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Archive for February, 2019

Epictetus [AD55-AD135] was born a slave, on the scale of powerful men was ranked as the least powerful.

Epictetus was owned by a wealthy Roman who saw in Epictetus an intellect that needed to be called forth.  Eventually the slave, Epictetus, was granted his freedom and then the free-man, Epictetus, became a Greek sage and stoic philosopher. His teachings were written down by one of his students Arrian; they were published in what he called The Discourses.

The most powerful man in the Roman Empire was the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (AD121-AD180).  Marcus was deeply influenced by Epictetus’ writings and in turn.  Marcus was and is regarded as Rome’s most powerful, influential, and ‘human’ of all the Emperors.

Marcus Aurelius’ writings, which come to us as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, continue to influence generation after generation.  There was a time not so long ago when thousands and thousands of men and women from diverse backgrounds and cultures read, reflected upon and relied upon the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius.  For me, his ‘Meditations’ continue to provide little pieces of light in dark times, for others it provides strength or hope – not the strength and hope that comes from wishful thinking or fantasy but the strength and hope that comes from discovering the wisdom and the capacity for good that lies hidden deep within one’s soul or psyche or ground of being.

We do owe a great deal of gratitude to the least and most powerful man in the world – Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius.  The photographs of Epictetus and Marcus have been long lost but here are two renderings of them.

Epictetus is sitting at his writing table; you will notice the crutch.  It is said that his master purposefully broke Epictetus’ leg and that Epictetus then required the use of a crutch to get around.  What have I broken in myself so that I need a crutch to get around?  How does this crutch manifest itself in my life?

 

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THE ENCOUNTER. . .

Here is a story I noted in my journal in November, 2009.

An encounter took place between King Christian X of Denmark and a Nazi officer shortly after the occupation of the Danish capital in April 1940.  It is said that when the king looked out the window of the palace and saw the Nazi flag with its swastika flying over the roofs of the government buildings, he called for a meeting with the commander of the occupying forces.

The king requested the flag be removed.  The Nazi officer refused.

King Christian walked a few feet away and spent some moments in thought.  He approached the officer once more.  “And what will you do if I send a soldier to take it down?”  After a few moments the officer replied: “I will have him shot.”   Again, the King walked a few feet away and spent more moments in though.  The King then turned, walked slowly back toward the officer and in a quiet voice said: “I don’t believe you will, when you see the soldier I send.”

The officer demanded that the king explain himself.  King Christian said, “I will be the soldier.”  Within minutes the German officer ordered the flag to be taken down.

Here are some questions I noted:

* Where is the line between being courageous and being rash? 

* What must my inner ‘king’ risk when I am confronted by my internal occupying forces? 

* What are those internal occupying forces that challenge my integrity? 

* What sustains me in my ‘leadership moment’ so that I might choose to act wisely and courageously rather than to react rashly?   

 

 

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LEGACY. . .

This morning Gentle Reader I offer what I call, not-quite-poetry; let us call it ‘A Reading.’

LEGACY

Achilles was told that if he did not go to Troy

that he would marry, have healthy children and

that in three generations his name would be lost

to all who followed.

Would it matter, really?

 

Achilles was told that if he did go to Troy

that he would perform great warrior-hero deeds and

that he would die on the field of battle and

that his name and his story would survive the ages

and be remembered by all who followed.

Did it matter, really?

 

I have begun at 75 to think about my legacy.

How long will my name survive?

What will I be remembered for in three generations?

How long will it be before my name is lost?

Will it matter, really?

 

Will my or the world be better because I resided here?

Will others be more fully who they are because I lived among them?

Will others be more depleted because they met me along the way?

How will I really know for sure?

Will it matter, really?

 

Perhaps my legacy has more to do with being faithful to who I

am called to be in my world than it has to do with measuring

how effective I might be.

 

Perhaps God will not inquire as to what I did.

Perhaps God will wonder if I was the Richard I was called to be.

Perhaps if I am the Richard I am called to be that this will be legacy enough.

Perhaps I need to continue to understand the Richard I am called to be.

 

Perhaps I need to understand AND embrace the Richard I am called to be.

 

Perhaps my legacy resides within the Perhaps.

–Richard W Smith, 24 February 2019

 

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GIVING & RECEIVING. . .

The giving of love is an education in itself. –Eleanor Roosevelt

Good morning Gentle Reader.  These past few weeks I have been thinking about ‘Giving & Receiving.’  I offer us the following to consider and, Gentle Reader, I invite you to add your good thinking to what I offer.

I give but a little when I give of my possessions.

I give a great deal when I give of myself, especially when I give rooted in love rather than duty/obligation.

At minimum my possessions nurture fear – I become fear-full of losing them.  What does this mean?  Well, for me, it goes something like this: I have more than 700 books.  Every once in a while I think: ‘Well isn’t it time to give some of these away?’  My favorite retort: ‘But I know some day I will need that book.’  Rationalizing my ‘hanging on’ to my books is easy for me to do.

At worst, I find that I have a thirst for more books; this thirst is unquenchable.  Some have this unquenchable thirst for money or power or status or recognition.  Gentle Reader, when do you have an unquenchable thirst and what is the thirst that is unquenchable for you?

In our Culture research continues to show that the ‘poor’ are more generous than the ‘rich.’  What?  I remember exiting a store and a man approached me and asked me for money for food (there was a fast-food place within a hundred yards of where we stood).  I cannot remember what motivated me but I gave him $20.00.  He looked at the twenty and then looked at me and smiled.  He then yelled out: ‘We have money for food!’  Two other men appeared and the three of them went into the fast-food place.  I would like to say that I was motivated by love but I don’t think I was.  On the other hand it was clear to me that the man with the twenty dollars was motivated by caring for, if not love of, his two friends.

I have heard folks say: ‘I only give to those who are deserving!’  For ‘People of the Book’ (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) there is a requirement to give because people ‘need’ not because people ‘deserve.’  How many of us follow this requirement?  [An Aside: I suppose we could equate ‘deserve’ with ‘need’.]

I like this idea from Gibran: ‘…he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.’  This pretty much covers all of us.

Here is a paradox to ponder: ‘Receiving is a charitable act!’  I give you a gift if I receive your giving with an attitude of appreciation rooted in love.  Consider that it might well be false humility to say: ‘Thank you, but I don’t deserve this!’  I wonder how many of us, upon hearing these words say to ourselves: ‘You’re right but I will give to you anyway!’

There have been, perhaps still are, communities where giving of gifts does not occur.  What?  Yup.  The belief is that is I give you a gift then you have to give me a gift of greater value.  Talk about a vicious cycle.  Yet, in these communities people freely serve one another and freely share.  Talk about a paradox.

I leave us this morning with Lincoln’s voice:

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

 

 

 

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Gentle Reader, once again, I have decided to offer you my annual re-post.  I re-post in order to remind myself of the power of ‘one step’ taken.  ‘One step’ can, indeed, make all the difference.

I opened my eyes. The room was dark, my soul was darker still – darker than the dark night of the soul. I could not see my hand nor my future. I paused. I turned on the lamp that was on the table next to my bed. I looked at the alarm clock – 1:30am on 21 February, 1965.

I was in the second semester of my sophomore year at the university. I had just switched majors for the third time; it was a symbol of my wandering around in the darkness. I was beyond depression; I was numb.

During the winter months, one of the favorite ways for students to kill themselves at this university was to over-dress, walk to one end of the two lakes on campus (the one that always had a small part open due to the warm water being piped into it from the student laundry) and then to step into the water and allow the weight of the clothes to help drag you to the bottom.

I dressed slowly. I layered two pair of pants and covered these with a pair of sweat pants. I put on my heaviest winter boots. I covered my upper body in four layers of shirts and sweat shirts and topped it all off with my heavy winter coat, fur lined gloves and covered my head with a cap which was covered with a ski cap.

I slowly waddled my way down the steps; I opened the door. I paused. I stepped into the darkness. I had to walk around the first lake – the frozen lake – in order to reach the small opening at the end of the other lake.

On 21 February, 2010 I wrote a poem that captured what followed once I reached the opening in the lake. The poem follows. Following the poem is a photo of that lake.

 Memory

I stood in the dark night of winter
peering into the water that seemed
so inviting. Like a polar bear, I
was covered in layers of warm clothing.

Like a polar bear I was there to take a swim
in the cold winter water. Unlike the polar
bear I was not there to seek nourishment but
relief.

The dark night of my own winter had
become unbearable and so I stood
contemplating one final step into the deep
that would provide relief.  One step.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

In the wintery silence of my soul I heard a
whisper; a tiny voice struggled to be heard
amidst the noise of my silence.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The whisper grew in intensity
and clarity. I listened. Why don’t you
go and talk with somebody?

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I listened. The question held a bit of
light in the form of a small hope.

I pondered. . . I paused. . . One step.

I turned, I took the One Step, not into
the water of relief but into the dark
that held out a small light of hope. –Richard W Smith, 21 February 2010

 ‘The Lake’ where I paused – then took that one step.

The Lake Where I Paused

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CONSCIENCE. . .

The Blackwell Encyclopedic Dictionary of Business Ethics (1997) defines Conscience as inner awareness of right and wrong, good and evil.  According to Blackwell, persons said to ‘have conscience’ manifest three characteristics:

They evaluate actions, motives and states of character to determine if these are appropriate from a moral point of view. 

They experience feelings such as guilt or satisfaction that are consistent with moral judgments that they have made.   

They are disposed to act on the basis of their moral perceptions.   

Evaluation requires reflection, probably ‘deep reflection’ or ‘intense reflection’ and it also requires one hold and understand his/her moral point of view.  Then, or in concert with this evaluation, one experiences certain feelings – actually feels them in his/her being – ‘guilt’ or ‘satisfaction’ [versus say ‘shame’ or ‘pride’].  These feelings are consistent with the ‘moral judgments’ – not just any judgments.  Finally, ‘evaluation’ and ‘experiencing certain feelings’ are not enough; conscience is incomplete without ACTION.  Not any action, but action rooted in the first two characteristics, ‘their moral perceptions.’    

So, ‘conscience’ is ‘Evaluation + Experience of Feelings + a Disposition to Act.’  Martin Luther King, Jr. caught this, I believe, when he wrote that: ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ 

When have I been silent about things that really matter?  How do I define what really matters?  What if it really matters to you but not to me?  When does what matters to the community trump what matters to me (pun intended)?

When have I compromised my conscience?  Why did I choose to do so?

What has called my conscience forth and how did I respond?

Do I believe that those I most vehemently disagree with act from this definition of conscience?  Do I dismiss them by labeling them as ‘having no conscience’ or by demonizing them – a common posture in our culture today.

I am no Patrick Henry.  ‘Give me liberty or give me death!’ does not attract me today.  Yet, is it possible for me to imagine or image a situation where I would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?    

Patrick Henry and Martin Luther King, Jr were, to me, persons of conscience.

For you, dear reader, who are persons of conscience?  When has your conscience been called forth?  And, how did you choose to respond?  Can you imagine or image a situation when you would choose to become a ‘Patrick Henry’?

One more thought.  Perhaps ‘evil’ occurs or is invited in, when one does not respond to the call of conscience.

 

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NOISE – SILENCE. . .

Too much noise.  I am whelmed over by noise.  I seek relief – or do I, really?

It is easy for me to blame my culture or to blame them or to blame ‘out there.’  Too much noise.  Yet, when I am alone, in my own living space I invite noise from ‘out there’ into my life.  I turn on the radio or the television or the computer.  Too much noise.  When I decide to not invite the ‘out there’ into my space I soon discover that the more powerful noisy noise is emanating from within me, from in here.

This is when I ask myself: Richard, do you really want relief from the noise?  This leads to other questions: What will emerge if you soften your internal noise; if you turn the volume down?  What purpose does maintaining the volume of noise that resides within your heart and soul serve?  What needs are met?  What needs are avoided?  What keeps you from choosing to silence your noisy heart and soul?  

 I know it is not a matter of knowing how?  I know that it is not a matter of not having the knowledge.  I know that knowledge itself does not change provide [sounds like Yoda is talking now].  Seeking Silence requires knowledge, yes, and motivation, and commitment, and intentionality and action.  It also requires of me an acceptance of what lies behind, or is it within, the noise.

Acceptance.  Acceptance = approving reception.  Am I willing to receive with approval all that emerges when I quiet the noise.  Is what emerges simply more noise?  Perhaps it is not noise.  Noise = a din of voices.  Perhaps what emerges is a whisper.  Whisper = to make soft, rustling sounds.  Noise whelms me over and distracts me and adds to my disconnection [from myself and from others].  Perhaps a whisper invites me to pay attention, to focus, to be response-able, and to listen attentively and deeply with a searcher-seeker ‘ear.’

Perhaps, this whisper that can only be discerned amidst silence is the whisper of the wisdom that resides within or is the whisper of the divine or the whisper of the guiding spirit or perhaps the sustaining spirit.  Perhaps it is the whisper of the transcendent calling me to be, to become, and to use my self to meet the needs that exist in my world.  I am not always sure.  What seems to be clear, however, is that as long as I invite and celebrate noise in my heart and soul I will not be open to, much less be able to hear, the whisper; the whisper that is for me alone to hear.

This photo from my friend, George, invites me into the wonder and awe of silence.  This is silence captured in an image.  Within the silence I can hear the soft whisper as it moves the through the valley.

by George-12Oct2017

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