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


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.