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
We are having difficulty right now dealing with our natural aggressive energy. In previous times, societies channeled this energy through great numbers of people engaging in warfare. In modern times, this is increasingly dangerous and unacceptable. Aggression is frowned upon in civilized society, except in a few sanctioned ways—through sports or business. So we have our leaders toying with their weapons systems, not daring to use them but not willing to give them up, either, and we have increasing outbreaks of violence in our cities as well. We need to find constructive ways for all of us, men and women, to channel our natural aggressive energy creatively.
Many people, especially those who are spiritual, believe that we can bring peace and light to the world by focusing on the light, trying to be unconditionally loving, visualizing peace, and so forth. There is a fundamental misunderstanding here. By trying to focus only on the things we deem 'positive' and ignoring or repressing the rest, we are simply perpetuating the polarization of light and dark forces. Ironically, this further distorts and empowers the very energies we are trying to avoid.
We must deeply recognize that there is no split between 'spiritual' and 'unspiritual,' good and bad. All aspects of life are facets of the divine. Ultimately, the collective healing of our planet can only come through personal commitment of us all as individuals, in exploring and better understanding the shadow in our own lives.
~ Shakti Gawain, Return to the Garden: A Journey of Discovery
St. Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch at the beginning of the second century. He was condemned to the wild beasts because of his faith, and traveled under guard from Antioch to Rome during the summer and autumn of A.D. 120. On this, his last journey, he wrote a number of letters to Christian communities, including one sent on ahead to the church in Rome. When he arrived in Rome he suffered death in the arena.
I write to all the churches; and signify to them all that I am willing to die for God, unless you hinder me. I beseech you that your goodwill may not come unseasonably upon me. Suffer me to be the food of wild beasts; whereby I may attain unto God. I am the wheat of God, and I am to be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of God...
Remember in your prayers the Church which is in Syria, which now enjoys the Lord for its shepherd, instead of me; the Lord who said, 'I am the Good Shepherd.' He alone, together with your love to Him, will be their Bishop. My spirit salutes you, and the love of the churches which have received me, for the name of Jesus Christ, and not as a passenger only. For even those churches that did not belong to me, conducted me in the way from city to city.
These things I write to you from Smyrna, by the Ephesians, those most worthy and happy persons. As for those that went before me from Syria to Rome; to the glory of God, I suppose you are not ignorant of them. Signify to them that I draw near.
~ St. Ignatius, Epistle to the Romans
Attorney General Jeff Sessions sparked a heated debate recently on immigration and the meaning of a Bible passage. Sessions cited a verse in Romans chapter 13 while defending the Trump administration's policy of separating parents from their children at the border. The policy has been widely denounced by both religious leaders and immigration advocates, among others.
“I would cite you to the apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” said Sessions, who is also a Sunday school teacher at a United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama. Some who share Sessions' faith disagree with his interpretation of the passage.
"It was terrible," said Mike Mather, the senior pastor at Broadway UMC in Indianapolis. "If you read the first 11 chapters of Romans, you get a pretty good idea of what the context of that community was. If you read (Chapter) 12, you see love is supposed to be the guiding force. ... (Sessions) didn't read on very far."
Romans 12 includes the line, "Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home." Those verses, Mather said, seem to run contrary to the policy Sessions was defending. Launched in May, the policy forcibly removes children traveling with parents caught at the border and places them in government care. Prior to Sessions' speech, a group of religious leaders from the United Methodist Church, Islamic Society of North America, Union for Reform Judaism, Mennonite Church and 20 other diverse religious organizations released a joint statement criticizing the policy.
Romans 13 has a history of being used by government officials in defense of their decisions or edicts.The Rev. Rob Saler, executive director for the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Indianapolis' Christian Theological Seminary, said the verses were used by Lutherans in Nazi Germany to justify supporting Adolf Hitler.
"Romans 13, for a long time, has been appealed to in an incorrect way, as a justification for 'Obey the laws, no matter what,'" he said. "Whether they're just or not. I don’t want to be too extreme, but ... in Nazi Germany, Lutherans, for the most part, supported Hitler and they used Romans 13 to validate that."
In an interview with The Washington Post, John Fea, a professor of American history at Messiah College at Pennsylvania, said the verse was also used to support slavery in the 1840s and 1850s. "(It) is invoked by defenders of the South or defenders of slavery to ward off abolitionists who believed that slavery is wrong," he said. "I mean, this is the same argument that Southern slaveholders and the advocates of a Southern way of life made.”
In the late eighteenth century, the Reverend William Graham, rector and principle instructor of Liberty Hall Academy (now Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia), annually lectured the senior class, using the Bible as a defense of slavery. Some religious leaders, inappropriately, used the Bible to teach slaves not to challenge or strike their masters, and to willingly accept punishment (1 Peter 2:21). It was common, thought not always strictly enforced, to forbid slaves to learn how to read. Of course, this kept the Bible unavailable to them except as it was shared by their masters or, eventually, by some literate slave or free black preacher.
Saler noted, too, that it's important to consider when Paul wrote Romans. At that time, Christians were being executed by the Roman Empire, he said. What Paul was penning, Saler added, was meant to be a road map to living a gentler life full of charity, a stark contrast to how Paul would have viewed the empire."It's flat-out irresponsible (for Sessions) to use it without attention to the broader context," Saler said. "It's basically practical advice: While you're doing this, sure, go ahead and pay your taxes, give the government its due."But taken as a whole, Romans stands as a counter to unjust government and unjust rule."
~ Dakota Crawford (USA Today)
The devil believes in God but he has no God. The Lord is not his God. To be at enmity with life is to have nothing to live for. To live forever without life is everlasting death: but it is a living and wakeful death without the consolation of forgetfulness. Now the very essence of this death is the absence of hope. The damned have confirmed themselves in the belief that they cannot hope in God. We sometimes think of the damned as men who think of only themselves as good, since all sin flows from pride that refuses to love.
But the pride of those who live as if they believed they were better than anyone else is rooted in a secret failure to believe in their own goodness. If I can see clear enough to realize that I am good because God has willed me to be good, I will at the same time be able to see more clearly the goodness of other men and of God. And I will be more aware of my own failings. I cannot be humble unless I first know that I am good, and know that what is good in me is not my own, and know how easy it is for me to substitute an evil of my own choice for the good that is God's gift to me.
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
In the Bible the emphasis upon human rights is rooted in the Judeo-Christian faith. The Mosaic law not only established procedural guarantees before the law, but granted the powerless certain economic claims against the wealthy. Thus, the hungry had the right to glean food (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24; 24:19-22; Mt. 12:1). Debtors could expect their loans canceled after seven years (Deut. 15:7-11). Sojourners, widows, and orphans were given special rights to the food brought to the temple as a tithe (Deut. 14:28-29, 26:12-15).
Unfortunately, the rights of the poor were often neglected or even despised. The prophets, however, became an eloquent moral force in reaffirming the civil rights tradition. Their visions of the holy God radicalized their understanding of sin and sensitized them to the extent of economic exploitation occurring in the land (Isaiah 5:16; 6:3-5; Jer. 22:13-16; Ezek. 18:5-18; Micah 3:1-4). Proverbs and religious hymns also highlight that concern (Prov. 14:31; 29:7; Psalm 15; 113:7-9).
The New Testament reflects the same position. The teachings of Jesus are well within prophetic and are highly critical of unjust treatment for disenfranchised groups. He reminded his adversaries that a human being is of great value (Mt. 12:12).
Jesus saw himself as the champion of the underprivileged, the messianic liberator of the oppressed (Luke 4:18). Jesus' teachings and activities continually reinforced the moral standing of the penniless (Mark 12;41-44), the diseased (Mt. 14:13-14), the aged (Mt. 15:4-6), women (John 4:7-9), children (Mark 10:13-14), and other socially weak groups such as prisoners (Mt. 25:36) and the blind (Mt. 11:4-6).
The writings of Paul and the communal practices of the early church (Acts 2:44-45); 4:34-35) mediated the same moral and theological grounding for civil rights as was found in the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Paul's theological affirmations of human equality were unequivocal (Gal. 3:28; 1 Cor. 7:3-4; 2 Cor. 8:13-15).
Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is, on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual's conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interest, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all events, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.
We carry our past with us, to wit, the primitive and inferior man with his desires and emotions, and it is only with an enormous effort that we can detach ourselves from this burden. If it comes to a neurosis, we invariably have to deal with a considerably intensified shadow. And if such a person wants to be cured it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together.
~ C. G. Jung, Psychology and Religion: West and East
Satanism itself is an evil cult that has always been part of the depraved mass of society, but is currently on the increase. Satanists believe that the Creator God has withdrawn from the world, never intervening anymore in its affairs, and that the Son of God who has been given control of the earth in the Creator's absence is Satan, the god of this world (described in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as the god of this passing age). Jesus tried to destroy Satan's plan for the world, but it is, according to their belief, Satan that will attain the final victory. They participate in depraved rites and through psychic practices open themselves to the influence of satanic powers. The motives of its practitioners are mixed.
I have no doubt that the practitioners of Satan worship are soon assaulted by evil forces, an infestation that shows itself in a progressive deterioration of the person's character. Deceitfulness, perverse sexual behavior, stealing, and increasing destructiveness are typical features of this break down of the personality. To the rationalist all these changes can easily be attributed to fear and the general atmosphere of perversion that lies around zealous practitioners, but in practice there is usually a more concentrated focus of psychic assault in such cases, in addition to the psychological confusion that is drawn to the surface by the eruption of fear and hatred.
It is the social misfit and emotional cripple who are attracted bizarre activities of this kind. They are sad specimens of disordered humanity who seek power to affirm their shaky confidence. What they are really seeking is understanding and affection, but there are not many agencies who provide these needs, at least in a form that accepts the person as he is without imposing a rationalistic or a sectarian religious style of thinking upon him.
~ Martin Israel, The Dark Face of Reality
Is anything more obvious than the presence of evil in the universe? its nagging, prehensile tentacles project into every level of human existence. We may debate the origin of evil, but only a victim of superficial optimism would debate its reality. Evil is stark, grim, and colossally real.
Within the wide arena of everyday life we see evil in all of its ugly dimensions. We see it expressed in tragic lust and inordinate selfishness. We see it in high places where men are willing to sacrifice truth on the altars of their self-interest. We set it in imperialistic nations crushing other people with the battering rams of social injustice. We see it clothed in the garments of calamitous wars which leave men and nations morally and physically bankrupt.
In a sense, the history of man is the story of the struggle between good and evil. All of the great religions have recognized a tension at the very core of the universe. Hinduism, for instance, calls this tension a conflict between illusion and reality; Zoroastrianism, a conflict between god of light and the god of darkness; and traditional Judaism and Christianity, a conflict between God and Satan. Each realizes that in the midst of the upward thrust of goodness there is the downward pull of evil.
Christianity clearly affirms that in the long struggle between good and evil, good eventually will emerge as victor. Evil is ultimately doomed by the powerful, inexorable forces of good. Good Friday must give way to the triumphant music of Easter. Degrading tares choke the sprouting necks of growing wheat for a season, but when the harvest is gleaned the evil tares will be separated from the good wheat. Caesar occupied a palace and Christ a cross, but the same Christ so split history into A.D. and B.C. that even the reign of Caesar was subsequently dated by his name. Long ago biblical religion recognized what William Cullen Bryant affirmed, "Truth crushed to earth will rise again," and what Thomas Carlyle wrote, "No lie you can speak or act but it will come, after longer or shorter circulation, like a bill drawn on Nature's Reality, and be presented there for payment—with the answer, No effects."
~ Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love
Those who seek the spirit and have discovered an exciting new reality through various forms of revelation ever escape God's tests—the challenges that must be overcome in order to strengthen the Self even more and make ready for the truth. The first revelations are uniting; they make us feel special, part of something greater. Then the polarity emerges: we are pulled to a place of doubt, insecurity, loneliness, and disbelief about what happened to us in revelation. We fear the loss of the 'old self' before revelation occurred. The burning question becomes "Where now?"
No one, not even the saints, is immune. It is through the ways we behave in suffering and torment and learn from loss, grief, or sickness that the verdict for our spiritual future is given. The experiences themselves are about breaking down and conquering the old ways of being and about finding more meaning in the present, as well as some faith and hope in the future.
The spiritual battle begins in recognizing the existence of the powers of darkness and of overcoming and absorbing these presences and energies. Trials form a training ground for God. Without recognizing darkness, one cannot see light; without living in doubt, find faith. Doubt necessitates the course of conclusion; in order to embrace the new we need to be strong, certain that we can live up to the responsibilities the spiritual life requires. Through such disciplines as prayer, meditation, and therapy, we have been given means to strengthen ourselves. We become able to face evil, to become familiar with the dark side, the demons n the world and ourselves. We can recognize the powers of darkness even when they parade in the guise of light.
To understand the necessity of suffering is to surrender to the purpose of change. And this is the way to truth and a deeper, more open relationship with God. And through this comes the greatest revelation—the liberation and freedom of truth—the reward of love.
~ Lucinda Vardey
In 1644 an order had been made that no book should be printed unless approved and licensed by the government. This is a part of Milton's great protest against trying to impose a censorship, instead of giving men freedom to choose.
Good and evil we know in the field of this world grow up together almost inseparably. He that can apprehend and consider vice with all her baits and seeming pleasures, and yet abstain, and yet distinguish and yet prefer that which is truly better, he is the true warfaring Christian. I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary, but sings out of the race, where that immortal garland is to be run for not without dust and heat. Assuredly we bring not innocence into the world, we bring impurity much rather: that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary.
If every action, which is good or evil in man at ripe years, were to be under pittance and prescription and compulsion, what were virtue but a name, what praise would then be due to well-being? Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress; foolish tongues! When God gave him reason, He gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience or love, or gift, which is of force: God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Wherefore did He create passions within us, pleasures round about us, but that these rightly tempered are the very ingredients of virtue?
~ John Milton (1608-1674), Areopagitica