POPE BENEDICT XVI
“What keeps us alive, what allows us to endure? I think it is the hope of loving, or being loved.
“I heard a fable once about the sun going on a journey to find its source, and how the moon wept without her lover’s warm gaze.
“We weep when light does not reach our hearts. We wither like fields if someone close does not rain their kindness upon us.”
- Meister Eckhart
“God doesn’t ultimately judge us for how adept we are at following the rules of the Church, but by how much we’ve loved other people. “ – A comment made by my sister a few weeks ago.
For years now, I have been moving in circles when it comes to what to believe about the Church. Somehow, I still think that what we believe has an impact on our hearts and the way we live. Yet I keep having to ask: To what end do we believe? For what purpose do we go to Church?
I have all these lofty ideals about love and humanity, but actually loving self-sacrificially? I can’t even bring myself to go to lunch with a person who simply needs to be listened to.
It’s easy to give time to a friend that gives back, but there are an abundance of broken, lonely individuals that are only able to take. I worry of being depleted. But how is anyone to be restored unless they are given medicine? I’ve been in that needy place before. Why am I unwilling to give, now that I have something to offer?
If I love God as much as I think I do, what would I do if it were the Christ that was suffering from debilitating loneliness? Why did he say “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40)?
Am I going to awaken one day before God’s face and realize I could have given 1% of the love he gave me and it would have been enough?
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Gal 5:14)
I haven’t written very much here in the last year or so.
I’ve often pondered whether the lack of writing in my life affects my brain. I have an endless stream of information coming in, without much of a filter. I think this, perhaps, is a source of anxiety of me, and maybe for others. Not filtering out the noise that gets blasted in throughout the day.
Writing is like a filter, after all. It forces us to analyze, to discard the crap, to critique the “not so very thoughtful,” and gives us an opportunity to embrace those parts that are excellent…and to feel gratitude for them, for so few they are!
Even if we write only a little, maybe we do it to stay sane.
― Ambrose Bierce” —
I read too much news. So much in fact, I’ve been rather discouraged by it. I’ve even started to wonder if things “will ever be the same again.”
Isn’t that an odd thing though? Wasn’t there news when I was 7 years old? When I was 12?
There was very bad news then, of course. Very bad news 100 years before. And a thousand years before that.
My suspicion is…though our individual lives move linear-ly, human nature is circular. And humankind cannot help but heap the same trouble on itself, if not more. And in every age, we (or at least people like myself) forget: it’s all happened before.
“Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. …and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. …By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Speaking with my parents this morning (and I forget how it came up) they suggested I read this book about a man who suffered torture in concentration camps. This man, they said, argued that there was “meaning in his torture because he could still choose the direction of his own soul” to paraphrase my mom’s paraphrase. (I remember now how this came up. We were talking about an article I read yesterday about a man living (or dying) his conviction of nihilism: http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/09/27/book_details_motives_for_suicide_at_harvard/)
So I looked for this book my dad said was called “the meaning of life” though he couldn’t remember the author’s name, only to find that it was “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl; one of my favorite books from college. Apparently, it’s one of my parents’ favorites also.
The above article, and my parent’s reading suggestion, struck me oddly.
Austere life situations and experiences over the last couple of years have felt like a chronic beating. I hadn’t realized that college was like a paradise, and that the real world is (at least at first) a lot like being banished. College had its own trouble of course…but it was brimming with beauty and richness I have been struggling to find on this side of the wall.
I had been so fortunate in school, to find friends and professors who shared the same kind of perspective as myself about people and the world. I had been blessed with friends who loved me despite my particular neurosis, and who had enabled me to begin to become more like “my true self,” someone able to think and love well…or so I thought.
It was like being nursed, in a way. I hadn’t realized how indulgent that life was, and how not very indulgent life can be.
With this new experience, and my particular weaknesses becoming increasingly apparent to me, my question is: How does a person “actualize oneself” with chronic stress? With constant miscommunication at home? And petty complications at work? How does a person “become healthy” when everyone else around them is sick?
“Pray to be humble
So that God does not have to appear to be so stingy.
O pray to be honest,
Strong, Kind, And pure.
So that the Beloved is never miscast as a cruel great miser.
I know you have a hundred complex cases against God in court,
But never mind, wayfarer,
Let’s just get out of this mess
And pray to be loving and humble
So that the Friend will be forced to reveal
Himself So Near! – Hafiz
Eastern poets have been changing my mind about God, and about myself. I have never been able to entertain Nihilism because it would force me to reject Love, and as Hafiz reminds me, of the things I believe to be the most true, Love is the truest.
Yet even though I “believe in Love” I have been forgetting the action of loving, not simply being loved. This has been the source of my suffering the last two years. In the absence of “being loved” (which in all truth, I have never really been without, just imagined that I have), there is this power “to love,” to exercise “loving.”
Hafiz knows this… misery is frequently caused by the state of our own hearts. That is not to say that a person who loves greatly does not suffer…that person is a bit further ahead of me….. It’s just to say that my particular penchant for misery derives from an imbalance within myself, not (necessarily) a misery inflicted by life. “I know you have a hundred complex cases against God in court” Hafiz acknowledges, validating the suffering, “But never mind, wayfarer, Let’s just get out of this mess.”
As Frankl likewise said: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“Some planets rolled in those openings on the side of my head.
I haven’t heard anything for years. Whenever I see a mouth moving in front of me
I just assume someone is saying something brilliant
and then go on about my day
feeling very secure.”
- Tukaram (as translated by Daniel Ladinksy)
I was 12 when my Dad first commented “everyone is an expert.” (That’s cynical, I thought.)
At 18, my professors taught me that you don’t gain truth points for personal conviction (but perhaps, just a few with integrity).
24, which I now am—though for not much longer—experience has enlightened me: ignorance is more pervasive than once previously believed.
How not to be cynical?
How to be humble?
Well…there are just a few who seem to know.
-“The Life” by Clark Carlton
Man’s collective act of suicide.
while in our ignorance,
we very often strive for the very opposite.” —……..St. Ambrose of Optina
I came awake in kindergarten,
under the letter K chalked neat
on a field-green placard leaned
on the blackboard’s top edge. They’d caged me
in a metal desk—the dull word writ
to show K’s sound. But K meant kick and kill
when a boy I’d kissed drew me
as a whiskered troll in art. On my sheet,
the puffy clouds I made to keep rain in
let torrents dagger loose. “Screw those
who color in the lines,” my mom had preached,
words I shared that landed me on a short chair
facing the corner’s empty, sheetrock page. Craning up,
I found my K high above.
You’ll have to grow to here, its silence said.
And in the surrounding alphabet, my whole life hid—
names of my beloveds, sacred vows I’d break.
With my pencil stub applied to wall,
I moved around the loops and vectors,
Z to A, learning how to mean, how
in the mean world to be.
But while I worked the room around me
began to smudge—like a charcoal sketch my mom
was rubbing with her thumb. Then
the instant went, the month, and every season
smeared, till with a wrenching arm tug
I was here, grown, but still bent
to set down words before the black eraser
swipes our moment into cloud, dispersing all
to zip. And when I blunder in the valley
of the shadow of blank about to break
in half, my being leans against my spinal K,
which props me up, broomstick straight,
a strong bone in the crypt of meat I am.” —
-Mary Karr, Sinner’s Welcome, “Revelations in the Key of K”
“learning how to mean, how
in the mean world to be.”
-Father Stephen. Forgive everyone for everything. (especially enemies)
Love is the higher law. It is what makes us whole. No amount of success, or possessions or power, will ever make up this lack. If I forget this, I am only dying.
Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island.
I have had this temptation recently to become increasingly judgmental (even resentful) of other people and for a variety of reasons… primarily, though, by what I view as ignorance or willful blindness.
Yet if I considered, for even a second, all the ways I have hurt others (whether consciously or unconsciously), I know that all my moral judgments also apply to me.
Like this one. How very much I imagine that in my self-awareness I am free from desiring the approval of others (this is very, very different than wanting community or love, even though we often get this confused). I do many things merely because I want a certain reputation, and not because I value truth above all other things.
There is a ring on my right hand that I was given, engraved with “Bonum, Veritas, Pulcher,” that reminds me every day that I have a higher calling… not because I am superior to everyone else, but for the very reason that I am just like everyone else. And I belong to the same God as everybody else.
- Rainer Maria Rilke
Saw this on a magnet at Barnes & Nobles yesterday. I would have bought it, but I hate magnets.
I suppose it could be easy to misunderstand a quotation like this. I am not even sure I understand Rilke’s intention. But this quotation reminds me that the point of life is not so much to get everything organized in one’s mind, but to live with an awareness that much has not yet been revealed to us. Our calling is to simply live with hope and faith (and love). I believe, then, in faith, that it will all be worth it.
“From the moment a young child is told to eat up quickly, or to sit still, or to stop crying, or to go to sleep, let alone told not to steal or bully or tell lies, he or she has entered into a confusing world of wants and hopes, of commands and prohibitions, of feelings and assumptions and questions and expectations. Learning to navigate this world wisely, and to grow toward complete and mature human life in and through it all, is the challenge we all face…..
[Consequently…] The virtues matter. They matter deeply. When the great door of human nature swings open to reveal its truest secrets, these are the hinges on which it turns”
-N.T. Wright “After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters”
Struggling with knowing how to “go about” making decisions in college, moral and non-moral issues alike were paralyzing for me. I was often in a crisis from the horror I sensed in being capable of making bad decisions. Yet, the truth was, I simply feared making “imperfect” ones.
I chose, instead, not to choose; remaining in a circular state of uncertainty and fear. When would I ever have the certain answer? The divine response from God: “this is the way you shall go”? (I might have continued this way, if I had not had the good sense of my friends and mentors to nudge me to begin living as a thoughtful and active human being.)
With a sincere desire to do the right thing we can, in fact, learn how to do the right thing. And it is only when we acknowledge our imperfection—our reliance upon faith in God and the wiser voices of those around us—can we begin to align ourselves most closely with the truth. He does not give us straightforward answers because we are called to learn how to recognize God’s voice (the truth) in the struggle of choosing to hear him.