Thursday, August 25, 2016

You Are Dying

Love is as strong as death.

-Song of Solomon 8:6

There's a river born to be a giver

Keep you warm won't let you shiver
His heart is never gonna wither
Come on everybody time to deliver
Give it away, give it away, give it away, now.
-Anthony Kiedis

YOU ARE dying. 

At first this may depress you. In fact, this may be the last time you ever read this blog.  

But, the realization that you are dying can be liberating. 

If you're a parent, you are simply there for your kids, helping them grow, nurturing them, loving them, teaching them. 

That is, not pushing and pulling them because they are some sort of "legacy" or "reflection of you." This realization that we're are dying, it breaks us from the attachment to the idea that a kid is some kind of permanent possession or monument to our life. Once you're gone, what does it matter if there is a monument to you, or ten monuments to you? 

If you run, you run for the pure pleasure of running. If you race you, race for the pleasure of being in the pack and pushing and pulling others and feeling the camaraderie of competitive life. You even revel in the pleasure of breaking the guy next to you, watching him blow up in agony and surrender. But it's more like when you played Cops and Robbers, if you ever did. Anyway, it's not for the plastic trophy or finisher's medal. 

I'm good, Mick. Thanks, though. 
You hug your spouse for the pleasure of hugging her, to push every fluid ounce of love up from your ankles and out through your arms. Hurry, you're dying.   

You spend time with friends simply to enjoy them, not to maintain some kind of social identity, which will evaporate with your last breath anyway. 

The realization that you are dying is liberating because it is true, and there are few greater comforts than friendship with reality. 

You live life for the sake of life and not for the idea or the story about your life that you try to tell yourself. "I am a doctor." "I am a fast marathoner." "My kids are good Christians." 

If your kids destroy your books or whatever crap you have in your house, you can take in stride. "Shrouds have no pockets." 

You let people's praise and blame go right through you. You may even develop a kind of pity for rude and unkind people, because maybe they do not really know or want to accept that they too are dying.  

There's this story from the early Egyptian desert fathers. A young monk goes to his teacher and complains that others are harsh with him. 

“Go to the cemetery and curse the dead,” said the old man. 

He did it. 

“Did the dead say anything to you?” 

“Not a word!”  

“Now go to the cemetery and praise the dead.” 

He did it. 

“Well,” said the old man, “how was it this time? Did the dead have anything to say?” 

“They were as silent as before.” 

After a period of silence, the old man said, “That is how you have to be -- like the dead; beyond cursing and praise, unaffected by the opinions of others.”

You are helpful because you want to be helpful, not to grasp some kind of appreciation or approval, which you can never hold on to anyway. If people approve of you, you die. If people disapprove of you, you die.

You won't need people to change. Grown-ups don't really change, anyway. You know that. I mean, have you? 

As philosopher Marcus Aurelius put it, "You can hold your breath until you turn blue, but they'll still go on doing it." 

Don't hold your breath until you are blue.  

And if, perchance, you believe in life after this one, how sharp is death's sting, anyway?

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Price of Anger

We should restrain not only the outward expression of anger, but also angry thoughts. More beneficial than controlling our tongue in a moment of anger and refraining from angry words is purifying our heart from rancor and not harboring malicious thoughts...When we have dug the root of anger from our heart, we will no longer act with hatred or envy. 
-St. John Cassian (1)

HOW OFTEN have we fired harsh words or over-reacted to the smallest provocation, much to our own embarrassment and surprise? 

Looking back, we'll find that the reaction was based on something that was festering inside for a long time. St. John invites us to periodically reflect, identify anger and address it while it's sm

He continues,
No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul's eyes...Leaves, whether of gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of the gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision (2).

Understandably, some may consider this to take the point too far.

Essentially, his thesis may be taken as this: anger -- in and of itself -- is ultimately a bad thing and cannot be justified. I am not so sure that's exactly what he's saying. He seems to be referring to a blinding rage that may in some some way have a rational basis, but clouds reasoning, so that the outcome is ultimately negative. At the very least I think we can agree that, when we are blind and overwhelmed by rage, it's very hard to address a situation properly or even to see it properly in the first place.

I can be right and still play the fool.

In this vein, Seneca the Younger, writing to his buddy Novatus, notes,
Anger is a short madness: for it is equally devoid of self control, regardless of decorum, forgetful of kinship, obstinately engrossed in whatever it begins to do, deaf to reason and advice, excited by trifling causes, awkward at perceiving what is true and just, and very like a falling rock which breaks itself to pieces upon the very thing which it crushes. That you may know that they whom anger possesses are not sane, look at their appearance; for as there are distinct symptoms which mark madmen...(3)
Jospehat Machuka was not pleased.
He adds,
Some think that the best course is to control anger, not to banish it... 
In the first place, it is easier to exclude harmful passions than to rule them, and to deny them admittance than, after they have been admitted, to control them; for when they have established themselves in possession, they are stronger than their ruler and do not permit themselves to be restrained or reduced. 
In the second place, [once reason] mingles with [the passions] and is contaminated, she becomes unable to hold back those [passions] she might have cleared from her path. For when once the mind has been aroused and shaken, it becomes the slave of the disturbing agent. (4)
Again, some may take this as wimpy talk. To me, it's utterly practical. In theory, anger may be "leveraged" for good. But, in real life, it is best to make an emotional habit of keeping anger at bay, so to speak. In a given circumstance, we'll probably find other, less dangerous tools at our disposal.


(1) Philokalia, On Anger
(2) Philokalia, On Anger
(3) Letter to Novatus on Anger, Book I, Ch. 1
(4) Ibid., Book I, Ch. 7

Monday, May 11, 2015

Getting Unblocked

The more  I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go. - Anthony Kiedis

I hear you. - Socrates 
I need to get something out of the way.

I've not posted in several months, and it's because I have a special kind of writer's block. It is not for lack of subjects or content.  It's for lack of, what's the word? Audacity.

When I began this blog, several years and 350-ish posts ago, I didn't have a job or a family. So, naturally, I knew everything about everything: from spirituality to youth ministry to "meaningful" work to parenting even! Gosh, had I entered a monastery -- as originally planned -- I'd have been a veritable genius by now!

Every day, life has taught how little I know.

And, for that reason, I have felt less and less "fit" to blog on spirituality and life. And yet, and yet, I just can't let this thing go.

So, to get myself unstuck let me clear the air: I don't get it, and I probably get it less than you do. With that off my chest, I can chase my passion: Drawing links between timeless principles and contemporary life.

I read, write and run, I hope, to be a better man for myself and those around me.  

I'll not lie: It still matters a lot to my satisfaction to know people read this and get something out of it. Maybe, one day, it won't.