The past decade has been a most exciting one. In spite of the tensions and uncertainties of our age something profoundly meaningful has begun. Old systems of exploitation and oppression are passing away and new systems of justice and equality are being born. In a real sense ours is a great time in which to be alive.
Therefore I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible. Granted that we face a world crisis which often leaves us standing amid the surging murmur of life's restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. Each can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark, confused world the spirit of God may yet reign supreme.
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., "A Testament of Hope"
Death is a silent yet eloquent teacher of truth. Death is a teacher that speaks openly and yet is not easily heard. Death is very much present in our modern world: and yet it has become an enigma to that world. Instead of understanding death, it would seem that our world simply multiplies it; death has become a quantity. The mystery of death, more terrible and sometimes more cruel than ever, remains incomprehensible to men who, though they know they must die, retain a grim and total attachment to individual life as if they could be physically indestructible.
Perhaps it is this failure to understand and to face the fact of death that helps cause so many wars and so much violence. As if men, attached to individual bodily life, thought they could protect themselves against death by inflicting it on others.
Death cannot be understood without compassion. Compassion teaches me that when my brother dies, I too die. Compassion teaches me that my brother and I are one. That if I love my brother, then my love benefits my own life as well, and if I hate my brother and seek to destroy him, I destroy myself also. The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with a red hot iron: I have to pick up the hot metal and burn my own hand while burning the other. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart, while it seeks the death of the other. Love is the seed of life in my own heart when it seeks the good of the other.
~Thomas Merton, Preface to the Vietnamese edition of No Man Is an Island
It is not hard to stand behind one's successes. But to accept responsibility for one's failures, to accept them unreservedly as failures that are truly one's own, that cannot be shifted somewhere else or onto something else, and actively to accept—without regard for any worldly interests, no matter how well disguised, or for well-meant advice—the price that has to be paid for it: that is devilishly hard. But only then does the road lead—as my experience, I hope, has persuaded me—to a renewal of sovereignty over my own affairs, to a radically new insight into the mysterious gravity of my existence as an uncertain enterprise, and to its transcendental meaning.
And only this kind of inner understanding can ultimately lead to what might be called true "peace of mind," to that highest delight, to genuine meaningfulness, to that endless "joy of Being." if one manages to achieve that, then all one's worldly privations cease to be privations, and become what Christians call grace.
Vaclav Havel, Letters to Olga
Strength has a value for spiritual realization, but to say that it can be done by strength only and by no other means is a violent exaggeration. Grace is not an invention, it is a fact of spiritual experience. Many who would be considered as mere nothings by the wise and strong have attained by Grace; illiterate, without mental power or training, without "strength" of character or will, they have yet aspired and suddenly or rapidly grown into spiritual realization, because they had faith or because they were sincere.
I do not see why these facts of spiritual history and of quite ordinary spiritual experience should be discussed and denied and argued as if they were mere matters of speculation. Strength, if spiritual, is a power for spiritual realization; a greater power is sincerity; the greatest power of all is Grace.
~ Sri Aurobindo, Words of Sri Aurobindo, First Series
We use the word "love" but we have no more understanding of love than we do of anger or fear or jealousy or even joy, because we have seldom investigated what that state of mind is. What are the feelings we so quickly label as love? For many what is called love is not lovely at all but is a tangle of needs and desires, of momentary happiness and bewilderment—moments of unity, of intense feelings of closeness, occur in a mind so fragile that the least squint or sideways glance shatters its oneness into a dozen ghostly paranoias.
When we say love we usually mean some emotion, some deep feeling for an object or a person, that momentarily allows us to open to another. But in such emotional love, self-protection is never far away. Still there is "business" to the relationship: clouds of jealousy, possessiveness, guilt, intentional and unintentional manipulation, separateness and the shadow of all previous 'loves' darken the light of oneness. But what I mean by love is not an emotion, it is a state of being.
True love has no object. Many speak of their unconditional love for another. But in truth one does not have unconditional love for another. Unconditional love is the experience of being, there is no "I" and "other" and anyone or anything it touches is experienced in love. You cannot unconditionally love someone. You can only be unconditional love. It is not a dualistic emotion. It is a sense of oneness with all that is. The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal. It is a feeling of unity. You don't love another, you are another. There is no fear because there is no separation. It is not so much that "two are as one" so much as it is "the One manifested as two." In such love there can be no unfinished business.
~ Stephen Levine, Who Dies?
For Christians, Jesus is certainly a teacher, but also essentially more. As crucified and raised to life, he is in person the living, authoritative embodiment of his cause: the cause of God and the cause of man. This living Christ in particular does not call for ineffective adoration, still less to mystical union. But neither does he call for mere imitation.
What Jesus does is call for personal discipleship, for response and correlation; he call me to commit myself to him wholly and entirely, while going my own way—each has his own way—according to his directions. This is a great opportunity, which was regarded from the very beginning not as what must be done but as what might be done, as an unexpected chance and true gift, a genuine grace. A grace that presupposes nothing more than this one thing: that we seize on it with trust and faith and adapt our life to it; a new attitude to life, which consequently makes possible a new lifestyle.
~ Hans Kung, Does God Exist?
My dog does have his failings, of course. He's afraid of firecrackers and hides in the clothes closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner, but unlike me he's not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier, but in contrast to some people I know he never growls at the children or barks at his wife.
So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me of the importance of frolicking and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me of the importance of exercising and caring for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.
Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven't invented static cling or television evangelists doesn't mean they aren't spiritually evolved.
But what does it mean for an animal (including the human animal) to be spiritually evolved? In my mind, it means many things: the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one's self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess, yet there is nothing obscure or otherworldly about such 'spiritual' capabilities. Indeed, my contention is that spirituality is quite natural, rooted firmly in the biological order and in the ecology shared by all life.
~ Gary A. Kowalski, The Souls of Animals
Over and above personal problems, there is an objective challenge to overcome inequity, injustice, helplessness, suffering, carelessness, oppression. Over and above the din of desires there is a calling, a demanding, a waiting, an expectation. There is a question that follows me wherever I turn. What is expected of me? What is demanded of me?
What we encounter is not only flowers and stars, mountains and walls. Over and above all things is a sublime expectation, a waiting for. With every child born a new expectation enters the world.
This is the most important experience in the life of every human being: something is asked of me. Every human being has had a moment in which he sensed a mysterious waiting for him. Meaning is found in responding to the demand, meaning is found in sensing the demand.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, Who Is Man?
It is very important to recognize the basic nature of humanity and the value of human qualities. Whether one is educated or uneducated, rich or poor, or belongs to this nation or that nation, this religion or that religion, this ideology or that ideology, is secondary and doesn't matter. When we return to this basis, all people are the same. Then we can truly say the word sister, brother; then they are not just nice words—they have some meaning. That kind of motivation automatically builds the kindness. This gives us inner strength.
What is my purpose in life, what is my responsibility? Whether I like it or not, I am on this planet, and it is far better to do something for humanity. So you see that compassion is the seed or basis. If we take care to foster compassion, we will see that it brings the other good human qualities. The topic of compassion is not at all religious business; it is very important to know that it is human business, that it is a question of human survival, that is not a question of human luxury. I might say that religion is a kind of luxury. If you have religion, that is good. But it is clear that even without religion we can manage. However, without these basic human qualities we cannot survive. It is a question of our own peace and mental stability.
~ The Dalai Lama, A Policy of Kindness
The true motivation of prayer is not, as it has been said, the sense of being at home in the universe, but rather the sense of not being at home in the universe.
Is there a sensitive heart that could stand indifferent and feel at home in the sight of so much evil and suffering, in the face of countless failures to live up to the will of God? On the contrary, the experience of not being at home in the world is a motivation for prayer.
That experience gains intensity in the amazing awareness that God himself is not at home in the universe. God is not at home in a universe where God's will is defied and where God's kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.
To pray means to bring God back into the world, to establish God's kingship for a second at least. To pray means to expand God's presence.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom
If I am to know the will of God, I must have the right attitude toward life. I must first of all know what life is, and to know the purpose of my existence.
It is all very well to declare that I exist in order to save my soul and give glory to God by doing so. And it is all very well to say that in order to do this I obey certain commandments and keep certain counsels. Yet knowing this much, and indeed knowing all moral theology and ethics and canon law, I might still go through life conforming myself to certain indications of God's will without ever fully giving myself to God. For that, in the last analysis, is the real meaning of God's will. God does not need our sacrifices. God asks for our selves.
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
In actuality, God is not far from the seeker, nor is it impossible to see Him. He is like the sun, which is ever shining right above you. It is you who have held over your head the umbrella of your variegated mental impression which hide Him from your view.
You have only to remove the umbrella and the Sun is there for you to see. It does not have to be brought there from anywhere. But such a tiny and trivial thing as an umbrella can deprive you of the sight of such a stupendous fact as the Sun.
~ Meher Baba, Life at Its Best
By not forcing our intent upon anything or anyone, by not being a "somebody" (as Ram Dass says), we begin to live every moment perfectly in the "here and now." This more Eastern view of being is sometimes very foreign to Westerner, as Alan Watts point out. We in the West are far more used to action, to the "doing" side of being.
Being is clearly not about doing. It is just being. In the process of being we learn the steps to heightened conscious awareness. Carlos Castaneda writes of his experience when, as a pupil of don Juan (an Yaqui Indian shaman), he is led to experience the "luminous body" in this heightened state. The more open we become in surrender, the lighter and brighter we are in spirit. We begin to feel the glow of God.
Many of us have been brought up to believe we are unworthy of God's love. But Nancy Ore's poem provides a lovely example of surrender as the "giving up" of self-imposed expectations, of throwing the senses of inadequacy, guilt, and hopelessness to the wind. It is at this point that spiritual ascension occurs. We begin to experience freedom. From this freedom comes love—a love which expands into the love of others and of God.
~ Lucinda Vardey
Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other people, nor from God, nor from ourselves, because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.
Truth rises from the silence of being to the quiet, tremendous presence of the Word. Then, sinking again into silence, the truth of words bears us down into the silence of God. Or rather God rises out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and when language recedes his brightness remains on the shores of our own being.
~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
The more we believe God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety.
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't.
~ C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.