. It will not be like Toto, pulling back a curtain to reveal the Wizard of Oz pulling levers. Such a comprehensible God could be reduced to a mental concept. Remember St. Augustine: “If you can understand it, it is not God.” That applies in the afterlife as well.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2022/02/16/homily-seventh-sunday-catholic-love-enemy-242413

Speak this way about Christianity or Catholicism in shallow waters and you maybe deemed a heretic. We like certainty and authoritative declarations. Uncertainty is to destabilizing for some believers and definitely for certain religious denominations or preachers.

When we turn to the Priestly caste, by whatever title we bestow on them, in times of suffering or when our mortality is near its end, we don’t want uncertainty or insincerity. We want hope, consolation, and support. Sometimes we may want answers that cannot be answered by the best spiritual leaders in our community. Many priest fail here, not out of lack of trying, but out of over trying to help. They simply do not want to not deliver their faith in a manner which can bolster your faith when your tank is running on empty.

This is where you may enter that Dark night referenced by St. John of the Cross. Being alone with God or with an emptiness that is unbearable and seemingly timeless can be terrifying. Think of it as a spiritual crisis or spiritual reckoning disorienting you beyond intellectual and emotive imagination, just totally transcending your religious training, your philosophical reasoning, your human experiences to date.

No, we don’t all have to experience dark nights. Some believers can seemingly always live in the comfort of unshaken belief. Others have to journey into the dark and wrestle with the existential. And yet another group rides through life without a second thought of their origin or their eventual end.

The article drives home a humorous satire…getting to the holy gates expecting a creator defined by your upbringing and imagination…and being confronted by your enemy is God.

Defining and refining your spiritual beliefs is uniquely human as far as we know. I secretly believe elephants and dolphins may know somethings we don’t, but let’s assume we own the market on seeking living a spiritual life. All we truly have is how we treat each other now, with our brief life here on earth.

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

Thought for the day

On the idea of praying for my enemies – Jesus was an example as he invited us to pray for those who persecute us. A paradigm shift transcended – who sees me as their enemy, whether accurate or simply based on how they perceive me? Are they praying for me? And if so, what would they want for me and my soul?

Am I hated based on my social status (white, male, authority figure of sorts), for my political ideology, my Catholic faith, or even perhaps for just being American and privileged? How well off are you financially: Global Comparison Calculator.

Whether I am a capitalist or not, I am certainly benefitting from American Capitalism and am represented, for better or worse, by American geopolitics and military action. As such, in many places in the world right now I am despised by people who have never met me or my neighbors. This is humbling and very sad.

Inside the U.S. we have a great divide as well over many division points. Do Republicans hate my political ideology and me? Are they praying for me genuinely? What would they ask for to change? Am I praying for people with opposing political views who I think are perpetuating persecution in our society and globally?

No matter where you stand – you will find trouble if you stand up. But stand up you must, not based on ignorance, but as Jesuit Tetlow said when describing fearing God he said to do so “soberly calmly, and creatively.” The same can be applied to standing up for human dignity worldwide.

Henry M. Terry | a flautist; a monk with a glass of wine | MutualArt

MutualArt
Henry M. Terry |

No we don’t mean soberly in terms of not being under the influence of alcohol – but that would probably help too when serious things are being discussed or done!

Imagine if we all acted and spoke “soberly, calmly, and creatively” when confronted with our own flaws, our neighbors flaws, or our larger societal conflicts. What fun would there be in that – an authentic and humane conversation well thought out and stripped away of falsehoods and misdirections – and sober to boot.

Regardless, we must try and we will pay a price for doing so. Do you happen to know who Marty Babcock is? I don’t. He is credited with saying the following:

Jesus promised his followers three things: They would be entirely fearless, absurdly happy, and always in trouble!

Starting with the premise that we are all sinners – it is reasonable to conclude that our personal sin or collective sin is responsible in some small or grand way for the persecution of others.

God be merciful to me and may those who we have offended or presecuted forgive me, forgive us.

In the meantime, perhaps we all can make amends for the harm we have done to others and try, with the knowledge that we are imperfect, to avoid adding more offenses by actions or words. This will mean standing up within our sphere of influence to change the wrongs being done in our name, one word, one issue, one action at a time…leaving the results to that unknown future that we cannot control individually.

O greatly Merciful God,... - Pray The Holy Rosary Daily | Facebook

Financial and Spiritual Stress Test

Financial Stress Test:

More than half of us do not…

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start. The details of your earnings, spending habits, planning, and overall financial wellness will be insightful for anyone seeking spiritual transcendence – regardless of overall financial wealth. It is hard to be there for God or others when your finances are in disarray or distress. “If your struggling with Money, Read this” article from NPR or listen to the 17-minute podcast.   

Or perhaps these other resources may be helpful as well. How Exactly Do You Stress-Test Your Financial Plan? This Kiplinger article explains the basics for both everyday living (budget, emergency fund, and what to do with cash liquidity) and portfolio management. This is not the article to read for the do-it-yourself (DIY) guy. It provides just enough information to recommend you get a financial planner! Perhaps that is best. Would you pass a financial stress test today? What is in your emergency fund today? What is your debt to income ratio? Do you know this without having to look now? More than half of us do not keep a budget or know how much we spend! I strongly suggest you start here – with an honest appraisal of where you are now. Most Americans reach financial safety by small victories accruing overtime over the long haul.   Start or revisit your financial plan today! My suggestion is to find a way to budget and track your money first in a manner that you can maintain over time – whether by an app, an excel sheet, a fancy tool (Quicken), or simply pen and paper!  

I am putting money here ahead of Spiritual practice for a reason: 

Matthew Chapter 6 has much to say about money, including 19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” These biblical verses almost seem to say, do not worry about tomorrow or money! That is not the case. 

Spiritual Stress Test and Financial Stress Test Relationship:

A financial stress test lets an individual, business, or institution simulate an economic crisis under a variety of circumstances. My suggestion is if you are considering improving your spiritual foundation – conducting a financial stress test of your finances with “eyes wide open” is an excellent place to start.

The chapter teaches daily life management and setting priorities – not avoiding fiscal or other responsibilities. It concludes with  34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” 

If we handle your priorities today and give the rest to God, we will be prepared to handle both adversity and prosperity (in whatever form) that may come our way. 

Handling money and finances by being aware of every dollar’s intrinsic value and putting it to work aligned with your priorities in life will feed your spiritual soul if done correctly. Look at where you spend your money now – does it bring you closer to peaceful living and spiritual harmony or farther away? Does it support your financial stability today and prepare for tomorrow or create instability? Does it help others? Know yourself financially, and you may well be on the way to greater awareness of your spiritual wellness. Money remains a top stressor in American life.

As an anecdotal point, one study published in 2020 entitled “Worldview Under Stress: Preliminary Findings on Cardiovascular and Cortisol Stress Responses Predicted by Secualrity, Religoisty, Spirituality, and Existential Search found that “Contrary to our expectation, self-identification as atheist was not associated with an advantage in dealing with social stress. Atheists’ stress responses were substantially higher than those shown by self-identified religious participants. Self-ascribed atheism may (theoretically) suggest an orientating worldview, but it does not appear to be a predictor of healthy stress regulation.” In essence, your spiritual health could affect your ability to handle stress physiologically, as evidenced by this study.

Tv Preacher Memes

Before going any further, let me make a personal claim – I do not believe a strong faith will guarantee prosperity! I believe our faith can sustain us in strength, hope, and dignity in times of prosperity or great poverty. Both prosperity and poverty can wreak havoc with our spiritual or moral vision of how we should live our lives.   P.S. some very fine people and spirituality happen in prosperity churches in spite of a disproportionate amount of energy being “spent” on wealth acquirement – this claim is not directed at Joel Olsteen or any church for that matter.

Spiritual Stress Test:

There is a lot out there on the financial stress test. Not so much on Spiritual Stress Test. Who wants to do that at all. Life presents enough spiritual crisis every day! I fear we have become numb to a spiritual crisis in the face of commonplace human misery:  poverty, hatred, war, violence, hatred, and other human conditions that devalue life. If we genuinely conducted a spiritual stress test, we

110 Spiritual Quotes About Inner Peace and Love (2021)

would, in all likelihood, come up in the Red.    We also may be afraid that taking a self-assessment may call for more spiritual activity – where would we find the time and would not take us away from our worldly responsibilities? To the contrary, many believe and find it deepens our involvement with the world and the people around us.

There are many attempts to clinicalize spiritual assessments in the mental health field to tap into patients’ spiritual strengths as part of recovery.    Borrowing from the International Journal of Palliative Care, whose discipline routinely works with the spiritual needs of patients at the end of life or while dealing with uncontrolled chronic medical illnesses, one might check out the “Hope” tool. The American Family Physician offers a review of several tools in this article called “The Spiritual Assessment” by the American Family Physician Journal, including the Hope tool in a modified form:

H:  What are your sources of hope, strength, comfort, and peace? What do you hold on to during difficult times? 

O:  Are you part of a religious or spiritual community? Does it help you? How?

P:  Do you have personal spiritual beliefs? What aspects of your personal and spiritual beliefs do you find most helpful? 

E:  Does your current situation affect your ability to do the things that usually help you spiritually? 

Adapted with permission from Anandarajah G, Hight E. Spirituality and medical practice: using the HOPE questions as a practical tool for spiritual assessment. Am Fam Physician. 2001;63(1):87.

The medical field has recognized spirituality is a vital source of patient care during times of medical crisis. I do not want to be searching for spiritual answers when amid a crisis. Like knowing my financial picture – I want to know where I stand spiritually daily and be aware of how my actions and thoughts align with my spirituality all the time.  You can do this on your own today or seek out a spiritual advisor that you trust.

Yet our spirituality or prayer life is not much better than how we handle finances: “A Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2014 found that 45% of Americans – and a majority of Christians (55%) – say they rely a lot on prayer and personal religious reflection when making major life decisions. The same survey found that 63% of Christians in the U.S. say praying regularly is an essential part of their Christian identity.”

How did I get here to this moment, reflecting on spirituality and financial stress testing? I woke up this morning not wanting to read spiritual material or pray and ask my wife to join me to start doing taxes. Both sentiments are a form of “sloth” or spiritual and financial laziness in today’s terms. I thought about blogging and felt empty there too. I turned to the live cam at Lourdes and sipped my coffee – the rosary was in process in French with no sub captions. I grabbed my rosary beads. I was watching and holding the beads – still not aware or connected to what I should do…my computer went to a black screen (froze), and my rosary beads separated. I went and checked on family! Then I went back to my room and started my morning prayer and reading. 

The words that came to me were writing on prayer’s difficulties after my morning readings. Life’s stressors (finances as an example) and immense human suffering are barriers to my prayer. It sometimes seems as if prayer is very far removed from daily reality. 

Prayer’s Place:

My morning reading hit a few points on this challenge. The author, Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J. hit on the following points, among others that resonated with me today paraphrased into my words:

  • Our prayer time is to talk to and listen to God; it is not in a vacuum but an interactive and searching revelation.
  • Sloth is a refusal to accept gifts given to us (we are inherently creatures of action with given talents and abilities)
  • Sometimes we could go the other way and pray like a “workaholic.” Fill our time with business; even in prayer can turn into purely human activity, denying God’s spirit to talk to us genuinely.    Tetlow advises, “wastetime with God.” Or, in other words, for me – be patient and be present – more will be revealed if I am open. 
  • Avoid intolerance and a notion of “praying better.” This may be more spiritual pride than a spiritual discipline, spiritually gluttony rather than divinely inspired prayer.   

Prayer and Action:

Many churches or religious organizations have come to realize that financial well-being of their congregation and of the institution is vital for continued focus on spiritual development and acts. Some even hold events like Dave Ramsey workshops and other activities in addition to ministries to the poor. Getting a grip on our own financial and spiritual wellness is pivotal for our ability to go to the next level of genuine spiritual altruism. I dislike the word “warfare” below – but I love the message it may send to readers that relate to sports or western competitive notions.

Giving time or money to good causes when we have excess is a key to individual and universal peace. I personally sometimes put more investment into a sports game or chess game than I do into say fighting for social justice, eradicating poverty, or simply being mindful of someone suffering nearby in my community. The discipline to the latter rather than seeking refuge in games of leisure requires a game plan…though both have their place, one should almost always take priority. Even recreation has a place in our lives. Enjoy that football game – and then do what the Cheifs fans – a 13 dollar donation drive to a Bills player charity Not the ending the Bill’s wanted – but a subscript for the ages in football.

Slide 8 (JPG) | Life, Money, Legacy | Financial Peace University | Free  Church Resources from Life.Church

A Joyous 2022 – An Invitation

Last year presented insidious challenges to our collective well-being. We suffered significant losses to the original COVID variant and an explosion of the Omnicron variant, deaths unrelated to COVID, ongoing “populism” politics spurning unhealthy anxiety and hate, economic hardships, and the not-so-hidden repercussions of global warming.

These external challenges are in addition to whatever personal demons (metaphorically speaking) we each individually carry on our shoulders. Past traumas, personal failures, relationship difficulties, disabilities, medical issues, and personal challenges are common baggage we all carry on our shoulders.

Is it normal to feel this exhausted all the time? Drawing. | Alien  drawings, Drawings, Tire art

The continuous and unrelenting nature of suffering in its multifarious presentations can be overwhelming, depressing, and draining. Pervasive tiredness can overcome the strongest among us. For some, this can even leap over into clinical depression or other mental health or physical manifestations requiring professional medical interventions.

A Tzu Chi USA described the Buddhist handling of the term suffering – referred to as dukkha in Pali and duhkha in Sanskrit – as indescribably with a single English word either. According to Buddhist sutras (scriptures), three root sufferings and three cravings contribute to suffering. Pain, anxiety, stress, distress, discomfort, frustration, and “unsatisfactoriness” are words used to capture suffering. If interested in knowing your “enemy” of peace and joy well – the Buddhist traditions provide a pretty good road map.

My own faith has an apostolic letter devoted to suffering by Pope John Paul II called “Salvific Doloris” which, in part, concludes, “Suffering is certainly part of the mystery of man. Perhaps suffering is not wrapped up as much as man is by this mystery, which is an especially impenetrable one.”  Despite this open-ended answer to the question of suffering, the Pontiff within this letter also prescribes spiritual answers for facing immense suffering. Its teachings help me attribute meaning to my trials and provide me, at times, deep consolation spiritually in my times of darkness.

The Beauty of Suffering: Salvifici Doloris « Catholic Insight

The pontiff points out where in scripture suffering is referenced: “Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. I would be lying to you if I did not own that sometimes great spiritual aridity leaves me feeling alone with today’s problems. These times, I am challenged to double down on my faith and persevere in faith. The Pontiff quotes from the books of the Old Testament a few examples of situations which bear the signs of suffering, and above all moral suffering: the danger of death(5), the death of one’s own children(6), and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son(7); and then too: the lack of offspring(8), nostalgia for the homeland(9), persecution and hostility of the environment(10), mockery and scorn of the one who suffers(11), loneliness and abandonment(12); and again: the remorse of conscience(13), the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer(14), the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours(15); and finally: the misfortunes of one’s own nation(16).” Do these sound familiar to you today?

Why am I spending so much space on suffering on a blog on a Joyous 2022? I know joy will not be possible for us if we do not accept the reality of suffering and the potentiality for its destructive force in our lives going forward. Understanding suffering, preparing for suffering, and perhaps even maturely embracing suffering (for the spiritually transcendent few among us) is what both religious traditions above teach. Both of those paths are long paths of contemplation and significant commitment – which I encourage.

In the meantime, however, I recommend a lighter path today or preferably simultaneously with one of the above paths.

“Gratitude, thankfulness or gratefulness, from the Latin word gratus “pleasing, thankful,” is a feeling of appreciation felt by the recipient of kindness, gifts, help, favors, or other types of generosity, to the giver of said gifts. The experience of gratitude has historically been a focus of several world religions.” (What post is complete without a Wikipedia quote?)

However, achieving this feeling is not my recommendation for a joyous 2022, though I hope you

have these feelings often! Transforming these feelings into action consistently and progressively throughout 2022 will profoundly increase your joy. If done so with a genuine and humble spirit, it may synergetically have a profound impact on those around you. USC University of Southern California noted that spiritual or philosophical gratitude has its roots throughout history. Not a USC fan, how about “Harvard Health Medical School: Giving thanks can make you happier” or “Healthline: The Benefits of Gratitude and How to Get Started.”

The 12 step self-help community also relies heavily on the nurturing of gratitude and service (action) all throughout the program, but especially in the 12th step. Click here for an audio story of one of the founding members of Alcohol Anonymous entitled “Gratitude in Action.” Epidemiologic studies, as well as studies in treatment-seeking populations, converge to support the finding that

Groan. Groan. Not Another Gratitude Meeting – AA Beyond Belief

early-life trauma is common in people with alcohol dependence. Battling alcoholism or any other addiction in addition to healing from early childhood trauma is not easy. This is not surprising. The 12 step self-help community, although not a religious group, does espouse a spiritual foundation that culminates with the 12th step: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs. In this step, people in recovery get to most practice gratitude in action in a humble manner. Some A.A. groups devote an entire weekly meeting to the topic of gratitude alone. Look at Cleveland Alcoholics Anonymous Cleveland article – Gratitude in Early Recovery. If alcoholics and addicts recover using Gratitude in part as medicine – it can work for everybody. There is no condition or ailment they have not experienced or faced in their fellowship.

Practicing Gratitude is so easy and so accessible to everyone. It is a great starting point to a new you and a more positive future. It may lead you to have enough strength and motivation to take other challenging steps as well – with things on your “to-do” list you have put off or never thought was possible.

Here are some additional tools if you do not know where to start or need more motivation:

Life Hack: 4o simple ways to practice gratitude.

Positive Psychology: 7 Best Gratitude Apps to increase your well being

The above links may lead to sponsored or “pay for apps” as well. Gratitude and peaceful living are in high demand and are big business. If they help you get started or keep going – they may be worth the investment. Regardless of how to get started and keep going – discipline is required to actually “do” rather than just read, understand, and feel gratitude.

Everything you need is in this post or one of the links provided for alternative ideas. Your local library also has free resources.

I acknowledge you may be suffering; I know I cannot fully grasp your situation or enduring pain. I invite you to seek Joy anyway in 2022 by practicing the action of Gratitude every day in whatever form you decide.

Sincerely if you managed to read this entire blog and are committed to at least five minutes a day – please leave a comment now with that commitment on my blog and report back later!

Regardless, may peace, joy and health follow you in 2022!

Regards,

P.S. I made a small contribution to Tzu Chi USA while writing this post in gratitude for their detailed description of the suffering and the work they do….gratitude in action. I have no affiliation with this group.

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.

Yom-kippur guide to A.A. Step 9?

Alcoholics Anonymous Step 9 begins with “Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” If your a Jewish Alcoholic working the steps – Step 9 might not be that unfamiliar to you.

Although lifetime prevalence among Jews for alcoholism is lower than those with a Christian background, it still affects 11.1% of Jewish men and 3.4% of Jewish women with some studies hinting these numbers are on the rise for Jewish youth.

Yom-kippur is in short a day of atonement. However, a simple description of its spiritual importance and the days of repentance before this day cannot be described or defined by me here. Simply put, it is a big deal, akin to Christmas or Easter for Christians. The below article captures some elements of this religious tradition for non-Jewish readers, certainly not the rich history and theological basis.

Many see Alcoholics Anonymous as having Christian roots, but it’s written form and current practice steers clear of religiosity and practices a spiritual program without religious affiliation. One could easily adopt the principles of Yom-Kippur to A.A.s step 9.

www.nytimes.com/2021/09/12/opinion/yom-kippur-forgiveness.html

Forgiveness and seeking atonement is present in some form or another in must religious text. Psychologically and spiritually we recognize the value of atonement and forgiveness. In practice, however, this deeply moving and healing process often takes a back seat to our secular priorities and perhaps overheated political/economic conditions of our society. The latter should encourage us to seek out the former, not once per year, but daily.

Spirituality cannot be compartmentalized to within the synagogue, behind the Cathedral walls, or in a basement A.A. meeting. It is designed to be within every moment, every breath, every action – inside and outside of places of worship or self-help organizations with a spiritual emphasis.

Yom-Kippur is like an annual 9th step for everyone – you don’t have to be Jewish, Catholic, or an Alcoholic working the 9th step to practice seeking atonement and practicing forgiveness (safely).

A tradition worth exploring if you are unfamiliar. Almost attracts me to Judaism.

Motherhood turns you into a fountain that flows and flows. Then it shows you that you will run out. | America Magazine

So much is transient: our physical beauty and strength, our mental capacity, our relationships, our ability to care for the people we love. Our capacity to fix problems. It will run out. It is a relief that it will run out. What I gave, I gave. What I accomplished, I accomplished. What I failed, I failed. No doubt I am only at a plateau, and soon enough the mindless panic and distress will set in again.
— Read on www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/09/03/motherhood-birth-rebirth-jesus-241281

The author above was addressing the experience of motherhood – a calling where nothing is left on the table, an utterly emptying of oneself until nothing is left.

As men we may choose this path as well with sports, work, or family. We leave “nothing on the table” for reserve when we are all-in. The elite among us can apply that same vigorous love demonstrated by motherhood to walking a humble, spiritual path.

The latter is quite a contradiction, as it is difficult to at once we be “all-in” with an athletes competitiveness or a warriors mentality while remaining genuinely humble and spiritual, living a holy life one breath at a time. Our downfall can be swift and merciless or beguilingly slow. Grand missteps for all to see or perhaps even more treacherous, small transgressions that we never even notice the road of spiritual descent.

The article nails motherhood and spirituality. The quote above nails the challenge we all have to just be good human beings. It can be tiresome and selfless living a moral and ethical life. Navigating our desires, our instinctual survival skills, and our collective shared needs creates explosive collisions of “individual self-will run riot.” We are called often and frequently to leave nothing on the table. Our mortality gives us only 1 lifetime to live with no promise or certainty of an afterlife or second run. We will, most of us anyway, hit a final apex point before descending towards deaths door.

Whatever you put your mind today…leave nothing on the table! The outcomes and results will be what they will be. Imagine if we applied the archetypical mother loves to everything we did collectively? Certainly our moral and ethical bar for societal expectations would rise dramatically.

The author goes a several steps father for an example by closing with the archetype “Son of God,” Jesus Christ, who emptied himself (Kenosis) – gave his self-will up was receptive to and accepted God’s divine will including a gruesome and painful death.

Who among us is ready for this type of sacrifice?

Contemplating life? Who are you anyway?

Who are you: Creator, Restorer, Messenger, Destroyer, or Bystander?

These actions for most of us require no evangelization, no debate or apologetics regarding religion, or public display of religiosity. Our message is simply how we live our lives and how we treat others in all we do. If we are living a spiritually coherent life we will naturally be great messengers of the faith without ever even uttering God’s name.

We are all messengers. How many of us are restorers? People who naturally or with great effort live the faith and help others to restore their lives in some “detail,” large or small, that brings them in closer proximity to God?

This question came to me a few days ago during spiritual reflection. A large emphasis of active Christianity is to be a messenger of the faith by first and foremost living the faith through everyday actions – not by evangelization.

Some of us may even be called to be creators in our own way to add to great gifts of inspiration for believers and unbelievers alike to get a glimpse of holiness or the way to holier lives. These are very special individuals with immense talent. Artist, Scientist, Writers, Priest, and people from all vocations adding master pieces of achievement that transcend human expectation and simultaneously ignite spiritual wonder. They are a rare breed.

Hopefully, if you are reading this post, very little of our time is spent being destroyers or idle bystanders. No doubt we are collectively guilty of both but hopefully, more often than not, moving towards divine living rather than away.

In my faith, we believe the days of prophets ended with Jesus Christ, the last Prophet, who was both man and God in one. Without anymore messiahs coming until the end of time – the refreshing and terrifying thought is, we are each one of us individually responsible to be messengers and restorers of Christianity, again, not by preaching, but by living lives that demonstrate spiritual cohesion without any expectation of return. Christianity (believers and a higher power) and transcendent human relationships are not transactional equations.

Just who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow and your remaining days? What do you have to do to be who you want to be now and forever….

We often here the word transcendent in relation to spirituality. In our humanity we are limited to transcending by courageous acts of love, selflessness, compassion, humility, and in rare cases greatness that exceeds the imagination. We transcend by how we treat each other, in good times and bad, over and over again, for whatever span of days we have the gift of breath.

I am, in my own mind, a little bit messenger and restorer with occasional weakness for bystander (idle) or even destroyer – living even in the smallest way, contrary to ideal divine life. If not always moving towards divine life we are moving away. The sad contradiction is moving towards a holy life need not be austere or be a terrible sacrifice. It should be joyful and inspiring with perhaps challenges of austerity and sacrifice when required. It is still not an easy road. We tend to want what we desire immediately and sometimes fail to examine the impulse for the new set shiny thing or the next desired accomplishment we have been pursuing. Neither desires may be bad in and of themselves, but often their priority is improperly ordered above other priorities more deserving of our attention.

A little contemplation and discussion with another may provide wisdom beyond measure.

I would like to believe I have had moments of transcending my humanness and rose above the fray of our collective ego driven consciousness. It does not take much to ignite my competitiveness or my fears, to summon my desire to win or desire to protect.

The challenge of balancing and integrating our instinctual drives and our collectivity humanity is on display everyday. What roles do we play to infuse our collective consciousness to be spiritually coherent? What role do you play at home, at work, at the voting booth, in the community, and at play?

Who are you anyway?

Therapy and Spirituality

Where spirituality and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy meet at the cross roads of a psychiatric crisis change can be miraculous.

This brave college student shared a deep experience of being “broken” by several life pressures. Quickly, in mental health speak concepts like adjustment disorder, cultural acclimation challenge, anxiety disorders, and perhaps major depression single episode come to mind. Diagnostically none of the words matter – the treatment and interventions are key. This kid found three elements for recovery or answers for his trial with life: family, therapy, and spirituality.

All too often we need a crisis before we consider the value of all three of these elements that can promote good health, healthy relationships, and internal peace.

His story is below. A short read with only superficial mention of the road to recovery. I imagine it was not easy and involved many steps, some deep and insightful. Others just ritual and developing muscle memory for the ego and for the soul.

If your suffering out there, seek help now. If you can’t find it, message me a zip code and type of mental health crisis you are facing. No promises, but I will look for resources. Of course, if you are thinking of harming yourself now, call the nearest crisis hotline near you, 911, or go to a hospital. God will be with you all along – you can seek him once the risk of self-harm is addressed.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/07/30/mental-health-ignatian-spirituality-college-241140

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