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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who among us is ready for this type of sacrifice?

Mysticism

Friedrick Nietzsche, German Philosopher, declared “God is Dead” in the late 1800s. In the 1980s I would author opposing papers regarding this assertion. The earlier version would assert an atheistic worldview and render belief in a personal God futile. The latter version would assert the opposite, that religion was dead, having lost its way and become a dead letter rather than anything representing a guide to a truly holy life. Post enlightenment and today we are far removed from the desert fathers or the mystics of the early Catholic Church.

After reading an article in America Media this a.m. “This is your soul on Mysticism” I wondered if Mysticism and prayer was “dead” in Catholicism and Christianity.

Mysticism is not dead. About a third of Catholic believers will report if asked that they have had a “mystical” experience. That is a pretty high number given few of us have a disciplined “mystical” or “contemplative” prayer life.

The pandemic has provided us with increased isolation and an awareness of our mortality. Confronting the power of prayer now or deepening one’s prayer life is a positive pandemic opportunity.

I don’t imagine us walling ourselves off like Julian of Norwich though sometimes I wish I could live a hermetical life. Take a look at this article. How has the pandemic increased or decreased your connection to God? Perhaps a spiritual retreat is in your future.

https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2020/12/17/mysticism-covid-19-julian-norwich-239506

Wolf or Sheep?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Morning Dew # 8

Some journeys can be slow.  The book of Genesis finished this a.m.  The importance of patriarchy and wisdom passed on from father to son is not lost in this book.  Like modern times, fathers of the past had errant sons too.  Jacob, while preparing for death, tells his sons, “Simon and Levi are brothers; Instrument of cruelty are in their dwelling place.  Let not my soul enter their council” for the various ill-deeds their tribes performed.  The rest of the brothers seemed to get off very well with their father’s blessings and prophecy, with Joseph being the leader of them all.  Families are not perfect and Joseph forgave his brothers their ill will even after his father passed.

Meanwhile, in Matthew, Jesus is growing his ministry with miracles and words of confounding wisdom.   The scribes and Pharisees are asking for signs and laying traps for Jesus.  He is foretelling many will not listen to what is before their eyes.  They listen with the intent to carry out their agenda – not the agenda of God or truth.  Jesus drops the artificial ties that we all define our relationships by, even his blood relatives, by declaring, “For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”  This is telling me my brother and sister are not defined by blood alone.  it is also telling me if I listen with an agenda in mind, I am apt to not truly be listening.

And today, my meditation speaks to the “Mysticism of the Streets.”[i]    Richard details the 1100 years of the desert fathers and then introduces St. Francis bringing monastic life and theology into the practice in the streets with other people.  In ordinary life, the Friars of the Franciscan order followed not a life of solitude, but life among the people:

Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.”

IMG_0204My Grandfather’s hard work, stoic nature, and disciplined mind came into my heart this morning.  He was a quiet man.  If whispers came to him that I broke a window or a fence in the community, he would, without words, ask me to join him to help with some project.  There I was with him in hand mending a fence I broke, or a window shattered—no words needed to be passed.  Quiet work, job done, no words exchanged.  None needed.  I was not moved to write this morning, which happens often enough.

I had the day off today by surprise.  The governor made Juneteenth day a holiday.  I was going to go to the gym but instead scheduled to give blood at the blood bank and visit a friend I had not seen in some time.  I like to think I was doing a service, but a small part of me thinks I was avoiding the gym!

At the blood bank, a German lady serving the juice and cookies decided my name was German, and I was not to spend the 15 minutes reading a book alone.  She pulled in another German lady to boot.  We discussed Germany, my Grandfather, and Grandmother, the town of Ubrirkichen, stonemasons, the arbitrariness of money, and families torn apart by WWI and WW II. She knew exactly where the town was and her accent mimicked by Grandmother.

I had not thought of my Grandfather before this morning for some time, and an hour or IMG_0205two later, his immigration to the United States and strong character are celebrated.  Elsa, his wife, my grandmother, is remembered as well for her love, principles, and tenderness.   I do not remember her being beautiful in the way she is in this picture.  I remember her being beautiful as a grandmother with a warm and delicate smile.  Both of them were quiet people, but stronger than anybody I knew, perhaps that is still true today.

Happenstance?  I think not.  Patriarchy, history, and remembrance made real hours after my a.m. spiritual reading bought my Grandparents’ love and lives into my mind.

My day did not include much solitude or prayer today.  It did include giving blood, sharing history with two German ladies, visiting an old friend, returning home to plant some flowers,  joining my wife for dinner out, giving up the television room to my daughter and her friends just when I wanted to sit and watch the bloody news, and now writing this morning dew as the silences from the past and present have blessed me today.

Somehow scripture seemed intimately connected to my day without any conscious effort on my part – just gentle whispers of grace.  These two grandparents left indelible images in my heart, and one of them gave me stubbornness as well, which sometimes serves me well and other times, not so well!

What would their words be today if they were here?  I don’t think they would have to say a thing.   They might start pruning a tree or inspecting a crooked door for repair, but words of guidance no need, they teach only by doing.

The Old Testament and The New Testament came alive for me today in subtle ways.  Someone else reading the same exact passages would walk away with different sentiments and thoughts.  How these sentiments and thoughts guide our lives is the test of true spiritual discernment.

[i] Richard Rohr Daily Meditations page 43.

Morning Dew # 7

Esau gives away his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew. A steep impulsive decision considering the firstborn gets double or more of the inheritance when their father passes! A youthful and rash decision for immediate gratification. Jacob manipulated his brother’s immaturity to have the firstborn birthright. At first glance, we could interpret this as merely brotherly gesturing and joviality. However, the Old Testament does not tend to present joviality or gestures. Every passage has intended purpose, and this passage captures brotherly jealousy and hatred and foreshadows further division.

A Baylor University Graduate thesis summed it up this way: “The primary thesis is that YHWH both uses and engages in deception for the perpetuation of the ancestral promise (Gen 12:1-3), giving rise to what I have dubbed a theology of deception. Through a literary hermeneutic, emphasizing the symbiotic relationship between both how the text means and what the text means, with theological aims, this study examines the various manifestations of YHWH as Trickster in the Jacob cycle. Attention is given to how the multiple deceptions evoke, advance, and at times fulfill the ancestral promise.”[i]

220px-Horst,_Gerrit_Willemsz._-_Isaac_blessing_Jacob_-_Google_Art_ProjectThis is truly horrific. Isaac calls to his son Esau and says, “Behold now, I am old. I do not know the day of my death.” He then asks Esau to go and prepare him an exquisite “savory meal” so that he may eat it and then bless Esau in the presence of God before his death.” Esau takes off at once to prepare the meal. Jacob and his mother, however, prepare and execute an elaborate scheme and deceive Isaac. Jacob brings him a meal first, dressed up as Isaac, and received the blessing reserved for Esau.

Prepostouris?   $36.5 billion is stolen from the elderly every year by financial abuse.  Jacob clearly deceived his father and would be defined as financial elder abuse today!  “It is estimated that $30 trillion will be inherited in the next 30 years . The result is a significant percentage of children and grandchildren fighting for what they believe is their fair share of inheritance while either one or both aging parents are still alive.”  If your getting on in years, please save your loved the trouble and lock down your intentions now by a legal will and make peace with everyone so that their are no surprises.  That is a legacy worth sharing.  

download (3)My vision of Jacob has always been somewhat colored by Jacob’s Ladder story, which comes a little later on in Genesis. He rests his head on a rock and settles in for a night’s sleep while on his journey away from Esau’s wrath and has a beautiful epiphany known historically as Jacob’s ladder.  God speaks to Jacob in this dream:  ‘And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee whithersoever thou goest'” Jacob exclaims, “How full of awe is this place!”  This is the Jacob my Christian roots celebrate and remember!  Jacob, by this point, has now entirely supplanted Esau and becomes a patriarch in Jewish biblical history. 

In Matthew chapter 11 today, Jesus entirely supplants John the Baptist, who is sitting in jail at the moment.   Poor John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ.  He bought people knowledge of the Messiah’s coming, as Jesus proclaimed John the Baptist is a prophet, as it was written:

“Behold, I send My messenger before your face, Who will prepare your way for you.”

John the Baptist life demonstrates extreme faith, humility and obedience.  Biblically, both John and Jesus miraculous birth were predestined and revealed by an Angel.  John was born first, and Jesus later.   

Jesus preached that the time for preaching and prophets are done.  He is bringing us final knowledge. 

Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”    

Paul MccCarren, SJ captures this message as Jesus telling us now is the time to “take on the burden he carries, the hardship of turning to God’s desires rather than our own.” 

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Practice over Knowledge

Before my hand hit the keyboard this a.m. my paint brush etched out the above drawing.  The Old Testament representing Knowledge and the New Testament capturing practice. Esau replaced by Jacob.  John the Baptist replaced by Jesus.  Esau and Jacob account replaced by John the Baptist and Jesus Account?   

I am left feeling Jesus and YHWH perhaps do have a sense of Jovialty.  I do not believe following the way prepared by John the Baptist, foreshadowed by the Old Testament, and bought to fruition by Jesus Christ presents us with a “light burden.”   

Hidden within both text are linkages and foreshadowings that unravel one moment and disappear next.  Everyday is a new canvas.  

We are left in the present moment practicing the embodiment of our knowledge in our everyday actions. 

The moral lessons in these two accounts are too many to draw out here except one:    My first born son owes me a savory dinner!  

Jesus Christ is my bodhisattva.  Walking in his steps is filled with challenges, failures, and ever unfolding mystery.  Everyday starts afresh with a blank slate for which I can live in the present moment relying on the knowledge of the past and the practice today of being aware of what is God’s will.  

While it is true we will have our share of adversity and suffering here on earth, truly walking God’s path provides the ability to project calm, joy, and peace to others no matter what the circumstance.   We do not have to wear suffering on our sleeves, we can carry that weight in prayer and with others when called to do so.  

Have a beautiful and blessed day where ever you find yourself physically and spiritually today.   

peacerule


[i] https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/handle/2104/8017

Morning Dews – #5

Where was I again since I last wrote, someplace in Genesis with Abraham and his descendants making a mess of things and their covenants with God and with each other.  Yes, that is right, I said you were dammed.  Unfortunately, your fate has not changed since then; we are all still heading for a date with death.  Our human flesh and our earthly existence have no defined time.

images (36)This fatalistic reality only further illuminates the valuable time we have this moment.  It is of great value whether we are “joyous, happy and free” or suffering, miserable, and confined physically or mentally by some variation of human tormentors, real or imagined.  Our state of being is always moving in one direction or another, always temporal.

But where is our compass to direct our purpose and mission in life?  Our human state of affairs reasonably and appropriately must command our due respect.  To disregard care for ourselves or others is easily seen by even the simplest minded among us to be pure folly.  And then there are those among us that with very bright thinking, run with this hedonismmotto to the extreme, pursuing every greater emotional bliss regardless of how these emotions are obtained.  Who could blame them running hard and fiercely to avoid at all cost any taste of suffering, miserable mood, pain, or some other human calamity?   This activity, although important, is rubbish and meaningless if not grounded in a higher transcendent meaning.  Perhaps seeking Nirvana is the answer?

Inner-Peace-Help-Me-God (1)The great mystics of history invariable point out the only unchangeable is the absolute, unknowable one, the one we call God. Today we don’t see stodgy bearded men out in the wilderness or working with the poor in the streets.  We are more likely to see mega-church preachers or self-help books with covers like the above.  I dare you to go find a rock like that and sit on it for 30 minutes the way that lady is sitting.   I have a feeling you will not be the picture of Nirvana at the end of the prayer session.   That being said, she may indeed have developed a sesne of prayer and stillness that it matters little where she sits, in nature or in the middle of a highway.

Read the great religions and prophets, and they will, as did the old testament, describe man’s search for God and his graces.  The languages and literary devices may vary, but at the end of the day, man (and woman) is found seeking God and most often found wanting.  Amid this yearning, he is most unfairly plagued by human calamity even when blessed with great fortune.  Nothing is ever enough.  Seeking God is admirable, but if you are seeking God for spiritual gluttony you will probably be searching in the dark or fall prey to profit driven preachers.

The Gospel of Matthew (chapters 6-9) has some of the answers to these riddles for me.

  • Do good to please God (no other, expect no reward here on earth)
  • A form of prayer, converse with God, and the provision of the Lord’s prayer
  • Lay up your treasures in heaven
  • Do not worry about your life
  • Ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find, knock, and it will be opened for you
  • Build your house on a rock

Matthew repeated these words of Jesus and many more in rapid-fire succession in three pages.  No back and forth or interpretation.   A grave warning to those who choose not to listen that Jesus will declare, “I never knew you” when it is their time.

Today in the public sphere, our eyes roll at the mere mention of any theoretical framework like existential philosophy, transcendent morality, or cross-societal ethical considerations.  Most of the time, if someone is raising this, it is because they are trying to cleverly tell us why we can’t or shouldn’t do something.  We would probably not listen if not for the rule of law that has developed over the centuries to codify what little humanitarian gains we have made over the centuries.

tinaI can see the eyes rolling now if a man without credentials or status told us the things Jesus told the crowds.  They had perhaps an advantage over us.  God knew their hearts were hardened, so he gave them signs again in rapid-fire from Matthew’s account, a leper was cleansed, a servant healed, and Jesus even saved Peter’s Mother in Law.  I am unsure if Peter appreciated the last miracle.  Other miracles would follow as Jesus marches towards his suffering and crucifixion.

These miracles and the written scripture handed down to us have meaning and value to guide what little time we have left on this earth.  Despite this, the disciples still panicked even with Jesus present when the “great tempest arose on the sea,” threatening to capsize the boat.  Jesus awoke with disappointment, “Why are you fearful, o you of little faith.”

Jesuit Paul McCarren describes the disciples being as puzzled by Jesus Christ’s indifference to the storm as Jesus was disappointed by their fear and lack of faith.

In four pages of scripture, I am presented with a guide to prayer, evidence of the credentials of the prophet being able to perform miracles, validation that faith is not easy as even the disciples who saw with their own eyes struggled, and Jesus Christ response when they shoe their weakness.

desicplesDid this “great tempest arise on the sea.” It is highly possible given the geographical area and the routes that Jesus and the disciples traveled.   However, more importantly, most of us don’t make our living on the seas.  Very few of us have life-threatening events flash before our eyes while having a spiritual prophet at our side.  What does it mean?

Let’s put it all together as to why I think these chapters in Matthew give you the solution to being damned to suffering and death.

First, the Bible (old testament and new), lets sets the framework that you and I are not very special in the sense of the challenges and tribulations we will face.  Our ancestors before us have seen it all.     The wisest among them were ready for when their time came.  If you have ever known someone truly ready when that time comes, you are truly blessed.

Now, Matthew first lays out how to pray and communicate with God.  In essence, he focused our attention simultaneously on the eternal and how to live a holy life now.  The words of Jesus Christ, as captured by Matthew, lay down straightforward guidance on how to develop a relationship to permanence no matter what our temporal state of affairs is today.

  • Act now: Do what Christ says above, and no matter what storm comes your way, you will be okay.  He did not promise storms will not come.  As we know from the Bible, a series of storms came that could not have been imagined by any of the disciples.
  • Prepare now: Prepare for storms by living rightly today.  Sadly, I have known human beings to say things like, as long as you follow the policy and blah, blah, I will support you.  You have all probably had a time when someone said something like that, and when the going got tough, all of a sudden, you were alone.  The lesson for me is trust in God as the only permanent trust one can have.  That is not as sad as it sounds.  I trust in many people today.  I love many of those same people.  Some of them will, at some point, disappoint me.  I will be hurt to the degree that I trusted them.  My feelings, though, will subside as I reconcile that I gave them trust for good reason, and I see they’re coming up short is just what it is a sad and disappointing outcome.  This is perhaps the most common type of storm when people do not do what we expect them to do!
  • Living rightly: What does that mean?   In my view, it means pursuing doing the next right thing now with the right intentions all the time and having an on-going dialogue with the God of my understanding to discern those intentions for what they are.  Find a way to still live and ground it in unchanging principles that transcend you.
  • Professional Help: Authors note, not all human conditions and suffering can be handled by prayer and good intentions and behaviors alone, some of us need a little help from professionals in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, psychiatric crisis, economic wisdom, or spiritual guidance.  Nor reason why anyone has to go through human toil alone (keeping in mind social distancing).  Self-help groups can be very beneficial, like Alcoholics Anonymous or other 12 step groups.
  • Compassion: No matter where you are on the journey, have compassion for yourself and others without putting yourself in harm’s way unless necessary. Let’s face it; we are not all called to be martyrs or saints.  Most of us have other callings.  It is improbable. I hope that we will be asked to deny God or be executed, go on a starvation protest, or say take my life in place of the child!  Seek to do the most good without treating yourself poorly.  We can have compassion for an addicted gambler without giving him a loan.  We can forgive a person who violated our trust or hurt us without inviting them back in to do the same again.  Letting that happen again not only hurts us but hurts the gambler or the one who cannot responsibly manage trust given to them.

Jesus saw a great need for compassion and love.  This was not reserved for those who were perfect.  It was for all of us.

These steps match the steps for any profession.  Find the manual and start working (act now).  Prepare for setbacks, you can never have enough knowledge and will learn by trial and error (Prepare for storms).   Do the best you can with the tools you have now and keep adding tools (live rightly).  Know when a project is over your head and get help fast, be humble (Professional help).  Have compassion for everyone you meet, including yourself.

There is so much in these few pages and this post.  How can you translate this into anything worthwhile?  Build on what you have now (strengths).  Develop a routine (schedule) and stick to specific times for prayer and reflection.  Throw in extra time when needed.  Journal, read, and be curious.  Let others in that will support you.

images (37)On the surface, it looks all pretty straight forward and easy.  I remember my brother Jimmy out in front of the house with a unicycle.   About the only joy that bike bought us was  watching him crash.  The Bible (and many surface teachings) can look deceptively easy until you have to take the “things” out of the box and start building the damn thing.  Trying to live a holy life can meet the same end and people will also enjoy watching you crash.  Seeking God requires great humility internally and externally.

Everyone wants a cheat sheet.  The bible does not lend itself to be a cheat sheet.  Centuries after its formation it is still be deciphered and argued about by theologians and historians.  If you wait for them you will probably miss out on the most famous book ever written.  Sometimes you can only be helped to get on the bicycle and get a good shove.  The rest is up to you.   I don’t recommend a unicycle!

The answers are not only in the bible.  Fifteen percent of our population is 65 years or older.  A good number of them, certainly not all, carry wisdom and solemnity in their final years.  They not only have six decades of lived experience, but they also have what was passed onto them from their ancestors sifted through and weighed against current times.

My chariot is built on the teaching of Jesus Christ.   His followers are far from being free of error.  There are many examples of “living right” that I can model from around my current day and in history.  I am not limited to models from Christianity as well.  Buddhist monks and meditation practices examine and handle the red hot embers suffering and impermanence by literally being able to walk barefoot over them.  They are not free from error either.  At the end of the day, we are all too human, imperfect vessels, seeking transcendence.

I have not mentioned 25% of the world who are followers of Allah.  The Muslim faith’s true essence alludes me in the chaos of the middle east.  Subsumed in that chaos is also orthodox Jewish traditions as well and the state of Israel.

Whatever faith we find to guide our lives, we become living testaments to an ideal higher authority.   Our faith and our religious affiliations will be judged in real-time by our actions.  Writing a blog on how to pray and seek a sanctified life is useless if after I close the browser I leave my house and treat people with ill-will or are driven by selfish motivations.  Any great religion is judged by the actions and lives of its followers.

You can have glimpses of transcendence every day if you look for it.  It is all around you in nature, in the acts of other people, and hopefully present in most of your actions and thoughts.  This has been a hard post to finish.  My prayer life is up against needless human suffering and death compounded by an unforgiving political and economic system that thrives on uninterrupted growth.   Sometimes my prayers leave me feeling empty and drained rather than consoled and restored.  I am not a mystic or a priest.  Just a working family man trying to make sense of tragedy and suffering.

Regardless of the external turbulence, you can be a beacon of calm, humility, love, compassion, strength, and peace to others, if within your heart you are building on a solid rock that is greater than our temporal desires.   Your faith or religious identity may provide you a vehicle for life’s journey, but at the end of the day, it is your responsibility to learn to ride it.  No religious leader, sermon, or homily can define you.   They too can make errors.

To what end is this post.  It is written for all of you who everyday strive to be responsible, work hard, and are in general morally upright people.  You toil and work hard for your self and your loved ones.  You have faced constant changes and pivoted and acclimated to changing times.  Although not perfect or faultless, you count yourself as generally a good person, like Job from the Old Testament.  And now, tragedy strikes beyond your control even though you practiced spiritual and ethical decision making daily.

If your eye is set on the absolute and the infinite God, all troubles and joys will be minute in comparison.  If your faith is made strong by your commitment, actions, and God’s grace, any storm that envelops you will be faced with calm and strength regardless of the outcomes.   You will posses a new reality to be able to sit with uncertainty and mystery while still working to do what you can in the face of exterm adversity, upto and including death.    Sure, you may have moments of trepidation and angst, but like the disciples, you will find your way back to your core.

covid deathToday, three thousand people will perish from COVID.  An estimated 50 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty.  Upright hard working people just like me and you.  Political and economic forces beyond our control will lessen or amplify the pain and suffering we have already experienced.

In my view, we only have one answer.  Still the storm and take refuge in prayer.  Take stock in your circumstances.  Find acceptance for what is today.  Ask God for what you think you need and ask him for the strength to handle whatever he gives you!  They maybe two different things.  Pray a little more to sit with the suffering of others.  Pray for them.  Contemplate what you can do now, today or tomorrow, to do God’s work in whatever is your calling in life.  Leave your refuge of prayer and carry it with you as you go back into the storm to face whatever life has instore for you.

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Morning Dews – #4

rabbiI am need of Rabbi in my study.  Still wandering in the book of Genesis, Abraham denies his wife, Sarah, saying she is his sister, and she does the same, claiming to be his brother.  Abraham concocted this scheme to keep himself self while they journeyed into other kingdoms.  He believed he would be killed so that others could take his beautiful wife.   And so it happened, when they were passing through the land of Gerar, Abimelech took Sarah.

Abimelech, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, is afforded a lesser status as merely a “king” and not one of the Judges of Israel.  He had the same encounters with the Patriarch Issac as he did with the Patriarch Abraham above regarding deceit (representing their wives as their sisters and squabbles over well water).  The Jewish Virtual Library states that critical scholars assign all these narratives to a variant of a single tradition.  Without delving into Abimelech’s life, the themes in the Old Testament, the sources, and a greater depth of the interwoven nature of politics warring tribal disputes, and religious institutions as defined at that time, how could we ever pass any judgment or claim to understand of the bible?

I am dumbfounded that Abraham and Issac would present their wives as their sisters.  I could see denying my wife to save her life, but not to save my own.  Who knows what we would do if presented that awful choice should we be faced with forced migration due to natural disaster or war and encounter a terrible immoral choice.  I say to you, not as a Jewish scholar or Christian mystic, but as an ordinary lay Christian, you face this choice every day.

Patriarch’s Abraham and Isaac denied their wives for their safety.  To do so in their minds gave them an advantage in a disadvantageous situation where they lacked power in the face of greater forces.  They did not rely on faith or on God to protect them.

On an individual level, you probably have not denied that your wife was your sister.  On a simpler scale, however, you perhaps have been deceived by others and acted in a manner or supported things that were unfair or wrong.  Abimelech took another man’s wife, but he was deceived.  He was still wrong.

images (26)Suppose I support legal abortion as a Democrat for all the ethical reasons.   There are many.  I suspect I have been deceived as I have inherited a culture that devalues life with such overwhelming immensity that women are put in situations where they face an impossible choice.  Our culture does not embrace or support the full integrity of all human beings.  For some, having a baby will endanger their own lives or condemn to a life of poverty and struggle.  I do not support abortion.  But I am unwilling to be the judge of a woman who faces societal oppression and injustice where her life is devalued, and she decides that, in my view, is contrary to God’s law.  I will fight for all life to be valued so that fewer women have to face this horrible choice, legally or illegally.  How will I be judged?

Suppose as a Republican, and I support the death penalty, massive deportation, and 33economic policies that support my wealth at the expense of increasing world poverty and misery.  I support these things with righteousness and good intentions.  I must stand up for the rule of law, protect my family and our jobs from illegal immigration, and put our economy above other people’s lives or over other nations.  I am right that all three of these issues present an “existential threat” to my well being and the well being of my friends and families.  I suspect that I have been deceived here as well as I have inherited a culture that devalues the “other” and puts nationalism, wealth, and power ahead of humanity.

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In both cases above (right and left), I am likely to accept the binary choices and choose a side.  In both cases, I am inclined to make grave errors in intellectual honesty when I try to advance my righteous thinking and, in some cases, will make grave errors against humanity and my God.  In both cases, I see the opposing views as existential threats to what I hold to be necessary.   As Americans, we are not likely to own feeling existentially threatened.   That requires serious insight and vulnerability that runs contrary to our culture.

download57When we are thinking right and left, we have probably already lost the battle of not being deceived and acting in a manner that supports evil.  We can fall into a reactive position making choices within the well of rigid political and religious paradigms that, on closer examination, crumble under their hypocrisy.  Logicalness and openness to facts go out the window.  Ad Hominem attacks, a fancy word for attack the messenger, is a typical playbook on the political stage today.  The press, scientists, and government servants are under ruthless attacks.   People whose livelihoods and health are at stake are acting on misinformation and real threats to their lives that are no longer so existential.

People deny their faith, their political affiliation, their beliefs all the time when to do otherwise will cause the loss of what they cherish (material goods, status, friendship, employment, or merely uncomfortableness).  Silence is denial as well.

lyiengI see this happen all the time in the workplace as people jockey for favor and position.  The worst in humanity plays out every day:  gossip, slander, lies, manipulation, and sometimes outright evil intent.  These deceits can lead a righteous and well-meaning manager down a path of destroying a person’s career based on false information.  Sometimes it plays out on the national level as well, and a whole nation can do harm globally.    As our current President states, China hurt world health by limiting the magnitude of the pandemic issue.  We, in turn, did the same thing, and to an extent, still are making the same errors.

We have in our midst pathological liars as well without our notice.  They can be humble 0617ba6e0d560b25a7f9ad0fd870064e-truth-and-lies-quotes-lies-and-deceit-quotesand friendly in the community or hold positions of great power in political, business or religious institutions.

Each of us is in our own way, Abimelech and Abraham.  In our hectic and busy lives, we are driven by instinct and competitive values to ward off existential threats to our way of life. Hopefully, we are not driven by false information.

We are prone to error by being deceived or by acting out of fear for our safety and overall well-being, denying minor or major hypocrisies within our hearts and behaviors – by conscious public presentation or even merely silence and consent.      My friend, you are damned.

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That is not so encouraging!  In my morning meditation, Richard Rohr discussed the “Bible as an Alternative History.” He stated the history of the terms “right and left” came from the Estates-General in France.  On the left sat ordinary people and, on the right, sat the nobility and the clergy.  The left represented mostly the poor and the oppressed and the right the status quo.  His point was the left sought to reform, and the right sought to preserve their wealth, status, and power.  Today we have the same dynamic with the buoy of the middle class torn between alliances, desiring the identity of nobility and the clergy without turning their backs on the poor and the oppressed.  It is not a binary choice.

We need prophets for sure to guide us to transcend these binary choices and allegiances.   The Old Testament is rife with Jewish prophets that struggled to transcend religious divisions and sects in favor of the “inner God experience and the outer work for justice and truth.” It gives us a history that we can learn from about the worst and best of humanity and spiritual lessons for interpretation today.  The journey through the old testament is leading someplace both narratively and in real-time history.  It evolved and was passed down to us from generation to generation.

As a Christian, I believe it bought us to Jesus Christ, the last of the prophets in my view.  The New Testament captures his fulfillment of the Old testament and a road map on how to live a blessed and fulfilling life.  Doing that, the same as in the old testament, is rife with conflict with rigid political and religious systems, existential threats to our survival and identity, deceitful actions of others, and selfish motivation.

In the next post – I will turn to Matthew chapters 6-8, which complimented my morning reading and provided for me at least a solution to feeling overwhelmed and damned. I have some thoughts that deserve their own post.  However, I cannot leave you with you are damned!

Within you lies a higher self that can transcend adversity, deceit, pain, and worry.  It can bring out your inner strength and peace even when you fail.  It can allow you to share and love others around you more magnificently than ever before. Also, if you have this already, and you are blessed if you do, it can always be more profound and more vigorous with every breath you take.

Transcending the self is never easy regardless of your spiritual or existential orientation – but it is worth the journey.  How Abraham and Abelimech bought me here I cannot say, but the mystery of life lessons can humble us all.  Find some time to still the world’s business and gently notice your “existential fears,” jot them down, name them, and put them aside for later.  Contemplate whatever you appreciate right now.  have gratitude for what you have and if someone special to you is close by, give them gratitude as well.  When the time is right, pick up one of those existential threats and simply think about three things that you can do that may minimize or help with that worry.   Make a plan to do those three things and enlist help if you can.  Give the rest to God and ask for the strength and peace to be able to handle what comes next.   Try not to tell people your wife is your sister to others or some other avoidance behavior!    You will have an easier path if you defeat avoidance behaviors and avoid supporting fallacies you know to be wrong.

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Morning Dews #2

adam-and-eveThis morning I am confronted by locked gates barring entrance to the most peaceful and gracious place detailed in Genesis, the garden of Eden:

So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”   Genesis 3:24

This confronts me as rather harsh and offends my spiritual orientation of God being a loving God.  On further reflection, I wondered, do we perpetuate what God did to Adam and Eve in society?

While we do not have the powers of God, we do yield significant power individually and collectively on others.  How many parents have barred an errant child out of love from returning home?  In our society today, it is expected that children leave the safety nest of their homes.  If the parents were successful, the home represented a garden of Eden where everything was provided for including instruction on things not to do or ingest (drugs, cleaning chemicals, alcohol, etc.).  Internationally we sanction errant nations from global access to needed commodities.

191021_r35166Are we harsh and unloving parents when we know to take a son back in may cause more harm in the long run?  Are we a harsh and unloving nation when we sanction a nation that is committing global atrocities and genocide within their own country?

A little further on, I am confronted with the numerical challenges of the family of Adam harpand his offspring.  The Cain and Able story teach us about jealousy and revenge.  How did they live for so long?  On a positive note, Jubal, a son of Cain, introduces a family of flute and harp players as early as Genesis 4: 21.  Music was important in human history from very early times.  It is the first note of leisure activity in the Bible.  But what about living 900 years!

Here we have fighting words that can lead to alienation amongst believers and even alienation from scripture.  If you are the spiritually insecure type, stop reading here, and have a blessed day.  The truth of the age depictions in the Bible is that we do not know if they are literal (by God’s miracles), symbolic (representing status and power attributed to the patriarchs), or even containing some hidden numerological meaning.  The latter points were present in Hebrew culture at the time.

oldI treat the age question as a mystery.  No theologian has convinced me that Genesis was meant to be literally intended, and archeology has not supported ancient man living that long as of yet.  That does not mean it did not happen – it means the genealogy provides me a connection through descendants from Adam to Jesus Christ.  This lineage is provided for a framework that I may better intuit the word of God today and how my religious formation has been determined or influenced by centuries of scripture before my time.

Fighting Words:

The fundamentalist positions assumed by many Catholics today could be described as unconscious or naïve. Most Catholics who are literal readers of the Bible do not realize that this method is not a part of their faith tradition and that such interpretations have been repeatedly discouraged by Catholic scholars, pastors and bishops.[i]

The Old Testament is filled with contradictions and complexities that have plagued religious scholars and laypeople from the moment the ink dried on the papyrus paper or scroll.   We argue to this day and, sometimes, reprehensible, draw blood in the name of God.

The new testament is not free of its challenges as well as Jesus Christ’s favorite teaching methodology was parables, and we have four distinct Gospels reporting on the life of Jesus Christ.

What most it of been like to be John the Baptist?  Imagine you are called to do what he did.  Prepare the way for Jesus Christ and turn over your followers before being beheaded yourself?  What does this teach us about humility?

In Chapter 4, Satan Tempts Jesus repeatedly three times while Jesus is at his weakest.  All three times, Jesus refutes Satan with words and actions.  Angels then minister to him as Satan departs, and quickly the ministry of Jesus Christ is detailed from recruiting the apostles to performing great miracles.  This happens in 25 lines of scripture, no more.  (Matthew Chapter 4)

How do we apply Chapter 4 to our lives without the evidence of the miracles that Jesus demonstrated in his time or Jesus Christ himself standing before us?

images (19)In the Silence and moment when Satan departs, I imagine, at the bleakest and weakest point before he begins his ministry, Jesus sits in Silence and wholly given himself to God.  Then the angels came, and only then.  My grandfather once watched me fight three kids, and only when I was done fighting and pinned to the ground, did he smilingly free my dog butch to come to the rescue.  They scattered unharmed.  That moment of stillness had never left me when I looked across the street and saw him just standing there watching. Sometimes we have to fight our own battles and God will step in when it is right to do so.

This connects to my morning meditation reading today:

“silence is almost too simple”

“silence is the most spacious and empowering technique in the world”

“it is the refusal of all technique”

Nothing against prayers, rosaries, and other contemplative prayers – but sometimes, just Silence is best.   You will not know what comes after silence until you have experienced sitting with intentional silence and allowing yourself to be open to what comes.  Reading scripture is only a starting point.  Living it is the greatest challenge.

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[i] https://www.americamagazine.org/issue/786/article/fundamental-challenge

The way home

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

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

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

Tired.

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

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

Albatross

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What do we owe our maker?  And even if we were in the position to pay – how would we pay God who needs nothing and is everything?  We simply cannot begin to make any repatriation that has any impactful influence on an infinite being.

Still, must of us strive to live a principled life informed by spiritual, religious, and social mores that intrinsically have, in my opinion, an urgency to reflect the imprint of God that exists within our souls.   The more distorted the projection we receive –  the more difficulties we encounter living a holy life – the more susceptible we are to the most significant human suffering of the existential phenomenon – the alienation of the true self from one’s creator.

How do we keep the projection of our purpose clear?  Where do we find the balance between personal prayer, religiosity (the standard-bearer of scripture and the sacramental life), and action in daily life?

There is no balance that we can dictate by our own desire or self-directed vision of how best our time is to be spent on doing God’s work.   Monastic life, reading scripture, dissecting the lives of the Saints, and other holiness seekers provide us some reference points.

My absence from posting is not indicative of the lack of meaningful spiritual substance being a reality in my life or (hopefully) sloth on my part.  Admittedly it takes time to let ideas into form, test form against spiritual discernment, and then unleash a post capturing the theological and the spiritual experience that has consumed my heart and mind.

This entry was started some time ago and was swallowed up into the abyss of personal business with my assigned vocations in life – family, fellowship, work, and the sometimes arduous task of just managing my own routines.  Are our actions not the vehicle of our spiritual intentions?  Spirituality and the presence of God are not absent in these activities, and is I pray the core driver of my decisions.

 

sea_albatrossYet, the absence of significant time with contemplative reading and thought drains me and eventually distorts my actions and activities into stressful chores and burdens rather than gifts of my calling and existence.  Failures, anxieties, regrets, and even successes become my Albatros around my neck – stalking me from a distance in the foggy clouds of uncertainty.

As I become immersed in temporal human priorities, I become engulfed in “deep sadness and despair.”   There is too much misery and despair for my feeble hands to help, for my limited words to reach, for my voice to soothe or reassure.  Alas, that is not even addressing my own selfish desires for comfort, prestige, power, security, pride, laughter, peace, and spiritual consolation – to keep these graces I now believe I have or secretly think I am owed them shortly.

I could read, pray, and write the rest of my days in solitude and total devotion, and I would still be seriously inadequate with the mission of seeking to live a sanctified and holy life.  I could throw away my books, my papers, my pens, and my prayer life and turn purely to helping others without regard for myself day in and day out, and again, I would be found wanting against the highest measure to truly live a sanctified life.

The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner attempts to express a harrowing voyage and provides us with the symbol of the Albatross around our necks.  Some define it as original sin -others as our shortcomings today.  Are they any different or just a continuity of the culmination of human evolution being present and codified in where we are now – with all the good and evil saddled on our shared collective consciousness?

I can go awhile doing man’s work, but without prayer and contemplation, I can feel the ship veering into uncharted waters and the fog rolling in no matter how hard I try to manage the seas and the winds, the sailors and the ship.

Where is the balance of my cooperation with God’s intentions and my human endeavors that require my attention?    Yes, they are one and the same in real unity of the whole – but how many of us can live that unity in every thought, every action, every moment of our lives? No one can achieve this ideal.

With this type of discipline and courage, we would have no fears or regrets.   We also might find our lives short-lived or at the very least, very lonely in this secular world.  Martyrs of this world, both past and present, where did you find your wisdom and courage?  Was it by accident, coincidence, foolishness, or divine inspiration?  Are we the masters of our own fate, captain of our souls?

Finding the time to still our lives and be present with God may show us our shortcomings and our courageousness.    It may also require sitting with pain and sorrow greater than we can imagine.  Without this time, I will find the pain and sorrow through other means on my own through influences provided by other less worthy guides.

I am tired.  Pray for me.  I have no “ask” or specific prayer to request – only that God’s will find us and provide us the strength, wisdom, and will to play our part.

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.
 

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