Radical Transformation: Part Two

Transformation In Christ, by Dietrich Von Hildebrand (Chapters 2 through 6):

After chapter one on Readiness to Change Dietrich dives into house cleaning:  Contrition, Self-knowledge, True Consciousness, True Simplicity, and Recollection and Contemplation! It has been about a month for me to traverse this material and attempt to reapply principles and practices revealed within these pages.  It is not an easy process as most of us have a fundamental belief that our spirituality and our intentions are generally aligned with being good.  A familiarity with prayer rituals, an investment in other people, a general intention to behave well, and an absence of atrocious behavior relative to others can leave one comfortable in blissful self-adoration, or at least not fully alive and receptive to the potentiality of God having greater or at least different expectations for us today.

If God were our employer, would it be good enough to ride the wave on what we have accomplished yesterday, to have good intentions, to lazily commit errors that we have identified in the past as requiring immediate and sustained improvement?

Thankfully God is not our employer.  I would have been terminated and Godless long ago if not for God’s infinite mercy and the saving grace of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

On Contrition:

The first action involved a trip to my spiritual director and a rehashing of prior sins, both recent and long ago.  A compelling need to place my imperfections before God and my spiritual director provided a base from which to seek and renew a process of seeking sanctification.  This step was taken pursue fluidity and continuity of my continued journey to seek proximity to God.  Dietrich describes our tendency to resist change this way:

“This tendency to self-affirmation and petrification, as opposed to the readiness for being transformed in all these points and for receiving the imprint of the face of Christ instead of the old features, is the antithesis to what we have meant here in speaking of fluidity.”

Contrition is an act that counteracts this tendency.  A conscious effort to clean house through informed and guided true penance:

“Turn away Thy face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities,

Create a clean heart in me O God:

And renew a right spirit within my bowels,

Restore unto me the joy of Thy Salvation,

And strengthen me with a perfect spirit.”

On Self-knowledge:

The second action is to truly examine acquire the following:

  • Knowledge of any actions or behaviors that would offend God and
  • Knowledge of the “discrepancy between what we ought to be and what we are” including our metaphysical situation, our destiny, and our vocation(s)!

This is not a sociological, psychological, or philosophical knowledge – but an earnest examination of ourselves through the eyes of God, or at least as close as we can come to approximating his will and desires for us.

This is daunting.  It can be utilized to merely validate how good we have been or dive into the martyrdom of our long list of omissions, negative actions, missed opportunities, and regrets.  That is not the intention.  There is nothing that we may discover that God does not already know.  It is starting point or a re-engagement of our spiritual path.  It may require minor or drastic course altering’s in the now (temporary actions) or down the road.

On True Consciousness:

The pillar continues as Dietrich lies down foundational steps one on top of the other.  Achieving a mode of living in “true consciousness” where through the “conscious center of his soul a person comes of age morally and acquires the ability to utter the “yes” in the face of God which He demands of us.”

This is a steep hill as it is mode of living where everything is taken out of the mundane, out of the temporal, out of autopilot, and placed in the divine sphere – every thought, action and deed.  We all have different gradients spirituality.   I enjoy strategy games of chess and Texas hold’em poker.  How does my enjoyment and time given to these activities pair with God’s intentions? I am at the moment unwilling to give up either entirely as the first has been a life time hobby and the second a monthly social gathering.   For argument sake, let us say that through divine revelation or merely a recommendation by my spiritual advisor, that both these activities were deemed unworthy of any of my time.

Would I be able to disavow both entirely?   Would I be able to further develop my discipline to have such an “act of disavowal render the impulse in question nonexistent or to eradicate it; yet that the impulse is invalidated, as it were, and in a sense decapitated and deprived of its malignant potency?”     I presume I would struggle with this request from my human spiritual advisor but if I was so blessed with a vision of divine revelation they would not be hard to give up!

Our position in life, our strengths and weaknesses, our vocational calling will provide us guidance on how we direct out attentions.  What we attend to we become. How much do we attend to God’s presence and what if anything takes precedence over God?  That is not to say we are all meant to be cloistered Monks.  However, within our metaphysical position in life we do have to carefully discern our God-given minutes here on earth and how best to deploy their use in a conscious manner.

On True Simplicity:

Seventy-four pages in Dietrich bring us back to put it all together and decipher how to live on the “sacral sphere” as opposed to the “motley variegation of life.”  He states the goal this way:

“One supreme point of view governs our entire life and in subordination to that point of view all else is judged and settled.  It is the principle of conduct enjoined in the words of the lord”  “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all things shall be added unto you.”  (Matt6.33)”

Or we can live on the flip side:

“The protean vastness of untruth, the maze of arbitrary and extravagant but witty errors and sophistries are considered with great interest – if only they divert the intellect from platitude and simplicity.”

Our intellects, important to guide our discernment of spiritual things and worldly matters, can easily be used to avoid the immense responsibility and obligations that come with living a spiritual life and seeking proximity to God.  Any number of human frailties can have us running towards the “cult of the abstruse.”  We see this every day in entrenched partisan politics. People run into their comfortable bubbles of ideological beliefs and utilize maelstrom intellectually dishonest strategies to defend their self-interest and position regardless of concrete evidence of the contrary.

Dietrich explores man traps and nuances of leading the simply life, more than I can enunciate here.  Suffice it to say “Metaphysically speaking, the higher an entity is, the greater its simplicity.  The soul is so simple as no longer to admit of a disjunction of form and matter.”

On Recollection and Contemplation: 

What is the difference? Recollection in my words, is freeze framing a situation and point in time.   We take control of our thoughts and our mind by slowing down the rapid-firing of neurological signals excited and engaged in current worldly concerns and pressures.   We become mindful of their presence but through recollection create the distance from our entrenched connection to and enmeshing of feelings and attitudes associated with human events.  From afar we can deconstruct and place complex situations on a table for deferment or right sizing against the backdrop of our spiritual orientation.  When we are able to “empty our soul of all current concerns and are no longer possessed by the things which fill our life” we can turn to contemplation.

Here is the rub:  “In order to recollect ourselves, we must shun everything that appeals to our craving for sensation.”  This seems rather unfair to me.  Has not my creator provided me five senses and a robust pleasure reception network to enjoy all that he has created?   Perhaps not all, but certainly more than my eye can see?     Dietrich takes us through the value of contemplation as when we are in true contemplation, with a focus on something greater than ourselves, something truly worthy of our adoration; we can come as close as we can to rest in the divine while still alive in our mortal skins.  The author in each of these chapters takes hard shots at my comfortable sense of Christianity, at my fragile practice of prayer, and at the lack of mental and physical discipline present in my life contrasted with seeking living a truly sanctified life.

There are roadblocks and always will be roadblocks.  The mystery here is God’s grace and mercy we seek to open our hearts to what is always within us, around us, and in proximity to our action and thought.  My journey is never-ending and is not a future place but being, truly being where I am right now.

Academically, philosophically, and theologically speaking this is an apparent truth of reality.  I cannot live in yesterday or tomorrow. Recollection and Contemplation in concert will and can inform our actions today and every day.  Action without either is highly vulnerable to answering to artificial hierarchies established by other men or by ourselves, unguided by a central and eternal uniting principle of diving guidance.

Talk about not creating obfuscation?  How is this simple?  He answers this from many vantage points.  For example, he says “First, we should consecrate every day space of time to inward prayer.”  Simple enough.  Leaving our worldly concerns behind he provides the following:

“I will forget everything that was, and is to come; nor think of what lies ahead of me.  Whatever I am wont to carry and to hold in my arms I will let fall before Jesus.  It will not fall into the void:  standing before Jesus.  I deliver it all up to him.  Everything belongs to him:  all burdening worries and all great concerns, both mine and those of the souls I love.  I am not abandoning them as I would abandon them in seeking diversion:  I know that in Jesus they are truly in a safe harbor.  When at his call I relinquish and abandon all things.  I am not casting them away; on the contrary, I am assigning everything to its proper place.”

There are many jewels in this chapter including the value of silence, solitude, appropriate rest.   At the end of the day these activities are primary to action, but nonetheless action is than required in all our activities.   The prose and elegance of his writings address the roller coaster of life and prayer.

So it is Ash Wednesday today.  A forty day pilgrimage begins.  Some devout Christians will sacrifice some element of themselves (actions, time, and commitments) and practice the prescribed attendance at Mass and perform various acts of fasting on specified days.

My spiritual director and I briefly discussed this Lenten period.   Without getting into the weeds of our discussions, here are some of his ideas and mine for lent that one can consider:

  • Prayer space and time: Establish a prayer space that provides you solitude and time without interruption.
  • A.M. prayer: Add a few extra minutes to your established prayer
  • Guided content: Consider reading daily scripture at the start of the day including commentary on the contest and meaning of the literary form.
  • Weekday mass: When possible add in weekday masses (Noon?) where the daily scripture can be revisited and of course the gift the Eucharist present.
  • 3 P.M. Pause: Set a bell or reminder for reflection at 3 P.M.
  • P.M Prayer: Consider the Ignatius Examen as a peaceful close to your day:
  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]

Where to start?  Today’s reading is as true today as it was when it was written, now is the time:

20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin[b] for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”[c]

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. (2 Cor: 5:11 to 6:2)

May you have an enriching Lenten journey with fruitful recollection and contemplation!


Addendum:  Check out Pope Francis message:

Pope Francis offers a “worksheet” for Lent: Check it out!

[i] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen


Pascal’s Wager – The Quandary of Faith

Pascal Wager

An opinion article in the NYT times entitled “Can We Learn to Believe in God?” by Agnes Collard takes a surface dive into the infamous Pascal Wager.[i]” 

Childhood morality and imagery of heaven and hell underlie this equation.  The means and the ends of faith do not fall neatly into this theoretical trap.  To seek God (or seek to learn to believe in God) is to accept an invitation to explore faith.  The article takes a look at “aspirational faith” and draws a parallel to other areas of aspirational goals.  It hints at if you aspire to believe you will come to believe.  In essence we often take leaps of faith pursuing the selves we want to become.  Aspiring followed by action often is a model for success.


The path to becoming a lawyer, for example, requires many steps and skills be acquired prior to being an actual lawyer.  Hopefully apprenticeship and the means of becoming a lawyer give one a sense of good measure that actually being a lawyer and what “type” of lawyer at the end of the pursuit.  Pursuing a law degree is a huge gamble of faith.  Investment of several years of study, expensive tuition, and a highly competitive and political post-bar market, assuming you are able to pass the bar, is certainly a concrete gamble.  If you are not enjoying the “means” of the journey your predisposition for being a lawyer should be questioned, or at least the education you are being provided.  The means are as important, if not more important than the end.  If you get your law degree by mail order, evade detection, achieve practice and wealth, at the end of the day despite the shingle and the outward vestments of success you are still only a pretender.  Inside your victory is hollow.

Faith follows a similar and more abstract path.  Like law schools, there are countless religious institutions that can provide you their unique understanding of divine laws and provide various religious dictates and customs that may or may not bring you any closer to true faith.  Like law school you can studiously study these texts, laws, and institutions and weigh them with prudence against natural laws, history, internal consistency within the religious system, rationale human experience, and ultimately how well does any set of beliefs guide people to act and live in a manner that stands up to a divinely imagined (or interpreted) litmus test?    This is perhaps a bit of a challenge as well and probably best explored with a spiritual adviser.  Choose wisely.


Whatever your faith, humility and openness to questioning and testing your beliefs and actions is vital. Despite the humorous depiction above, within each religion of the three monotheistic religions are clearly people acting contrary to God’s law under the banner of faith creating much suffering and damage in God’s name.   There are many “false prophets” claiming ownership of “the way” for purely human motives and perhaps even more than a few genuinely passionate religous believers who simply may have got it wrong – with firm belief that they are divinely inspired.  At the end of the day you are responsible for what you do in this world in real time and, if God exist, in God’s time!    Responsibility cannot be laid off on blindly following a charismatic leader (religiously or politically!).     Pascals wager does not factor in false prophets and evil committed in God’s name.

There is perhaps another disturbing caveat.  Similar to being accepted to a law school, obtaining faith is not something you can achieve on your own.   God alone through grace can give you faith regardless of your efforts or in spite of your lack of effort!    Without God’s grace and gift of faith your efforts are reduced to being a philosophical journey – not necessarily a bad journey, but not imbued with the divinely inspired grace of God.

To further aggravate our human grasp of faith, we may face a seemingly insurmountable obstacle of profound disbelief accentuated by personal suffering and lack of any intuitive or direct consolation from God.  Other’s in our sphere maybe alive with faith and prayer, beaming with an internal light, while our spirituality is akin to the metaphysical “dark night.”   No formal letter of acceptance comes in the mail.    This can easily create an existential spiritual crisis (perhaps even several times over).


My opinion is a genuine desire to seek God and pursuing opportunities to understand and find personal evidence of God will not go unanswered. However, answering the call to find God based on what is “good” for you as opposed to what is spiritually and divinely designed is perhaps not the best starting point.  What’s in it for me is probably contrary to a desire to transcend the human experience.   There are many paths for exploration.  (It is time for me, for example, to find a retreat to retrench soon.  Spiritual retreats can be very moving and helpful).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a rich description of man’s calling to faith (Profession of Faith) and the historical barriers believers and non-believers must face.[ii]   The profession of faith encapsulates what believer’s hold to be true – but must be a dizzying document for the non-Catholic.   I have included a reference to Catholic Church doctrine on theological constructs as I am only a wayfayer on my own journey without the authority to define faith as crystallized by 2000 years of Christine traditions.

Faith is a life long journey.  It is a never-ending study of the written word, examination of the living word (how do our actions or the actions of our religion hold up to a spiritual litmus test), and what does belief mean to me for everyday living and decisions.

When I encounter an entrenched atheist how can I explain the unexplainable?    I do not and cannot explain or prove the existence of God the same as the atheist cannot disprove the same.  I can share my journey and experiences in belief, in periods of non-belief, in struggles, and in times of consolation.  I can validate the mystical nature of my Judaism roots and the radical transformation of the living word provided by Jesus Christ.   I can acknowledge the failures of men and the failures of men of the cloth and grieve human suffering.  I can seek out common ground on shared moral beliefs.   I can offer the journey of seeking God and is never-ending and always being refined both intellectually and within my heart.   I can even share trivial coincidences that I take as divinely inspired guidance despite knowing others will see them as mere con-incidence.  I can write and express my readings.  Share my thoughts.  Most importantly I must strive to live according to my faith without dictating my faith to others.

Their path is their own!  At the end of the day, whether our spiritual pursuits leads to experiencing divine inspiration or not, it may bring us a little closer to being able to answer the following question:


When I am grounded in my spiritual beliefs I am closer to knowing the answer to this question.  When I am adrift, which has been sadly often in my life, I am easily consumed by activities and distractions that take away from living a truly “Holy Life.”  Glad there already is a St. Joseph – this Joseph has too many earthly affections to rise to the calling of the priestly or saintly cast!

If you have unquestioning faith and never have experienced the dark night – I am envious of your strength and gift of faith.  If you have no faith and/or cannot even fathom how or why to aspire for faith – I have no judgement or condemnation of your circumstance.  I pray for the mystery of God’s grace to unify us all, professed believers and atheist, to support us to act now in concert with divine his grace for the good of all humanity.     The problem of evil is still present and need be combated by believers and atheist alike.   Let us start with our own hearts and attentions.   Aspire to transcend oneself today!     It is a worthwhile journey.


[i] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/08/opinion/belief-aspirational-faith.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&version=Moth-Visible&moduleDetail=inside-nyt-region-4&module=inside-nyt-region&region=inside-nyt-region&WT.nav=inside-nyt-region

[ii] http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p1s1c1.htm


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.


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]


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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]



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]



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.


  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]


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.



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!


[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:


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.


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.


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.


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?


[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?