Revisiting my Jewish Ancestry in a time of Hatred (as a Catholic believer)

Today a growing number of Jews are returning to Israel.[i]  In 1948 Israel became a nation in one day and had 800,000 citizens.  Now there are over 6 million Jews in Israel.  Many Jews across the world feel like it is 1939 all over again.  Anti-semetism is on the rise in the United States and across the world and Israel itself lives in threat of annihilation.  Returning from where?  The Jewish diaspora is the dispersion of Jews dating back to 8th century and 6th century BCE and countless migrations after that as a people without a land.   The actual end of the Jewish state some might say was around 70 A.D.[ii]  Prominent Influential Jews[iii] are ensuring that the Jewish state and Jewish people living outside Israel are supported and their ancestry and persecution are not forgotten.

250px-Jerusalem-sacked

Without a fundamental understanding of the Old Testament dating from roughly before 10,000 B.C. from Genesis through Abraham, Jacob, The Exodus, the re-establishment of Israel under David, Babylonian Captivity, the Greek period (Hellenism), and the Roman period (37 B.C to 324 AD) and all the prophets, kings, and various sects within in Judaism it is hard to give current day “Jewishness,” or for that matter Christianity, meaning and context.

The average American Catholic today lacks heart-felt knowledge of the Jewish tradition and experience beyond didactic learning from a pre-adolescent era of learning that relied on historical teaching and painful memorization.   Many would criticize the average Catholic today lacking “infused knowledge” of Christianity itself – that is knowledge that includes teaching of the known facts of Christian tenets but guided by connection to God within us, to Jesus Christ, to the Holy Spirit.  That is knowledge greater than our intellect or individual efforts can provide.    If we had this infused knowledge the prevalence of hypocrisy today would greatly be diminished.  The hypocrisy of white nationalism today and xenophobia globally would not be able to represent mainstream thought.[iv]

What does it mean to reconcile with my Jewish heritage?  The Old Testament stories in various literary forms repeats a common theme of the Jewish nation turning away from God:  adopting pagan ways of neighbors, directly performing unholy and sinful acts, using priestly status for personal power and wealth, and placing worldly goods above God.    These moral and theological principles did not disappear with the arrival of Jesus Christ, if anything; they were stripped of formulaic ritual and laid bare in stark truths with “The great commandment is not to judge one’s neighbor but rather to love one’s neighbor, for judgment is God’s alone.”[v]

great_commandment

We have also through time developed many ritualistic additions as well that have a tint of man-made institutions rather than divinely inspired gifts.

I cannot miss the modern-day peril of Christianity and America with the history of Judaism and Israel.  As Christians we live on a pluralistic society among atheist, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and within these large religious systems countless denominations or sects.  Additionally the idols of modernity of money, prestige, power, worldly possessions, and pursuing excess human comforts leave little room for living a holy and spiritually infused live style.  To reconcile with our Jewish ancestry we must first reconcile what it means to be Christian in a pluralistic society.  Our Jewish brethren struggled with this issue than and now as well.

Our Christian leaders today are too easily manipulated into being pawns of political machines under the cover of trying to advance our religious beliefs.  We try to mobilize our votes to support a party to legislate values rather than our values legislating behavior based on attraction, love, and living a holy life by example.    Losing sight of our own calling to live spiritual lives we turn to others to enforce spirituality.  We look outward rather than inward at what is wrong with society today.  Sometimes we find reasons to not look at how to think about excess wealth.

progressive

We give power to charlatans who are all too willing to find villains for us – at a price that is often opposed to the greatest commandment.   They capitalize on our fears of alienation and loss of identity.  Some are petrified of diaspora from within – a displacement of our white Christian dominance within the United States and globally.  This fear has us resorting to tribalism under the name brand of patriotism or nationalism.    As recently demonstrated in Charlottesville Jewish hatred was on display.

KKK

How can we Christians actively hate our own brothers by Old Testament biblical definition?  The entire Old Testament in our religion foreshadows Jesus Christ coming for all Jews and all people.

When our Jewish brothers are threatened we are threatened as well.  Our morality has already condemned us once before in history when we as a nation and as a religion were passive as the Holocaust was underway.   Our morality is condemning us daily today as we passively accept a war on immigrants, on minorities, on Jews, on Muslims, on Women, and on the poor of all nations through our narrow sited policies that are aimed at enriching the wealthy and powerful at the expense of, at a minimum, 4/5ths of the world’s population.

When nations and religions start running for bunkers of isolation and extreme humanely defined purity of what it means to be on the right side of holiness and humanity – we have fallen prey to a dialogue with the Devil – not God.

Within all of our nations, our religious groups, our socio-economic classes, our gender identity groups, our racial and ethnic groups lay some very evil people.  They must be contained and made visible without resorting to the must villainous instincts of our predatory natures, of our human nature.  For as evil as our enemies are, we have the capacity within us to fall prey to being evil ourselves.

Ask yourself when listening to dinner conversation, lunchroom banter, newspaper by-lines, social media memes, and our political class – is the aim aligned with the greatest commandment?

Very few Christians are called to live in isolation and prayer (Monastic life).  We are called to live with and next to people of all cultures and beliefs. We are called to love our neighbors and not to judge our neighbors.  We are called to evangelize in a prescribed fashion – not by sword, not by law, not by coercion, not by manipulation – but by living examples of mercy, compassion and love.

As a nation America will have its challenges and will continued to be attacked for its beacon of light and freedom.  We will have to defend ourselves for our world is still ruled by men’s laws and not God’s law.  Our defense of country and our freedoms should always be carried out in a manner that reflects sober and rationale actions that respect our appropriate use of nation’s power, wealth, and principles.

Just as we are called to exercise appropriate evangelism without judgment – we are called as a nation to use our wealth, our democracy, and our military in a manner that is good for all nations and people.  Without the moral imperative applied both domestically and internationally we are bound to suffer the fate of the Israelites.

Our enemies, specifically Russia, recognize that if they can spurn division and hate within our society and between our partners globally they can diminish our freedoms and strength without firing a shot.  We have other enemies as well, many of which are reactionary to our economic and political dominance that they feel is abused to the detriment of the world’s poor and oppressed.

Until recently America understood the principle of “Much is given, Much is expected.”  Our stewardship of global priorities aligns with our nation’s interest.

Unless our nation continues to use its wealth, power and status to improve global interest we will continue to be a top target of aggrieved toxic terrorist groups from within and outside our invisible walls.

The plight of the Jewish people should enlighten nations today on the dangers of being oppressed, of oppressing people, and putting wealth and power above human interest.  The Jewish problem is our problem – and it extends way beyond what it means to be Jewish.  It is about humanity itself.

To write about this is in and of itself an insult to all the veterans of WW II and all the victims of the Holocaust.     If the Holocaust and WW II could not provide a lasting lesson for humanity we are a purely pathetic species.  Is it no wonder we needed a messiah and a paraclete[vi] after he departed?   If only we would listen to the image and imprint of the divine that lives sometimes too deeply within our clouded souls.

7-gifts-of-holy-spirit-lg

Unlike the Jews returning to Israel we can return to true Christianity within our own homes, our own communities, within our own hearts.  Pope Francis is doing his part to effect the arc of spiritual progression and revelation of the Catholic Church.  Now we have to continue to do our part.

[i] http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/insideisrael/2015/December/Operation-Exodus-Prophecy-Fulfilled

[ii] http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-diaspora

[iii] http://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/50-most-influential-Jews-403742

[iv]  “Anti-Semitic and xenophobic movements did not disappear from Europe after the liberation of Auschwitz, just as white supremacist groups have lurked beneath the surface of American politics ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. What has changed is that these groups have now been stirred from their slumber by savvy politicians seeking to stoke anger toward immigrants, refugees and racial minorities for their own benefit. Leaders from Donald Trump to France’s Marine Le Pen have validated the worldview of these groups, implicitly or explicitly encouraging them to promote their hateful opinions openly. As a result, ideas that were once marginal have now gone mainstream.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/12/opinion/sunday/white-nationalism-threat-islam-america.html?_r=0

[v] https://rlp.hds.harvard.edu/life-and-teachings-jesus

[vi] Holy spirit or counselor

 

Advertisements

Praying the Psalms, Merton, Thomas[i]

A tight rope walk with Thomas Merton on one side of the chasm and King David (and several lesser known authors) on the other still leaves me struggling with the wisdom of the Psalms.  Our busy lives present many valleys to ponder.  Thomas Merton short book explores how the Psalms can be used in prayer to traverse chasms in life.

chasm

The barriers for me I believe is the context of King David’s time and the Old Testament language and experience being applied to modern times in modern vernacular.  More than that the Psalms are not meant to be read – they are meant to be sung in praise and celebration.  Experience any psalm played by talented musicians at the Psalm Project.[iii] Surely this how King David envisioned the Psalms to be used to praise God.

You can really feel the power of the psalms when attending charismatic churches that embrace full musical choirs.  It can be a powerful experiential spiritual journey.  Yet, even alongside hundreds or perhaps thousands of believers (mega churches), you can be left with only fleeting grace, fading before you exit the parking lot.  What is missing is substance.  Your substance:

The problem is therefore not to learn from the Psalms a totally new experience, but rather to recognize, in the Psalms, our own experience lived out and perfected, orientated to God and made fruitful, by the action of loving faith. Ultimately we do this by uniting our joys with the joys of Christ in the Psalms, our sorrows with the sorrows of Christ, and thus allowing ourselves to be carried to heaven on the tide of His victory.[iv]

 20150218-theme-verse-psalms

[v]

Merton knows just how to state things so plainly, so intuitively that you may miss the depth of what such a simple statement implies.  The substance of the Psalms applied to our own life with sincere contemplation (meditation), shared devotion (songs of praise at church or temple), and action (a continual awareness of God’s presence and ability to have all of our actions and decisions be guided by humble discernment).

This is not as hard as it sounds.  Merton describes it as merely only listening and acting to what we already know:

  “I delight to do Thy will, O my God, and Thy law is in the depths of my heart.” [vi]

But there are real human barriers for us all to content with every day:

Obedience:  It is interesting how people struggle with the idea of obeying an omniscient God.  I ask where people think their sense of right and wrong is derived from as individuals and as a collective.  When we are at our best are we not intuitively listening to “something” instilled on our nature, something profound, something universal that we have all come to recognize that all humans share across nations?  Call it the human spirit.  We know when the human spirit is distorted.  We recognize it immediately in our guts whether wrong actions are committed by the individual (Charles Manson), by extreme religiosity (ISIS today, The Crusades, and other religious wars), or by nation states (Hitler’s Germany).

Politics:  Nation states are particularly frightening today recognizing that charismatic leaders can bring their nations down the road of evil through fear, intimidation, and false patriotism with massive arsenals at their disposal. We live in and have a responsibility to be engaged in society.  You can be deceived into believing you are fighting for goodness.  In America we believe we stand for righteousness.  One TV interviewer had a Trump supporter saying whatever Donald Trump says is what God wills. This is a distortion of epic proportions.  Some other nations believe we have it deadly wrong.  Our current President has shaken the world’s confidence that we can stand for moral principles in times of turbulence.  Internally our nation is divided and torn by both politics and race.  We have put our faith in men and parties rather than our minds on truth and God.

Discernment:  It is not political.  It is not a party.  It is not a nation.  It is an individual responsibility.  It is to be actively lived and to be actively engaged with the world.

Selfishness:  How often our own self-interest is put ahead of the world’s poor.  How often are we challenged by our own desires or simply to avoid boredom?

Estrangement:  As a nation gone astray we can especially feel estranged from discernment, feeling isolated and definitively alone with our struggles where we may exclaim something akin to Psalm 12:

 “How long, O Lord, wilt thou utterly forget me? How long wilt thou hide Thy face from me?”[vii]

It can be grueling when as believers we have a “feeling” of spiritual dryness, a struggling moment or many moments piled high days on days on days on end?  Some refer to this as the dark night.  I cannot say I have experienced the “Dark Night.”  I have had many dark nights and times of misery — though I fear experiencing the depth that some saints have experienced before me or even the dark nights that others are experiencing tonight as I sit hear contemplating God and writing about psalms.

All of the above challenges and many more can take us away from truly knowing God or having a proximity to conscious awareness of God’s way from which to draw on for support and guidance.  It is a terrible lonesomeness.

“As the hind pants for the water brooks, so my soul pants after thee, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God: when shall I come and see the face of God? My tears have become my bread day and night, whilst they say to me daily: Where is thy God?”[viii]

Many great mystics and believers feel this same way often.  Many priest.  It is not something we can demand – it is a gift to have even a passing fragrance of God’s presence.

It is easier to fight man’s wars with man’s tools.   We can easily join the noise and fight fire with fire, anger with anger, violence with more violence — especially when we cannot “feel” God’s presence.  How weak are we that we need or year for that presence on demand when we are suffering? If we always felt God’s presence discernment and living God’s will certainly be a great deal easier.

Why turn to God’s way when revenge or counter attack seems called for and perhaps even on its surface, morally the right thing to do?

The reason why we submit entirely to His will is because He is good. We do not obey merely for the sake of obedience, but as a testimony to the supreme goodness of God Himself.[ix]

Again, Merton nails it with simplicity above.  Not with the nails of the cross, but with the reality of the majesty and unknowable goodness of God himself.  Meditating on why we should surrender to God’s way and continue to seek God’s way can be guided by spending serious time with different Psalms.  Doing so can prepare you for any circumstance every day, including the final circumstance, when our physical body surrenders to mortality.

 The Lord is my shepherd: I want for nothing; he makes me to lie in green pastures. He leads me to waters where I may rest; he restores my soul. —Psalm 22: 1-2.[x]

 We cannot by mere human ingenuity or talent exhaust all that is contained in the Psalms. Indeed, if we seek only to “get something out of them” we will perhaps get less than we expect, and generous efforts may be frustrated because they are turned in the wrong direction: toward ourselves rather than toward God.

God knows you – Psalm 139[xi]

psalms

[xii]

End notes:

[i]               Citation (APA): Merton, T. (2015). Praying the Psalms [Kindle iOS version].

[ii] https://www.google.com/search?q=chasm+definition&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiwiq-Fh_vVAhVG64MKHQigAtsQ_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=589#imgrc=-gYZF55lwKu83M

 

[iii]              http://thepsalmsprojectband.com/

[iv]              Page 25 · Location 161

[v]               http://overviewbible.com/psalms/

[vi]              Page 31 · Location 208

[vii]             Page 32 · Location 224

[viii]             Page 36 · Location 253

[ix]              Page 39 · Location 277

[x]               Page 41 · Location 287

[xi] Psalm 139New Living Translation (NLT)

Psalm 139

O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too great for me to understand!

I can never escape from your Spirit!
I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me
and the light around me to become night—
12     but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me,[b] O God.
They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me!

19 O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
Get out of my life, you murderers!
20 They blaspheme you;
your enemies misuse your name.
21 O Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
22 Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
for your enemies are my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

Footnotes:

  1. 139:8 Hebrew to Sheol.
  2. 139:17 Or How precious to me are your thoughts.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

[xii] https://www.google.com/search?q=book+of+psalms&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiG4Ljqo_vVAhWIxIMKHQkbBowQ_AUIDSgE&biw=1366&bih=638

 

The Art of Loving God by Francis de Sales

“Discover the secrets to growing holier through the simple things in life work, play, and rest. Learn to avoid the distractions that trouble and weary your soul and you’ll soon be able to focus your energy simply on loving God!”[i]

I encountered this little book in two visits to an adoration chapel spanning the last two weeks.   The pursuit of God’s presence is really human folly.  He is present, here, now and always.  We have to actively work to run from this presence – and have been doing so, both individually and collectively since Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden.[ii]

main-qimg-3004b4e2902f594a2633885ec3a8e7d0-c

From that moment on we have spent our time seeking and desiring things of this world that could recreate the joy and peace of being one with the father.  Nothing made by man has come close.  Not to say that we have not destroyed ourselves and others trying to achieve something akin to being Godlike or obtaining the feeling of worthiness of being in God’s presence.   Great wealth, waging war, addictions, personal achievement, devastating failures, adrenaline seeking, and many other human desires and experiences serve as cheap, transitory substitutes for the real presence of God.

That is not to say all of these desires are evil or bad in and of themselves.  Some are admirable, some are necessary for self-defense, and others are testaments to the human imagination and great gifts we possess as God’s creation in areas like vocational life, arts, sports, music and literature.  And others are perhaps just evil and bad (think seven deadly sins – last post).

There is a great mediator for this if we can learn to be still.  In stillness we can listen to and be guided by the Holy Spirit. With willingness, commitment, humility and healthy desire we can learn to listen and are open to the presence of God while we are performing every action worthy of being God’s work.  God’s work is any work that is done sincerely and genuinely in his name, his true name, as driven by prayer and proper discernment, as by Providence.   This work we can do if we are careful with how we treat and love each other as we are in the presence of God — for somewhere, sometimes deeply hidden, the presence of God is written deep inside everyone you encounter.   To encounter another Human being is to encounter God.

When you achieve living in this manner, no matter the turbulence and suffering around you, the interior of your being remains calm and steadfast in the storm.  Tremendous success, miserable failure, or just plain old mediocre cannot bring you down.  You know intuitively all of these things are temporal and none of them are yours – you live for one thing and one thing only and everything else is but a means to that end.

Olympic champions like the 1936 – 9 man row American Row boat champion’s new what surrender was in action when they gave all they had and then some to each other –in blind trust and being – to transcend the sport and become legendary to this day.  Prayer and the spiritual life can be like that sometimes.  It can take great effort and provide seemingly little return for many a day.   Life can impose serious obstacles to one’s faith.  The boys in the boat faced many as well to just get to Germany – and then many more before they crossed the finish line to win the gold.   By the time they won – most of them knew they had won something far more dearly than a man-made medal and the spectacle of the 1936 Olympics.

cedar

 

I cannot tell you what that one thing is you can live for after reading St. Francis de Sales work or what the boy’s in the boat found in pursuit of excellence.  You have to read for yourself.  The Boys in the Boat Book is by Daniel James Brown.  One read in prayer and the other in leisure – I can say these books can inspire and change you.     The world will look and feel a little different.

Among other things, St. Francis de Sales spends sometime in this book on modesty of bearing, interior modesty, and modesty of speech.   One does not become Olympic rowing champions without excessive practice.  One does not approach a holy life without effort either.   There is a chapter on patience as you seek perfection and also a subtle tricky piece on suffering and surrendering.  The latter can potentially upend your understanding to see both suffering and surrendering being gifts we cannot afford to give away.

This little book makes things that seem very complicated very simple.   All the greats make it look that way!  It is simple if you are willing – greatness will come – though you may become to modest to show it to anyone else!

george

[i] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/332748.The_Art_of_Loving_God

[ii] https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&tbm=isch&q=adam+and+eve&chips=q:adam+and+eve,g_3:forbidden+fruit&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjuor6LkPTVAhVESiYKHR6ZACcQ4lYILSgA&biw=1366&bih=638&dpr=1#imgrc=NDGuIGCeKADTjM:

 

Becoming Who You Are:  Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints by Martin SJ, James

Father James Martin is a priest-author that I find writes in manner that leads one to understand the mystery of Christ and provides tools that help the believer (or unbeliever) deepen their faith.[i]  In a mere 90 Kindle pages (90 minutes) he makes the case to invite you to become a saint!  This book is a great way to skim the surface of pursuing a deeper faith.

boat

My reflections – applying this book to my journey with God

“Find your own Calcutta”[ii]

Inevitably we will suffer in this life from spiritual, physical, and mental anguish.  Our own suffering and perhaps more importantly the suffering of others, left unattended can take us away from God.  When Mother Teresa says above, find your own Calcutta, she is speaking about helping others who are suffering.  Helping others is a powerful spiritual experience but likely will fall short of providing a sustained peace unless we have been attuned to our own suffering and our response to these trials as well.

My own suffering took the form of alcoholic parents, addictions in the family, untimely deaths, shattered confidence and self-esteem as a youngster and young adult, varying degrees of speech fluency, micro personal defeats, and my struggle with alcohol, periods of crisis of faith, and numerous bouts with the seven deadly sins.  The latter I shall define as self-imposed suffering as these biblical sins drive pain and misery in human kind.

77bfa26a-7aeb-434b-8aa9-ea8f783c5610_560_420

[iii]

My faults are not glamorous or dramatic enough to warrant an Augustinian biography.  My suffering is not uncommon to many.  Relative to others my ability to claim martyr status is pathetic.  They are enough though to deflate pursuit of seeking a holy life – never mind being a saint.     The dialectic of suffering imposed by external uncontrollable events and suffering self-imposed is a surgical cleaver that separates many from faith.  Not to mention failing at to carry such little weight (suffering) relative to what the Saints have carried is very crushing indeed.  How can Father Martin invite the likes of me to be a Saint?

“But no one leads that proverbial “charmed life.”  Everyone’s life is a full measure of graces and blessings, as well as struggles and challenges.  And if we consistently compare our own complicated reality with the supposed perfection of another’s life, is it any wonder that we wish we were other than who we are?”[iv]

It is easy to forget this when in the throes of life.  Father Martin mentions that Merton and Nouwen had the following in common:

“… a lifelong process of self-examination and self-criticism and self-revelations had a point; it was not simply a narcissistic quest for self-knowledge.  Rather, it was a discipline undertaken to allow them to become more loving and more centered on God.”[v]

It is here where I can take refuge, in contemplation.  In contemplation I can take stock in my calling and have gratitude for my many blessings – including my struggles.  In many ways my struggles and suffering have defined who I am today:

“More often than not, those very weaknesses are the most important paths to holiness, because they remind you of your reliance on God.”[vi]

They have provided me with humility and strength that have fueled my passion in the field of social work.  I have had, to date, an excellent career with 14 wonderful years serving homeless families and 13 years serving consumers living with severe and persistent mental illness.  The work I have done with them within my limited role and skill set is not mine.  It has been built on the struggles I have had, suffering experienced, education provided, and skillful people that have surrounded me that both enabled me to lead and provided leadership when needed.  It is daunting work and continues to evolve and call me to serve a different role – none of which has been natural to me. Yet time and time again I am provided with alliances and intelligent people that support the calling I have – to advocate and provide services to vulnerable populations in the most respectful and passionate way possible.  My vocation is one calling.  Interestingly my faith and beliefs are not on stage in my work.  I work alongside people of different faiths and no faith at all.  In a way, I am a “hidden contemplative,” in plain sight doing God’s work (provided I am doing it well).  I also have a calling as a husband, a father, and a community member.  Each of those comes with responsibilities and challenges as well.

mylittlewayistheway

Father Martin quotes St. Therese of Lisieux to make the point that living a saintly life within your calling in life is indeed possible.  “The Little Way” is in doing what you do, whatever that maybe, doing it well.  Whatever you do it is indeed difficult to consistently and persistently do it well over a long period of time – especially if it is deemed a little thing!   How many of us secretly want to be great writers, mystics, or the best in our fields – to do great things worthy of public admiration?  We are all not called to live the life of a hermit, to be great authors, to be priest, martyrs, or the best in our fields.  Thank goodness for that as we cannot be what we are not – we can only be ourselves.  Our strength is in our diversity and our interdependence.

Seeking a contemplative daily prayer can be very simple.[vii]    I have recommended before and will recommend again here the “Daily Examen” below from St. Ignatius.   All of the above is based on a firm willingness to seek God, and for this writer, to seek Jesus Christ.

Take a look today at all your actions and thoughts.  If you had the opportunity to change any of them by applying “What would Jesus think, say or do” would you have acted differently?  And if your answer is yes, do you have the courage to do so and the perseverance to continue to refine your being to be aligned with spiritual calling?    And if you found nothing to be changed – are you truly honest with yourself – or are you not taking on a greater calling that will present you with even greater challenges?

Are we not all fallible perfectionists at heart?

perfection

Don’t Despair – find a Daily Prayer routine:  

  1. Become aware of God’s presence. 
  2. Review the day with gratitude. 
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow.

 

[i] https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin/

[ii] Mother Teresa pg 85

[iii] https://www.google.com/search?q=seven+deadly+sins&rlz=1C1TSNJ_enUS718US718&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwicu5WE5-bVAhVJ34MKHeNSCo0Q_AUICigB&biw=1366&bih=589#imgrc=SMCez42iRpEcPM:

[iv] Pg. 30

[v] Pg. 57

[vi] Pg. 86

[vii] http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen

 

No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton

If only we could be an Island onto ourselves the realities of our personal, financial, and socio-political situation would be but just a minor annoyance no greater than an industrious fly begging for our attention.  We could be lost in the solitude of spirituality – one with God in a romantic monastery living a simple life – provided physical and spiritual sustenance by God’s providence.  Unless called to this lifestyle with irrefutable thunderous revelations – for most of us this would be benign spiritual selfishness, perhaps malignant if at the expense of some greater calling that we have ignored.

That luxury is not afforded to ordinary man – and I have an intuition that the solitude and serenity comes at a greater price than most of us are willing to pay.  For most of us, spirituality and oneness with God comes from how we deal with others.  In a word, love for our fellow man.   And even this is easily corruptible if we fall prey to self-sanctification by our self-sacrifice for others.  How saintly am I today?   Shall I give everything I have for the other?

“Heroism in this sacrifice is measured by madness:  it is all the greater when it is offered for a more trivial motive.”  Pg. 15

It is easier to be heroic when it is romantic to do so; the reward is great, or simply the accomplishment self-affirming. There is a place for this heroism.  It still has a measure of honor and not to be substituted for cowardice or simple indifference in the face of another’s adversity.

The spiritually heroic abandon themselves to the “economy of Divine Providence.”   What the hell is Divine Providence?

“I must let faith elevate, heal, and transform the light of my mind.  If he is merciful, and if my freedom is a gift of His mercy, I must show my trust in his mercy by making use of my free will.  I most let hope and charity purify and strengthen my human liberty and raise me to the glorious autonomy of a son of God.” Pg. 16

This is where heroic actions get very tedious.  They may not be well received, acknowledged or noticed.  Worse yet they may be noticed and denounced and attract great trouble and discontent.  They act without an expectations or ownership of being the creator of the action – for the hero is simply acting on what he knows has to be done as a result of sincere contemplation and rigorous honesty with himself (or herself) and his/her God .  It is a way of life that is applied to every action – big or small, and yet humbly completed without drawing attention to one self, unless called to do so.

What is not heroic?  We are given so many decisions to make daily in our personal, financial, and socio-political spheres of influence.  Should not our actions and voice be heard and informed by our conscience?   Our actions are not heroic if we take moral short-cuts – if we fail to dive into the complexities and moral conundrums of our time, knowing that we will inevitably fall short of attaining perfection or even near perfection.  How often have we fallen to the following moral short-cut:

“The immature conscience is not its own master.  It is merely the delegate of the conscience of another person, or a group, or a party, or a social class, or of a nation or of a race. Therefore it does not make real moral decisions of its own; it simply parrots the decisions of others.  It does not make judgements of its own, it merely “conforms” to the party line.” Pg. 27

How often have good people been led astray by powerful nation states, charismatic leaders, political party, or religious fanaticism?    How holy is our current president’s actions (United States), beliefs, and policies?  There is a contingent in the United States that stand by this man for their sense of self-righteousness and for perceived gains in their own economic being and sense of power.  Could they really support this President of their conscience allowed them to do a truly deep dive into his behavior and his policies?  I think not.  In situations like this, let me quote Merton again:

We must withdraw ourselves, to some extent, from effects that are beyond our control and be content with the good will and the work that are our expression of our inner life.”  Pg. 118

This does not mean withdraw entirely or to assume without a pause that our position is the right and holy position.  While we maybe sanctified in truth we are equally at risk to use our knowledge to be proud:  “knowledge puffeth up” our sense of importance.

It is with humility that we most find our way.  We have guidepost all around us.  Thomas Merton says, “We judge the invisible reality of His Will by the visible and sometimes contemptible signs which show us where His will is found.”

There are simply too many good quotes in this book to capture in this blog.   Merton goes to great depth to depict the balance between interior purity (pursuit of) and external attention.   He finishes with a startling foray into the moment of our death.  If it comes to us as an unwelcome stranger we have probably failed to manage the balance between interior purity and external attention.  (Pg. 263)

A great primer for understanding prayer, conscience, gratitude, sincerity, humility and pursuit of being in the proximity of a holy life.

merton

Cousins: Immortal Enemies?

A sibling rivalry between half-brothers began when the youngest received his father’s birth-right and the eldest went off to a foreign land with a different blessing to prosper as well.

Generations later great religions would wage holy wars claiming true authenticity to a covenant with God.  To put it another way, 3.6 billion people (54% of the world’s population) belong to one of three Abrahamic religions:  Christianity (33%), Islam (16%), and Judaism (.2%).[i]

Abrahamic religions are religions that derive their lineage from the original covenant God had with Abraham.  There were covenants before with Adam and Eve, with Noah, and later with Moses.  However, Abraham had a formal unwavering Covenant from God.  The Old Testament mentions the word covenant 280 times!  The Covenant with Abraham was a lasting promise where God promised land and success to all of Abraham’s descendants.

Much of our law and our societies are based on agreed covenants between people, states, and nations that it is worth defining the term here:

Definition of covenant

  1. 1: a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement :  compact… international law, which depends upon the sanctity of covenants between rulers. — George H. Sabine
  2. 2a:  a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action the deed conveying the land contained restrictive covenantsb :  the common-law action to recover damages for breach of such a contract[ii]

These three religions all believe in one God but have very different and clashing views.  The half-sibling connection?   Abraham had two sons:  Ismael the first son and Isaac the second.  Ismael went off to a land that would become Muslim and predominately Arab.  Islam claims lineage from Ismael while Judaism and Christianity from Isaac.  It is not as simple as I have stated here – but this enough detail for the purpose of this writing.

Portions of the nation of Islam are at war with non-Muslims today.   The Koran and other teachings of Islam have plenty of Holy Scripture references from their prophet Muhammad that legitimize violence in the name of God.  You either live within the “Abode of Islam” or “Abode of War.”  Mohammed’s early years in Mecca and later years in Medina saw a military shift in both his actions and his revelations (114 Suras) that were not written down until about 118 years after his death in 750 Common Era (CE)!   His prominent preaching occurred from 610 CE until his death in 632 CE.  The move to Medina marks the end of “The Era of Ignorance” in 622 CE and is called the Year of the Hegirae!

Death to the Pope

Christianity, a little bit older than Islam had its periods of violence as well.  However, it is difficult to attribute Christianity’s Crusades with the writing and teaching of Jesus Christ.   Their folly into violence I place squarely on human beings misusing scripture and being all too human.

Crusades

Judaism is the oldest and is accepted by both Christianity and Islam!   However, Judaism does not accept the Prophets Jesus Christ or Mohammad.  Christians do not accept Mohamad!  Both believe their Prophets were the last messengers from God.  The Old Testament has many different references to violence and war.  To be fair, most of the references are from the Jewish people seeking relief  from oppression or slavery.

violence

All three religions have roots in helping the poor and being oppressed in different epochs of time.  By sheer numbers alone, and if one is not a Holocaust denier, the Jewish people have endured the brunt of religious oppression.

To put this time period into perspective let’s look at time along a continuum with the Creation of the World being the year 1 and today being the year 5777 if time were linear without the B.C. and C.E.

Day 1:  Creation of the World

Day 6:  Adam and Eve – Garden of Eden (say 3500 – 3900 BC)

Year 1656:  Noah and the Great Flood

Year 1812:   Abraham (The Covenant)

Year 2240:  Moses

Year 2494:  David unites the Israelites!

Year 2594:  Israel finds itself in-between Egypt and Assyria – two great powers that would overrun them many times.

Year 3490:  Jesus Christ is born.

Year 3525:  Jesus is crucified at age 34 (say 30 CE).

Year 3565:  Earliest writings begin somewhere from 40 to 60 years after Christ death.

Year 3815:  Emperor Constantine adopts/converts to Christianity.  This is troublesome in the long run.  The church that started out as non-political gets wedded to the state.  Pope Urban the II and Pope Innocent the IVth would condone force for converting non-believers down the line.   Nowhere is this in the writings and preaching of Jesus Christ or in his actions.

Year 4100:  Mohammad is Born (say 610 CE).

Year 4132:  Mohammad Dies (say 632 CE).

Year 4236:  Koran written capturing Mohamad’s revelations (Suras).

Year 5777:  The actual year is now 2017.

If each generation passed every 40 years on average we have only been around 144 generations.  How far back does your family tree go?  How far back does your oral tradition go?  How knowledgeable are your kids regarding the history of your family, your nation, your faith?

There is plenty room for error in almost 6000 years of human existence.

The three religions

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam:  The Monotheists Course Guide by F.E. Peters, PHD (A Modern Scholars Course) attempted to provide an objective viewpoint of the similarities and differences between these three religions.  I enjoyed his detailed views on Abraham, Jesus Christ, and Mohammad and the traditions and sacred writings that later formed the three great religions.   I am Catholic and hence a subjective reader.   The history of Islam here and the life and times of Mohammad were very troubling in this course.

The degree to which Jihad is ingrained in the prophet’s actions and the religions sacred writings is utilized today to justify ISIS and other violence.

The history of Judaism has war and violence as well both in actions and in scripture.  However, their beliefs and practices have had many reformations over the last 6000 years and they account for only .2 percent of the world population.

Christianity does not have the scriptural or the prophet example to justify violence accept it does accept the Old Testament.  However, Jesus Christ is a redeemer who gave us a new covenant that for all practical purposes abolished many old ways.

If you are a Muslim reading my post please reply and explain how the “Abode of War” and Muhammad’s violent history is not applicable today?  If you are Jewish, please explain to me where and when the second coming will be here and how a God is only here for the “Chosen People.”  If you are a Christian, it has been a longtime since Christ death.  When exactly is the end of the world?   There are too many questions!

E Peters covered an excellent review on how people pursue an understanding and achieving a proximity to God: Direct revelation (thru no effort on our part – as revealed to our ancestors and given to us in scripture), Theology (formal study and pursuit of knowledge), Asceticism (self-denial of worldly things and pursuit of God’s way), and Mysticism.   The latter is the most intriguing and dangerous.  We have very few true mystics in our history.  How many of us have truly heard the voice of God talk to us? Too often men of this world purport to be mystics for evil purposes or believe they are mystics without having a true relationship with the God of Abraham.

I raise these avenues of pursuit of a higher understanding of a spiritual transcendence as religion as it is today cannot be static.   People of the word of God, of the Abrahamic line, are not acting and promoting a lifestyle that portrays a transcendent God.

To be Holy in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is to aspire to live a holy life.    If F.E Peter’s description of our religions being cousins is at all close to reality, we have in 6000 years destroyed our sense of kinship.   In the name of man alone each has claimed moral authority without legitimate sanction over the other.

As a member of the Christian faith, I am saddened by the lack of evidence and historical verification that is present for Islam and its founder.  Much of what is written cannot be verified by other sources.  My inclination is Islam cannot be an extenuation of the Abrahamic line.  The Jews feel about Jesus Christ.

Yet, I know many Muslims that are peaceful people and follow a reformed set of Islamic principles.   But they cannot define for me the justification for deviation from the Koran and the more orthodox Islamic scholars.  There is a bridge between me and Muslim beliefs that escapes my yearning for ecumenical thinking and bridging our faiths on our commonalities.   I know the orthodox Jews may feel the same way about Christians – but at least I can understand their disbelief in Jesus Christ and my church.

I am living in a glass house as well.  I cannot throw rocks at my cousin religions as my own house is in a state of disrepair in many ways.

Are we Immortal Enemies?  Have we created a hatred and suspicion so deep that we cannot possibly approach a transcendent God?

Let us assume, that tomorrow was the day of reckoning.  And we were called to be accountable for our actions in threes.   Together, three cousins we are with Three faiths o facing a transcendent God together.   And we are asked to explain just how is it that the three of us, cousins by descendants, linked by the covenant, stand before God without working out our differences before this day?

Or even without the messianic end of the world coming in our time, how are we living up to being holy, to striving to create heaven on earth, to preparing ourselves and our brothers to live in harmony now?

If the age of Ignorance was truly over as proclaimed by Islam would we not be farther along at this time in our history?

transcendent

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abrahamic_religions

[ii] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/covenant

Are we keeping our part of our covenant with God as we understand him, whether we be Jewish, Catholic or Muslim?

broken

Mercy? Self-Compassion?

“And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”  Micah 6:8

A simple calling that many of us aspire to practice in all our daily affairs.  Micah is ancient, from the Old Testament, 686 B.C., telling us the importance of justice, kindness, and humility.

We may secretly believe we are doing a fine job – or may even boast of our temporal success!  The latter instantaneously crashes our spiritual intentions before our vocal cords cease vibrating, before the words form, before sounds from the air on our God given breath escape our mouth, our humility is lost.

If only we had errors of omission to be concerned about perhaps we could get a pass for these transgressions.  What about our active permission or even execution of unjust acts, meanness, a simple claim of moral superiority or self-righteous indignation.

We are a long way from Micah’s days and have had generations to lose our sense of spirituality, of universal truths, of a desire to have and maintain a conscious contact with God.  So far removed are we as a people that we are numb to micro and macros transgressions we see every day — hunger, poverty, oppression, violence, and the many forms of the seven deadly sins.  Even if we were to claim that we are powerless over the society in which we live, we still have our own individual actions which no doubt fail not only God’s standards, but our very own watered down standards, which at the slightest provocation, can be adjusted to meet our sense of our grandiose circumstances.  Our afflictions are so high even Job would tremble to be in our shoes.  Sometimes I think he actually might be trembling for our human condition these days.  All is not lost.

Author Anne Lamont presents a solution for our miserable actions in her book Hallelujah Anyway.  As far as I can tell Anne has had plenty of challenges herself (mental health, alcoholism, and trauma) in her life and has come out the other side with a career of multiple successful books.

This book takes a look at the “lingering effects of Trauma and Paralyzing Fear” on people’s ability to live a holy life and maintain a conscious contact with God – or even to maintain a conscious contact with their own sense of self.  Mercy and forgiveness are foundational:[i]

Practicing Mercy towards others and towards yourself is the answer she defines for all the broken souls that are seeking peace.  Anne Lamott says “Mercy is radical kindness.” This is not a unique concept for excellent health – it has many authors from many different fields promoting its value.

Kindness

Starting with oneself is almost always a good idea.  I know several of my weaknesses can be captured by Thomas Merton’s broad stroke of a pen:

“Knowing at the same time the weakness and imperfection of my own soul fettered by attachments, I will above all pray earnestly and humbly for the grace without which I can never hope to conquer my impatience, irritability, aggressiveness and self-righteous impulses to judge and punish other men.”[ii]

I have not lost these negative traits since reading his book, though I like to believe, I have arrested and entangled their freedom to run rampant without circumspection, constraint, or outright arrest!  And what about all the resentments of others past – and those current, that show no restraint or awareness at all of the harms they are committing?

How am I to cope with my own fallibility while also contending with historical “trauma and fear,” current stressors and insecurity, and outright insanity of other people?

Mercy

It is not just the old man Micah that recommends Mercy.   The Bible has many references to a Merciful God.[iii]  Understanding the importance of mercy and forgiveness is a lifelong journey and can cover quite a broad terrain of concrete action.[iv]    If you prefer a psychological look at Mercy and Forgiveness perhaps “The Enright Process Model of Psychological Forgiveness” can shed some light on the power of Mercy or at least the how to approach Mercy for self and others.[v]  Or checkout the International Forgiveness Institute[vi].

I prefer for this writing to stay focused on the spiritual calling to practice Mercy in all our affairs.

“We do not have a God Who is incapable of understanding and sharing our weaknesses. Quite the contrary! Precisely because of His mercy God became one of us: ‘For by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin’. In Jesus, therefore, we are able not only to touch the mercy of God with our hands, but we are inspired to become instruments of His mercy. It is easy to speak of mercy, yet more difficult to become its witness. This is a path that is lifelong and which should not be interrupted. Jesus has said to us that we must be ‘merciful as the Father”. It is a lifelong endeavour.”

Pope Francis:  Vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday, April 2, 2016[vii]

And thankfully we are not alone in seeking and providing Mercy:

It is love which takes the first step, which does not depend on human merit but on immense gratuitousness. It is divine solicitude that nothing can impede, not even sin, because it is able to go beyond sin, to overcome evil and forgive it.[viii]

The Holy Spirit

Practicing Mercy while being just, demonstrating kindness, and maintaining humility is a way of life that is difficult to maintain in today’s world.  While there are many psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits to living this way that is not why we should live this way.

We should live this way as it is God’s will and to live in accordance with God’s will is right and just.  But how do I know what is God’s will?   You cannot trust your own sense of providence alone.  Too many people are deceived by false shadows of religiosity that are far from holy.

If you are Catholic perhaps some reflection on the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit.[ix]  Depending on the immensity of the decision you are facing – having others (spiritual advisors, friends, professionals) maybe a good adjunct to your spiritual journey and practicing discernment.

I would be remiss to not mention Saint Faustina Kowalska, an uneducated Polish nun who, in obedience to her spiritual director, wrote a diary of about 600 pages recording the revelations she received about God’s mercy.[x]       I have a preference for non-formulaic prayer and conversation – meditative and/or Lectio Divina.    Sometimes the readings of Saints or theologians can spark the spiritual imagination.

Perhaps the best advice I have is pray, strive, and do not take yourself too seriously if you are putting your best self out there.  We are imperfect creatures.  Trust in something higher!

Jesus I Trust In You

[i] Hallelujah ANYWAY by Anne Lamott

[ii] [i] Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation (Action and Union)

[iii] 2 Samuel 24:14, Psalm 86:5, Psalm 145:9, Luke 6:36, Ephesians 2:4, Titus 3:5, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:3, Matt 9:13, Psalms 51:1-2

[iv] http://www.stamadison.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Fr-Zyg-handout.pdf

[v] https://couragerc.org/wp-content/uploads/Enright_Process_Forgiveness_1.pdf

[vi] https://internationalforgiveness.com/about-us.htm

[vii] https://www.ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/popes-quotes-mercy-god

[viii] https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2016/documents/papa-francesco_20160113_udienza-generale.html

[ix] http://www.stpatpv.org/rcia/gifts_of_the_spirit.pdf

[x] http://www.thedivinemercy.org/message/

 

Is your God Dead by George Yancy[i]

“Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied

with the life you’re living?”[ii]

On June 19, 2017 George Yancy challenged you via New York Times opinion piece to consider is your God Dead?

What does it mean to believe in a “Living God?”  My belief is in a living God.  However, I cannot attest to having seen him in person, to have heard his voice, or felt his touch.  My God is not available to me with the realm of the five senses.  I have experienced my God with a subjective sixth sense, a spirituality that relies on intuition, faith, and the grace of God.  My belief, however, is useless to the seeker of God who has no access to the presence of God within him.

We do have traditions, manuscripts, and archaeological evidence for much of the scriptural text that have been preserved and passed down to us.    Still that is a dead letter as well without something more.

Dead letter dept.

Yancy argues that your God, or at least the God of many is dead.   The evidence is all around us as we collectively accept the poverty and inhumanity of the Human condition.  He makes his point very personal.  Raises it on an individual level as to what do you represent as the living word of your God.  In the end, belief without action is not belief at all.   He quoted Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation:

“There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.”

A very pessimistic view indeed amidst all the suffering and chaos we see today.  That being said, our biblical ancestors were not free of terrible suffering, oppression, and sin either.  Our religion has evolved and progresses with our progression as a human species.

We are at a turning point in America that is stunning.  We profess outwardly belief, but when pressed our convictions can be witheringly weak, our actions hypocritical, and our proximity to a conscious understanding and unity with God shattered.    Yet many will wear their affiliation on their sleeve.  Affiliation and baptism alone will not alleviate our guilt. What guilt?  You go to church.  You pay your taxes.  You voted pro-life.  You even gave to charity! You pray often.  Perhaps this is not enough:

After all, prayer and rejoicing can also function as forms of narcissism, as ways to drown out the screams of the poor, the oppressed.

It is not enough if we walk by our neighbor in distress, if we support global poverty and oppression, if we stand idly by as our democracy turns its back on both local and global responsibilities. This can and should be a nightmare for us as Christians and other faiths as well:

“The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference.”

If we are at all spiritual, the prophet’s words must be ringing in our souls during quiet contemplation.  Perhaps it is a simple as a Marley song, open our eyes, look within, and examine if we are satisfied with the life we are living?

Yancy concludes the article with the following quote:

“I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity.” 

 god of

If your God is not dead, reveal him to others in your actions and words.  Keep your prayers to yourself – but let the light of your God shine brightly in compassion and love of all people.

[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/19/opinion/is-your-god-dead.html?action=click&contentCollection=Middle%20East&module=Trending&version=Full&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nv584jRwh0s

 

Spiritual Direction and Meditation by Thomas Merton

Seeking a greater union with God through prayer and meditation I sought out the works of Thomas Merton.  This very tiny book, Spiritual Direction and Meditation, after much discourse and examination of the benefits of pray informed meditation, enough to provide a course of action and reassurance, takes aim at our human ego just after cresting the mid-way point of the book:

 “Knowing at the same time the weakness and imperfection of my own soul fettered by attachments, I will above all pray earnestly and humbly for the grace without which I can never hope to conquer my impatience, irritability, aggressiveness and self-righteous impulses to judge and punish other men.”[i]

Irrevocably drawn in by the power and beauty of seeking greater unity with God by this point, flight from my own human failings is not an option.   But what if the book started off this way?  Would I have continued to read it with the same investment?  Would you?

I adore many of my worldly attachments to the point of constant distraction from unity with God.  Many of these attachments are perfectly healthy and rational affections that could even be defined as my calling and my duty (family, work, friends, and writing).   Others not so much like chess, poker, political junkie, sports and other adrenaline inducing activities.  Not so long ago the allure of the dark side of alcohol as well.  Aside from the latter, I have no intention of divesting myself from these attachments!

As for my impatience, irritability, and aggressiveness – is this not a normal response to the insanity we are faced with every day?   Some of these attributes drive innovation and success in my life.   Do I have a self-righteous impulse to judge and punish other men?  No, I have a self-directed mission to be an advocate for the oppressed and underserved.  I have an obligation to be decisive and to act.  God did not give us ability to have it buried in the ground hidden away.

It is easy to fall into the trap of arrogance with only a droplet of spiritual attainment being granted to the individual soul.  But note the last part of the quote – “to judge and punish other men!”  How often do we judge other men?  How often do we punish others based on our judgments?  Do not rule this out.   Punishing another can take many different forms that may not be obvious initially and be far from a benevolent act despite one’s intention to right a wrong.

How many fervent Catholics go astray with judging and condemning women walking into Planned Parenthood?  Are they inspired by true compassion and love when they are walking the pavement with murder signs held high?  Are they doing it for the glory of God, to defend the unborn, or to raise their own sense of righteous indignation?  How many are ready to punish these women regardless of any circumstance?

worthy

But what are we to do when confronted with the many evils of today?  This is our suffering.  This is our cross.  Thomas Merton says we are “obliged” to follow the example of Jesus Christ and to reproduce in ourselves his patience, meekness, and tranquility.  “He who does not take up his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”[ii] What an order.  All “I” wanted was meditation, prayer, and peace!

No wonder Mystic St. John wrote “The Dark Night of the Soul”[iii] that captures what can be a violent confrontation.  It is easy to get ahead of oneself and get lost in “false mysticism.”  Let’s take a step back.

Hence, entering into prayer and meditation I must pray humbly for grace to guide my meditation, my prayers, and my actions.  Thomas Merton’s book is packed with singular lines that can be expounded on ad infinitum.  However, the true intent is to inspire spiritual meditation that brings one closer to God, but here and now, and at the end of times.

Only way to evaluate the writing is to apply the knowledge.  On completing the book, I decided to apply Merton’s writings to my adoration hour.

“This implies trust in God and a sincere abandonment to the Holy Spirit, from whom we can at any time rely on the light of divine Counsel, provided that we are conscientious religious and try to be men of prayer.” 

This is another metaphysical challenge to jump with for complete abandonment and rely on the Holy Spirit for divine counsel.  I don’t know about you, but most believers, even the most devout, have had the grace of direct revelation from the Father, The Son, or The Holy Spirit.  And the latter is the most challenging concept.  Merton does not pause on this and presents simple direction on practical matters (no one can meditate for you) and principals that can guide (seeking union with God, having patience, having humility, having faith*, and with sincere searching and love ask for guidance).

*“We cannot possibly bring our souls to renounce our most powerful natural desires unless we somehow have a real and conscious appreciation of our contact with something better.”

But where do I begin.  Merton recommended “Lectio Divina” as a normal foundation for an interior life of meditation and prayer.  I am somewhat familiar with this from the influence of St. Ignatius spiritual practices.  Simply stated read sacred scripture deeply and sit with it meditatively or with spiritual imagination.

I placed myself in a sacred space (adoration chapel).  I prepared myself for prayer.  I humbly asked for grace and guidance for the time I was to be present and praying that evening. A large bible was within arm’s reach.  The gospel of John, chapter 14, on Last Supper Discourses was the scripture that presented itself.[iv]

John 14

Spiritual imagination transformed me to being in the room.  Disciples Thomas, Philip and Judas were struggling to accept Jesus’s plan to depart.   Anger, fear, disillusionment permeated the room.  I myself could not accept having travelled so far with Jesus, to have such an abrupt end.  Truth be told I did not think an end would come once I saw his miracles with my own eyes. But now, everything is upside down.  Outside these doors are enemies that I cannot stand up too without Jesus.  I do not hear the word of the father the way he does.  I do not trust my fellow disciples to stay.  My friends and family from my past will ridicule me on return – not listen to me preach the words of Jesus.  Jesus speaks to me.  At this point meditative prayer is broken with the hilarity that I could summon up the words Jesus would say to me!  His words to the other apostles sufficed.

And then, after clearly detailing the inevitability of his departure, Jesus tells me about the advocate he will give us:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.

This is important to me.  I have been delving for a week or to now into prayer seeking greater understanding of the Holy Spirit and not quite getting it. And hear, Jesus was telling me directly about the advocate.  My complaining about following Jesus all this way above in my spiritual imagination became my complaining about my life journey and its hardships.

In a crack of silence, the journey and providence of traveling from Pelham bay in the Bronx as a child to the middle of Delaware was filled with the unseen hand of God at different turning points in my life.  And still in my obstinacy, despite all the graces I have been given, I question God…..Dela Where?     In an instant the worry and hindsight on how I arrived at where I am today were insignificant.

Significance is that ultimate truth lies within us if we pursue listening to our spiritual consciousness and are open to the mystery of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  The advocate is there for us within us if we ask for it and we look for it with pure intention and sincerity to want union with God.

That sincerity will acknowledge the weakness and imperfection of our fettered souls with a desire to seek him. I do not know about conquering my imperfections.  I can only humbly ask God’s grace to eliminate those that can be ameliorated, help me carry those imperfections that are my cross bear, help me to not hurt others as a result of my weaknesses, and empower me to live loving as Jesus Christ exemplified.

Untethered thoughts cascaded into pleas:

I am no saint.  I am not a bible thumper or theologian.  I am damaged by my own fears and desires. I am engulfed in humanity and vulnerable to the attractions of the seven deadly sins. I cannot possibly meet God’s expectations or even my own!  I am in need of help and forgiveness every day for myself and for brothers.

Solemnity settled into the still room.  Neither elation nor despair was present.  As the disciples knew, challenges awaited them when they left the last supper.  So too challenges awaited me as I exited the chapel – not of course on the grand magnitude of those by Jesus’s side.

The night air was peaceful.  The Moon was bright.  Unseen I departed from the quiet place with my thoughts.   Perhaps I can conquer many things that create distance between me and God with the advocates help and prayerful meditations and actions.  it is not that complicated to pray.

“Meditation is almost all contained in this one idea:  the idea of awakening our interior self and attuning ourselves inwardly to the Holy Spirit, so that we will be able to respond to His grace.”

merton on life

[i] Thomas Merton, Spiritual Direction and Meditation (Action and Union)

[ii] Luke: 14:27

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21Rwj9sPBTc

 

[iv] http://www.usccb.org/bible/john/14:1

 

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