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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.

The Holiness of Rain

The rain falls hard today in the mountains.  Hard enough to give it voice, a steady presence in a quiet room.  There is a peace in its persistence.  It seems to “hush” with its music, its patter –  coupled with its consistent, rhythmic din.  To match rain, the skies are close in; clouds and their gray dim the light as if to call us within.  Peace is at hand.  God visits today.  Being alone takes on its holiness, forcing the Truth of God’s eternal, everyday – day and night, year in and year out existence.

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” … my … pilgrimage has come clear and purified itself … I know I have seen what I was obscurely looking for.  I don’t know what else remains but I have now seen and pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise.”

Thomas Merton

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These are Merton’s words upon visiting a cave adjacent to the ruins of ancient temple buildings near Polonnaruwa, Ceylon, and entering the cave to find large renderings of human beings and a giant reclining Buddha.

He felt in this excursion into this place an “inner clarity.”  He referred to this as “an aesthetic illumination” allowing him to see “beyond the shadow and the disguise.”

This was Thomas Merton’s last journey.  He was to die at 58 in a matter of days.

Is your life a pilgrimage?  Do you seek what you are created to seek.  Or are you captured by what is not Truth, not of the soul, of God, or of your divine nature?

Do not let the thought-police take you captive.  Your warden is a Loving Father.

For Merton the great stone figures were “in full movement,” beautiful and holy.

How does the world look to you?  What do you see?  Hear?  Feel?  Experience in the rain and the clouds?  Do you see “full movement” in motionless stones?

Shalom.

Happy New Year 2017

I came to think of God as more of a gracious friend who was accompanying me on my journey … who wanted to carry by burden … speak into my life … shape me into who I really was … who I would become.

Jonna Gaines, in The Magnolia Story

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Who will God be for you this year?  A gracious friend?  One who walks with you each day? Helps you with all that comes your way?  Your King?  Your Creator?

Will you listen to the voice that speaks to you as a Loving Father?

Will you insist in taking only your own counsel?  Of charting your own course as if you are God?

In this new year, ask yourself: Do I know God?  And this: Do I love God?  And this: Do I serve God?

Think about these things.

Shalom.

… the first Christian hermits abandoned the cities of the pagan world to live in solitude.

Thomas Merton, in The Wisdom of the Desert

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Why does a man live alone in nature, removed from the population and the city?

‘Tis a useful question.

As for the 4th century men who did so we can say, as Merton does, that they sought their salvation, saw its individual characteristic and their own responsibility for its solicitation.

Indeed, they saw that the pagan society that they knew offered little to further their salvation.  Rather, they concluded that it impeded access to it.

These men would not let the ways and values of the pagan culture destroy them, co-opt them.

They took no comfort in the Cross becoming part of the presiding temporal powers.  This, itself, is particularly interesting.  They seemed to know that civil matters where not spiritual in nature, that to The Divine alone belongs the primacy.

Think for a moment: these men saw Christian life as spiritual, as “extramundane” – as simply existing in the Mystical Body of Christ … and they saw that their responsibility was to seek life in Christ.

These men stood for the idea that man was personally responsible for his life and what it said of him and of God.  

Contrast that with today – when so many are captured by the common denominators of secular culture, its herd, its folly, its untruth and its destructive, conflictive and unsatisfying ways.

These men did not wish to be ruled by the decadence.  They did not see themselves, mind you, as superior to others but rather only more intent on living in accord with their faith. They lived socially in aid of one another and strangers as governed by their faith and “the charismatic authority of wisdom, experience and love.”  They “sought … their own true self, in Christ.”

Today I live on a ridge looking out on rolling pastures, forest, and mountains. Minutes ago the sun rose in the East over mountain peaks announcing once again that God reigns eternally …

Each sunrise – unique in its colors and hues – raises up God the Creator … enkindles my gratitude.

In my solitude, quiet makes the music so much sweeter and evocative.  In the solitude, I think of God in a daily silence, and meet the Desert Fathers.  In solitude, I have good company.

Shalom.

To be in harmony with the wholeness of things is not to have anxiety over imperfections.

Dogen

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I was asked this week to share a story about a law school classmate of mine on his 70th birthday.  In doing so, I recalled how each of us laughed easily at ourselves and all the people and events we encountered in the world around us.

The imperfection of humans (ourselves included) and the things we create always seemed quite obvious to me and to my classmate.  Hence, we laughed a whole lot.

One time my son asked me how I maintained the disposition I have, and I answered, “I see the world as an episode of MASH (one of his and my favorite television shows) and I’m in it.”

Yes, there is reverence in irreverence.  Yes, doing good amid the chaos is possible and it is more the everyday challenge than one might initially think.

We are by nature and design perfectly imperfect.  But, oh, how we try to ignore that fundamental reality!!!  And what disaster flows from it!

Disaster?  Yes.

Some examples.  “Political correctness.”  Obamacare.  The quest for physical appearance, the Fountain of Youth.  Marxism.  Just about any government program.  Saving the planet from “Global Warming!!!

In seeking perfection we can create great tension and great anxiety.

Yes, it is good to seek the good we are, to maintain beauty.  But at what price?  Does the good we seek not also include our tranquility?  It seems that it must.

Often the task of coming to imperfection as an accepted and natural state requires a process of re-parenting.  That is: unlearning the habits and demands of those who tutored us in the illusion of perfection.  Thank God that has not been the case in my life.

Fortunately, I grew up in a family and a community that was utterly realistic, that saw the calamity we humans so often generate (most frequently in the name of “perfection).  We surely never “bought into” the utter fiction of the “hierarchy of elites” who fashioned, like Ms. Hillary, that they know best and we are a “basket of deplorables.”

So, slow down.  Accept the human being that you are.  Ignore those who “sell” perfection for they peddle snake oil, illness, unease, tension, foolishness.

Life is composed of tatters, shreds of this and that.  Find the ease, the humor, the implicit instability, creative imperfection of it all.  Live in joy by living what is.  Dispatch those who keep you in constant tension and anxiety.  Let them drive themselves crazy.

Laughter lubricates very nicely.

Shalom.

The Comey announcement?  Psychological warfare?

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The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.

Dante Alighieri

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Times of great moral crisis.  We are there.  But where are you?

Do you see?  Can you face reality?  Or do you turn away?  Desire to live only what you wish to see?  Are you that fearful?  That foolish?  That faithless?  That useless?

I am often called upon by others these days to explain why so many people live so poorly? How it is that they can avert their eyes from the theft, lying and corruption that is rendered in plain view.  How they so willingly are bedfellows to untruth, corruption and disorder. (Yes, the corrupt live on lies to self and others and are always disordered human beings with distorted marriages, abhorrent practices, habits and lives.)

My answer often offers this: people are not brave, they do not stick their neck out. I add: they prefer to hide, pretend that they can hide from evil and ignore the fact that they have responsibility for it – more so when they are silent in the presence of evil.

Those who ignore what is in plain view – can plan on an eternity of well-earned torment, pain and suffering.

So be it.

As for me, I am discrete when it comes to the company I keep.  In these times I keep company with fewer people.  The harvest is small.  My days are quiet. Contemplation and prayer grow.

Shalom.

Wonder – wonder how long it will be before the rank and file FBI people begin to leak that there was in fact many “somethings” in the Huma 650,000 emails. The record on Mr. Comey?  Not long on integrity.  One way to look at this Comey announcement?  The elites are that troubled. Corruption is, after all, corrupt. Don’t listen to the media or anyone else; it is all psychological warfare.

To be a person implies responsibility and freedom, and both these imply a certain interior solitude, a sense of personal integrity, a sense of one’s own reality and of one’s ability to give oneself to society – or to refuse that gift. (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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For man to be man – whole, healthy and at peace – he and she must know solitude, the ability to be alone and know he can be in solitude.  For only in solitude is one alone with God, alone with self and soul, alone in intimate quiet with others – past and present, living and deceased.

Yes, there is a monk in all of us, and in some a hermit. We are, you see, contemplative.

Yet, as society grows more intrusive, totalitarian, more governed by rote and simple-minded ideology, more homogenized by mass communication – man is devalued, degraded and the experience of being fully human fades from existence.

In such circumstances we are invaded, the soul assaulted – the sacred inalienable is destroyed and sickness is the norm.  Yes in these conditions we are estranged from our self and one another – left insecure, fearful, anxious, uncertain, unhappy, resentful and dependent.  Yes, today culture deprives us of our humanity.

Listen to Merton:

When men are … submerged in a mass of impersonal human beings pushed around by … forces, they lose their true humanity, their integrity, their ability to love, their capacity for self-determination.

In such a society, solitude is a casualty.  Such a society is held together not by love but by violence and the treat of punishment by those claiming “authority.”

Yes, solitude must be sought in such a society for man and freedom are lost without it, so to: family, community, friendship, faith and meaning.

In solitude one learns to listen and discovers hope.  Yes, solitude is as required as water, air, and food is required.  For we are spiritual in nature and human in form and solitude is an existential need, a necessity of personal autonomy, individual and collective health and flourishing, and required for a free people in a responsible and secure self-governing nation.

We combat the present assault by being spiritual and seeking solitude.  Freedom and the human being vanish if solitude ceases.  We must savor and protect our spiritual existence or we shall cease to be human and free.

Shalom.

Note – A man with a gun was shot by Secret Service personnel near the White House yesterday.  Makes me wonder how it is that the President and those in the White House warrant greater protection than was afforded the men at Benghazi when they were under attack.

“There is only need for one thing.  Mary (of Bethany) has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.”

Lk 10:42

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In this quote Jesus is speaking to Mary’s sister Martha who complained to Jesus that her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus while Martha was busy with household tasks.

What was Jesus saying in this?  It seems, on first blush, to be a harsh response, perhaps even egotistical … but alas it speaks a truth.

It speaks this truth: we cannot do without reflection, without contemplation, without God and the wisdom and peace He alone brings the human person.

It tells us we are, by design, contemplative.  We do not live by task alone, by work, being busy, habitually in motion, surrounded by noise and activity.

Yes, we cannot work ourselves into peace, nor pursue pleasures to secure tranquility and contentment.

We are made for a deeper satisfaction, an eternal assurance, an everlasting certainty realized here among the conflicts, disappointments, worries and distractions – yes, among the evil and its foolishness, frustrations, injuries and hostility.

There is in all of us a monastic disposition – a need for silence, solitude, simplicity for we are not human beings but rather spiritual beings in search of the Divine and the peace God brings, a peace and contentment that surpasses mortal existence and all its calamities.

In the modern world, our contemplative nature is shunned, discounted, ignored. ‘Tis a big mistake and the source of our pain and suffering.  You see there is no truth in mortal existence.  In mortal life there is man and his imperfect being, his exclusive and self-serving longings, his ego, his “belief” in self, and the fear and violence it produces.

This is the point that Jesus is making in his response to Martha – yes, “Mary has chosen the better part”  – made the wiser, more healthy choice.  How about you?

Christian monastic life has existed since the 4th century when it flourished in Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor – the exact places where radical Islamists are executing and exiling Christians and destroying Christian artifacts, burial sites of Saints, churches, museums and shrines while neither political party, nor the President or Congress do anything. Shameful isn’t it – we trifle , yet, over the “concerns” of transsexuals.

There are two axis for peace for you: you and your culture.  When you find sickness, violence, disorder in your culture, you see godlessness.  When you feel deflated, angry, lost, depressed do as Mary of Bethany did – listen in silence, contemplate – let God be known to you, in you and in the world and beyond mortal existence.  Block out all the other noise, foolishness and distractions – they mean nothing and cause you to lose your precious way.

Shalom.

Prayer Request – Please pray for the repose of the soul of Carl Rowland who died of cancer last night and for his wife Jodie, his and her extended family, and for friends who will miss him.  He was a very good man – and Jodie was heroic in all she did for him in a time of great suffering and pain.

There is a widespread sense of loss here, if not always of God, then at least of meaning.

Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age

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In this culture, we are a suicide machine.

No longer even able to tell when our lives are threatened, when others wish to kill us and do, drive us from the Middle East and destroy our ancient shrines.

And suicide in many forms: the assault on innocents, actual suicide – slow and sudden, drug addictions, death of families and responsible adult behavior, the fastidious fetish-like devotion to “health care” and physical appearance,  crippling Nanny-state dependence, the self-promotion of celebrity, some in the political class who too often warrant reason to be strapped to a lie detector.  Yes, the list goes not.

Beware lest you be one – captured by the invasion of the soul-snatchers.

Secularism is a prison cell of the spiritually lost. Soon enough even the likes of Christopher Hitchens will have to cry out: “Please save me, Dear God!”

How might one be free of secularism in the reign of mass communication with its constant indoctrination?  Well, break the TV habit in favor of silence.  And, read !!!

We are in need of a new, individualized monastic age – one which (like it has always) emphasizes reading.

Take the 12th century monk Peter of Celle who said this: “Reading is bound to silence … Constant and attentive reading done devoutly purifies our inner self.”

Purify your inner self!

Reading brings you back to you.  Allows you to take leave of the rampant insanity, chaos and disorder.

Take this from Saint Bede of yore who said as to reading the wisdom of the Gospels:

If we take care to hear, read, and confer with each other about these things, which need to be preserved in our hearts and bodies, we will certainly conquer the obstacles of this age as surely as if the Lord were standing by us and consoling us.

Reading feeds the soul.  Brings peace.  Builds depth and understanding. Sharpens insight. Inoculates you from culture’s nonsense. 

Reading, and a life that mimics monastic discretion and discipline, is a counter-offensive to the destructive noise of the common, carbon-copy nitwits of secularism.

I consider a room without reading to be a hell without consolidation, and instrument of torture without relief, a prison without light, a tomb without ventilation, a ditch swarming with worms, a strangling noose, the empty house of which the Gospel speaks.

Peter of Celle, in On Affliction and Reading

Sick of secularism and its destruction?  Go to your room and read.  Enjoy the silence.  Feed the soul. It keeps you whole and distinct from the lunacy that surrounds you.  Yes, be a rebel in this way.

There is something sacred in rejection of that which steals your heart and soul and leaves you lost and empty.  Fight back – read.

Shalom.

It is for God to grant His grace.  Your task is to accept that grace and guard it.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in Catechetical Orations

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If we wished a culture to be better we would be wise to first study, and contemplate, grace.  Yes, grace, a notion that is, for the most part, unfamiliar in its detail and place in our life today.

What St. Cyril said in the 4th century is no less true today, but likely less understood.  This, indeed, is one of the ways we have fallen away from God.  We do not know the language and objects of insight and wisdom that describe God’s presence to and in us, God’s ways of being, and who we are.

Lest you think this is a minor problem I offer this from Adolphe Tanquerey’s words on grace in his authoritative book The Spiritual Life:

We must hold in greatest esteem the life of grace, for it is a new life which unites and assimilates us to God.  It is a life much higher and richer than our own natural life … the supernatural life infinitely surpasses mere rational life …

Once this treasure is ours, we must be ready to sacrifice all things rather than run the risk of losing it.

Our plain duty is to make use of, to develop this supernatural organism which constitutes our greatest possession … it would be the blackest ingratitude to scorn and despise such gifts and to live merely natural life without looking for the fruits worthy for eternal glory.  The more generous the giver, the more active and fruitful the co-operation expected.

I may have many failures and misdeeds to account for in this life, but I also have, thank God, things in my life with which I have cooperated, used the grace and gifts I have been given.

I note, in particular, that aside from having been made to persevere and to be social in nature, I have been presented with a life of loss, death, betrayal and abandonment and I have not forsaken this path.  Rather, I have accepted that in my trials I would be taught something that God desired that I know and witness for others.  Thus, I came to accept misfortune as fortune.  I wrote this simple prayer as a result:

Interesting life this life …

We are put in places for reasons we cannot know –

we are called to be for others rather than ourselves.

It is not our pain that is the purpose, but the pain of others –

it is not our comfort,

but the comfort of others to whom we are directed.

Lord, let my pain teach me to comfort others.

What are the gifts you have been given?  How has God made you?  What graces have you been given?  Do they make you uncomfortable?  Impose what seem like burdens on you?  Greater responsibility?

Does not all come from God?  Does God not have a good purpose?  Love you enough to give you only what He knows you can bare?  Does God not give you a sacred and unique role special to you and an important part in His plan for us?

Shalom.

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