Monday, September 8, 2014

retreat, slaves, and mountain climbers

Returned from Manresa yesterday afternoon, and the kids and Jessica came and hung out with me at the office for several hours of trial preparation.  I'm a lucky guy.  If you have to be stuck at work on Sunday night after retreat to get ready for court, having your family there makes it better.  Retreat was wonderful.  As always, there were gentle nudges and quiet spaces.  Found myself in the chapel late at night seated on the ground looking up at the crucifixion.  Just changing my usual vantage point from pew to ground did something to change my prayers and reflection.  As did walking meditation without shoes. The earth feels different beneath your feet when you can actually feel it beneath your feet. Was pleased to be joined this year by my friend Hill Crawford, who took several remarkable photos that you can find below.  Three thoughts on this overcast Monday afternoon.

1.  Over the weekend, I read back over the better part of half of Brene Brown's book, The Gifts of Imperfection.  Which I just noted was on the NYT's best seller list for "how to."  Especially funny considering that Brown says the whole idea of "how to" is a cheap shortcut to the real messy soul work.  I am especially intrigued by her definition and description of shame and its relationship to perfectionism: not good enough, never enough.  I also appreciate that she reminds us to own our stories.  Indeed.

2.  I also had some time to read through about half of Solomon Northup's harrowing account of kidnapping and plantation slavery in Twelve Years a Slave.  Which was fitting, as much of the book is set in 1840s Louisiana.  I found myself having difficulty comprehending how humans can do the things to each other described in the book.  And I was very inspired by Northup's ability to discern the good in those who even owned slaves.  Of course, there are those in his narrative with no redeeming qualifications.  It is a remarkable story of resilience, fortitude, and discernment.  I encouraged a client today who is struggling with his own raw deal to take it in.  I hope he will.

3.  Was with friends today when the topic of fear came up.  Reminded me of my days as a young boy living on military bases, where I was all too familiar with the "cold war" and "nuclear proliferation."  All of the recent unrest in the Ukraine brought me back to elementary school in a way I never could have anticipated - I could taste the air in rural Indiana as an elementary student, often watching strategic bombers from the playground!  A reminder that childhood memories are powerful.  But most importantly, I thought of a friend who told me the story of having worked as a mountain climbing instructor.  He mentioned that big burly men were often the biggest babies on the side of the mountain.  And that women often just bounced around secure in their harnesses, all smiles!  I could relate, as my own knees had buckled hanging off the side of a rappelling tower years ago.  He told me that he'd come to see God a lot like that rope that ties his students in when they are fearfully flailing about on the sides of mountains.  We can be as dramatic about hanging off the side of the mountain as we want, but at the end of the day, we are tied in.  I like that picture.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

a glorious run on Perdido Key

Early morning rise and the best run I've ever been on.  And I've been on a lot of runs!  Another unexpected course, which we did largely because I thought about Barbara Brown Taylor's admonition to get lost sometimes.  So Duchess and I made our way along part of the Gulf Island National Seashore in Perdido Key, unsure of where we were going or where we would end up.  It was an unexpected blessing.  I snapped a few shots along the way, which I'll share with you.  Peace be with you on this day.

View from the Gulf side this morning.  Caught the bird at the last minute (on the right side).
I especially liked the twiggy tree.  He seemed oddly placed against the backdrop of the sky.
Small trail over wetland that Duchess and I ran on near the beach.  Wonderful to be over terrain that we normally wouldn't be able to traverse. Mindful of a Jesuit's suggestion once to avail ourselves of guests via the power of imagination, I ran for a short stretch with Christ and Thomas Merton.  As usual, neither said much.  But they were welcome and present.
Inspired by Michael DeMaria, stopped and did some beginner's poses this morning.  
Wonderful beach house.  Wondered what was being read or prayed in the watch tower room before the sun showed its face. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

terrorism, Manresa, and open windows

The sun hasn't poked its bright face out yet.  Jessica left the house for work at 4:45 this morning, and gently reminded me that I needed to get up and get a few things done today.  So I am up.  My brain isn't quite ready to work, so a quick post while I let my coffee do its thing. 

1.  I've been reading bits and pieces about the tragic murder of James Foley, and the seemingly out of nowhere emergence of ISIS onto the international stage.  It was timely that I listened to Krista Tippett's 2013 interview of Thich Nhat Hanh on an early morning run this week.  In the interview, one of the most compelling questions asked was how we deal with the horrors of terrorism.  The monk rightly pointed out that terrorists are the victims of their own misconceptions, but also pointed out that we must look closely at the policies which fuel conflict.  I have been reflecting this week on what this means.  It is particularly interesting to me that Thich Nhat Hanh cut his teeth on the international stage in seeking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s support in opposing the Vietnam war.  A conflict which at the time was justified by sophisticated strategists as being necessary to impede a domino affect of communist expansion. 

Now terrorism threatens to expand as a geopolitical flavor.  Yet fear and anger beget more fear and anger.  How do we as humanity, arrest the cycle of violence?  And as Americans, are we assessing with clear eyes the manner in which our policies might contribute to fanning the flames of distrust and conflict?  How can the cancer of metastatic religious perversion and political ideology be effectively countered?  Are we even attempting to properly frame the discussion?  Many thorny questions.

Many great thinkers have called for a collective engagement in these and other great questions of our humanity.  The real trouble may be that many of us simply aren't willing to be awake enough for them.  Myself included.

2.  Several good friends will be joining me for retreat at Manresa this year.  I am counting down the days to silence.  I told my good friend Tom that one of my favorite parts is seeing St. Mary's Hall for the first time as you pull up from the highway, having by then passed many fields of sugar cane and small country homes.  It is a moment which begs for a deep exhale. 

3.  Jessica and I attended a guided meditation with Michael DeMaria this week.  I am not entirely sure if I was deeply relaxed enough at one point that I lost track of time or simply fell asleep.  Either way, it was wonderful.   

I'll leave you with a lovely excerpt from a 1930 journal entry of Frank Laubach:

To be able to look backward and say,  "This has been the finest year of my life" - that is glorious!  But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, "The present year can and shall be better!" - that is more glorious!

If we said such things about our achievements, we would be consummate egoists.  But if we are speaking of God's kindness, and we speak truly, we are but grateful.  And this is what I do witness.  I have done nothing but open windows - God has done all the rest.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cash, the Muse, and Lessons

Been a hectic couple of weeks.  Coming up for air.  Three thoughts on this hot Tuesday afternoon, as has become customary:

1.  Jessica and I depart for our Winshape retreat on Friday.  I am looking forward to having a few days to explore what the retreat has to offer.  In that area, I have been reading through a few bits and pieces of Jiddu Krishnamurti's thoughts on relationship.  I am intrigued by the idea that we assign images to people and that what essentially ends up happening is interaction between the images we hold for each other.  He suggests attempting to look at someone without all the history and baggage we carry into our perspective.  Of course, my thoughts are: how in God's name can that be done and is it even safe?

2.  Listened to a wonderful interview with Rosanne Cash yesterday morning as I blazed an early path to Panama City.  Of most worthwhile note in my mind was her mention of the idea that perhaps the artist discovers what is already in existence.  Finding a painting that is already in the ether, or prose which has just been waiting to materialize.  I like that idea.  She also made mention of Steven Pressfield's quip, "You have to show the Muse you're serious."  Indeed.

3.  I have been enjoying the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar.  I especially like this poem, which I will leave you with.  Henri Nouwen's book, Wounded Healer, is on my list.  But somehow I suspect that this poem may sum up the entire book in a few lines:

The Lesson

My cot was down by a cypress grove,
And I sat by my window the whole night long,
And heard well up from the deep dark wood
A mocking-bird's passionate song.
And I thought of myself so sad and lone,
And my life's cold winter that knew no spring;
Of my mind so weary and sick and wild,
Of my heart too sad to sing.
But e'en as I listened the mock-bird's song,
A thought stole into my saddened heart,
And I said, 'I can cheer some other soul
By a carol's simple art.'
For oft from the darkness of hearts and lives
Come songs that brim with joy and light,
As out of the gloom of the cypress grove
The mocking-bird sings at night.
So I sang a lay for a brother's ear
In a strain to soothe his bleeding heart,
And he smiled at the sound of my voice and lyre,
Though mine was a feeble art.
But at his smile I smiled in turn,
And into my soul there came a ray:
In trying to soothe another's woes
Mine own had passed away.                             

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

bread of life

Bread of Life

the body broken
placed in hand
incomprehensible gift

God as man
dark shame dispensed with
sin forgiven

blood ran slow to its fill
cup of grace
passed to the cosmos

as I kneel and pray
grace surrounds me
gently bathed in logos
and the light

G. Ricci

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

vox populi, Mahatma Gandhi, and violence

It is a bright Wednesday morning in Florida.  Have not had enough coffee yet, but the day is off to a good start.  I grabbed onto the following words from Merton's Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander yesterday evening, which draw heavily from Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts on violence.  And I have been thinking about the inverse of the lie of violence.  The truth that we might seek.
"The mother of all lies is the lie we persist in telling ourselves about ourselves.  And since we are not brazen enough liars to make ourselves believe our own lies individually, we pool all our lies together and believe them because they have become the big lie uttered by the vox populi, and this kind of lie we accept as ultimate truth.  "A truthful man cannot long remain violent. [Gandhi]"
I wonder what, if anything, might happen if the constitutional wrangling over reproductive rights were reframed not as a question of privacy, but that of "legal" violence.  The simple violence of the taking of life.  What if the near holy assumed "jurisdiction" over the unborn child who is physically inside the mother's body were rationally dispensed with as no more compelling than the reality that a born infant is comparably completely dependent upon caretakers for her life.  Akin to the idea that human rights should not change merely because of geopolitics or geographical location.  A poor African or Arab ought to have the same human rights as a Westerner, no?  Ought not then the unborn have rights regardless of whether they have departed the womb?  Don't we in many contexts prohibit violence with the obvious recognition that your right to self determination and privacy (beating your wife in the quiet confines of your home, for instance) does not carry greater weight than prohibiting illegal violence?  Life is not property.  The reproductive discussion has been so politically polarized and branded that fundamental questions cannot even be heard amidst the shouting.
And yet, the lie of violence has become so accepted, so much a part of our progressive vox populi, that we cannot see the travesty of it.  We worship violence and self and therefore cannot see that it is killing us.  Literally. 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

B-52s, the 1960s, and fundamentals

I am holding down the fort as Jessica and the kids spend a few days in Atlanta.  Jessica reported that after a day of world class history and museums yesterday, the kids announced they were "done with the educational stuff."  So I understand they are all spending the day on a river.  Sounds like fun.  The dogs and I have managed to keep things under relative control.  And aside from microwave dinners and eerily quiet evenings, all is well.  Three thoughts on this bright, promising Thursday morning, as has become customary:
              1.  I read with great interest about a recently declassified report which tells the story of a United States Air Force B-52 bomber which broke up over North Carolina in 1961, carrying two nuclear bombs, one of which failed to detonate for mere technical reasons.  As I've been reading Thomas Merton's musings on the emerging cold war and nuclear proliferation around the same time, I have at times rolled my eyes with what seems like melodramatic theoretical concern for the dangers created by man's proclivity for catastrophic violence.  Timely reminder of this reality indeed.
             2.  Last night, I watched a short talk that Francis Schaeffer gave regarding the disillusionment of many young people with affluence and self-absorption in the 1960s.  It was very interesting to see him come to many of the same conclusions that I have reached on my own.  Particularly, that many of those young people were really seekers.  They just didn't find what they sought.  It seems that this is the reality of the current human condition as well.  Ever the need for poets and mystics increases.  For they endeavor to shine a light in the darkness which assists the wandering soul with finding his way back to God.
             3.  Listened to a remarkable interview with moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt.  He discusses the purification (polarization) of political ideology and what that means, identifying it as increasingly manifesting itself in the times post 1960.  Make me wonder more and more, what happened - what shifted at that point in time?  He also speaks of the need to seek out our commonalities.  Curiously, he sees the good in faith from a seeming purely utilitarian perspective.  Communal cohesion and empirical stability.  That is like appreciating that concert goers bring money to your downtown, but completely missing out on the poetry of the music they've come to listen to. 
I'll leave you with the third stanza from Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing, which has spoken to me a great deal lately.  Peace be with you on this day.
O to grace how great a debtor
daily I'm constrained to be!
Let thy goodness, like a fetter,
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
here's my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it for thy courts above.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Merton, Barth, and Mozart

It is Friday.  I am grateful for that.  A grueling week filled with a great deal of life, which I don't always relish as much as I ought to.  I've had the good fortune of picking up Merton's, Conjecture's of a Guilty Bystander.  Was led there by Rowan Williams' lecture given to the Thomas Merton Society of Great Britain and Ireland (at St Cyprian's, Clarence Gate, London).  The occasion was the fortieth anniversary of Thomas Merton's passing in 1968.  The legendary theologian, Karl Barth, died on the same day as Merton. Conjectures comes at an apt time for this reader.
     Merton opens in Conjectures with a description of Karl Barth's dream of his own (Barth's) imagined examination of Mozart, an unrepentant Catholic.  Was there a deep wrestling match within Barth as to the ultimate value of his life's work - dogma?  We often approach our deepest fears with defensive skepticism or cross examination of those who poke us in the eye.  In Barth's case, was there a nagging suspicion that dogma is truly very limited in its value?  Did Mozart pose this searing question to Barth without even a single word?  Barth loved Mozart and yet Mozart is to have observed that protestantism is all in the head.  There is a deep sadness in Mozart's observation that protestants did not understand the meaning of the Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi.
     And yet, might Barth have observed of Merton that he was all in the spirit? 
Certainly, a danger exists in modern unmoored "spirituality."  Simply floating around looking for some sort of misunderstood enlightenment.  The most recent obvious example perhaps being the confused seekers (hippies) of the 1960s and the sea of self help seminars and books of today.  But we must give credit to seekers.  As Merton has observed elsewhere, most of us are more worried about what is in the icebox, how our sports teams are doing, and what gas mileage we are getting.  Christ said in the seeking we find. 
     I have come to again and again see excessive dogma as much as a threat to faith as the excessively dogmatic see "spirituality" and mysticism as a threat to the unity of those communities.  As Barth observed, I think correctly, 'It is a child, even a 'divine' child, who speaks in Mozart's music to us.' Meaning to me that even a child can recognize Christ.  Even a child can appreciate the theology of the aesthetic as opposed to the ascetic.  And children rightly have little use for dogma. Yet, I am no longer seeing dogma and mysticism as mutually exclusive.  I wonder if dogma is like a power tool and mysticism is the power.  Neither really very effective without the other.  Such being the reality when one can deeply drink from lectio divina or meditation (another really scary word for many Christians).  And that an appreciation of other traditions and faiths is not an indictment of nor threat to our own.  
     Merton wrote, "Fear not, Karl Barth. Trust in the divine mercy. Though you have grown up to become a theologian, Christ remains a child in you. Your books (and mine) matter less than we might think: there is in us a Mozart who will be our salvation. (Conjectures, pp.3—4).  I say, fear not friends, trust in the revelation.  Though you have grown up to believe that you can fully understand it, the fact that it is of God means that you cannot.  That is nothing to be afraid of. Much in the Christian tradition is deeply mystical, i.e., the transfiguration, and the resurrection to name a few.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Kushner, Barth, and gratitude in the midst of suffering

It is a bright Tuesday morning here in Florida.  The rains seemed to have finally calmed down and we have dried out for the most part.  We spent several hours out at the beach on Sunday, perfect temperatures and calm waters.  A beautiful sailboat framed the scene with our children in the foreground.  Art.  I have been enjoying NPR's podcast, On Being.  I listened to a wonderful interview of Rabbi Lawrence Kushner yesterday morning on my run as the sun came out.  Three thoughts, as has become customary:

1.  Kushner has written, "This is a definition of a mystic": "A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions, and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity."  A powerful observation.  A recognition of both the chaos and order of this cosmos we exist as a part of.  I have come to accept the view that this life offers more questions than answers.  But that we have the great answer of revelation, upon which everything else - even in its mystery, must be framed.  As stated by St. Augustine, where we taste truth, God is there.

2.  Listened to a remarkable sermon by Wesley Wachob two days ago.  Especially interested in his discussion of Karl Barth's comments regarding Buddhists during his only visit to the United States.  Deeply examining Christ as the way,  even in the midst of my stumbling.  Somewhat intimidated when it comes to diving into Barth.  And not even sure that I want to.  Do I reject dogmatics, or am I intimidated?  Or both?

3.  A friend's son took his life in the ravages of alcoholism recently.  Another good friend, elderly and blind, suffered a debilitating stroke.  I could not help but think about Job as I looked at his broken body and sensed his nearly broken spirit.  I have a hard time understanding how these things happen and what they mean.  Kushner's observation was helpful and I am reflecting upon it a great deal.  I am grateful for the many writers and teachers who walk with me through their writing and thinking.

Peace be with you on this day.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

grumpy traveler, prodigals, and survival

I woke up grumpy this morning.  I hadn't slept particularly well.  Somehow,  I'd mixed up my flight schedule last night and missed my plane.  I was fortunate enough to get a later flight, which meant a late night arrival, closed restaurants, and Lean Cuisine at the hotel and an HGTV home renovation show before bed.  I made my way to the hotel restaurant for breakfast this morning, where I admit I was not feeling particularly grateful.  Then a smiling boy walked up to me and introduced himself as I absently scooped eggs onto my plate.  He asked me what my name was and shook my hand and looked me in the eye.  We talked about his upcoming fourth birthday party and he told me that he'd invited a lot of people.  I was grateful that we met.  It sent me in a different direction than I might have otherwise been headed today.  Some thoughts on this warm Tampa morning.

I have been excitedly reading through Henri Nouwen's book on Rembrandt's painting, The Prodigal Son.  Many of the gospel parables offer enigmatic complexity, and the Prodigal is no exception.  Nouwen writes of his own changing roles as the varying characters in the painting over the years (wayward son, the judgmental Boy Scout brother, and even the father with hands of both masculine and feminine balance).  Nouwen also does a remarkable job of describing the ambiguous return of the prodigal, and his desire to return as a hired hand rather than asking to again assume the role of a full son, with all the obligations that come with it:

"The prodigal's return is full of ambiguities.  He is traveling in the right direction, but what confusion!  ... He knows that he is still the son, but tells himself that he has lost the dignity to be called "son," and he prepares himself to accept the status of a "hired man" so that he will at least survive.  There is repentance ... It is a self serving repentance that offers the possibility of survival."

I have been thinking about this is conjunction with my recent reading of pieces of Thomas Merton's last work before his death in 1968, Contemplative Prayer, and his observation that:

" is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the "opium of the people."  And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him.  When religion becomes a mere artificial fa├žade to justify a social or economic system - when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program - then religion does tend to become an opiate.  It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life."

There is this curious relationship between the prodigal's resignation to the return of the father in the interest of survival and a more deep repentance.  I give up not because you are the Father, but because I need physical provision.  A coming to the Father in resignation and humility (not necessarily organic humility).  Certainly, this is the power of many conversion experiences.  I'd dare say even my own.  And perhaps sanctification at that point is one which hopefully departs from the merely pragmatic return to the Father to one of releasing our inordinate attachments to this world.  Merton observes the phenomenon of survival on the wider scale, the danger of religion being shrewdly manipulated for the means of the politician or the businessman.  Can we be sons and daughters who seek not only a safe station assured by the return to the Father.  And can we avoid the sirens of socio-politically expedient faith.  Can we as Bonhoeffer asked, answer the call to come and die.  

Thursday, April 10, 2014

sunshine, babies, and friends for the journey

The sun in shining here in Pensacola and I am grateful for that.  The weather lately has felt an awful like the overcast year I spent in Pennsylvania almost a decade and a half ago.  It is incredible how fast time flies.  Jessica and I got a run in this morning before we both ran off to tackle the day.  I have come to appreciate those incredibly small pieces of valuable time.  Three thoughts this morning, as has become customary.

1.  My best friend John called last night to announce a new addition to their family, a beautiful little girl.  Which was timely in light of some reading I have done this week on the declining population in Japan and the commoditization of anything relating to relational interaction.  The rejection of God and family in favor of narcissism.  An interesting juxtaposition.

2.  Lent has been personally meaningful this year, and I have made more progress in the area of recognizing my inordinate attachments than I've been able to muster in years past.  Fr. Robert Barron wrote this morning about the interesting stories of several athletes who have trashed their careers and reputations (often at their pinnacles) with steroid use.  Barron writes of our addiction to honor, recognition, and what amounts to the desire for immortality. 

3.  We have company in town this weekend.  Bob and Monika Brown will travel up from Sarasota to see us and watch the kids play soccer on Saturday.  I cannot imagine what life would be like without really great people to walk with. 

I'll leave you with the words from Cicero's essay "On Friendship," that chill me to the bone lately:

Esse quam videri
Be, not seem.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

insomnia, bagpipes, and big questions

Woke up at midnight and stumbled to the fridge for orange juice.  Reminded me of the time as an undergraduate when I did the same thing, only to look over and see my good friend Cliff standing at my window peering into my dorm room.  Opened the window to ask whether it was really the middle of the night and whether he was really standing there, as I do tend to have odd dreams from time to time.  He was looking for a plunger.  Sublime.  Life seems to happen that way.  Laid back in bed tonight and couldn't fall asleep.  So I decided to get up, set up camp in the dining room and do a little reading and writing.  If I am still wide awake at 4:00, I may go get my run knocked out.  Three thoughts on this very quiet evening, as has become customary:

1.  Jessica and the kids traveled with me to Tampa this week.  I had a half day mediation in a case that settled on Wednesday, and we got to eat a few meals together and generally enjoy ourselves.  Jessica and I celebrated our anniversary on Tuesday night and had dinner at the Columbia with Flamenco dancers in the background.  A lot of fun.  They took in a museum and we all lounged at the pool.  We took turns picking Pandora stations while we were in the car.  Bryton is into bagpipes of all things, so we cruised around with the windows rolled down listening to bagpipes and smiling as people looked at us like we were crazy.  The kids roared and I found myself giving thanks.  I lead a pretty charmed life.

2.  I read somewhere that Lent is a time to kindle our fire for God.  I like that description.  It seems better than a time of self-flagellation and bizarre dietary adventures.  I have elected for both abstention, as well as an affirmative obligation.  Both of which I am holding to.  I will work myself entirely through the Psalter before Easter.  Thankful for the awareness that there is still much work to be done. 

3.  A good friend and I are slowly working our way through Henri Nouwen's Spiritual Direction.  He asks light questions like, who am I?  Prompting me to think a great deal about identity and the measuring sticks that I use.  Nouwen is teaching me to embrace the big questions.  Investigate.  Wrestle with God and to speak with Him both reverently and openly.

Gratitude Share launched last week, George Brookhart did an amazing job putting the platform together.  I'll leave you with a piece from Spiritual Direction:

" ... [I]n the the words of Ranier Maria Rilke's advice to a young poet, 'what is going on in your innermost being is worthy of your whole love.'

Frequently, we are restlessly looking for answers, going from door to door, from book to book, or from church to church, without having really listened carefully and attentively to the questions within."