>Miscelanea et Trivium

>On silence:
Being tight-lipped is a monastic virtue) – “If you are silent, your intentions may be misinterpreted but you will never be misquoted”….There’s some value to that, and also a saying I used to hear in Brasil (from my Grandma) all the time “Speech is silver, but silence is gold.”

On praise:
Praise does not make me uncomfortable – it is something that pleases me to no end. My “comfort zone” is in the front, leading, taking charge. To be silent, humble, submissive – argh! Those are tough.

On public reading of scriptures:
I always read the Bible with one thing in mind “My reading today will be the first time someone in the pews will hear God.” Not that I am God, of course : ) But simply that by reading carefully (and understanding what I read) will allow someone to finally “get it” or to be touched by God’s Word. This is how I came to believe th eBible is the inspired Word of God – I was reading the story of Jacob and Esau, and I got to the point where Jacob tricks his father for a blessing, and steps out of the tent just seconds before Esau walks in. And suddenly, I don’t know how to explain this, I was there in much more than simply imagination, and I saw how the Holy Spirit arranged so that Esau would not come in at the wrong time. The timing is perfect – and, of course, anything perfect comes from God. And I could feel how God manipulates time and space to bring about his Kingdom. This whole thing took a split second but also I was up for the rest of the night. Up until that night the Bible was sort of a crusty old book – but after that it was like scales literally fell from my eyes, and I could see God’s (sneaky) Hand moving things about, not only in Biblical stories but also in my own life and the life of others. And this has stayed me to this day.

The best reading I have ever heard was back in Phoenix, and this lady got up to read some obscure passage from Paul, but she read it with a tone that was similar to the tone I use when reading stories to my children (you know the tone). And it was wonderful, and EVERYONE got it! It was incredible. I asked her later and she was a little flustered with all the congratulations and she said that she had practiced it by reading to her children, and that’s why it came out that way. And this is what is sooooo important – the point is to read it with intention and meaning BUT also to read simply without too much artifice. Not monotone, but also not a multimedia performance either. Just a simple reading.

On life:
it does not “get in the way” – it IS the way, silly. You living your life faithfully IS the whole of the spiritual practice!

On mindfulness:

When someone tells me they eschew regular practice and instead they are mindfull throughout the day, I get this uncomfortable feeling – my hunch is that what they mean is that once-in-a-while they remember to be ‘meditative’, whatever that means. How exactly does anyone stay mindful without the benefit of everyday at least once a day practice? The same with those people who do not like to say the Offices, but claim to keep God beofre them sll day long. Do they imagine Him standing there, or do they just try to remember to call His Name (perhaps through Jesus Prayer or some such thing)? Or do they ‘sense’ him…

On wearing a habit:
Ever since I dropped my habit (sounds horrible!) I have been called into a ministry of radical spiritual poverty – nothing, absolutely nothign I am, have, do is from me – or I should say, I try to remove “me” from the things that happen moment-by-moment so that the Holy Spirit can act. I am a spiritual chalicer – bringing the Cup of Salvation to people – not MY cup, not my Blood. I just am there and the Spirit does waht the Spirit does. Some days I am even able to be that way for about 15 minutes straight! : ) But the fire that burns in me right now, keeps me up at night, drives completely nuts, is the desire to be completely anihilated in God. One day I may be able to be like that for a whole half an hour! So ‘habit’ now is to have nothing, be nothing, and moment-by-moment say Yes! to God in this moment. Now. Be it a painful moment, or a joyous one. Doesn’t matter. Pain and joy are relevant only to “me” – but if there is not “me” then it is only God acting…

On sensing God:
Don’t fret about whether your feeling of God’s presence is all in your head or not! It does not matter! God IS real, there really really is a God. This is not (for me) a matter of belief. I don’t ‘believe’ in God – no more than I believe the Earth circles the Sun. I know there is a God. It’s different. So assuming you know there is a God, you can then look at what God is supposed to be. He is the Creator of EVERYTHING. And everything he Created he declared very good. This means that the bottom line, the most basic reality of all Created things is that they are ‘very good’: from plankton to angels, from grass to Satan himself! Yep it is all good at its core, because it is all created by a benevolent God, the ultimate Goodness. That’s the first step.

The second step is to think “How do I relate to this Goodness?” Well you can sense/see God’s presence in all things that are Good: this means beauty, this means compassion, this means charity. All charitable things – thoughts, actions – radiate God’s Goodness. All compassionate things: someone caring for someone else, your heart being broken by someone else’s misery, your children, etc. all this compassion points to God’s Infinite Love. The same thing with beauty – your beauty, the beauty of a sunset, or the beauty of how the whole world is put together, etc – all this beauty points to the Supreme Beauty.

The final step is to realize that you cannot split up God. When you detect even the smallest particle of God you get the whole of God. So when you see something beautiful, even though it is a puny and momentary beauty, a glimpse, you are touching God’s Beauty who is behind all beautiful things. And if you get even one little bit of God you get the whole of God. If you feel one mustard seed’s worth of compassion you are touching the whole of God’s Love.

So when you are in a meeting, or typing an email, your mind can wonder (and wander!) at the miracle that life is, and you can trace that to God. Does it really matter whether God is there or not (by whatever weird standards you set)? No, because there is nowhere in Creation that God’s Presence is not! God is here and only here, and now and only now, and He is Yes! only yes.

On knowledge:
The more you know you find out how little you know. I try to remember that to try to gauge whether someone knows more than me or less is a mistake. Everyone knows what they need to know for their walk with Christ, and I know what I need to know for mine. There’s no more or less, there’s only, and always, “enough”. God loves you infinitely and gives you only what you need. Think about this: only what you need. Not what you want, not what you wish, not what you dread. But since He knows you perfectly He gives you what you perfectly need. Our goal is to be like that and give each moment only what the moment needs , no more nor less.

On complicating:
I know how hard it is to let go of making things hard! Hard things which I can somehow overcome with my own efforts give me worth, give me value. The more I overcome the stronger and more powerful I am! It’s all about ME ME ME….but if you go for the opposite thing, if you die to self and take up your cross…then what happens? I have to die to the “powerful leader” self, you have to die to the “cowardly lion” self : ) But it is all the same – die to self, deny your (false) self. Throw in your lot with Jesus.

The Passion:
I was watching (again) the Passion of Christ on either Good Friday or Holy Saturday. And I noticed something: I noticed that I really hated the “bad guys” – you know, the High Priest and the Roman soldiers and the crowds, etc. I really hated them, what they were doing etc. But then I realized: Jesus did NOT hate them. He felt compassion for them. He was suffering their abuse FOR THEM! He died FOR THEM. But I was hating them, and I was sure that Jesus would nto want me to hate them! “Put down your sword,” He said, “if you live by the sword…”.

So I began trying to look at them with some compassion. Everyone who does something mean to someone else does it out of ignorance. Even if they do it on purpose, it is still based on ignorance. If they came to understand that God is ONE, that we are all very good at our core, and that our Goodness-through-Jesus connects us all, then it would be impossible for them to do harm to others – because they would see that it is really harming themselves. Once you begin to look at it this way you can see that the High Priest really was trying to do the best he could – but he had incomplete information. The same with the Romans. Etc.

I want to do a whole series of talks on the Pharisees and Saducees and the Romans – trying to explain why they did what they did in a compassionate way. Were they wrong? Absolutely. But they did not know what they were doing – they thought they did, but they were wrong. Were they responsible for the harm they did? Absolutely. But less responsible than I assumed, because they were acting out of ignorance and fear. And Jesus saw through it, saw the Goodness within them, and he focused on that and tried to help them!

On guilt:
Guilt is a much healthier spiritual response than it may seem. Feeling guilty for sin (and angry at sin) are actually very healthy. Our society is all about not feeling guilty, but you know what?, guilt is the correct and healthy response of a sinful creature before its Creator. Both guilt and fear are good things. If you feel shame and guilt at sin and fear of hell and punishment you are in a healthy place spiritually. Of course, I don’t mean the self-flagellation and the “pity me” and other responses. Most people’s guilty feelings are really a way to feed their egos (in a weird way). But healthy guilt is based on the reality of a sinner standing before God. Nothing wrong with that. Just don’t turn it into a way to keep stroking your ego!

I remember my grandfather, a man whom I have a near-devotional attachment to, teaching me a couple of things. He used to sit at the end of our long oak dining table all day reading. I always thought I could never read as much as he did. He (in the 50s) taught himself Japanese just for fun. He was also a chess master. He used to sit with us kids (me and my sister) and build huge castles of cards just so we could knock them down. He would then build them again and again and again, much to our glee.

Anyway he taught me two things which are sort of guides in my life. One is that the world is a mirror – what you see is what you are. If you see people as mean and backstabbers (for eg.) then that is what you are. Not only is the world a mirror, but also everything that happens to you is just a reflection of what you are putting out there (sort of like instant-karma).

If you are going through some sort of trial, you should pray that God show you what you are doing to bring that on yourself. I can guarantee you if you fix what God shows you the problems will go away. It’s magic! For example, one time I was having trouble with bullies in school. I used his theory, and found out that I was in turn bullying someone – though I never thought I was bullying, I thought I was just playing with them, but they felt it was bullying. Once I apologized to the kid I was bullying, the bullies left me alone. We are all connected and what I do comes back to me. Interesting insight for a kid of 9 or 10 no?

The second thing he taught me was that people who claim they “love people” in fact hate them, and those who appear to dislike people are the ones who truly love them. The first ones are either the types who want to avoid confrontation and end up either being abused or feeding the egos of abusers; or they are the type who want to “help” everyone by running their lives and expecting applause! They are the ones who put incredible effort in helping you when you are sick, but then, boy!, do they remind you of that all the time! Or the ones who tell you about how ungrateful their child/mother/niece is “after all I’ve done for them”…I am sure you know a few like that – and hopefully you are not one of them!

The other types – actually by not pampering your ego. They are prickly on the outside but sweet on the inside.

On predestination:
Ah yes. It is a theological black hole – people go into it and are never heard of again! Here’s my little antidote to that stuff: Psalm 131. Memorize it! Not because I don’t think it is worth thinking about such things (it is) but because it does not matter. Salvation is from God, through Christ via the Holy Spirit – it is in God’s hands – so what does it matter if you understand whether it is all predestined or not? Let’s say you finally “get it” you truly understand it (or the trinity, another good one!) – so what? It will feed your ego, you might begin to think you can understand the mind of God. Boy! That would be something no? And such a great and powerful ego will have plenty of time to show off its plumage…in hell… đŸ™‚ Because that is what hell is – a place full of people who have strong egos and healthy self-esteem, and who are always wanting to do things their way. C. S. Lewis once said: “Heaven is for you to say to God, ‘Thy will be done’. Hell is for God to say to you ‘Your will be done’.”

“Don’t complicate things” – well it is great advice. But how do you actually go about it? How to you stop complicating things? I am interested to hear your approach. Don’t give up so soon! What is one thing you think you could do tomorrow to uncomplicate things? Perhaps you could just spend some time in prayer asking God to show you where you are complicating something, one little thing, tomorrow. Perhaps he will have some clues for you. One more thing my grandfather said, though this is not uniquely his, it’s a Brazilian saying (we are full of those) – it goes “A problem without solution is solved”. Think about it.

The ego, which I so love to lambaste, is a problem without solution. You will always have an ego. Only Jesus was able to be completely free of ego. So we are always going to be incomplete, until we get to Heaven, and we will always fall short of the glory of God. So just shrug it away.

We are mean, petty, nasty but we are also nice and kind and charitable. This is just life, no? This is why every Sunday we ask each other’s forgiveness (forgive US our trespasses AS we forgive…) by confessing publicly our sins (known and unknown, things done and left undone), by being absolved together, and then by turning around and hugging each other and accepting them as they are (“The peace of the Lord be always with you – and also with you”).

Peacemaking and so on:
Jesus himself said “Blessed are the peacemakers”, so it is not wrong to be a peacemaker. But there are two types of peacemakers: the ones who do it form a position of Big Love, and those who it from self-love and wimpiness. Sometimes we want people to stop fighting not because of them, but because of us, because it makes us feel uncomfortable, because we don’t like how it makes us feel. See the difference? It is all about us us us. Me me me. That’s not really peacemaking in the sense of the Beatitudes, it is more like pacifying, and I don’t think those two are the same. So the immature peacemaker does it to protect their ego from discomfort, the mature peacemaker is a martyr and walks into the fight for the sake of others, willingly putting their lives (their hearts) at risk for the sake of others. That takes some guts.

On being nice:
I have met some pretty wise people, old monks and nuns and other sages – they tended to have a very approachable and friendly way about them, and they seemed genuinely interested in me or in other people. They could not possibly be called mean – I think they really did care. But I also know that people changed their own behaviors around them. Maybe it was their holiness? Bratty kids would go silent, angry people would calm down. I’ve seen it, I’ve felt it. So I think these people really did care, but they also had a way of disarming all your pettiness when you were near them. Apart form these few ones, most nice people are either being polite (which is fine) or they are wanting something…is that cynical of me? I don’t mean nice people are trying to trick me, but I do feel that nice people tend to want to change things around them so that everything is also nice…and that looks like feeding their egos.

On fault-finding:
Now, I want to make sure we are clear on a few things. First, I don’t want you to go thinking I spend my day looking at peoples’ faults. I don’t. I have to spend most of my energies being careful so I don’t bang the log in my eye on too many people’s heads! I think this is my first and most important job – not to put my stuff on you, not to drench you with my prejudices.

I have this long-standing belief that whatever it is, it is better in its natural state. For eg. I cannot go to zoos (as we talked at lunch). the same thign with people – it is much more interesting if I can observe you doing your thing without me telling you how or why to do it. your struggles and your solutions will be yours, not mine.

For example, under normal circumstances I will tell very little about myself. Not because I am particularly ashamed of if, but because I think that knowing certain things will automatically bias your responses. It is bad enough that I have biases of my own! I don’t need to be twisting your too. I am doubly, “triply” conscious of not doing that when I am teaching or leading a retreat. I am sure I infuriate some people by refusing to answer questions directly, or by simply asking back, “So you asked me about predestination. What do you think about it?” and let them talk. It is not that I do not know a thing or two about the arguments, but it is because as teacher/retreat leader I am there to learn! Does that make sense?


About spaceloom

An urban monk, and an experienced spiritual director with a Masters in Psychology. Married with two children. Want to know me better? Read my thoughts.
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