I’ve never been good at seeing images in the clouds. To me they always look like… clouds.
My wife does really well at seeing all sorts of real and fantastical images and forms. She asks; “don’t you think that cloud looks like… ?” I respond; “If you say it does, I believe you.” Sometimes I see it after she points it but most times I’m just thankful one of us sees more.
A lot of our attitude, outlook, approach to life depends upon not what we see but how we look at things. What may be setbacks to some are opportunities to others. Hardships, difficulties, trials and tragedies are seen as seasons of refinement, resolve and can instill a refusal to despair.
We need to help each other see the best in the worst, the way forward when it seems a dead end, to be a light in dark places.
“I love those rare evenings when a patch of sunlight illuminates the houses across the lagoon from us against a dark sky. Love, too, the silky texture of the water and the ripples from a passing boat.
It’s all about the contrast: we humans love to see things in black and white. But we have a habit of taking it one step further; of turning it into a choice of light over dark, when in reality we need both to fully appreciate the beauty that surrounds us…” from Diane Walker, woodenhue.blogspot.com
“Fortify yourself with contentment, for this is an impregnable fortress.” #Epictetus
The stuff we accumulate in our lives is of little worth. This doesn’t mean we didn’t spend a lot of money collecting it, its just not the lasting treasure we bank on it being. In addition we also invest a considerable amount in protecting that which fades, rusts, and slips through our fingers.
We often think of insurance policies, locks, safes, security programs as forts, that which protects us, those we love, what we hold dear, from the onslaught of an enemy bent on taking what is ours.
In the quote above Epicetus, the stoic philosopher, reminds us that it is not our valuables which need protecting but us from them.
When our worth is found in things which can be taken away we live in fear. However, when we learn and practice contentment in seasons of much and little, provision and poverty, gain and loss, our hearts and spirits are protected and secure.
I had the honor of visiting a prison here in Atlanta, in order to give an informal talk. Marco, both a friend and a mentor was the go between. It was through him that I had the pleasure of meeting the Rev. John Smith, who was the one who extended the invitation. I met Marco off Old Peachtree Road, parked at the Publix parking lot, and drove with him the rest of the way.
Marco is a very intelligent, thoughtful and insightful man, whom I am grateful to have the honor of knowing. He is a true seeker and I have leaned a great deal from the times that I have been able to talk with him, which have unfortunately have been few and far between. He is also a mentor, for he is very encouraging and supportive in my fledging attempts at writing. He has been to the facility we were visiting a number of times, this was my first. In the past he was also one of the speakers. Over the years I have visited others prisons a number of times. Most of them were to visit an in-law who was incarcerated for transporting drugs across states lines. He was moved a couple of times, both within traveling distance, so I have had some limited exposure to that kind of environment He, his name was Ron, was in for three years, and believe me, three years in any kind of prison is a long time. He however deserved his punishment and served his time, and when he was released was never arrested again. So I had a little experience, though giving a talk was a first.
As we drove up the first thing I saw was the barbed wire that surrounded the facility. On top of the barbed wire was another kind of wire that was thicker and razor sharp, not sure what it is called, but no one was going to climb over that. The buildings reminded me of school, the lawns well manicured, the place had a feel of being very organized, clean, and yes somewhat new. We had to be searched before we went in, and the bars that opened up for us gave me the shivers.
When we finally got inside I could see that there were more prisoners than I thought would be present, but that was okay, the group was relaxed and it helped me to get over my speaking jitters, something I always have before I get in front of a group. They were all ages, the youngest, I found out later was 20 and was getting out soon, the oldest was probably in his sixties, though I am not sure.
As I looked out over the group I thought of the last judgment scene, were Jesus said: “I was in prison and you visited me”. As I was thinking about that, the verse became alive, and I realized that the verse was not about me visiting, but about the prisoners themselves. The intimacy that God has with us is something that I have yet to comprehend, but the reality of Jesus the Christ being not merely present “within’ those men, but actually was those men, went beyond any kind of mere intellectual formulation piously stated at times.
Jesus did say that he was found in the least, no he was the least, and I would imagine that at one time or another most of us would fall into the category for some. God became flesh, there are no boundaries with God, no one is outside that embrace; there is no outside. They, like me, are part of the body of Christ, for “whatever you do to the least, you do to me”. It is often forgotten the revelation that Jesus brought, that intimacy that God has with us. On the cross he forgave those who tortured and killed him, so who is outside that forgiveness? Well we all have our list, but then those on the list, are in reality, the least, so Jesus indentifies with them. There is no escape from this lesson, a hard one indeed.
As I got up to speak, as they looked at me, they were just men, just like me. I was no different, for I know what is in my heart, and I also know what I am capable of, if pushed to an extreme. I am not saying that they do not deserve being there, it is just I am just like them. The saying often quoted “there but for the grace of God go I”, is very true. Human dignity cannot be taken away, though we all are responsible for our actions, none are outside love’s embrace or pursuit.
I could feel God’s presence there in a powerful manner, it was a holy place, and the men there were seeking God, also they were leading lives of responsibility, seeking a better path. Christ is with them, one with them, walking with them, going before them, meeting them in their successes and failures, for God is all in all, and in Him we live and move and have our being.
There are levels of judgment, some are necessary, true, and at times we all benefit from the judgment of others. There are however other kinds of judgment that are destructive, to both the one receiving and also from the one bestowing. For we can close a person off, unable to see beyond whatever it is they have done, we brand them. This kind of judgment makes the other beyond redemption, marked, humanity taken away. Sort of what was done to Jesus; the ultimate scrape goat; it is this level of judgment that we are told not to do. Why? Well because I think we are lousy at it; at least I am, get it wrong, and in the end, a form of self judgment as well. So it is destructive all the way around.
It is possible to have no illusions about what we as a species are capable of and at the same time believe in the love God has for each of us. Especially the least, which at times we all are in someone’s eyes, perhaps mostly in our own, for I think we are our own worst judge. Yet never in God’s eyes, for the further away we feel, the closer Christ draws near. Just words, spatial images I know, which cannot even begin to express the mystery of God’s love and presence within all that is; I find it frustrating. I just get glimpses and then it goes, so I struggle with this great mystery of “God with us”, perhaps until the day I die.
“I was in prison and you visited me.” Who is in prison, who is being visited, who are you and what am I?
by Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO, oblatesosbbelmont.org
Too often we judge society, and each other, by how we view the world, where we grew up, how we we were taught to think, live, act, speak, be. Our values are based on what we’ve learned to treasure.
I was taking with some friends today about the state of our world and particularly our nation. One of them made the comment; “we need to get back to the values of the past.” To which I replied; “yeah, but when, whose values?” He answered; “the 1950’s.”
I knew what my friend was saying. He was speaking of faith, true friendship, keeping your word, politeness and respect for each other. These were the values he grew up with and expected of others.
I countered that the 1950’s were also a time of “the red scare“, segregation, inequality and abuse for many. His remembrance of what was and what should be isn’t the same as others who have different and difficult recollections of that period of time.
History teaches us that no era, generation, society, people were perfect, a flawless model for today. What we need to figure out is how to hold on to what was good, learn the lessons of what we did badly, and forge a new, better way.
Going back will never take us where we need to go.
If technology really represented the rule of reason, there would be much less to regret about our present situation.
Actually, technology represents the rule of quantity, not the rule of reason (quality=value=relation of means to authentic human ends). It is by means of technology that man the person, the subject of qualified and perfectible freedom, becomes quantified, that is, becomes part of a mass–mass man–whose only function is to enter anonymously into the process of production and consumption. He becomes on one side an implement, a ‘hand,’ or better, a ‘biophysical link’ between machines: on the other side he is a mouth, a digestive system, and an anus, something through which pass the products of his technological world, leaving a transient and meaningless sense of enjoyment.
The effect of a totally emancipated technology is the regression of man to a climate of moral infancy, in total dependence not on ‘mother nature’ (such a dependence would be partly tolerable and human) but on the pseudonature of technology, which has replaced nature by a closed system of mechanisms with no purpose but that of keeping themselves going.
If technology remained in the service of what is higher than itself–reason, man, God–it might indeed fulfill some of the functions that are now mythically attributed to it. But becoming autonomous, existing only for itself, it imposes upon man its own irrational demands, and threatens to destroy him. Let us hope it is not too late for man to regain control.
#ThomasMerton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander