Archive for December, 2016


In 1997 I purchased a book that remains one of my ‘go-to’ spiritual books. The author is John O’Donohue, the title of the book is: ‘Anam Cara’ [Soul Friend]. In his book, among other gifts, O’Donohue gifted us with a number of Irish Blessings (‘Blessings’ he authored). This morning as I was going through a pile of books sitting on a chair I came upon ‘Anam Cara.’ I spent some time thumbing through it – pausing to read, stopping to reflect. I then decided that I would share with you, gentler reader two of John O’Donohue’s ‘Blessings.’

A Blessing of Solitude

May you recognize in your life the presence, power, and light
of your soul.
May you realize that you are never alone,
that your soul in its brightness and belonging connects you
intimately with the rhythm of the universe.
May you have respect for your own individuality and
May you realize that the shape of your soul is unique, that
you have a special destiny here,
that behind the façade of your life there is something
beautiful, good, and eternal happening.
May you learn to see yourself with the same delight, pride,
and expectation with which God sees you in every moment.

A Soul Blessing

May the light of your soul guide you.
May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the
secret love and warmth of your heart.
May you see in what you do the beauty of yow own soul.
May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and
renewal to those who work with you and to those who see
and receive your work.
May your work never weary you.
May it release within you wellsprings of refreshment,
inspiration, and excitement.
May you be present in what you do.
May you never become lost in the bland absences.
May the day never burden.
May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your
new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.
May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.
May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.
May your soul calm, console, and renew you.

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GOOD & EVIL. . .

The following question has been held and debated for thousands of years: Are we humans inherently good or are we inherently evil?  Folks have come to both verbal and physical blows in response to this question.  When this question is held as an ‘either-or’ question it is not resolvable.  When it is reframed as a ‘both-and’ question it becomes a paradox that can be embraced.

A paradox means that ‘both’ polarities exist and hence both must be embraced.  ‘Good’ requires ‘Evil’ in order to exist.  ‘Pure Evil’ does not seem to exist and hence ‘Good’ always exists – even if it is lying dormant waiting to be nurtured into life.  Here is a wonder-full story that comes out of Russia that I first heard more than 40 years ago.

THE STORY: God thought of a new creature, a marvelous combination of heaven and earth.  “Do not create him!” said the Angel of Truth sternly.  “He will quickly defile your Temple and will glorify fraud on earth, temptations will hold sway everywhere!”

 “Do not create him!” prayed the Angel of Justice.  “He will be cruel, hurting every one and loving only himself.  He will be deaf to the sufferings of others, and the tears of the oppressed will not touch his heart.”

 “He will steep the earth in blood,” added the Angel of Peace, “and murder will become his occupation.  Terrors of devastation will seize the land, and fear of violent death will enter every soul.”

 And the countenance of the All-Upholder became overcast.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth seemed mean and evil to the Ruler, and in His eternal fore-will a decision was ripening – “Not to Be. . .”

 But now before the Throne of the Life-Giver appeared, God’s youngest, best beloved Angel, Mercy.  She embraced the Father’s knees and begged:  “Create him!” 

 “When all Thy servants leave him, I will find him, help him, and change even his shortcomings into good.  I will guard him that he should not stray from the path of truth.  I will draw his heart to sympathy and will teach him to show mercy to the weakest!”

 And the face of the All-Upholder became radiant.  The marvelous combination of heaven and earth came into being, and took His form and His likeness.

 “LIVE!” breathed on him the All-Upholder, “and know that thou are the child of Mercy!”

 This, for me, is a wonder-full and grace-full and blessings-full story about our creation.  My conclusion: We cannot be the outcome of ‘Evil.’  We are truly the outcome of the better Angels – especially of the better Angel we call ‘Mercy.’

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For the most part we human beings empathize with Sophie’s dilemma, we feel that a choice is necessary.  With a bit of reflection we will also come to realize that without a firm basis for choice, Sophie (and we) might as well flip a coin.  What fuels our decision to choose – Emotion.  The lack of an emotional preference for one option over other options is what triggers the coin flip.  Because our choice was/is rooted in emotion we tend to be unable to fully explain the rationale for our choice – How many of us have said, ‘I’m not sure why I chose to do it’ ?

Although we humans are feeling beings we don’t just have an emotion.  Something in our brain must recognize – immediately or after the fact – that the situation is ‘emotion-worthy.’  For example, once Sophie decides to choose, her choice engenders a feeling of guilt.  Why guilt?  Well, for one thing, guilt represents one emotive response to a social transgression – a violation of a cultural/social norm.

Did Sophie transgress?  Was her decision to choose morally permissible or was it morally reprehensible?  If Sophie had never felt guilty would we think less or more of her – how would we judge her?  I first read ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in 1980 and my response to her has taken a number of forms.  Currently, my thinking is that Sophie’s act was permissible, perhaps even obligatory, given her choice between two dead children and one.  Yet, I empathize with Sophie and I can feel her guilt (which taps into my own parental-guilt).  I return to the question: Why Guilt?

Once I choose and then enact my choice I quickly – and almost sub-consciously – engage in an intellectual analysis: Who did what to whom, why, and with what means and ends?  This analysis occurs quickly and often immediately (‘My God, look at what I have done!’ is a response many of us are familiar with).  This analysis precedes our emotional response.

Understanding this process is one key to explaining and understanding why Sophie felt guilty even though she did not do wrong (my current belief).  Being forced to act on a choice may trigger the same kind of angst as when a choice is made voluntarily.  The subsequent emotion experienced follows from an unconscious analysis of the causes and consequences of ‘choice-action.’  Only by stifling our moral faculty are we human beings able to choose-act as Sophie did AND not experience a powerful emotional response.  Ironically, Sophie’s emotive guilt response was an affirmation that her moral faculties were intact.

As human beings each of us will encounter ‘harm-harm dilemmas.’  If we cannot dissolve them we will be forced to choose and as a result of our choice ‘harm will occur.’  This is, to put it mildly, an unsettling idea.  Given this, it is no wonder that we humans find it challenging to choose to be unconditionally response-able, responsible and accountable.  No wonder a common escape mantra for we humans continues to be: ‘I was only following orders!’



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Dilemma = a situation requiring a choice between equal alternatives.  There are two types of Dilemmas: ‘Right – Right’ and ‘Harm-Harm.’  By its very nature, if we cannot dissolve the dilemma we are placed in a ‘forced-choice’ situation.

A ‘Right-Right Dilemma’ involves a choice between equal alternatives that are ‘right’ or ‘correct.’  For example, it might be ‘right’ to choose in favor of the individual and it might also be ‘right’ to choose in favor of the collective (team, community, organization, family, etc.).  ‘Right-Right Dilemmas’ can be extremely challenging.

A ‘Harm-Harm Dilemma’ involves a choice between equal alternatives that are both ‘harm-full.’  For example, an organization might have to choose between the ‘harm’ caused for a person and his/her family if the person is laid off and the ‘harm’ caused to the organization if a person is not laid off.  In either case, ‘harm will occur.’

I want to turn up the volume on the nature of ‘moral dilemmas’ by inviting us to consider the ‘moral harm-harm dilemma’ that Sophie faced (see William Styron’s powerful novel: Sophie’s Choice).  This fictional dilemma was played out in a number of ‘real’ ways during WWII, especially in certain concentration camps.

Sophie and her two children are in a Nazi concentration camp.  One day a guard approaches Sophie and offers her a choice: If she kills one of her two children, the other will live; if she refuses to choose, both children will die.  In a sense her moral harm-harm dilemma is this: Is it worse to have two dead children than one?  To up the ante, the guard has framed it so that it is truly ‘Sophie’s Choice’ – a moral choice that no parent should have to make.

Without these two competing choices there is no moral harm-harm dilemma.  My sterile description ignores other moral questions; here are a few of them: Would it be wrong for Sophie to reject the guard’s offer and let both of her children die?  Would Sophie be responsible for the deaths of her two children if she decided not to choose?  What would happen if Sophie decided to kill herself in order avoid choosing one child over the other? 

Sophie’s ‘moral harm-harm dilemma’ involves a conflict of competing duties.  Sophie has responsibility as a mother/parent to protect both of her children.  Even if she was constantly battling with one child and never with the other, she would still face the same dilemma.  Simply stated: Personality traits do not provide the right kind of material for deciding another’s life, even though they may – and often do – bias our emotions one way or the other.

Step aside a moment, gentle reader, and imagine if the law allowed differences in personality to interfere with our judgments of justice and punishment.  We might end up convicting a petty thief to life in prison on the basis of his arrogant sneer, while letting another petty thief off because of his warm, alluring smile.

Sophie chooses.  She chooses to sacrifice her younger, smaller child – her daughter – in order to save her older, stronger son.  After the war Sophie loses track of her son and, many years later, ridden by guilt and shame Sophie commits suicide.

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My father celebrated his 90th birthday on 10 December, 1999.  He died on 25 January 2000.  His funeral service and life celebration was on 28 January 2000.  As I sit here this morning/mourning, Tears are washing my face as I look at a photo of my father — and I remember.

On this day (10 December, 2016), I once again celebrate my father’s life.  As part of my celebration I want to share with you, once again gentle reader, the eulogy I offered during our celebration of his life on 28 January, 2000.  As you read I invite you to remember a person in your life who was a role model for you; a person who gifted you, challenged you, supported you and cared for you.

My father, Ernest Vernon Smith, Jr. was, like his father, ‘an old-time country doctor’ who practiced his art until he was 82.  He served three generations of families.  Here are the words I shared with those in attendance on 28 January, 2000:

Eulogy for My Father

The Poet Markova writes:

I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days, to allow my living to open me.
To make me less afraid, more accessible.
To loosen my heart
Until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance.
To live
So that which came to me as seed goes on as blossom
And that which came to me as blossom
Goes on as fruit.

My father lived this poem and carried the torch and promise to many others in many subtle yet powerful ways.

Yesterday I was reading through one of my journals looking for a context for these comments.  I came upon the following that I had written: ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here, the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Eyes.  Bright, soft, penetrating, caring, admonishing, compassionate, intelligent, impish, and oh, so very blue!  I last looked deeply into those soft, blue eyes on Sunday night as I was leaving his hospital room; I did not know that this would be the last time our eyes would meet.  Our eyes held one another and we held each other’s hands as we look deeply into each other’s heart; we said to one another, ‘I love you.’

Those wondrous eyes!

How they must have looked to the thousands of people he served for more than 55 years.  Those eyes, blue and sparkling, meeting my mother’s own bright blue eyes in 1934 – he had, as my mother reminded me yesterday, already taken out all of the other nurses (300 is the number I recall) and then he asked her out.  The mutual eye-sparkle was fanned into flames of love that have endured more than 64 years and also produced 6 children who have carried this sparkle into their lives.

I remember watching my parents exchange those sparkling, impish looks with one another as I was growing up – I was fascinated by their exchanges, and I was a bit envious – I still am.

I remember, as a child, my father’s eyes holding me when I was ill; and I think of all of those souls he held with those healing eyes.  I wonder, as I look out over this room filled with those he loved, how did Ernie’s Eyes affect you?

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Face.  What are the words that come to your mind my friends when you reflect upon my father’s face?

For me the adjectives flow like a powerful river, bringing life and energy to all who drank his face in.  Beauty, strength, humor, intelligence, inquiry, competence, jokester, healer, competitor, surgeon, colleague, friend, father, husband, dedicated physician, servant. 

Sit a moment with me and remember his face and the words that come to mind for you as you image him standing before you. . . .

Over the years I have thought of how his face affected those who were waiting for him to come and serve them.  I thought about the response in themselves and in their family as my father walked into their homes and into their lives carrying his little black bag of hope with him; a hope that would sustain them in their hour of need.

REFRAIN ‘The eyes, the face, the hands are areas in space where the spiritual reality of the person becomes present to others.  From here the inmost being of the individual pours forth.’

My Father’s Hands.  Magnificent.  Steady.  Ambidextrous.  Deft.  Confident.  Vise-like (for those of you, like me, that tried to out-vise him and lost; you know what I mean).

The hands that held a scalpel, a clamp, a needle, a new-born.  Hands that were guided by the eyes, held in place by the calm, professional face that brought his skill and energy and dedication to the service of ALL who needed him; whenever they needed him.

Through his eyes, his face, his hands, my father, in spirit, truly became present to us: his colleagues, his patients, his friends, his children and his wife. 

My father’s presence will truly live on in each of us, will live on in our relationships, and in the fruit of our relationships and will live on in this community that he was dedicated to and served for a life-time.  We have all been blessed by my father and we are now asked to continue to bless all of those that we encounter, every day, for the rest of our lives.  I pray, each day, that I can in some small way live into the dedication and service that my father lived out for a life-time.   

Here is a photo of my father and mother standing outside of their home in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.  The date was 20 July, 1995 and it was their 60th wedding anniversary.

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

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