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
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).
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.