Wisdom, Witness, Work

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(This is the last blog post for the “Franciscan Virtues Through the Year” series.  It was an amazing process and if you’re interested, I highly recommend working through the virtues yourself!)

The last few months have been a very exciting and challenging experience for me.  I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how society views others from the context of their own comfort, and that regard, I would like to say that I’ve gained a little wisdom:  the problem is that once I put myself on that ground, more often than not I am reminded that I still have a lot to learn, and that when I stand in the mire of what I perceive to be wisdom, I’m actually putting myself on a very unstable pedestal.

The work of continually returning to my own inner self, my needs, my shortcomings,  my strengths.  Every day my job, my garden, my family, my relationships act as touchstones for me, help me to identify where I have grown, where I need to grow, and to find the ballance between action and reaction, speech and silence, joy and sadness, hanging on and letting go, watching and participating.  I don’t compare myself to those who act selflessly–I just aspire to be like them, and hope that each day I can measure up, do better, improve myself and make at least one small difference in the world.

I’ve always felt that the witnessing part comes from how I act in the world rather than what I say, what I do.  Part of my mission now is to try and witness without words, without ego; I watch the world around me and see how people in various walks of life, various clusters and cliques, gently slide closer and closer to something akin to self preservation, and a support of self preservation, and further away from the principles of Franciscan spirituality that I have come to love:  seeing Christ in the least of us, serving Christ in the least of us, and doing so selflessly.

Where’s my compensation?

How am I supposed to pay my bills?

How am I supposed to stay warm?

How am I supposed to buy?  Buy?  Buy?

Give and take, give and take, give and take.

The mere idea that we would give without the idea of taking anything very seldom crosses our minds; and yet, it makes sense given when everyone is trapped in a take and give mentality that one would try to take advantage for their own benefit at every opportunity, every stage.   But where does that take us?

Addiction to things?  Addiction to substances?  Addiction to rage, to oppressing others to cover our own weaknesses?  Always striving for the next goal mindlessly without considering the surroundings, the people around us, the very health of our own souls?

What do we loose if we simply stop playing the game?  Can we simply stop playing?

Witness:  trusting in our Faith, living in our Faith, crying through our Faith.

Work:  engaging in the world, not on the world’s terms, but on the terms of our Faith, quietly, silently if need be.

Wisdom:  finding the balance between witness and work that allows us to practice Christian Charity as Christ Himself would have us do it:  by deeds, not by words, or the number of witnesses:  going into our inner rooms, closing the door, and in silence where our Father sees us.

I am not a very good Franciscan.  But each day I wake up, put my feet on the floor, remembering that I have two legs and a pulse, and an opportunity to make myself a better Franciscan, a better human being.

 

Wisdom, Witness, Work

Vulnerability

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A couple of days ago, a friend asked me to read a post written by Stant Litore (which you can read here):  the crux of the article is that there are an incredible number of mistranslations in the Bible, one of which camel is actually supposed to reference a thick rope used by sailors.  “Very probably, the rabbi Yeshua told his followers two thousand years ago that it is easier to thread a rope (like the big ropes used on fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee) through the eye of a sewing needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. But, in Aramaic – the language he was speaking and the language in which the source text for the synoptic gospels was probably written -‘camel’ and ‘rope’ are spelled the same:  ‘gml’.

“And this leads me to reflect on the power of writing. As a writer, I’m a bit biased in thinking about how powerful written language is. But, when we look at a holy book that has been translated and mistranslated and construed and misconstrued over the course of 2000-2,500 years (or, if you want to look at something more recent, of less than 250 years of age, and within our own language without the added complexities of translation, consider the U.S. Constitution), it’s hard not to conclude that sometimes the treatment of a single word can shape entire cultures and political systems. That’s a humbling thought.” (Litore)

This comes into the context of vulnerability because the reality is that the scriptures that we as Christians take very seriously have, in fact, been translated over and over in such a way that it may be possible that the original meanings are in fact lost.  Litore goes into detail in the article about how the meanings of words have been used to describe ‘homosexuals’ (and let me be frank, I do not like the word homosexual because it feels like a confine imposed by a colonial system…more on that later) are in fact words which describe men who engage in drinking, lounging around, basically rich loafs who like wine, and not so much about anything sexual.  Yet, there we are.  A couple of passages make it wrong, so it must be wrong.

Regardless of the direction, words are used by people every day in ways they were not intended.  Venerable Fulton Sheen spoke about getting into a cab in New York city, the driver of said cab saying to him that he’d never been to school formally but that he had many people who rode in his cab who used words that he picked up on.  He then engaged in a conversation with the bishop using a plethora of polysyllables, all out of context.  As Bishop Sheen was exiting the car, the cabby told him that he loved hearing him speak.  “You seem to have such animosity in your voice!”

A book which has not been opened is simply an object.  It is potential.  And that potential can become anything provided it is opened and read.  Great example of this is how after Notre Dame de Paris caught fire, people posted images of the high altar and claimed it was a miracle that the interior survived.  I’ve then seen images that show burned out McDonald’s restaurants with a Ronald McDonald sitting by the door, equating that Ronald McDonald must still be alive and real.  Or my personal favorite, the fingers now pointing at the people donating millions of dollars to help restore the cathedral who could now instead be putting that money towards helping the poor.  (I often wonder when I see those comments:  how many who say those types of things have actually helped the poor, shook the dirty hands of the homeless, embraced those who suffer with mental illness, addiction?)

What no one has seemed to see is that, with the roof of the cathedral open to the sky, and the spire gone, we are seeing a view of the interior that was last seen probably 700 years ago.  Daylight hitting the floor where the sacrificial altar stands.  And it is a stunning view to see sunlight streaming down into the cathedral.  It’s also stunning to think that masons, 700 years ago, constructed a roof that could withstand that fire.

While we as rational thinkers feel it important to pick a side, and to be on the right side, sometimes that thinking excludes us from being able to see the greater picture, or even the greater truth that may exist.  I am perhaps odd in that I believe human beings are born with innate concepts hard wired in.  I’ve heard it said by parents that children naturally know how to share, naturally know right from wrong.  I knew beauty as a child, I knew God as a child, I knew my identity as a child.  As I grew, words and ideas helped and hindered me in forming concepts about those ideas and identities until I was at a point where my concept of God has me eschewed to thinking that there was only right and only wrong and the only way to discern that was from words.

But if we are going to walk away from a colonial way of thinking, if we are going to truly walk as Christians, as Catholics, as Queer people, it’s necessary for us to step back, stop fighting about the melting point of gold that happens to be the content of a cross in an ancient cathedral that just burned, and realize that there is sunlight streaming in on the floor where there was no sunlight before–and maybe, just maybe–the reconstruction of a cathedral should allow for that light to continue to stream in.

When I read scripture, I do so knowing that there are different ways to read.  I can read in panic, in fear, looking for inspiration and consolation, I can read in contemplation and quiet inner and outer.  But I cannot read without remembering the commandment of Our Lord made this very night:  “Love one another as I have loved you.”  And that is challenging!  That is difficult!  That requires vulnerability; the vulnerability to recognize when we come across passages we do not understand, that may be in a context or a time we cannot recognize.  It requires a faith which a lot of people are challenged to wrestle with–that I struggle with, namely, when I sit in silence and read the meaning will come from my soul, my heart, through the words.

There’s a conceptualization people make when they hear the phrase, “The Bible is divinely inspired.”  Namely, the writers were inspired, and it ended there.  Faith, the faith that requires (demands) vulnerability, teaches me that the message will still ring even if there are mistranslations, even if there are still glitches.  It’s the truth we are all born with, the truth we all carry with us.

Yes, we are flawed, and there are principles of our beliefs that are flawed.  We can continue to point them out, continue to exist in a colonial mode that says there has to be multiple sides with one being the best, or we can step outside of the box, and into the sunshine, and consider new ways of thinking that don’t throw out all the old ideas, or condemn all the new ideas, but find the commonalities in both that make all the ideas stronger.

 

 

 

 

 

Vulnerability

Vigilance

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Two days after it happened, I found out about the massacre in New Zealand, felt awful about it, then told myself there was nothing that I could do about it.  I told myself, this is something that’s out of your wheel house so just carry on.

Today I turned the news on as I was eating breakfast and heard about the shooting that took place in the Netherlands.  This shooting takes place near the birthplace of Independent Catholicism, Utrecht.  I’m once again shaken, but also once again tell myself there’s not much that I can do about it because it’s happened so far away, it’s too distant to be able to do anything.

But is that true?

I placed a political cartoon about gun control as the header for this blog post today.  When I began, thinking in terms of what vigilance means to me, I wanted to take the direction of recognizing when we have attitudes that buy into the world view, supports the world view.  Thing is, I’m not sure people will actually do anything about it once they hear it.

A couple of years ago, I shared a political cartoon on my facebook feed that insinuated Mike Pence was giving Donald Trump oral sex.  The cartoon was published in the context of Trump’s response to football players in the NFL taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem state-side.  The majority of people who responded to that cartoon in my feed found it disgusting.  They drew conclusions based on the immediate image in front of their faces and responded.  I’m not sure they took the time to think about the deeper significance of what was being portrayed in that cartoon, namely that we make assumptions and judgments based on our immediate reactions, and the reactions of those around us, often times without applying deeper thought or common sense.  We just react.

In the context of violence, what do we do in the west?   We react.  We click.  We think, and we pray.  But what do we do?  If what occurs doesn’t effect us personally, if it doesn’t effect how we consume, if it doesn’t force us to change how we think, if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable, what do we do?  We click, we think we’ve done all we need to, and we move on not really changing anything about ourselves at all.

One of the first lines of Compline goes:

Sobrii estote, et vigilate; quia adversarius vester diabolus tamquam leo rugiens circuit, quærens quem devoret  cui resistite fortes in fide.

Brothers, be sober and watch, for your adversary the devil is roaring like a lion, waiting for someone to consume.  Being vigilant is watching not only others, not only being aware of the surroundings and speaking when something is wrong, but being aware enough to recognize when that vigilance is rooted in wanting to protect ourselves from being seen as doing something wrong.

Being vigilant means standing in a place of moral and ethical strength, but it also means recognizing that in order to stand in a place of moral and ethical strength we need to conform to the standards we ourselves wish to impose.  And the truth is, there never was, is not, nor will be a human being who can.

Vigilance requires of us our eyes turned constantly inward, asking ourselves if we’ve done enough, if our motives are seated in the right place, if our actions are in line with what our moral compass points.  As Christians, it demands that we act out of love that encompasses the truth that every person we encounter, every human being, is a reflection of ourselves in some way, and is a reflection of Christ in every way.  Hard to do, especially when they come across as an asshole!

Yes, I used that word, and I’m smiling a little bit as well.  Because the words we use have precise meaning in precise contexts whether we are aware of that precision or not.  Vigilance is recognizing that when you support a cause, that cause is reflective of your needs and wants.  It’s recognizing that a position can be sane, can be rational, can be completely in line with how you think and what you believe, provided that you ignore that one of the founding premises of that belief is false.  (If the foundation is faulty, then everything built on it is faulty as well.)

Vigilance is being able to look at your world view openly when challenged and accept that it might be wrong.  It’s being able to accept that change might in fact make your life better provided you can be a big enough person to consider, just consider, that you might be wrong.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Vigilance

Trust

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O OUR most holy FATHER,

Our Creator, Redeemer, Consoler, and savior

WHO ART IN HEAVEN:

In the angels and in the saints,

Enlightening them to love, because You, Lord, are light

Inflaming them to love, because You, Lord, are love

Dwelling in them and filling them with happiness,

because You, Lord, are the Supreme Good,

the Eternal Good

from Whom comes all good

without Whom there is no good.

HALLOWED BE THY NAME:

May our knowledge of You become ever clearer

That we may know the breadth of Your blessing

the length of Your promises,

the height of Your majesty,

the depths of Your judgements

YOUR KINGDOM COME:

So that You may rule in us through Your grace

and enable us to come to Your kingdom

where there is an unclouded vison of You

a perfect love of You

a blessed companionship with You

an eternal enjoyment of You.

-Prayer Inspired by the “Our Father”, St. Francis of Assisi,                                                             “Franciscan Virtues Through The Year:  52 Steps to Conversion from Saint Francis of Assisi”


 

As a gardener, I’ve spoken in the blog quite a few times about the importance of trust when planting a seed.  The reality of gardening is it’s 33% planning, 33% weeding, 33% execution of a plan, and 100% trust in the process.  The seeds get ordered, the plans get drawn out.  Once the snow melts, you pull out your boards and lay them down, draw your finger through the soil, plant the seeds, water, weed, and hope.  It doesn’t always produce the results you expect, but there are always results.

In my early presence as a gardener I favoured a rigid, ruled approach with clean lines and ease of access between the crops.  The next year, I began to explore geometric patterns in the lawn around the pond I had dug.  I had an image in my mind of how things would look once I filled the spaces I had dug with perennials, vegetables, annuals, and ornaments.  I had a feel for how I was creating the space that I was going to occupy, and the purpose that space was being designed for:  food production, contemplation, and relaxation.

Two years ago, I realized that while there was beauty in this, there were clovers and grasses that not only looked beautiful sprouting out of the beds I had planted, but were also better suited for the space that I had thought I knew how to occupy.  So last year, while I continued to garden vegetables and plants in the space, I allowed nature to expand in and tell me what the space needed to look like.  Rather than take a rigid approach to planning and placing the garden as it’s tender, I threw myself into a co-collaborative experience with the natural world.  The result raised some eyebrows from my neighbours who told me on one or more occasion, “You’ve got a really strange way of gardening, Pete!”

But the overall effect in my eyes was beautiful.  I let grasses grow and go to seed amidst perennials lilies and flowers.  I let clovers overtake the old garden space while planting a dogwood that had been planted in the front flower beds against the house.  It looked good there, but it would eventually outgrow the space and make the walk to the front door impassable.  It may now have a chance to fill in the space where the old vegetable garden once occupied, as well as providing a visual stop for the eye.

When I allowed the space to rule a little bit, and tended it minimally, the space became the oasis I had hoped it would be.  I’d mow the paths in between the beds, but the rest became a wild, untamed respite that enclosed me during the reading of the office through the summer months.  It became the cloister I had wanted to create for myself.

Surrender to that process, like surrender to any process, is challenging because it requires trust in people, and in process.  If those people and processes are unfamiliar, it’s a challenge; if it’s been a life long struggle to experience trust in any way, it becomes physically and emotionally painful.  Never the less, if we are to afford dignity to people it requires that along with courtesy, we afford them the gift of trust.

Then trust is broken, as it happens, because human beings are fallible.  We make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes hurt people we care about.

We have two choices inevitably every moment of our lives:  to trust others as to trust in our own selves, or not to.  Trust requires that even in the face of what (at the time) may seem to be absolute catastrophe, good will come, everyone will be taken care of, and the learning that will come out of the process will benefit everyone.  This does not negate the idea of there being consequence to actions:  rather, it affords human beings the dignity to make their own choices, to accept the reality of the consequences they face, we face, and to move through them, gaining experience and wisdom as we do.

In the face of challenge to trust, in the face to embrace the possibility of trust regardless of fear of outcomes, of loosing the control, it is simply a matter of trusting in the beginning that the taking in of a breath will result in the releasing of a breath, and that another will follow.  It is a matter of trusting that one heart beat will lead to another.

Most importantly, it is trusting that God has God’s hand on the wheel, stands firmly in the wheel house, and will direct the ship.

Or the shovel.  Depending on if you prefer a garden metaphor or not.

 

 

Trust

Simplicity

10f8a60f-dcc4-44fa-a364-dd3d1d955c1dMy partner cracks up because every time I try and describe the new person from Netflix who’s got this fantastic organizational method, I end up screwing up her last name.  Marie Kodo.  Marie Katono.  Marie Klondike.

Marie Kondo is the newest sensation!  Her method of organizing and simplifying involves categorizing household items, going through them one by one, and keeping only those items which spark joy in one’s heart.

I’ve watched a couple of episodes on Netflix and thought to myself that this is a method that I’d love to try in my own home!  I’ve spoken with a friend here in town who’s started the method in organizing their own home, and when I asked them how it was they told me it was both emotional and satisfying.

When it comes to sorting through stuff to get to simplicity, it can be emotional!  We’ve grown to have attachments to all kinds of physical things, things which either give us a feeling of comfort and security like four walls and a roof, or things that give us a false sense of comfort, a false sense of fulfillment.   Many of us turn to shopping, or “retail therapy” because it gives us comfort, a rush, but does it truly sort out what’s going on?

How many of us hold onto resentments, hold onto anger, frustration, a drive to succeed for more when more only creates strife, suffering, and emotional struggle?

Is spiritual simplicity as easy as sorting through things and finding what sparks joy?

Does spiritual simplicity, the narrow path that’s talked about by Jesus in the New Testament, spark joy for us?

Jesus is sitting in front of you.  You say to Him that you want to follow Him, and that you love Him truly with all your heart.  He says to you, “Sell everything you own, take up your cross, and follow Me.”

Could you do it?

When you hold Christ in your heart, does He spark joy?  Or has He simply become another object amongst the clutter?

Simplicity

Silence

The virtue listed today is that of silence, and I have to admit that while I now have a love affair with stillness, quiet, and reflective contemplation in silence, it wasn’t always the case.

At one time, silence for me was a gateway into hell.  It was a place where the things I was most afraid of facing would gently creep up into my consciousness.  I think this is maybe a common occurrence in our society because we are constantly able to access noise:  noise through radio, through our cell phones and computers, anyone can get reach us because we are in constant connection to our mobile devices.

Where silence might creep into a moment between two people in conversation, it has been replaced with facing a screen, with texting, with any excuse not to embrace the quiet and what that quiet might represent.

Jesus throughout the New Testament Gospels is know to retreat to the garden and pray:  He is going to a place of quiet, a place conducive to silence, to reflection, to a place where engagement with the Divine is not only fostered by the environment, but easier to achieve given regular practice combined with (and this is the challenging part) an ability to embrace and release those ideas and thoughts that creep upon our minds like an ivy climbing a wall.


 

“But Jesus often withdrew to a lonely place and prayed.”                                                                                                            -Luke 5, 16,                                                                                                                                                 Franciscan Virtues Through the Year, 146


 

Silence is a precious commodity; it as a resource that we need to foster and incorporate into our lives as part of a religious and spiritual practice.  When I’m in my room and reading the Divine Office, I know that if someone else is in the house watching television or engaged in an activity that creates noise, it’s more challenging for me to focus on what I’m reading, focus on the deeper meanings of what it is I’m engaging.  In the summer, when I read the Office outside in my back yard, the birds, the breezes, the smells and sounds of bees and other insects create noise, but they somehow become part of the silence that I am engaging with.

When I practice centering prayer, often times as part of that discipline in sitting in silence the ivy of my mind creeps in, thoughts blossom, and I become engaged with whatever the image that appears in my mind:  maybe it’s a past encounter with someone that was unpleasant, or pleasant, maybe it’s an idea that I hadn’t approached in a certain way, or maybe it’s a desire to do something else or a thought related to asking myself why I’m engaging with this practice at all.

The beauty of the contemplative discipline that I and others have found is that when these ideas surface and are dealt with in the practice of silence, they are often times released unto God, often without really noticing that it has happened, and don’t seem to resurface to plague and torment throughout the day.

We need to find, embrace, and not be afraid of the silence when it approaches.  I’m familiar with at least one individual who has been confronted with silence.  It has literally been imposed upon them, and the idea of that is not only daunting, but frustrating.  But rather than being viewed as a punishment, rather than going along with the line of most people around us, silence isn’t something that we should be afraid of.  Rather, silence is a means and an opportunity to go deeper within our own psyches, to engage with the Divine in a more intimate, more personal way.

For us, religious or not, silence is as simple as going into our rooms, closing the doors, and being sill that we may know.  What we choose to know is up to us.  It can be a deeper knowledge of self, a deeper connection to the Universe, or simply a moment when our minds can be disengaged and we can become more tranquil.


If you’re interested in learning more about the Independent Catholic movement, have questions, want to simply speak to someone with a spiritual background, or maybe even have a vocational calling or question, click here!

Silence