“Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully aware that it is alive … It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being … It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible transcendent and infinitely abundant Source.”

Thomas Merton, in New Seeds of Contemplation

+ + +

Canadian Charles Taylor wrote an exceptional book on secularism in which he said that our decline in attending church was not the greatest problem that secularism exhibited but rather it was our failure to experience belief that was a far greater and more devastating problem.

And so it is today that we do not believe.

You wish evidence? Victimhood. Victims present clear evidence that they do not believe. They lack what all people need – a burning desire to live to the full in reliance on their sacred being and the capacity to prevail against the odds and obstacles that each of us face in each and every life.

Stated another way – those who assert their victimization are Godless, without strength of character, confidence, self-reliance, courage and are, as a consequence, destined to rely on others for handouts while they stew in their own discontent.

Godlessness is at the core of our present day pitiful culture of whining victimization. Disbelief by some changes America for the worst and makes others pay a huge price.

Without belief in ourselves and our “indefinitely abundant Source” we wallow in our own hand-made displeasure and rather than having the fight in us to establish our value and show others what God makes in each of us – we see groups who make a vocation of complaining endlessly and seek in this sorry disposition handouts from Big Brother Government and from others who promoted as the “cause” of their alleged disadvantage. Without belief in God we convert destiny to disaster.

Once we were One Nation Under God. We are far from that Nation now – because we have substituted endless complaint for sacred belief.

Without change we face a downward spiral. Make no mistake – victimization leads nowhere good. Nothing succeeds but freedom, personal responsibility and faith.

Shalom.

“An attempt to wrest from God the prerogatives of absolute freedom and infinity leads to the inversion of the Pentecost and what is in effect a new Babel.” (Emphasis added.)

Colin E. Gunton, in The One, the Three and the Many: God, Creation and the Culture of Modernity.

+ + +

In the excellent T.V. Series entitled Blue Bloods (about an Irish-American family of generations who served as police officers in New York City) we see in each episode a Sunday dinner in which current and retired officers convene to share a dinner and conversation together. The young and old, men and women, sit and share ideas, discuss problems and policing today and as encountered by the elders gathered at the table. Their’s is a shared experience. They share the same experience … and no one member is “the exclusive” and decisive voice of all.

Family at a common table, sharing conversation, experiences, ideas, knowledge, wisdom, suggestions, insights with one another. People who serve others speaking a common voice … listening to one another.

That table setting always strikes my heart. Is there anything we remember from our childhood that is more striking than the memories of sitting, young and old, at the Sunday dinner table? Probably not.

Think of the Last Supper. Is there any more satisfying guide to civility, fellowship, shared life and faith than that one critical scene! Each with a common language. The words uniting one another. The common language every bit as nourishing as the bread broken and the wine sipped.

When you think of your interior life, I suggest you think of the common table we share, the language we know and use, the history we have had together in Western Civilization, in this country and think critically of the words we hear today and the concepts they convey. Ask yourself are these words unifying or dividing? Are they used to seek advantage or cement unity? Do they reflect sacred belief or push forward selfish desires? Do they heal or do they wound? Do they impose on God’s freedom and His infinity in favor of our alleged and mis-guided supremacy?

You ask for spiritual guidance. Think foremost of words and their facile use and misuse … and then ask this: “humility or arrogance?”

Without a common table and common language – we are but Babel – directed at fragmentation and decline. Time to be in daily contact with our faith, its language, the common table and each other – none more important than another.

Shalom.

“To those who have faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.”

Saint Thomas Aquinas

+ + +

Those who attend to their faith, assuming that they take it in and live it rather than simply use it as a shield, can absorb more of the experience of life. Hence, they see more, experience others more insightfully, and circumstances resonate in them.

Yes, the Truth of it all makes its presence known.

To the Faithful long explanations are not necessary as their depth perception is excellent. They are multiple steps ahead of the game.

One might think of it this way: those who allow themselves to see reality as it presents itself – and I mean reality good and bad – learn early on in life that this journey from birth to old age is interesting, informative and need not be screened so as to divert one’s eyes and heart from that which is (because we are fallen humans in many instances) at times unsavory, unpleasant – harsh, thoughtless, selfish – maybe cruel, possibly even evil.

A very basic act of faith is taking life in – not “cherry-picking” this view and that.

Faith allows one a courageous heart and access to unvarnished reality – life as Christ encountered it. Pilate could not have been a “surprise” to Christ, nor the crucifixion unfamiliar – the Roman authorities were after all the Romans who demanded one’s conformity to them and their ways and tolerated little diversion.

Think about it: with faith and understanding and savvy we are given the opportunity to fully experience life and He who brought us into being, along with the companionship of Christ, Mother Mary, Joseph, the Saints and martyrs, St. John Paul II, Aquinas and oh so many who’s witness is EVERLASTING and full of wisdom, spiritual understanding, a moral consciousness, and a healthy psychological and inter-personal state of being.

All one ball of wax, Friends. If you submit yourself to those without faith – your ride around the mountain will be a hard ride indeed. Those without faith lead only to calamity.

Let Aquinas walk along with you. Take his advice. It makes the walk so much more enjoyable and seems to shrink hazards into small potatoes.

Shalom.

“To keep any great nation up to high standards of civilization there must be enough to superior characters to hold the balance of power, but the very moment that balance of power gets into the hands of second-rate men and women, a decline of that nation is investable.

Christian D. Larson

+ + +

It is, of course, true that our spiritual life is in large part private and a very special venue whereby each of us becomes familiar with our interior existence as well as becoming deeply familiar with the tenets of our faith and the depth of the religious narrative that accompanies our faith tradition.

That said we have, as the above quotation suggests, an obligation to see to it that the political life of our Nation, as well as the leadership in its institutions, must be populated with the wisest and most selfless, service-oriented men and women we can find in our culture.

The cost of not having our very best people in positions of political and religious leadership and in command positions is, it seems, just at the quote conveys: yes, decline follows the governance of second-rate people placed in high civic places.

There probably no greater qualifier for civic leadership than this: that those who lead be anchored in their faith tradition for there-in is humility, understanding of the needs of the human person and the sacred nature of both leadership and the Nation we share as Americans.

If you doubt that this is so just think of this: 58 people signed the Declaration of Independence and among those people 24 held degrees from either a seminary or a Bible school. Yes, the center of their wisdom emanated from their spiritual development and the insight it brings to life properly and happily lived.

So, when you cultivate your spiritual life (which I strongly encourage you to do – for many reasons) I also say this: actively attend to your spiritual development while you also come to understand that your faith life and its public practice of it has a vital place in the success and protection of America.

Shalom.

“Action is the stream and contemplation is the spring.”

Thomas Merton

+ + +

The stream, like the river, often rushes by us. People sometimes drown themselves in a river. People do not drown themselves in a spring – rather they pause and sit and sip from the calm cool water of the spring.

Contemplation is the spring. By the spring you become aware of the inside and the outside. By the spring you see the breeze in the trees and hear the leaves singing of God and notice the endless, eternal blue sky and the pillows of clouds that seek your head at rest. With the stream you recognize your innate silence and the life-giving beat of your heart. The quiet heart: the door to the soul.

Contemplation asks of us one thing: quiet for in silence we hear what often we ignore. Contemplation is not us in doing. Doing is too often distraction. Contemplation brings us to being itself … and being is sacred and eternal.

Give yourself over to the spring, to its silence so you may know you and Who made you.

In silence is contemplation – the mind at rest meets moments of contemplation. In contemplation you meet the truth within joined to the truth without and in this the Master speaks in silence about eternity.

In contemplation all the “this” and “that” of mortal men and women loses its “significance” – worries and needs, and errant desires dissolve into the never-ending “reality” that has made what is impertinent “a necessity.”

All things false are eradicated in contemplation and the Divine’s reign is certain, oh so obvious … and you live as all those before you who have come to inexhaustible existence in a perfect quiet without any worries or conflict.

As the spring brings quiet and rest, so too does contemplation.

Shalom.

Postscript – Please keep Dear Friend Marty Guerra and his family in your prayers. Marty is hospitalized and has encountered some serious hip pain that has him at this time bed-bound. He awaits pain reduction and the hope for rehabilitation in daily physical therapy. Thank you.

“ … there is only one kind of freedom which is the freedom of the Cross.”

Thomas Merton, in Contemplation in a World of Action

We live in particularly difficult times. There is political turmoil. We are divided as a Nation. Fragmented is probably a more apt description and the “rub” for us is this – unlike other countries our Nation attaches itself to a relationship with God … yes, we declare ourselves as “one Nation under God.”

Those who attack our Nation attack our faith. This duality puts politics in the business of belief, of faith – puts God “in play.”

How then does a person respond to those who attack our Nation, find it wanting, denounce it, reject it – desire its demise? Think about it – attacking America implicitly attacks our relationship with God … as we have claimed it for decades upon decades.

My best suggestion is this: contemplation.

In New Seeds in Contemplation Thomas Merton writes: “ …what it means to seek God perfectly: to keep my mind free from confusion in order to receive the secret contact of God in obscure love.”

Yes, we seek freedom so to return to the source of freedom – a Loving God, Christ our Savior, Blessed Mary his Mother and all the Saints who have come before us.

To be free is to Trust in God … hence we see in our Nation the proclaimation “in God we trust.” No God, no freedom. Hence in politics and governance there is a primacy in God as manifest in us, in each person who serves in our governance or enters the political realm.

But as to us, the private citizen and laity, what are we to do in our part? Cultivate and sustain a life of contemplation – overt commitment to contemplation so one might instinctively and regularly, daily and hourly be conscious of the freedom that comes alone from trust in God.

For each of us – the contemplative life awaits. The more one realizes this the greater the strength and contentment, the greater the wisdom and tranquility, the better the Nation, the more civil the bond among us and the quieter our politics.

In contemplation is the foundation of peace and freedom and hence the liberty to escape the anger of those who have lost sight of God.

Hope this helps you who, like me, live in the most divisive time I have encountered.

Back to the “seeds of contemplation” and the wisdom of Thomas Merton.

Shalom.

“In a free society, government reflects the soul of its people. If people want a change at the top, they will have to live in different ways. Our major social problems are not caused by our decadence. They are a reflection of it. (Emphasis added.)

Cal Thomas

+ + +

In his excellent book From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present Historian and Scholar Jacques Barzun tells us that all revolutions contain the violent transfer of power and property in the name of some idea.

This is where we are headed today if we are not careful. I give an example – talk of abandoning our currency regime in favor of bitcoin or the desire of the Chinese Communists to displace the value of the American dollar as the currency of international trade, investment and finance. Each speaks to a substantial change with adverse effects on our country and our wellbeing. Likewise we see the manufactured resentment of all things “White” and “privileged.” Sure to divide and apt to create anger. Not good for this Nation and all its people.

Note that Barzun does not tie revolutions to a good idea but rather just an idea. Any nonsense will do that causes eruption of the animal passions of those whose primary talent is not building but destruction. This is where we are headed today if we are not careful.

Lest we forget what we are seeing today let’s be plain in saying our material success has expressed itself in decadence and all sorts of moral excess. I name but one: the killing of the human unborn child. Decadence.

Think as well of the humor and arrogance that attaches to the preposterous idea that college-dropout Bill Gates advances to spread a cloud about the earth so to reduce the average temperature on the planet. In a revolutionary period ideas need not be sane and are routinely offered up by those who know little but have piles of cash. Yes, decadence makes way for the extraordinarily wealthy who know so little while turning away from the contemplative. Decadence.

Then we have the political Left and their bedfellows in the media, “entertainment,” Hollywood, left-tilted universities (of which there are many) and those of the perpetually quarrelsome who, like their wealthy patrons, seem to object to just about everything in the United States while romancing the bye-gone wrecks that are communism and socialism. Remember, in a revolution any idea – good, bad, looney, utterly discredited by history – will do “just fine.”

So what does this say to those who are faithful, for whom God is an everyday reality and presence in their life?

What it says is this: “Indeed the light of the wicked goes out, And the flame of his fire gives no light. The light in his tent is darkened and his lamp above him goes out.” Job 18:5-6

In practical terms the task of those who believe is this: hold your ground, double-down on your prayer life, stand tall, stay in the love of God for there is freedom, be vocal, form a union with others of like mind, be a vocal public presence, spread your wings of witness, support the institutions upon which this nation relies (like the police), invite quiet into your life, befriend others, defuse conflict. In the process turn a deft ear to those voices which intend to divide us or desire to destroy this country. Turn to relationship with God. Settle into prayer and contemplation.

This is getting to be a difficult time in our history. In the hardest times the challenge is not to lose oneself in the storm but rather shelter consistently in God alone.

Shalom.

Postscript – These are hard times, perhaps our hardest insofar as our identity as Americans is attacked, ridiculed, repudiated. So we stand in a difficult place – between national identity and God. This is particularly difficult because our nation takes care to see itself as being “one people under God.” In challenging America we are challenging our relationship with Nation and God. I suppose the difficult task is to think of the former without losing the latter. Tomorrow, a piece on contemplation … contemplation in very troubling times.

“So long as we are not free from the subjugation of our passions and emotions … we will never be free from our divisions … We tend to be dominated … also by our own ideas … we tend to become rigid … enclosure within our own ideas prevents us from being open to see reality … domination by our own ideas is the way in which we are dominated by our prejudices.

Basil M. Pennington, O.S.C.O., in Thomas Merton Brother Monk: The Quest for True Freedom.

+ + +

Yesterday the verdict in the George Floyd trial was announced. I listened a bit to the comments offered by others and I was particularly taken by the comments of Black Americans and thought how those speakers are so dominated by their own prejudices and the division which they create by this prejudice. They are, much to my chagrin, more enslaved than once their ancestors had been.

Ironically racial prejudice has been replaced by racial prejudice. How pathetic and how unnecessary. We are capable of far better things. Sadly I saw in the “protest marchers” who took to the streets after the verdict, quite the same prejudice. No freedom in their disposition.

Yesterday, well before the jury verdict I was at the grocery and on my way out I noticed a lovely lady at the machine the allows one to insert a coin or cash to secure an opportunity to “win” a claim to be cashed-in for more money (it is a mini-lottery opportunity).

The lady I saw was about five feet, one inch tall. Cute as a button. Round like a Grandma almost always is round. About the size of my Grandma (I called my Grandma “Bammie” ‘cause as a small child I couldn’t say the sound of the letter “g”).

Like my Grandmother – the ticket buyer was all “polished up” – her hair was impeccable, she had “just right” earrings and a beautiful round face with sparkling eyes and a cute button of a nose. The attire? First class! She was adorable -a sweet Grandma to some very lucky grandkids.

Says I to this pretty-as-a picture Grandma …”Hitting the lottery are you.” She smiled and was “yes.” I reply well I’m rooting for ya.” She smiled even more – her bright eyes sparkling. “Hope you win a bundle!” Bigger smile yet. I smile back at her, “God bless and I hope its a million!” Another smile.

How can anyone pass by such a cute archtypical rotund, tiny Grandma all dressed for the world to enjoy and NOT enjoy the warmth of such a lady?

My beautiful lottery ticket lady was a not a White lady … but honestly who the heck cares!!! She was a lady. A Grandma. Sweet and cute as only Grandmas can be. And I wanted to see her win … and wanted to celebrate how nice it is to see such a daring woman so beautifully dressed, groomed and pretty for all the world to see.

If I were governed by racial prejudice, I’d have missed with lovely lady and that Dear Friends is too great a price to pay. Why would I cheat myself of joy of so sweet a lady?

Let’s think about metaphysics, about the beginning of stuff – being itself. In this case the first human being. God creates this man and this woman. We are the people of God’s first intention, children of the Word. Skin color matters not. In this context we are all one person.

We are tasked with loving one another as ourself for we are one another – one person like all elephants are elephants, like my cherished dog “Gus” was like all dogs.

Time to ditch the prejudice and division. We have worn that narrative out.

We are human beings the way all human beings are human beings. Enough already! Prejudice makes us miss a whole lot of fun – like a beautiful Grandma with a twinkle in her eye and hope in her heart buying a lottery ticket.

May God bless that beautiful Grandma and all nice-as-can-be Grandmas. Message to anyone listening, reading or breathing: drop the prejudice!!!

Shalom.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but by seeing it I see everything else.” (Emphasis added.)

C. S. Lewis

+ + +

We are being told by pollsters and others who take account of America and the people who live here that we are a people who’s interest in religion is fading and that affiliation with and participation in a chosen religion is on the decline.

What does this bode for us as a people and for our nation?

As to us as people, it leaves us with a gigantic task. The need to acquire our understanding of the human person (ourself included) by some other means than a religious narrative as understood through participation and practice of our chosen religion.

Absent religion – our nation becomes dismembered, fragmented – as we become estranged from one another.

You see understanding the human person and coming in contact with what a good and contented and purposeful life is can be (and always has and will be) the constant of religious narratives and amplified by participation in religious worship.

Think about it – we learn a great deal about ourself and others through religion and its narrative. Absent religion and our familiarity with its narrative and our experience of its message through regular worship, how does one learn about the human person -his or her needs and interior longing – including our own?

Well the answer is easily stated. Throw out religion and your task is this: study and acquire what psychology has to offer – master all that is needed to understand the human person – you, and all others, each at a different stage of life as life evolves – and in particular the origins of human conduct both good and bad, coherent and incoherent. Likewise, be prepared to review and become familiar with all the lasting literature and steam of mythology that abounds in the font of that which has explained the human being and being itself over these many centuries and an abundance of varied places and particular voices and language.

Goodbye, religion and your assignment becomes OVERWHELMING … or in the alternative we remain ill-equipped to live side by side and life will take on utter chaos and inevitable estrangement from one another.

All things considered: I’d consider sticking with C.S. Lewis and religion.

Shalom.

“God gives us the freedom to create our own lives, according to His will, that is to say in the circumstances in which He places us.

Thomas Merton, in The Intimate Merton: His Life from His Journals

+ + +

If you were to look around at those who would govern us, would you see men and women showing any indication that they understand what Merton is saying?

Stated another way: do you see much evidence in our culture that reflects the point that Thomas Merton is making?

The point, of course, is this: we are not the exclusive author of our life – indeed we have NOT called ourself into existence, into being. No, that is God’s role, privilege and power … and we are not God. We are but God’s subjects, His children, His beloved.

If you desire contentment keep what Merton says in your mind – let it be present each day for that is the sacred template upon which we live, i.e. we are free to live only insofar as we live according to His will – NOT OUR OWN.

This principle reality our governing disposition, our orientation to life in this world?

I leave you to answer that question. I offer only this personal observation: I see an awful lot of structures, organizations, human behavior, boastful self-appointed mavens insisting on taking center stage so we might follow their dictates. I prefer you listen to Thomas Merton.

Merton’s observation is very useful and I contend the route to our happiness.

Speaking for myself as to my own experience: I have NEVER been able to ignore the things that happened to me, the circumstances of my life. Father deserts the family when I am an infant. Father walks by me and never says “hello.” Never had a word with the guy – and haven’t obviously missed much.

Raised by a single Mom – a remarkable person who, while petite, stood tall in all circumstances notwithstanding her health or our living in lean times.

Poverty? Dyslexia? My wife’s dubious distinction of acquiring a cancer that was heretofore not known, a cancer without name or fixed course of treatment. The deaths of my Grandfather and Grandmother with whom my Mother and I lived – each dying by the time I had finished the sixth grade. My wife’s death at age 29 – only a few years after we married. The circumstances of a life with many questions and many losses.

So what is my point? I never thought of myself as living independent of the circumstances of my life nor of living without God.

My experience would tell you this: what God presents to you in the circumstances of your life are the key to knowing who God made you to be, what God desires you to know, who God intends you to be, what He will ask you to do for others – how He intends for you to find happiness, contentment, joy, Him, life itself.

If you doubt this – think about your life. If you seek peace but find adversity – do you see that presuming God knows of your adversity He is drawing you nearer to Him, teaching you, standing with you, strengthening you, making you wiser – that He is surely ready to walk with you, to walk you closer to Him?

My life has given me this certainty: in adversity is opportunity … and the FIRST opportunity is to know God more fully, actually experience His presence in your life – amid your circumstance and challenges.

Life. Properly considered and squarely faced is really “a piece of cake.” Adversity is Opportunity. All cake, folks, all cake.

Don’t get too bundled up in the structures of this world or the words of the self-appointed modern mavens of loud voice – for their’s is a most dubious depth – – – deep town inside they are quite shallow.

The discretion God offers is the gateway to the freedom God gives you – you need not walk to the drumbeat of others … for they are NOT God and are often unlikely to know of what Thomas Merton speaks. Be discrete – listen to those who have something to share with you that is positive, helpful, informative, offered in the spirit of caring.

Oh, yes – one final suggestion – keep the company of those who know no grudge after having walked through life’s fires. They know what Thomas Merton is saying.

Shalom.

Categories

Log In

%d bloggers like this: