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Archive for November, 2012

SIN, IS IT?

What is sin?  Consider the following: it is the abuse of freedom.  It is a failure to respond to God’s invitation or to God’s challenge.  The tap roots that nurture sin include callousness, hardness of heart, and a refusing to understand what is at stake in being alive.  Consider that there is a sin which many of us condone – which most of us are guilty of: indifference to evil.  I find myself remaining neutral, impartial and all too often I am not easily moved by the wrongs done unto others.

My indifference to evil is more corrupting than evil itself.  Indifference to evil is more universal, more contagious and therefore more dangerous to our well-being.  As Abraham Joshua Heschel notes, evil is ‘A silent justification, it makes possible an evil erupting as an exception becoming the rule and being in turn accepted.’

The great mystics and prophets did not discover that evil exists; man knew this.  Their powerful contribution was the naming of the ‘evil of indifference.’  They remind us that we are ‘our brother’s keeper.’  All mystics and prophets offer us the same refrain, over and over and over: God is not indifferent to evil! So, too, you must not be indifferent to evil!

God is always concerned.  Consider that God is truly and deeply affected by what man does to man.  God is love and compassion and so God becomes angry when are indifferent in the face of evil.  God is also comforter, for evil is not the end; evil will not win out.  Yet, we sit with a crucial question: ‘Does God not condone evil?’  Why does God permit evil?  Does God not care?

We have choice; this is one of our gifts.  God want you-me-us to choose love and compassion and because we have choice we can also choose evil and we can choose to be indifferent to the evil done.  Our reaction to evil is disapproval; God’s reaction to evil such that there are no words to capture it.

Perhaps we are indifferent to evil because God is presented to us as a comforter not as a challenger.  We are invited and challenged by God to not approach and respond to evil with indifference.  When we resist or refuse God’s invitation and challenge then we sin.  All of this gives me pause. . . . . .

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EVEN MORE MARCUS. . .

Marcus Aurelius was no ordinary Roman Emperor.  Between A.D. 167 and his death in A.D. 180 he decided he needed to write reminders to himself.  These personal reflections and admonitions – addressed to himself, not to others – have been read since then by literally hundreds of hundreds of thousands of folks; I am one of those many folks that have been and continue to be moved by what have come to be called his Meditations.  Today I share an entry from Section 6 of Marcus’ Meditations.  Perhaps there is something in what Marcus offers us that speaks directly to you, gentle reader.

If the gods have made decisions concerning me, in particular what must happen to me, no doubt they have made good decisions, for not easily could one conceive of a god who is lacking in wisdom.  And what reason would he have for wanting to harm me?  What benefit could there be to be the Whole, for which they care most of all?  But if they have not made decisions concerning me alone but have done so concerning the Whole, then I am obliged to welcome and be content with all that happens to me according to this sequence of natural events.  If, however, they make no decisions – blasphemous to think, or else let us no longer sacrifice, pray, swear by them, or do any of the other things which we do in the belief that they are present and live among us – if it is indeed the case that they do not make decisions concerning my interests, it nevertheless remains within my power to make decisions concerning myself.  My search is for what is beneficial. The benefit for each is in accordance with how they are made and their specific nature, and my nature pertains both to Reason and to society.  My city is Rome, insofar as I am Antoninus; but insofar as I am a human being, my city is the Cosmos.  Therefore all that benefits these cities is alone my good. 

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WALLS. . .NOT DOORS. . .

I awoke this morning not thinking about doors but thinking about walls.  After the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem all that was left standing was a wall.  For centuries Jews would make a pilgrimage so they could touch and pray at this wall, the ‘Wailing Wall.’

We humans have erected a wall; a wall that stands between us and God.  We continue to add layers to this wall and so the distance between God and man increases.  Like the Jews we must approach our wall in humility and prayer.  Prayer is tne way we can penetrate the wall and converse with God.

For many of us, however, we do not remember or know how to find the path that leads us to the wall.  We seem to be afflicted with a severe case of loss – loss of our way and perhaps loss of what the wall looks like.  We are not awake and aware enough to discern the path much less to discern the wall itself.  Our distractions and addictions have dulled our spiritual senses.

We have constructed our wall; we have chosen ‘mammon’ rather than God.  Our wall enables us to remain divided from God — from the spiritual breath that provides us light and nurturance.  So, we live in darkness and are ravaged by a hunger that the world cannot satisfy.

Our spiritual blackout, our spiritual depletion, our spiritual starvation seems to be increasing daily.  Consumerism prevails, opportunism prevails, dehumanization prevails, our spiritual wasteland is growing like the wasteland that emerges when the rain forests are depleted.  We continue to be seduced by and say ‘yes’ to the profane as we turn away from the sacred.  Individually we are living into the dark night of the soul; collectively we are living into the dark night of society.

There is Hope.  The darkness, the profane, is neither final nor complete.  We still have the power (power = one’s ability to act) to choose.  We can choose to pray and believe that our prayers will move through the tiny crevices in the wall and we can then choose to be still so that God’s whisper will guide us.  We can embrace the darkness and be open to the little pieces of light that God always presents us; the light that will sustain us and guide us out of our dark night.

Together, in community, we can bring the little sparks of light and the whispers of hope together so that a brighter light and a louder voice of hope challenges the darkness.  If we do so then for the second time God will say, Let there be light!  And there will be. . .

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The great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, asks, ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’  The paradox embedded within this powerful question is that I am both the garden and the gardener.  My garden is composed of four dimensions: the Physical, the Intellectual, the Emotional and the Spiritual.  At times during my life one or more of these gardens becomes neglected, begins to ‘die’ and can even become ‘hidden’ from my consciousness.

When my daughter, Rebecca, was young I read her ‘The Secret Garden’ [written by Frances Hodgson Burnett and published in serial format beginning in the autumn of 1910].  This is a hope-filled book.  Our heroine, ten-year old orphaned Mary is sent to live with her reclusive uncle in the wild Yorkshire moors.  Each day she explores her surroundings and one day she finds a high-walled garden.  Mary visits the wall and yearns to enter into the garden; but she cannot find the door.  The wooden gate is hidden by vine-over growth.  Mary is curious and patient; she returns to the wall day after day searching and seeking.

One beautiful day she sees a bird sitting high upon on the wall; all of a sudden the bird takes flight and lands on the ground.  Mary watches the bird intently and as she is doing so she spies what appears to be the top of an old key.  Mary digs and digs and uncovers a rusty aged key; to her surprise she looks up and sees the key-hole. Filled with excitement and wonder Mary fits the old key into the key-hole and with the determination that provides extra strength to us she slowly turns the key.  The gate is unlocked; the door to the garden is pushed open and Mary steps into the garden, once hidden, now open to her presence.  Mary, with the assistance of friends and the companionship of the chirping bird, brings the garden back to life.  The garden is restored to its ‘nature’ – that of being a garden.

At times I need to rediscover one or more of the dimensions of my garden; then I need the help and support of others to nurture this dimension back to life.  Although I am the garden and the gardener I also know that I must have the support, care, and assistance of others if I am going to maintain a healthy garden; if I am going to keep my garden growing.  Sometimes these care-givers actively support me, sometimes they provide me encouragement, sometimes they act as mirrors and reflect the state of my garden and its dimensions back to me [and this awareness does not always bring me comfort].  Each believes in me and trusts that I could nurture into life my gifts and talents.  Each morning as I awake my first thoughts are thoughts of thanksgiving; I am thankful for the many persons who have been, and are, there for me.  I am a better gardener and my garden is more resplendent today because of these folks and my eyes fill with tears of gratitude as I sit here typing these words.

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STIMULATING QUESTIONS. . .

True guides. . .are filled with wisdom but are not answer people.  Instead, they call us to live with the questions in a different way. . .So, rather than being answer people true guides move us away from the habit of believing quick answers are the most ideal steps to living fully. –Robert Wicks

 Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions THEMSELVES like locked rooms or books that are written in a foreign tongue.  The point is to live everything.  LIVE the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way some distant day into the answers.   –Rainer Maria Rilke

 Stimulating questions grab our attention and invite us – or is it challenge us – to move beyond ‘answers’ into the unknown territory that nurtures one’s growth and development.  Stimulating questions nudge us toward and sometimes toss us into what appears to be a wilderness.  A single question can have such power that it pierces our heart and soul in ways that cause great inner disturbance to our comfortable lives.

Gentle reader, try holding one of these questions:

Who am I when I stop doing?

In my life right now, what is it too late for or too soon for?  What is it just the right time for?

When you are wrapped in silence what are the deep hungers that reside in your heart and soul?

AN EXERCISE TO TRY

Take some time to sit with and then to respond to the following: What is a central, stimulating question of your life right now?

 What thoughts and feelings emerge into your consciousness as you hold your ‘central’ life question?  Do you experience, ‘clarification,’ or ‘disturbance,’ or ‘confusion,’ or ‘direction,’ or additional questions or. . .?  Be open to and make note of what emerges for you.  Notice: I did not ask ‘what answers’ emerge for you – stimulating life questions are to be ‘lived’ as Rilke reminds us.  For most of us this is no easy charge, to live the question(s).

 

 

 

 

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DREAMING OF DOORS. . .

Last night I dreamt about doors.  Each dream I recalled during the night contained a number of doors.  If Jung was correct – and who is to question Jung – and I am each person and element in my dreams therefore, I am a door.  The metaphor, I am a door, provides me with one way of identifying who I am and how I currently experience/engage life.  The door helps me name how I am in relationship to myself, to the other(s), and to the Transcendent (i.e. God, the Divine, the Great Being of Life, etc).  This ‘door’ that I am is an inner door and my seeking to understand this door is crucial to my well-being.  So, gentle reader, I invite you to explore with me your inner door as I explore mine this morning.

What does our inner door look like – the door of our heart or of our soul?  Is it transparent?  Can I-you-we look through it?  What will we find if we do look?  Perhaps it is not transparent; perhaps it is constructed of heavy oak or solid steel.  This door might be keeping someone out who is seeking entrance – someone who wants us to welcome him or her into our hearts.  On the other hand this strong door could be a symbol of my strength to live a life of integrity, conviction and commitment.  The door of our heart might be flexible like a folding door is flexible; this door allows plenty of space for new growth to occur.  Our inner door could be like a screen door – light, airy, open yet a bit opaque.  I’ve always seen a screen door as an invitation to enter.  One of the doors in my dreams last night was a revolving door; I was stuck going around and around and when I did manage to extricate myself from this door I found myself standing outside looking in.  I can name a number of places in my life where I am going round and round so this type of door made sense to me this morning.

Perhaps we have a one-way mirror door; we can see out but no one can see in.  The person can only see his/her reflection.  This could be a signal to the other that we are not transparent AND it could be a helpful mirroring of the other to the other (Who are the folks who are mirrors in my own life?).   Perhaps our doors are double and triple bolted from the inside; we do not want to be hurt again or we are too tender to open ourselves up to others at this time in our life.  On the other hand, I know only too well that at times I keep my door securely locked because I am fearful that the other will be dismayed – perhaps ‘shocked’ is a better word – at what he/she will see if I allow them in; my shame and guilt bar the door to my heart.  Sometimes our doors are shattered open by life’s events and we are fully exposed to the world because of this shattering experience.  Sometimes this is a transforming experience; at other times we quickly re-build the door and strive to ensure that is more solid than before.

In my dreams last night several doors had signs either hanging on them or had words deeply etched into them.  What are the signs that we put up or what are the signs that we have etched into the door of our heart?  Welcome.  Enjoy your visit.  Come in, rest a while. Enter at your own risk.  Do not disturb.  No trespassing.  NO ENTRANCE HERE.  No longer at this address.  Moved and no forwarding address.  Be Aware of the. . .  Wipe your feet before entering. 

 How often does the door of our heart change – moment to moment, daily, yearly, perhaps only generationally?  How often do I allow externals decide for me what type of door I will present to my self and to my world?  When do I allow others to ‘name’ or choose the type of door I will hang?  Given my current door, how does it support my growth and development?  What purpose(s) does my current door serve?  What sign do I currently have hanging on my heart’s door or what words have I etched into the door of my heart?  What else emerges for you gentle reader as you ponder the door of your heart?

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DOORS. . .PROVIDE CHOICES. . .

Mary Oliver reminds me that when I choose to close the door of my heart that I will be as good as dead.  Yet, when I choose to open the door of my heart I do more than simply extend a smile of recognition or offer a nod of welcome to all who seek to cross the threshold of my heart’s door.  By welcoming others – the person or the transcendent – into my heart I open myself to grow and change in unexpected ways, perhaps in mysterious ways.  I risk being transformed.  The pattern of this transformational process is akin to the physical movement of passing through a doorway.  First, I discern that a door exists in front of me, then I move toward the door – sometimes with confidence, sometimes with a bit of dread or just with hesitancy.  If the door is closed then I must open it.  Sometimes the door is locked and I will need a special key in order to open the door.  Sometimes the door can only be opened from the inside and so I must knock and wait patiently for the door to be opened.  As the door is opened and I prepare to step forward I move across the threshold, the middle of the doorway.  For a brief moment I have choice – I can continue to step across the threshold or I can retreat; either way I choose to move the door will close behind me (as the Quakers so elegantly put it, ‘Way opens and way closes.’).

I imagine that this same type of movement happens internally when life situations – events or moments – invite me to become more fully who I am called to be in my world.  My choices, my decisions, determine whether I will cross the threshold and enter into a space of growth or whether I will turn away and cling to the person I am at the time (you might recall, gentle reader, that in Afghani the verb ‘to cling’ is the same as the verb ‘to die).  I know if I choose to cross the threshold that more than a shift or a change will occur; I know that a transformation of some sort will take place.

As I sit here this morning reflecting on my life and my spiritual journey, I remember the innumerable times when I chose to turn away from, or I just flatly missed, the opportunities that waited for me on the other side of the door.  At times I was so self-preoccupied that I even missed that there was a door there at all.  At other times I remember stopping in front of the door full of apprehension; I was aware that if I choose to open the door and cross the threshold I would have to let go of something or I would have to die to something in order to enter the space beyond the door and so once again I chose to cling to what I had, to who I was, and so I turned and walked away.  I can still sense the depth of relief and sadness I felt when I chose to do so.  I can even remember using a great deal of energy as I held the door shut as it was being opened from the other side.  I remember other times when I lingered on the threshold weighing my options.  I also recall being tossed over the threshold by ‘circumstances’ beyond my control; by life’s events.  Sometimes I was nudged over the threshold by a mentor or I was called forth by the ‘being’ on the other side.

More often than not, when I chose to respond to the invitation to discern a door, to then approach the door, to open the door, to step across the threshold into ‘new territory’ that I experienced being filled with awe and wonder as I embraced the mystery, the unknown, that I had stepped into.  I used to think that with age all of this would be ‘easier’ for me; perhaps it is better for me that it is not for I must continue to be awake and aware, intentional and purpose-full when it comes to discerning, approaching, and choosing which doors to open and which thresholds to cross.  As I look up from typing these words I can see the top of a door just over the horizon; excuse me while I close for now and take a step.  Will I choose to step toward the door or away from it?  Ah, this is my question for today.

My Singaporean friend, Yim Harn, took this photo of a door she found in France; thank you my friend for reminding me about ‘doors.’

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