Category Archives: Contemplative Quotes
I was reading an excerpt from a book by #LaurenceFreeman this past week. One sentence has stuck with me; “Answers are not what we need. What we need are questions which cannot be answered.” I read and reread this selection many times.
We live in a world, perhaps humanity is made this way by our cultures and societies, in which answers are what we seek and find. While certainly, we would want answers, conclusions, discoveries, of the sort which would end poverty, crime, diseases, however, the most important answers are the ones which cannot be answered.
This is a paradox. Answers comfort us, direct us, help us find our way in the world. However, answers do not lead us to the most important of all truths. God, for example, is by definition, one who cannot be fully and completely known. The deeper we dig to find knowledge of God the more questions we find. It is the same with our existence, our purpose our place in the universe.
Silence as the answer to life’s biggest questions. Many say if you cannot or will not look for the answer then why ask the question? It is when we are able to be still and silent in our souls with the greatest questions unanswered that we find the path of wisdom.
On the Inside –
This weekend has been hot! Temps and humidity in the 90’s. In spite of the temps, I did some yard work on Friday and Saturday and I made my self sick. I took water, Gatorade, breaks. I sat down in the shade several times and laid down with my feet up to avoid heat exhaustion. Even with all these precautions I still sweated buckets and became too hot for my own good. The result was major fatigue and a nauseated stomach. Today, I determined it wasn’t healthy for me to get outside again and so I’ve taken it easy. My stomach is still not normal but better than it was Friday and Saturday. Being sick to your stomach is a terrible feeling. It impacts everything from your appetite to sleeping and doing even the simplest of chores or hobbies.
When I read the quote in the picture (included in post) my stomach troubles are of what I immediately thought. The nauseated feeling is similar to how I feel when I have an anxiety episode so it not a new sensation. I reflected on the truth of how what’s going on in the inside impacts the way see and experience each other, every situation and life. Only when the inside is calm, settled, still are we able to accept life and all of its unpredictability.
“The only peace you find at the top of the mountain
is the peace you bring with you.”
– Wisdom Proverb
Want to See –
Last spring my wife planted some Petunias in a steel bucket that sits in our front yard. This spring she’s been too busy. In place of the beautiful flowers we had last year there are several weeds growing. This afternoon, while mowing the grass, I looked in the steel bucket and there was one single pink Petunia. It was small, crowded and shadowed by the weeds but it was there none the less. If I wasn’t looking in the right place and the right time I would have missed it.
Life can be similar to the small flower in that bucket. There are plenty of weeds; stress, schedules, emergencies, life changing decisions, habits, hang-ups, and hurts. It can be easy not to see the good when we are surrounded by so many things which crowd our lives and shadow our hearts. However, if we keep looking, daring to hope and dream perhaps we will see the beauty of kindness, grace, and love blossom before our eyes.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks for several friends. Many are suffering pain and loss. There has been death, injury, mental diagnosis, health issues, setbacks, financial struggles, legal battles and more. You hurt when others are suffering; feelings of inadequacies, trying to figure out what you can do to ease their burdens lays heavy on your mind and spirit.
Someone in the office asked today; “Why do people bring food to families whose loved ones have died?” A co-worker answered; “Because there’s nothing you can do about death.” I thought this was a good and truthful answer.
There are so many things we can’t do anything about, so much that’s beyond our control. Death, disease, and other extreme difficulties descend on people we treasure and if we could we’d take it away but we don’t have that power.
Accepting our powerlessness is the first step in helping. We are finite beings. We are limited in knowledge, expertise, special abilities and do not posses powers to make all things better by wishing it to be so or worrying obsessively.
Awareness of what we can’t do enables us to see how we can assist those in need. Then we take action. The size of our offering isn’t as important as the spirit in which we give. There is no act of good so small that it’s ineffective. Our hearts propel us to do, not for gratification, but because there is a way to help, love, give hope, be a light to someone living in darkness.
Earlier today a friend posted a request for encouragement. A favorite song, scripture, quote that might bring enlightenment, a sense of joy, a glimpse of heaven in our midst, an assurance that the struggle of life is worth the fight.
Along with others I shared the following, with a note, that said;
“I may not always know how to please you my Lord but may my wanting to please you, please you.” #ThomasMerton
This simple prayer reminds me of my limited intellect, vision and certainty of knowing, doing God’s will. It allows me to be at peace and certain that if my heart’s desire is to please God, he will take my feeble efforts and make something beautiful.
The older I get, and depending on the day; ancient I feel, the more I become convinced of how difficult a task it is to decipher and act upon what is best, what is holy, what is selfless and noble. We each have biases whether we recognize them or not. We are encumbered by emotional allegiances, cultural influences and slanted upbringings. They shape and taint how we see the world, each other and God.
Wisdom teaches us that awareness of these limitations begins with humility and an acceptance that our perceptions and intentions are finite and restricted. This, however, is not an excuse not to do but that our speech and acts be given as humble offerings and recognized as small gifts given to a needy world and distributed by a resourceful father.
We share the breath of the Divine Spirit
The Spirit by which the Church lives is the Spirit of love, of unity. Unity can be preserved or restored only by understanding, acceptance and pardon. The Church is a body of men who know they are forgiven and who forgive repeatedly because they are themselves forgiven repeatedly.
The Church is then not so much a body of men who are pure and never offend, but of men who, in their weakness and frailty, frequently err and offend, but who have received from God the power to forgive one another in His name. They possess the Holy Spirit and they can give the Holy Spirit in some sense, to one another. The Holy Spirit Himself moves them to do this, and acts in them, to save others. (See Acts 8:14-18, 26-39; 10:24-48, etc.)
We, then, who form one body in Christ, share with one another the message of Christ’s divine truth, we share His word, we share His worship, we share His love, we share His Spirit.
The highest adoration we offer to God, “in spirit and in truth” is in this sharing of the breath of the Divine Spirit with one another in pardon and in love. That is why we are told to forgive our brother before we go to offer sacrifice. That is why we exchange the kiss of peace before Communion. The kiss of peace is in some way a part of our Eucharistic communion: it symbolizes the spiritual sharing of the Holy Spirit. With a holy kiss we give the Holy Spirit to our brother, as if the flame of one candle were transferred to enlighten another.
Thomas Merton, OCSO
Seasons of Celebration, p. 227
On Tuesday afternoon I ran into a store to pick up a snack to woof down on the way to a presentation. I hadn’t had time for lunch and I needed something on my stomach to make it through the two hour law enforcement training seminar I was taking part in. As I perused the snack aisle I felt someone tap me on the shoulder and turned around to see a friend who has recently been going through a season of suffering. She told me she was doing okay and trying to make the best out of a difficult situation. I listened and was able to share part of my journey these last eighteen months.
I’ve been discussing with another friend the quote from #ThomasMerton above. Here is some of what I wrote to him this week;
“I think longing for perfection leaves no room for the gift of acceptance of the myriad of things of which we have no control. For life to be our definition, version, of perfection is to not suffer. But some of our greatest lessons are found in suffering. We learn to treat others in the way we were not treated, to speak words of encouragement instead of insult, listen not condemn,
understand not assume, embrace not push away, give not take, be lowly not arrogant, the servant not the master. Grace, humility, surrender to the truth of our powerlessness is only found in suffering.”
Suffering is a needed and necessary, albeit unwanted, part of our journey. To resist suffering, to try and control, force, manipulate, coerce, make the world and others in our image doesn’t eliminate suffering but intensifies it.
The lust for perfection comes from our ego. Suffering, if we allow it, can purge our sense of self-importance and replace it with a sense of peace and purpose in the midst of hardships and heartaches.
I heard someone mention one of my favorite quotes today;
I do not know always how to please you my Lord, but may my wanting to please you, be pleasing to you.” #ThomasMerton
This quote always brings a sense of peace and a gentle reminder that I am very human and God is not. As creature I am often lost, confused, questioning and justifying. My sense of who I am, what I am here on this planet to do, what my life’s purpose is for a moment, a day, a lifetime can be fickled.
I often wonder if God is as dependent upon our convictions, confirmed callings, and understanding of his “will” as we’d like to believe. We are damaged, distracted and difficult people. Brennan Manning, a recovering alcoholic, says;
“I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer.”
That God can use us to bring his love and grace to a hate filled and damaged world reveals more about who God is than it does our ability to decipher eternal messages in our mortal bottles.
“So, with the Alleluia of victory, the triumphant cry of Easter on her lips, the Church renews the Paschal mystery in which death is conquered, the power of the devil is broken forever, and sins are forgiven: the mystery of the death and resurrection of the Savior who is born to us on this day.
Today, the Church sings; ‘Dies sanctificatus illuxit nobis,’ which means: ‘A day of salvation,’ a day sanctified by mystery, a day full of divine and sanctifying power, has shone upon us. And she continues; ‘Alleluia, Alleluia. A sanctified day has shone upon us: come you gentiles and adore the Lord: for this day a great light has descended upon the earth.’
The Church summons all the world to adoration as she prepares with great solemnity to announce the words of the Gospel. This is the Prologue of John, in which with mighty power given him from God the greatest Evangelist proclaims; ‘The Word, Who was in the beginning with God, is made flesh, and dwells among us full of grace and truth.’
. . . let us open our eyes to the rising Sun, let us hasten to receive Him and let us come together to celebrate the great mystery of charity which is the sacrament of our salvation and of our union in Christ. Let us receive Christ that we may in all truth be ‘light in the Lord’ and that Christ may shine not only to us, but through us, and that we may all bum together in the sweet light of His presence in the world: I mean His presence in us, for we are His Body and His Holy Church.”
A brother questioned Abba Poemen in this way, ‘My thoughts trouble me, making me put my sins aside, and concern myself with my brother’s faults.’
The old man told him the following story about Abba Dioscorus, ‘In his cell he wept over himself, while his disciple was sitting in another cell. When the latter came to see the old man he asked him, “Father, why are you weeping?” “I am weeping over my sins,” the old man answered him. Then his disciple said, “You do not have any sins, Father.” The old man replied, “Truly, my child, if I were allowed to see my sins, three or four men would not be enough to weep for them.”
“He who is spiritually “born” as a mature identity is liberated from the enclosing womb of myth and prejudice. He learns to think for himself, guided no longer by the dictates of need and by the systems and processes designed to create artificial needs and then “satisfy” them.
This emancipation can take two forms: first that of the active life, which liberates itself from enslavement to necessity by considering and serving the needs of others, without thought of personal interest or return. And second, the contemplative life, which must not be construed as an escape from time and matter, from social responsibility and from the life of sense, but rather, as an advance into solitude and the desert, confrontation with poverty and the void, a renunciation of the empirical self, in the presence of death, and nothingness, in order to overcome the ignorance and error that spring from the fear of being nothing.”
To live well myself means for me to know and appreciate something of the secret the mystery in myself: that which is incommunicable, which is at once myself and not myself at once in me and above me. From this sanctuary I must seek humbly and patiently to ward off all the intrusions of violence and self-assertion. These intrusions cannot really penetrate the sanctuary, but they can draw me forth from it and slay me before the secret doorway.
If I can understand something of myself and something of others, I can begin to share with them the work of building the foundations for spiritual unity. But first we must work together at dissipating the more absurd fictions which make unity impossible.
“A brother asked Abba Poemen: ‘What does it mean to get angry at one’s brother without cause?’ And he replied: ‘When your brother attacks you, whatever the insults are, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause. Even if he were to pull out your right eye, and to cut off your right hand, if you get angry at him, you are getting angry without cause.
Yet, if he were to try to take you away from God, then get angry!'”
Too often we chase after things which we believe will make us happy, our lives complete, bring us peace. We’re inundated with promises of satisfaction, fulfilment, wholeness by countless sources all promising something they cannot deliver.
There is a place within us that longs for a connection with what’s beyond the seen, the tangible, the known. In the depths of our spirits we seek the source of goodness, light, purity and love. To journey into the deepness, walk the path to the divine begins with humility and an assurance that what we seek is also seeking us.
The things we really need come to us only as gifts, and in order to receive them as gifts we have to be open. In order to be open we have to renounce ourselves, in a sense we have to die to our image of ourselves, our autonomy, our fixation upon our self-willed identity. We have to be able to relax the psychic and spiritual cramp which knots us in the painful, vulnerable, helpless “I” that is all we know as ourselves.
The chronic inability to relax this cramp begets despair. In the end, as we realize more and more that we are knotted upon nothing, that the cramp is a meaningless, senseless, pointless affirmation of non-entity, and that we must nevertheless continue to affirm our nothingness over against everything else–our frustration becomes absolute. We become incapable of existing except as a “no,” which we fling in the face of everything. This “no” to everything serves as our pitiful “yes” to ourselves–a makeshift identity which is nothing.
#ThomasMerton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 204
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” #TS_Eliot, Little Gidding, Part V, “Four Quartets
We return where we began, to the eternal embrace of Divine Love. We were formed by original blessing, but we’ve heard so often the story of “original sin” that we have to be reminded of our beginnings in beauty and union…the Christian Creation narrative is uniquely hopeful.
The creation poem in Genesis 1 is a “confrontive story,” portraying something radically different than the common creation stories of its time; rather than “violence and destruction,” the Genesis mythos shows “overflowing joy and creativity.” Knowing we began as an expression of God’s desire for relationship allows us to trust that life is headed somewhere good, into new forms of Love making itself known, and all things in a whole and expanding universe. As one Pauline translation puts it “The whole of creation is standing on tip toe to see the full revelation of the children of God.” (Book of Romans, 8:19) The story ends where it begins: in life and now even in “life more abundantly.” (Gospel of John 10:10)
This created life came from “nowhere” (creatio ex nihilo) and now has my name upon it. From death–the small dyings to the False Self and our eventual physical death–comes resurrection into our True Self, who we have been all along but have simply forgotten. As you look back on the year recently ended and forward to a year beginning, recall the ways in which God has been/is inviting you to return, again and again, to Love, which is the same as returning to God…”
A thought to reflect upon as a new year approaches and resolutions loom…
“…Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if only we knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing things, which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
We cannot be ourselves unless we know ourselves. But self-knowledge is impossible when thoughtless and automatic activity keeps our souls in confusion. In order to know ourselves it is not necessary to cease all activity in order to think about ourselves. That would be useless, and would probably do most of us a great deal of harm. But we have to cut down our activity to the point where we can think calmly and reasonably about our actions. We cannot begin to know ourselves until we can see the real reasons why we do the things we do, and we cannot be ourselves until our actions correspond to our intentions, and our intentions are appropriate to our own situation. But that is enough. It is not necessary that we succeed in everything. A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.
We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony…”
#ThomasMerton, from No Man An Island
The Christian “present” has some thing of the character of eternity, in which all reality is present at once. The past and the future are there fore made present.
In the Advent mystery, the Church not only re-lives the longing of the prophets and the patriarchs for the Redeemer, not only prays to God for the grace of a “new nativity” at Christmas, but also anticipates the coming of Christ at the Last Day. The Church embraces the whole history of man’s salvation, while concentrating her attention, for the time being, on one particular moment of that history.
At Christmas, we celebrate the coming of God into the world. We look especially at His birth at Bethlehem and see how that birth reveals to us the infinite mercy of God. But at the same moment we return to the very beginning of all. The generation of the Word in the bosom of the Father is also present to us, and we go forward to the end of all when, having come again into the world at the Last Judgment, and taken all things to Himself, and made all things new, we ourselves will share, by glory, in His divine and eternal sonship and hear the voice of the Father saying to us, in Him: “This day have I begotten thee!”
#ThomasMerton, Seasons of Celebration, p. 56