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God, Who is everywhere never leaves us.

Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island

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It seems to us from time to time that God is not present to us.  But this would appear to negate what Merton says above.

What might one say?  Merton says this: sometimes God seems present to us and sometimes He seems absent from us.  This is normal.  Merton tells us this: God may be more present to us when he appears absent than when He appears present.

Strange, you might think.  And you might ask: How can this be?  More present when we think He is absent?

To figure this out Merton points out that there are two kinds of “absent.”  One is a condemnation – God is absent from us “because we put some other god in His place and refuse to be known by Him.”

In the second form of “absent” we are not condemned but sanctified!  In that experience of His absence He “empties the soul of every image that might become an idol and of every concern that might stand between our face and His Face.”

Condemned is what our culture has done presently – how we live at-large in a secularized culture that intentionally excludes God and foolishly elevates the human person – their physical and intellectual desires above God.  All of the homicides, violence, broken relationships, addictions, predatory behavior, conflicts, divisions, abortions, child abuse and neglect, abhorrent inter-personal behavior and actions intended to destabilize the country are acts of condemnation on our part.

The sense that God is absent to us in the whole is an accurate indication of our present day experience.  We have met the enemy and he is us.

Sanctification is something else again.  Here God acts positively and protectively to insure that we do not personally (one by one) acquire the means to divide ourselves from God.

In sanctification God loves us so that He leads us to a place where we realize that the things we have cherished are NOT God and as such can never satisfy or fulfill us in and by themselves.  You see when find that we have begun to place even the best things we do or encounter above God, God reminds us that even the good we do cannot satisfy as God can for the good we do does not love us the way the God who is Love does.

When the day grows quiet and you are alone, ask yourself if you have placed things above God – even the good things you do.  If that might be so, ask God to bring you back to Him.

As for the serious disarray we have in our culture and country, it is way past time to seek that God might bring us back to Him.

Shalom.

 

 

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Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you … O my friend, why do you, who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul … (Emphasis added.)

Socrates, in The Apology

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It is safe to say the above is worth thinking about given the present state of our political and public life. I suspect those most vocal and most stirred up today would not have a clue that Plato wrote The Apology or that it reported on the trial of Socrates.  Forget any greater recollection of Socrates and his point of view.

Yes, in substance and knowledge we are lacking – yet, so much more in manners, insight, discretion and morality.

Today, listening to public discourse (advocacy and reporting, in particular) is presently best done only now and again to get a “flavor” of the state and content (such as it is) of the conversation, lest you find yourself: (a) aggravated and quite discouraged, and (b) utterly misinformed and subsequently anxious for your welfare and that of your children, grandchildren, family members, friends and nation.

That said, the point of presenting the above words is to highlight that Socrates reminds us of the primacy of wisdom and truth and our soul … and of God, and a personal relationship with God.

Imagine for a moment what benefit we would claim, if those in the public square were well-educated in the classics and in the pillars of Western Civilization, possessed manners, valued wisdom, truth and the soul – and, above all, God … and had a personal relationship with God.

In such a magnificent state, so many utterly obnoxious public figures would vanish and, assuming a public that was properly educated and mannered, our present need for all sorts of government crutches would likely be greatly diminished in favor of the blessings of individual responsibility anchored in personal confidence among our neighbors.

We appear to be a long way from Athens and the negative consequences are many.

Think about that.

Shalom.

 

 

You can’t lie to your soul.

Irvine Welsh, in Porno

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Whole lot of people in Washington in positions of authority and in politics who are at odds with their soul.

That’s the net on these IG reports.  That’s the nature of “power” and government today in our nation’s Capitol.

A whole lot of this is the product of the Democrat Left – although the moderate Republicans are also easily co-opted in order to sustain the electoral system, their role in governing and the guise of respectability.  But there is no virtue or anything beautiful in dishonesty.  “Swamp” indeed.

Just look at the upper management echelons of the FBI, Justice Department and the Obama White House and administration.  Look at the Clintons – their foundation and their personal conduct and the behavior of those around them.  Not good.

Now the test is presented.  What will we do with what we see and know to be dishonest?  Weasel about?  Lie to ourselves about lies?  Or face the truth squarely and set the record and ourselves straight.

In our representative democracy when one trades away virtue and honesty for power, one deprives the populace of freedom and the protections of law and the U.S. Constitution.

You know once trust is lost, it does not easily return.  Lying undoes even the best form of self-governing.  A lot at stake here, Friends.

Shalom.

 

Cheap race is grace we bestow on ourselves … grace without the Cross …

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship

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The Philadelphia Eagles were invited to the White House in honor of their winning the last NFL Super Bowl.  Apparently a number of players did not want to attend – as a form of protest or political statement.  President Trump withdrew their invitation.

Quite honestly, I am glad he did this.  Why?

My answer is this: Cheap Grace.  Now, what am I saying?  Too many people in the celebrity class (professional athletes and entertainers, in particular) use their public presence to complain about this or that “injustice” and do so while enjoying the unique opportunities that they have been afforded and the substantial financial benefits they receive.

Think about it.  A man in the NFL has the God-given size, speed, strength, agility, intellect and discipline to earn substantial income playing a game.  Most of them have been given a college education free of charge while others might pay $200,000 for that education.  Yet of late these privileged athletes use their notoriety to “protest.”

Recently, a number of NFL players have refused to stand for the National Anthem – claiming this or that “injustice.”  Well, fine.  But I ask this question: What have they done to secure the freedom they have?  What sacrifices have they made?  Have they fought in battle?  Lost a limb in Iraq or Afghanistan?  Have they served in the military at all?  Do they have any idea that the freedom they enjoy was secured by the heroic and selfless efforts of those who came before them?  It seems not.  Do they see the men and women who serve us now in uniform?  Do they see the price police are paying with their lives?  It seems they do not.

Cheap grace.  Not having done anything to secure the freedom they enjoy – they complain, make a public display – grown men acting childishly.  Gifted athletes acting like “snowflakes.”

Life is hard for most people.  The price of freedom is high and paid by many, many men who have come before these pampered athletes and their celebrity counterparts.

For the life of me I do not understand how we can be anything but contemptuous of those who complain so freely when, on the contrary, they have much for which to be thankful.  Shear selfishness.  Hello, narcissism.

We have been too easy on those most fortunate who yelp and complain from their stations of substantial privilege.  Their ingratitude is astonishing.

There is absolutely nothing flattering about one bestowing God’s grace on oneself.  Better they have humility than such childishness.

We earn our way by a Cross that is carried.  First, Christ.  Then each of us.  Such is life and honor.  Dismiss these childish whiners.

Shalom.

When will they learn?  Does anyone on the Left understand that Donald Trump like many working class guys throws an elbow when you throw a punch?  And how about a taste of reality – under Donald Trump minority unemployment is at lows that have not been seen either before or in many years. 

… what we are is to be sought in the invisible depths of our own being, not in the outward reflection in our own acts.  We must find our real selves … in our own soul … the principle of all our acts.

Thomas Merton, in No Man is an Island

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This from a wonderful essay entitled “Being and Doing” in Merton’s No Man is an Island.

His words are very useful in a mass communication, digital and social media culture where images and acts are often center stage and narcissism is a real problem (as reflected in its prominence in therapy and as daily exhibited in the news and on TV).

As to our present climate public acts are so a part of others need for attention.

In the present era we seem to be besieged by those who need to sustain a public image at all costs.  We seem to have a culture that accommodates projecting images as the normal form of being while passing completely on the critical important core of one’s self – the soul.

As Merton noted in his 1950’s essay – “I need not see myself, I merely need to be myself.”

Yes, Merton gives us in eleven words the heart of health, meaning and contentment – not our image (and surely not our narcissistic actions and proclamations) but our eternal soul.

How smart he was.  Imagine now how we are surrounded by narcissism and self-promotion.  How many say nothing of value and cannot maintain day-to-day coherence.

How public figures have convenient double standards that say subliminally: I have no guide but ideology invoked and applied to bolster my personal preference.

It is, I think, fair to say – we have many lemmings, but few Mertons.  Therein is our illness, agitation, confusion, calamity, untruths, treacherous deeds and great unhappiness.

Shalom.

 

 

I define evil, then, as the exercise of political power – – that is, the imposition of one’s will upon others by overt or covert coercion – – in order to avoid extending one’s self for the purpose of nurturing spiritual growth.  Ordinary laziness is non-love; evil is anti-love.

M. Scott Peck, M.D.

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Dr. Peck, of course, wrote a marvelous short book about evil (People of the Lie) in which he noted that lying is evidence of evil.  Peck observes that evil is built on lies.

Peck’s above words (that of a noted Psychiatrist) are worth thinking about with what we face today: the questionable conduct of high-ranking people in the FBI and Justice Department and, seemingly, in the intelligence community.  Yes, we see a collective partisan interest in using their positions politically – in order to destroy a candidate for President and, once elected, the man himself.

Such conduct as we see is ripe with lies.  For Peck – this is evidence of evil.

Notice that in Peck’s words he says that those who pursue evil do so rather than extend themselves to grow spiritually – in effect, to mature and take on a healthy wholeness.

The root of evil is, it seems, faithlessness – a disregard for God.

When you think about it – he is describing (in the extreme) people like Stalin, Hitler, Mao and others – those who are godless and treacherously sick.  Yet, people as people can easily submit to lying and evil.

That said, Peck reminds us that evil is anti-love.  Yes, hostility to God.

What an indictment he has made.  Where do our present miscreants fall?

We live in times that are fundamentally challenging.  They put us to the task of asking: Who are we?  And, what have we become?  And, who dared corrupt us this way?  What shall we do to those who destroy what is good?  Shall we all return to faith, to Truth and to God?

Shalom.

 

A Week of Spring Rains Leads to A Late Post

Pride is a profound depravity; it is the worship of self; man becomes his own god through excessive self-love.

Jacques-Benigne Bossuet

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Pride – a depravity.  Yes.

Those who are prideful come to think of themselves “lord and sovereign master”of all things.  They see themselves as simply smarter than others and more entitled, born to be revered, lauded and “in charge.”

In many instances they both show and disclose the arrogance that is the product of American higher education from once distinguished colleges that have become merely ideological nursery schools.

The prideful’s attitude and actions deny the existence of God.  Rules, they show us, simply do not apply to them.  Every defeat they encounter is blamed on others.  Humility eludes them.  They act as if they are “the first beginning” and “the last cause.”

Godless.  Yes, we have among us many prideful, godless men and women who fancy themselves better than everyone else.  These men and women need public adoration – seek an audience.  They take delight in undeserved applause.

Craven, empty people – these prideful ones.  Full of vanity, the attention paid to them blinds them to the matter of Truth … and honor, honesty, virtue, self-sacrifice, courage, faith, fellowship, intimacy, love, caring and kindness.

Look around – you see so easily those of vainglory.  No leaders they.  In them there is no trust.

Shalom.

 

Religious experience is inevitably human experience.  It has to do with the human consciousness both individual and collective.  (Emphasis added.)

Thich Nhat Hanh, in Living Buddha, Living Christ

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If religious experience is human experience, then it follows that human experience is religious experience. 

That said, experiencing human life is the experience of religious (or spiritual) reality.  What we are saying is this: one cannot separate the experience of the Divine from that of the mundane – from human existence.  Indeed, God is neither absent nor dead – but rather present and alive in us – whether we acknowledge it or not.

Assume for a moment that this is absolutely true.  With that, one might ask what caused us to discount God and Divine experience?  And, what is the price we might pay for living only in the mundane world?

The first question is answered by Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age where he lays out in considerable detail how the Enlightenment and the Reformation pushed us toward an exclusive humanism that counted reason and the mundane world as the preeminent focus of human life and in so doing radically altered (narrowed) the scope of human experience.

As to the “price” we have paid – I would say that it made each life less full and made living far more difficult.  My view is that we have vested much hope and expectation in the “genius” of the imperfect (and often nefarious, selfish or disordered) human person and his and her institutions, governance, ideas, ideologies, laws, rules, regulations, fades and fancies.

In short, man in his power and conduct is not God – not even close.

Abandoning the relationship with the Divine, one is left to rely on one’s own very limited ways and many weaknesses.  The consequences are visible today.  Need I remind anyone of adultery, abortion, divorces, child neglect and abuse, homicides, suicides, sexual molestation, drug addictions, obesity, mental illness, unhappiness, envy, hostility, randon mass shootings, political corruption, widespread government inter-generational dependence, racism, gender confusion, teen pregnency, unwed mothers, broken families, fatherless families, female teachers having sex with their underage students … etc.

If human experience is religious experience, you would have to conclude that in today’s secular culture we show evidence that we are neither living as human beings nor as religious people.

Where are you in this matter?

Shalom.

“Now then, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, then you shall be my own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is mine, and  you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  (Emphasis added.)

Ex 19: 5, 6

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Thus God spoke to Moses.  His words return to us.  Putting them to test today cannot but give you pause.

Have we obeyed God?  Have we kept His covenant?  Do we look like a nation of priests and a holy nation?  It would be hard to say “yes” to these questions.

Today we welcome a harlot as a center of attention in a story involving her accepting a large financial payment for not talking about a sexual encounter a dozen years ago with a prominent man.  Abortions are more welcome than unborn children.  Judges reign who have been adulterers and married three times.  A former President accepted a cash “gift” for pardoning a fugitive billionaire.  An F.B.I. director and his colleagues lie and unlawfully leak information in pursuit of destroying a political figure they do not like.  A candidate for high office has her multiple misdeeds ignored.  A select prosecutor hires a staff with adulterers and others who have convicted people while withholding information that would have proved their innocence.  The prosecutor himself put four men in jail for a long time who were subsequently freed because of their innocence.

These are not the acts of holy men and women, nor are they in conformity with God’s covenant.  Shame.

But how long will you let those in authority who act in your name cast you aside, impose on you their sinful deeds?  Do you not aspire to something better?

Shalom.

Oh Goody.  A national coffee shop chain is requiring all its employees to spend a day in race sensitivity training and former Attorney General Eric Holder (a lawyer with no special training in psychology, cultural criticism, history, religion, theology, sociology, etc.) will be the instructor.

Now I’m no expert on racism, but I’d bet it is reasonable to define a racist as one who thinks constantly about race and racial division.  That said, the public Mr. Holder seems fixated on race and racial division.  Is this the best one can do?  How about working on seeing all people as (surprise) just people?  God’s children?

The monk is a man who lives in seclusion, in solitude, in silence outside the noise and the confusion of a busy worldly existence.

Thomas Merton, in Contemplation in a World of Action

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A monk lives in response to existing culture.  His thinking is both critical and healthy.  He sees that a present culture does not promote his values, virtue or an integrated, well-formed life.

A monk seeks wholeness and a depth of spiritual existence that cultures usually ignore in their all-consuming demands and expectations.  A monk seeks to understand life and people.  He seeks psychological, emotional and social fitness.  His path is to Truth and to God.  Clarity, peace and wisdom come to him.

His days are composed of work and prayer, silence and listening – quiet, reading and worship.  He finds time to contemplate life at large, its meaning, its best use and ways of being.

The ways of a monk are the perfect counterpoint to the disintegration that is today’s secularized America.

Today we are rife with conflict, antagonism turned to hatred in many instances, division, hostility, abandonment of virtue and morality, to the intrusion of state and the destruction of critical institutions, the lost of a nation’s boundaries and heritage, and its common understandings.

Chaos displaces the order of common understanding and mutual respect.

Each day brings evidence of disorder and often brutality – conduct whereby those who might otherwise lead discredit themselves.

We are no longer unified and living as neighbors guided by good.  Too many force their views on others, advance their disorder on others as if our acquisition of their strife and sickness normalizes them – makes true what is false.

At a time like this – in a culture like this … think of those who go “off to the mountain as the fish to the sea.”

Maybe you can learn from the way of monks.  Can you not acquire their ways in forms that create healthy distance between you and what is destructive?

Your health, wholeness, peace and wisdom resides in the ways of the monk.  In your culture today comes disintegration, illness, hostility, confusion, amorality, untruth and self-destruction.  Your life need not be composed of these things.  

Shalom.

A Book of Interest – You might like a short book entitled Essential Monastic Wisdom: Writings on the Contemplative Life by Hugh Feiss, a priest in the Order of St. Benedict.  It is a fine resource for those who wish to make healthy adjustments in the face of rank disorder and destruction that is exclusive secular culture today.  Peace be with You. 

 

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