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Meanwhile, for myself I have only one desire, and that is the desire for solitude – to disappear into God, to be submerged into His peace, to be lost in the secret of His face.

Thomas Merton, in The Intimate Merton

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In time the world becomes too busy, too distracting, too unsettling.  There is a progression.  We grow from full engagement in the hubbub of it all to its content – that which is known and experienced in quiet … silence.  It is as if you must be still to hear and to see, and to know.  This cannot be forced.  It must mature, evolve.  Perhaps that is why our steps grow slower and the mountains and clouds, the wind in the trees become so engaging.

I can sit and lose time itself in this quiet as if the meaning is in the sound of the air and the strength of the mountain and the freedom of the clouds.  Once busy, I am content with the clouds, the air and the mountains.

In the quiet my family comes to me.  Old friends in distance places visit in the quiet.  Those now at rest live once again.

In the quiet I have company.  My mother.  Mrs. Shannon.  My Uncle Don and my Uncle Ray.  Sylvia.  My grandmother and grandfather.  My Great Aunt Dot and Great Uncle Frank.  Even the trips to Scotland and Italy with my son are alive again.  We stand in Vatican square and eat under the night sky in Siracusa, stand silently in Mary Queen of Scots small chapel, walk the grounds of Melrose Abbey and gaze through the windows of Iona.

The church in quiet has been the very first step toward silence.  We taste this as children and it repeats with each visit on into the years, decades gather – each visit a trip stacked like firewood – one by one to warm the winter freeze, tame the wild North wind, fill the heart with warmth and certainty.

I shall go to Notre Dame in November and its call is this: to sit quietly, alone in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart with its beauty, with its stained glass windows made years ago by French nuns.  But it is the quiet that brings the peace.  It is the quiet.  There my friends will gather from all the days past as old days live again – and all will be as it is made to be.

Shalom.

Note – The Intimate Merton is a book containing entries from Thomas Merton’s life journals.  The above entry was made on December 13, 1946.  It is grouped by editors Patrick Hart and Jonathan Montaldo with entries in Part II of the book under the designation “Becoming a Monk and Writer.”

Update – Apparently the news story about the CBS lawyer posting on social media that she had no sympathy for those murdered, shot and injured in Las Vegas because they were likely Republicans and “gun toters” was accurate.  CBS fired the named lawyer.  Aside from her words being extraordinarily wicked, it amazes me that a person with a Jewish heritage cannot understand the killing of unarmed innocents.  It is just this callousness that comes with partisan politics on the Left.  Very sad.  Bridges must be built, relationships repaired.  We are in this together – one Nation under God.  Make friends of one another, not enemies.

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If you took one-tenth the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving the problem, you’d be surprised by how well things work out.

Randy Pausch, in The Last Lecture

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I’ve never been a fan of whiners so the well-healed NFL football players, coaches and owners who put their social complaints on the captured audience of ticket-holders and television viewers have lost my interest and respect.  Shame on them.  Nothing admirable about them – nothing.

Just watched Patriots Day about the Boston Marathon Bombing.  Excellent movie.  More than that a terrific story about tough-minded, loving men, women and children who rallied together as one to see that those who killed innocent people were apprehended and punished.  It is a story about courage, toughness, achievement, honor, resolve, determination, individual strength, shared mission, sacrifice, community, love.

I grew up in Boston in a very testy public housing complex.  I know these people.  Many have been my friends for 64 years and more.  They are my family.  They would sacrifice for me and I for them.  Several recently faced tragic medical situations, I kept in touch: encouraging and caring.  I prayed for them and, as is always the case in tragic situations, I drew closer to God and became more thankful for all that we are generously given – especially for friends, neighbors, the capacity to care for others – and love God and others more than self.

Today, I see the legions of complainers in American culture today and am sickened by this – disgusted with them.  I knew a far different life.  I knew the life of taking what you get and moving forward, proving the obstacles non-existent, defying others who thought less of me by being more a person than they were.  I was not a genius but I was a hard worker, determined, tough, a realist who saw the near-empty glass and said: “Damn, I’ll fill the thing and more like it.”

I knew the bigotry that befalls the guy from the “wrong side of the tracks.”  The thoughts others affix to the poor neighbor and its residents.  This was my badge of courage – a badge shared by others in my same situation.  I saw life being raised with one parents and not much money.  I lived that life.  Became the first in my family to go to college.  First to graduate from college, go to law school, become part of a profession.

I became an Army officer.  Went on to graduate school at Johns Hopkins, worked in the U.S. Congress on foreign policy matters, had a successful law practice helping the poor, the sick, the under-represented.  People wrote articles about my work, about me.  I walked my wife through a devastating illness that took her life at age 29.  I left law in my late 50’s to earn a graduate degree in theology at Notre Dame, became a Catholic convert and vowed religious Catholic Brother.  I raised a successful son with his own Ph.D.  By the grace of God, he is a better man than I am – talented, smart, a terrific son, father and husband.  Ya, I was busy … I had no time to whine nor taste for it.  Like those around me, I saw bigotry and said “Screw you, I’ll show you who I am and what I can do.”  Their bigotry was motivation to me.  I didn’t sit on my fanny or make a political statement: I lived and defied those who discounted me and my friends.

At the end of the movie Patriots Day the men and women who participated in the hunt for the hate-filled brothers who killed and maimed children and adults spoke of visiting those wounded and without limbs and made this point: none were bitter – but rather they were optimistic, courageous – ready to strive, to live and prosper.  Yes, working class people I know are – not whiners … they are Boston Tough. 

Damn it, we ought to learn from them.

Shalom.

 

Courage is the first of all human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.

Aristotle

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A nation and its people puts its character on display in how it handles acts of courage … what it says about them … whether it reveres such acts or does not.

Benghazi affords such measure.  Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton and their aides failed the nation badly in their handling of Benghazi.  They left Americans exposed to a vicious attack without offering any support.  They left lives at risk and people died.  To this day we do not know where the former President was during that attack or what he did.  And, of course, Ms. Clinton and people surrounding her were not forthcoming as to the origin of the attacks on our diplomatic post in Libya.

The acts of courage exhibited by those who stood outnumbered and fought to save others from death is both awe-inspiring and beyond apt description.  These were men of great courage and character.

These were men with wives and small children.  Fearless men.  Able, strong and healthy men.  Men willing to die for others, willing to defend this country in far away places.

I grew up among these men, and women just like them.  My life and the lives of those around me brought us challenges on a daily basis.  Responding to adversity was a common and repetitive assignment.  Money and work were hard to come by – but such conditions breed great friendships, and a strong community.  To this day I have friends from childhood – yes, friends I have now known for more than sixty years.  More than friends, they are my brothers and sisters – my family.   I am walking long distance with several whose spouses or children are dying from cancer.  They would die for me, and I would die for them.  I know the brave men of Benghazi.  I grew up with these men.  They are my best friends whose ranks are increased by others I have come to know through military service, college, law school and practice, through my Catholic life and in places I have lived – from city to countryside.

It is said that character is higher than intellect.  I would agree. Thinking and education are lesser functions.  Living with character and courage is always superior for those who live with character and courage understand life and love and fellowship … they do not value their own existence more than the lives of others.  They die but once and live fully each day.

As we approach September 11th, the date of the Benghazi attack – we best remember our brave men and their colleagues who died so others might live … and we had best vow that we will never again leave Americans unprotected and alone to die without our help.

Character and courage deserve far better from us – and those who hold leadership positions cannot ever again fail us as they did.

Shalom.

 

If we wish to please the true God and to be friends to the most blessed of friendships, let us present our spirit naked to God.  Let us not draw on anything of this present world – no art, no thought, no reasoning, no self-justification – even though we should possess all the wisdom of the world.

Philokalia

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In a mass communication culture where we are assaulted with words, noise, chatter endlessly we would do well to think about the above words recorded by 4th and 5th century Orthodox Christians.

Yes, we are to know about the world, to gain knowledge – but we are not to be encased in reasoning, self-justification, art, thought or other artifacts of the present world – from trinkets and valuables, to politics and ideology because we are at ground zero spiritual beings … those tied to God by God’s creation of us and the world we occupy.

We are not consumers, pundits, lawyers, actors, CEO’s, professors … etc.  We are more than those things.  We have an eternal identity.

In today’s world it is wise to ask: how can I be exactly and precisely who God made me to be?  In this objective is health, stability, calm, contentment, quiet, patience, wisdom, morality, laughter, good judgement, ease, friendship, strength, loyalty, honor, love and salvation.

Ironically, in a culture that seeks to draw you in and under – the task is to stay afloat and aloft – above all the calamity, craziness, conflict and confusion.

Yes, the task at present: to live a monk’s life in mass culture, to take on independence and autonomy, gain humility and pleasure in all that God has given, all that God does, all that we have been made to be, all that God is.

Shalom.

If you find this helpful, please share it with others – friends, family members, neighbors and colleagues.

 We can all get better at living, gain peace, tranquility, stability and purpose – come to know joy as God provides it.

 

Dedicated to Buddy and My Childhood Friends – Great People and Great Friends

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides in him.  (Emphasis added.)

Jn 3:36

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Imagine if your life actually comes down to belief … and to performance based on belief, that it comes down to excellence in what you do, to virtue, and effort and sacrifice.

Yes, imagine life is a zero-sum game.  That if you fail to excel, fail to exert yourself – to try your very best to do things right, learn from mistakes, take responsibility for miscues, live honorably, befriend others, sacrifice when necessary, put others first, lead and encourage, learn your craft and do it well … imagine what eternity might be for you, if you fail to live as you optimally can. Imagine how unsatisfying your end days might be if you failed to enter the fray and give it what you had.

Imagine as a professed Christian what your burden may be if having professed belief in Christ as the Son of God you lived as it that was not so … as if your actions say “these are only words, but I do my own thing.”

U.S. Navy Seal Lief Babib writes in Extreme Leadership (a book he wrote with fellow Seal officer Jocko Willink) that “Seal training (and really, throughout a Seal’s career) very evolution was a competition – a race, a fight, a contest.”

You know I have often said that life in poverty, in public housing, with a Mom and no Dad or siblings, among tough hardcore people on the edge of survival was a state of combat – day after day with no margin of error.  I was, by the way, surrounded by friends in the same situation and they have been among the best people, strongest people and best friends I have had in my life … Brothers and Sisters to me, my family to this day.

Yes, necessity creates need for toughness and determination; and, whether people were consciously connected to this passage in the Gospel of John or not, these people lived a de facto zero sum game – gave life their very best, reached out to support and love one another, showed the courage to face life, accept its hardships and challenges and keep living as honorably as they could.

Now that is “seeing life” and experiencing the gift of life.  I contend that living life as it presents is in its very nature an act of faith, a life of courage. 

My friends are not snowflakes, weepers, cry-babies.  They do not look for government to do for them.  They do not seek handouts, make excuses, complain and whine.

They live and they laugh.  They raise good kids. Work hard.  Help others. Get up when they are knocked down. Learn from life, grow in it  – get wiser, gain understanding – excel as human beings.

They don’t need “selfies” to know who they are or remember where they have been. Celebrities hold no sway for them, but good people do.

They don’t count themselves “special.”  They are the polar opposite of Johnny Depp and Madonna.  They don’t need an audience and long ago realized entertainers are as jugglers – and jugglers come and go … while the best of us sustain to the end.

Shalom.

 

Technical knowledge is not enough.  One must transform techniques so that the art becomes artless art, growing out of the unconscious.

D. T. Suzuki, in Zen and Japanese Culture

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How do you fully live?  Yes, how do you access and activate the unconscious – awaken the essence of the human legacy?  Same question really.

He met the conformity of culture as structured by man but never conceded its control over his breathing, his heartbeat, his life here – as it preceded him and stretched into eternity.

He always had one foot outside the box.  His wry comments and independent judgment kept him free and gave him a sharper vision than most.  He saw behind the silk scene – people, after all, were not clever in concealing their shallow and predictable motives.

He was not often fooled.

Having access to the unconscious, getting to know it in detail made his life art – artless art, a movie from birth to mortal death … and then the everlasting sequel, a seat above in the presence of a warm May sun.

He was never much for formulas.  A blank canvas was more his comfort. Something to write on, to scribble freehand what came to heart, mind, wrist and hand.  Free flowing.

Operating on the margin of the box – turning the rules into sources of amusement and dismemberment so to say: “You do not have me yet.”  Life in the present structures as a game of escape and evasion, lest he suffocate, dry up and become weak and brittle.

Victory.  Life as artless art in all its ease, in each breath, in listening, hearing and seeing.

The experience of experience in its full range – from joy to sorrow and back again, never a dark day in triumph over the warmth of the sun reflected in the others, the friends, the children, love, laughter, kindness, the beauty, the quiet, the memories, the experience in yesterday and today.

… artless art …

Shalom.

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.

… My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

Lk 1:46-47

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I grew up in Boston.  Politics is a significant part of that City and the life of its people.  Yet, I never experienced the hostility that I see among the Democrat Left.

Now what I see is hostility and antagonism, division and angry expressions.

Think about it.  If you disagree with the Left you are a bigot, a Nazi, “deplorable,” immoral, unfit for pubic office.

Yes, the Left declares White men are evil.  The police are a target to be hunted, and killed. Leftists stir up racial conflict and Black Racism is publicly displayed. Lawlessness is the character of public protest.  Character assassination is employed against those who do not agree with Leftist positions.  Distrust and division is promoted.

What I see that is missing is this: respect for the other person, civil discourse, kindness, fellowship sustained among those whose views differ one from another.

What might repair this divide?  Faith, religion – relationship with God, God with a hallowed place in our culture and the Nation.

What difference might that make?

If we had a view such as Mary conveyed in the above quote we would restore balance in our private and public life.

Imagine if our highest desire were to seek and celebrate God in this life and our community.  Would we not see others as friends?  Would we not seek to further friendship, share concern for the welfare of others, be more welcoming, optimistic – be a peacemaker not a divider and antagonist?

Want to live in peace and restore civility?  Put yourself in the position that Mary occupied and live from there.  Peace will follow … life will be easier and more congenial – – – we will be One again.

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.

A Post Today for Parents and Children

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Our consciousness does not create itself.  It wells up from unknown depths … it wakes each morning out of the depths of sleep …

Carl Jung, M.D., in The Psychology of Eastern Meditation

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Jung would say that we are not born tabula rasa – with a clean state.  No, his views is that each person’s brain has a history of human experience and within each person is a psyche that will seek expression, fulfillment, realization of personhood.

Jung would say that each of us is born with “a high complexity” and “existing determinants” that persist throughout each life.  Yes, in many ways we play out our particular being within this divine design.

The fact that we share this excursion seems, it appears to me, to promise our completeness provided we accept life, its lessons and – listen to the cues we observe within – evolve as we are uniquely called to life within this divine design which is itself made to insure uniqueness and commonality.

It follows, in my mind, that relationships with others, intimacy, marriage, love, family, fellowship, friendship, community and nation flow from this magnificent divine design.

What a gift is this life and its living.

Shalom.

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