Winter Essays, 2018

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  • Joseph - The names of those who have gone before us evoke a variety of responses.

    Some men go by the name of Joseph, others Joe; some women use Joanne or Josephine, others Jo. The names that we are given at birth are very often negotiated, modified and even changed quite a bit within a broad family context that includes close friends. Our names convey and take on particular meaning to people, according to how they know us. For all the Josephs in the world, there is only one husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. And whether or not our names are the same as many or few persons among those who know us, each of us is recognized as a unique individual. Our names do not define us, but the particular manner in which we relate with others provides meaning for our name. 

    Our names are important to us. Most of us prefer to be called by our name rather than by the wholly non-specific “you,” or according to some generic impersonal classification that might apply. We want to be known for who we are, not solely for what we do; there is much more to us than what others can observe. Our concern is not about mere words, but spirit: we are not things, but persons whose very existence is meaningful in time and also beyond time.    

    When we use names for people, we choose according to our relationships, taking into account other’s preferences as well as our own perspectives. In personal encounters, our decisions are immediate, with only a moment for deciding upon a name to use. When we write, or before we initiate contact, we have more time to consider our use of names. The process for choosing how we address others is spiritual, and cannot be assigned to a computer even though many situations have very definite protocols for using titles and formal identification for certain persons according to their positions in Society.

    The names of those who have gone before us evoke a variety of responses: family members and friends, famous people and Saints as well as those who are notorious for their mistreatment of others. Some of them, according to our beliefs about “all being present to God” are names that we use not only when talking about them but when addressing them. Since we can communicate with God directly, we can also address those who are literally present to God. And just as we sometimes make changes in the names we use for particular persons as our relationship with them matures, we can do the same with those who have moved from our environment in time to that of life in God’s timeless eternity. Our respect, admiration and love for people does not stop with their death, but often increases as we continue to use their names, images or sense of spirit-connection. 

    Referring to those who gone before us by their names is a means for us to relate with them as they are in themselves and not solely as associates of ours. If we do not use their names in an appropriate manner, we cannot hurt their feelings, either of the Saints or of any of those whom we might call upon in friendship. But our relationships will be more truly satisfying when we address those we know by name.

    Thank you Joseph, for taking care of that Child.

  • Following a Star: Our True Story

    Most of us have had experiences of following a star, when we consciously chose to continue in a direction that made sense to us, though not necessarily to others who knew us. We had an internal conviction that we were going somewhere that was right for us, but we had no proof to offer if anyone, even we, wondered why we continued on our chosen path. We are much more wonderfully made than the robots that can put cars together or vacuum floors. And our orientation is much broader, and with many more possibilities for growth and change than artificial intelligence can approximate. Following a star is a spiritual enterprise that exemplifies the best attributes of being a human.

    We can train our bodies through repetition to do simple things like throwing a ball, and we can manage a large number of complex habitual movements such as getting into and out of a car seat or washing dishes. We act in these ways without hardly a thought. But more wondrously, if we reflect, we have the capacity to perceive a possible future way of living or acting, and keep that goal as an ongoing motivation which we follow within and through all the other normal aspects of day-to-day living.

    We follow stars more often than we think, because the process is not predominantly one of thought, any more than spirituality can be equated with thoughts about allegedly spiritual topics. When we freely give ourselves to a worthy aspiration, we navigate, steer or move purposely more like a soaring bird catching updrafts or a surfer riding a wave than someone working an equation to a logical conclusion. Following stars is not illogical, but relies on the logic of love rather than control, and is for many of us our main mode of adapting, changing and living an engaged and fulfilling life.

    Though we could think that following a star is a completely individualistic movement, all exercise of our spiritual nature is in some ways communal. Unlike machines, including computers that are programmed to make many adaptations “on their own,” we not only take in specific data from our all the sources accessible to us, but we can accept inspirations and impulses that are best described as of spirit rather than matter. None of the directions we take in life begin and end solely with us. We are always in relationship to others, more than the storied threesome who went to Bethlehem following a star. Whatever route we take according to the non-coercive but sometimes insistent suggestions we receive, always brings us closer to others, even when the bonds are neither visible nor material.

    The source of our inspirations is not just spiritual, but Spirit: Love. We are loved, and our responses lead us to deeper personal fulfilment as individuals and as members of the community of loved-into-being humans. Our experiences of responding to the interior invitations of following a star are too real and too significant to originate in any other way than creative Love.

    Following a star: our true story.

  • Family - Our truly supportive relationships are sometimes not found where we would expect.

    For all of the interest that many people have in personal rights and in having the freedom to fashion their own manner of proceeding, no one has found a better way to live than in a family setting. There are all kinds of familial relationships that are both possible and supportive. Human nature definitely favors some form of family as an ongoing formative experience through all of life.

    We have no need for definitions of “family” to know that some of us have very positive and life-enhancing connections with relatives. Others have little or no attachment to birth-parents or siblings, but derive much that gives their lives meaning and satisfaction from a variety of ongoing relationships with persons who share values, perspectives and most importantly, mutual respect and care. From birth to death, we thrive when we have experiences that are derived from love, however we share in it.

    By reflecting a bit upon our experiences having to do with those whose lives give ours meaning and purpose, we can celebrate an essential and beautiful though ordinary truth that, like breathing, is not considered newsworthy. If we appreciate that “love is where you find it,” we have the insight that allows us to see the value, importance and source of joy that come to us through some of our communal relationships. When we consciously acknowledge a precious aspect of life, we continue to develop rather than take it for granted. If we know how to tell a good story that others enjoy, we become better story-tellers over time; we do not suddenly switch to sharing quotations of wise sayings. If we find in our experience how valuable family kinds of interconnections are to us, we will more willingly participate, and give of ourselves to these relationships.

    We are primarily receivers when we are young; we more readily give to others as we find how satisfying it is to be a participant in their growth and development as human persons. Parents and teachers would seem to be those who most exemplify positive interactions with others. But if we look into our own personal history with the idea that the word “family” is not limited exclusively to birth-relations, we will readily acknowledge that we have a variety of shared bonds with people who are quite different from us. We have had sincere deep experiences with people whose national origin, first language, faith, and political views are not the same as ours. Yet, we have something in common that binds us closely, which can only arise from love: care, respect and desiring whatever is good for the other. Our truly supportive relationships are sometimes not found where we would expect, assume, or even want “family” to exist, but when we experience this kind of love, we can treasure it, foster it and give ourselves to it freely and with gratitude.

    One of the intuitive reasons why Christians have no quarrel with God being three persons is because Love requires relationship: giving and receiving love that pours out into all of creation, including us, the family of God.

  • Recipe - The movements in our hearts are reliable and trustworthy guides if we attend to them.

    Some people follow a recipe or a set of written instructions exactly, while others work according to their own ideas of how something is to be done. The first way, of being precise, would seem to offer the most predictable and consistent results, but, depending upon the level of experience of those who operate more freely of detailed plans, the somewhat creative outcomes they achieve are often quite satisfying. The two manners of completing very specific tasks are different, but not opposed, though advocates of one way or the other are often convinced that their mode of working is best.

    Self-help books and articles abound with free advice for success in life, but most of us have learned from experience that for building relationships, and even for praying, there is no exact formula for interactions with others. What we do in any relationship, however minimal, is not at all like making a pie or setting up a new handheld device. We have preferences in our manner of relating with people just as we do with recipes and instructions, but the tools and materials necessary for dealing in a positive manner with other persons are spiritual, not material.

    Whether we tend to follow instructions exactly or not, and however formal or informal we might be and however introverted or extroverted we are in relating with others, the most reliable and important aspect of what we actually say and do is spiritual. Some of us acknowledge inspirations as providing guidance, others would say that they are caring persons, and still others that love is ultimately the source of their orientation. But reflecting on our experience of relationships we can easily recognize how much our hearts, not just our minds, are involved. We do not follow a recipe in even the briefest of interactions; our whole being is involved.

    However we go about making use of instructions, we never relinquish our decision-making responsibilities. Whether we tend to be more creative or less so, we always bear a responsibility to act as humans, not machines. That is why we do not have a recipe for making decisions. The movements that take place in our hearts and enter our minds as “this is the right thing to do, the right way to act,” guide us as surely as might the most excellent spiritual advisor. Even our typical manner of processing directives can certainly be a proper subject of discerning better from less good.

    We have a gracious truth moving in and through us in support of making decisions that complement rather than detract from our purpose in life. The movements in our hearts are reliable and trustworthy guides if we attend to them. The decisions we make are always uniquely our own, but just as we cannot live without air to breathe, our decision-making, which defines who we are, depends upon the breath of those thoughts that are arise from the love in our hearts, enabling us to choose a life of meaning rather than undirected activity.

  • Retreat - Retreating for the sake of advancing.

    The word “retreat” has several meanings, some of them closely related, others not recognizably so. Rather than trying to accurately define the different kinds of communal events that can go by the name of retreat, we can become usefully active by doing some personal retreating. And in so doing, we will also have positive effects upon those around us.

    All of our decisions affect others for good or otherwise, because we encounter them as we are: in a generally positive frame of mind or the opposite; with an orientation towards whatever might be better, or of caring nothing about the consequences of our choices. We are never exactly the same today as we were yesterday, and whether we are more a contributor to life than merely a user depends upon how we observe and act in accord with our interior movements.

    For some, any kind of introspection seems like a waste of time and energy, as a failure to get anything done. For others, the only way to know which direction to take or to have any chance of being fully human and effective in what we say and do depends upon giving conscious attention, however momentary, to our thoughts and their related feelings. Though retreating of this latter sort might seem to be not doing anything, it is as essential as selecting the correct phone number before calling, or choosing the right pass code before pressing Enter. 

    To retreat in the sense of backing away from mental or physical activity for the sake of determining better how to proceed is far different from the cliché of “two steps forward and one step back.” We do not in the least way move backwards when we take into consideration not just our occupation of the moment, but the present effects upon our sense for what is better or less good, and of consonance with our values or in contradiction to them. Even the extremely well-aimed rockets that take satellites into space must make occasional small but vital corrections to their trajectories. And we, who sometimes get moving on a project before we hardly know which way to go, surely can benefit from taking whatever pause is necessary for ensuring  that our head and our heart are in agreement. This kind of retreating is very forward-looking and much more effective than staying in motion without clear direction to whatever we are doing.

    Some organized retreats are primarily business meetings, others are intentionally inner-directed and spiritual. Whenever we privately retreat for the sake of making decisions based on our desire to think, speak and act in in a manner that seems right and is accompanied by feelings of peace, we are most certainly engaged in spiritual activity that encourages us to move forward. Likewise, when we notice that something appears to be good, but we also sense dissonance, this spiritual activity also enables us to make a well-founded decision: not to proceed.  Retreating so that we can decide issues based on both external information as well as internal evidence is the most efficient way of making real progress.

    Retreating for the sake of advancing is spiritually wise and effective.

  • Harps - Even in this life, love is possible anywhere at any time.

    Angels playing harps on white fluffy clouds might make for pleasing art or for comic strip caricatures. But even for the most avid music lover, spending eternity in such a genteel occupation is not that attractive. Harp-playing might have viewed as a symbol for peace in ages past more than it is now. But when it comes to eternal rest, or heaven, or the after-life or existence beyond time, the real and unlimited possibilities of whatever might follow after this life can be found if we reflect on present experiences, using our imagination.

    We do not have available to us, nor do we really need, reports and interviews from those who are presently engaged in the kind of doings that we have reason to expect of the next life. If we give some thought to the deepest core of happiness in this life, we can verify the basic reality that supports our hopeful expectations for the next life.

    The most promising aspect of life now that seems appropriate afterwards, is love. Our need to love and to be loved is never fully satisfied in this life even for the saints among us. The movement is so defining of humankind, and has such power, that we will do everything we can on behalf of those we love, partially because we have an innate sense that love is transcendent and does not really come to an end. Love, even as we experience it, does not pass away, though individual acts indeed come to a conclusion. Rather than playing harps or resting peacefully, unlimited love is an active, truly fitting after-life life-style that will be completely satisfying in every way.

    We know that our love even now is not limited to family members and closest friends. Teaching, guiding, assisting, helping and acting kindly toward others as we do in a myriad of ways, give us quite reasonable hope that this kind of love will continue in an environment where time and energy are no longer quantifiable and limited, but infinite and eternal. Even in this life love is possible anywhere at any time. But we have so many limiting factors, and so much experience of the very opposite of love in this world, that if we do not reflect thoughtfully, we could miss the primacy of love in our lives, and not be able to foresee a life where only love is possible. Death is the end of all but love. Death has no conceivable place in life after death where love is all.  

    Even if much of what we think about and put ourselves into with so much energy might not seem connected in any way with love, we can easily affirm that we are people of action. Death is the state of complete inaction. Whatever image we might hold for life beyond death, we can know with certainty that life is about action, not a state of passivity. Endless time will provide the appropriate environment of unlimited capacity for every kind of occupation of which we will be capable. There will be no lack of action, and all will be unequivocally filled with, and expressive of, love.

    After all, those who play harps most likely do so with love as well as skill.

  • Victim - We are essentially free to interact with reality as we choose.

    The word “victim” is not a pleasant-sounding word and usually does not bring anything positive to mind. Freedom to choose is so very dear to us that the idea of being victimized by persons or circumstances is quite repugnant. Huge numbers of people in the world have very little control over the major natural and political events that make their lives extraordinarily difficult, and yet they do not define themselves as victims, and they do not see themselves as persons who have no options whatever. The human spirit does not identify with being victim.

    For some, categorizing themselves as victims might seem to be a means for avoiding responsibility or for gaining sympathy. But if we use the term too lightly as part of our internal dialog we put ourselves into a helpless frame of mind. And if we describe our situation to others as being that of a victim, we inhibit the honest communication with them that would result in practical support. People around us know when we are suffering, but they also know that in most situations we have possibilities for modifying our constrained circumstances, and that we can choose to see ourselves as active and engaged, dealing with the realities of life rather than succumbing to them.

    We sometimes smile when we hear people blaming their present difficulties on persons or circumstances, because we know from experience that, other than expressing some negative feelings, nothing changes by claiming that problems are not really ours if we say that someone or something else is responsible for them. Only when we decide how we will respond to any particular event, condition or set of circumstances will we truly take care of ourselves and obtain internal balance. We can be temporarily victimized, if that is the best description for being affected by circumstances over which we have no control, but it does no good for us or for anyone else if we choose to label ourselves as victims.

    However we might name the source of our insistence on facing as best we can whatever befalls us, our consistent experience of relating with life’s more painful incidents is that of coming to a personally satisfying integrity, not that of ongoing frustration and anger. Suffering anything from a minor physical injury to a major personal loss does not have power over our capacity to choose how we will relate to illness, injustice or any other problem that can occur.

    Some occurrences affect our emotions so strongly that our freedom to choose how best to respond is temporarily diminished. But our spiritual nature succeeds in passing through such stages of being victimized when we look beyond our focus on self to help that is outside us. We rely on friends, mentors, professionals of various kinds, but also and anywhere and at any time, on God, Spirit, Love, and any named or unnamed source of encouragement that comes from beyond us even as it touches us within. We are not alone, but are in solidarity with all those who bear an internal insistence that we are never, of ourselves, wholly victims.

    No matter how people may describe us when we suffer, we are essentially free to interact with reality as we choose.

  • Fast, Faster and Fasting - what might be the connections?

    We often hear from one another how fast time seems to be passing, and attribute the sensation to our busy lifestyles. And we seem to be going faster, ostensibly beyond our control. We might therefore need some fasting, some resistance to the external and even internal insistence on going faster. The culture of fast and faster within which we live is unlikely to change, but we can choose fasting from over-reliance on supposedly measurable progress as an appropriate means for slowing ourselves to a balanced manner of living that accomplishes more with less, especially less in the way of stress.

    Fasting from particular foods often helps us gain increased control over our appetites which seek for more and better things to eat. Fasting from our inclinations to ever more activity is a reliable means for becoming free of dominance by a “have-to” mentality that might have infected us. We might, for example, have internalized the expectations of others, resulting in an ultimately ruinous manner of living which coincides with fast and faster. We can deal properly with the expectations that others have for us if we reflect on them in particular, not in general. We are responsible to ourselves and everyone else for making decisions rather than reacting to requests that might at first appear to be duties that stem from our responsibilities. Fasting from a fast and faster mentality is somewhat counter-cultural, but enables us to set priorities that we can fulfill rather than becoming frustrated by trying to do everything.

    Fasting usually means refraining from something that is attractive to our physical senses, in favor of obtaining a higher good, thereby satisfying our interior senses. For example, we might decide to not eat a favorite food at some time, either for the sake of good health or to have an experience that puts us into solidarity with those who do not have the food options that we do. In a similar, but applied sense, we could choose to fast from consulting our cell phones and other such devices as frequently as we do in order to gain control over a possibly unconscious sense of obligation that has no foundation in terms of our true responsibilities to others and to ourselves.

    If we reflect on our regular activities, and notice some that are accompanied by pushy or otherwise uncomfortable feelings and that consistently lead to acting faster and faster, we have found a habit that calls for a very helpful kind of fasting. When we take more control over one or more of the routine parts of our behavior that have become somewhat compulsive, we gain self-respect that is not just good for us, but conveys an appropriate sense of peaceful centeredness that is helpful to those around us 

    Fast and faster evoke notions of speed, while fasting has no apparent connection with rapidity. But when we find the quality of our lives diminished by an over-hurried series of daily activities, fasting from even a small portion of whatever we might have mistakenly undertaken as obligatory will enable us to see our way to recovering a realistic and healthy norm.

    Fast and faster moderated by fasting: a Lenten option.

  • Hope Spring - Our need for hope in these times is at least as great as that of having access to healthy drinking water.

    We are familiar with hot springs near regions of volcanic activity and of mountain springs as sources of good drinking water, but a hope spring? There is a saying, “hope springs eternal” which gives us an opening for imagining that we have access to an ever-flowing and reliable source of hope. A hope spring should provide us with healing warmth and also satisfy our thirst for cool, clear options that offer us a way forward. Our need for hope in these times is at least as great as that of having access to healthy drinking water.

    We will not find a fancy brochure illustrating where we might find a healing hope spring, and we will not find store shelves offering a variety of products from hope springs. Rather, if we look within ourselves and exercise ordinary discernment, we can make contact with our hope spring. Deliberate reflection, noting how we feel in conjunction with what we think, will provide us with the proper directions, and will prepare us to receive the hope we desire.

    Of the many possible lines of thinking open to us, some are of no use when we genuinely want to find cause for hope. All pessimistic, angry or blaming thoughts are quite irrelevant when looking for hope. So are mere wishes for world peace, universal good-will and all manner of pleasant fantasies. We begin with a sincere search for a hope spring, and test the worth of our thoughts by their resonance or dissonance with our honest desire for hope. By choosing to direct our thoughts towards the subject of hope we will almost invariably experience a bit of hopefulness, confirming the process of deliberately seeking hope. As we continue, noting how one thought brings us a sense of peacefulness while another tends to cause discomfort, we engage in a most basic and fruitful exercise of discernment that leads us to our hope spring.

    We might also want to consider the ground from which our spring derives the power of hope that enables us to keep going in the face of the great and small challenges that confront us. We can continue to look within ourselves and ponder where some of the hopeful-leading thoughts that come into our minds have originated. We do not create our minds nor do we make use of sequential logic to bring into being some of the hopeful thoughts that bring us feelings of peace, well-being and courage to go forward in face of present difficulties. We can use discernment to test out any of our thoughts about the source of hope, and thereby find hope that transcends our own powers.

    No one has yet been harmed by thinking that God inspires in us thoughts that lead to hope. But any of us can take note of how we feel, either comfort or somehow distressed, if we think that the hope engendered in us is a gift from a God of love who has our best interests at heart.

    “Love is the source of our hope spring.” What feelings arise at that thought?

  • Judging - Our best decisions rely not exclusively nor primarily on objective reasoning.

    Judging is not the same as discerning, though we may know how to use discernment in making a judgment. When the judges for some of the Olympic events or for the Oscars make their judgments, we expect that they were making use of appropriate criteria and not those based on personal likes and dislikes. We know in our own experiences that pure objectivity might be possible when dealing with quantifiable measurements, but as soon as qualitative distinctions are considered, judging becomes much more difficult. For this reason, several judges are often used, in which multiple conclusions are averaged in a mathematical formula for a final decision.

    Most people are likely to say that the fairest judgments are those made objectively, with no personal feelings involved. Understood as an ideal for eliminating any kind of subjective bias or prejudice, the idea is sound, especially when the matters being judged are readily observable. But most of the important features of our lives are neither quantifiable nor easily perceived through our senses. In addition we must often make decisions about how to think, speak and act not just for ourselves, but in relation to others. As individuals, we need a process for making decisions that is at least as trustworthy as having a group of persons pooling their judgments.

    Discernment in making decisions is a particular practice of Ignatian Spirituality, though it is not at all restricted to those who know about it by this name. The practice does not appear in the usual dictionary definitions of “discernment,” even though many people have been using the word in the Ignatian sense for more than 500 years.

    Our best decisions rely not exclusively nor even primarily on objective reasoning, but on clear conscious awareness of the often subtle interior feelings that are directly related to our thoughts. Most of us can look back at some of our decisions that we thought were logical, reasonable, and correct, only to find that we had made a mistake. We had not noticed or paid any attention to the presence of feelings of anger, so that we sent off an irretrievable message that caused harm, or feelings of fear, so that our decision poorly represented our true aspirations for “doing the right thing.” When we judge a situation without adverting to the very helpful movements within us, we likely fail to judge well.

    Discernment is a spiritual activity, relying on conscious appraisal of information from both our minds and our hearts, not just either thoughts or feelings. We are whole persons, body, mind and spirit, in an active holistic unity. But we are also capable of being influenced by various appetites, not only physical, as with food and drink, but more especially by unrecognized desires for excessive or inappropriate power and control that become harmful to us and to others. Our best judgments are made when we first set ourselves the goal of seeking to make the best decision we can at the time we make it. Then we can reflect, and we can also pray, to recognize the interior feelings associated with particular thoughts that either confirm our decision with peace or warn us off with disturbance. 

    Our responsibility in judging is much more than for merely giving voice to a personal opinion.

  • Internal 911 - How is it that we often respond to other's emergency conditions and ask others to help us?

    We know that for emergencies of many kinds we should call 911 and explain the situation as succinctly as possible so that appropriate help might be given. But when we have an immediate need that cannot be treated by emergency medical, fire, or police personnel, to whom do we go?

    It might be easy to say that we would take our personal crises directly to God. But even calls to 911 often involve implicit trust in God without conscious direct reference. When some acute problems occur, we often turn to friends and family members if we are able, or to anyone who happens to be nearby. Without adverting to it, most of us believe that, in an emergency, someone will help.

    Our trust is based partly on experiences of how we ourselves have responded to people in various kinds of unexpected needs, not only in life-threating emergencies. We might have seen someone in trouble, and enquired whether he or she needed assistance. Or someone in a parking lot left their keys and cell phone in the car and asked for help, which we gave. Looking back over our past, we can probably find many occasions when it seemed natural to respond to minor emergencies or even some that were fairly significant. By reflecting on our own behavior, we can see how it is that we are willing to trust others, even strangers, to assist us when we encounter minor or major difficulties that we cannot resolve on our own.

    We might wonder about the source of our internal 911 responses, for it is not universal that all people are willing to help one another or to expect that others would aid them in time of need. We honor as exceptional persons the heroic volunteers and also professional responders who help others at great risk to themselves, for we know that some persons do not live up to even reasonable expectations of their responsibilities. How is that we often respond to others’ emergency conditions rather than hide or run away, and that we ask others to help us, rather than relying only on ourselves?

    Since trust cannot be commanded or bought, and is so clearly a spiritual movement, we look within to understand our trusting tendencies and actual performance. We have come to accept that the lives of others are valuable, as is our own. No one can prove to us that we should care for anyone else, especially when it might be inconvenient, or that anyone should care for us. Our internal 911 originates in the ongoing work of creation by which each of us continues to come ever more fully into existence. Each of us is loved into being, not just at conception, but all day every day. And this movement of love underlies our orientation to favor the well-being of others and to trust, in general, that others will look upon us in the same way.

    Emergencies are memorable experiences for most of us. The manner in which we deal with them reflects an abiding orientation, our internal 911, that corresponds to the love in which we are created.

  • Wrinkles - Causes for appreciation?

    Some people do not want to see wrinkles on their faces, especially as a few of those little furrows might easily be understood as indicators of ageing. But those who look at our faces usually have a very different perspective. Many of the little lines are characteristic of the kind of persons we are, and they certainly convey our feelings in the present moment. Smile-lines mean one thing, just as frown-lines signify something entirely different. Since our dispositions in relation to others can largely be seen in our faces, even the lines that are indicative of our age convey helpful information for those who interact with us. Our wrinkles might sometimes communicate our attitudes more truly than the words we speak.

    When we look in a mirror, what do we see? Are there some tiny wrinkles around eyes and mouth that give evidence of a propensity for smiling more often than frowning? If we see indications of a prevalent outlook that we like, we have confirmation to continue. If we recognize a particular feature of our lives that is less than what we want, we can do something about it. For example, if we notice a visible manifestation of continual worry revealed by the lines on our brow, we can begin to change. Once we acknowledge a present fact that is candidly revealed in our faces we can reflect on how we want to live into the future. We can consult with others about the practical means of making a positive modification to our behavior, and we can pray for further inspiration and support so that we might become more fully the beautiful (including some wrinkles) persons we are called to be.

    Wrinkles in our plans might at first be as unwelcome as our initial response to the notion of having wrinkles on our faces. We want to succeed at whatever we do, but we also want to become the kinds of persons who can adjust and adapt to the realities we cannot change. For most of us, the process of growth in wisdom, skills and habits does not come easily and not in a linear and smooth manner. Rather, the challenges that arise for which we had not specifically prepared call forth from us the exercise of creativity and courage, together with all manner of positive interior qualities. Most of our learning and development take place when we make contact with unplanned stresses, just as athletes’ skills improve most from engaging in competitions where responses must be made to conditions that are not under their control. 

    Wrinkles, whether they be on our faces or in aspects of our planning, can be causes for appreciation. Beauty of face and of organized activity is not primarily in some kind of visible, unsustainable and limited notion of perfection, but in those qualities of persons and actions that fulfill our purpose in life. We are here to grow in love for one another, and in that lies our real beauty.

    We are all capable of considering a new wrinkle on wrinkles.

  • Palms - How significant?

    The word by itself can provide images of both the palms of our hands and also palm trees. Palm branches suggest to most of us Palm Sunday far more than the lines that branch out on our hands. Palm branches laid out on the ground as an entrance path of honor, or waved in the hands of those wishing to acclaim someone, is far outside our normal experience. But we have much in common with the very first Palm Sunday procession if we are willing to reflect on the way we enact some personally significant decisions.

    Most of the stories associated with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem give a clear indication that he had made a quite firm decision to enter the city and accomplish something of the deepest personal value without regard to anything that might happen to him. We probably do not think of ourselves in such dramatic terms, and yet we too may commit ourselves in certain directions of such importance to us that we deliberately leave aside consideration of possible suffering that we might endure.

    Marriage is not the only hugely important decision that people make in which they implicitly accept whatever consequences might follow; but it surely is an obvious example of the “Palm Sunday” attitude that might be more familiar to many of us than we have previously thought.  In addition to vocational choices of a particular way of life, most of us have made personal decisions about the principles upon which we choose to base our lives, and we have let others know about it. Decisions that we make and relate to others usually involve both risk and determination: risk, in that some persons might not respond favorably, and determination in that we know in our hearts that we must proceed as we have stated for the sake of our own integrity.

    We might notice at particular moments of relating our intentions to one or more persons that the palms of our hands become damp with perspiration: a sign of just how significant to us some of our decisions are. We do not at the time think or ourselves as being involved in a transcendent reality, but when we realize how deeply significant one or other choice is for us, our bodies respond physically to movements of our spirits.

    The decisions that set us on a particular path can be directly related to the Palm Sunday action of Jesus. Not by having branches of palms waved before us, but in sharing in life-defining experiences with one like us who has gone before us and has done so on our behalf. People like us have, for centuries, noted not primarily the suffering, but the love that moved in the heart of the person who chose to do what he had determined to do. In some ways it is disconcerting, but more deeply, we resonate with the attractiveness of not letting fear keep us from doing what our hearts tell us is ours to do. 

    If we are somewhat afraid to proceed, we are welcome to ask the one who first went forward on Palm Sunday to accompany, guide, support and encourage us to continue in the direction we are most deeply drawn.

    The significance of palms. .

  • Lunar - Events that touch our lives.

    Some major human events, such as Jewish Passover and Christian Easter, are organized according to a lunar calendar and therefore do not appear at the same time each year as do the dates that follow the familiar 365-day solar calendar. But for all the practicality of the 12-month calendar, much of the natural world runs in a lunar cycle, especially the tides. However we choose to measure the passage of time, much of what takes place on earth is wholly unaffected by our categorization of events. We can count the passage of time any way we wish, even with extremely accurate atomic clocks, but no matter how we take our measurements, they are always based on something that exists. We did not create either the earth or time.

    Having created both, God is present and active even in the rocks and also in every moment, as Teilhard de Chardin stated, and before him, Hebrew Prophets and St. Paul, among others. No “proof” is offered, but the statements have not been contradicted by the most up-to-date scientific discoveries. And the Creator chooses not to “prove” to us the love that motivates all of creation, including that part of the expanding universe which scientists now state quite clearly we will never be able to know.

    We who live in the midst of our space-time environment do not need to know everything, as long as we realize that we are loved and that our fulfilment comes through loving others. The moon, the sun and everything that we can perceive through our senses have God in them, if we choose to consider the possibility. Of course, if we dismiss the idea, we will not recognize the signs of love at work, just as those who say that no one loves them are unlikely to see the indications of caring in the words and deeds of other persons. 

    The stories and beliefs of Passover and Easter can be expressed in conversational words and also in doctrinal kinds of statements as well as in long-held traditions and local adaptations. But anyone and everyone who is willing to reflect on his or her life-experiences can find resonances with some forms of being helped, even saved, by the gratuitous love of others. Worshippers and those with no conscious religious practice, all benefit every day from direct personal or indirect thoughts, words, deeds (including prayers) of others. Even the most disordered societies include persons who are at times generous to the point of transcending their human limitations.

    The God of all creation is not in the least limited in choosing to love each one of us.  Some of us are more adept than others at comprehending this love in nature, but very many of us have deep experiences of love so great that they encompass not just our good days, but our worst thoughts, words and actions. Mercy and forgiveness, healing and help match our greatest human needs with love that is always available.

    Passover and Easter are far more than mere dates in a lunar cycle.