The Inner Struggle

Despair, “Dover Beach” … Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

Snow”, by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”  (2013)

More poetry, and a bit of historical background, a sort of “how did I get here?” moment.

I once had a co-worker, almost 20 years ago now, who was an intelligent and articulate atheist, and who never tired of explaining to me how ignorant and superstitious was my embrace of the Catholic Faith. I think of Pauros sometimes, and the irony of his name, whenever I dwell upon the inevitability of self worship in any philosophy which denies the existence of God.

DelphiHe, Pauros the Greek, was an Ubber Geek, and knew not much at all outside of our shared programming specialties, namely COBOL, Pascal, Borland Delphi, and C++Builder. That was back when the civilized world was completely engulfed in its Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt regarding the approaching end of the world, the secular end-times, also known as Y2K.

We were both employed in part because of our knowledge of and ability to program in COBOL, and to maintain the COBOL based financial systems for a Health Region with thousands of employees.

These systems were running on a UNIX platform, a large-scale computer system, Hewlett-Packard if I remember correctly, although I was not the network admin. I think I might have also been employed there because I was the only other programmer in the whole department who could work with Pauros the Greek.

Anyway, the point was that he could not bring himself to imagine anything that couldn’t be tested and proven scientifically, empirically, he always insisted that he needed data to back up anything and everything. He refused to contemplate or imagine the universe and everything in it as a subset of reality, created by a being who existed outside the universe.

Solipsism

My fallback position when beaten down by yet another tirade about my “primitive superstitions” was “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – Hamlet (1.5.167-8), Hamlet to Horatio, or simply to drop some offhanded remark to the effect that “Solipsists are out of touch”.

This always provoked sulking followed by further tirades on the “stupidity” of my views. It was a really fun place to work. Pauros the Greek simply couldn’t admit that his “beliefs” were every bit as much “faith based” as mine.

He and another similar friend, Caoimhín the Celtic Prince, who I met later, have always personified what I see as wrong with Atheism. Behind all their precisely articulated views was the same premise: there is no God, no ultimate meaning beyond ourselves, beyond self.

SolipsismBut, if there is no real meaning to our lives, what is the point of living? No answers there … nada. Caoimhín the Celtic Prince, at least, would admit that his worldview was faith based like my own.

Both were fundamentally unhappy people, for example, Pauros was working hard on getting rid of his third wife without loosing any money and Caoimhín never landed a wife, though not for want of trying. They both were completely wrapped up in and focused on what was wrong with the world of their existence.

But, no answers were forthcoming to the “Why?” question. If life was meaningless, why didn’t they just kill themselves? Pauros’ reply to that question was, “Well, a lot of people do kill themselves because they don’t have the courage to live with the truth.” Caoimhín, on the other hand, believed that it was possible and desirable to be a good person (where did his standard of ‘goodness’ came from? No answer there).

Caoimhín, curiously a big fan of LOTR, maintained that life was worth living, even at a time when he was dieing of bowel cancer. Maybe Caoimhín, in his clear and present understanding of the end, was perhaps more of an “Atheism Lite” philosopher, maybe “meaning” was creeping in “at the end of all things”.

At the End Of All Things

Neither Pauros nor Caoimhín could ever explain how life could be worth living and yet have no meaning? This paradox was not even acknowledged. But atheism, when consistently, logically, lived out, seems to me to be a life of self-deception or despair, or some combination of both, a sliding scale of illogic and unhappiness, a pride in despair, so to speak.

This is all about pride, despairing pride, lonely pride, providing the self I worship with a dark comfort. This is sin, this feeling of superiority is terribly attractive, easy to get attached to, like so many of life’s pleasures.

Once you are there, in your despairing superiority, it is hard to to give it up. Its akin to the feeling of superiority one is tempted with when the current government, which one didn’t vote for, takes everything to hell in a hand basket, and one feels a smug “I told you so…”.

On the part of the atheist, any departure from this “rational” superiority of despair, any turn towards not having “the courage to live with the truth”, would mean that all those superstitious people you have so enjoyed mocking and sneering at really do know more than you. It would mean you’re not so special any more, it would mean giving up being special by virtue of the belief that everyone else is a fool.

Unfortunately, self-referential meaning is only a short-lived stop-gap: it is real only in the sense that the stage set of Elsinore Castle (see Hamlet quote above) or Darth Vader’s Death Star is a real place. We can suspend disbelief while the play (our life) is being performed, but at some point, the curtain falls and one must leave the theater. The “poor player” strutting his stuff must leave the stage.

So, if “Helping Others”, “Doing Good Work”, and “Having Friends” are just a “stage setting” and “green screen special effects”, then what? Pauros and Caoimhín seemed to share a vision, that vision which John Lennon articulated in the popular song “Imagine”, and it’s beautiful song . . . if you don’t think too hard about it. If we don’t think about it then the “nowhere” outside our “ME” universe surrounds our cold fortress of solitude, and there is nothing else, no joy, no forgiveness, no point in anything, just put your Ruger in your mouth and save the planet from your wasteful consumption of resources..

The vision: “Imagine there’s no heaven. Imagine there’s no hell. Imagine all the people, living life in” … WTF Man? Take religion out of the picture, and everybody spontaneously starts living life in peace? Whaaa?  Now I have been around the block a few times, my blog is named “notmyfirstrodeo” for a reason. In my experience, peace is not the default state of human beings. All I need to do is look at myself, and most of the people I have met over the last 50 years, to recognize that anger, jealousy, insecurity, envy, contempt, selfishness, fear, and greed are deeply rooted in the core of every human.

Even a cursory look and listen about us today with unjaundiced eyes reveals the big lie of our atheistic culture. There is no god, there is no devil, there is nothing outside of the self … and all the evil we see playing out everywhere around us is just a figment of our imagination. They are not really people, they have no value, out out brief flame. Medical malpractice, traffic accidents, abortion and euthanasia, mercy wagons, 9/11, all the same … erasing the inconvenient …

It seems to me that a cultural embrace of atheism, namely “Secular Humanism”, leaves folks with all the same problems as history suggests, but worse! The 20th century’s atheistic human rights track record, that is, the human-rights track record of atheist countries, like China, and the Soviet Union, and Canada, is poor.

I know and understand the difference between imagination and wishful thinking. If atheism is true, if life truly has no meaning, then all of our actions cannot have any meaning either, there is no right or wrong, no rights and no responsibilities, no justice, no love, entropy rules and at the end of all things we are just so much rotting meat turning into dust.

And the difference between imagination and wishful thinking is beautifully captured in the poem “Dover Beach” by Mathew Arnold:

Dover Beach

Matthew Arnold, 1822 - 1888

Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

Matthew Arnold, 1822 – 1888

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Cheers

Joe

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… and miles to go before I sleep …

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The Inner Struggle

From the Point Of View Of Spirit …

“Crux Fidelis”, Benedictines of Mary, Queen of Apostles, from the album “Lent at Ephesus”, (2014)

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The Isenheim Altarpiece is an altarpiece sculpted and painted by, respectively, the Germans Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516

Today I have used images taken from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, The Isenheim Altarpiece is an altarpiece sculpted and painted by, respectively, the Germans Niclaus of Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald in 1512–1516.

I will not just copy everything they have to say about it but suffice to say go on over and visit it and read the article, it is worth one’s time to understand better the past history which contributed to Western European Civilization’s rise, especially since we are in such a hurry to blow it all away in our modern progressive wasteland.

So after the last blogpost it might appear we have swerved off the road, but in fact all of the items, objections, observations, and situations complained about, and judged, and questioned in that post are firmly rooted in my own biases, attractions, beliefs, and narratives in and about this material world.

In short, my ego, my “self” is intimately enmeshed in all my observations and conclusions, MY plans, MY dreams, MY opinions, MY understanding. I don’t believe that I am uniquely blessed. I believe that we all share these attachments to the material, especially if we strongly believe that this time based material reality is all there is.

Viewed through my human nature, all these things are ultimately important, but viewed through my soul nature they are really seen to be unimportant and irrelevant, mere distractions on the path. And yet … and yet … we insist on refusing to see what is right before us. We dive into the unreal and forsake the real for the sake of our passions, our tastes, our desires, our egos.

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Grunewald – Isenheim Altarpiece – First View

Barabbas is in each one of us. We are scoundrels, experts in selfishness, boasting, lust, violence and greed. We are bandits, taking God’s many gifts and ungratefully neglecting them and squandering them.

We take for granted the most precious realities of life: family, life, nature, health, faith, and the sacraments.  We squander our talents, our money, our time, and the love others offer us.

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Grunewald Isenheim Second View

We are quick to criticize and judge, to steal others’ honor and sully it with our moral and intellectual myopia. What do we, who are so flawed, so weak, so slow to repent, and so reluctant to serve — what do we deserve?

Certainly not God’s love, certainly not his continued forgiveness, certainly not redemption, hope, peace, and heaven. Strictly speaking, we deserve to be cut off from the kingdom against which we have so often rebelled — just like the murderous insurgent Barabbas.

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Grunewald Isenheim Third View

And yet, Jesus overlooks what we deserve. It is Passover, and the angel of justice passes over the sinner to wreak his punishments on the Lamb of God instead. Look at the Lord with the eyes of Barabbas. Is there any heart that loves you more than His Sacred Heart? Is there any heart more trustworthy than the heart that died so that you might have abundant life? John Bartunek, LC, ThD.The Better Part”, pp321

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Grunewald’s Risen Christ

We insist on refusing to see what is right before us — we refuse to see reality through the eyes of our spirit/soul — we clutch at our “self” and our passions, appetites, vices, and sins, because, as Screwtape says (about half way down one of my posts): “you must remember that he (us) takes Time for an ultimate reality”.

As we walk through this “valley of death”, this mortal world full of evil both without and within, we find that the closer we cling to the visible, material, temporal vision, the more we fear.  Because when you really look at everything around us, the happenings, and events, and personal relations, and national relations, the EVERYTHING in TIME, the more we fear.

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Mathis Gothart Grunewald’s “St. John The Baptist” illum oportet crescere me autem minui (Vulgate, John 3:30 ), “He must increase, but I must decrease.

Because, if we actually pull our collective heads out of the “sand” (or wherever) the more we have to acknowledge that there is not one damned thing we can do about any of it and if this is all there is then we may just as well end it all. If this is all there is then what is really the point? 

This morning I visited another WordPress blog which I follow at “Finding Hope”  Often I am encouraged and given hope reading what this person writes. This time I found there a story specifically about this struggle with “What’s The Point”. It brought me to tears and to prayer:

A Prayer of Sorrow

” I have fallen, Lord, once more. I can’t go on. I’ll never succeed. I am ashamed.  I don’t dare look at you. And yet I struggled, Lord, for I knew you were right near me, bending over me, watching.

But temptation blew like a hurricane, and instead of you I turned my head away. I stepped aside, while you stood silent and sorrowful. Lord, don’t look at me like that.

For I am ashamed and sorrowful. I am down, shattered, with no strength left. I dare make no more promises. I can only stand bowed before you.

 Come, Child, look up. Isn’t it mainly your vanity that is wounded? If you loved me you would grieve but you would trust. Do you think that there is a limit to God’s love? Do you think that for a moment I stopped loving you? But you still rely on yourself.

 You must rely on me. Ask my pardon and get up quickly. You see, it’s not falling that is worse, but staying on the ground.”

Wow …

If we are not careful we find ourselves angry with God because “He is doing this to me!” and we can’t bring ourselves to recognize our own failings and faults, and that God is not really “doing this to us” but just watching us sorrowfully from His eternal NOW as we do these spiteful things to “punish” Him.

And then consider how much of what we do daily is out of spite and passive aggression.  Spite at family members, spite at neighbours, spite at friends, spite at groups of people we “have a bone to pick” with, spite at other drivers, spite at other folks in public places or in the news, spite at professional groups, anyway, you get my drift.

Matushka Juliana Schmemann, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Matushka Juliana Schmemann, Fr. Alexander Schmemann, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Our spiritual point of view completely obscured by passion , resentment and pride, so we do and say things we later regret or find are mistaken in their target and intent. “Every evil screams out only one message: “I am good”! And not only does it scream, but it also demands that the people cry out tirelessly in response: ‘You  are good, you are freedom, you are happiness’ “(Father Alexander Schmemann)

All of these passions painting layer upon layer of darkness on the vision of our soul/spirit, completely obscuring reality. These “little sins” of spite, of holding grudges and passive aggression until vengeance be meted out are really great big sins of pride, of our ego, of needing to be seen and heard and esteemed, even by God, if we still remember Him.

My mother (God rest her soul) went to her grave, “died unshriven”  as they say, or bás a fháil gan sagart” as our Irish ancestors would say, that is “not having confessed sins to a priest and been given absolution”  after 32 years of rejecting God and the church and the sacraments. Because she just couldn’t accept that God’s plan for her life did not align with her plan for her life. After my father died, at 57,  my mother (always a very stubborn woman) rejected the church, priests, God, religion, holding out for her plan, until vengeance be meted out.

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Fyodor Dostoyevsky

In her early life, although we were poor, she did her best to raise us children so that we never wanted for anything essential, even including making our clothes.  She looked out for us with devotion and worshiped my father as her eternal love.  She died a unhappy woman at 92 still holding out for the material reality of her plan and rejecting the soul/spirit view of eternity.

God gave her 32 more years after he took Dad, to come to an understanding of reality and we discussed it and argued about it countless times for 32 years. I must have been a real pain in the ass when all she really wanted was to be left alone in her bitterness.

In some ways she reminded me, in the last 30 years of her life, of “The Old Woman and The Onion” fable which appears in Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel “The Brothers Karamazov“.  My mother refused to give up her narrative and her plan regardless of the cost.

And all that misery and bitterness because she took TIME for reality and could never bring herself to accept that this world didn’t matter, that she had to give up HER plan for life and accept God’s plan:

15Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world. 17And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever. (1 John 2, Douay-Rheims Bible)

We would be better to write poems of Love to God:

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Ah, Love, let us be true to one another!
For the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.”

(Mathew Arnold, English Poet, 1822 — 1888)

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“An Taiseirl (The Resurection)”, Noirin Ni Riain and The Monks Of Glenstal Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube”, (1996)

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Inuit Snow Goggles

It seems obvious at this point what reality is and what the choice is that must be made, between a short syllable of time or all eternity, to devote our short lives to chasing happiness and success in this world or take off our goggles and pursue eternity.

But in order to detach from the important material things which fill up our lives and leave us bitter and afraid we have to abandon our “self”–ishness and trust God. Selfishness is rooted in “FEAR” of loosing something good for ourselves or missing out on something which might make us happy, or whatever … we often do not even know what it is we are afraid of loosing or missing out on, but we are sure someone else is getting it and we are not.

The main obstacle or hurdle to overcome when approaching the spirit/soul point of view is self love. It is immensely difficult to develop detachment from this world while fully immersed in the pool of self love where this time based world is everything.

By immersing oneself in the world of spirit, outside time and space, where everything material is unimportant we are able to appreciate and understand just what an infinitesimal part of reality is the part with time, which we choose to believe constitutes all of reality.

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Air Force One

So we have to give up our self and trust God, a difficult target when we have so much trouble trusting our family or our friends, or the folks at work or at the corner store.

Trust; trust God, who knows us so much better than we even know ourselves since he conceived us and created us and he loves us more than we love ourselves and he wants nothing more than our absolute happiness and well being. He knows what we need.

So in conclusion (for now)  “LET IT GO!” We have to move from “My will be done” to “Thy will be done”. Our future depends on it. Salvation does not arrive on Air Force One. Or any other means of conveyance.

Cheers

Joe

 

100-canadian-landscapeWe fight the long defeat because results are not as important as our Father’s delight. We fight the long defeat because we are not the authorities over “success.” We fight the long defeat because the final victory is coming.

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