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When you learn to be alone you’ll discover the difference between alone and lonely.

L. J. Vanier, in Ether: Into the Nemesis

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Coming to the ability to be alone is like climbing a very steep and very high mountain with tough terrain and turbulent weather.  Yes, being alone is not the first thing we come to embrace – more like the last thing we come to embrace.

I used to dread being alone.  Why?  I just lost so many people in my childhood – it was like being in battle and seeing those on your side, those you needed disappear leaving you with dwindling odds for survival.

Yes, loss at an early age is a serious awakening that brings more fright than confidence.

But then there is age.  When you have weathered many storms, you somehow grow in strength and confidence.  You can only bury so many people before you realize “you are still standing … and each battle has made you wiser and stronger … and ready for the final days whenever they appear.”

At some point being alone is tolerable and supplies you a state of peace that awakens you spiritually.  At some point, alone comes to mean God, what is eternal and joins you with those long gone but not missing really.

When you can be alone and yet with the others you have known, you have approached the summit.  At the peak of the climb there is no sadness, no loneliness – just the fruits of the hard climb up the craggy mountain.

Some people never climb the mountain.  In this the mountain becomes a demon and fear settles deep in the valley of one’s soul.

For me, I’ll take the mountain and the peace it brings – brings in such an odd way of suffering and challenges.

… Jesus led them up the mountain.  There he was transfigured.

Matt 17: 1, 2

Shalom.

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Why does anyone tell a story?  It does indeed have something to do with faith, faith that the universe has meaning, that our little human lives are not irrelevant, that what we choose to say or do matters, matters cosmically.  (Emphasis added.)

Madeleine L’Engle

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So says author Madeleine L’Engle (Wrinkle in Time and so many other wonderful works).

Yes, life has meaning.  Yes, life has meaning for each of us – from the oldest to the youngest, from the richest to the poorest, the healthy to the ill.  Each of us live a life of meaning … and we are not called into life willy-nilly – without purpose or sanctity.  We are holy beings – everyone.

Finding meaning is the issue.  Finding meaning and experiencing the intimate and amazing reality that we (each one) has a reason for being and for living a full life – beginning to end.

Where to find meaning?  One place in story.  In the written and oral stories of the human being throughout history – in our mortal and eternal existence.

Story.  The best and most revealing story we possess as Christians and Jews is our religious narrative.  It, more than any other story within our reach, is laden with meaning for each of us.  Each recorded episode of God and his people, of Christ and his disciples records the meaning of life for each of us.

Yet, there are those among us whose actions seem to say: “I know not my meaning – I have no value, no meaning, no purpose – I am lost – irretrievably lost.”

This is a national cultural crisis.  It is immediate – it is now.  And it need NOT be so.

Sadly, we see the above words of hopelessness in the addicted, the criminal, the thief, the serial adulterer, the sexual predator (man or woman), the pornographer, the pimp, the prostitute, the liar, the cheat, the cruel ones, abusers … in those who take their own life.

We can even hear these words of hopelessness among those good men and women who have lived more objectively than subjectively – those who cultivated the mind at the expense of the heart.  These are good people who have missed the story and its life-sustaining nature.

Sadly about 45,000 people a year now take their own life here in the United States.  Yes, there are about twice as many suicides in the U.S. as there are homicides – and the number of suicides is growing rapidly.  Such is the price of godlessness in our exclusionary secular culture.  

We have lost our way.  Those with power and authority have forsaken faith – turned their backs to God and abandoned religion and our religious narrative at a very, very great price.  You see our unhappiness and self-destruction is the product of life without meaning – which is to stay: life without God, without attending to our religious story.

If there ever was a time when we had to reverse course it is now.  Come back to a life-giving story.  Come back to your faith narrative.  Demand it be welcomed in the public square.  Play an active role in our cultural recovery and restoration by adopting your religious story as a guide, and active ingredient in your daily life, thoughts and actions.

Our country needs you.  Others need you, too – especially our children.

Shalom.

If this post speaks to you, act on it – share it with others but do take your faith seriously.  Learn you story in its content and insight.  As usual, I appeciate your comments.  Thank you for reading Spirlaw.

 

One of the symptoms of alienation in the modern age is the widespread sense of meaninglessness.  Many patients seek psychotherapy … because they feel that life has no meaning … these people are experiencing the disruptive effects … of an upheaval occasioned by a major cultural transition … there is increasing evidence of a general psychic disorientation.  We have lost our bearings.  Our relationship to life has become ambiguous.  The great symbol system which is organized Christianity seems no longer able to command the full commitment of men or to fulfill their ultimate needs.  The result … feeling of meaninglessness and alienation from life.  (Emphasis added.)

Edward F. Edinger, M.D., in Ego and Archetype

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Analytical Psychiatrist and Professor Edinger is right on target with his observation.

Wealthy designer, merchandiser and wife Kate Spate dead at 55, a suicide.  Celebrity chef and T.V. personality Anthony Bourdain, age 61, dead – a suicide.  Each in the past week.  Wealthy people.  Successful people.  Celebrities.  Neither had money problems nor drug problems as far as we now.

This news raises the question of meaning in our Age, in our culture.

I have come to believe that one is not likely to find life-sustaining reason without a symbol system and religion is the very best and time-tested symbol system.

Symbols systems allow us to see life more clearly, experience it more deeply, come to understanding.

Symbols give us iconic images and tell stories of human kind – of power and corruption, sacrifice and meaning, produce deep, rich, eternal meaning in man’s actions, thoughts, choices, intimacies, family, community, group, life’s work, parenting, marriage, culture, nation and lifetime.

Symbols tie us to our ancestors and create a bridge from mortal to eternal existence.

Symbol systems have been in existence since man began to walk the earth.  Symbols systems have sustained humans through life’s inevitable struggles and deadly challenges.  Symbol systems unite one person to another – people to a group.

Symbols systems move through time, are added to over time – while maintaining the basic message as to meaning in human existence.  Like myths, symbols provide insight,  set boundaries, create roles, confirm individual and collective identity.

Yet, we seem now to have shelved or abandoned religion, our principle symbol system.

Today suicides, addictions, sexual predators, broken families, corruption in high-places, aimlessness seem more prevalent.  Each suggests to me – a loss of meaning produced by a absence or neglect of a symbol system.  For without a symbol system we are easily lost, most-assuredly less certain, without the wisdom of the Ages and the truths that have withstood the test of time.

Without a symbol system, we live superficially by ego, never evolving to our true self and acquiring the confidence and stability it brings.  In such a culture we fear for our children and grandchildren’s well-being.  We grow concerned that life without meaning takes a brutal toll on others, and puts our family members at risk.

Think about the place religious narrative and ritual has had as a symbol system.  Ask yourself this: How have religions survived and served us over such a long time?  And ask: Are they not symbol systems?  Do they not add to our understanding?  Insight?  Stability?  Provide a very helpful context for living in a peaceful and optimistic manner?  Give us life-sustaining meaning?  Wisdom?  Help build our character and give us ease?

If you have not had a place for faith in your life – do think about religious narrative as the best symbol system mankind has.  Engage the narrative.  See if it does not help you discover your identity and value, give you strength.

Oh, and by the way – ideology is NO substitute for a symbol system.  The voices of the ideologues are frantic voices of people with no particular stability – merely egos seeking power, control as their “Holy Grail.”  The emergence of ideology in public life is the barometer of how lost we are.  Take heed.

I wish for you: meaning and contentment, a life that is understood, and the experience of life’s many daily gifts received each day.

Shalom.

Prayers – for Charles Krauthammer, M.D., journalist and author who writes today to his friends and colleagues that he is approaching his death as his cancer has reoccurred.  He is one of the gentlemen in Washington – smart and kind.  Prayers too for his wife and son.

We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the things freely given by God.

1 Cor 2:12

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The foundation of our health and human prosperity is in the Spirit.  Yet, the culture we live in promotes the mind as if our well-being resides in the head.

Nay, it resides in the heart and in the soul.

A full life relies on our spiritual development, not our intellectually development.  I say this as one who was a college degree, a law degree and two graduate degrees (one in international affairs – American foreign policy and economic policy, and the other in theology).

That said, I make this point: in my career and in my personal life – seeing with the eyes of a Believer made the greatest contribution to my personal and working life.

Plainly speaking – the experiences of my life were more revealing and more instructive because of my spiritual life and its development.  I found greater understanding and greater peace – and yes, wisdom – because I cultivated my spiritual development, became more faithful, placed an importance on worship and directed my reading to those things that would help me grow in the Spirit.  In doing so, novels revealed truth to me, psychology and cultural criticism, philosophy, comparative mythology, and history opened for me.  Likewise biographies of those who traveled hard roads and experienced God were a great help, as were the words of Carl Jung, M.D., and Thomas Merton and Joseph Campbell, and St. Augustine, Thomas Keating and others, and, of course, Scripture.

What is my point?  Our culture would have us confine our self to the head, but the brain is a secondary organ and does not lead us exclusively to the greatest and most significant understandings.  The heart and soul are the key to a good and satisfying life.

It is the Spirit upon which we ultimately rely and the Spirit enlivens the heart and soul.

Attend to the Spirit, for we are of God – and God is pure Spirit.

Shalom.

Democrats – Another Democrat public official (the Attorney General of New York) resigned because of his history of physical abuse of women.  He adds to the list of Democrat money-raisers and politicians who have been exposed as women abusers yet claimed to be champions of women.  It would be nice if this was a surprise – but it is not.

 

I urge you … that there be no divisions among you but that you be united in the same mind and same purpose … Has not God made the wisdom of the world foolish? … The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

1 Cor: 10, 20, 25

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What St. Paul said so many centuries ago speaks to us today.

We seem to have the habit of nudging God from the picture.  Claiming belief, we fashion results as the author of what is good.

Humans are prone to produce division – often in the name of what is “good” or (worse yet) of our professed faith.

Wither ideology and all sorts of odd ideas like “social justice” – a cover for individual responsiblity and evidence of our pride and sinfulness.

Too many of our ideas, and the manufacture of ideology, dodge God and His instructions.  Divided from God we divide ourselves from one another.  Discord, estrangement and hostility flourish.

We make what is direct obscure.

We change the names of magnificent things like pregnancy – infanticide becomes “choice,” Holy Matrimony is befitted with fiction to excuse disordered behavior, gender is redefined and multiplied.  Absurdity abounds.

Corinth was “full of devotees of various pagan cults and marked by a measure of moral depravity.”  We are Corinth.  It best NOT be so.

Less government would be an improvement.  Less reliance on government – less political division and more individual responsibility … more space for faith and for God, and for humility and gratitude.

Shalom.

The Iran “Deal” – If Mr. Kerry wanted to see the Iran Deal made a permanent (while idiotic) achievement he’d best have encouraged Mr. Obama to make it a Treaty and get Senate approval for it.  But that would have required work.  However that didn’t seem to be Mr. Kerry or Mr. Obama’s inclination.

“The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.  But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep.”

Jn 10: 25, 26

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These are the words Jesus spoke to Jews in Jerusalem at the Temple.  Let’s put them in today’s context.

Yesterday a young man in Toronto drove a van down the sidewalk and killed ten people and seriously injured more.  A few days ago in Nashville, Tennessee, a young man entered a restaurant early in the morning and shot and killed four patrons and injured others.  Each young man had a history of mental health problems.

These two incidents are reminders of the Parkland, Florida, school shootings that took the lives of 17 students.  That young man also has a history of mental illness.  In that case, the public authorities totally failed to address the needs of that very troubled young man.

” … you do not believe, because you are not my sheep …”

The success of Alcoholics Anonymous is dependent on recognition of the existence of God (“a higher power’) and on our limitations to address our problems as if we are that “higher power.”

It seems to me that the constant signs of our neglect of those in need and the violent actions of those who (in their deranged state) randomly kill innocent people is an indication of our neglect of our own spiritual needs.  

I think too of the two lesbian women who adopted six foster care children and retained custody of those children while having had run afoul of child welfare officials in three states.  As you recall these two women drove a vehicle (with the children in it) off a California cliff to their collective deaths 100 feet below.

We are a troubled nation because we have forsaken belief … because we have neglected our full health, our need for spiritual sustenance.

Indeed we live like we are each a god unto our self.  We are, in this regard, absolutely NOT helped by all the discontented “special pleaders” in politics and particularly the angry godless voices on the Left who create division and disorder and their counterparts in the Democrat Party in the U.S. Congress, the federal bureaucracy and in state and local government.  Yes, godless voices breed sickness and hostility.

Let’s be honest, we awake each day to read or hear about one or more horrific accounts of murder, child abuse, infanticide, abhorrent sexual assaults, or some form of human deprivation that is beyond our imagination or understanding … and we see day after day the utter failure of authorities to do much of anything about these matters.

You know I recall the hubris of Mr. Obama who boasted about fundamentally transforming America and that no one seemed ever to ask in what form this change might take, nor did anyone dare to say to him: “Hey, pal, you’re NOT God and you have accomplished nothing thus far in your life.”

The point to be made?  Man is not God.  Heck, we are not now even clearly showing that we are the Shepherd’s sheep.

Might be time to believe again.  But do we have it in us to be humble as we once were?

Shalom.

Warped Self-interest – No Democrat Senators on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted in favor Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State.  They did so largely to deprive President Trump the person he wanted in that position.

Mr. Pompeo, a former Congressman and Director of the C.I.A., graduated first in his class at West Point and first in his class at Harvard Law School.  He has had both a successful military career and an excellent business career in which he started (as I recall) two successful businesses.

When you think that we have had recently both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry as Secretary of State (neither of them who achieved any particular success in their lifetime), it shows you that Democrats always put their own interests before the interests of the Nation and its people.  Shameful.

If there be any man who is not enlightened by the sublime magnificence of created things, he is blind.  If there be any man who is not aroused by the clamor of nature, he is deft.  If there be any one who, seeing all these works of God, does not praise him, he is dumb; if there be any one who, from so many signs, cannot perceive the First Principle, that man is foolish.  (Emphasis added.)

St. Bonaventure, in Intinerarium Mentis in Deum

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I am sure I live among disordered people – for each day I get up I am presented with evidence that we are surrounded by people who have absolutely no idea of nature, its immutable presence and the confides of its boundaries.

What do I mean?  I give and example: men are men and women are women –and while they share common characteristics they are not the same and are not interchangeable.  Each has their blessings, gifts, innate and unique talents and insights, and ways of seeing and being … and this is a beautiful thing.

When a culture loses an understanding and appreciation of nature, it loses its sanity and on the way to insanity it generates hostility and manufactures abject foolishness.

Need an illustration of the insanity?  Airlines are re-thinking the policy of allowing “comfort” animals on commercial passenger flights – because passengers are now bringing animals like small ponies as their “comfort” animals.  (Yes, this is true.)

In public policy matters, the “small pony” is exhibited by any number of iterations arising from feminism and homosexual advocacy.  Men and women are not meant to be “at war” and there is no such psychological designation as “homophobia.”  Notwithstanding that there is no such diagnostic category as “homophobia,” it has entered the public lexicon as if it is “a truth,” an actual psychological disorder.

This is a problem.  You see when nature is denied, truth is denied.  Consequentially, what flows is that which is unnatural and false.  Reality becomes unexamined fantasy.

If we have any particular group to “thank” for this is it people in the intellectual community who latch on to fantasy and ignore truth.  Their ideas now presented as mainstream suggest to me that rather than affording them the cap and gown of university achievement – consigning them to wear red bulbous nosed and large rubber feet seems more fitting.

The tragedy of denying nature is the tragedy of becoming less educated, less wise, less insightful, less truthful, less human, less stable and less sane.

We are, it seems, as St. Bonaventure says – blind, deaf, dumb and foolish.  Not a good development and one reason why I listen to few people and spend my time in nature, with cows, mountains, sky, and beauty.

Shalom.

Never Understood – The Democrats have filed a lawsuit claiming that the Russians, Wikileaks and members of the Trump campaign conspired to defeat the Democrat candidate in the last Presidential Election.

I have never understood their claim that Russians favored the Republican candidate over the Leftist Party’s candidate.  Let’s face it – the Democrat Party is the political party of the Left.  For heaven sakes, it had a Socialist seeking their Party’s nomination and their last President had a C.I.A. Director who voted for a Communist for President at one time.

How is it that the Party of the Left would be the Party that the Russians wished to get defeated?  What sense does that make?

 

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. 

 

Grandeur of character lies wholly in force of soul, not in the force of thought, moral principles, and love, and this may be found in the humblest conditions of life.  (Emphasis added.)

William Ellery Channing, in Self-Culture

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Yes, as Jean-Paul Richter said so simply in Titan – character is higher than intellect as intellect is function and life is the functionary.  And, yes – character comes from the soul.  It does not come from “rules of the road,” ethics, social relations, ideology, the ideas we hold, the fads of the day, self-interest, wealth, status, etc. – and it surely does not arise from finding oneself on the television or sitting on the op-ed panel of some once useful newspaper that is now far less than it ever may have been.

That said, character is less visible now in American culture than it was as short a time ago in the 1940’s and early 1950’s.

Character seems to have faded in the image culture, in a secularized land, the culture of mass communication and affluence … in the culture of the poorly-educated college graduate and the narrowly trained intellect for it is as Richter said that intellect is function and life is functionary.  Yes, living engages the soul and from the soul comes character.

It follows that a life of challenge challenges the soul and character is coaxed out of these experiences and only in character is knowing known … wisdom presented.

In our present state intellect (in its most diminished state today – so clearly seen in talking heads and people we encounter who speak of things they do not know) there is not much sign of character.

It used to be the case that America attracted immigrants who saw in this land (as was reflected in its people) those who had character – and who took on all the odds to journey here where acculturation to our ways was expected and liberty to prosper was freely offered.  But alas that is not the case now.

Now, people travel here, and like our entitled native born college-“educated” class who make a life of complaining about this country (that which used to be their country) – we find our newest entrants and our offspring seeking the largess of government and complaining that this or that is wrong, “unfair,” disadvantaging in some way (as to gender, sexual practice, race, ideology, etc.)

In all of this it seems we must say: character and individual achievement is far less visible than it was 60 years ago.

So what is the warning?  Forget all the fluff, live from the soul outward for if the soul is denied character is lost.  Without character we become, frankly, quarrelsome and unlikeable – easily defeated.

I see, frankly, so few who exhibit the character that says of a person – “I am a soulful person. I see my origin in the grace of God.  I live beyond the narrow confines of the superficial, and the mass culture.  I take what comes and do the best I can with it for I seek to succeed as an individual, a sacred being who has been given a life and access to a land of liberty and opportunity.”

As for me, I avoid the herd and “popular culture” and my life is quieter and more meaningful in its relative solitude.  Yes, after years of putting the soul to the test, I am as whole as I might reasonably aspire to me – knowing full well that there is still hardship to come, character to be grown, and a soul that lives here and beyond.

Shalom.

 

 

 

Slow Saturday.  Quiet.  Cold, gray spring day.  Moisture in the air.  Solo cello in the background.  The cows have long ago today passed this way.

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… the … neurotic individual does try to escape the full awareness of his life task.  (Emphasis added.)

Viktor E. Frankl, M.D., in Man’s Search for Meaning

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I am aware of no public conversation that attempts to explain the disordered conduct of neurotics or psychotics on the loose and regularly visible in our mass communication and digitized secular culture.

Frankly, I find this both astonishing and quite dangerous. Imagine the number of talking heads on television daily who blabber along on this or that thing while offering absolutely no insight as to the topic they address.  Imagine, all the more seriously, that these people are listened to by a passive, uncritical, uninformed, poorly developed audience of millions every single day.

Then factor in this wrinkle: despite their training (or maybe because of it and a lack of human life experience) clerics are tasked with trying to share faith with others in a culture they do not know nor understand.

Think about it – our clerics have no training in intellectual history, cultural criticism, psychology, analytical psychiatry, the classics and such – nor have they (for the most part) experienced life in the working class, as a military combatant, raising a family, as a divorcee, overcoming an addiction, as one who is unemployed or whose job has been shipped overseas, or one who has lived in public housing – below the poverty line.

We are lost sheep – but not just lost – we cannot hear our Shepherds and some of them have no voice.

I give you a simple example of our serious deficit.  The above quote is intended to convey that the neurotic (captured by past human experience) avoids growth by being trapped in the injuries and experiences of the past.

Frankl tell us that the neurotic lives in “vicious cycle formations and feedback mechanisms” – that the neurotic is “self-centered” and in this forfeits all growth and all that is in the future yet to be experienced.  Does this NOT explain why ideologies and ideologues are to be avoided, ignored, discounted.  Their way is that of group and institutional neuroses.  Think radical feminism, the demands by the Left of rote conformity, groups fixated on “racism,” Left-wing “causes” of one variety or another – “social justice” crusaders, environmentalists, Marxists, etc. – taken to the extremes these people are neurotic: self-centered, playing the same “feedback loops” over and over and over.

Yes, there is widespread madness present in our culture and no one is identifying it.  On the  contrary we see these “feedback loops” offered us in daily talks shows – PBS, NPR, MSNBC, CNN and even on some of the Fox news shows. 

Yes, even our Shepherds have no voice, no insight.  Many are among the ranks of the neurotics – joined by our judges, op-ed writers, “entertainers,” late night TV hosts, political figures, and news people.

It is the First Century of Christianity once again.  Discipleship anyone?

Shalom.

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