Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Hiatus

Taking a break here.    
In case you hadn't noticed.    
May your holidays be peaceful and fruitful.
Treasure the every day.   

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Side by Side

Pope Francis:  In Assisi.  On the Feast of St. Francis.

The Washington Post:  As flagged by Atrios (from cepr).

What is it going to be?  Concern for the poor and disabled, the refugee, the trafficked?  Or, if we neglect them, is it simply a cost-saving adjustment?

More than once, here and elsewhere, I've expressed my anguish, the heart's deep suffering.  I mean the Heart of the Universe.  And our hearts.   The anguish Francis points to.  And I've pointed to.  The anguish exposed every day - even if not pointed to - in newspapers, on TV, in every part of the globe.  Sung and unsung.

I used to write political blogs.  But that (anguish) drove me to reading the psalms, to simply dwelling with the pain that is brushed aside by all too many - who focus on money and power and tit for tat.

But miracles can happen.  And the election of Pope Francis, together with the powerful messages he is sending - in word and deed - these sit alongside ... the horrors.  They sit as a commentary. 

Side by side.  Face to face.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Love and Death

A wonderful meditation on Love.  This is what I read first this morning.  It was so moving that I wanted to flag it - or flog it - take your pick.  All the emotions that love evokes in us.  Even the cynics among us, as the writer calls himself.

A tragic exposé on Children and Guns.  I read this next.  Also moving - but in a different way.  In the best tradition of why we need a free press.  Why we need accurate research.  Courageous legislators.  And good legislation.

I beg you:  Please read these two articles.  Then put them together.

(I don't have time now to do that for you.)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Mystery of Time

Time.  I'm pondering time.  And certain writers/thinkers whose musing on time has had a profound effect on many, myself included.

I'm reading, rereading and collating - allowing myself to be swept away, whether into Proust's novels or T S Eliot's Four Quartets, John Bayley's musings while tending to Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimers.  And I'm thinking especially of Abraham Joshua Heschel, whose lecture I attended as a very young person, on the holiness of time.  Which puts me in mind of how creativity and time are intertwined.  Whether in the story of creation - a meditation which begins Genesis, the Bible's first book.  The subject of Proust's In Search of Lost TimeA theme to which Eliot returns again and again in Four Quartets, my favorite poem - a mystical work which also deals with creativity.

Time.  Old age is a good time to reflect on Time.  One seems to have time for such reflection.  Time to read.  Time to think.  Time to reflect on one's own time past and time future - in the light of time present. 

Heschel tells us that the seminal contribution of the Torah's setting aside the Sabbath - as a means of making time holy - is a huge leap from sacred space (temples and the like) to a new dimension - and a new way of prayer and celebration, which includes both the bodily (and its pleasures) as well as the soul, the sacred.

It was Heschel who introduced me to seeing the Holy in this way.  In such a way that I have never forgotten his lecture.  Never forgotten where I was when I heard it.  Never forgotten his effect upon me - an old man, speaking in simple, declarative sentences (so different from Eliot or Proust!) - which held such wisdom.  Which seemed to pass straight from his heart (or soul) to mine.  As if the words had, themselves, a sacred character - held the very holiness they spoke of.  My first brush with a genuinely holy person.  I knew it at once!  Like you know what love means - when you fall in love for the first time.  Holy Mystery delivered to me.  A new sense of the sacred.  Way beyond books and lectures and prayer in a church.

Now there's nowhere (specific) that this post is going.  There's nothing I can say better than the writers and thinkers just flagged (and I'd include the wisdom books of the Bible and John's Gospel and even some mystical passages of Paul).  But it sets one to pondering.  It makes you want to read, reread and reflect as you read.  It unearths memories from one's own life.  For me:  Reading Bergson's philosophy of time (the spirituality of memory, the meaning of life) - as Proust did - (my last year of college).  Being assigned Proust in French...  a daunting task for a time-pressed student, struggling to understand French, let alone his run-on sentences.  My purchase of Eliot's collected poems in the college bookstore.  And later, my first attempt to really understand his "quartets" at a Benedictine monastery also a daunting task - initially.  Followed up over the years by many a reading - till I have so much of it memorized.  (Still haven't plumbed some of its verses.) 

Time and nothingness.  That's where I'm headed.  On many levels.  So much of great literature, great philosophy, great spirituality points us toward these mysterious roots of our experience.  If by root we mean the grunt (or Ground) of which Eckhart hints - the mystic described as "the man from whom God hid nothing."

Then there's Shakespeare on Time, a theme to which he returns again and again in his sonnets:
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.
Dickens:  "It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times..."

As Eliot wrote:  "There is no end to it..."   At least no end to the pondering...  the tolling bells (John Donne too)... the waves ... towards the pebbled shore ... our minutes and our end (Shakespeare too - above).  

Interesting how the idea of water, waves breaking on a shore and tolling bells, change and death and remembrance are so often tied together when dealt with by great authors:

There is no end to it....  And that's kind of exciting, isn't it?
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.      [TS Eliot:  Four Quartets]

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Things that Don't Work as they Should

I know... I should be sorting, discarding, packing, downsizing...  But I've reached a kind of wall.  On one side are the things I've already given away, thrown away, packed away:  Emptiness.  On the other side ... what's left.  The in-between things.  It's hard to know exactly what to do with such things.

One thing I've noticed:  multiple iterations of certain items - that never quite work as they should.  Garlic presses, for one.  I must have 3 or 4.  Each one was supposed to be the ultimate gadget.  I have one in the shape of an egg.  It allows for the piece of garlic, the press, a tiny plastic window beneath it - where the pressed garlic is supposed to collect.  And a little plastic piece to clean the holes where the pressed garlic passes to the waiting "window".  (If you remembered to put the window back.)

But it doesn't really work as it should:  Who presses only one clove of garlic?  If you're a garlic lover, one clove will never do!  And one clove is really all that fits in that little window place.  Well, maybe two, depending...  And to empty that little space?  And reuse it?  Not as simple as sounds. Another problem is that little plastic piece to clean the holes.  Unless you've replaced it upside down (in its cleverly designed little cubby) the garlic press won't press.  But it's hard to "grab" when it's upside down.  It's hard to put back upside down.  It's tiny - so you can't just leave it lying around.  In a minute, it's been mislaid.

All in all, it's a brilliant design, this little garlic press.  But it never really worked as it should.  One more thing that looked so enticing - in the store.  And failed to please - in the kitchen.

Tea steepers are like that.  Tea kettles.  Tea pots.  We've tried them all!  They've hit the sorting wall, along with me.  I could have a little nicknack shelf - a sort of museum of things that never worked as they should. 

Like so many things in life, this piece of wisdom can be applied across the board to so many other things - things which were cleverly designed to work.  Take the Constitution, for example.  On paper it looks so clever.  Three branches of governmentBalancing each other.  One to interpret it.  One to extend it.  One to manage it.  Well...  history has now revealed - in our own lifetime - it doesn't work as it should.  So many institutions, civil and religious, that don't work.  They promise so much!  We have high hopes.  The older one gets, the more dashed those hopes become.

Now what is the point here, you may asking yourself?  Nothingness, I suppose.  One more example of why some of us turn to meditation, to reading the saints or the psalms.  We need something to hang onto in this changing world - where nothing really works as it should.  Read Genesis, for example.  Right in the second chapter:  Things are already going wrong.  By chapter four there's been a murder - one brother slaying another - after the eviction notice and the pain of childbirth promised (and borne).  Hopes dashed.  "How great was human wickedness on earth," thinks the Creator by chapter 6.  So there's a do-over.  Like trying another garlic press.

It's comforting - in a strange way...  Reading the Bible.  You feel you're not so alone, carrying these pieces of wisdom, these collected garlic presses, tea steepers, blog posts.  Your own life, like the Bible.  The detritus of a life lived.  A people betrayed and dismayed.  And yet - the willingness to go on.  To love.  To hope.  To care about each other.  To make that next pot of tea.  To press that next clove of garlic.  The spice of life cannot be quenched!  Bread and wine - and thou beside me - in the wilderness.  It's the simple things in life that make it richer, deeper.

Even if - often - they don't work as they should.

........................................

Update:   Oooh.... let's get our hopes up, shall we?  (It's in the testing stage...)  

Then again... my clever cart - with its tiny broken part...  assembly postponed, till a whole new side of the cart...  (Quality Control....  please show up at Refugee Camp!)

Take a lesson, say I!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Wisdom's Bridge

Here's a great quote:
Everyone gets challenged in life and you can either spend the rest of your life looking backwards, or you can make a decision to keep going.
Wisdom through suffering; that's what the Greeks called it.  But not everyone learns wisdom from the suffering.

Some spend their lives like children having a tantrum.  Endlessly berating the people or events which have robbed them of what they expected or assumed or felt entitled to.  Yes, of course, we all have our wishes and dreams.  We all can act with selfish ends - even toward those we love.  Especially toward those we love.  Which is, of course, the reason we always hurt the ones we love.

Forgiveness allows us to let go - those things which burden and chain us to the past.  That, and an ability to build bridges.  That's how I think of it.  When disaster happens, can we find or build a bridge - to the future?  Can we channel our anger or disappointment (the latter, being reason for the former) so that we don't become stuck?

Divorces can be so nasty because people become stuck.  Stuck in rage against the person who hadn't come through as one needed.  Wished for.  Expected.

Civil wars are like divorces.  Political grid-lock, same thing. 

It all goes back to whether or not we're going to have a tantrum.  Or can we move on?  Can we not only move on but grow?  Can we move into that stage of Wisdom where bridges can be seen and crossed, bridges which afford more of a bird's eye view of the slings and arrows of life?  Which give us a way out.  Out of those corners it's so easy to paint ourselves into.

It's a challenge for all of us.  Even the saints.  Who, over and over flag the struggle (against one's inner child wanting to have a tantrum) and assure us it never ends.  But apparently, as the quote above reminds us, we can "make a decision to keep going" - in a good way.  In a way that makes life easier for everyone.  For ourselves and our loved ones.  For the rest of humanity.  The earth.  The universe.  The cosmos.

I think it involves enlarging our own ego.  So that what I identify as me is more and more inclusive.  That's what the Buddhists mean when they vow to save all beings.  That's how Jesus spoke and lived.  That's what Lux was referring to (scroll down, to The Great Community.)

Lux Umbra Dei, a man whose impact (on many of us) was brief, but whose wisdom was so deep, whose compassion so great, that we will never forget him.  (His Bio said simply:  Gratitude!  Gratitude!)  Lux pointed to that Reality, that Essence - which is also Holy Presence.

This is our task.  Our mission - if we choose to accept it.  (That's what the quote above speaks to.  That's what Merton was referring to.  What Lux embodied.  This blog seeks.)  That's what we need to grow into. 

Something deep inside us longs for this.

As Lux longed for The Beartooth Plateau:
My favorite place in the world is the Beartooth Plateau.  Hardly a year goes by when I don't visit.   The wind whistles up there and the air is icy cold when a rock wall shuts off the sun. There is an upland meadow at about 3000 meters that I love especially.  If you drive the Chief Joseph Highway and, reaching the pass, look northwest, you will see it: a vast table in the sky.

The tumult of this autumn never reaches that place, just the wind whistling in the little stands of trees that punctuates the grass expanse.  One can look south toward the Sunlight Basin from there and see the austere peaks rising...what does it mean to them that we are entering a new age...perhaps a golden age at that?

I am weary, feeling my age multiplied by illness and responsibility, seeing the changes coming, and knowing how much distress they will cause some on the short term. But the Plateau endures and so shall our species; we are contemporaries after all, and all this tumult is so much wind, so many fleeting photons ghosting through the ringing air.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Holy Presence

Downsizing... I pull from the shelf a dog-eared book, Thomas Merton's first autobiographical work:  The Seven Storey Mountain.  There is a yellow post-it note in it.  Writing on it:  Mine.  The words say:  Holy Presence.

Though I intend to give the book away, as I've read it numerous times, I set it aside - to savor the place I've marked.  A passage which must contain the essence of something I wanted to flag.  First paragraph (below) sets the scene; second and third dig deeper; fourth paragraph contains the essence:
We were in a restaurant having something to eat, and the Baroness was talking about priests, and about the spiritual life and gratitude, and the ten lepers in the Gospel, of whom only one returned to give thanks to Christ for having cured them.  She had made what seemed to me to be certainly a good point.  But I suddenly noticed that it had struck the two Friars like a bombshell. 
Then I realized what was going on.  ...  I had not grasped before how much this was part of her work:  priests and religious had become indirectly, almost as important a mission field as her work in Harlem. ... When the Spirit of God finds a soul in which He can work, He uses that soul for any number of purposes:  opens out before its eyes a hundred new directions, multiplying its works and its opportunities for the apostolate, almost beyond belief and certainly far beyond the ordinary strength of a human being.
Here was this woman who had started out to conduct a more or less obscure work helping the poor in Harlem, now placed in such a position that the work which had barely been begun was drawing to her souls from every part of the country, and giving her a sort of unofficial apostolate among the priesthood, the clergy, and the religious Orders.
What was it that she had to offer them, that they did not already possess?  One thing:  she was full of the love of God; and prayer and sacrifice and total uncompromising poverty had filled her soul with something which, it seemed, these two men had often looked for in vain in the dry and conventional and merely learned retreats that fell to their lot. And I could see that they were drawn to her by the tremendous spiritual vitality of the grace that was in her, a vitality which brought with it a genuine and lasting inspiration, because it put their souls in contact with God as a living reality.  And that reality, that contact, is something which we all need:  and one of the ways in which it has been decreed that we should arrive at it, is by hearing one another talk about God.  Fides ex auditu.  And it is no novelty for God to raise up saints who are not priests to preach to those who are priests -- witness the Baroness's namesake, Catherine of Sienna.
I might put it differently.  He might too.  Had he been alive today.  Reminds me of St. Francis:  "Preach always.  If necessary, use words."  And that reminds me of another Francis.  Who preaches by example.  Whose words yesterday match the way he lives:  "St. Peter did not have a bank account."

I'm tempted to preach here.  In words.  But I won't.

This whole blog:  Nothingness - pretty much - contains the essence.   

Monday, June 17, 2013

Downsizing

As we prepare to make a huge transition - from our house of 26 years to an apartment in a retirement community (one hour westward) - we spend our days sorting, reminiscing, packing, and making endless decisions:  Give away, throw away, or squirrel away?  

Things have been found.  Other things have been found to be lost.  Amazing the possessions one acquires.  Quite a relief, I find, to let so many go.  We've concluded that possessing less enables one to actually know what's there - and where.  (Clear plastic boxes are a godsend in this regard.)

Time is precious now.  More precious than possessions.  Especially precious - given Mr. TheraP's current health concerns - which make him wonder things like:  "How many June 16ths are left to me?"

The ultimate question hangs over everything:  What really matters?

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Long Goodbye

Mr. TheraP calls it The Long Goodbye.  Advance warning that his time on this planet will be shortened.  Shortened - from the illusion that we'll both grow older and olderThat whatever comes our way, we will face it together.  

Via surgical invasion and medical statistics we now know he has a lung condition that is chronic and progressive with an average of 4-6 years from the time of diagnosis.  We know there is no treatment.  Except a lung transplant.  But he's too old.  Which, honestly, we're thankful for.  He's grateful he won't have to undergo what he views as the trench warfare of some medical treatments.  (Chemo, radiation, a lung transplant.)  It's not cancer, but it is, in the words of the surgeon who did the diagnostic surgery:  "quite relentless, quite bad."

We've been given one more statistic.  When he gets to the point where he needs oxygen all the time, he'll have only a year or two left.  He doesn't use it now; then again we haven't met with the pulmonologist he's scheduled to see next month, in a nearby city, a few weeks before the move to a retirement community.

We were planning to move there anyway.  For Mr. TheraP.  So he could use the University Library.  For his decades-long research on a medieval poem - his life's work, not yet completed.  There were some other reasons.  But those reasons have pretty much been eclipsed by the medical news...

As anyone reading this can imagine, the emotions have run the gamut.

Thankfully we can discuss all of this.  Sometimes through the tears.  It puts everything into perspective.  A perspective we always knew about.  Even talked about.  But being give a timeframe concentrates the mind.  Makes you realize what really matters.  Gives you unexpected tasks and unexpected opportunities for appreciation.

We're appreciating that we know.  That we have time.  That we can choose to savor this time.  To reassess and set aside old issues, recommit ourselves to the great adventure one embarks on in a marriage.  The opportunity to love and be loved - in spite of all the limitations and quirks and difficulties of trying to merge two lives.  Into one.  We're reassessing our past.  In light of the present.  We're reassessing the future.  In the light.

I'm a believer.  Mr. TheraP isn't sure.  I'm OK with that.  So is he.  Because my beliefs don't limit his.  Nor his, mine.  The Great Mystery surrounds us.  Has us in its grip.  Is relentless in its loving care (see TS Eliot's Four Quartets.)

So we have this time.  This advance warning.  Making time more poignant.  Elevating the everyday.   Deepening the present moment - beyond the everyday.

Time is now altered.  Irrevocably.  

Last night we watched a movie.  In a foreign language.  Somehow it struck us both so powerfully.  I think it's partly due to the exquisite film and acting.  The lush beauty.  The range of emotions.  But it's also due to the fact that whatever happens now happens within this new perspective we've been granted.  A blessing.  In disguise.

This morning I read an article.  It struck me so deeply.  Way beyond it's subject matter.  Or how the writer happened on his subject.  Its end is worth quoting:
Only those with no imagination, and no grounding in reality, would deny the possibility that they will live forever. It’s possible that many reading these words will never die. Let’s assume, though, that we all have a set number of days to indent the world with our beliefs, to find and create the beauty that only a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers.
...

Most of the time, most people are not crying in public, but everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs. There are as many ways to do this as there are kinds of loneliness, but all of them require attentiveness, all of them require the hard work of emotional computation and corporeal compassion. All of them require the human processing of the only animal who risks “getting it wrong” and whose dreams provide shelters and vaccines and words to crying strangers.
We live in a world made up more of story than stuff. We are creatures of memory more than reminders, of love more than likes. Being attentive to the needs of others might not be the point of life, but it is the work of life. It can be messy, and painful, and almost impossibly difficult. But it is not something we give. It is what we get in exchange for having to die.
I love this guy!  Wow!  His words echo in my heart... "to indent the world with our beliefs, to find and create the beauty that only a finite existence allows for, to wrestle with the question of purpose and wrestle with our answers."

And the final paragraph.  Our task now.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Sin in Cyprus

Here's an interesting title to a news story I just read:

Cyprus will pay dearly for its sins

You hardly see such a word in the press or the media anymore.  But this time the writer (or his editor) has hit the nail on the head:  Sin.

You learn so much every time there's a crisis:  History, geography, economic, social, and political forces, they all show up, playing a role in the current economic crisis gripping a part of the world, which heretofore may hardly have been on your radar screen.

What Paul Krugman terms The Sum of all FUBAR is occurring on a small island.  So for its beleaguered citizens there's currently no way out of there - unless they own a boat or plane or can muster the cash to purchase a ticket.  I feel for these people.  I'd hate to be trapped like that. 

But as for FUBAR, Krugman doesn't detail the half of it.  And it all boils down to that word "Sin" - and I mean sin.  It's a perfect example, and a lesson for us all, of how a society (or a person), blurring moral and ethical boundaries in one area, can find its effects spreading and spreading, till they're mired in the worst sort of muck.  And mired they are in Cyprus!

Based upon simple web searches last night, our household learned some very sad facts about Cyprus.  And it all begins, it would seem, in a business model, which is apparently now dead.  But as the old saying goes:  "When you lie down with dogs, you wake up with fleas."  So, it would seem that once you decide to cater to folks who want to launder money, avoid taxes, and heaven knows what else, you leave yourself prey to purveyors of human trafficking, prostitution, shady real estate deals (another bubble ready to break), and alliances with thugs, gangsters, and probably drug smugglers galore.  And it all started because a little island nation wanted to make a living off of unethical rich depositors.  Perfect example of a moral/ethical slippery slope...

Yes, as the article states, Cyprus will pay dearly for its sins.  And ironically this tiny island is also awash in religion.  Mosques and Orthodox churches (multiple cathedrals!) abound.  Indeed the country's own Orthodox Church owns a huge portion of its patrimony when it comes to land and wealth and real estate.  Not to speak of the Russian (Orthodox) community there now as well... 

A reckoning has come.  And let us hope that the crisis and its aftermath, which will be extremely, extremely painful for all involved, will somehow force people - even us - to examine the moral/ethical compromises which led a beautiful island, an educated society, to sell its soul.

Let us truly pray that we not be led into temptation....

[Also posted here.]

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"Bishop" of Rome: Sign to the Eastern Church

Like everything else Pope Francis has shown us, since his election - his humility, his avoidance of pomp or extravagance, his demeanor of compassion, mercy, and love -  the Papal Installation in St. Peter's Square carried a message of hope, a breath of fresh air, evidence of a return to Gospel values, and a powerful plea for unity and collegiality within the church at large.

In his role as Fisherman, it seems, Pope Francis is clearly angling for a reunion of East and West, the two lungs of Christ he calls them, insisting that they need to breathe together.

Small but potent signs of this plea for unity continue to pile up.  From his first moments as Pope onward, Francis has kept reiterating his role and title as Bishop.  Of Rome.  This is a key signal, a clarion call to the Eastern churches - since, for the Orthodox, the Pope is viewed, not as a ruler, not as an authoritative deliverer of infallible statements - but as first among equalsThis status was clearly evident during Francis' first official act of the Installation - when he descended to pray and venerate the tomb of St. Peter - flanked  by a flock of Eastern Patriarchs (and no one else!) lining the entrance to the tomb.   Even the Ecumenical Patriarch was present, someone who has not attended a Papal Investiture for a thousand years, coinciding with the great rift between East and West.

The significance of this gesture on the part of Pope Francis and the Eastern Patriarchs cannot be underestimated.  Nor can the presence of the Ecumenical Patriarch, considered first among equals in the Eastern churches, where collegiality has never been abandoned, not even when it led to schism from a Roman church that demanded obedience to the pope - rather than fraternal unity, to which the East has always been open.

Note as well that the Gospel Book (given the Pope on this occasion) was carried, from start to finish by a Deacon of the Eastern Rite, wearing Eastern rite robe and stole.  Using eastern rite gestures for reverencing the Gospel Book and eastern rite chanting - in Greek - of the Gospel itself.  Given that the Gospels were originally written in Greek and the Ecumenical Patriarch always comes from the Greek Orthodox tradition, this powerful gesture is another clear sign offered to the Eastern Churches.

Additionally, an Eastern Rite choir sang the chants surrounding the the Gospel - using Orthodox chant style. Another clear signal:  That Francis intends to continue reaching out to the East as Pope, similar to his role in Argentina, where he exercised authority both as bishop in the Roman tradition and as patriarch of the eastern church there.

All of this falls like spring rain on the ground of Eastern Orthodoxy.  On the potential for Christian unity.

We are witnessing a time of great hopeMay we all be one.  May this springtime be fruitful.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"A great brotherhood in the world" says Pope Francis

I am very moved by this new Pope.  I realize some have already been quick to criticize this or that from his past.  But I'm looking at this in terms of his personality.  I see a clearly humble man.  A man whose first act was to lower himself and beg for a blessing from the crowd, from us who were watching, bowing in the silence, prior to giving his first blessing as Pope.  A man who initially simply stood quietly on the balcony as he was applauded.  A man who, when he began to speak, simply said:  "Good evening" - which rings so tenderly in Italian, "Buona sera."  His subsequent words, more like a chat with the crowd as he spoke to them.  Then wished them a pleasant rest before departing.

Before you rule him out, as some may do, consider all the bad options that could have resulted from this papal election.  Consider, as well the signs after the ex-pope resigned:  the lightening strike; the earthquake.  And ponder the delightful image of the seagull perching on the Vatican chimney, just prior to the election of a pope, who has chosen the name of Francis.  You can say these are just coincidences.  But really, nothing is merely coincidental.

Given those, from among whom a choice was made, we have a pretty good result:  A humble man, a man who lives very simply, a man concerned about the poor and the disaffected.  It also speaks well of the conclave that they sought someone unassuming, whose bearing seems to breathe a life of quiet prayer.

Let's give this man a chance, the benefit of the doubt, our fervent prayers.  For none of us is perfect.  And no one could possibly provide, as pope, all that everyone is hoping for.  For me, a person's worth can be seen in his body language, his manner of speech, whether he seems full of himself or full of love for his brothers and sisters.  In that regard Pope Francis wins me over - his bearing, his humility, all these suggest hopefulness to me. 

I will admit I was moved to tears - again and again - during his first appearance.  And folks, I have never been moved to tears by a pope!

Addendum:

This charming recollection by the new Pope's former spokesman:
An anecdote from his former spokesman Guillermo Marcó when Bergoglio was the archbishop of Buenos Aires. On February 21, 2001, Bergoglio was in Rome to be anointed cardinal. As they got ready to leave the house for priests where they were staying, Marcó asked how they should travel to the Vatican.

"Walking, of course," said Bergolgio. Marcó protested that Bergoglio was wearing his red robe. "Don't worry," Bergoglio said. "In Rome you could walk with a banana on your head an nobody would say anything."

When they arrived to the Holy see on foot, the Vatican guard was astounded. "The majority of cardinals arrived with large retinues," Marcó said. "Bergoglio arrived with just myself and a couple of relatives."  [The Guardian]

The bottom line:

Here, to my mind, is the key to the Papacy of Francis, Bishop of Rome, whose choice of a name (and emphasis of a title) underscore his theological understanding of his role and calling at this moment in the catholic church, akin to that of St. Francis in his own time:
St. Francis was moved when praying by a voice from the altar, which spoke these words:  “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.
I have posted a reflection on the scriptural underpinnings of these words which St. Francis passed along to us, and which undoubtedly would be well known to this new Pope - who has chosen to follow (and lead us along) the path of his forebear.  (You can find it here.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Something Worth Pondering

If someone were to have recorded all my comments made to a variety of patients over the years, and if they were somehow compiled into a digest, you'd find a lot of contradiction in that pile of words.  And if a rule-ridden person, for whatever reason, tried to implement everything I'd said, or to hold it as equally valid for all people and all time, they'd be spreading a porridge of nonsense.

If we read stories of the desert fathers and mothers, we need to read each story as a saying given to a specific person with a very specific need at a very specific time.  And we have to be careful and not apply this or any story across the board.  For all people or all time.  Stories fit some circumstances or stages on the journey, but not others.  For another time or set of circumstances, the wise elder might have discerned and formulated a totally different response, a different aspect of wisdom.

The Bible is like that.  The Psalms are like that.  The New Testament is like that.  The Gospels, for example, can't be harmonized.  Contradictions abound.  Paul wrote different things to different communities. At different times.

Some people are very uncomfortable with ambiguity, with uncertainty.  They seek certainty.  And are willing to contort their minds into pretzels in an effort to make the Bible or the Gospel into an infallible guide.

I'm not saying there's no Truth in things I've said or Jesus said or people thought we said.  But true wisdom, I think, is humble and not arrogant.  It doesn't try to force people into contortions or into boxes.  It respects individuality, including individual freedom.  It challenges us.  Piques our curiosity.  Invites us to go deeper.

I personally love the variety we find in Scripture.  It's like a symphony.  It's full of poetry.  Tells stories.  Paints portraits, imparting truths via fictitious means.  It is an endless well, from which we draw.  John's Gospel makes that clear.

Here is Psalm 14, as translated in The Jewish Study Bible.
The benighted man thinks,
   "God does not care."
Man's deeds are corrupt and loathsome;
   no one does good.
The LORD looks down from heaven on mankind
   to find a man of understanding
   a man mindful of God.
All have turned bad
   altogether foul;
   there is none who does good,
   not even one.
Are they so witless all these evil doers,
   who devour my people as they devour food,
   and do not invoke the LORD?
There they will be seized with fright,
   for God is present in the circle of the righteous.
You may set at naught the counsel of the lowly,
   but the LORD is his refuge.

O that the deliverance of Israel might come from Zion!
When the LORD restores the fortunes of His people,
   Jacob will exult, Israel will rejoice.
There's a lot of beauty and wisdom in that psalm, even if it contradicts itself in places.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

My heart is broken

Sometimes I run across an old blog and it just blows me away - and cries out to be said again.  This is one:

It was on Saturday evening that I realized my heart was broken. Sounds like the first line of a novel.  It would be so easy to make this post fiction.  Instead of face the reality.  One so stark I’m not even sure as I write this where this post is going.

My heart is broken because there’s never going to be even the slightest inquiry into the “torture” – a depravity called by so many euphemisms, instead of its truthful name.  But even worse my heart is broken by the centuries and the thousands of centuries of equal inhumanity to man.  The punishment of so many innocents.  The going to war and justification of killing and torture and rape and pillage by so-called “virtues” as if using words could ever make this ok.  My heart is breaking, not just because of these particular tortures and wars, but also because I can look into myself and see the same potentials, the same anger, the same kinds of justifications within my own torn and divided heart.

My heart is broken because we’re never really going to get health care like we really need health care.   Health care for all – where the money goes for “care” and not for corporate welfare.  But even worse my broken heart cries out for the fact of ill health itself.  For sickness and disability and dying alone or unloved or on battlefields or other places of carnage, so different from medical settings where lives are valued to such extremes that the unwell are inflicted with “treatments” that make them suffer all the more.  It’s the pain of life leading to death and the path along that strewn with illness and suffering.  And the inability to ultimately alleviate these truths from my mind.

My heart is broken because national ideals and religious ideals are too often just words and pageantry.  Because greed is so rampant.  And because people have figured out ever better ways to disguise that and package products, even ideals, and sell them.  For riches.  For power.  And I can see those same pulls contending within my own heart – so I can’t cast stones or I’d have to cast them at myself.

I’m trying to rise above all this.  I think of the Buddha, raised in a comfortable palace, protected from all by enjoyment, ultimately shocked when he ventured out and saw sickness and death and suffering.  It wasn’t that he didn’t care to try and alleviate them.  But he saw them as the human condition and he set out to try and find release from the fears and the wishes that prompt our inner suffering, as well as from the negative feelings like anger or resentment or revenge which ravage the world around us when they are unleashed by you or me or those we oppose.  And then to save all beings through sharing  that realization.

Jesus was murdered for trying to get people to care about each other.  I think of him now as the Man of the Broken Heart, the Man of Sorrows so many have called him.  A man who died for Love.  And I take comfort in sharing that Broken Heart.

There’s a line from one of the psalms that says “a heart broken and crushed, oh, God you will not spurn.”  I guess I’ve arrived there.  Andre Louf calls that a place of true humility.  A place where you admit your total powerlessness.  Your brokenness.  Failed ideals.  Failed efforts to live up to them yourself.  A place where you look around at the rubble of what you’ve tried to do and failed to do.   How all of us fail.

So I’m not looking for sympathy.  I hope you understand that.  There are no words of comfort that have not been said before.  For the Man of Sorrows, the Man of the Broken Heart, even the Buddha, they’ve been there too.  And the psalmist, the psalmist has been there.  A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) as TS Eliot describes it.  Followed by the comforting words of Julian of Norwich that “all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well” – but that is on a spiritual plane:  When the tongues of flame are infolded / Into the crowned knot of fire / And the fire and the rose are one. (whatever that means… it can’t be easy!)

Oh, yes, stilli… I know your sense of alienation…

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Treasury of Emptiness


In the Center of our Soul
There's an ache -
A deep loneliness
Which only God can fill.

It takes a long time
To learn this.