Tuesday, August 31, 2010

On Further Reflection.......Hope

UPON FURTHER REFLECTION With most hikes there is the going out, or up, and the coming home, the coming down. It means ascending and descending, unless, of course, you are on a loop. In the spiritual life , ascending has to do with the realm of the spirit, while descending has to do with, soul work My spirit and soul got a great workout, on that hike. Actually you could say there were two hike, in one. The ascending was in the peace, and security of clear skies, and bright sunshine. This lifted the spirit into the realm of freedom. Freedom from care, concern, fear, and worry. It was so easy to say, "Thank You". An attitude of gratitude was so apparent. The descending was so much, the very opposite. It was a journey into insecurity, fear, and concern, just to name a few. This was, and is, the journey of the soul. Soul work is not that appealing, that is why the spiritual journey is not attractive to so many. Soul work IS hard work. On the hike, I was given a deeper insight into both. Upon reflection is not this the way we spend, the way we live out all of our daily living? We do not have to go on any hike to have the aforementioned experiences. They are the both sides of you every day.

There are some days, well let’s say, there are some moments of our day when are in sunshine, we can safely say, “I have got this life thing wired?". When we are in that much desired place, Fr Rohr calls that place, that pole he calls "inflation”. We never stop there, we then go to the opposite pole. Here, we are meeting the challenge, of being lost, lonely, and so alone where we ask the questions, “How did get into this mess?" and "Is this ever going to stop or go away?”. This pole at which so much of our lives are spent, is called "alienation". When we are that pole in our daily journey, we are really frazzled. We do not know which way is up. We are facing the limits of our endurance. Here, we border on hopelessness and helplessness, we are in the best place possible. Yes! I will repeat that again, as you may think I was having a senior moment, we are in the best place possible, SPIRITUALLY, that is. This is where our ego does not want to go to.

The ego will do everything in its power to avoid being in this situation. The ego has the power of the Devil on its side. What do we have on our side, as we slowly come to admit our human limitations, we are guaranteed THE POWER of GOD which overcomes all evil. WE have to face however, what the ego hates ,the the great challenge, we call surrender. That is why soul work is so repulsive to the ego, and so to us who want to look good and powerful.Here we face what Fr. Rolheiser calls , the challenge of our insufficiency. We are here challenged to face our own inner incompleteness. For the ego a root canal in more acceptable.

When I returned to the cabin I had a great big bowl of soup. Did that taste good? Later, I had a very relaxing hot bath. That night before I went to bed I had a big mug of camomile tea. As I lay there feeling very safe, cozy and warm, I had to ask the question, " Can this get any better?”. To make things even better I was in that state where I knew I was going to go to sleep. I suffer from insomnia, so this was the cherry on the sundae, I fell asleep listening to the wind and the rain. My very favorite sound. It was great to experience that feeling of contentment. The big question that is begging to be asked is, would it last? Of course not, I am sad to say. Within a short period I was back facing my essential loneliness, insecurity, incompleteness, discontent. I was again back in daily struggle of what it means to be a spiritual being, having a human experience. T hank the Good Lord, this is not our lasting home. We are here on a visit, so in the meantime we have our daily struggle. There is no escape.

Fr. Karl Rahner has written the following; " In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished". Fr. Rolheiser writes the following in commentary, "What does it mean to be tormented by insufficiency of everything attainable?” How are we tortured by what we cannot have? We all experience this daily. In fact, for all but a few privileged, peaceful times, this torment is like an undertow to everything we experience;" beauty makes us restless when it should bring us peace, the love we experience with our spouse does not fulfill our longings, the relationships we have within our families seem too petty and too domestic to be fulfilling, our job is hopelessly inadequate to the dreams we have for ourselves, the place we live in seems boring and lifeless in comparison to other places, and we are too restless to sit peacefully at our own tables, sleep peacefully in our own beds, and be at ease within our own skins. We are tormented by the insufficiency of everything attainable when our lives are too small for us and we live in them in such a way that we are always waiting, waiting for something or somebody to come along and change things so that our lives , as we imagine them, might begin. ..... To be tormented with restlessness is to be human."

I have found great consolation, and courage in those words.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Life.....or a Hike...(2)

Ready for the rest of the hike? Well let’s do it! Remember where we were last week? Well, you do not have to remember, all you have to do is scroll down and read all about how I described the ascent ? How beautiful and serene it was? How it was so easy to get lost in the wonder-fullness of the place I was at, doing what I was doing. In Ireland they call these places, "thin places". Places where the divine is more easily encountered, than in other places. Since last week I came across the following; “Beauty serves....to prepare the soul for... encounter with God". That trail which was such a sacrament, revealing the presence, and the mystery of God in the beauty of his creation, now to say the least, has changed. The trail will still be a sacrament, it will demand more in depth thought….a lot of thought and reflection. It is in the storms of life we need the x-ray eye of faith to see the deeper meaning behind the obvious reality of pain, stress, and discomfort. The rain and hail sure made that trail different, and more difficult. There was great confidence on the way up. Now, as the rain began to gather and flow downhill, I had to go slow, and pick my steps. On the way up the rocks, that I avoided, now became a source of security. Strange??? Those rocks were a way to stop the slipping and sliding. The same can be said of the rock we call faith. What one time was a real pain for us, prayer, Mass, the Sacraments, moments of quiet, now becomes a source of peace and serenity. What once were seen as obstacles, are now seen as stepping stones “Storms of Life”, I believe, reveal their own sacraments to us as well.

A person of my age, and temperament has to be very cautious . That peaceful, serene trail is now, as I have said, a great challenge. In the beginning of the descent I skipped about to avoid the gathering pools. (Now that was a sight to see- my version of the jig!) After a time, I saw it was to no avail. My boots were getting really wet, as a matter of fact, they were soaked. Lo and behold, I reverted to days of long ago. Do you remember how GREAT it felt to jump into the middle of a puddle of water, much to the horror of your mother? She was not looking at my great joy, but to the washing and ironing that was waiting for her, as the result of my great adventure in to muddy water. Well here I am happy as Larry, whoever he was, splashing my way down hill, with plenty of rain, wind, hail, with flashing lightening, and rolling thunder. There was a great feeling that came with the buffeting. I was warm in my body, and the energy was good. Yes, it was good to be alive and I wanted to stay that way. When the lightening got really close, I had the thought, “Why not get to a place of shelter and wait this storm out?”. It was getting late. I had no idea how long that storm would last, it lasted a while. The sky looked as if, as we say in Ireland, “it was settling in for the evening”. So, I carried on down that wet sloppy trail, which in some places was a little stream. Some parts numb with freezing cold, the other parts really enjoying the long forgotten pleasure, of playing in the rain. On the was down, I was anxiously looking for familiar signs along the way that would tell me how much further I had to travel. There was a great sigh of relief when I saw the trail head sign. I now knew I was close to the parking lot and the warmth of my car. I could almost feel the warmth of the hot air. Obviously I reached the car. On came the heat. Then a change of clothes. Something to eat, and headed for home. Yes, it rained the whole way home. I have had some days to think, and reflect on that hike. How true to the spiritual life that experience was. How often do we find ourselves going along, again, happy as Larry. From what we can see life is going well. All the ducks are in line, and almost at the water. Our plans are working out, our expectations are somewhat being met. Most of the people in our lives are working and walking in step with us. That is me on the first leg of the hike. Then life happens. We now become aware, or in some cases are forced into awareness that this spiritual being is immersed in the totality of the human experience. That storm which hit me, in the physical, will hit every person on the spiritual level as well. When I am lost in the storm, I have to realize there is no place I will go to that Jesus has not gone to, and he is also there waiting for me to show up. He got wearied on His journey. He was buffeted by the storms. He was disappointed. He as the scriptures say: "He was like unto us in all things, except sin", and He died out of love for us sinners.

As human beings we can so easily, in a split second, go from being calm and serene, to being angry, hateful, and spiteful. We can go from being accepting to being resentful, in no time flat. Being Irish, I am in that group of people that will speak and act first, then think. I have to learn to be a responder, rather than a reactor. I am still in school for that one. I have to learn to slow down and read the signs of the time I find myself in. On my hike the changes around me were gradual, yet I missed them. I was so caught up in the good feelings of a great hike that the reality of where I was lost on me. My emotional needs joy and happiness were being met while all the same time I was putting myself in physical danger. When the rational side took over I made the healthy decision to get on the trail home. I have to learn to balance, or better still, to bring into balance the emotional and the rational. How often the signs of danger and trouble are there and we choose to ignore the challenge to, confront . How often are we so unaware of the changes that will of necessity, be brought about we continue in our dysfunction? To make matters worse, we blame God for what is happening to us, and where we are at. God has nothing to do with so much of the trouble and danger we find ourselves in. How responsible do we hold ourselves to be? It was not God who lead me into that danger, through what was an apparent good. Joe was responsible to take all factors into account and then make a decision, which I did not. What happened on the next hike? I was out a distance, looked up, and saw the dark clouds, see I learned. The trail looked great in front of me, it was very tempting to say, " just a little further".

No, this time I turned back. I barely made it to the car when, the heavens opened. Enough said.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Hike....or Life...

It was first hike up to Mallard lake. Last year I hiked the Mallard Creek trail. To be honest, I had some reservations about this year's choice. A ranger informed me the lake trail was a little more challenging, translation, a steeper trail. She was quick to add that the scenery was so much better. When I heard that word, steeper, I immediately was countered with the question, “Are there any switchbacks?". She replied, with a reassuring smile, "Yes, there are". What a relief that was. On difficult hikes I look forward to the switchbacks. They provide a time and a space, to regroup a little, so as to have the energy, and strength to meet the challenge of the next stage of the climb. As it is on hikes, so it is with The Hike we call “The Spiritual Journey”. Here is a thought, on the hikes we choose to go on we cannot plan the switchbacks, nature has control of that. On the hike of your every life, however, you are in control (and only you can do it) of where those switchbacks moments are. We now call those who do not take this healthy step ”victims”. Those who do take the healthy step are called “survivors”. Those in the first group are referred to as “human doers”, and those in the second are referred to as “human beings”. God created us to live the life as free human beings….Come on switchbacks.!!!!

Well, let’s get back to this hike. What a hike it was, otherwise I would not be writing about it. As I made my way up the trail, I was struck with the peace, calmness and serenity. Looking back, I do not know why this was so. Was it because I, myself, was in a good place, or was the trail itself, and all that it had to offer. (How about ," both/and", you may well say?) The trail was somewhat challenging, but soft and gently underfoot. You kinda bounced of the sod as you moved along. It was great. So wonder-full, that the thought came to me, this should be named "The Serenity Trail to Mallard Lake".
I journeyed along, lost in thought, enjoying the feeling of being immersed in Yellowstone. I was gradually making my way up the trail. Not only were there switchbacks, there were also little hills to go up and down. I was really enjoying myself. Not too much though. I was keeping a close eye out for, Mr. or Mrs Bear. You see, earlier in the week, I came within about 20 yards of a bear! I was not able to decide whether it was a Mrs., a Mr., a Miss or a Master, that bear took off so fast! Take it from me, bears are fast. I am so thankful he/she decided to run away from me, and not at me. I am told they can hit speeds of between 35-40 mph. Later in the week I saw a huge grizzlie. He was about a quarter of a mile away. I have him tucked away, in the safety of my camera, he is no threat there.

So, here I am, lost in thought among the trees. I, however, have no view of the sky. That is not good. Suddenly, I heard the sound of thunder. It was away in the distance, so it was nothing to worry about. So, I went back to being lost in the joy, and pleasure of the hike. There was another peel of thunder. This one got my attention, why? Because this time, there was lightening before the thunder rolled. I looked up, and saw that the sky had darkened in the East, but there was blue sky to the west. So, off I went, keeping the thought of the blue sky uppermost in my mind, and not paying too much attention to the ever darkening sky. Not even the drops of rain got my attention. Not a smart move, but my best. (I failed to read all the signs of the time and place I found myself in.) That was my best decision at the time. My best, but not the best. The right one was not made and as usual there was a price to be paid. Was this the first time in my life this has happened? Of course not. This has happened may times before, and there is every chance it will happen again. As long as I am a limited human being, this will happen again and again, until the day I die. It is our friend, death who will free us to live the fullness of live. In the mean time, we are to struggle, on a daily basis, with what it means to be a, spiritual being having a human experience.

Well the raindrops became more frequent, and there was more of them than there was before. So, here I was at somewhere between 7,500 and 8,000 feet. There is wind, rain, thunder and lightning. To make matters worse, the rain was then hail, and it is freezing cold. I have not been in this kind of weather since I left Ireland. In Ireland, mother nature would never play a trick like this. Here I am in Summertime. A time like winter has entered, to darken the joyful light . It was, and never is, a lasting darkness. When the light does appear again, as it always does, what will be the truths that have become a part of this new reality. This new reality is: life as I live it today.

It would be too long of a blog, a sermon yes, to bring me down the mountain. So I will leave Joe at say, 7,700 feet. There is lightening, wind, freezing hail or rain, peeling thunder, numbing hands, heading for home, and lessons to be learned.

See you next week, as the wandering continues, or so, I sincerely hope.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Wandering Thoughts from a Cabin....

I have heard it said, "Every seven years we ask a new set of questions". I have found this to be so very true, in my own life and in the life of so many others. Look at what happens between the ages of 14 and 21. How the questions flow so quickly, and the answers appear so slowly. Henri Nowen encourages us, “to live the question, so we can live into the answer". For those who are in their 30’s, or have encountered that watershed year of 35, I do not have to tell you anything about life being turned upside down, and a great feeling of being lost takes over. Nothing has worked out the way you expected . All your plans have gone askew, you are not where you wanted to be. You are not in the place others expected you to be. You are not who you thought you would be at this time. The things of life are so up in the air, so uncertain. There seems to be no real order, only questions about the chaos. Even if the outside looks good, the insides are the very opposite. I now firmly believe, the better we show ourselves to be on the outside, the more messed up we are on the inside. What is worse, we will do everything in our power to defend , and protect the illusion. The illusion that is ours, our family, our parish, our church, our country, and our world. In each case, we pay a terrible price. Look at the cost, in human and monetary terms, the defense of sexual misconduct has wrecked on individuals, families, and church. There is that saying, which we have adopted from AA, " We are as sick, as our deepest secrets". How true that is. The opposite is honesty. Honesty is progressive. Thank The Good God for that. It is that fearsome gift, honesty, which will enable each one of us to journey from illusion, into who we are in the unconditioned love of our God. Yes, a fearsome journey, yet we can be assured that nothing will be revealed to us, that God and we, cannot take care of. Sometimes I have to remind our God , " you have more faith in me than I have in myself right now, so you may want to ease up, just a little". In some cases, I have to say, "a lot". That is an honest prayer, as it comes from the gut. Gut prayer always works. Why? We are being real, and Reality always responds to us in our deepest reality.

There is one person who, over the years, has enabled me to grow, very slowly I may add, into gut honesty, that person is Henri Nowen. So, at this stage, as I am dealing with a multiple of 7, it is time for me to reread again, “Reaching Out ". I first read this book in 2006. I have been reading it over the years. In the hard, difficult, and challenging times, it has been a daily read. Nowen writes, as nobody else does, about the sacrament of the human condition and all that entails. In all that is authentically human, God, The Divine Presence, is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed. He is so honest about being a spiritual being enfleshed in the human condition. He is, for me, a prophet of hope. He is, for me, a great teacher. He has lead me, and continues to lead me, by the sharing of his faith journey, to embrace my faith journey, just as it is. A faith journey with it's valleys and mountaintops. A journey replete with times of hope and despair. A journey into great loneliness, and a deepening happiness. A faith journey with its times of great fear, leading to a deepening of faith. He has given me the permission, which I always sought, to be who I really am. Honesty, I have found, is the stepping stone leading to a freedom and a happiness beyond imagination.

In the foreword, he writes the following; "the quest for an authentic Christian spirituality is worth the effort and the pain, since in the midst of this quest we can find signs offering hope, courage, and confidence". Those signs are to be found in each and every life. These signs are there for you and I, to be found . WE are always being offered, what we need, not what we want. Sources of hope, courage, and confidence are our daily bread. This ‘daily bead’ is the GUARANTEE of a Loving, merciful and caring God. It is when we stop reacting to life, and begin to respond to what is our reality, we begin to see life as it really is. We all need that time, a time that must be claimed, which will enable us to slow down and allow our souls to catch up with us. In this place, a peace, a joy, a happiness is awaiting those with the courage to do so. Merton says, “it takes tremendous courage to be still”. It takes great force of will to say to oneself, and mean it, “I am a human being, NOT a human doer".

This Spiritual journey stuff is tough work. Thank God it is His doing and not ours. It is a life we fall deeper into, the more we fall down.!!!!!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Never Too Young...Never Too Old...To be Taught

I was finishing up a hike in Steamboat Springs. There is a great feeling that comes with being able to see the trailhead, it is even better (the journey) down-hill. As I was coming down the trail, enjoying the last part of a very enjoyable hike, I heard the cry of someone who was not having a good day. I came around a bend, standing there was a young mother looking down the incline. She said " My son is not able to ride his bike up the hill, and he is really upset". Her daughter was pushing her bike up the hill, and seemed relaxed about it. It was very different with her brother. He did not look like a very happy camper, as he pushed his bike up the incline. He was a really upset young boy, and was not ready to listen to, or accept, his mother's words of understanding and support. She was so positive.
On the other hand, his body language was loud and clear: “I am not listening to you, I am not paying attention to you, just leave me alone.” How often have we, as adults , found ourselves in the same boat? Thank the good Lord, it is not the Titanic! For some very unfortunates, it is.

I finished up my hike, but I was not finished with the encounter, with what had happened back on the trail. I knew there was a lesson to be learned. I waited for it to surface. Whatever is REAL, for you and I, reveals to us some aspect of the spiritual. In all that is real, is perfectly hidden, and perfectly revealed, the Divine Presence, our God. Remember that old axiom; " every picture tells a story" ? Well, today we are told, and have to be continually reminded, all reality is the ongoing revelation of God. That is the meaning of the
expression, 'the sacrament of the present moment'. So what has surfaced so far, what gift has come from that meeting on that hike, on that particular trail?

Well as you know, I like to compare our spiritual journey to a hike.
( Read the blog from this time last year). On the hike of life, we find out what it really means to be spiritual beings, enwrapped in the oh-so human condition. On an ongoing, daily basis, we have to continue to learn, to be taught, how to not just exist, not to just survive, but live fully, this human journey we call life.

That morning I began to hike a new trail. Yet, what I encountered was the same, eternal struggle that is met in every human endeavor. If it is an authentic human event, the action of a knowing mind and a consenting will, then it involves both the human and the divine. That is why every, and I really mean every person, place, event, action, is my coming face to face with a new revelation of who my God is for me. Yes, our God is ever new, and at the same time so ancient. Here, is a good time to reflect on the famous words of St, Augustine, "O, Beauty, ever ancient, ever new". These can be our words as well, as we live out each and every new moment in a creation that is ever ancient and ever new. From all I have read and been told, this world of ours has been in existence for billions of years. (This week I overhead a park ranger describe what happened 700 million years ago to give us what we have today.) Into this ancient environment we are released to discover the very ancient, and the ever new. We are asked to live a fruitful life in a time and place that never was and never will be again. Each step is a unique step. Each life is a life destined by God, to be unique. The more unique we have the courage to live our lives the more the uniqueness of our God is revealed to all creation. God is not threatened by uniqueness. We are . We want conformity to expectations, so we will not be threatened by sudden newness. God always appears in the most unexpected places, and in the most surprising of people. (God as a vulnerable baby? God betrayed, broken, bruised, beaten.) God is not threatened by seeming loss. He turns all of our so called temporal losses into eternal gains.

For that young boy he came face to face with his limitations. He had to deal with what he was unable to do right now. As I told him, in time and with practice, he will conquer that hill. Not the next day nor the next week. It will happen on the condition he plays his part. I pointed out to the young mother, this was a teachable moment on what it means to be human. She can gift her child with a sense of healthy shame, I am human, I am limited. How many of us were never taught that lesson? We had to learn it the hard way. Yet there are so many in denial. We are the ones who want to be perfect. This is a physical impossibility for us humans. This is not defeat. This is not loss. This is us being offered the opportunity to accept, in freedom, our limitations. The result? We now have a real, Savior God. We also are freed from the burden of perfectionisn. We are freed from the bondage of the false self. So then we are given the gift of being able to embrace our called faults, failings, disappointments. We are now lead to the great freedom of being able to live a life of honesty. This is not the end. This leads to a beginning, on the hike, that is ever ancient, ever new. This, of necessity will enable us, will empower us, to claim our belovedness on a new, and ever deepening level.

Thomas Merton has this to say in his book "No Man Is An Island”,
" We must accept the fact that we are not what we would like to be. We must cast off our false, exterior self like the cheap and showy garment that it is. We must find our real self, in all its elemental poverty but also in its very great and very simple dignity; created to be a child of God, capable of loving with something of God's own sincerity and His unselfishness".