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The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.

Vaclav Havel

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Salvation.  The heart + reflection + meekness + responsibility.  So observes Vaclav Havel.

Don’t see much of this around Washington these days.  Salvation is a word rarely heard since we began barring God from public conversation.  We can thank the marshmallow middle and the strident Left for that basic act of dislocation – as to the latter their inevitable preference for error.

Heart, reflection, meekness, responsibility.  Little of this here today.  Heartless is more the form.  Reflection, like thoughts of salvation, appears permanently shelved in favor of the instant news cycle where comments issue as frequently as pulse beats as politicos and “talking heads” tommy-gun out the “latest inside scoop” replete with “unnamed sources” (a delightful name for twins today, by the way).

Meekness, my God!  None of that here.  Washington is more a mob at Filene’s Basement tearing the bargain “name brand” apparel from one another in a melee resembling Wrestle-Mania gone mad.  Meekness, it seems, is too orderly and vulnerable for Washington today.  Gone is the obvious power of a calm and measured voice.

It follows there are few signs of responsibility – at least among the those who daily carp and complain, and report and exploit.

We could use some Vaclav Havel.  Inmates running an asylum never works well.

Shalom.

Footnote – Vaclav Havel is among the most interesting figures of the late last century and early 21st century.  A writer, philosopher, political dissident and politician who served as the last President of Czechoslovakia (1989-1902) and the first President of the Czech Republic (1903-2003).  A widely-esteemed and admired man or faith, courage, talent, heart, thoughtfulness, insight, humility, service and responsibility.  Don’t you wish we had such a presence here today. ‘Tis time to tell the children to be quiet.

Wisdom is meaningless until your own experience has given it meaning … and there wisdom is the selection of wisdom.

Bergan Evans

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Many time people tell me that their brother, sister, mother, spouse does not seem to understand their plight in life.  The complaint I hear tells of the suffering and estrangement of being unable to experience a connection between those who you know well and for a long time and a person facing significant trials, angst, uncertainty, suffering and pain.

I always remind these people that one of the hardest things to do is to experience the experience of another.

Why is that?

Well, the primary reason is this: people do not examine their own experience in life fully.

Most people ignore the actual event of life.  They live what is easy, pleasant, necessary – but avoid the unpleasant things, challenges, the mystery of their own life and experience.  In that avoidance, one cannot take on another’s plight.  That being the case, two people who know one another – even reside with one another – cannot maintain an intimate connection with one another.  Sad and commonplace, but unnecessary.

The answer?  Live deeply, not on the surface.  Reflect on what is presented to you – whether good or bad, difficult or easy.

We are given a life so it may be fully lived, fully explored and experienced.  If you fall short, you reduce yourself and likely lapse into a smallness that leads to your own disorder … and your ability to befriend and love others, and to be compassionate is put out of reach.

It is easier to say you feel another’s pain, than it is to feel another’s pain.

Shalom.

When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became … deeply troubled, and said, “Where have you laid him?”  They said to him, “Sir, come and see.”  And Jesus wept.

Jn 11:33, 34-35

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Some think that religion causes war.  Scholars refute this with evidence to the contrary. Yet, we do not venture to say: religious belief – belief in God might well humanize us – give us empathy for others – even those we do not know … the victims of violence, or disease, hunger or natural disasters in distant lands.

Jesus wept.

This passage records Jesus at the death of Lazarus.  When others wept, he was moved to tears as well – tears shed for their suffering, their loss, their sadness.

Does this not show his heart, his love, his humanity, his understanding, his empathy, his relationship with, and compassion for, others?  Is that not a lesson for us?  Has it not been a lesson for us? Humanized us?  Put us in relationship with God and others?  What other than this might trigger our empathy?  Our compassion?  Humility?  What other than this might cause us to care for those we have not met?  Do not know personally?  Provide us courage?  Courage to speak up?  To safeguard and defend others?  The capacity to comfort others?

What humanizes you?  Causes you to stand for others?  Risk your life?  Bring you to tears, and to prayer?

Look around.  Next time one attacks religion, those who live in and by faith, ask yourself: What humanizes us other than faith?

It is easy for us to come to anger.  Harder yet to love.  Left alone, without faith at hand – we anger more so than weep, more so than love.

Thank about it.

Shalom.

Every one knows how to be resigned amid the joys and happiness of prosperity, but to be so amid storms and tempests is peculiar to the children of God.

St. Francis de Sales

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Thought strengthens, the heart grows, courage increases and understanding and wisdom, like compassion, arise when times are difficult.

We have had a prosperous length of time.  Amid plenty we have become careless in our thoughts and habits.  We have succumbed to the errors of the intellect and pride in our limited selves.  And now we see the calamity.

Indeed, in the highest places we see corruption, incompetence, laziness, lying, arrogance and weakness.  We are now so very much who and what we have NOT been made to be.

Yes, we are at a turning point.

We would be wise to recall the words of King David to his son Solomon:

“Only the Lord give you discretion and understanding, and give you charge over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the Lord your God.  Then you will prosper, if you are careful to observe the statutes and the ordinances which the Lord commanded Moses of Israel.  Be strong and courageous, do not fear nor be dismayed.

1 Chr 22: 12-13

Fear not.  Through adversity is salvation.  Does not Christ show us this?

We are invited to a new life, to reformation, renewal, from death to life, from chaos to contentment, from folly to faith – faith more certain than ever.

If you are dismayed and feel down and defeated, heed what King David said.

Ours is a time from adversity to prosperity, from despair to meaning, from the material and the physical to the Spirit and what is everlasting, immortal.

Where are you now?  Where will you go?  Where will you be?

Shalom.

Be merciful unto me, O God, be merciful unto me; for my soul trusteth in thee: yea, in the shadow of thy wings will I take my refuge, until these calamities be overpast. (Emphasis added as to “my soul.”)

Ps 57: 1

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King David is one of the most interesting figures in Scripture.  He was a lowly shepherd anointed by King Saul as his heir, the next King of Israel.  He was a fearless and very gifted commander yet Saul turned against him and he fled into hiding and went from place to place to seek safety.

Ultimately he united the Hebrews into one people, one kingdom.  He is credited with bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and dedicating the site of the future Temple.

He was betrayed by friends and he committed some grave sins himself.  He struggled in his soul.  Yet, he maintained passionate relationship with God.  He trusted in the Lord and sought peace within his soul through his relationship with God.  He recognized that God alone offered the solace he sought and the love and mercy that he needed.

That, Dear Friends, is the lesson David brings to you.

It does not matter that you struggle with your soul, with your efforts to do what is right and faithful; no, it matters that you seek God who alone can lead you in that soulful struggle to live well, to live in love and maturity, compassion, mercy, wisdom, humility, gratitude, generosity, contentment and service to others.

This is also a lesson for our culture today.

Beware of “leaders” who exhibit no relationship with God, who “go it alone” – who make large and risky decisions alone, without the wisdom of elders, of experienced “hands.”

You will know them by their lack of transparency, their inability to build relationships, their arrogance and inability to accept the opinions of others.  They, in their smallness, see themselves as “The Almighty,”

They are, unlike David, doomed to fail and fail big – and fail in ways that punish their fellow citizens, the ones they are to have cared for.  They do not build a future, sustain a nation but rather destroy a legacy which has been carefully developed over time, time in which God played an active part in the lives of those who have led and those they have led.

Apply David’s lesson to you, and to your culture and those who claim they are worthy leaders.

You are forewarned. In God we trust.

Shalom.

He that thinks he lives without sin does not avoid sin but rather excludes all pardon … and therefore I dare assert it is good that the proud should fall into some broad and disgraceful sin.

St. Augustine, in City of God, XIV, 426

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We need not fear reality, nor tailor a life story to our design, including only the good parts.  However in the strangest way this is what we do in America and doing so is an explicit rejection of the life God gave us and God.

How you ask?

Because we are neither the creator of our life nor the author of life as it will be presented to us.

How does this relate to what St. Augustine says above?

To accept ourselves as we are made – in the imperfect image of God – is to accept our capacity for great good and for sin.  Yes, we fail to do good.  We succumb to temptation.  We are captive at times to our passions and act poorly out of fear and doubt – and we pass through such deeds with many rationalizations and justifications.

So what is the price of these rationalizations and justifications?  We become less authentically human.  We become actors and pretenders.  We become the prideful ones St. Augustine mentions.

Yet, I add more.  We forfeit humility and with it compassion and intimate contact, and ease in living, a capacity to know that God is God and we are not.

If you wish to see a shallow life and one with discontent and injury to self and others, look at those who deny sin, their own sin and life as it contains sin.  They are often seen by their destructive path, some full of small and misplaced “guilt” – the guise of “cheap grace.”

The remedy?  Truth.  Be truthful.  Own your humanity in all its glory and deprivation and ponder a God who loves all the same, and forgives generously – more than seven times seventy-seven.

Do that and life is filled with joy, and confidence and gratitude.

Shalom.

Thank you for sharing this with others.  Our task is to be the best we can – warts and all – with this gift of life.  God bless.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. (Emphasis added.)

The Declaration of Independence

Today is Patriots Day in Boston.

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Compassion is derived from the Latin words com and pati which, coupled together, produce this meaning: “to bear with” or “to suffer with.”  Compassion does not mean that you “feel someone’s pain” for that is superficial and can be easily faked.

No, compassion is more.  It is bearing another’s suffering, caring for that other who suffers, to, by presence or deed, act to relieve another’s suffering, at least by one’s actual presence to the one who suffers.

Compassion is best understood as having a place in theology, in faith and in the faith narrative – the narrative of God’s relationship with Israel and God’s gift of Jesus of Nazareth.

Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the experience of compassion in a culture that ignores, dismisses or exiles faith, distances itself from religion.  Simply stated, people are not, without faith, apt to turn themselves to another and join in their suffering, act to relieve it.

The secular state’s disinterest to the plight of persecuted Christians and others in the Middle East ought to be proof enough that a culture lacking faith does little to alleviate the suffering of others.

We seem to have drifted away from compassion.

Our courts handling of religious questions reflects our shift away from a disposition we once held firmly.

For some time now American courts have seemed to mangle an understanding of the role of faith and religion in American society.  Judges seem uniquely unfamiliar with the vital place of faith and religion in fostering a compassionate people and compassionate culture.  Illustratively, we have seen judges think of the phrase “under God” is equivalent to a pledge to Zeus.  Likewise we have had judges announce that the mention of “God” in the Pledge of Allegiance is “innocuous” – leaving the notion of God as banal, having no significance.

When God is “innocuous,”or the equivalent to Zeus, can anyone imagine a population of a secular nation being compassionate?  I think the answer is “no.”

Oh, there are those who think, mistakenly so, that “volunteerism” is the equivalent of bearing another’s suffering? To them, I ask: Do volunteers routinely die for another?  Does volunteerism produce martyrs?  Was Christ but a well-meaning volunteer?  Is God as to Israel only a volunteer?

History shows us that a person has to believe in something, for the human person must have meaning to prosper and grow to their full humanity.  When God is exiled, humans are left with politics, power, pleasure, status, wealth and self as the source of meaning – none of which foster compassion or produce happiness, contentment and peace.

Compassion?  Unlikely without God, unlikely in cultures which diminish faith and religion.

Shalom.

Oh you guiding night!  Oh night more kindly than the dawn!

St. John of the Cross

This is the last in a series of three consecutive reflections on the dark night of the soul.

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St. John of the Cross knew the dark night of the soul as an experience which taught him the joys and pains of human existence, of life – all life, everyone’s life. He knew it as the experience which taught him how to address suffering and injustice, and maximize his peace and tranquility amid life’s gusts and gales and gentle breezes.

Psychotherapist Gerald G. May, M.D., shared John’s sentiments.  May, after years of working with patients, concluded that to treat suffering within a medical model neglected the fact that we are spiritual beings and that to be healthy and whole a person had to learn to integrate the circumstances he or she encountered in life, not mask, medicate, or attempt to avoid them.

Dr. May knew that suffering and pain properly encountered led to growth, understanding, strength, courage, compassion, intimate connection with others, forgiveness, balance and stability, insight, wisdom, depth of being and peace within and without.

Both John and Dr. May knew that suffering was a natural experience in life and that if addressed it invited greater freedom and full development of the human person.  In this, each saw the dark nights as vessels of hope and growth. Dr. May, in particular, saw how present day psychological and neurological insights confirmed and verified spiritual truth born in ages past.

May’s understandings of suffering and pain common in human existence led him to advise us thus: “Listen to the truth of you own life experience” especially amid the dark nights which challenge us and grow our soul.

Our True Nature is Eternal, Joyous, Selfless and Pure.

Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo

Have you noticed how the birds chirp in the cold rain of late autumn?

Shalom.

No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Jn 15:13

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In the first chapter of his book The Undiscovered Self, Carl Jung, M.D., makes the point that in mass culture the individual person is marginalized, becomes anonymous, loses a sense of meaning, and the mass and the centralized state becomes the apex of existence.

In present day America we say little about the psychological consequences of what Jung identifies, but there are profound consequences that result when man loses meaning.  For one, moral conscience expires.

Look at the failure of our government leaders or the Church to respond to the religious genocide we now see.  Wish to understand it?  Think about Kitty Genovese.

Ms. Genovese was a 28-year-old woman who was savagely murdered and raped on a New York street in the early morning in 1964 while those who heard the commotion did nothing to intervene.

Her murder and the lack of response by those who were aware of the assault on her, gave rise to an examination by social psychologists of the inertia of her neighbors.  The result?  The psychologists identified the “bystander effect.”

They established that those who witness a problem are less likely to respond when more than one of them witnesses the difficulty.  The point that they make is this: groups diffuse responsibility.  The larger the group the less anyone is responsible for anything.  Have we not seen this “in spades” in the federal government where no one seems responsible for anything that goes wrong, even when one or more runs afoul of the law?  More often than not bonuses are afforded those clearly responsible.

Coupling mass culture with ideology and you have a paralysis, an inability to act – a built-in bias not to act in any manner that exceeds the small and narrow mindset of your ideological view of the world.

Have an ideology that cares little about faith: why respond to those who are killed because of their faith?  It is for the ideologue a non-issue, something they cannot experience.

As to the silence of the Church, our clerical leaders have not kept current on the radical changes in the culture. Living behind walls, they have no inkling of how culture has turned against belief, and surely no appreciation for social psychology and mass communications – let alone digital communication and social media. They offer in their words as to yesterday’s people and conditions.

Yes, faith is ageless truth – but ministry and commentary requires knowledge of today.  And today, we seem unable to comprehend laying down one’s life for another.

Kitty Genovese written large.  This is a bad place to be.  A fatal place for person, faith and country.

Shalom.

A wise man hears one word, and understands two.

Yiddish Saying

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It starts with listening.

But how does one do that?

Not with the ears.  Not with the mind.  Then how?

You listen with the qi.  The qi?  Yes, the qi.

You listen with an emptiness that receives all things.

In emptiness we hear.  In emptiness we understand.

Understanding is the consequence of reception.  No one can receive when their hands are full.

Emptiness is essential to wisdom, to understanding, to compassion, friendship, love and peace.

Shalom.

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