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Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself.

C. S. Lewis, in The Weight of Glory

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Lewis wrote this in 1939 when Britain and France declared war on Germany.  As sabres rattle, we come to this again.  Culture exists under the shadow of the Infinite.

The question for us is this: we knew this in 1939, but do we know it now?

It is hard to answer that question in the affirmative.  We kill the unborn child. Sanction illicit relationships.  Rely on reason, not God.  Favor pride over humility. A dropout makes a “social network” that takes the place of face to face contact and we think it is grand.  Loyalty is missing.  Character is not easily seen. Morality is breeched.  Excuses and lethargy are abundant.  Education shows it is not worth the price.  Many are lost.

The road ahead is the road restored.

When sabres rattle you’d best be standing under the shadow of the Infinite.

Shalom.

 

Jail is preferable.  There they only limited you physically.  In a mental ward they tampered with your soul and worldview and mind.

John Kennedy Toole, in Confederacy of Dunces

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Well this is precisely the challenge today.  A challenge, however, with a twist. Now the mentally ill are the wardens of the asylum and their souls have long since been lost to use. Think “The Honorable” Maxine Watters, Member of Congress, and her colleagues or any number of entertainment celebrities who speak as if they are sane and stable. Think even of the Federal Judiciary and many others masquerading as “authority figures” in the bureaucracy, educational institutions, in the media – you know, the Ivy-“educated” without a whit of life experience, humility or common sense.

Now the government and those with public visibility in mass culture expand the asylum’s walls and the common citizens are imposed upon, deprived access to their soul, made sick by those who are indeed the sick ones.  So many examples.  Daily examples. For instance, Teen Vogue magazine has an article intended to serve as a guide to anal sex. Yes, no joke here.  Yes, the depraved, godless Left has done its best to dismantle what was once a relatively sane, faithful culture where freedom was cherished, God welcomed and courage and honor quite common.

In the present age the question soon enough is this: how do you retain sanity and soul when put upon by the insane and soulless?

This was, of course, John Kennedy Toole’s underlying question.

If asked this question as to how to retain sanity and soul, I would say: simply be.

I would add from my experience these suggestions: live in the private citadel of faith, attend to metaphysics, be moral, pick your company very carefully, avoid cities, the masses, popular culture and most regulations, live modestly, keep good counsel, pursue a simple life, blow up the T.V., beware of technology and “social networks” – use them sparingly or not at all, read good things – books that give you depth, insight, greater self-understanding and a feel for history, neglect neither your psyche nor your soul, listen to classical music – Yehudi Menuhin’s violin for example, cherish nature and silence, learn to live in solitude, read about what was once our great and honorable nation, dig into art, try writing in a journal – wonderful to summon up the best within your while defining the sickness that surrounds you, exercise, eat wisely, stay close to beauty – bask in it for it is a divine reality, don’t give heed to talking heads, pray that humility grows in you, ignore most contemporary figures – they know far less than all that you have forgotten in a lifetime about 50 years longer than they have been alive, keep skepticism handy, stay close to God, know absurdity when you sense it and pass its plate to others without tasting – give time and warning to only those you know to have common sense and a quest for the good that is Divine.

Let no one tamper with your soul.

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked … his delight is in the law of the Lord … the Lord knows the way of the righteous.  But the way of the wicked will perish. (Emphasis added.)

Prov 1: 1, 2, 6

Shalom.

Note: When you watch the political opposition to Donald Trump do not miss this: those in the political establishment (Republican and Democrat) do not wish Mr. Trump to succeed because they like the landscape and their privileged “insider” status “just fine, thank you.”

Yes, understand that their opposition to Donald Trump is opposition to all those who voted for him and the views that they hold.

Truth of the matter is that this is a low grade civil war – on one side the “insiders” who think of themselves as better than the common person (a/k/a those “basket of deplorables”) and on the other side – about one half of the voting public – just regular tax-paying Joes and Marys.  Interesting moment in America’s history.

The loss of the Christian religion is why the West has been fragmented for some time now, a process that is accelerating … (we are) stripped of ancestral faith.

Rod Dreher, in The Benedict Option

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What in particular has been lost?

To answer this question is to chart a course back to health and stability, joy, meaning and purpose, resolve, determination, responsibility, identity, intimacy, strength and courage.

So what is the answer?  Well here is part of it.  We once identified God with Creation – with our beginning, our origin, and this nexus of God and Creation placed God in the present moment of each day.  Having disconnected God from Creation, we are lost.

Lost, we are without stability, comprehension, understanding, hope and certainty.  We lack vitality.  We have nothing to fight for or to defend.

In our present state, our capacity for belief and the ability to have a full human experience are absent.  Yes, some among us have become like the Zombies in the Walking Dead – mindless, soulless stumble bums.

Losing the presence of God, nothing is sacred – when once all was sacred.

Having lost sacramental consciousness, the Spirit suffers – we are less than we have been created to be … more uncertain, anxious, frightened, confused.  We have been hollowed out.

Our medieval ancestors had it so much easier.  Imagine that.  They saw God in all things, revealing Himself through people and events, in places and things.  In contrast, we live starved of full human experience, and the experience of the Divine.  A pathetic and tragic disposition.  Those “with less” had so much more.

Think about it.  Without God we lose humility – sit and stand alone – dependent on self; this a desperate state given too frequently to addictions, suicides, violence, desolation, hopelessness – crushed by the burden of life without God, without belief.  In our midst stand sad clowns and crazies, and those in a stunned stupor – flat, nonsensical, troubled, unpredictable, explosive.

So what might one do?

St. Benedict reacted to the corruption and chaos produced by the fall of Rome by removing himself from the destruction and concentrating on his faith life, on Christ, prayer, living a modest, careful and caring life.  He dedicated himself to living his faith daily and in all things.

You can do the same and you need not flee to the desert or take a place in a cave.  No, you can “hunkered down” in place.  Make space between the confused and you, between you and Christ and those lost to belief.

The times call for a Benedictine presence.  Your witness can save others and sustain Christianity just as St. Benedict did.  Fear not.  This, too, shall pass.

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.

 

“How full the days are, full of slow and quiet … Only here do I feel that my life is authentically human.

Thomas Merton

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Merton’s words in a journal entry of November 1964 when he moved into his hermitage – a place to dwell alone surrounded by nature.

In my solitude on the ridge I know what he means.  Never have I felt closer to reality, to God, to the ground of being … or more at peace.

I am away from disorder, chaos … and the flood of bad behavior, routine deceptions and the idiotic chatter – its self-destruction.

I think of ISIS.  North Korea.  The American Left.  The media, the press.  Iran. Russia’s global antics and Europe’s passivity and foolishness.

When good falls victim to evil has not the ground under you shifted?  Is it not wise to seek Eden once again?

In Eden there are no pagans, no herds of selfish people making unwise and suicidal demands.

Merton and the Ridge.

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.

It is in your power to withdraw yourself whenever you desire.  Perfect tranquility consists in the good ordering of the mind, the realm of your own.

Marcus Aurelius, in Meditations

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If you live in a crowded metropolitan area, tranquility may not come easily.  But, oh is it needed.

I notice when I reappear in the Washington metro area that the pace is quickened and signs of hectic people are easy to see.  Relaxed is not an adjective I associate with those who live in the urban sprawl.  Tranquility isn’t plainly visible – that’s for sure.

But who can live in constant motion, in non-stop stimulus, among frantic people rushing to catch up or get on schedule?

Yes, we can recede and, yes, we can seek tranquility – a quieting of the heart and mind. But that is, or must be, a decision that requires intention: the commitment to secure the peace within, the quiet available to you.

Think about what you face each day: the demands, the pace, the noise, the stimulus, the commitments, the uncertainties, the responsibilities, the obstacles. Hard to be tranquil.

Take time to rest, to know silence.  And seek to know your inner life, who you are – what makes you “tick.”  It is not just a quiet mind that is needed, but knowledge of who you are and a soul at rest that is no longer neglected.  God bless.

Shalom.

… (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.

I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it. (Emphasis added.)

Arthur Schopenhauer, in The World as Will and Representation

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Schopenhauer.  Written in 1819.  Emphasis added, and needed today.

Mass communication.  Too much noise.  TV.  Endless cable channels.  Voice mail. Email. Facebook.  Twitter.  I-phones.  Cells.

Words, endless words.  Ideological noise.  Partisan noise.  Noise for the sake of noise. People as deranged parakeets.  Talking heads.  Chatter.  Mindless chatter. Incoherent chatter. Useless chatter. Thoughtless chatter.  Daily chatter, hour by hour chatter, minute by minute chatter.  People talking who have nothing to say.  People talking who relentlessly subtract from the sum of human knowledge.

Is there anything to be learned from anyone on Morning Joe?  Network news? CNN?  The Washington Post?  The New Your Times?  Charles Schumer?  Nancy Pelosi?  Maxine Watters?  Bernie Sanders?  Pat Leahy?  Al Franken?  The various partisan hacks and “special pleaders” that occupy television time?  Or from the professorial class, God-help-us?

The more noise, the dumber and more psychologically unhinged we get.  Yes, the more noise the sicker and more misguided we get.  The noise we hear is a lodestone, a weight, a drag on peace, sanity, common sense, wisdom, effective action, problem-solving, intimacy, friendship, community, cooperation, full human development.

When we are all talking, no one is listening … and thinking is NOT going on.

You know why got Comey fired?  Two things.  One, he talked too much.  Two, he got too close to the utterly disordered lives of Bill and Hillary Clinton.  Their chaos takes its victims (remember Vince Foster) just as noise itself dumbs us down, supplies the means to a national stupor.  Think bathrooms as a “human rights” issue.  Noise kills.

The President would be wise to stop talking.  Better his deeds speak for him.

The Presidency and leadership is like courtship.  The mystery and beauty of a woman is enhanced by her quiet presence.  Fewer words attract.  In reserve, words gain greatest effect.  The quiet ones think before they speak and in speaking have greater effect, reflect more often that they thought before they spoke.

Few are worth listening to.  If you hear or read something and you are not called into substantive question or reflection then words have failed you.  If words merely feed your bias, they do little for you.

The best we can hope for is less talk and more quiet.  No great deeds come for perpetual talkers – only noise, chaos, confusion, errors do they produce.

Shalom.

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