“Waiting On The Night To Fall”, by “Casting Crowns”, from the album “Thrive” (2014)
The fundamental binary choice every human makes is to love the self or not, to love the other, or not. We ALL have to make that choice regardless of our desires and ambitions.
Unlike the Angelic creatures, the Heavenly host, who exist in God’s eternal now and whose choices are instantly for eternity and irrevocable, mankind has been gifted by our Divine Father with a lifetime, an existence within time, a time for rousing, a time for choosing.
Someone famous and holy once remarked that “our entire life is but a single night in a bad hotel”. Another remarked “What does it matter in the light of eternity, “Quid hoc ad aeternitatem” in Latin. And yet, isn’t the love of self our “natural state? Don’t we love “our” problems.
The tiny “personalness” of them, the importance and urgency, the “zest” they give to us in our special unique existence. How are we doing today, considering the alternative, don’t the problems make us feel alive?
Isn’t it true that daily I happily wear my Inuit sunglasses to avoid having to look upon the blinding glare of eternity?
Don’t I actually love the never ending blizzard of bills I can never pay in total, the surly complaining wife, the angry dismissive daughter, the shabby apartment, perpetually under renovation of some sort or other, the old beater of a vehicle, 300,000 miles and still truckin’, likely, more and more, to be buried in it.
Don’t I cherish my shivering pains, cramps, swellings, aches and itches, numbness and tremors, the grim brooding of never to be paid off debts, the fears of the business failure in an economy destroyed by others, these favorite fears that role through my mind when I find myself awake and contemplative at 2:00 AM?
Most especially do I not relish the dark thread of fear that I might not have been a good dad, the feeling sometimes that maybe there was a better husband for my wife if only she had hung in the game a little longer.
And the one that haunts me every minute of the blessed week, month, year, the health and joy of my kid, and the fragility of her future. The “personal” special problems that prove I am still alive and kicking, that I still matter somehow to someone, sometimes. Don’t I love the self image of “soldiering on”, to “persist doggedly”, no matter what, “never give up, never give up”?
Are not all these “problems” simply a manifestation of “Love of self”? Alternatively, “Love of others” is a way of accepting all these “problems” if accepted with humility and meekness, without taking offense and building the castle of self love higher, of refraining from claiming special victim status, and ceasing to worry about the fairness of life.
I am starting to realize that each life “time” is but a divine “wake-up call” from God’s switchboard. We each have an unavoidable and immensely important “meeting” to get to “in the New Dawn”, at the end of this single night in a bad hotel.
During that lifetime we humans each are shaken to our very depths, so that we may wake up to understanding the truth of ourselves. The primary condition for a fruitful and rewarding lifetime is renunciation of attachment, surrender of self, detachment from all the things of this world, this one night.
It seems a hallmark of Truth that it always believes and expects the best of others and acts accordingly. It also seems a hallmark of untruth that it always believes and expects the worst of others and acts accordingly.
The measure of every institution and organization is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person, made in God’s own image and likeness, the image and likeness of his Son, on Whom we were modeled.
Man must abandon all his self centered dreams, his conceit, his arrogance, all the pretense with which he hopes to deceive himself and others, his default narcissism. If he fails to do this, brutal reality will take hold of him and rouse him forcefully in a way full of both anxiety and suffering.
Life can be difficult for those who don’t fall in line and bow to the religion of the day, the generally accepted wisdom of their society, the Barabbas of the moment. It is always easier to go along with the crowd. To just get to the end, of the day, of the week, of the year … of the life?
This is even true when the crowd embarks upon an evil venture. As long as we can avoid being blamed, being held accountable, then its all just OK, right?
I was just following orders, I just pushed my wheelbarrow, I just handled the doors, I just scheduled the trains, I just shoveled the coal, I don’t make policy, I wasn’t at that meeting, there were no minutes, I don’t remember, I didn’t know …
Witness the results yesterday of the Irish referendum on the acceptability of infanticide as social policy. And of course, eventually, euthanasia, the natural next step everywhere else, especially here in Canada. And why not Ireland? Self or Other?
But we still have to go to that meeting,
“I tell you the truth, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked; you dressed yourself and went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will dress you and take you where you don’t want to go.“ (John 21:18)
And so we have to make that choice, self or other … Self or Other … ask not for whom the bell tolls.
“River Flows In You”, Yiruma, from the album “Yiruma Piano Collection” , (2001)
Looking out from my library windows over the windswept chilly world around me after a night of violent storm and a lot of rain. Trees down, roofs stripped of shingles, walls bare of siding, across a wide swath of our fair land.
Today I am ruminating about “suffering” and the source of same. It seems that suffering would be significantly reduced if only we focused more on improving ourselves instead of focusing on correcting the perceived faults of those around us.
Focusing on ourselves and our own faults we would not be so disturbed by the resistance of others to our opinions and desires. But, often something inside or something outside draws us along and we secretly seek ourselves in everything we do. And yet we are mostly oblivious to that.
We continue peacefully along when everything unfolds and is done according to OUR will and as WE judge, but if things turn out against OUR will, we move quickly, almost reflexively, to dissension, strife and unhappiness.
Differences of opinion and thought are the most common source of all dissension, strife, unhappiness and, frankly, suffering, arising out of disputes between family and friends and groups of otherwise sincere and well meaning folks.
Old habits of thought are difficult to put aside and much suffering arises from our clinging to old narratives, and old modes of reacting to perceived wrongs. No one is willing to go further than they see or are happy with. Any dissenting voice gives rise to “suffering”.
But, If one relies only on one’s own reason, thought, and work one seems unlikely to achieve peace, falling rather into self-justification and recrimination. Enlightenment and happiness appear further away than ever.
Dragon of Self
It seems, simply, that if one cannot put aside the “self”, then, inevitably, much suffering will be one’s lot in life. The fatal trap is “self”.
The death of “self” is freedom and the gate to peace, but Oh what a monster is “Self” and so difficult to slay, rather like performing surgery on oneself without benefit of anesthetic.
It proves insidiously difficult to tell the dragon of Self: “You Shall Not Pass!”
The commonest reaction to this suffering of dissent seems to be to get upset, excited and angry or annoyed and to fight against the suffering and the dissent, to assert the rightness of one’s own position and necessarily the wrongness of the positions of others. In other words, we focus on the suffering and struggle against it in any way we can.
The effect is that the dissent and the suffering dominates our every waking moment and that, added to self pity, increases our suffering hundreds of times. Fighting against the suffering makes it a LOT worse. What really makes suffering difficult to bear is our own exceeding impatience, our refusal to accept it. This irritation with dissent increases our suffering tremendously and robs us of our peace, and our energy, and of our ability to focus on and to get on with life.
Over a year ago I posted about embracing suffering as a way of overcoming suffering in the same way one can embrace fear as a way of overcoming the fear. I find, after a year of trying, that the techniques I learned for overcoming fear don’t work quite as well when applied to suffering.
It seems that it is relatively easy to identify the locus of fear, the germinating grain from which the fear arises within oneself and thus come to grips with fear as an aspect of self, and self control.
Suffering, however seems another beast entirely, less reflexively identifiable as originating within the self and more easily experienced as originating from without, the fault of something or someone outside our self, and therefore outside our self control.
I begin to believe that a more “granular” approach is required to “deal” with suffering, that in fact it is not the fact of suffering one has to deal with but rather how the self reacts to that suffering that is problematic.
This journey doesn’t get easier as one goes along. It is not that it gets harder exactly but rather that things always seem to be more complicated than one first assumed when first confronting the windmills.
Always remember, “be charitable in your judgements, and never take yourself too seriously”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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
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 “básafháilgansagart” 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.
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:
“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.”
“An Taiseirl (The Resurection)”, Noirin Ni Riain and The Monks Of Glenstal Abbey, from the album “Vox de Nube”, (1996)
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.
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.
We 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.
I seem to be stuck in the “Listen Lord, Your servant is speaking” phase. From “Imitation of Christ:
If we focused on improving ourselves we would not be so disturbed by the resistance by others to our opinions.
Often something inside or something outside draws us along and we secretly seek ourselves in everything we do. And yet we are oblivious to that. We continue peacefully along when everything is done according to OUR will and as WE judge, but if things turn out against OUR will we move quickly to dissension, strife and unhappiness.
Differences of opinion and thought are the most common source of all dissension, strife and unhappiness between family and friends and groups of otherwise sincere and well meaning folks. Old habits of thought are difficult to put aside.
No one is willing to go further than they see or are happy with. But, If you rely only on your own reason and work you will be unlikely to achieve peace, enlightenment and happiness. The fatal trap is “self”. The death of “self” is freedom and the gate to peace.