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Archive for January, 2022

REFLECTING ON ‘FREEDOM & LOVE’

A number of days ago, as I was settling in at my favorite coffee shop an employee stopped by my table and said, ‘I wish I had the freedom to do what I really want to do.’  A few minutes later another employee stopped by and said, ‘My love life stinks.’  So, during the following days I would reflect upon ‘Freedom and Love.’  Here is some of what emerged into my consciousness.

FREEDOM.  I thought about Socrates in prison and I recalled a statement Plato made about freedom.  I thought I had his words written down in my ‘little black book’ (you might remember, Gentle Reader, I do carry a little black book).  There it was.  Here is what Plato wrote: One cannot make a slave of a free person, for a free person is free even in prison.  Socrates was ‘free’ even in prison; which was perplexing to his friends.  So was Nelson Mandela, which was also perplexing to many.  So was Viktor Frankl who wrote so powerfully about this in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning.’  Then there was a great Rabbi who once stated: ‘If a person makes you go one mile, go two.’  One message here, it seems to me, is ‘You think you have made a slave out of me by putting a load on my shoulders – but you haven’t.’ 

Freedom, as these wise folks remind us, resides not in external circumstances, it resides in the heart.  When one truly understands this then no one can enslave you.  This kind of freedom also requires courage for it is motivated not by the intellect but by the ‘heart’ (the root of ‘courage’ is the Old French word: ‘cuer’ – ‘heart’). 

LOVE.  The great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke captures the essence of ‘love’ when he writes: ‘Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.’  What does it mean ‘to love another?’  My current response is this: To see another as he or she really is, not as I image them to be or not as I desire them to be.  Then I give them the response they deserve or need.  I cannot love what I cannot truly see. 

I am also aware that there are a number of things that hinder my seeing the other.  These include, but are not limited to my: projections, my labels, my prejudices, my deep assumptions, my values, my vices, my beliefs, and my stereotypes.  Truly ‘seeing’ another is one of the most challenging things for me to do.  ‘Seeing’ another requires that I am awake and aware, that I am open to and desire to understand the other, and that I am motivated by virtues like love, caring, compassion, forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance.  It also requires that I am in the ‘now’ and not ruminating about the past or worrying or anticipating what the future might bring (regarding the other). 

How about you, Gentle Reader, what emerges for you as you sit and reflect upon ‘Freedom and Love’? 

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As you might remember, Gentle Reader, I consider myself to be a ‘Christian Ecumenist.’  That is, I am a follower of Christ and his example AND I seek to find ‘truth’ in all faith traditions, in all philosophical traditions and in all humanistic traditions.  So far I have found ‘truth’ in all I have sought to understand.  I have also been blessed to have had six significant spiritual guides (some call them ‘Spiritual Directors’ but my experience is that they have never ‘directed’ me, they have always guided me). 

Yesterday I was paging through one of my journals looking for a particular quotation and I came upon a quotation from one of my early spiritual guides.  Here is what I had written down: ‘Remember that meditating on and imitating the behavior of Christ will be of no help.  It is not a question of imitating Christ, it is a question of becoming what Christ was!’

For one who espouses to be a follower of Christ it is not a matter of ‘doing’ but a matter of ‘becoming’ and this ‘becoming’ is followed by ‘doing.’  For me, this simple idea changes everything.  ‘Becoming’ is more than ‘shifting’ or even ‘changing.’  ‘Becoming’ requires ‘transformation.’  A ‘transformation’ is a ‘fundamental change in character or structure.’ 

Christ is clear about this ‘Becoming.’  Each ‘Becoming’ entails an ‘invitation’ (Christ is not coercive – I find it interesting and disturbing that so many espoused Christians use coercion rather than invitation); each ‘Becoming’ also involves a personal challenge.

So, as a reminder to those of us who espouse to be followers of Christ, here are a few of the ‘Becoming’ invitations and challenges (in no particular order):

  • Become as the little children (this one stops many of us in our tracks).
  • Become poor in spirit (we can easily fool ourselves into believing we are becoming poor in spirit).
  • Become poor (give what you have to the poor; being rich is a block to eternal life).  Now, the ante has been raised. 
  • Become merciful (this is the balancing polarity to the justice that so many good Christians demand).
  • Become a peacemaker (no small feat for any of us); this require us to ‘turn the other cheek.’ 
  • Become compassionate, forgiving and offer healing (an ‘eye for an eye’ is not the norm or the goal).
  • Become a servant, first (in our culture we crave to be leaders first).
  • Become one who loses his/her life for Christ’s sake (how many of us trust in and believe in Christ and Christ’s message to really embrace this one). 

Well, Gentle Reader, this is enough…for me anyway, if not for you.  I remember saying to another of my spiritual guides that ‘this is too hard.’  I can see her smiling the smile of the wise and responding: ‘It is indeed hard; but it is not TOO hard – it depends upon what you believe and it depends upon whom you are choosing to become.’ 

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THE CHALLENGE: TO WAKE UP!

Yesterday morning, Gentle Reader, I had a challenge when it came to waking up.  Later on as I was driving to one of my favorite coffee shops I was thinking about ‘waking up.’  During the past fifty-seven years I have met many folks who are asleep.  They live each day asleep.  Once in a while they wake up and then quickly go back to sleep.  What does this mean, ‘to be asleep’? 

Consider, Gentle Reader that there are some indicators that one is asleep.  Here are a few.

One ruminates about the past.  This is one of my personal favorites.  One replays the past over and over, year after year.  One relives one’s mistakes or failures.  One refuses to forgive – forgive one’s self and/or forgive the other(s).  One relishes wounds given by others – it feels so good to feel bad.  One rues opportunities not taken – ‘If only. . .’ is a favorite mantra.  One nurtures past envies and jealousies as they relive how successfully the others have been – ‘That could’ve been me. . .’ is another favorite mantra. 

One anticipates the future.  The ‘future’ is the focus.  At 8am one is thinking about what to have for lunch.  On Monday morning one is thinking about the coming weekend.  On 1 November one is thinking about Christmas.  ‘When I retire then. . .’ is a common mantra.  One, it seems, is always in the ‘planning mode’ and the ‘planning mood.’ 

One does not. .  .  One does not experience, much less savor, much less appreciate, the ‘present,’ the ‘now,’ or ‘this moment.’  One is not awake and therefore is not aware of ‘now.’  Test this out, if you will.  Ask a person: ‘What are you feeling right now?’  My experience is that folks will first respond with what they are thinking; it will take some time for a person to access and name their feelings (if they can name them at all).  Ask a person: ‘What are the aches, pains, and/or physical discomforts you are experiencing right now?’  Some are so out of ‘tune’ with their own body that it will take them some minutes before they can reply.  Ask a person: ‘What do you notice about your surroundings right now?’  If you watch their eyes you will notice a ‘waking up’ occurring as they begin to scan their surroundings; as they become awake and aware to the ‘now.’ 

One is distracted.  We live in a culture that values distraction.  We are constantly distracted visually and auditorily.  We are surrounded by noise and our internal noise whelms us over.  We cannot sit in silence/quiet for more than a minute or two.  Try sitting in silence for 15 minutes and you will soon see how much internal noise you create. 

We all have the ability to ‘wake up’ and no one can make us ‘wake up’ and remain awake.  Once we choose to ‘wake up’ we then might choose to develop our capacity to stay awake.  This requires us to be intentional and purpose-full.  It also requires us to embrace a number of ‘disciplines’ that will serve us well as we seek to build our capacity to be awake and aware.  Here are three disciplines to consider: Reflection, Meditation, and Listening. 

I must conclude now as I have to think about what I will have for dinner (it is already past 6:20am). 

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PRAYER & FREE WILL

In 1962 I developed a relationship with my first ‘Spiritual Director’ – I was eighteen years old.  With his guidance I developed a discipline and capacity for deep meditation and for daily prayer.  ‘Live your life as if it were a prayer’ he counseled.  My tendency then – as it still is today – is to lead with prayers of ‘begging’ (the more proper term is ‘prayers of intercession’).  My first Spiritual Director and each of the Spiritual Directors I have had since then suggested that I might actually lead with ‘Prayers of Thanksgiving.’  So, I continue to strive to begin each day with ‘Prayers of Thanksgiving’ – sadly, I can hear a voice within saying: ‘Get on with it so you can get to the real prayers – the begging prayers.’  On my good days I am able to focus more on my prayers of thanksgiving without ‘looking ahead’ to my begging prayers. 

I am writing about this today because this morning I found myself praying for God to intercede in someone’s life so that the person would make a good choice.  I care about this person and I want this person to make a good choice.  An hour or so later I had a niggle that developed into an insight.  In my intercessory prayer I had attempted to get God to intervene in a way that would prohibit the person from exercising ‘free will.’  If God actually intervened would the person actually ‘make a choice’?  I stopped and asked myself: ‘What are you really praying for?’ 

Do I really want God to intervene so that I – or you or we – do not have free choice?  Perhaps my intercessory prayer could still be intercessory if I prayed for ‘care of the soul’ or ‘feeding the hungry heart’ or ‘healing the self-inflected wounds.’ 

I am now thinking of Jesus and St. Peter.  As I recall, Jesus prayed for Peter prior to Peter’s denial.  Jesus warned Peter – ‘You are going to deny me.’  Not only that, ‘You are going to deny me three times.’  Now Jesus could have taken the position that I almost always take when I pray.  Jesus could have prayed that Peter would not deny him (talk about a powerful intercessory prayer).  This certainly would have felt good to Peter and to those of us who espouse to be followers of Jesus the Christ.  But no, Jesus did not pray that way.  Jesus prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail: “…but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.” 

Jesus, being Jesus, gave Peter latitude to choose, to make mistakes.  He focused on the care of Peter’s soul: to develop an abiding and enduring faith in spite of – even because of – his mistake.  When we err as Peter did our faith is likely to fail (think, Judas).  We fail because our faith is our own faith, our faith is not rooted in the Transcendent.  Jesus’ prayer was, ultimately, answered.  Peter’s faith was challenged and he wept bitter tears because he ‘failed’ and yet his faith saved him; Peter did recover.  Peter was able to strengthen his brothers because of his experience. 

So my prayer for my friend might well become a soul-full prayer – perhaps a prayer of healing.  I pause. . .  However, I still want God to make it all right for my friend. 

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CONSIDER ‘PROPHETS,’ PART II

The prophet is a witness and his word is a testimony? –Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

What stirs the Prophet so deeply?  Is it a sense of anxiety about the fate and future of mankind?  Is it personal irritation at the violation of moral laws – a reaction of conscience against evil?  Simply stated, is it moral indignation?

The Prophet’s role is complex.  The Prophet is a censurer and an accuser AND the Prophet is also a defender and a consoler.  In the presence of God the Prophet takes the part of mankind.  In the presence of mankind the Prophet embraces the Word of God. 

Heschel reminds us that the main task of prophetic thinking is to bring mankind into Divine Focus.  Given this, the Prophet does not take the direct approach.  Rather the Prophet is an intermediary between God and Us and between Us and God.  The Prophet does not say ‘I love or I judge.’  The Prophet reminds Us that it is God who loves and it is God who judges.

Heschel notes: God’s role is not spectatorship but involvement.  He and man meet mysteriously in the human deed.  The prophet cannot say Man without thinking God.  The Prophet discloses what Heschel calls a Divine Pathos, not just a Divine Judgment.  God is never impersonal – as Lover or as Judge.  A personal relationship binds God to Each of Us and to We humans as a collective.

The Prophet reminds us that We have choice, but not sovereignty.  History is a drama describing the relationship between God and Man.  The predicament of Man is the predicament of God – for God has a stake in our human situation.  Sin, for example, is more than a failure of Man; it is a frustration to God.  God has a stake in our destiny.

The Prophet reminds Us that we are not only an image of God; We are a perpetual concern of God.  Heschel captures this well when he writes: The idea of Divine Pathos adds a new dimension to human existence.  Whatever man does affects not only his own life, but also the life of God insofar as it is directed to man.  The import of man raises him beyond the level of mere creature.  He is a partner in the life of God.

For me, the Prophet reminds me (Us) that even more frustrating that the fact that evil is real is the fact that evil thrives so well in the disguise of the good, that evil can draw its nutriment from the life of the holy.  The holy and the unholy do not exist apart – they are mixed and interrelated.  Ours is a world where Idols are rich in beauty and hence where the worship of God is too often tinged with wickedness. 

It was not the lack of religion but the perversion of it that the Prophets of Israel denounced.  The Prophet reminds us that Piety is at times evil in disguise.  The Prophet strives to remind us that the symbol of God is Man, every Man.  God created all men in His image, in His likeness.  Thus each human life must be treated with the honor due to a likeness representing the Lord of Lords.  The Divine Likeness is something EACH HUMAN shares. 

Have WE forgot or have WE just simply denied that EACH of us has been created in God’s Image?  The Prophet speaks – Am I, are You, willing to listen and heed? 

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