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Archive for July, 2015

For the past few days I have been reflecting upon a question: ‘When have I received genuine comfort and consolation?’ I did not experience these when another taught me how to think or act. I did not experience these when another gave me advice about ‘taking care of myself.’ I did not experience it when I was in the wilderness and another offered me words of reassurance or hope.

Paradoxically, I received genuine comfort and consolation – especially during the times I was in the wilderness or when my soul was residing in the dark night or when I was deeply depressed and life seemed not worth living – when another simply sat with me. There were no words, there was no behavior, there was no ‘doing’ that the other offered – he/she simply sat with me. His/her presence was the caring. Being present with and to me – this was the gift of the one who cares.

For many of us, it is a challenge for us to simply be present to another. We want to help. We want to do something. We want to be useful. It seems that we believe that ‘to be present’ means that we must be ‘useful.’ Recently a fellow I know was in the hospital. I asked a friend of his to go with me to visit him. The person declined; he said ‘Why should I visit_____? I can’t do anything for him. I won’t know what to say. What use will I be to him?’

How often do we forget – or is it that we deny – that simply being with another who is in pain, suffering, discomfort, or dis-ease we actually offer comfort or consolation. How often do we find that simply being with another is difficult? Being with another is difficult because we have difficulty just ‘being’ – we are a culture that idolizes ‘doing.’ Just ‘being’ has little, if any, value for us who are ‘doers.’

In addition, if I am simply ‘present’ with you I might well experience your pain, your suffering, your anxiety, your loneliness, your helplessness – I will experience your vulnerability. These feelings are disconcerting for us ‘doing’ folks. We do not like to experience another’s weaknesses or another’s powerlessness (of course this is what being empathetic entails – to experience what the other is experiencing). We do not want to ‘get caught up’ in the other’s uncertainty or in the other’s lack of ‘control’ or in the other’s helplessness.

Paradoxically, if I choose to simply be present to the other and if I choose to be empathetic (that is, to feel and experience as the other does) then I do offer comfort and consolation and frequently the other will acknowledge that indeed ‘When you were with me I was comforted.’

When we offer comfort and consolation by being with, by staying with the other during those times we often become closer to the other and the other becomes closer to us (our motivation is not to become ‘closer’ but to be with the other during this time of illness, mental anguish, or spiritual desolation). By being present we announce that we are willing to walk into the desert, the darkness, the dis-ease or the wilderness with the other. This ‘walking with’ is an act of caring that is beyond measure.

When have I experienced ‘the one who cares?’ When have I chosen to be ‘the one who cares?’

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Gentle reader, I refer you to Part I for the context and the Parable. I concluded Part I with a question: ‘What are some of the seeds that the sowers sow?’

The seeds that I internally sow are the seeds from the internal plants that I have already grown to fruition. These seeds are provided to me via my internal voices – the voices of my inner life-guide, the voices of my inner teacher, the voices of my inner ‘angel’ and of my inner ‘demon,’ the voices of my inner parent and inner child, the voices of my conscience, etc.

Other seeds are provided to me by the voices and behaviors of those whom I meet as I travel along my life’s path. My parents, my teachers, my siblings, my friends, folks I consider to be authority figures in my life, folks I admire and seek to emulate, etc.

Still other seeds are sown by God’s Spirit – for some this is the Holy Spirit, for others it is the animating spirit that permeates and sustains all life. The voice of the Spirit comes to me in whispers, a soft breeze if you will. I have to be open to hearing this soft whispering voice.

All of these voices are sowing seeds. They fall onto the ground that I have prepared. Some of my internal ground is uncultivated, it is full of rocks which hinder the seeds from taking root. Some of the ground was at one time prepared but I have ignored it for years and so it is dry and hard – this ground does have a few cracks in it and so some of the seeds do fall into the cracks and struggle to take root; they lack the nurturing they need and so they soon die.

Some of the seeds fall upon ground that I have cultivated and for a time I nurtured; however I have not been attending to this ground for some time and weeds have taken root there. The seeds that fall onto this ground find enough nurturance and sustenance in order to take root and begin to grow. However, their roots are not strong enough to fend off the stronger weeds who have deep tap roots. Eventually the weeds strangle the new roots.

Then some of the seeds fall upon the ground that I have cultivated, ground I continue to cultivate and watch over. These seeds are able to grow and deep tap roots emerge. Eventually, strong plants emerge and they carry the seeds that I then re-plant internally and that I then sow in my world.

There are many seed-voices that come to me. I have to choose which of these seed-voices to listen to. Which of them to embrace and integrate. I am the rocks, I am the dry, arid and cracked soil, I am the weeds, and I am the healthy soil. I prepare or choose not to prepare my inner landscape so that the many seed-voices that come to me find a place to grow or because I have not prepared the soil they are not nurtured into life.

A paradox is that I will cultivate my inner landscape so that both ‘good seeds’ and ‘evil seeds’ will take root, so that seeds of virtue and seeds of vice will take root, and so that seeds of light and seeds of darkness will take root. Some ‘good seeds’ will fall on the rocks and some ‘evil seeds’ will fall on well-cultivated land and take root.

As the gardener of my own garden, as the sower of many of my own seeds, I am unconditionally response-able and responsible for all of the seeds that are offered to me. I choose which seed-voices to listen to, which to heed, which to integrate into the garden that is myself. I am also response-able and responsible as to which seeds I choose to pass on to others.

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Two nights ago I was startled awake by a high pitched sound. My smoke alarm was acting up. I lay there listening to the intermittent high pitched beeping. The alarm was disconnected and was replaced. As I prepared to return to blissful slumber I began to think about ‘listening.’ After I awoke the next morning I, once again, began to think about ‘listening.’ So, gentle reader, I then decided that I would reflect a bit more about listening and then write a few words about it.

As I was reflecting upon the concept of ‘listening’ a parable emerged into my consciousness. A parable is, among other things, a teaching story. The following parable is generally one known by many folks, especially Christians. It is a parable about, among other things, listening. So, here is the parable:

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
The disciples approached [the teacher] and said, “Why do you speak…in parables?” …This is why I speak…in parables, because ‘they…do not…hear…do not listen…’

So, who is the ‘sower’? What are the ‘seeds’ being sown? What is the connection between ‘listening’ and the sower/sowing and the seeds?

Consider the following as ‘sowers of seeds.’ There is myself as a sower of seeds. In this case I am also the recipient of these seeds.

Then there are the sowers of seeds that are external to me. These are my parent-figures, my teachers, my peers, my authority figures, etc. There are many sowers of seeds that enter into my life as I travel along my life’s path.

For some there is a ‘spirit’ that is also a sower of seeds. This spirit can be a spirit of virtue or a spirit of vice; a spirit for good or a spirit for evil; a spirit of light or a spirit of darkness. For me, there is also God’s Spirit (some call this the Holy Spirit; some call this Spirit the ‘Breath of God’).

When I am awake and aware and living in the ‘now’ it is easier for me to become aware of the many sowers of seeds that appear in my life (including myself as a sower of my own internal seeds). When I am also intentional and purpose-full I am also open to discerning the seeds offered and I am more likely to consciously choose which seeds I allow to be sown.

When I am ‘asleep,’ when I am not paying attention, when I am not intentional and purpose-full seeds are still offered to me and some of them I allow to take root. Whether I am awake or whether I choose to be ‘asleep’ I am unconditionally response-able and responsible (this idea alone can be quite disturbing to me).

So, given this. What are some of the seeds that the sowers sow?

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During these past three years I have at times offered us quotations from ‘The Meditations’ of the great Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. I am only one of hundreds of thousands of folks who have learned to reflect upon and savor his words. Let me refresh our memories a bit. Marcus was born in A.D. 121. As Roman Emperor he became the most powerful person in the world. He was also a Stoic. He integrated the Stoic Philosophy into his very being – philosophy was not something to be studied, it was a way of being in the world. The last 19 years of his life he was virtually ‘on campaign’ the entire time. It was during these last 19 years of his life that he decided to reflect upon his life and then to capture his reflections in his journal (A.D. 161 – A.D. 180). His purpose was ‘self-reflection’ it was not to have his journal published and read by others; his ‘Meditations’ was an unintended consequence and a gift to us. His commitment presents us with a unique gift: The almost daily thoughts of the most powerful man in the world – thoughts that reflected his own struggle to be the Stoic that he had committed to being. To say that Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ has ‘staying power’ is one of the ultimate understatements I know of.

The following quotations come from his 9th Book in his ‘Meditations.’ I offer four brief entries covering five days. I invite us – you and me, gentle reader – to stop and take some time to reflect upon his words. Marcus writes:

9.13: Today I escaped all difficulty; or rather, I have ‘cast out’ all difficulty, for difficulty is not external, but rooted in my judgements.

9.16: Just as excellence and evil do not reside in being acted upon but rather in acting, so it is with the good and evil of any reasoning communal being.

9.23: Just as you yourself play an essential role in the social body, so should each of your actions help to perfect a communal life. Therefore, any action of yours which does not bear some direct or indirect relation to this common goal will fragment your life, disrupting its unity and creating internal strife, just like the person in the public assembly who, for his own interests, stands apart from the community.

9.27: Whenever someone blames or hates you, or if anyone should express such sentiments, go directly to their souls, pass into them, and see who they really are. You will then see that you do not have to trouble yourself about what such people may think of you. However, you must be kind to them, for they too are your natural friends.

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Today is our declared day of Independence. So I offer us gentle readers an invitation to pause, step back and take some time today to reflect upon our written Declaration. As Citizens, what are we doing to live into and out of this, our stated Declaration?

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

* He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
* He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
* He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
* He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
* He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
* He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
* He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
* He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
* He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
* He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
* He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
* He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
* He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
* He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
* He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
* He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
* He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

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