Some journeys can be slow. The book of Genesis finished this a.m. The importance of patriarchy and wisdom passed on from father to son is not lost in this book. Like modern times, fathers of the past had errant sons too. Jacob, while preparing for death, tells his sons, “Simon and Levi are brothers; Instrument of cruelty are in their dwelling place. Let not my soul enter their council” for the various ill-deeds their tribes performed. The rest of the brothers seemed to get off very well with their father’s blessings and prophecy, with Joseph being the leader of them all. Families are not perfect and Joseph forgave his brothers their ill will even after his father passed.
Meanwhile, in Matthew, Jesus is growing his ministry with miracles and words of confounding wisdom. The scribes and Pharisees are asking for signs and laying traps for Jesus. He is foretelling many will not listen to what is before their eyes. They listen with the intent to carry out their agenda – not the agenda of God or truth. Jesus drops the artificial ties that we all define our relationships by, even his blood relatives, by declaring, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” This is telling me my brother and sister are not defined by blood alone. it is also telling me if I listen with an agenda in mind, I am apt to not truly be listening.
And today, my meditation speaks to the “Mysticism of the Streets.”[i] Richard details the 1100 years of the desert fathers and then introduces St. Francis bringing monastic life and theology into the practice in the streets with other people. In ordinary life, the Friars of the Franciscan order followed not a life of solitude, but life among the people:
“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”
My Grandfather’s hard work, stoic nature, and disciplined mind came into my heart this morning. He was a quiet man. If whispers came to him that I broke a window or a fence in the community, he would, without words, ask me to join him to help with some project. There I was with him in hand mending a fence I broke, or a window shattered—no words needed to be passed. Quiet work, job done, no words exchanged. None needed. I was not moved to write this morning, which happens often enough.
I had the day off today by surprise. The governor made Juneteenth day a holiday. I was going to go to the gym but instead scheduled to give blood at the blood bank and visit a friend I had not seen in some time. I like to think I was doing a service, but a small part of me thinks I was avoiding the gym!
At the blood bank, a German lady serving the juice and cookies decided my name was German, and I was not to spend the 15 minutes reading a book alone. She pulled in another German lady to boot. We discussed Germany, my Grandfather, and Grandmother, the town of Ubrirkichen, stonemasons, the arbitrariness of money, and families torn apart by WWI and WW II. She knew exactly where the town was and her accent mimicked by Grandmother.
I had not thought of my Grandfather before this morning for some time, and an hour or two later, his immigration to the United States and strong character are celebrated. Elsa, his wife, my grandmother, is remembered as well for her love, principles, and tenderness. I do not remember her being beautiful in the way she is in this picture. I remember her being beautiful as a grandmother with a warm and delicate smile. Both of them were quiet people, but stronger than anybody I knew, perhaps that is still true today.
Happenstance? I think not. Patriarchy, history, and remembrance made real hours after my a.m. spiritual reading bought my Grandparents’ love and lives into my mind.
My day did not include much solitude or prayer today. It did include giving blood, sharing history with two German ladies, visiting an old friend, returning home to plant some flowers, joining my wife for dinner out, giving up the television room to my daughter and her friends just when I wanted to sit and watch the bloody news, and now writing this morning dew as the silences from the past and present have blessed me today.
Somehow scripture seemed intimately connected to my day without any conscious effort on my part – just gentle whispers of grace. These two grandparents left indelible images in my heart, and one of them gave me stubbornness as well, which sometimes serves me well and other times, not so well!
What would their words be today if they were here? I don’t think they would have to say a thing. They might start pruning a tree or inspecting a crooked door for repair, but words of guidance no need, they teach only by doing.
The Old Testament and The New Testament came alive for me today in subtle ways. Someone else reading the same exact passages would walk away with different sentiments and thoughts. How these sentiments and thoughts guide our lives is the test of true spiritual discernment.
[i] Richard Rohr Daily Meditations page 43.
Esau gives away his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. A steep impulsive decision considering the firstborn gets double or more of the inheritance when their father passes! A youthful and rash decision for immediate gratification. Jacob manipulated his brother’s immaturity to have the firstborn birthright. At first glance, we could interpret this as merely brotherly gesturing and joviality. However, the Old Testament does not tend to present joviality or gestures. Every passage has intended purpose, and this passage captures brotherly jealousy and hatred and foreshadows further division.
A Baylor University Graduate thesis summed it up this way: “The primary thesis is that YHWH both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), giving rise to what I have dubbed a theology of deception. Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between both how the text means and what the text means, with theological aims, this study examines the various manifestations of YHWH as Trickster in the Jacob cycle. Attention is given to how the multiple deceptions evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise.”[i]
This is truly horrific. Isaac calls to his son Esau and says, “Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death.” He then asks Esau to go and prepare him an exquisite “savory meal” so that he may eat it and then bless Esau in the presence of God before his death.” Esau takes off at once to prepare the meal. Jacob and his mother, however, prepare and execute an elaborate scheme and deceive Isaac. Jacob brings him a meal first, dressed up as Isaac, and received the blessing reserved for Esau.
Prepostouris? $36.5 billion is stolen from the elderly every year by financial abuse. Jacob clearly deceived his father and would be defined as financial elder abuse today! “It is estimated that $30 trillion will be inherited in the next 30 years . The result is a significant percentage of children and grandchildren fighting for what they believe is their fair share of inheritance while either one or both aging parents are still alive.” If your getting on in years, please save your loved the trouble and lock down your intentions now by a legal will and make peace with everyone so that their are no surprises. That is a legacy worth sharing.
My vision of Jacob has always been somewhat colored by Jacob’s Ladder story, which comes a little later on in Genesis. He rests his head on a rock and settles in for a night’s sleep while on his journey away from Esau’s wrath and has a beautiful epiphany known historically as Jacob’s ladder. God speaks to Jacob in this dream: ‘And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest'” Jacob exclaims, “How full of awe is this place!” This is the Jacob my Christian roots celebrate and remember! Jacob, by this point, has now entirely supplanted Esau and becomes a patriarch in Jewish biblical history.
In Matthew chapter 11 today, Jesus entirely supplants John the Baptist, who is sitting in jail at the moment. Poor John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ. He bought people knowledge of the Messiah’s coming, as Jesus proclaimed John the Baptist is a prophet, as it was written:
“Behold, I send My messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way for you.”
John the Baptist life demonstrates extreme faith, humility and obedience. Biblically, both John and Jesus miraculous birth were predestined and revealed by an Angel. John was born first, and Jesus later.
Jesus preached that the time for preaching and prophets are done. He is bringing us final knowledge.
Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Paul MccCarren, SJ captures this message as Jesus telling us now is the time to “take on the burden he carries, the hardship of turning to God’s desires rather than our own.”
Before my hand hit the keyboard this a.m. my paint brush etched out the above drawing. The Old Testament representing Knowledge and the New Testament capturing practice. Esau replaced by Jacob. John the Baptist replaced by Jesus. Esau and Jacob account replaced by John the Baptist and Jesus Account?
I am left feeling Jesus and YHWH perhaps do have a sense of Jovialty. I do not believe following the way prepared by John the Baptist, foreshadowed by the Old Testament, and bought to fruition by Jesus Christ presents us with a “light burden.”
Hidden within both text are linkages and foreshadowings that unravel one moment and disappear next. Everyday is a new canvas.
We are left in the present moment practicing the embodiment of our knowledge in our everyday actions.
The moral lessons in these two accounts are too many to draw out here except one: My first born son owes me a savory dinner!
Jesus Christ is my bodhisattva. Walking in his steps is filled with challenges, failures, and ever unfolding mystery. Everyday starts afresh with a blank slate for which I can live in the present moment relying on the knowledge of the past and the practice today of being aware of what is God’s will.
While it is true we will have our share of adversity and suffering here on earth, truly walking God’s path provides the ability to project calm, joy, and peace to others no matter what the circumstance. We do not have to wear suffering on our sleeves, we can carry that weight in prayer and with others when called to do so.
Have a beautiful and blessed day where ever you find yourself physically and spiritually today.
An honest and ethical man has after 60 years of life, and much experience remained steadfast that there is no God. His conclusions are based on a well-rounded education, including post-graduate psychoanalytic education, reasoned philosophical and scientific influences, and six decades of lived experience. He is not ignorant of knowledge regarding the faith of his youth (Catholicism) or about the faith of others. He has studied Catholicism and Judaism more than most believers. He has due to his profession been present and intimate with priestly types who seek out professional counseling when spiritual manna alone was not enough.
He has searched for God. Incidentally, while flying on a plane, he was seated next to a large case that resembled a giant musical instrument case. On further inquiry, he discovered the seat next to him was occupied by the Holy Statue of Fatima (also known as the Mary Statue). The religious relic was accompanied by a caretaker as it traveled the United States for the faithful to see. Many swear it has healing powers. That coincidence did not result in an epiphany of Belief. He has not found God by accident or by searching. Nor has God granted him the Grace to allow him to know God.
If pinned down to articulate his metaphysical opinion, he would probably say he was a friendly atheist, or perhaps a pro-god atheist. If discussing this with a fervent believer, he might even offer up an Agnostic position, avoiding threatening the foundation of Belief held by his audience. Like religious believers, not all Athiest are the same and fit under one umbrella. Check out the Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Agnosticism and Atheism.[i] You will find atheist old and new, friendly and militant, divided into roughly the same factions as any religious faith has within its congregation.
However, he is not just an Athiest. He is my elder brother. He has mentored me in education, in human relationships, philosophy, and life. We have enjoyed life together on many occasions. We have also shared suffering, misery, and death of loved ones. We have applied the God test over the decades to many of our personal lived experiences and world events.
It always came down to the word faith. I have faith, and he does not. He is no less a man than I and perhaps in the eyes of God, more generous and holy in action and thoughts. If we were to visit a foreign land together where our faith or lack of faith was unknown, people would not be able to distinguish between us our good intentions for others and principles regarding social justice issues. We are cut from the same tree. We are both social workers. He went the route of clinical orientation and therapy, where I went the hybrid route of social determinants and mental health wellness. We also share some of the same fault lines within our character that has caused us both more than a small degree of trouble. And yet, I have faith, and he has none.
Faith, in my view, can be given to you without your willingness. An all-powerful God could easily bludgeon you across the head until you got it (my case) or reveal himself in more subtle ways. Having a spiritual experience is consoling and sustains faith. Receiving spiritual consolations is, however, for most people, an invisible or transient experience quickly discounted as coincidence, subjective experience, or spiritual imagination in overdrive.
Why has an all-powerful God not given faith to my brother? Biblically many turn their eyes and ears from hearing God or God’s message. I do not believe this to be the case for him or many others in the atheist camp.
He is a serious man who has given much thought to metaphysical realities and who lives a life dedicated to the betterment of humanity. I mentioned earlier we both share the same fault lines, so I am not putting him up on a pedestal. We are not undiscovered saints, just regular people meaning well.
This man a day ago or two ago texted me a response to one of my posts. He said, “I wish I had your soulful outlook and faith, but I don’t think that will ever come.” He does not need to challenge my faith or criticize my Religion[ii]. This was just what it was, a general reflection on our polar outlook on the existence of God. His view is sort of a Kantian philosophy that religion is “basically resolvable into ethics, that everything else that preoccupy religious people – liturgy, sacraments, prayer, preaching, pious practices, etc.–is all finally about making us morally upright people.” His non-belief and my belief stand as a testimony against the very identity of the other. Without open dialogue, this can be very tragic. Is this what Christ meant when he said he will turn brother against brother?
We both have reached a stalemate. Not one of animosity or a brotherly intellectual battle, just an acceptance that all roads have been traversed, and neither of us can move the other on this issue regarding the existence of God.
The Morning Line?
My return text was a parable of sorts that his actions and behaviors would speak for themselves here on earth. After that, we both would meet roughly the same judgment when our day comes. Spiritual handicappers in the afterlife, perhaps even deceased relatives of ours, might be studying a daily racing form on how we will both finish the race, giving us morning lines and odds, give or take a few spiritual points. If there were bookmakers in Heaven, how would they set my morning line?
The day after this communication, my morning reading was called Experiential Knowing.[iii] Richard Rohr states, “Mysticism is when God’s presence becomes experiential and undoubted for a person.” Mystics don’t say “I believe,” they say, “I know” with quiet confidence and Humility. Whereas most believers say “I believe” as they were taught to say in their respective faiths and strive to live up to the expectations of what their faith teaches. He refers to this as a “Creedal Belief.” Creedal Belief gives us guideposts until we achieve a deeper level of understanding that is personal and experiential.
Survey 100 faith-based believers and ask them if they know and have experienced God in their lives? Or take a short cut and visit Pew Research Surveys.[iv] I was pleasantly surprised that in one study, 74% of Americans say they talk to a higher power, and 28% say God talks back to them! This study looks at what Americans mean when they say they believe in God. The study does not provide me with a percentage of people who would define themselves as believers (believe and follow a creed) versus Mystics (have experiential and personal experiences that they know without a doubt that God exists).
My estimate is if asked privately and confidentially, most believers would fall under the creedal belief side. To doubt is a human experience. The apostles showed their doubt and lack of understanding despite having witnessed miracles and spiritual consolations beyond our imagination. In my opinion, genuine everyday believers have aspirational hope and faith. They have had enough given to them to by historical precedence and spiritual traditions to lay a foundation for Belief.
Not everybody gets that foundation. War, famine, poverty, trauma, suffering, disease, natural disasters, accidents, and other tragedies may destroy or strengthen the potential for Belief. Where and when you are born will shape your spiritual orientation. What you experience in life may bring that spiritual orientation to its fullest potential or extinguish it into non-existence. There is no equity or fairness applied here. Nor is self-determination, a primary driver who gets faith or spiritual consolation and who does not. And yet, faith lives in the hearts of many.
I am no theologian and am not fit to speak for Catholic theology or any other faith. I know there is a God today, but I am not a mystic! My faith is too flimsy, and my discipline too weak. A gentle breeze can move my Spirit into desolation and set me adrift in fear and desperation. I need regular spiritual maintenance.
Prayer, reading, meditation, and fellowship provide me a guidepost for reflection and an anchor to being able to meet the responsibilities that come with suffering, success, joy, sadness, hatred, failure, or any other human experience. Every situation is grounded in spiritual responsibility outside my self-interest.
My generation and my brothers have only witnessed roughly 3% of the years that have passed since Jesus Christ was here on earth. We are missing witnessing directly 97% of the years that have passed since Christ was here on earth. That 3% gets very small if we go back in time to Judaic traditions and beyond. We both have minimal information first hand and volumes of conflicting information second hand passed down generation after generation. Our sense of existence when mapped out against a spiritual timeline going forward or backward into eternity gives one a sense of the impossibility of truly knowing anything.
Catholicism provided me my central paradigm. I am also a spiritual thief and willing to learn from the faith of spiritual cousins in Christianity, more distant cousins in Judaism and Buddhism, and fellow human beings with other belief systems or atheists and agnostics shy of heresy! What do I mean by that? Religious institutions and people can sharpen my faith by how they deal with suffering, hardship, and success. We will know what is right by the results they produce.
Catholicism and some of its cousins, for example, have lost their way as evidenced by the child sexual abuse scandal and enmeshment in political issues that reflect poorly on the faith. Historically religions have been used to wage war, persecute people of other faith, or denigrate and discriminate against people. My current Pope is trying to rectify some of the serious errors and mistakes of the past. This works for me, in addition to fulfilling my callings in life as they keep evolving and changing.
Let me tell you what I told my brother yesterday in response. I told him the story of two decades ago when kids had just spray-painted graffiti on my fence many years ago in New York City. I was at that time in the right spiritual place. I kept a large can of green paint in the shed and welcomed new graffiti as it came with an opportunity to paint that portion of the fence. I was not at all vested in catching or worrying about the fence being spray-painted again by an emerging artist. My Cuban neighbor came out and stopped by. He was incensed and livid. In a Cuban accident, he yelled with expletives, “they should be a church on every xxx corner, not for me, but those little xxx kids.” I received his support with a smile but advised him, Andre, we were once kids too, and I am sure we crossed a line somewhere. He absorbed my calmness, and we resumed a peaceful day. I painted as he talked.
The idea presented by Andre the Cuban was those kids needed a church. He did not need a church, in his opinion. This struck me twenty-years later enough to raise it in light of my brother’s lack of faith. Perhaps, God gives faith to those who God has determined to need faith to handle their situations or to promote a higher purpose of God’s divine will. Andre does not need a church to know not to spray-paint my fence! He may benefit from a church or other spiritual consolations for other life challenges – but he knows to destroy another person’s property for social status amongst a peer group is wrong without a church on his shoulder. Neither one of us did a thing to help the kids who were vandalizing people’s property—a missed opportunity to turn a negative into a positive all these years later.
The atheist around the corner may be living God’s will without knowing God by a name – a name prescribed by the various world religions who mostly genuinely believe their scripture or tradition to be the most accurate path to the divine life.
I can say “I know God Exist,” or I believe in such and such Creed. I cannot tell an Athiest, a Buddhist, a Muslim, or another religious believer that I know my faith, and my Creed is the only way for them to achieve a holy life. I simply do not know to a person God’s divine plan or divine destiny; I can only know my own experience.
Moral of the story?
- Many paths: It is a mystery as to what is the best path to a holy life. I suspect there are many paths, and some of us do not need a religious guidepost. The non-religious among us may serve a purpose that we who are adorned with the garments of religiosity or spirituality cannot fulfill. Divine Providence and Divine Mystery leave us all in the dark.
- Judgment day: Every day, we are judged by ourselves, our fellow man, and an eternal benchmark against the history of humankind. The Athiest and the Believer leave the morning gate at the same time. The spiritual oddsmakers assign weights and probabilities to each one when they should cross the line based on their circumstances and abilities. It is the greatest horse race of all-time. Much is given, much is expected. Neither the Athiest or the Believer can judge each other’s performance relative to the other. The Oddsmaker does not tell them today what to expect, where to finish, what pace to run, or if this is their last race. Run today as if it was your last race. Run according to your abilities and potential. Every split second is clocked and measured. It is not what you are labeled as belonging to, but how you perform your calling that matters at the end of the day. What matters is the good you do today – tomorrows will take care of themselves.
- Mystery: The moral of this story is that very few of us can claim to be true mystics. If we are in the faithful camp, we cannot claim we have earned that faith through self-will and action. We cannot even explain why we have faith and why others do not or have an equal or greater allegiance to another faith. If we are truly blessed to be able to say consistently, and with the conviction that we know God exists by personal experience and revelation, we have truly been blessed through no fault of our own. Perhaps, by God’s humor, we have only been called as God said, let me reveal some to this one, or he will destroy a lot of things in my house!
- Living God’s word: We can undoubtedly offer people an explanation of our Creed of beliefs. If they are attracted to how we are living and how genuine we are, we may be able to share our faith. This assumes our faith is producing people living holy lives, as evidenced by our actions and behaviors. Whether we are believers or mystics, it still comes down to what we do and not what we say.
- Humility: We cannot assume or declare moral, religious, or spiritual supremacy. Perhaps it is God’s will that my brother lives his life within an existential framework practicing humanist love for humanity free of religiosity. That paradigm may have enabled him to reach specific people through God’s will.
- Love: My Catholic faith does not separate me from the Athiest or other religious faiths. In almost all issues, we will have common ground on what is the ideal moral and ethical action in most circumstances. The areas of divergence and conflict are where I will and am challenged. I am called to practice Humility while still be able to state what “I Believe.” Liberation theology is an example of where religious beliefs can bring me into conflict with the current social and political order of western culture and unchecked capitalism. The ideals of the dignity of life issues in light of scientific advances and medical options available that can alleviate unnecessary suffering or end life prematurely create animosity and confusion. I love those who hold different interpretations of what is the right thing to do, especially when presented with choosing between two terrible choices, both of which will bring pain and suffering.
- Legal law versus spiritual laws: One question that pesters me, is should my faith determine the law of the land, or should my faith attract believers to follow my Creed when societal values differ from my spiritually discerned values? I must walk patiently and, with wisdom, indeed discerned. With human history teaching me how quickly religious institutions and nation-states can persecute thousands by genocide, alienation, and other acts of our evil, I am cautious about advocating my interpretation or that of my faith needs to be the law of the land. I would much rather people desire what I have then be told to do what my faith says.
My Sunday readings today touched on the paraclete, or the Advocate, or the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit or Advocate helps us discern “true from false” and “good from the bad.” Catholicism Catechism says that “From the beginning until the fullness of time, the joint mission of the Father’s word and Spirit remains hidden, but is at work.”
For Two Thousand Years, the Holy Spirit hidden in the background doing God’s work. Athiest maybe holier than religious types if they are taping into consistently choosing “true from false” and “good from the bad.”
The 28% of Americans who reported they hear answers back from God, if you interviewed them, I could tell you most of them did not hear a clear auditory command or see a burning bush. More likely, they experienced a gentle whisper or an epiphany of thought that may mirror the same revelation atheist experiences when deciphering right from wrong in certain situations; only the latter has no direct knowledge of the “Holy Spirit” at work.
For us believers, do we believe the Holy Spirit is only working with the faithful? Of course not. The logic, education, and set of moral principles that an Athiest uses to stand up for human rights or bash a corrupted religious institution may be inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Athiest may not see or have gratitude for the gifts of oratory, a clever pen, or other talents that they possess as coming from any special dispensation cultivated within him, but God just maybe slowly at work. It is not that he is ungrateful, it is simply that he cannot be grateful for what he cannot see. His gratitude is more likely expressed directly to the people around him – and that should happen anyway!
My brother may not know God. Neither the Paschal Mystery or Pascal’s wager bring him any closer to God. He and many like him can be painted as an Archetype Athiest. One who is blameless for being an Athiest and mostly living a meaningful and loving secular life.
Perhaps he has been given a special dispensation by the God of my understanding. He is blind to a spiritual awareness of a defined God and free of the religious binds and toxicity that exist in many of our religious institutions. He is at once outside the church or synagogue and yet unknowingly within it. He is guided by a human conscience to do what is right – and he ascribes these principles originating from education and the power of human development, which is undoubtedly part of what makes him able to identify right from wrong.
Unknown to him is a gentle whisper, sometimes heard and heeded, sometimes unheard or ignored, just like the faithful. He has a harder road than the believer for each action, and the decision appears to be uniquely his own. He also must carry the weight of no afterlife, and the knowledge that all there is in life is what he has now. As the clock winds down on him, every moment becomes more precious. There may be no tomorrows or an afterlife.
Many a believer, despite knowing there is a God, will have the same existential crisis as their time nears an end. Only the rare mystics face death with solemnity and confidence in the eternal.
In my God’s tent, the God of my imagination, there is room for many special dispensations. Some will receive them here on earth and others only after.
How many artists died in poverty before their artwork was valued? How many saints or now revered spiritual writers were once deemed heretical before being acknowledged as owning some spiritual truths.
There is a place for good men outside the church to hold the church accountable indeed and to be there for those in need who cannot, for one reason or another, turn to God.
I see God and humanity in my brother. He is a good man and has lived a truly human life with great joys and great sorrows. He sees the good in people as well and can see past people’s limitations too. I hope he and other archetype Athiest can see goodness and principles in me and in the majority of people that share my faith. Neither he nor I can claim a higher spiritual or moral ground.
If I am right about God existing through my 3% lense, I am confident that same God has a broad tent that will include Mystics, Believers, Agnostics, and yes, Athiest.
This is not faith, but Grace. By the Grace of God, may our errors and human folly be overlooked and our genuine strivings to do good be captured in the odds maker’s books. If there is a God, I honestly cannot say my brother’s odds are any better or worse than mine.
We have two brothers and parents that have already come to know the answer. They aren’t sharing it yet with us. May Grace be with them, with my brother, and each of you that have managed to read this post on brotherly love and spiritual divisions.
Is it God talking to me when the day after my brother makes that comment about the belief that my guided meditation is on mysticism versus creedal belief and the Sunday mass sermon focused on the Holy Spirit? Was it God talking to my brother when the Lady of Fatima was sat next to him on a plane? The faithful among us say of course while the atheist among us are unmoved. Yet we coexist pursuing a moral world, living with suffering, and promoting compassion and love.
Artist Paul Gaugin was very much unappreciated in his day as are many artists, theologians, Catholics, and even Athiest today. He died in poverty and obscurity. Some say the following painting captures the artist expressing his own suffering and isolation, a self-portrait as opposed to the suffering Christ. It is a shame that we value people more when they lay horizontal in the grave than when they are vertical and alive with us.
How is his spirituality captured in this painting? How is our spirituality (for believers) and morality (for Athiest) captured on the canvass that represents our life?
[ii] We both have ample opportunity to criticize the Religion of our youth. Religion, though, we both firmly agree, is prone to the errors of men. No religious organization is exempt from minute mistakes and severe grave actions that can only be called evil or, at the very least, not representative of any divine will.
[iii] Yes, And….Daily Meditations by Richard Rohr, page 42.
Poor Isaac asks his father, Abraham, “look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering.”[i] Think of the trauma Isaac must have felt as his father a short time later bound him up and prepared to kill him with a knife and burn him on the altar. There is no mention of Isaac’s response to his near-death experience or if he heard the angel of the lord that directed Abraham not to lay a hand on the lad and provided a lamb in to stand in place of his Son. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints provides this beautiful resolution to the story pictorially:
I am not buying their version of these events. They may have it right, all I am saying is that boy should not be smiling the way he is just after his father almost killed him like that sheep in the background smoldering on the altar.
My trusted Jewish scholar[ii] tells me that Abram (short for Abraham) was called by the one true creator to leave his family, and God would make him a great nation. This was called a b’it or covenant between mankind and God. The contract required rights and obligations on both sides, and the oral traditions captured in scripture for us capture Abram’s departing from home and ten tests of faith, including sacrificing his Son Isaac. The fact is that biblical Hebrew was hardly aware of a distinction between simile, metaphor, parable, and allegory.[iii] The story bought to us has only the slimmest of details.
Let’s leave the literal versus the allegory interpretation to the scholars. Abram reportedly smashed his family many idols in the house, and when the parents returned home, he said the more prominent idol broke the smaller ones!
How true is it today that often adolescence and young adults leave home by way of conflict rather than peacefully without ever having to break free from parental protections by defiant statements of independence?
Abram is the story of a young man finding his way in the world with only God as his overseer. He is tested all along the way. The almost sacrifice of his Son demonstrates a pinnacle of trust that he developed in his faith that he was ready to do the unthinkable.
In our times, we find both Abram’s actions and God’s test implausible. However, if told the same story within our cultural norms and context, the narrative would not be so peculiar. A young adult leaves his childhood home on not so good terms. Within him still resides the embers of faith to guide his lonely journey into adulthood.
At some juncture, he is faced with a spiritual crisis that calls on him to take a considerable risk, or stands up for the oppressed, denies himself something he loves, or makes a decision between to evils, trying to pick the lesser of the two we imagine. In making these decisions, he leans on the one thing he has close, his God. The narratives we hear today are mostly not as grandiose as about to murder one’s own Son. We are ordinary people, not Abraham of Genesis! If you are not challenged, you are not looking.
Still, today the message is if we put our trust in God, he will not ask us to do things we cannot handle. He will offer us alternatives at critical times if our eyes of open to experience the presence of God in our midst.
My morning read did not get any more comfortable with the leap to Matthews Gospel 400 plus years later, when Christ told the disciples:
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother, and a mans’ enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthews 10:34)
We are not four centuries removed from this writing as Matthew was from Genesis, but 18 plus centuries.
In Matthew 10, Christ prepares the Disciples to be carriers of the message and word of God. He prepares them for the hostilities that they will face, even amongst their people and their families, perhaps even more so among the Jewish peoples than the gentiles. They were being sent out into the world like Abram to face social, political, and religious divisions without any power or legitimacy other than Christ’s word.
Where are we today? In America today, we have the most divisive president in the history of the United States, shy I guess of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis as the leader of the confederate losing side during the civil war!
We are a nation divided politically. Religiously there are about 4300 religions in the world. Seventy-five percent are represented by the top five religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. And within each of these five are many divisions. Our nation-states have never stopped warring with each other. Check out a history of war entitled “Population control, Marauder style.”
We have been killing each other since the dawn of time. What are we to do in the face of such division? Jesus proclaims:
“He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for my sake will find it.”
I am pretty confident that the five major religions above can accept this teaching as a reflection of sacrifice to God. To put one’s trust solely in God and God’s teachings above politics, religiosity, social norms, and even family is perhaps equal to the challenge of Abram and the disciples. While our task is presumable a thousandfold less challenging, must of us have not seen a burning bush, healed the sick with a prayer, or spoke to Christ directly in the flesh. If you have, please contact me! I have a favor to ask.
We are even amongst our family and friends divided, sometimes vehemently and without any trace of humility. There is not an inch of hope of the “other” genuinely switching sides. At best, as happens in so many families, they agree to disagree without finding the time to ground out the truth in all things. The truth will not be all good for either side.
Twenty-two centuries ago, Abram was tested in his faith. Eighteen Centuries ago, the apostles were tested as well. Today we are on God’s testing ground. We have the advantage of centuries of traditions and written scripture. We have advancements in philosophy, the sciences, communications, and data points on the smallest nuances of human behavior normed, evaluated, and examined. We have at our disposal the ability to command almost all of the earth’s resources, and wealth in a manner that could tend to every human being’s need and have minus our mortality and human struggles, real peace on earth.
I personally feel like roughly 20 centuries is enough time to actualize the teaching of Christ or have God return and provide us further direction! And if not Christ, then the fulfillment of any of the other world great religions. I said 18 plus centuries before regarding the Gospel of Matthew as scholars disagree no when the gospel was authored specifically. Our Gregorian Calendar is pretty accurate that Christ lived and died twenty centuries ago.
What if God said to you today, I can visit tomorrow and come and judge you and all the men and women on this earth. I will weigh each according to his deeds and actions. I will take the righteous with me to heaven, and the rest will get their due elsewhere, I will leave that to your imagination. So, do you want me to come tomorrow at your calling to judge the living and the dead? Or, you can defer my arrival to a time of my choosing as I had intended to on my time? I know my answer. What would yours be?
Before I go, let me return to Isaac. It appears as if he did okay and maintained his relationship with his father, Abram. Two chapters later, Abraham provides Isaac at God’s direction, a beautiful virgin wife named Rebekah from the distant land of Mesopotamia as directed by God. I can say he did not see that coming when he was the awkward boy smiling above having just escaped being sacrificed.
Do you have any blessings today in your life that you did not see coming 20 years ago, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, or even last week? My blessings are too many to count. Sometimes they are obscured by my own blindness, contemporary challenges, and human suffering beyond my own suffering. Perhaps I could learn a little more from my Buddhist brothers and their pursuit of mindfulness meditation practices? And they perhaps can learn from the ultimate suffering of God’s only Son, Jesus Christ?
What if all the religions of the world had a piece of the puzzle? I do not encourage polytheism or anyone to stray from their religious beliefs unless the fruit of those beliefs are showing you they cannot truly be holy. In both the old and the new testaments Idols were smashed – sometimes they were religions and sometimes they were just material things man valued above God or above human relationships. Ultimately you have to own responsibility for your actions as measured by something greater than yourself and hopefully greater than contemporary man!
Are you ready to meet these five today if they were sent back here by God?
Thanks for visiting and may this post find you humble in God’s words and vision…
[i] Genesis 22:8
Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other. Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed. Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death. Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.
This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment. It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined. Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.
But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life? Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect. To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly. And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this motto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained. Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity? This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning. Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?
The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets. We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above. I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting. I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session. That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.
Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces. The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting. Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune. Nothing is ever enough. Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.
The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.
- Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
- A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
- Lay up your treasures in heaven
- Do not worry about your life
- Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
- Build your house on a rock
Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages. No back and forth or interpretation. A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.
Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations. Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something. We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.
I can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds. They had perhaps an advantage over us. God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law. I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle. Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.
These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth. Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat. Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”
Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.
In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.
Did this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled. However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas. Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side. What does it mean?
Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.
First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face. Our ancestors before us have seen it all. The wisest among them were ready for when their time came. If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.
Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God. In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now. The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.
- Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay. He did not promise storms will not come. As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
- Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today. Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you. You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone. The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have. That is not as sad as it sounds. I trust in many people today. I love many of those same people. Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me. I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them. My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome. This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
- Living rightly: What does that mean? In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are. Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
- Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance. Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing). Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
- Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints. Most of us have other callings. It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child! Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly. We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan. We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again. Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.
Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love. This was not reserved for those who were perfect. It was for all of us.
These steps match the steps for any profession. Find the manual and start working (act now). Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms). Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly). Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help). Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.
There is so much in these few pages and this post. How can you translate this into anything worthwhile? Build on what you have now (strengths). Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection. Throw in extra time when needed. Journal, read, and be curious. Let others in that will support you.
On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy. I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle. About the only joy that bike bought us was watching him crash. The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing. Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash. Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.
Everyone wants a cheat sheet. The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet. Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians. If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written. Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove. The rest is up to you. I don’t recommend a unicycle!
The answers are not only in the bible. Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older. A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years. They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.
My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ. His followers are far from being free of error. There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history. I am not limited to models from Christianity as well. Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them. They are not free from error either. At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.
I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah. The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east. Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.
Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority. Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions. Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations. Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.
You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it. It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts. This has been a hard post to finish. My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth. Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored. I am not a mystic or a priest. Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.
Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires. Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it. No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you. They too can make errors.
To what end is this post. It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people. You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones. You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times. Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament. And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.
If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison. If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes. You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death. Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.
Today, three thousand people will perish from COVID. An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty. Upright hard working people just like me and you. Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.
In my view, we only have one answer. Still the storm and take refuge in prayer. Take stock in your circumstances. Find acceptance for what is today. Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you! They maybe two different things. Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others. Pray for them. Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life. Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.
In my a.m. reading In the Old Testament, Noah just landed the Arc on dry land, and in the New Testament in Jesus Christ is fulfilling the law of prophets. In Matthew Chapter 5, he succinctly lays out the steep climb of what it is to be Christian in 48 lines.
Again, I diverge to the most prominent question. How could Noah of built such an Arc in his time and boarded it for so long with every creature known to humanity? I direct your attention to the Interpretation of the Bible in the Church as presented by the Pontifical Biblical Commission to Pope John Paul the II, on April 23, 1993. This document, delivered to one of my favorite Popes on my birthday, will provide you the answer about how to approach the scripture of Noah’s Ark.
My take on the story is that Noah was faced with a very angry God who was much displeased with humanity, and Noah was called to take action to the highest degree – building an Arc as directed by God and face the criticism and laughter of neighbors near and far. His actions would lead to a covenant with God that would later be fulfilled by Jesus Christ.
My spiritual interpretation is, “what kind of Arc should we be building every day in our lives for when we hit troubled times? Again, I apologize to the fundamentalist and spiritually insecure (not necessarily the same thing) and advise you not to read my blog. My experience and prayer life has led me to reject fundamentalism in all its forms and reject rigid “Phariseesims” as pseudo-religion akin to pharmaceutical overdosing – numbing the soul without approaching God.
More fighting words, and yet I do not want a fight. You be you – if your understanding of God must be pitched in the fundamentalist tent. My tent is intended for a broader portion of humanity that could not adhere to fundamentalist views if you paid them a year’s salary. They are inquisitive, open-minded, and curious people with and without a religious background that yearn for a deeper meaning to life in the face of the hollow secularism that faces our society today.
What they most often are seeking is to quote today’s second Catholic mass reading, is to “conduct themselves with reverence during their time of so sojourning” here on earth.
The answer is laid out in 48 lines in Matthews’s gospel and what is commonly known as the Beatitudes. Practice them, and you will be well on your way to living a sanctified life and drawing closer proximity to God.
There is an unfortunate catch. It is a common cliché we often say every day as a motto for success in our secular lives. We say it and hear it all the time in work and sports – go the extra mile, and you will be successful.
Jesus says to the crowds, “And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two.” And he does not limit this to your friends and family. This is taken for granted. He is speaking about people who harm you, gossip about you, steal from you, or otherwise, in short, are considered your enemies. Matthew 5:38 to 42 is a steep hill.
Taken literally and followed to the letter, you may just prove you have been called to be a Christian martyr and saint, recognized by many, or simply dying in silence and known by God alone. Most of us do not have the stomach or the discipline to live the Beatitudes entirely, and especially this idea of “Love your Enemies.” Many of our enemies would use our faith against us and our loved ones if we applied this rule indiscriminately. Just a few paragraphs before Jesus preached, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”
Sometimes we must stand up for ourselves and the oppressed. Sometimes to turn the other cheek would not only harm us and others but the one who is doing the slapping. Yet, we can set the boundary with the offender while intentionally loving the slapper all the same.
In our interconnected world, we are often reduced to a sense of helplessness at the hands of more powerful forces than are what available in our trove of defenses. Sometimes we may even fail to act with the full measure of our God-given abilities as well to uphold the morality that we believe is right and just.
Join me on any experimental exercise. List your top ten recurring thoughts that you create angst or unpleasant associations. For most of us, we have recurring fears and emotions that are powerful and consume our energy, perhaps not at the level of obsessive-compulsiveness, but yes, enough to dampen our mood and enthusiasm. Our thoughts, especially when they are negative, should be good servants, not our master. If you have a list, now jot down the emotions that accompany these thoughts. Most often, they will be potent emotions and sometimes very threatening or even overwhelming. These are the things that create displeasure and dissatisfaction in our life.
What do they have to do with the Beatitudes or Noah’s Arc? If these thoughts and emotions are “outsized,” they will leave us little strength for living to our full capabilities to live, drawing ourselves closer to people and closer to God. They are barriers to living your best life.
I cannot read your thoughts. If yours is anything like mine, I had fears for loved one’s health and happiness, health concerns, financial worries, employment concerns, and a certain amount of pride (flip side fear of loss of status). Or perhaps past mistakes or future anxieties about tomorrow?
Many of these things can be negatively affected by my own actions as well as influenced by relationships with others that are outside my control. A bulk of them, when scrutinized closely and sitting quietly with the emotion and with prayerful intention, simply seep away in the retreat of God’s presence. What is left is manageable with compassion, caring, love, and action – for ourselves and for others.
The archetype Noah building his Arc is preparing for when the storm comes. The Beatitudes as well prepare us for living God’s intentions today here on earth and for weathering storms and being genuinely ready when our sojourn on earth ends.
What remains after we have done our part of building our Ark as designed by our calling and conducting ourselves with reverence in all that we do, is to forth our trust and faith in a compassionate and loving God for all the troubles and challenges that seem to be greater than us.
I challenged you to the exercise above again. Contemplate your troubles and your emotive experiences in all their rawness, and then bring them to God. My a.m. mediation focused on “Spiritual things must be tasted more than understood.” The bible and scripture are only dead letters if not read with the intention of not just understanding, but translating centuries-old writings to our current culture and our individual experiences.
My challenges in life have included the trauma’s of years past, the misgivings of my own errors, and the angst of measuring up against my own expectations and those of others and my God. I often missed the mark or mismeasured!
While God is present in every moment, from the most glorious to the mundane, I have found him to be most present when I have fallen hard on the harsh realities of life. When our journey brings us through dark and lonely times.
Across the world, people are praying 24/7 in adoration chapels such as Tyburn Convent below. Sitting in silence is the most challenging prayer for me, personally. I have a tendency to want to be in charge. This has always been an illusion as the old quote goes, Man makes plans, and God laughs.
The spiritual silence of an Adoration chapel is maybe too unnerving or too Catholic for you. Here are 25 natural animal live cams that may provide you with some quiet reflection time and natural beauty of the world: https://parade.com/1015445/rachelweingarten/best-animal-live-cams/
Without the pause in life, serious self-examination and spiritual growth are impossible.
Whatever your higher power’s name is, find time to be with the greatest source of grounding and power that has alluded definition since man first gazed at the sky. If you do not have a higher power, consider interviewing people who beam with grace, peace, and compassion.
My morning readings bought me up and down the mountains of spiritual scripture and self-examination. My list of ten was easy to list, and sorrowfully many of my worries were very shallow and mundane. Capturing them and naming their nature and the emotive experience they have on me put light on where I can have lest investment in trivial things and more trust in the God of my understanding.
This entry was meant to be brief when I started writing with the single strand of “Go the Extra Mile.” Instead, the old and the new testament provided a lesson to prepare by building a spiritual lifestyle, to reflect on my worries and my actions, and to share spiritual contemplation and the roadmap of the Beatitudes.
If you are in the midst of a coronavirus struggle, an active addiction, job loss, or personal struggles of the common variety, I hope you find the time to sit down and name them, experience them in their rawness, and then give it to God. Then get up and go the extra mile with trust that you will be able to handle whatever divine providence holds for you, maybe good, maybe bad.
P.S. sometimes, troubles and trauma or addiction require more than prayer or meditation. Take some time and name the troubles and their impact on you – and then you can decide if professional help is needed. No reason you cannot do both. Of course, sharing your troubles with people you trust or a fellowship of people who can relate can be greatly beneficial as well. A problem shared is a problem halved?
Roadmap for a better life:
This morning I am confronted by locked gates barring entrance to the most peaceful and gracious place detailed in Genesis, the garden of Eden:
“So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:24
This confronts me as rather harsh and offends my spiritual orientation of God being a loving God. On further reflection, I wondered, do we perpetuate what God did to Adam and Eve in society?
While we do not have the powers of God, we do yield significant power individually and collectively on others. How many parents have barred an errant child out of love from returning home? In our society today, it is expected that children leave the safety nest of their homes. If the parents were successful, the home represented a garden of Eden where everything was provided for including instruction on things not to do or ingest (drugs, cleaning chemicals, alcohol, etc.). Internationally we sanction errant nations from global access to needed commodities.
Are we harsh and unloving parents when we know to take a son back in may cause more harm in the long run? Are we a harsh and unloving nation when we sanction a nation that is committing global atrocities and genocide within their own country?
A little further on, I am confronted with the numerical challenges of the family of Adam and his offspring. The Cain and Able story teach us about jealousy and revenge. How did they live for so long? On a positive note, Jubal, a son of Cain, introduces a family of flute and harp players as early as Genesis 4: 21. Music was important in human history from very early times. It is the first note of leisure activity in the Bible. But what about living 900 years!
Here we have fighting words that can lead to alienation amongst believers and even alienation from scripture. If you are the spiritually insecure type, stop reading here, and have a blessed day. The truth of the age depictions in the Bible is that we do not know if they are literal (by God’s miracles), symbolic (representing status and power attributed to the patriarchs), or even containing some hidden numerological meaning. The latter points were present in Hebrew culture at the time.
I treat the age question as a mystery. No theologian has convinced me that Genesis was meant to be literally intended, and archeology has not supported ancient man living that long as of yet. That does not mean it did not happen – it means the genealogy provides me a connection through descendants from Adam to Jesus Christ. This lineage is provided for a framework that I may better intuit the word of God today and how my religious formation has been determined or influenced by centuries of scripture before my time.
The fundamentalist positions assumed by many Catholics today could be described as unconscious or naïve. Most Catholics who are literal readers of the Bible do not realize that this method is not a part of their faith tradition and that such interpretations have been repeatedly discouraged by Catholic scholars, pastors and bishops.[i]
The Old Testament is filled with contradictions and complexities that have plagued religious scholars and laypeople from the moment the ink dried on the papyrus paper or scroll. We argue to this day and, sometimes, reprehensible, draw blood in the name of God.
The new testament is not free of its challenges as well as Jesus Christ’s favorite teaching methodology was parables, and we have four distinct Gospels reporting on the life of Jesus Christ.
What most it of been like to be John the Baptist? Imagine you are called to do what he did. Prepare the way for Jesus Christ and turn over your followers before being beheaded yourself? What does this teach us about humility?
In Chapter 4, Satan Tempts Jesus repeatedly three times while Jesus is at his weakest. All three times, Jesus refutes Satan with words and actions. Angels then minister to him as Satan departs, and quickly the ministry of Jesus Christ is detailed from recruiting the apostles to performing great miracles. This happens in 25 lines of scripture, no more. (Matthew Chapter 4)
How do we apply Chapter 4 to our lives without the evidence of the miracles that Jesus demonstrated in his time or Jesus Christ himself standing before us?
In the Silence and moment when Satan departs, I imagine, at the bleakest and weakest point before he begins his ministry, Jesus sits in Silence and wholly given himself to God. Then the angels came, and only then. My grandfather once watched me fight three kids, and only when I was done fighting and pinned to the ground, did he smilingly free my dog butch to come to the rescue. They scattered unharmed. That moment of stillness had never left me when I looked across the street and saw him just standing there watching. Sometimes we have to fight our own battles and God will step in when it is right to do so.
This connects to my morning meditation reading today:
“silence is almost too simple”
“silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world”
“it is the refusal of all technique”
Nothing against prayers, rosaries, and other contemplative prayers – but sometimes, just Silence is best. You will not know what comes after silence until you have experienced sitting with intentional silence and allowing yourself to be open to what comes. Reading scripture is only a starting point. Living it is the greatest challenge.
As yet, the day is untouched by humans and probably the better for it. The COVID pandemic is cleaning the environment at rates never seen since the industrial revolution introduced massive pollution to our eco-system. The morning dew is on the grass, and everything is peaceful as we prepare to see the sunrise.
I am naturally a P.M. writer. Today, however, I have been called to share the start of my day with my Morning Dues to God before humanity gets my attention.
“A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning. Rachel weeping for her children, refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Matt 2: 6
Today we view the news in terms of peaks and valleys of human death tolls. Little time is spent on bereavement or sitting with the loss and suffering. The press and the public are focused on who is to blame for its magnitude (with some justifications) and how when can we escape Co-Vids hold on us and the negative impact on our social and economic situations if we are fortunate to not be in inflicted with fever, nausea, breathing difficulty, or death within our household. I take from this early morning reading it is not right for us to seek relief for ourselves without sitting with the pain and grief of others – and to compassionately share the burden of loss in whatever form it takes. For many, it will not be okay.
My morning meditation today spoke about a welcoming prayer. Its introduction appeared to be inviting. Then it asked me to remember a hurt that I experienced from someone that cut to my bone and sit with that pain – and feel it in my core. Once we are in that place, we will know suffering and not want it for anyone else. Importantly the meditation takes us beyond the perpetrator, beyond good and evil, beyond resentment and revenge – to just sitting with the pain. Not the type of prayer I expected when I read “welcoming prayer.” That is how it is sometimes with God – I am not prepared for or ready for what is coming.
Today I know what is in store for me and whether it will be good or bad. I do not know if my experiences will lead to a better tomorrow, maybe yes and maybe no (ancient proverb). I do know that with my faith placed firmly in God’s hands, I can sit with confidence with the emotions of the day and be wholly present for others to serve God’s will.
George Smiley’s wife, after the death of a close friend, said to George, will you just stop and grieve for once! George, years later in the face of another death, answers her in his own head: I have no problem grieving and loving the dead; it is the living I have a problem with loving. (John Le Carre’s Smiling People)
God gave Adam every type of animal known to mankind for companionship after he had given him the Garden of Eden, which was entirely sufficient for life. Were we meant to be vegan? It would undoubtedly help the planet’s eco-system (Genesis Chapter 2). This was not enough for Adam. God, in His wisdom and anger at Adam’s lack of gratitude and greed, put him to sleep and gave Adam something he had not expected. He gave him Women (Eve), and Adam was much pleased. God walked away, laughing, thinking Adam does not recognize what he has asked for and received.
Today, for me, is the holiest of holy days. I cannot speak to this before I talk to all my brothers and sisters – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Agnostics, other religions of the world, and Athiest alike.
I also invite those whose lens is oriented by a political identity – Republican, Democrat, Independent, Unaffiliated, Socialist, Communist, and other political ideologies.
Let me not forget my favorite people, good-natured and hardworking, honest citizens of the world (mostly) who leave religion and politics at the curbside. They do their part in the labor of their chosen trades, in the trenches of community work, and in the toils and joys of routine family life. They are in the best position to witness the good and the bad of how the religious and political among us serve or disserve humanity.
Message to all on the Holiest of Holydays (for me) – Five words:
We share life and death together. About Three hundred Thousand people will be born today, and about One Hundred and Fifty Thousand will die today. That is about 4 births and 1-2 deaths per second. Worldwide Co-Vid 19 Virus has taken One-Hundred Thousand people.
These two events are goal posts that define our lives. Regardless of our identifies and affiliations above (three camps), we all share perennial wisdom that we have accumulated from our historical traditions, philosophies, and hard-learned lessons (wars, famine, disease, poverty, natural disasters). There is collective wisdom found regardless of perspective or religiosity that author Richard Rohr calls foundational wisdom. They are a calling to us in my view to live our lives as one family on the “common ground of tolerance, understanding, and love.” Each of these simple words comes with great responsibility.
Co-Vid 19 has forced us to acknowledge the fragility of our economic systems, our mortality, and the interconnectedness of the world.
America, for example, a nation that prides itself on individual responsibility and self-determination. We sometimes forget our humble roots and lessons that our forefathers took for granted. We have come face to face with the reality that personal responsibility and self-determination are not sufficient in the face of adversities that overwhelm families. We have been humbled by a temporary force grater than our us. The nation has enacted the most significant individual and corporate welfare act (called a stimulus package) to attempt to alleviate some of the pain felt by individuals and businesses whose very survival is threatened by this event.
As a nation, we are not willing to look at events every day that crush family during non-national emergencies (business closings, industries dying, addictions, medical crises, unexpected deaths). We have a haphazard safety net that is laden with arcane rules and negative social stigma. We blame the individual rather than the economic system that we have that does not ensure the fundamental dignity of life for all inclusively. In regular times, we practice the opposite of what we practice in times of great tragedy. Our nation needs to reconcile this contradiction. We are a great and resourceful nation. We can do better by our citizens and the citizens of the world.
Other nations have similar challenges built into their ideological systems. Geopolitically our shared international relations on trade, global affairs, and mutual understanding are and have been a tinderbox of violence igniting war, famine, and other terrible calamities throughout history. We will not fix this today.
The error of our time is Ideology is seldom humble. In our religion, our politics, and sometimes in our individualized thinking we can take positions with utmost absolutism because they are necessary to serve our self-interest, sometimes at the expense of our brothers and sisters’ well-being.
“When you truly know, the giveaway is that you do not know.” This contradiction presented by a daily meditation provided by spiritual writer Richard Rohr has truth in all spheres of life. Any field that requires extensive mastery teaches practitioners that learning never stops. Take the fields of medicine, engineering, or computer science. When learning stops and the practitioners become resolute and unmoving, they are on the descent to malpractice or malfeasance! They will not be at the top of their fields for long. If we do not see “Humility and Patience” in our behaviors, we are probably not on the right course.
The message for all regardless of orientation is to practice this collective wisdom actively with others and with oneself:
- Practice Tolerance, Understanding, and Love towards others and oneself
- Practice Humility and Patience towards others and oneself
- Recognize where these five simple words apply in our daily life
I choose this aspect of the Resurrection story as it highlights the challenges and responsibilities of being Christian as well as the challenges of the “common wisdom” mentioned above.
This Holiest of Holydays for Christians and me around the world was first revealed to Mary of Magdaline and other women who went to visit Christ Tomb. They are first addressed by an angel who reveals Jesus is not in the tomb, he has risen. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself meets them on the road and says: “Rejoice!” In their awe and shock, they fall at his feet in worship, and he tells them to “Do not be afraid, Go and tell My brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”
The women did just that, and the disciples were skeptical. The Gospel of Luke describes the Apostles response:
“And their words seemed like to them like idle tales, and they did not believe them.” (Luke 24:11).
The Apostles, the most intimate and closest followers of Jesus Christ, instinctively demonstrate a lack of humility, tolerance, and love. Understanding and patience is not their collective first response. Peter rose and left the room and ran to the tombstone to verify for himself that the body of Jesus Christ was gone.
The Apostles themselves had plenty of foreshadowing and knowledge of what was coming, and yet they, the most prepared to receive the revelation of Jesus’s resurrection, were unprepared to believe what is held to be the central tenant of Christianity.
A common form of enriching prayer life is called “Lectio Divina,” which is in short – Read, Meditate, Pray, Contemplate. Without this practice, it may be hard to fully grasp the Apostle’s reaction without imagining yourself in their shoes.
As an engaged reader of both spiritual writing and works of fiction, I can join the narrative wholly in what is written and in my experiential reactions to what is happening in the story.
Placing myself into the inner circle of the Apostles, perhaps the unmentioned 13th Apostle, I was much confused and fearful after Jesus Christ’s death brutal death. I, along with others, am in hiding. Mobs of Jews and others have unleashed hatred and fury at anyone following Jesus Christ. I am abandoned and disbelieving that the man who performed so many miracles before my eyes died a week ago. I am not even sure what day it is today, we have been on the run for several days. I know I am not first among the apostles, but why would Jesus reveal himself to Mary and the other women before revealing himself as risen to any of the Apostles? I should have been there when he was crucified. I should of went to his tomb and saw for myself. Nobody will believe us even if we accept this as real. How can I, on the word of these women, say Christ has risen without any proof other than his body is missing from the tomb?
The Apostles got there proof later in the four gospel accounts. Each Gospel narrates the life and times of Jesus Christ from a different perspective, as great movies often replay scenes from the eyes of different characters within the film. Each character brings a more in-depth understanding and perspective to the evolving plot.
Mary of Magdaline was both within and outside the Gospels. She had the freedom to travel with the Apostles and outside of their circles as well. She had the privilege and courage to witness Jesus Christ’s execution. Burial and resurrection.
Unlike the Apostles or Mary of Magdaline, most of us do not have personal revelations of an Angel or Jesus Christ appearing before us visually and audibly. If we do, we are apt to chalk it up to massive spiritual imagination or perhaps brief psychosis!
Our words seem like idle tales to non-Christians when we speak about the resurrection, transubstantiation, and other beliefs and traditions that our faith holds sacred. If we were honest with ourselves and others, we would acknowledge that our knowledge of God is minuscule, and we have the same access to experience as they do regarding God’s ways. We have history. We have a sacred text. We have traditions and rituals. And we have collective wisdom that we all share.
Our practice of Tolerance, Understanding, Love, Patience, and Humility will serve our carrying the message of Jesus Christ far better than any preaching or theological explanation of our faith can. How we act towards everyone, on all matters big and small, is the measure of our faith.
As Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection bought revelation and redemption to all Christians, the suffering and deaths we are experiencing today bring us the opportunity to understand each other and seek redemption where appropriate from our fellow man and from God.
John Donne, Ernest Hemingway, or Metallica?
John Donne, a Catholic poet (late 1500s), concluded a poem with the same title above with “Therefore, send not to know For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee. Besides this famous poem, his last sermon was called “Deaths Duel,” pictured above.
Hemingway uses this title for the story of Robert Jordan, an idealist demolitions expert who fought as a volunteer in the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway’s father took his own life to allegedly escape a painful uncontrolled battle with diabetes. Hemingway himself accidentally shot himself with a shotgun one early morning. Most call it a suicide. By the way, the Catholic Poet above once wrote a piece defending suicide.
“Take a look in the sky just before you die, It is the last time you will, Blackened roar massive roar fills the crumbling sky, Shattered goal fills his soul.” Metalica music has to be heard, not explained: https://youtu.be/S93yQjQyVko. This rendition is with the San Francisco Symphony.
Death I am afraid of is all around us before we recognize we are on our own deathbed. It is alluded to in poetry, literature, music, and all of the arts. The obituary pages hold on even today despite declining ads and sales in the Newspaper industry. It frames our lives and gives value to our every passing moment.
I took a walk outside my house last night and glanced at a supermoon. My son had mentioned it earlier in the evening via phone as something to take in during this quarantine. Metalica’s song was on my mind. Thankfully, it was not my last viewing of the evening sky.
The peak rush is hitting my area now of people preparing to leave this earth unexpectedly. Emotions are raw and numb at the same time. Towns are ghostly. People are isolated. The Bell is Tolling for all of us, if not today, then tomorrow.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
I am not ready to say those words. I believe in God, but I do not have any grounding in the multitude of scriptural references that describe life after death. The mystery is despite the New Testament promises and the allure of other sacred text and many vivid depictions, still great.
It is natural to cling to the known and what we have when faced with the possibility of it all ending momentarily. When confronted with the potentiality of death, I, at least, conceptualize it all ending. That is a grave mistake! The demise of my flesh is imminent, but all those around me and the activities that surround me will continue on. And my faith captures it as a new beginning, with God’s grace, someplace other than Dante’s Inferno. And if I do not die, there is still this, the people I love or have loved have been killed or will die regardless. Loss awaits us all without an itinerary.
There is no escaping death. We must turn and face it together with the poets, the authors, musicians, and any others who give meaning to life by defining end.
It is common and unceasing, and yet each one of us that crosses that threshold is unique and essential in a way we all will never understand while we remain behind.
How do we face it? Know it is coming and value today. Do not dwell in the past or in the future. Celebrate the life of those around you while they are here to enjoy your company and laughter. Care for the poor and the sick. Eat, live, and pray. Say meaningless cliches! Let others anger roll off you and help them carry the weights that cause their rage and sorrow. We share everyone’s losses, tragedies, and suffering.
Let no trivial matter on your mind occupy space it does not deserve. Give appropriate weight to meaningful things. Act with intention and without delay, yet without the rush. Destiny is here. Right now. Cherish it even with its struggles.
If someone you know is going off to the hospital to fight for their lives, make sure to say your piece before they go. Not everyone gets to come home. And while we all wait at home for this to pass, if we are so lucky to do so, let us make amends and care for each other, as if tomorrow is not guaranteed. Perhaps words need not be exchanged, just little gestures or actions.
The sun is shining bright, and the sky is blue. The streets are empty and the shops mostly closed. The few people I saw on my bike ride were, like me, taking a walk or a bike ride, waving friendly hellos while maintaining social distance.
Sequestered again with the “work from home day over,” I hear my daughter teaching ballet virtually to youngsters in the other room. She is 17 and forgoing college this fall to pursue dance. If ever I doubted this passion, hearing her teach eliminated any doubts. She has a gift of purity of purpose and talent. She has to supply the discipline and hard work. And yet she knows there are no guarantees.
In my sanctuary within my home, I have several bibles, spiritual writings of church fathers, religious symbols, and candles. I light the candles when I purposefully set time aside to reflect, read, pray, and if the spirit moves me, write.
All the praying, reading, writing, and reflection are meaningless if I am not open to truly listening and seeking to understand how they apply to me when I leave this room. Richard Rohr writes, “All the stories of healing, transformation, awareness, and enlightenment that we find in the Bible come to people moving beyond the usual definitions of power (such as false power, temporary power, dominative power, or cultural power). He goes onto say that sacred text is not an end in themselves, but they must insert you into new and larger realities.
What is the true meaning of “trust in me” or “he who is first shall be last” as it relates to us right now in the reality of a pandemic? It can raise some fascinating questions when we go beyond the superficial verbal acceptance of scripture to its litmus test of how we face suffering and tragedy.
Scripture comforts us (trust in me) and challenge us (he who is first) with parables and contradictions that confound the best theologians. Some of them have been deemed heretics only later to be redeemed as more was revealed to humanity.
My daughter was all in next door, teaching a class via zoom. She is all in seeking to be a professional ballet dancer knowing the field is brutal and offers few opportunities. Some call it youth. I call it faith, not that she will make it, but that she is invited to take the journey. Ballet, like faith, gives us plenty of opportunities to come up short. It also offers young dancers plenty of opportunities to succeed in life, whether in performing arts or otherwise.
The path of faith is not about achieving sanctification or sainthood. The way is about living our calling and our destiny wherever that may lead us. Actively and consciously making small and large decisions in alignment with a discerning spiritual conscience can be both spiritually uplifting and spiritually demoralizing simultaneously. We do not know where the path will take us. Some holy people have demonstrated an ability to equally ride both uplifting graces and debilitating suffering with gratitude and humility as if they were the same.
They accept what comes to them unquestionably and toil to work with what they are given – bad or good. Today as a nation, we have plenty of suffering and struggle. It is easy to be faithful in good times, not so much in bad times.
St. Theresa of Lisieux went as far as to write, “It’s true that I wanted to suffer much for God’s sake, and it’s true that I still desire this.” Her suffering and seeking of suffering defy’s imagination.
How many of us are all in when it comes to faith? What does that look like alongside your secular career, community involvement, family life, or political orientation? There has to be alignment and clashes. We live in a secularly driven society with minor influences from multifaith communities and significant impacts from international political and economic drivers. Some of these forces, although perhaps well-meaning in the pursuit of progress or presence, can be hostile to our spiritual beliefs and values.
Our calling for most of us is a secular job, family chores and activities, community involvement, and other human relationships. These are our works of faith when carried out with the purity of purpose, talents developed, and hard work. Most of all, they are the most successful and meaningful when carried out as an act of spiritual practice and faith. As the dancer becomes one with the music and choreography, the worker becomes one with the spiritual grace bestowed on him and the task at hand.
This abstract jpeg above is available at the Wallpaper (thewallpaper.com) in the Abstract section. I am not a fan of modern abstract artwork. However, this one captures the thoughts I have been trying to convey.
A true work of Art is but a shadow of divine perfection in the background.
We are all artisans in our craft, whatever that is from the simple to the grandest. Our faith does not need to be on display. If it is in the background, it will show itself in the results, not as yours, but as something grander.
The churches are closed. Now, more than ever is a time to turn to the God of your understanding. Prepare a room, a corner, or a closet, and seek your spiritual self. It need not be complicated or lengthy. Simple, frequent, and genuine. Leave the rest to God.
Below is an idea for a war room for project management! What better project than reuniting with your soul during the quarantine. If you’re like me, cutting out 1/3 of the Co-Vid 19 news coverage will not hurt. Prayer, a simple conversation, a little reading, an openness to receive, and a little discipline to open the door to your heart. You need not go far.
Whether confronting suffering, loss, and death or dealing with the franticness of life, now is a good time to ground yourself in finding your spiritual self.