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… who cannot learn/anything from suffering,/suffer, are tortured, die in incomprehension./

This human being, each night nevertheless summoning – with a breath at a flame,/or hand’s touch/on a lamp-switch – darkness/silently utters,/impelled as if by a need to cup the palms/and drink from a river;/words, ‘Thanks./Thanks for this day, a day of my life.’/And wonders.

Denise Levertov

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Wonders.  Do they not exceed suffering?  Are they not brighter, more luminous? Recurrent?  Ever-lasting?  Signs of heaven?  Beyond?

What makes life buoyant?  And who creates wonders?  It is not I.  It is not you. At best, we are the conveyance.  The small wooden cart of the Russian Jewish peasant, a cargo carrier of precious wonder – in tiny things and more.

Wonder.  A baby born.  A mother’s love.  The unconquerable will that rises above poverty and homelessness.  The fidelity of love.  Brotherhood. Bravery. Sacrifice. The sweetness of Yo Yo Ma’s cello.  The painter.  The words of the poet.  The gift of an actor who suspends self so to show us another and in that show us who we are.  The author who awakens the soul we carry and makes of it fertile ground to feed the world.  Christ.

To miss wonder is to “die in incomprehension.”  To suffer.  Learn not – such a needless daily price to pay when wonder is the yield.

Wonder.  Christ.

Without a wound that opens the body, could the Light exit?  Appear to others?

one soldier thrust his lance into his side, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

Jn 19:34

In darkness do you silently utter, cup the palm, drink from the river?

Shalom.

Note: Denise Levertov’s father came from a Hasidic Jewish family, converted to Christianity and became an Anglican priest.  Wonders.  Yes, wonders.

Thank you for sharing what has been written here, and its ideas.  We are of a Living God.  Your witness matters.  Place these words in your peasant’s cart and carry them to another.

We must change points of reference so we might speak and live in wonder. Peace be with you. 

Humanity begins in the individual man … It is always one man at a time … it is the concrete individual who lends meaning to the human race.  We do not think that a human being is valuable because he is a member of the race; it is rather the opposite: the human race is valuable because it is composed of human beings.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, Rabbi

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Heschel nails it in this quote from his book Man is Not Alone.  In these words, Heschel links his Jewish story with my Irish Boston childhood.  He could have been George V. Higgins writing The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  Heschel and Higgins drank the same wine – the wine of life as it is, fruit of the tree made for us to drink.

As I said to my pal John Connelly – a great friend, a flinty Irishman, a terrific lawyer, super-competitor, smart guy, and better man, “It’s all one on one basketball, John. You against God and he beats the hell out of you and you get better.”

Yes, there is that link between Jewish wisdom and the Irish insight.  (Probably explains why my Jewish wife Sylvia loved me and married down.)  Yes, both are narrators, storytellers.  Both have known the clear sky and the hard wind-driven rain.  Both see what we are dealing with in this life.  Each has soul. Each “gets” suffering.  Each lives in the heart with the hands at the ready.

I got “the” advantage first hand from the first day – no Dad (he bailed), on the edge of poverty (meals were available), extended close knit family (a clan) ’til the grandparents died (by the time I was 12, both finito in their fifties), then – real poverty, then – public housing, then – the Irish Mob up close, and within easy shooting range.

Ah, but the friends, the kind that stay steady all your life.  Who now has friends they have known for 67 years?

Affluent people don’t have friends, they have acquaintances.  In a shoot ’em up neighborhood, a check to distant check existence, a how-do-I-survive-household … you have friends.  Acquaintances live in the suburbs, not the guts of housing projects on a lean diet of missed meals.

Acquaintances own insurances agencies, go to work each day and get to wear a suit and tie, live where there is green grass and lawn service.  Friends grow in harder soil where only the strongest blades survive.

Where I come from you know early on that a man is valuable in and of himself. In poverty, loyalty and friendship is your estate.  In terms of friends, I was richer than Warren Buffet and Bill Gates combined.

Prosperity, however, makes one man an object to another; no intimacy in that, the distance of use kills intimacy.

No, we lived Saran Wrap close lives of laughter, tears, love, combat and rebellion – rebellion aimed right at what was and still is today: the shallow, the pretentious, the false, the fake, the facade … all that is ultimately useless but for its impediment.

For us, the unvarnished truth about the world as it is was step one in survival, the critical first gasp of cold breath into the lungs, our Holy Being drawn in so we might live as called.

Where I come from rejecting subservience is our specialty and its breeds unimpeachable union of authentic people sipping the same warm passion to live as God made us to live.  Our union rested on knowing that there are paths inside and out where we walk alone, dreams for each of us to know, and storms that come one at a time, relentlessly one at a time …

And so, it is “always one man at a time …”

Shalom.

In the beginning was the Word (logos), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jn 1:1

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In ancient Greece logos did not mean simply “word” but rather “story.”  Indeed even more than “story.”

It meant the whole of speech, of thought; it meant meaning itself, presence – as well.

Logos is a big idea.  It goes to that which precedes us, precedes our existence – and gives Christians, in its embodiment of Christ, a mega-narrative, a way to comprehend existence – seen and unseen.

Mega-narratives are central to cultures (and to a human’s well-being).  They are fundamental to the formation of a culture.  When they are attacked, as they are in exclusionary secularism, they uproot and injure the culture, its institutions and its residents.  In this, I presume, you can see the connection between your Christian faith and the present day and its significant disorders.

We are not large enough as mere humans to simply proceed along without a narrative context.  Yet, in many ways, this is more or less what we are trying to do at this point in American culture.

At present, we see small slivers of thought advanced as organizing propositions.  Equality is one such sliver.  From it, special pleadings based on such concerns as sexual behavior muscle their way into public consciousness – no matter how small such concerns are as a defining aspect of human existence.

Indeed, what if reading mystery novels or keeping pets were deemed of equal importance to human existence?  One hopes we might give pause to such a narrow focus as a key proposition to the formation and governance of human community, even more so as to the meaning of life itself.

Be that as it may, logos is needed to comprehend existence.  In Christ the Christian has such a narrative.  Should it not govern Christian life, and should it not withstand the attack of those without a mega-narrative whose thoughts are minuscule, pedestrian, deconstructive, reductionistic, and self-serving?

Be wise to others who, in their shallow nature, advance views that destroy narrative by advocacy of small and meaningless notions as substitutes for what is large and has sustained over centuries.

Shalom.

Think for a moment: what if the things of this world cannot bring you peace and contentment?  What if it is a rare thing that others can bring this to you? If no possession can?  No achievement can?  No amount of money can?  No title or status can?  No pleasure can?  No state of health can?

To those for whom this sounds like a dreadful and despairing situation I say: perhaps you are seeking too much from the material world and are inclined too closely to exclusionary secular life – a life without a sacred consciousness?

Those who write about the true self remind us that we are easily captured by the false things of this world, those things and ways of thinking that do not lead us to full life, a human state of full development, a state whose foundation is and must be first spiritual to be wholly developed.

Life, you see, is not consumptive subsistence in one’s own being for one’s own gratification.

Full life is the transcendence of self in favor of a love of others which seeks their full spiritual growth and development.  Such a life crosses the divide between the human and The Divine – yes, one loves as God loves, the Christian loves as Christ loved and loves.  In this there is no lasting death and the pull of this world loses its lure, its attraction.  Yes, freedom – in this we are free and life has meaning and purpose.  In this we are lighter than being.

Mind you we live in a world where those who live a false self far out-number those who live a true self.  Indeed we have whole institutions and apparatus established to maintain and sustain the false self.  So in this worldly realm of the false you will not have a surplus of intimate companions along the road, but in seeking the true self you will find those precious fellow travelers and that will be a priceless gift.

Live not for what is here, but what is beyond this game board.  The true is your gift, the false a deception many willingly cultivate.

Shalom.

Living faith in secular culture requires that one understand the culture as it is much as the average Russian citizen of the last century would have to understand the culture that accompanied totalitarian communist rule.

Much as I dislike engaging in political discussions, in an overtly-political secular state one must size up the nature of such a culture.  Truth, after all, is at stake when the state forces its will upon the private citizen and such a circumstance makes us think of what it is to be a person free to decide how to care for himself or herself while accommodating the needs of others as well.

Thanks to the excellent blog site “Paying Attention to the Sky” here is a quote from C.S. Lewis from his 1948 essay “God in the Dock” – it ought to tell you what level of untruth dominates the language of those who see The Centralized Nanny State as their god:

To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states (“conditions”) which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles and domestic animals.”

I leave it to you to decide if those who have authored the nationalized “health care” reform fit what Lewis said 65 years ago.

Can the state care for others when the culture shuns God and faith?  Or is the state, absent God, just power and the articulation of its godless will?  When God entered human history in the form of Christ did God not piece the Roman Empire?  And what does that say?

It would be preferable to live out faith without regard to what is political – but alas, we live in a highly-charged political culture at this time – and God requires constant vigilance no matter the nature of the times in which we live.

Shalom.

Man is fully alive only when he experiences, at least to some extent, that he is really spontaneously dedicating himself, in all truth, to the real purpose of his own personal existence … man is alive … when he is conscious of the reality and inviolability of his own freedom, and aware at the same time of his capacity to consecrate that freedom entirely to the purpose for which it was given him.

Thomas Merton, in The New Man

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Consecrate from the Latin consecarare is itself composed of com meaning “together” and sacrare meaning “to make holy.”  Yes, life in its gift and in its freedom is to be consecrated – to be made holy, to be brought together with the holy – with what is sacred, with the Divine.

Simply stated, life without God is an absurdity and living without God falls far short of the gift of life – so far short that meaning is missing and frenzy and calamity abound, madness proliferates and we miss the point of our existence, our Divinely created gift of breath and life.

We are, you see, meant for God, designed for the Mystery and designed for contemplation.  Our freedom is given that it might bring us to God, to relationship with God, that it might close the “God Gap” that finds us filling the space between our misguided self and God with all the idols we can either find or create (even from what is given as sacred to reveal God to us – yes, we turn even our religions into idols when we fail to live a consecrated existence).

The fact is that all – that is, all that is even a good is drained of God when we are not consecrated to what is holy, what is sacred, to God who brings us into being itself out of the void, out of nothingness and from darkness into light … from Light to light that we may know our origin, This Holy Light that is our being/Being.

We seek happiness and contentment, meaning and purpose – but few we encounter seem to experience this.  Why?  We cannot know happiness and contentment, meaning and purpose if we are not standing on the ground of our being and this ground is found in a consecrated life – a life with God at the center of our breathing, and each day.

May you discard all that is false and, hence, disturbing and injurious in favor of a consecrated life.  You are made for this and it is in this that your freedom is fully realized – it is in this that you will know life in the full.

Shalom.

Postscript – Now that I have returned from an extended period of time on the road, I hope to restore my usual routine of writing in the darkness and early hours of the new morning when the silence lets me hear what might be useful to me and to you.  May God bless you this day and always.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of the bitterest pain, if our will remains firm and submissive.  Peace in this life springs from acquiescence, not in an exemption from suffering.

Francis Fenelon

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Yes, after suffering is peace – if you accept first the suffering.  ‘Tis better for the reed to bend with the wind than remain stiff and break.

Shalom.

The process of secularization arises not from a loss of faith but from a loss of social interest in the world of faith.  It begins the moment men feel that religion is irrelevant to the common way of life and that society as such has nothing to do with truths of faith.

Christopher Henry Dawson

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Today’s American culture is not the culture into which I was born in 1945.  My son, who is 29 years old, does not live in the culture in which I lived.  I lived in a culture and among people who had an interest in the world of faith.  That is not the case any longer.

My son lives in a radically secularized culture where there is less and less interest in faith.  In England, of instance, fewer than 6 percent of the population attends church on any given Sunday.  In the United States, the government, particularly the government of the American Left, treats religion with hostility.  Likewise American courts show little regard for faith.

Lest people think this secularism is merely a “life style choice,” it is not.  It is the antithesis of life.  It is life without meaning or depth.  It is civility abandoned and virtue lost.  It is state as God and citizen as enslaved dependent.  It gives blotted central government when promising equality, the regulation of all human activities, and obstructions to economic growth.

The American culture of my son’s existence is taking shape as the failed socialism of post-War Europe and the misery of Iron Curtain communism.  Yet, not one commanding voice in public life, the press or among intellectuals queries the cost of the loss of faith and its essential relationship to freedom, prosperity or human development and meaning.

In our present trajectory we seem intent on bleeding any purpose out of human existence and saddling our future generations with crushing debt and the loss of faith.

Sadly, this is a story seen many times over in history and ironically it is advanced by those who think themselves smart enough to ignore the lessons of faith and the recent past.

Hold firm your faith.  Our ride is sure to be a hard and painful one.

May God have mercy on us.

I was recently seated around a family table for a meal with new and old friends (Catholic, Mormon and Episcopalian) and I was asked about the characteristics of American culture secular that distracted us from faith and I responded: “First of all, we are overly fixed on politics.”  The response was unanimous and approving.

Yes, I think it is fair to say that we pay too much attention to politics. I go further to say that we are a divided nation, divided in this way: many place their faith in the state and others place their faith in God.

I encounter frequently men and women whose disgust with politics leads them to retreat entirely from public life.  I understand their desire to block out the wrangling that present day politics presents. Yet, I am reminded of the Old Testament clash between the Prophet Jeremiah and Hananiah.

The prophesies of Hananiah and Jeremiah were at odds.  Jeremiah confronted Hananiah for raising “false confidence” among the people as this “false confidence” had the people trust not in the word of God but in what was immediate and temporal.

So what is my point?  One is right to back away from the primacy of politics, for it only of human beings.  Yet, one is not absolved from responsibility to live in God at times of unsavory political wrangling. Indeed, it is living and speaking in the word of God in such conflicted times that is required of us.

Think of St. Paul in this regard:

“Let no one in any way deceive you, for it (the coming of Christ and our gathering together to Him) will not come to pass unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself …

2 Thes 2: 3,4

We are not absolved of a responsibility to live the word of God in conflicted political times, rather we are to employ the word of God to understand what sows “false confidence” and is to be rejected.

Shalom.

“Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the Lord’s house all that words that I have commanded you to speak to them.  Do not omit a word!’

Jer 26:2

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These are the words that came to the Prophet Jeremiah.  These are the words that Jeremiah followed.

It is not easy or comfortable to stand tall and live and speak the word of God. This is true of all times and true today in the hostile secular culture in which we live.  Prophets and disciples must lead others, particularly in times of disorder and despair.

When a nation losses its way, there is one way to restore order and health, peace and prosperity – adhere to the words of God. Remember the Prophets, live as they did – show courage, show faith, speak plainly – and live the words of God rejecting the ways of the popular culture.

“Stand … and speak … ” the words of God.

Shalom.

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