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Archive for October, 2017

PRAYER. . .

‘Prayer’ can be formal, as in ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ or it can be informal, we emerge the prayer from our heart and soul using our own words.  A Prayer can focus on ‘begging,’ or ‘bargaining,’ or ‘being thankful,’ or it can involve ‘praise’ and ‘celebration.’  Prayer can focus on ‘seeking forgiveness’ or ‘healing’ or ‘offering comfort.’  Prayer can emerge from within a person or a community (think: spontaneous prayer) and prayer can be ‘recited’ by a person or a community (think: the Book of Common Prayer, for example).

Consider, gentle reader that, now and again, we should offer the warmth of our love as a blessing for those who are suffering, damaged, isolated, shunned, and unloved.  With our Prayer we can send our love out into the world to those who are desperate, to those who are starving (physically, intellectually, emotionally, spiritually and socially), to those who are trapped in prison (the prison of their own making and the prison that others have made for them), to those who are in hospital, hospice, or nursing home, and to those submerged in the depths of depression and despair.

When we send our love out to others via our prayers we truly love one another.

Prayer, as John O’Donohue notes is the act and presence of sending this light from the bountifulness of your love to other people to heal, free, and bless them.

O’Donohue continues: When there is love in your life, you should share it spiritually with those who are pushed to the very edge of life.  There is a lovely idea in the Celtic tradition that if you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times.  In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control.  The more love you give away, the more love you will have. 

I conclude this morning with one of John O’Donohue’s wonder-full blessings: A Friendship Blessing.

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessings, challenges, truth, and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ĉara.

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I write to understand as much as to be understood. –Elie Wiesel

I continue to seek to understand us human beings for many reasons; here are two of the reasons I have held for decades: we human beings are living contradictions, paradoxes, and perplexities and we human beings have consciously separated ourselves from our environment.  Gentle reader, what are two reasons that motivate you to seek – or to continue seeking – an understanding of us human beings?

By nature we human beings are endowed with the ability – and desire – to reflect.  Thus each of us has at least a vague notion, image or dream of what humanity ought to be, of how we humans ought to act.  I find myself motivated to reflect when we human beings encounter a tension, a conflict or a contradiction between the expected and the outcome – between what we are as human beings and what is expected of us as human beings.

It seems we human beings truly become aware of our better natures when we experience pain and anguish (directly or empathetically).  When we become aware, and what we have ignored, denied or disregarded suddenly erupts in painful awareness and this awareness disturbs us (an understatement, I know) and often moves us to ‘caring.’

We human beings gain a greater understanding of human beings when we intentionally and purpose-fully ‘see’ the ‘other(s)’ in human terms, when the ‘categories’ we usually apply to one another are reframed into human adjectives (think: we set aside our inorganic metaphors – banking and mechanical: people are assets, resources, commodities and liabilities and people are cogs in the machine – and replace them with organic metaphors – people are members of a human community).

We move from viewing and engaging one another as ‘functions’ to viewing and engaging one another as fully human beings in pain, in need.  We then respond to the fully human being and his and her fully human pain and need.  We embrace the better angels of our nature [thanks Abe].  We see the other’s ‘better angels’ and we respond to the other from our ‘better angels.’  In a real sense, the ‘sacred’ transcends the ‘mundane.’

When I take the time to stop, step-back, and reflect upon ‘human nature’ I experience a number of questions emerging into my consciousness; I have many, many more questions than responses.  Here are a few of them that emerged this morning as I was preparing to write this post: What is it that I am seeking to understand?  What is it that I want to know?  What is it that I am fearful of knowing?  What is my purpose when it comes to this ‘seeking to understand’?  Am I searching in order to search; am I searching in order to find? 

We human beings are not tabula rasas [‘blank slates’], we are born inherently curious – we are born with the desire to ‘understand’ ourselves as ‘human beings.’  For thousands of years the great wisdom figures have attempted to teach us that in order to know ourselves we must first question ourselves.  Socrates told us that the unexamined life is not worth living and Robert K. Greenleaf upped the ante when he noted that to refuse to examine the assumptions one lives by is immoral.

Gandhi reminded each of us that: I am my message.  We are challenged to seek to understand when and why we choose to ‘be our best’ and when and why we choose to ‘be our worst.’  We are also challenged to understand that each of us is capable of bringing great light and of bringing great darkness to ‘our world.’  This last idea is so disturbing to us human beings that we expend great amounts of energy denying its reality.

He who knows is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened. –Lao Tzu

 

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The enemy of life is indifference. –Elie Wiesel

One way I strive to protect myself from being indifferent is to seek to understand us human beings.  Fifty-four years ago a wise person offered me the following guideline: Do not equate ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  If I equate the two then I am hindered, if not directly blocked, from achieving an ‘understanding.’  Anyone who has had the privilege of being entrusted with raising an adolescent knows that for the adolescent a classic ‘trap’ is: ‘You don’t understand me!’  The adolescent equates ‘understanding’ with ‘agreement.’  I have also known many adults who have held the same belief.

During these past two years I have spent more and more time striving to seek to understand us human beings.  My seeking is rooted in and supported by questions – especially questions from a place of not knowing.  There are, as you might remember gentle reader, three types of questions: The first is the question that invites an immediate response; the second is the question that is held for a brief period of time and then invites a response; the third is the question that is ‘held’ over time and is ‘lived’ and ‘lived into’ so that perhaps someday, in some way, I might live into the answer (my thanks to the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke for this ‘third way’).

How do I ‘see’ us human beings?  I don’t know if this is ‘the’ best, first question, but I have found it to be an essential question.  I invite you, gentle reader, to hold and reflect upon this question and discern what emerges from within you as a response.  Here are a few guiding questions that have emerged for me as I hold this question:  Do I believe that we human beings are ‘problems’ to be solved?  Do I believe we are ‘paradoxes’ to be embraced? Do I believe that we are ‘spiritual beings’ who have a physical manifestation?  Do I believe that we are physical beings who may or may not have a spiritual manifestation?  Do I believe that we are rational beings who have an emotional component? Do I believe that we are emotional beings who have developed a rational component?

I have found it helpful – and challenging – to emerge and discern some of the tap roots that feed, nurture and sustain these questions.  For example, what are three core values, three guiding life-principles, three assumptions, and three core beliefs that I hold about us human beings?  What are three of my life experiences – life experiences that have powerfully contributed to the person I have become today – that influence, if not directly determine, my current understanding of what it means to be ‘human’?

I have also discerned that it is crucial for me to seek to understand my ‘motivation’ for this search.  During these past two years I have, for example, been motivated by anxiety, frustration, anger, confusion, misunderstanding, being perplexed, deep curiosity, and fear (that we human beings have become self-destructive).  Since my search is not a ‘one time’ but an ‘over time’ endeavor I have found that at one time and within a specific context that one of these motivators often takes center-stage over the others.

I have also discerned that I have been – and I expect to be – influenced by ‘de-motivators.’  There have been times when I wanted to ‘give up’ my searching and seeking.  At times my ‘de-motivators’ whelm me over and for a time I find myself ‘surrendering’ to one or more of them.

So, what are some of my ‘de-motivators’?  Here are a few of them: apathy, resignation, rage, arrogance, pride/hubris, judgment, prejudice/stereotypes, depression, hopelessness/despair, distraction, busyness, and illusion of. . . (think: self-protection).  Gentle reader, what are some of your ‘de-motivators’?

I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better. –Abraham Lincoln

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Gentle reader, I ended PART I with a question: What is it that makes so many elderly folk feel ostracized?  This morning I will conclude my response to this question and I also invite you, gentle reader, to reflect and emerge your own response.

Loss of Identity/Self.  How often do individuals ‘become’ their job or profession?  I remember watching interviews with steel workers who were, when their plant closed, offered opportunities to learn a new ‘trade’ and who declined the offer saying, “I am a steel worker.’  I know professionals – physicians, attorneys, and engineers – who became depressed shortly after they retired because they had lost their identity.  The question: ‘Who am I?’ is more than a simple philosophical inquiry.

Too often, the person who has lost his or her identity – think: inner self – believes that there is little to live for.  The words of Ben Sira (Si 41:3-4) captures some of this:

‘O death, your sentence is welcome to a man in want, whose strength is failing, to a man worn out with age, worried about everything, disaffected and beyond endurance.’

Consider, gentle reader, that the loss of identity/self becomes most visible in those whose identity/self is absorbed by the past, who find little satisfaction in the present, and who, when looking out over the horizon, see only a thickening darkness.  The mantra of these individuals might well be: ‘I am who I was!’

As I lose my identity/self I become more and more preoccupied with the past.  Sadly the past does not bring comfort or solace, too often it brings anxiety, resignation, depression and despair.  I become a victim of a society which identifies my humanity with my productivity and my worth with my blood, sweat, tears and toil.

How many who experience the loss of identity/self, become sour, bitter, and cynical?  How many experience living in a well of emptiness, in a wilderness of darkness, in a well of despair?

This is not mere speculation on my part.  I have been with people for whom there is only darkness.  When they look into the future – even if the ‘future’ were the next day – they would only see more darkness.  The darkness is also within.  Within ‘the darkness within,’ there resides resentment, envy, jealousy, and rage (it is not an accident that the word ‘rage’ is contained in the concept ‘tragedy’).

Too often it seems that this ‘darkness’ is the inescapable destiny of all human beings.  The depths of this darkness is expressed in the Greek story of an old Spartan man.

This man was segregated by his community, had lost his friends, and had interiorized his rejection to such a degree that he took destiny into his own hands, left the village, and went off to the hills to die.  Before he left, his grandson was asked by his son to offer the old man a blanket which could keep him warm during his last hours.  But the grandson cut the blanket in two so that half would be available for his own father when he grew old enough to go off to die.

For me, this story captures the inescapable darkness of old age, in whose shadow the grandfather, the son and the grandson will be consumed and where love can only be an act of giving ‘a half-blanket’ and old age becomes a time of darkness and despair.

Today, for many, the excommunication continues – in many ways more subtly – with similar destructive results.  If we stop here.  If we say, with the wounded cynic, ‘Is this all there is?’  If we are not open to the little pieces of light that are always present even in ‘the darkest of darknesses’ then, indeed all will be lost.

It is not a given that aging ends in darkness.  Paradoxically: Aging can also be a way into the light.

 

 

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Gentle reader, I ended PART I with a question: What is it that makes so many elderly folk feel ostracized?  This morning I will begin to respond to this question and I also invite you, gentle reader, to reflect and emerge your own response.

Separated-Segregated-Shunned.  In the United States we are a culture in which ‘being’ is considered less important than ‘doing’ and ‘having.’  We are an acquisitive society [Gentle reader I invite you to read and reflect upon R.H. Tawney’s book, ‘The Acquisitive Society.  His book was published in 1920; his message directly addresses our addiction to acquiring/having].  ‘Acquiring/having’ continues to be one of our addictions [speed, busyness, distraction, and the dis-ease of ‘hurry sickness’ are a few other cultural addictions we have].

As we age, we are no longer able – for many reasons – to feed these addictions; hence as we age we are less and less able to sustain them.  One unintended consequence is that as we age we become more and more separated-segregated-shunned.  We, in fact, become less and less valuable.  Remember, that our Culture is rooted in a ‘Banking Metaphor.’  We are assets or liabilities and as we age we become more of a liability than an asset.  We are resources and as we age our ‘value as a resource’ diminishes.

When we are no longer able to identify ourselves – or be identified by others – as ‘doing’ (think: producing, adding economic value, acquiring, etc.) we experience being separated-segregated-shunned.  I am recalling a ‘professional’ who had retired and yet came to ‘the office’ almost every day just to ‘check in’.  After a few months he stopped coming as more and more folks did not ‘make the time’ to be with him (think: shunning).

The author Sharon Curtin (‘Nobody Ever Died of Old Age,’ 1972) wrote: I have learned that a culture which equates material possessions with success, and views the frantic, compulsive consumer as the perfect citizen, can afford little space for the aged human being.  They are past competing, they are out of the game.  We live in a culture which endorses what has been called “human obsolescence.” After adolescence, obsolescence.  To the junk heap, the nursing home, the retirement village, the “Last Resort.”

It seems to me that part of the fear of aging in our culture is rooted in the fear of not being able to live up to the expectations of a culture in which you are what you can produce, achieve, have, and keep.  Thus, those who no longer live this way are no longer taken seriously – at the extreme they are no longer tolerated, they are separated-segregated-shunned.  These ‘3 Ss’ take place in situations where ‘being’ becomes subordinated to ‘doing and having.’

When I see how powerful old people in church and state anxiously hold on to outdated viewpoints and ‘old-fashioned’ customs, thereby hindering or preventing growth and development I wonder if they are not simply clinging to the primary (perhaps only) acceptable form of self-identification left to them in our ‘doing/having’ Culture.

 ‘Clinging.’  In Afghani the verb to cling is the same as the verb to die.  The paradox and the irony of this is not lost for those who are awake and aware.

I leave us, this morning with the words of Florida Scott-Maxwell: Our world narrows, its steady narrowing is constant pain.  Friends die, others move away, some become too frail to receive us, and I become too frail to travel to them.  …we tend to live in a world of our own making, citizens of Age, but otherwise stateless.

 

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In 1972, the French author, Simone de Beauvoir gave us her powerful book, ‘The Coming of Age.’  Today, her book continues to be an important one for our aging society.  Simone offered us an extensive analysis of aging (which still provides the tap roots for more recent studies); she concludes exploration with these words: ‘…The vast majority of mankind looks upon the coming of age with sorrow or rebellion.  It fills them with more aversion than death itself.’ 

Today her pessimistic and depressing mood which seems to cover her view of old age like a heavy shroud continues to be relevant today and was eloquently expressed thousands of years ago by the Psalmist.  In this Psalm an old man says:

Take pity on me, Yahweh,
I am in trouble now.
Grief wastes away my eye,
my throat, my inmost parts.

For my life is worn out with sorrow,
my years with sighs;
my strength yields under misery,
my bones are wasting away.
I am contemptible,
Loathsome to my neighbors,
to my friends a thing of fear.

Those who see me in the street
hurry past me;
I am forgotten, as good as dead in their hearts,
something discarded (Psalm 31:9-12)

‘Something Discarded.’  How many elderly feel this way today?  In 2015 there were 47.8 million people in the United States that were at least 65 years of age. As of 2015, 25 million people 65+ lived in poverty.  Many of the more than 20 thousand nursing homes – homes to more than 1.7 million people who are 65+ — are overcrowded and understaffed.  Thus, minimum care is seldom achieved and is certainly inconsistent.

Those in our country who are aging spend more than 8 billion dollars a year on gadgets, cosmetics, and techniques to prevent us from looking old.  Contrast this with one fact: in 2010 less than 700 million dollars was made available to those who were 80+ years old.  In 2010 Medicaid provided 86,000 dollars a year for a person 67+ years to live in a nursing home (this covered about 70% of what was necessary).  With the proposed cuts in Medicaid the $86,000 will be drastically reduced so that 40-50% will be covered.  With an aging population and with an increased life expectancy it is easy to figure out the challenges that lie in waiting for us (‘us’ = the young and the aging).

Given all of this (and ‘this’ is only the ‘shallows’ of it all) it is not surprising that those of us who are aging will say, along with the Psalmist: Those who see me in the street hurry past me; I am forgotten, as good as dead in their hearts, something discarded.’  ‘We’ are not human beings who are discarded – we are ‘things’ who are discarded.

Does our society really have room for the aging, for the elderly?  How many today are ostracized, excommunicated, expelled like contagious lepers, no longer considered to be fully human and thus have no place in the human community?

Simone de Beauvoir is correct, I believe, when she notes that old age, for many, is far more fearful than death.  We might not be able to imagine a state beyond our existence on this earth, but the aging, the elderly, can anticipate the pains and anxiety and fear of becoming ‘old.’

Florida Scott-Maxwell captured this for us when she wrote: We wonder how much older we have to become, and what degree of decay we may have to endure.  We keep whispering to ourselves, “Is this age yet? How far must I go?”  For age can be dreaded more than death. . . It is waiting for death that wears us down, and the distaste for what we may become.

Gentle reader, I leave us this morning holding many questions.  I will, however, leave us with just one: What is it that makes so many elderly folk feel ostracized? 

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