The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton

The beginning of a new personal spiritual chapter can bring me anticipatory eagerness and anxiety.  Eagerness to deepen my personal relationship to God, to enrich my faith, and to provide me needed sustenance and perseverance in the face of daily adversities.  Anxiety about the time required, the demands presented, and the worthiness of the venture.

Pope Francis gave a nod to Thomas Merton as he cited Merton as being one of four representatives of the American people to turn to for examples of faith and standing up for social justice, equal rights, liberty, and peace.

By Merton’s account he was no saint or model of purity.   Perhaps that he is why valuable as an example;

‘I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers.’ [i]

In an instant you can google Merton and find detractors regarding his motivations to enter the religious life (draft dodger) or his human fallibility pre-monastic life or later in life with a woman named Maggie.[ii]  How do we pair the human side of Thomas Merton with the body of work that he left behind after his accidental electrocution in Thailand in 1968? The irony of death paired with this statement in “The Seven Story Mountain” is perhaps co-incidental, yet unnerving:

“That you may become the brother of God and learn to know the Christ of the burnt men.[iii] 

The book has controversy as well regarding attacks that it was highly edited.[iv]   This was also Thomas Merton’s first major work and later in his life he reflected that it would not be the same today if he was to write it again.  How can I not read his later works to see where his spiritual maturity bought him after such an esteemed start?

My read of this classic was easy going.  He tells his early life story and journey with simple language and clarity within the context of a world driven by strife and a world at war (WW II).   Some compare his conversion story to that of St. Augustine.  His use of Dante’s purgatory mountain for his title is telling.  The battle with human affectations (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) is a battle for Monks as well as laymen. The duality of action and contemplation in harmony is mindfully present in this story.

ll_purgatory

Seeking God for any of these reasons is bound to fail.  The fragility of seeking spiritual perfection is a path of eagerness and anxiety.  The price is high, the path narrow, and time is short (at least for me).

Merton’s introductory work was worth my investment.  There are too many quotes and insights to re-post here.  Hopefully my Merton journey is providential!   Maybe one day I will visit Kentucky.  If you are familiar with the Thomas Merton Society, The Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, or have a favorite Merton work, please comment and give your insights!

[i] http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/24/443126027/in-pope-francis-congress-speech-praise-for-dorothy-day-and-thomas-merton

[ii] http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/books/thomas-merton-the-hermit-who-never-was-his-young-lover-and-mysterious-death-1.2422818

[iii] Page 462, Seven Storey Mountain

[iv] http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/11/bookend/bookend.html

[v] http://www.monks.org/

[vi] http://www.christianhumanist.org/2010/08/dante-2010

 

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Providence, Powerlessness, and Purpose

April 1, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

serenity

[i] Proverbs 3:6

Saints

Pope Francis has taken steps to canonize Fatima Siblings (https://nyti.ms/2mW3nYl) according to New York Times article.  Do you believe in Saints?  The Devil?  The Fatima Siblings had visions and drew thousands of Christians to the Village of Fatima.  There is even a mystery of prophecy by Sister Lucia – the one to escape an untimely death – providing three predictions that many believe came to fruition – one of which may have saved Pope John Paul’s life.  I have sought counsel on modern-day visionaries – and the best advice I got seemed to be focus on Christ – if a message helps me focus more on Christ as a tool, okay, but don’t get lost seeking modern-day miracles – the Miracle was given to us on the Cross.

None the less there remains in Christology messages about the end of times (Eschatology) and the final battle.

Final Battle

Sister Lucia spoke to that as well.  Let’s place the word “Saint” aside.

Have you ever met a person who exudes humility and spirit?  Have you read about great martyrs and sacrifices?

There are heroes among us living their lives so close to the image of God, as imprinted deep within their souls, that we can be rendered speechless by their devotion, steadfastness, and courage.  They are all around us if you look, performing small and large miracles, invisible to the unsuspecting eye, silently passing you on the street, perhaps with a smile or merely a focused precision walk that announces purpose and fiery determination.    They are humans with their heart and soul given fearlessly to be used by their God to heal, to love, to serve others.  Some of them may have been blessed with visions or moments of grace that defy imagination.

I don’t know about prophecies, or mystics, or saints.  What I do know is people among us have the power of the Holy Spirit within their core and are preparing for the final battle now, preparing the  battlefield for us all.

The spiritual imagination and contemplative life can bring you places you never thought possible.

“Catholics are not required to believe in even the most approved and venerated private revelations, but many of us choose to do so. Does this battle relate to the famous discourse Pope Leo XIII was alleged to have heard in a vision between Christ and Satan, which led him to compose the prayer to St. Michael? How long the final battle will last, and what will come after? (http://www.onepeterfive.com/sister-lucia-final-confrontation-between-the-lord-and-satan-will-be-over-family-and-marriage/)”

Thanks for reading my mystical rambling.

A Monk In The World: Cultivating A Spiritual Life by Wayne Teasdale

“The homeless live in virtually every city and town around the globe, representing a sixth of humanity — or about a billion souls.  Like ghost, they haunt the busy thoroughfares of the world.”

If you read nothing else in this post except this quote that is okay.  Please contemplate and pray for these billion souls in whatever spiritual tongue you possess and cherish.

homeless

Teasdale doesn’t get to the homeless until chapter six:  “Light in the streets:  The urgent call of the homeless.”  The first five chapters he spends on spirituality, mystical experience, the church, friendship, world order, preciousness of time, sacredness of work, and the value of money.  A decent read on challenges of everyday life to the spiritual life.   But most of us are not called to the monastic life and have to “make due” in an environment that is sometimes outright hostile to your beliefs.

Homelessness is only a small portion of the book that is examining how to live a contemplative and spiritual life amidst the chaos of living in the real world (as opposed to a monastery or a hermit in the desert.  However, the epic issue of homelessness and our aversion to the problem is an epitome of the failure of globalization and extreme capitalism.

Teasdale explains through his own life experience the labor of belief, both vertical and horizontal life challenges, internal and external challenges, mortality, and earthly limitations.  He goes a step further to address the commonalities of religious and the calling to unite ecumenical movements to address poverty in our times.

In the U.S our current administration is focused on recovering a perceived lost edge in the global economy and focus on removing protections that may hinder capitalism’s acceleration while also instituting protectionism for corporations in the U.S, reducing oversight that protects the safety and fair wages of the working class, while targeting immigrants and other countries as villains to support a political message and a rallying call to desperate Americans.   At the same time, the administration itself is at war with the free press and unapologetically creating alternative facts without regard for truth in the slightest.  The irony is the leadership had or has (I don’t know which) the support of bible belt believers, if not,publicly, than secretly.

Nowhere in our administration’s current platform is a call for social justice, a call to help the poor of this nation and/or other nations, responsible stewardship of the planet, and other callings that Christians worldwide, including the Pope of the Catholic church, hold as core values.  Instead we have a militant and protectionist mantra of “America First.” And a minority of the population is okay with the absence of compassion and outright villainizing of anything or anyone that opposes the administration’s viewpoint.  I do not know how this adheres to our Christian heritage in the manner in which America’s voice is being heard today in the world.  Our current political establishment is putting profits of the super elite above community and pitting the community against each other internally and externally through inflammatory language and almost messianic message about doom and gloom.

It is and has been my life’s calling to work with the impoverished and under-represented “sentient beings.”  I use this phrase to bring to life that the poor, the disenfranchised, the homeless, the immigrants, the LGBTQ individuals are not labels but real, spiritual beings with a consciousness and share of our collective resources and our God.

It is possible to be this horrific in the political sphere when the public is distanced from spiritual grounding and meaningful caring of thy neighbor and all sentient beings regardless of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or nationality.

If our nation was as spiritual and committed to Christianity as many report – our politicians would not have the license they do today to lie outright time and time again without repercussion.

The book aptly ducks the big questions and focuses on individual tools and pray for cultivating the spirit in the face of such adversity and calls on religious institutions to show more courage in standing up for moral convictions.  The church has failed in this area before — in Germany and in other places and times.  I pray we do not fail again.

The immensity of the issues often give way to powerlessness and despair for believers. That is why an interior pray life and mindfully living in a spiritual manner is so critical for believers today now more than ever.

One believer at a time.  

One good deed at a time.  

One letter of advocacy.  

One voice in the crowd.

You decide where you can make a difference.

 “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26

Book Review:  7 of 10 (not one of my favorites but a decent read)

monk-in-the-world

 

 

Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope: Book Review

I wrestled with God and Won!

battle

Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope by Joan D. Chittister, is an excellent spiritual journey for all believers that have difficulties with life’s struggles and God’s appearance of indifference.  Twenty-four distinct chapters referencing the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with God throughout the dark night until dawn and the author’s own life experiences are utilized to examine “A suffering of the soul” and the meaning of Hope.  It is the first book I have read that has clearly defined for me how so many evils and tragedies can be present in our lives without jeopardizing our faith.  The book has three source validation for me with regards to Catholicism:  Genesis  32: 22-32[i], an interpretation by of this scripture by Catholic on-line[ii], and the book was loaned to me by my parish priest.

I recommend this book for anyone facing adversity, depression, loss, or other struggles that threaten your sense of self.  I also recommend this book for those that have not faced life altering events – as a primer on how to be prepared.

“God is not a puppeteer.  God is not a magician.  Our lives lie in our own hands and we will have to take charge of them before anything important about them can really come to resolution.”

Concepts of change, suffering, conversion, isolation, darkness, faith, fear, courage, powerlessness, surrender, vulnerabilities, limitations, exhaustion, endurance, scarring (being wounded), transformation, struggle and hope are illuminated in a special way.  A most read book.

The story of Jacob wrestling thru the night and suffering a mortal hit to his hip (wounded profoundly) and continueing the wrestle is a profound story in Genesis.  We can learn a great deal from jacob.

(Book is avialbe for 9.99 on Kindle – I have no conflict of interest recomending this read.  I bought three copies – one for my parish priest so he does not have to lend out his marked up copy, one for myself, and one for a person close to me).    

[i] Genesis 32:22-32New International Version (NIV)

Jacob Wrestles With God

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel,[a]because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[b] saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel,[c] and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

[ii] http://www.catholic.org/news/hf/faith/story.php?id=34353

 

Pax Tecum, Pax Tibi

Rusted Anchors[i]

rusted-anchor

“Anchoring or focalism is a term used in psychology to describe the common human tendency to rely too heavily, or “anchor,” on one trait or piece of information when making decisions.”[ii]  How many rusted anchors are holding you down from accepting new and contradictory information to previously held assumptions?  In a recent NYT article on Donald Trump the author raised the issue of “race and racism, cognitive traps that psychologists call anchoring and what we call first impressions”[iii]

The article discusses Trump’s doubling down the guilt of the central park five despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary and convictions wrongly obtained being overturned.  His actions there are a different issue.

How many “Rusted Anchors” are his supporters holding onto based on his 1) false first impressions from his primary debates with fellow establishment republicans and his presentation now, 2) the success of his businesses without revealing his taxes, 3) his honesty now that Trump University suit is moving forward, or 4) what he says about how he treats people and what women and prior small business people say about him?   A good number have finally jumped ship.  The weight simply became too much.[iv]

I would argue the weight became so much that it threatened a different kind of anchor (for some) that relegated political party and affiliation secondary to principle.  Sadly some may have done so for political expediency, but I hope most listened to the anchor of their soul.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”[v] Hebrews 6:19

 christian-anchor-symbol

This is an entirely different anchor that needs protecting and care.  “Epitaphs on believers’ tombs dating as far back as the end of the first century frequently displayed anchors alongside messages of hope. Such expressions as pax tecumpax tibiin pace, or “peace be with you” speak to the hope Christians felt in their anticipation of heaven.”

Anchors can be bad or good.  It requires constant vigilance and discernment – both in the political and religious realm.  How many religious leaders are selling their faith for favor (or donations) from Donald as even their devout congregations are pulling away?   What are your anchors?

I have long been a Democrat as democrats support a diversity of social justice issues that are low on the republican ticket (excepting pro-life).  My position is “Choose Life.”   The Catholic vote has been in play like it has never been before due to Trump’s behavior and the inclusivity preaching of our beloved current Pope Francis.[vi]    I try to discern my values, my social justice concerns, my recognition of the dangers of pharisaical preaching, the risk of pride, of intellectualism, and the traps of false anchors (religious, political, cultural, and herd mentality).

With undue suffering (perhaps a vintage anchor of catholic guilt) a vote on either side of the ticket is not a vote for idealism of catholic ideology.  It is my imperfect guess on what is best right now with the given choices on all the issues (without grandstanding, without a public audience, without demonization, without rationalization of the many imperfections of our system).  A large focus of mine given 26 years of social work experience is related to liberation theology themes and hearing the cry of the poor.[vii]

There are too many issues to address them all here.  However, one issue can be addressed.  Your anchor is defined by you.  You define it by feeding it accurate information, by discerning sincere dialogue and information, and by continuously refining and caring for your thoughts, your actions, and yes your vote.

If your vote be different than mine after you have did your due diligence (minus the poison of the brightest rhetoricians, the simpleton good ole fellow routine, or fear mongering fire and brimstone types)[viii] I trust our God will find grace for us both according to our needs and deeds.

Disclaimer: I have a responsibility to direct you to the Catechism of the Catholic Church[ix] for official church doctrine – I am wholly unqualified to represent or pretend to represent the intricacies and the mystery of the faith and my wayfarer journey as a believer.    I have sought out personal guidance on some of these issues from clergy and found my anchor on some issues – but the journey and the struggle never ceases.

journey

Peace Be With You….

Footnotes:

[i] https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS495US495&espv=2&biw=911&bih=425&tbm=isch&sa=1&q=steel+rusted+anchor&oq=steel+rusted+anchor&gs_l=img.12…21325.25860.0.28241.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1c.1.64.img..0.0.0.wRrETletl1M#imgrc=lMZfG87VC3QPfM%3A

[ii] https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/anchoring.htm

[iii] http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/18/opinion/why-trump-doubled-down-on-the-central-park-five.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-4&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region

[iv] The same argument can be made for Hillary supporters I am sure.

[v] http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/what-is-origin-of-anchor-as-christian-symbol-and-why-do-we.html

[vi] http://www.catholicdemocrats.org/

[vii] http://www.uscatholic.org/culture/social-justice/2010/01/do-you-hear-cry-poor-liberation-theology-today

[viii] You also have a responsibility to not spread false anchors or misinformation – the poisons of solid anchors.

[ix]http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/catechism/catechism-of-the-catholic-church/

 

Addiction and Spirituality

 

mindbodysoul

“In my experience, nothing torments us more than longing.  Some people have been so violently shaken in their lives from the earliest days that they cannot now, so to speak, allow themselves any great longing or put up with a long period of tension, and they find compensation in short-lived pleasures that offer readier satisfaction.”  

Dietrich Bonhoeffer* was writing his family from his prison cell reconciling his anticipated release of December 17, 1943 was not to be.  The longing he was referencing was homesickness – but the message he conveyed was at the great human condition of substitutes being an ill-advised remedy for human relationships and spirituality.  In this five to six page letter he expresses his own struggles to remain whole, as much as he can be, without succumbing to despair and escapism:  “there is nothing worse in such times than to try to find a substitute for the irreplaceable.  It just does not work and leads to greater indiscipline, for the strength to overcome tension (such strength can only come from looking the longing in the face) is impaired and endurance becomes even more unbearable….

As far as I know Dietrich was not an addict, gambler, or alcoholic.  However, how much of addiction is driven by shattered lives and/or longing?  Many are aware of causality factors that increase the likelihood of addiction vulnerabilities like early childhood trauma (see ACE study) or genetic predispositions.  While these are not to be ignored many fall into the same trap without any evidence of these factors being present.  Look at the recently released story of news caster Elizabeth Vargas. ( http://abcnews.go.com/Health/abc-news-anchor-elizabeth-vargas-long-battle-alcoholism/story?id=41980399).

How many substitutes do we have for meaningful human relationships?  How much time do we allow ourselves and others to nurture these relationships?  And assuming there is a God, humor me here if you are an atheist, how hollow must our existence be if we have walled off such an immense and unimaginable source of love, joy, mercy, hope, and peace? How much time do we allow ourselves to explore our higher being, our ethics, and our shared humanity?  Even without a higher power – surely we have higher human values that what we exhibit today.

It is abundantly clear the devastation of alcohol, drugs, gambling and other addictions is thunderously rampaging through our communities across the nation.  These devastated lives are further damaged by societal ignorance and denial, self-loathing and shame, and an absence of understanding existential longing and needs.  How many people have tried recovery and failed?  How many have supported loved ones only to be disappointed?

There is a place for professional help.  Get it.  There is a place for self-help. Get it.  These can be very effective bridges but are not a substitute for finding the answer to longing, to sitting with conflict and pain, and to connecting to the essence of what makes you whole.  Address little things and big things – no stone is too small to bring you happiness.

 “Let pass, dear brothers, every pain;

What you have missed I’ll bring again.”

Eph 1:10

Dietrich explores this passage in-depth in his letter.  He explains with faith in Jesus Christ he will be made whole again.  This gives him sustaining strength.  But note, this sustaining strength is after and above his actions:  he is paying attention to the details of his everyday discipline in thinking, reading, physical exercise, attention to detail, appreciation of loved ones, demonstration of kindness to others, forgiveness, and prayer.  Belief in God and Recovery are not passive activities.

I am at my best when I am open to love from others, open to spirituality and grace, accepting of the uncertainty of life, and humbly enjoying the present moment.  It is not easy for me and I venture to say it is not easy for most.  If you are open to God, find time with him.  If you are spiritually suffering find a spiritual advisor.   You need not have an addiction to enjoy a spirituality filled life!

If you are not open to God, find what you are open to that sustains you while “doing no harm to self or others.”  This motto is good for both the believer and unbeliever!

Here are some ideas that you can do while searching for your way down the path to wholeness:

  1. Give blood today.
  2. Sign up to be an organ donor.
  3. Go to the library.
  4. Volunteer at Habitat Humanity or other local organizations.
  5. If you need help – call someone.
  6. Smile with eye contact at people you pass – just briefly (don’t be creepy)!
  7. Reply to my post with ideas that people can do without any cost to feel good and seek peace, tranquility, wholeness, and happiness.
  8. Share with others if you think it will help.

God bless, and if you have read this post, may you find what you are looking for safely and with expediency.

purpose

 

*For more about who Dietrich Bonhoeffer was please visit this site for a start: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/416760/awe-inspiring-heroism-dietrich-bonhoeffer-st-karnick

 

Simplicity

I had plenty of adversity today.  But that is not my focus.  Only a hundred pages into a  novel, Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War, and a cord strikes home:

 “After dinner they read books, sitting on either side of the fire.  They went to bed early in the room at the back of the house.  Isabelle had painted it and sewn the curtains.”  

The novel is on loan to me from a person who appreciates literature, loves family, and knows a portion of life’s secrets, the intersection of suffering and joy.  That escapes many. These two lines in their simplicity define the complexity of finding true happiness.

Today I bought to work 12 DVDS that a number of my staff listed as their favorite films. Thanks to amazon and microwave popcorn I was able to create a quick thank you to my staff.  Leaving today half of the films were taken home by staff and popcorn for relaxation.  A small deed — but so gratifying.

Another staff person stopped me today to tell me how a gentleman enjoys the chess game that is facing the walkway out front of our office.  Myself and a colleague have a game set up with one or two moves a day for all to see.  Many people stop on the walkway and study the game.  It is shocking, given the community has a stigma of being rough and other undesirable names  that many stop and enjoy the complex game.

Our plants were dying a slow death.  Beth only left a few weeks ago and already the plants have succumbed to neglect.  A neighboring business had a person who catered to their sites plants and saw our plants dying.  She grabbed one of my staff and asked to save our plants.  They have been rescued and will be returned by anonymous.

Everyday I am surrounded by wonderful people and opportunity to enjoy life.

A day in the life of Joe.

 

 

 

 

 

Jesus Freaks: Martyrs: Stories of Those Who Stood for Jesus: The Ultimate Jesus Freaks by DC Talk

“There are more Christian martyrs today than there were in ad 100–in the days of the Roman Empire. Now in the twenty-first century, according to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, more than 150,000 Christians are martyred around the world every year.”

When I think of modern-day martyrs I think of burning monks who set themselves afire as more than a 140 Tibetan monks have set themselves on fire (gently called self-immolation).  The first historic “burning monk” was a photograph taken 53 years ago on June 11, 1963, depicting the dignified yet horrific death by fiery suicide of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc in Saigon by photographer Malcolm Wilde Browne:

downloadBurning Monk

In recent years these Buddhist Monks have won my admiration for their pro-active self-sacrifice.  Their oppressors try to oppress without visibility to deny martyrdom – so these Monks denied them invisibility.  Our Christian culture does not teach self-immolation.  It does teach being prepared to sacrifice for your faith as the greatest Martyr known to mankind did for us.  And many are paying with their lives.  This is just so depressing (after anger jolts thru the veins).  How have we not learned anything from the Holocaust?  How do we not make the same mistakes in our own outrage and fear?

Jesus Freaks is written for teenagers and raises awareness of scripture and history of Christian Martyrs up to and including current day Christian Martyrdom.   As a book it gives short, easy to read stories of past and present Martyrs – mostly past.  It is also short on evidence and written more in an oral tradition manner.  It finishes with a call to pray and advocacy and, as it is a christian book, a call to Jesus Christ. It spiked my interest in just how bad is the world today for Christian believers.

Our Christian understanding in America is limited to perceived oppression that we may have with secular law and the blurry division of church and state.  However, the Pew research center reported in 2014 that “Christians continue to be the world’s most oppressed religious group, with persecution against them reported in 110 countries.” Open doors reports that 322 christians are killed each month for their faith.

Can this be true?  Every month?  If so. every Christian must “Remember the Lord’s people who are in jail and be concerned for them. Don’t forget those who are suffering, but imagine that you are there with them.”  Hebrews 13:3

Two links below track Christian persecution.  Other sites track all religious persecution across the globe.  The killings and torture are persistent and to disturbing according to these sites.

“According to The Pew Research Center, over 75% of the world’s population lives in areas with severe religious restrictions (and many of these people are Christians). Also, according to the United States Department of State, Christians in more than 60 countries face persecution from their governments or surrounding neighbors simply because of their belief in Jesus Christ.”

We are anesthetized to the violence by repeated exposure both to our own violence within our country and to international horrors as well.   How do we stop these atrocities I do not know.  One answer to stopping persecution and violence, both home and abroad, starts with each of us having a voice and not being silent.   Another answer is…….

pray

Pew research link:  http://cnsnews.com/news/article/barbara-boland/pew-study-christians-are-world-s-most-oppressed-religious-group

Voices of Martyrs Link:  http://www.persecution.com/public/aboutVOM.aspx?clickfrom=%3d6d61696e5f6d656e75

Charity rater link:  http://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=search.summary&orgid=4700

Open Doors:  https://www.opendoorsusa.org/christian-persecution/

 

 

Isenheim Altarpiece: A Portrait of Agony; a Message of Hope

300px-Grunewald_Isenheim1

I cannot imagine caring for patients with “St. Anthony’s Fire” in the 1500s.  Our medicines have come along ways and palliative care nurses are by the sides of those facing unremitting symptoms, torment, and anguish.   Nevertheless, patients with serious conditions are faced with their own mortality and the instinctual drive to defy our destiny with ashes.

When to fight on, what medicines to accept, when to let go, how to reach an integrated decision reflective of the self, of the spirit, and of your loved ones amidst uncertain medical prognosis.

The painting above captures the agony of the crucifixion, the friends and family by Christ side, saints on the side panels, and the release from earthly suffering on the bottom panel. It served the patients at the Monastery of St. Anthony four centuries ago who were facing certain death by providing hope and faith.

Yesterday I prayed the twenty-third psalm in a hospital chapel for a patient I did not know.  The chapel was far removed from patient care and barely adorned.  A janitor in the backround drove a wax floor cleaner maintaining the appearance of cleanliness and order in the corridors of acute care.  The sanitization of death, illness, and suffering somehow only increases suffering.

A corridor or two away my wife, a palliative care nurse, spent two hours that evening being present to acknowledge agony, clarify prognosis, and guide a family to reach an integrated decision.    Some recover from the immediate health crisis, some postpone its inevitable outcome, and some prepare for the end without further recourse.  Theresa brings the artwork to life in practice despite its absence in the hospital santuary.  It is a calling.  We all have one.  What is yours?

In the artwork above is something for each of these trajectories.  None of us escape this earth without suffering and without dying. If we are lucky we will be connected to life’s depth of mystery and spirituality.  If we are lucky, when we are facing our own mortality, we will have an angel of mercy at our side guiding our decisions, alleviating our suffering where possible, and sharing our pain.  If we are lucky this will provide us enough peace to face whatever crosses we have to bear today and the remaining days we have on earth.

Post inspired by Theresa’s work and NY Times article on Altarpiece.    References below.

psalm23

 

A psalm of David.

 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
     He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
     he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
    for his name’s sake.
 Even though I walk
    through the darkest valley,[a]
I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
    they comfort me.

 You prepare a table before me
    in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
    my cup overflows.
 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
    all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

“Sculpted by Niclaus of Haguenau and painted by Matthias Grünewald in the 1550s, the altarpiece was made for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, which had a hospital that treated, among other ailments, the skin disease known as St. Anthony’s fire. (Today the altarpiece is on view at the Musée Unterlinden in France.)

The altarpiece, Mr. Atkins said, spoke to both the hospital’s often terminally ill patients and those who treated them. On the panels, Jesus’s Crucifixion is depicted as especially grisly. His skin is riddled with blemishes, and his fingers are grotesquely curled. On the ground, witnesses to his death are anguished.

“Many of us can relate to this on an individual level, or knowing someone who has fallen ill and had to grapple with all the pain,” Mr. Atkins said.

But the altarpiece also shows Jesus’s ascension into heaven. And therein lies salvation. “The pain is temporary,” Mr. Atkins said. “There is release.”

NYT article with illustration commentary: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/07/travel/isenheim-altarpiece-musee-unterlinden.html?contentCollection=weekendreads&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=c-column-middle-span-region&region=c-column-middle-span-region&WT.nav=c-column-middle-span-region

History of the art piece:  http://www.stanleymeisler.com/smithsonian/smithsonian-1999-09-grunewald.html