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… (Thomas) Merton described himself as journeying towards his destiny “in the belly of a paradox” … He sought the monastic life because he desired hiddenness and solitude, but his writings brought fame and demands.

Lawrence S. Cunningham, in Thomas Merton & the Monastic Vision

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When we flee the world in favor of aloneness or have aloneness thrust upon us, we most often find God and in finding God we find ourselves, others and the world. God, of course, is our solitude and in Him and with Him we then proceed … never to be without Him.

There is no hiding, though many do so in plain sight using status, title, appearance, celebrity, power, wealth or what-have-you to separate out from the mob.  As for the individual, there is no unitary escape, no disappearing act.

In seeking one’s particular solitude you will most surely find self and God – for solitude is the door to contemplation, to self-examination, reflection, infused wisdom, understanding, compassion, mercy, patience, love, forgiveness, intimacy, contentment … and in each of these the gateway to Truth, to what alone is True, to you and He who makes you as you have been made.

Once God is known aloneness is proved a lie, for then one is never alone and realizes that one was never alone.  Paradox ends, then – and all fits a divine rubic.

Our path – seek to withdraw as if to the desert, or sit under the lotus tree in quiet and soon enough God is present and hiddenness is impossible, unnecessary for then we are called to life as it is intended.

The Sacred Paradox is this: aloneness presents God and aloneness is no more.

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.

Peace does not dwell in outward things, but within the soul; we may preserve it in the midst of the bitterest pain …

Francis Fenelon

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Yes, true enough.  But what does this say to us?

First, peace relies on one’s interior journey.  That is where the exterior is integrated and where, in that process, we grow in depth, understanding, wisdom, courage, mercy and maturity.  That said, this calls most frequently on faith and the place of religious narrative in one’s life.

But what more does this say?

Pain, disappointment, deception – even betrayal and abandonment are part of life among mortals who are in all states of immaturity, selfishness, fear, hurt, disorder, foolishness and the like.  So, yes – the interior journey provides a housing for the hurt that diminishes the injury that others and life invokes.

Faith and the interior journey: they neutralize the toxic nature of pain and make of it the best things that we are in being fully human and divinely created beings.

It is so often pain and disappointment that opens the doors of the heart and soul, and faith narratives which most frequently provide the template and context in which, relying in the ancient and ageless truth they impart, that hold the key to heart and soul.

Shalom.

The hermit … knows the mercy of God … because his whole life is one of complete dependence … upon … the … mercy of our … Father.

Thomas Merton, in Thoughts in Solitude

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The mortal world is full of distractions and disordered individuals and institutions. It is far from the life of a hermit – far from solitude and silence and in its fury, it is far from the experience of God, the Ever-Present God.

In the fury of the modern world it is difficult to experience God, for much of our life is set in motion and time alone in quiet is rare.

All the fury produces a darkened sky – our eyes close to Light.  In blindness we seek to find our self by our self. Finding one already found is futile, and comic when it is not destructive to self and others.

We are made in His wisdom and endowed with His love and His mercy.

Look around you, when the world fashions disorder, is it not time for detachment and solitude?  Do the dead not bury the dead.  Life is sacred and for living.

Shalom.

Blog Post for July 12, 2016

We are all lonely for something we do not know we are lonely for.  How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like you miss somebody we’ve never even met.

David Foster Wallace

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One could think of Wallace’s haunting words as in some ways the product of the disenchantment produced with the pivot away from God and sacramental consciousness in favor of the primacy of man and reason at the end of the Middle Ages.

With this – man, it can be said, began a lonely march away from peace and happiness and toward the heavy burden of self and self-importance in but one dimension: the mortal world unprotected by God or God’s mercy.

Ironically, man’s freedom to explore the natural world, in the oddest of ways, contributed to man’s reduction.  How so?

The capacity to examine the natural world held the likelihood that man might exalt himself, believe in his own divinity, power, importance – that he create an estrangement from his own nature and longings that would bring him not esteem so much as the inevitable specter of isolation and loneliness.  Yes, becoming full of a “buffered” self, man became empty – one who in time would feel lonely for “something” (God, an invisible reality, life beyond the mortal frame of reference, etc.), one does not even know he is lonely for.

The point is this: history moved from “the God hypothesis” to the “no God hypothesis.” The latter producing man so full of himself, so “stuffed to the gills” with himself that he was quite empty and unable to offer an explanation for things unexplainable.  He lost access to mystery and to the experience of the experience of man or the Divine, and to speak in a poetic voice of each. He lost the capacity for intimacy, for intimacy with another, knowledge of himself – man lost intimate contact with his true self.

Man in his freedom and dignity succeeded in maximizing himself reduced, while minimizing God. It follows that man sought in one form then another reliance not on God’s order for man, but man’s order for man.  Arise, the hollow and shallow political man!

What was once thought to be a divine and sacred order of existence became a secular, and the desacralized order of imperfect man seeking to govern imperfect man and growing sicker, more lost and lonely by the decade.

Today in the U.S. and the West we might know this calamity as the secular versus the Christian way of being.

With life without God we know “the curious feeling” of missing “someone we’ve even never met.”  Such is life of man without God.  We are, it seems, in the desert for forty days in the company of Satan.  Such is the tragic and injurious state we have “created” for ourselves.

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.

Then Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

Jacob … said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved.”

Gen 32: 24, 30

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Some years ago I had a conversation with a Dear Friend and former colleague that very much reminded me of the above Genesis story about Jacob on the eve before he was to meet his brother Esau from whom he has been estranged for a good number of years.

The conversation I refer to occurred when I was living in a monastery in the mountains.

One Sunday within a few months of my taking residence there, I received a call from my friend John who asked, “So how is it going?”

Knowing by his inflection that he meant something special by this question, I responded by saying, “Do you mean has monastic life changed me in a substantive way?”  He eagerly responded, “Ya, that’s what I mean.”  His remark confirmed and clarified my perception.

Spontaneously, I said to my New York City basketball-loving friend, “Oh, John, there’s no magic window or special door you go through – it’s all one-on-one basketball, you against God.  He beats you every time and you hope you get better.”

John’s utterance?  “I’m so relieved.”

Yes, John wondered if entering a religious quarter and mode of existence substantively changed a person.  No, folks – neither geography, or a practiced daily routine changes one per se.

Moving to God is more the like of Jacob.  You must face God, engage a struggle to come to terms with your life as it is, and your life as it can and must be.

The change we seek in faith is akin to wrestling with God.  One way or another, you’ll have to grow and mature to become as you were intended to be.

Lest you think that the struggle is unnecessary remember this: Jacob was estranged from his brother Esau because Jacob cheated Esau out of his older brother’s birthright, their father Isaac’s estate.

You see, we err and yet God will, when we face ourselves honestly, reconcile us to our better self.

Just as Jacob wrestled with the truth of his life, so, too, must you.

We all err.  Turning honestly to God, God reconciles.  There are no shortcuts, no magic windows and no special doors, no geography or daily routine.  There is just you and God and one-on-one basketball.  He beats you at the game of life, in humility – you get better.

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.

The strange young man who comes to me/ A soldier on a three-day spree/ Who needs one night’s cheap ecstasy/ And a woman’s arms to hide him/

He greets me with a courtly bow/ And hides his pain by acting proud/ He drinks too much and laughs too loud/ How can I deny him?/

Let us dance beneath the moon/ I’ll sing to you “Claire de Lune”/ The morning always comes too soon/ But tonight the war is over.

David Olney

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These are the beautiful lyrics of David Olney in his ballad 1917.  In these words: truth, tenderness, passion, acceptance, mercy and the human’s condition.

A young man in trench warfare.  Millions, literally millions, dying in mechanized murder.  Humans with hearts and passions in a state of mortal chaos and confusion.  Yet, still human – and too young to have come to wisdom.

He is us in many ways.  She, too, is us in our better days: she sees what is before her, she reads him well, and cannot “deny him” shelter.

In our confusion and pain we seek the “arms to hide” us.  We are, you see, only human.

In a moment of honesty and candor we know – life is more about facing God than finding God.

What do I mean?

To face God is the quest, and to face God in life is even more so the repetitive task.  Face God as we are, as He knows who we are.  There is no hiding in this.  There is only naked reality – and God’s embrace.

Those who face God live as mystics do.  They live free of unnecessary and inadequate efforts to avoid, deny, explain or defend all that they are and all that they do.  Facing God one becomes lighter than air.  But face God we must.  There is no alternative, no slick “by-pass.”

Facing God is accepting life as it is and self as we are.  It is knowing we are imperfect but loved by The Perfect One.

Accepting life means no more floating on the surface, or living to select out only what we wish to acknowledge or our most flattering moments or memories.  No more days of denial, in our own dungeon of solitary confinement – hidden from the world as it is, and us as we are.

The dark of the heart awaits the Light – and It will come … and it will warm a warmth of mercy no different than a lover’s arms, but eternal.

Truth is: to face God is to choose life in its vast outside and its passions and sorrows of the deep inside.

… I have set before you life and death … choose life in order that you may live …

Duet 30:19, 20

“Every saint has a past and every sinner a future,” Oscar Wilde said that.  “Accept life, your imperfection and face the Perfect One who awaits patiently,”  I said that.

Shalom.

Thank you for sharing this with others.  Hearts change one heart at a time.

Listen.  Remember God’s sorrowful call: “Where are you?  What is it that you have done?”  And in time God’s Son answers for us: “Lo, I have come to do your will, O God.”

We stretch between the two: Eden and the Cross.  Yes, amid the pain and comfort of life, connected with all in their embrace and rebellion, in the dark and the light.

A Reflection

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Sometimes early in the morning when it is still dark as night I hear music that touches my heart and soul and makes me live again the moments when I have loss someone dear to me, that bitter sweet sadness of knowing love and loss at precisely the same moment – that moment and experience that melds both loss and love into memory – inseparable memory, my own moment under the Cross of Christ.

Gabriel’s Oboe composed by Ennio Marricone and played by cellist Yo-Yo Ma is one piece of music that transports me to that place of love and loss.  It is beautiful, simply beautiful; it tells of life, of living.  It is, in its beauty, able to embrace the truth of life – even the sobering knowledge that evil as it is in the world is subsumed by beauty, and love.  A heart of pain and the certainty that hope comes to its fullness in time – mortal and everlasting.

In the midst of the music and the memories it summons the bitter sweet truth that there is no loss, no hurt, no evil – no matter how brutal and heartless – that exceeds God.

Yes, I feel in the memories the heinous deeds of the deranged, the hatefulness of dictators and those with darkened hearts.

Yet, I feel as well this certainty: above it all is God, and love and eternity waiting for those who believe and struggle to grow in humility and the Spirit, in understanding and compassion, in forgiveness and mercy.

It is some powerful mix this life event.  We must, each of us, live this to be fully grown and ready for what is after mortal life.  While the world continues to crucify Christ and we suffer this heartache and humiliation, again and again we come to this: there is beauty, and love, and God and these prevail and never end.

In the gray twilight of my wife’s life, on the cold, windswept late November night in which she died – there was love and heartbreaking loss, a repetition of losses that came before as if to prepare me for more of the same but only harder to endure.  Yet, in this: God.  In this, intimacy.  In this, love that lasts and pain that is blunted if not extinguished over time.

It is this composition, this human equation, which humbles and strengthens, and deepens us, and creates in us a place for beauty, God, others, and love everlasting; in this we become human, and can touch the victims of man’s cruelty in ages past and ages to come.

We are in this in the continuum, witnesses linked with witnesses from the Garden to the Cross in centuries past and centuries to come … and the music plays and touches heart and the soul as if it is God’s hand.

Shalom.

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