A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and in many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must be his own.

Percy Bysshe Shelly (1792-1860)

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To be human we must acquire others, take them into ourselves – into our heart and our soul.

This is not often done for it requires leaving ourselves and our own experience, desires, prejudices and plans in favor of the life of another, or others.  Few seem able to make the journey from self to other.

Why is that?

Well, to make that journey one has had to have come to know oneself in a full and honest exploration and come to care implicitly for the life of others, more so than for our own life.  The dynamic is this: seeing yourself you see others, being grateful for the life you have you value the life of others – you value life itself.

Yes, encountering those with this disposition is not common, and that is a sad situation – especially among the faithful.

Cherish those who care to acquire the pain you know and the joy for which you long.  In those few, you have encountered a vessel of the Divine.

Shalom.

… the devil took Him to the Holy City, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down.  For it is written:

He will command His angels concerning you, and with their hands they will support you lest you dash your foot against a stone.”

Mt 4:5-6

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The above is from the Temptation of Christ and is the second temptation in which Satan calls on Christ to use His power to garner attention to Himself so that His cause may be known to others.  It is, I suppose, the temptation to celebrity, to public notoriety and public esteem.

But of what use is celebrity to God?  To those who believe?  What can celebrity provide which is not already in the possession of those who believe?

Celebrity conforms us to the world.  It says: I am no one without notice, without the notice of others.  It dismisses God and God’s creation of us.  It assassinates the Creator, at least in our mind it does so.  Perhaps in the soul as well.

Satan was making this implicit argument: God will not be heard without celebrity?  And this: God needs a megaphone.  Headlines help.  God needs a little power-enhancing, a PR coup.  God does best when part of the news cycle.

Such thinking confines God to our small screens, to the limits of this world, its time and its small devises – and smaller heart.

No, only carnival “huxters,” governments, politicians, celebrities and advertisers need such “razzle dazzle,” such fluff and self-promotion.  You see, self-promotion is for those with “no shelf-life,” no implicit and lasting value, no prevailing truth.

Jesus knew, in His response to Satan, that God’s love of Him was universal to all and all creation and that no gimmick was needed but rather that gimmicks displayed a lack of truth and faithlessness – were the contrary to God and the Truth of God.

The thrist for celebrity, old as it is, is a monument to insecurity and to faithlessness.

Think about it.  You live in a celebrity machine called secular culture.  In submitting to it, are you submitting to the Second Temptation of Christ?

Shalom.

Inner peace is not found by staying on the surface of life, or by attempting to escape from life through any means.  Inner peace is found by facing life squarely … delving as far beneath the surface as possible to discover its verities and realities.

Anonymous

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Tranquility is a rare event in mass culture.  Its absence is everywhere.  No wonder we are upset, thrown off stride by what and who we encountered each day.  Truth is: we live among the disturbed, the greatly disturbed in many cases.

The disturbed have no peace.  They live on the surface, stampede to feed their faces – die to become the first lemming in line for the day’s ration.  Their eyes read “me first.”

There is no peace from a strategy of avoidance of life and its challenges.  Yet that is the preferred course of the legions of the disturbed.

There is, frankly, no escape if tranquility is the goal.

Rather, tranquility is in interior engagement, learning of life’s truths, passing through the struggle to a place where blindness is replaced by sight and desire is put to rest.  In tranquility there is no need for desire – tranquil needs nothing more, but that more may disturb it.

Tranquility both rests on truths, and reality (visible and invisible) and produces the same.

In circumstances of mass culture, separation from others is a wise route as detachment allows depth, reflection, discernment, growth in understanding and in wisdom – and in the treasure of tranquility.

Distance is a blessing.  Time spent in depth of being brings tranquility.

Shalom.

Silence first makes us pilgrims.  Secondly, silence guards the fire within.  Thirdly, silence teaches us how to speak.

Fr. Henri Nouwen, in The Way of the Heart

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It is Holy Week for Christians.  This is a week for slow pace, quiet and reflection.  Something extraordinary is coming to us this week. It warrants our silence.

Note what Henri Nouwen has written: silence makes us pilgrims; it guards the “fire within;” and, it teaches us how to speak.

An earnest, sincere and wise speech is proof of pilgrimage, evidence of the Fire Within.  Speech tells us of the state of the soul – our journey to the soul and the Light within.  No speech – no soul.  Only surface dust, that which is blown with the winds – inconsequential, worthless, life forfeited to nothingness.

Do not be deceived by silence and those who seem to be silent – their test is in what they say, and actions that reveal who they are.

The silence of Holy Week, of all seasons of silence, is revelatory: it teaches a pilgrim and stokes the Fire Within.

To enter silence is to be a pilgrim on a journey, to feel the glow of the Inner Flame.  Once, experienced – our speech matters: it frees us and others, it reaches out, embraces, comforts, leads, teaches what we have been taught, gives us peace and certainty.

It is a time for silence.

Shalom.

Good night, you princes of Maine.  You kings of New England.

Many people … have never paused to consider their grand goal in living.  It is perhaps understandable that they haven’t.  Our culture doesn’t encourage people to think about such things; indeed, it provides them with an endless stream of distractions so they won’t even have to.

William B. Irving, in A Guide to the Good Life

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” … an endless stream of distractions” is not a plan, not a direction, rather it is the way to waste a life and stumble from idiotic events, to calamities, to purposeless existence – a dissolute life of confusion and eventual despair.

A life of “an endless stream of distractions” is no life at all.

Yet, that pretty much describes American mass culture such as it is: we are loaded up with preoccupations, faux pleasures, meaningless things and lured to be on one treadmill or another – endless work, busyness, government dependence, an invisible seat in an impotent and often insane bureaucracy, etc.  And, of course, we have no competent public narration from those who think they are “leaders” or those in media or in the “news” business, or what we call “entertainment.”

What I see in American mass culture is something alien to me.

I have been blessed in many ways.  I have lived in poverty.  I have lost loved ones, been rejected and abandoned.  I have been unemployed and underutilized.  I have been a laborer and I have worn a white-collar short. Like you, unexpected events have interrupted my journey.  All these things have simply been part of life and more – they strengthened my resolve – gave me a life with purpose.

You see I am from Boston, a city unlike any other I have encountered.

Boston is a city of strong people.  A city of emotional, smart, tough, competitive, combative and compassionate people.  It rains sideways on us in Boston just as it does for you – and we keep moving into the wind – ’cause we’re like that.

There is little or no reversal in people from Boston.  I was blessed in adversity to live in a place where people sought a life of meaning – not fame, or appearance – but interior meaning lived in action, in practice and in service of family.

We will soon recall the Boston Marathon bombing of last April.  I hope you will pause to reflect on what is it to live purposefully, with meaning that endures, with action that makes each day a day of meaning in a life of meaning.

You have it in you to live a good life.  Think critically of what your culture asks of you and pursue what is good and lasting, consciously rejecting what dulls a life and wastes your blessed soul.

Shalom.

Youth fades and light runs out on all of us.  And, so it does.  But how do we attend to it?  How do we gracefully make a stage exit?  How do we make peace with time and mortality?

Linda Ronstadt, the wonderful singer, has shown us how.

In a recent article she discussed her Parkinson’s disease, a degenerative brain disease – and did so with grace and honesty.  She showed great character in her words.

A woman with a wonderful voice, a voice that was her vehicle for success and a source of a wonderful career, said regarding her declining vocal skill: “I send my voice to another place but it doesn’t go there.  It is like calling the elevator. You’re on the third floor, and your voice, the elevator, keeps going to the 13th floor, and it doesn’t come to your floor ever.”

Ah, the grace of acceptance, a grace without regret or anger.  A grace that brings humility.

Her illness makes it difficult for her to travel, tires her quickly and limits her days.  That which was her public identity, as a talented singer, is now something of the past.  And in her humility she is most refreshing – saying she was not a particularly good singer.  No lamenting and regret in her.  Rather, warmth and humor – recalling the many good people she worked with and the fun she had with good friends in the music business.

She seems to have always been a relaxed and kindly person.  She recounts how she left her first Grammy award in a rental car – no trophy-collector was she.

Reading about her, it is hard not to think why it is that those in the limelight so often seem to miss the humility that keeps us grounded, enriches us and equips us to understand that in time we all fade out of view … the best to be remembered fondly by those who saw us in our warmth and kindness, saw us as simply people with an opportunity to use what we had for the enjoyment of the gift of life we possessed.

Live humbly and love everyday.

Shalom.

 

I am late posting a blog today as I was a guest at a breakfast awards program to recognize those in the Washington, D.C., area who have dedicated themselves to helping others who suffer from addictions.

It was, as always, inspiring to listen to what people do to help others, and to hear the stories of those who do so after having faced hardships themselves.

As a result, I share with you several “take-aways:”

One, never assume that when you falter or fail and come to a difficult or dark spot that life will never get better.  On the contrary, do not judge yourself contemporaneously with the fall; rather, reserve assessment for a while – for good and compensatory things happen after the fall – we must patiently await them.

Two, never assume that your errant behavior is the result of your “badness” per se. Truth is we are often the recipient of others’ “brokenness” and that is usually the impetus for our disorientation.  In time you’ll come to appreciate how “brokenness” breeds “brokenness” – and then you can be relatively free of that which caused you to be limited, uncertain, wounded and lost.

Three, understand that we all need to be received by others in a wholesome way and that we too must do our share to receive others in a wholesome way. This can happen, but it is always more likely to happen when we have examined honestly our own lives and come to accept who we are as we are and have been. You see, self-understanding leads to self-acceptance, wisdom, calm, gratitude, humility, compassion and our ability to befriend others in the most wholesome way.

Well, there are three “take-aways” that emerge from seeing and accepting life as it presents itself to us … Light coming out of darkness.

Be of good cheer.  All is not lost.

Good night, you princes of Maine.  You kings of New England.

Shalom.

They say to the seers, “See no more visions!”  and to the prophets, “Give us no more visions of what is right!  Tell us of pleasant things, prophesy illusions.”

Isa 30:10

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” … prophesy illusions.”  Yes, illusions.  We have them aplenty.  So misleading.  All things false are, you know.  Yes, false – contrary to truth.  Deception. Self-deception.

Illusions make way for malevolence, wrong-doing, injury to self and to others, to evil.

We are too “sophisticated” to imagine evil, too rational to see it in ourselves, too quick to excuse, to slumber in its presence, to look the other way and focus on “pleasant things.”

This, Dear Friends, explains high school violence, the random slashing in a Pennsylvania school yesterday – and so many other weekly heinous events that rain down on us.

Hostility, hatred, violence – all evil.

Those who brings suffering, distress, dependence, and hurt to others.  Evil. Those whose presence and behavior, world view and actions diminish the human person.  Evil.

Those whose ways are evil, who bring us evil – kill the soul and are evil, plain and simple.  Such people are in “high places” and have “educations.”  Surprise, surprise!  They seek “leadership” so they might glorify themselves – evil-doers, many.

Lest we fool ourselves to death in our secularized, illusory culture: evil has always existed in human history.

Anything, Dear Friends, which inhibits your growth, fragments you, objectifies you, disintegrates you, limits your maturity, thwarts your acquisition of wisdom or your interior peace, impedes your fullness of being, destroys your relationships, your spiritual development, your relationship with the Divine is evil.

To know evil and to resist evil is to know good and accept good.  We have, you know, an urgent task today.

If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.

The days of our willing accommodation to illusions and self-deceit are far past gone.  We have some catching-up to do.  Our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren, and their children and grandchildren depend on it.

If we continue to slumber, we will leave them nothing but the dark abyss of evil – violence, killing, meaninglessness, dark and soullessness, dread and despair, suicide and annihilation.

… harden not your hearts …  The hour is short.

Shalom.

Relationship to the Self is at once relationship to our fellow man, and no one can be related to the latter until he is related to himself.

Carl Jung, M.D., in The Collected Works of Carl Jung

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To be in relationship with others is to be in relationship with self first.  For those who do not know who they are cannot know who another is.  When we refuse to receive our Self, we cannot receive others.

To know yourself is to examine who you are, to know in the details (painful or otherwise) who you are, to come to realize your skills and the identity which has unfolded in you over time, and that which is within you in an archetypal, anthropological and mythical sense.

To know Self is to integrate, to become an assembled whole capable of receipt of others as they are.

When we know who we are we draw the world to us, we know what it is to be connected with others, we know what an intimate life is and we experience life in the full.

Sadly, there is virtually nothing in contemporary, exclusionary secular culture that assists or encourages integration.  In the absence of integration, contemporary, exclusionary secular culture is an injury machine.  It produces violence in its objectification of people and its destruction of human experience and spiritual existence.

To live fully in our culture is to be heroic and such life demands a special person unwilling to be reduced and dismissed and twisted into something less that a full human and spiritual being.  Yet, a failure to examine one’s self is a prescription for illness, serious illness, chaos and disorder.

Look around you – illness, chaos and disorder are everywhere.  Perhaps this explains the popularity of shows and movies about zombies – those void of human and spiritual life.  Art often tells us what we are experiencing and what we are not able, because of its horror, to voice.

Shalom.

… the life of grace on earth is the beginning of the life of glory.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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In temporal time there is eternity.  Grace is our ticket of admission.  We need only cooperate with it.

We often think of temporal time as if it is the capsule of our existence.  But it is not.  Eternity envelops us.  Temporal time is only our invention.  Eternity is God’s dimension, and we live in it.  Grace transports us to eternity, if we allow it.

We live in what man has made, often thinking that “this is it,” this is Eden. Think again.

When you drive on Route 30 across the southern tier of Chicago you drive for miles with an uninterrupted strip of malls, a repetition of the same road side stores and restaurants.  Not Eden exactly.

We are in temporal time: expandable, insignificant, but a blink in time eternal, if that.  In our earthly lives we are so easily consumed, so easily distracted and hence unglued.

In temporal time faith is often forestalled, set aside as if we can attend to it on the eve of our mortal departure.  Ah, will we be surprised.  You see, the mirror looks at us every bit as much as we look at the mirror.  Better we live in the infinite – in eternity – even as we set our clock in time that mortal man has made.

Your life in glory begins this moment.  You are graced to know this.  What do you do with it?

Shalom.

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