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Archive for August, 2017

Most people living in our country would, I believe, agree with the following statement: ‘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. [AN ASIDE: When I write ‘man or men’ I am referring to ALL HUMAN BEINGS.]

That ‘Equality,’ then, is a good thing – a goal to be sought and achieved and ‘Equality’ is generally affirmed and accepted by those who live in the United States.  What appears to be lacking, however, is a sense of the monstrosity of inequality.

History continues to remind us, if not teach us, that ‘Inequality’ is a major tap root that supports, nurtures, and sustains the abuse of power and justifies man’s cruelty to man.  ‘Equality’ is an obstacle, if not direct hindrance, to both.  Among other things, ‘Equality’ sets a limit to power.  One way of describing mankind’s history is to describe it as the ongoing tension between ‘Equality,’ ‘Inequality,’ and ‘Power.’

At its core, ‘Equality’ is an interpersonal relationship that involves both a claim and a recognition.  My claim to equality (and yours, gentle reader) has its reasonable basis in my recognizing my fellow human’s identical claim.  A question I continue to hold: Do I not forfeit my own rights by denying to my fellow men the rights I claim for myself?  For me, this continues to be a disturbing, if not motivating, question.

As a theist I believe that ‘Equality of Man’ is the intended consequence of God’s love and commitment to all humans. The ultimate view of man is due to God’s virtue.  Whenever you and I see even a trace of man, there God is present.  God is not only ‘Love’ – God is ‘Equality.’

‘Equality,’ then, is a religious commandment and goes far beyond the principle of equality before the law.  Consider, gentle reader, that ‘Equality’ as a religious commandment means ‘personal involvement, fellowship, mutual reverence, compassion, and mutual caring.’  It means being hurt when the ‘other’ (think: stranger or minority) is offended.  It means that I am grieved, if not enraged, when the ‘other’ is disfranchised.

God is One and Humanity is One!  God is either the ‘Father’ of ALL MEN or of NO MAN!  God’s image is either in EVERY MAN or in NO MAN.  There are few ‘either-or’ statements that I hold – these are two of them.

Moral philosophy tells us that it is our ‘duty’ and our ‘obligation’ to have positive regard for every man.  Such regard, however, is at times contingent upon the moral merit of each particular man.  From the point of view of religious philosophy it is our duty and obligation to have positive regard and compassion for every person regardless of his or her moral merit.

God’s covenant (‘covenant’ is a powerful commitment) is with ALL humans.  Man, created in the ‘likeness of God’ has ‘divine dignity.’  To state it another way: the image of God is in the criminal as well as in the saint.  How can my regard for man be contingent upon his merit, if I know that in the eyes of God I myself am deeply flawed and hence, without merit?

The symbol of ‘GOD IN THE WORLD’ is not a tree or an ocean.  The symbol of ‘GOD IN THE WORLD’ is MAN!

When we choose to support inequality for one we choose against God.  We cannot escape this judgment by saying that ‘I did not directly support inequality.’  The great Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel reminds us: Some are guilty, but all are responsible!

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear!  — Jesus

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I continue to be engulfed in a tsunami of pain and anguish.  What had been mere waves washing over me these past months were transformed into this tsunami.  I began to feel relief as I heard the resistance and the healing stories emerge.  AND THEN, the tsunami was re-intensified by the very person who could have continued to add to both the resistance and the healing.

I wanted to write about this and each time I put finger to key what emerged seemed more like noise than nurture, more like wading in the shallows rather than diving into the depths, more like… Well, I think you get my meaning.  Yet, I still wanted to offer something.

I awoke this morning and immediately began to, once again, think about what I might offer us.  As I was listening to a commentator he offered me a gift when he asked: ‘Can the center hold?’  I immediately knew what I wanted to offer us this morning.  I offer us TWO POEMS. I invite us to reflect upon them and perhaps even invite another person or two into a searching conversation.  Here, then, are the TWO POEMS:

The Second Coming

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?    –William Butler Yeats

A Ritual To Read To Each Other

 

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the world
and following the wrong god home we may miss our star.

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of childhood
storming out to play through the broken dyke.

And as elephants parade holding each elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

And so I appeal to a voice, to something shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should consider–
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the dark.

For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give–yes or no, or maybe–
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep. –William Stafford

 

Gentle Reader, I leave us with the question that the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado offers us, a question for each of us to hold and a question for our Nation to hold:  ‘What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?’

 

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‘Everything Changes!’

It is not difficult to understand this concept as an intellectual reality; if we are paying attention at all we have the opportunity to experience it almost every day.  However, emotionally this can be, often is, quite challenging.  Consider, everything we love and care about – including our family, friends, pets, and our self – will change, evolve, transform and eventually cross the threshold we call life.  This is one of the primary truths of all wisdom traditions.  It is also the first truth of aging, too.

Loss will occur.  Loss does occur.  When I hold this concept and reflect on it one of my first inclinations is to move toward depression.  If I hold it in prayerful silence for a while I can see ‘the other side’ of the aging-changing process and see within the transformation that is occurring – not only loss but potential gain.  Old possibilities are replaced with new possibilities.  Endings are replaced with potential new beginnings.  Sadness is replaced with appreciation and gratitude.  Deeping darkness is replaced with little pieces of light.

For each of us there is a certain age beyond which we no longer need to be convinced that we are aging AND that aging presents us with some minor and major challenges.  We come to know this unless we are hidden deep within a ship of ‘Denial’ and in our ship we are sailing on the river of ‘Denial.’

Aging is a paradox: it is a time of decline and it is a time of opportunity.  No matter how much we attend to our Physical and Intellectual dimensions these will decline (for some slowly and for others more rapidly).  As an unintended consequence, some also experience a decline within their Emotional dimension and for some they experience a decline in their Social dimension (family and friends die and new relationships are not formed).

The opportunity, I am continuing to learn, lies within my/our Spiritual dimension (for some this dimension is connected to a faith-tradition, for others it is connected to a philosophical or humanistic tradition).  All wisdom traditions offer us the opportunity to develop our Spiritual dimension (my mother, at 88 was still developing hers and she is a powerful role model for me).

Our Spiritual dimension need not be a time of decline – it can become a time of growth and fulfillment.

The wisdom traditions have provided us with a gift.  This gift can help sustain our Spiritual dimension and it can help us develop our Spiritual dimension more fully.  Paradoxically, again, as we age, we have a greater breadth and depth of life available to us and these can powerfully enhance our Spiritual dimension.  Aging itself becomes a Spiritual Discipline.

What is this gift?  It is the gift of ‘Meditation’ (think for example: deep reflection, prayer and ‘lexio divina’ – ‘divine reading’).

A Zen Master was asked by a student, ‘Why do we meditate?’  The Zen Master laughed (why are Zen Masters always laughing) and replied: ‘So we can enjoy our old age!’  Meditation can enable us to find enjoyment, peace, contentment and grace in the gift of each moment and each breath no matter our life circumstances (read and reflect upon Viktor Frankl’s powerful book: ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ and/or upon Anthony de Mello’s ‘Awareness’ and/or upon John O’Donohue’s ‘Anam Cara’).

‘Aging as Spiritual Discipline’ involves caring for our Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social dimensions.  Most importantly ‘Aging as Spiritual Discipline’ is the tap root that nurtures and sustains our Spiritual dimension.  My Spiritual dimension is nurtured and cared for via specific Spiritual Disciplines (prayer, meditation, reflective reading, journal keeping, music and drawing) and by my ongoing commitment to serve others and their highest priority needs.

‘Inner’ and ‘Outer’ Aging are complementary life-partners.  As I age I have found that I must attend to both.  As I age, I have found it necessary to put more time and energy into my Spiritual dimension, my inner life, for this is the dimension that will always have the potential for further growth.

‘Everything Changes!’  Yes.  And this truth has two sides.  It is true that everything I love is destined to change, age and pass away. AND…it is equally true that every moment provides me with new possibilities.  Am I awake and aware, am I intentional and purpose-full and am I fully present (living in the ‘now’)?  To the extent I am, I will be able to discern and embrace the new opportunities.  By the by, the nice thing about ‘new opportunities’ is that they appear to be never-ending.

Aging is beyond my control.  How I choose to age – well now, gentle reader, that is up to me to decide.  And, gentle reader, how you choose to age – well now, that is up to you to decide.  I have found that the following advice helps me, perhaps, gentle reader, it will also benefit you.

‘Live your life as if it will make a difference.  For it will!’ –William James

 

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‘You are the message!’ –Gandhi

As I noted last time, I am in my 73rd year of life and I am a ‘reflective-participant-observer’ in my own life.  The journey of aging is my journey too.  Among other things, I hold many of the anxieties (‘What will happen to me if I cannot care for myself?’), fears (‘What will happen to me when my back and hips deteriorate more?’), and worries (‘I don’t want to become a burden.’) that other folks who are aging hold.  I also hold some of the joys (‘Walking with my two children, Rebecca and Nathan, as they continue to survey, cut and walk on their own life-paths.’), contentments (‘Savoring life’s challenges that I have addressed using my gifts and talents.’), and gratitudes (‘Being thankful for the many diverse opportunities I have had to serve others.’).

Like so many others in my generation I have also had to embrace my and others’ illnesses; I have had to embrace the pain of loss (death, opportunity, and friends literally moving thousands of miles away).  And like so many others, I have also lost the wide-range of ‘possibility’ that was open to me even ten years ago.

Gentle reader, even though you might be younger – perhaps much younger – than I am, we are walking the ‘aging path’ together.  In 1900 the path for the ‘average’ American male ended at about 55 years.  Today the path, on average, ends at 76.  In a few years the path will, once again, be extended (some researchers say it will extend to 85).  It is also predicted that this path will extend, by mid-century, into the mid-nineties.

There is a paradox here, I think.  As we age most of our ‘P.I.E.S.S.’ diminish.  We lose capacity Physically and IntellectuallySocially, some become more isolated as spouse and friends die – as a generation dies.  Some, too many, I fear, lose Emotional stability (some of the loss is due to physical changes and some is due to psychological changes).  For others, their Social dimension also radically shifts, changes or transforms due to Physical, Intellectually, and Emotional loss.

The paradox, for me, is that our fifth dimension, our Spiritual dimension, can actually be more fully nurtured and developed.  For some their Spiritual development enhances their Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social dimensions.  Our ‘Aging’ can become a Spiritual Discipline.  I like this idea – I like it a lot.

In May, 2000 I was guiding a retreat for 100 faith-based school principles (the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths were represented).  On day two of the four day retreat the Dali Lama (yes, ‘THE’ Dali Lama) arrived and spent a day with other folks who had come to be with him.  Early that morning I was walking across the courtyard and I saw a small group encircling someone.  I walked closer and noticed that the ‘someone’ was the Dali Lama.  Being the curious person I am, I paused and listened.  What I then heard was a gift, a reminder and a challenge: it was a grace-full moment for me.

As I approached the small group of searchers and seekers I heard this question: Your holiness, for years you have been trying to help us understand Buddhism; frankly I can’t seem to get it. Can you say one thing about Buddhism that I can actually understand?  The radiant smile on the Dali Lama’s face spoke volumes to me.  He then spoke these words: ‘Everything Changes!’

 ‘Everything Changes!’

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‘We convince by our presence.’ –Walt Whitman

Aging grace-fully and aging rooted in contentment is a challenge [An Aside: many years ago I listened to an interview of an author who wrote a biography of a world-famous professional athlete.  When the author was asked of all he learned about this super-star what impacted him the most.  There was at least 20 seconds of silence – a lot of silence for ‘radio-air.’  Then the author said, in a halting voice: ‘Contentment was beyond his reach!’] 

At 73 I know how challenging the aging process is for I am not simply an observer.  I am an active participant; on my good days I am also deeply reflective about this process called aging.  At my best, then, I am a ‘reflective-participant-observer’ in my own life-process.

Consider, gentle reader, that there are five ‘disciplines’ that powerfully impact the aging process.  Each discipline is connected to one of the five dimensions that, for me, work in harmony or discord, to define who I-You-We are (and are choosing to become).  I call these P.I.E.S.S.  The first dimension-discipline is the Physical, the second is the Intellectual, the third is the Emotional, the fourth is the Spiritual, and the fifth is the Social.

In working with others and in engaging my own life-process I have come to believe that one of these tends to be the ‘linchpin’ for the others.  For some the Physical is the linchpin.  My older brother, Steve, is one of these.  If he is taking care of his Physical dimension the other four are easier to care for.  For me, the linchpin is my Spiritual dimension.

As human beings we are entrusted with all five dimensions and the disciplines that are the tap roots that feed, nurture, maintain and sustain them.  As the great Spanish poet, Antonio Machado, asks us: What have you done with the garden entrusted to you?  I like the garden metaphor.  I am, at the same time, the garden I have been entrusted with AND I am the gardener.  Others can help me ‘tend the garden of Richard’ AND in the end, I am ultimately response-able, responsible and accountable for the ‘garden of Richard.’

Since the Spiritual Dimension-Discipline is my linchpin I have decided to write a bit about this ‘dimension-discipline’ within the context of ‘Aging.’  I am remembering that all of the great wisdom teachings teach us that ‘peace of mind’ is possible in whatever circumstances one finds oneself (Viktor Frankl’s powerful memoir ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ supports this view).

Gentle reader, if you have been following my blog these past five years you know that I love stories.  I am thinking of two stories.  I am now thinking of the story of Leo Tolstoy’s death. There are several versions of this story (it reminds me that we should never let ‘facts’ interfere with a good story).  In this version, Tolstoy is lying on a bench in a railroad station; he is dying.  A person in attendance wrote down his last words: ‘What am I now to do?’  This is a common question that emerges in folks as they become aware that they are aging.

I am now thinking of the story about a great Zen Master (are there any stories about Zen Masters who are not great…).  The Zen Master was dying.  The Master was surrounded by a number of disciples.  One of them recorded the Master’s last words: ‘Thank you very much.  I have no complaints.’

As we age, how many of us will utter these words?  What will be our ‘last words’ prior to stepping into death’s carriage?

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