Saturday, December 28, 2019

Loving the Person, not the Pattern

As I thought about each group of friends who helped us celebrate Christmas, I initially thought, I don't really like their company all that much.  In fact, I was glad to see them leave. I found myself criticizing their lack of listening skills, their self-preoccupation and lack of thoughtfulness.

Then, upon reflection, I realized that each is a good, caring person and that what I object to is the behavior pattern that gets in the way of seeing who the real person is, deep down.

Love, as Flannery O'Connor wrote, is the effort to understand.  And it takes real effort to understand who a person really is. It is mainly by listening patiently, and putting my own agenda on hold, that I can see glimmers of the real man or woman that I think I know.  In one sense, I will never know them fully.  Presumably, God does.

To love another is to forgive their nervous habits, their thoughtless comments, their failure to carry on a real conversation, even their lack of social graces.  It is very easy to hate the person who turns us off by his or her loudly voiced opinions or argumentative style. It is very hard to forgive.

I recall the wisdom of Nancy Pelosi's comment about Donald Trump when she was asked if she hated him.  Many people do.  It is a real challenge not to.

But she said she hated no one. It is against her Catholic faith. Instead she prays for him. This is a spiritually wise response because it reflects her awareness that beneath Trump's lies and insults and obnoxious behavior is a real person, perhaps insecure and immature.  Maybe prayer is the only way to reach that inner person so easily disguised by the public persona and immature behavior.

So Speaker Pelosi, who showed the world that she has carefully reflected on the challenge of dealing with Trump, showed discernment.  She  reminded me of an important lesson about loving and forgiving, of not judging too harshly or quickly. Above all, of not hating.  There is far too much hate in the world, and it takes great effort to overcome it.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Season of Light

As my Jewish friends, with whom I will spend Christmas day, prepare for Hanukkah, I am thinking about the importance of light in a dark time.  Not just this time of year but the cultural and political climate of hate and rancor.

Christmas should be a bright time, filled with hope, a time to look ahead and also to remember, and to be grateful.

Gratitude and joy are interrelated, writes Vinita Hampton Wright: "you rarely experience one without the other."  Well, to me, joy is a rare commodity. I would settle for contentment, or at least optimism.  And certainly love.

This brings me to an arresting reflection by Richard Rohr, who wrote that "Loving people are always conscious people." He means attentive to others and to the world, with a sense of caring, of loving others.  Awareness, attention, and being conscious are equivalent terms spiritually; and, interestingly, they involve love.

Whenever, he goes on, we do anything evil or cruel to ourselves or others, we are "at that moment unconscious, unconscious of our identity."  He means our identity as children of God, ones who are loved and who know they are loved, even if they are alone.  If we were fully conscious, Rohr says, we would never be violent toward anyone.

So being conscious or fully aware is to love oneself and others since such love is rooted in a self-awareness of our connection to others, to the world, and to God.

This is the time of year when we stop for a minute and consider that "peace on earth and good will to men" means that we see that love, the energy that moves the universe, also dwells in each of us. We have much to be hopeful about.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Cats and Popes are Trending

With a new movie opening called "The Two Popes," and a new version of the musical "Cats" being reviewed this week,  Simon Goodfellow is very happy.

Who is Simon Goodfellow, you ask? He's the main character in my book THE CAT WHO CONVERTED THE POPE, a wise, well-spoken cat who speaks perfect English and reads; he even advises the fictional American pope in the story, then offers advice on being calm, taking time to meditate, and staying in the present moment.

So if anyone out there is looking for a gift, Simon would agree with me that cat books make great gifts. The book is available on Amazon.     He joins me in wishing my readers a Merry Christmas and good new year.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A Painful Beauty

I found myself this week wrapping a few Christmas gifts while listening to news of the impeachment of Donald Trump. I was struck by the incongruity involved and also aware of the absurdity of those defending the indefensible corruption of the president.  Several Republicans referred to his actions as "inappropriate," an absurdly euphemistic term that obscures what should be called wrong, immoral, illegal, and unconstitutional.

The larger issue is how to balance the horrors of reality, and history, with the joy promised by the coming season of light and hope. Or, on a daily basis, how to find meaning in what to many writers seems a bleak existence.

As a former student wrote to me, the serious literature we read (and much of our escapist fiction and film) remind us of human greed, selfishness, and violence. It so easy for readers to be as pessimistic about life as so many writers are. How do we find what music and art often give us (but literature often does not): a sense of being lifted up, a sense that life is worth living?  It seems to me we must place the mind's bleak view of life as empty and meaningless in a much larger package.

As a Christian, I must be optimistic; I must remind myself that God is present in me, in those I encounter, and in the natural world. I must make an effort, even amid my pain and fatigue, to find something to be grateful for, even a simple thing like a blue sky on a beautiful, crisp winter day.  I must make an effort of the will to counter what I know to be the lot of many of my friends: pain, despair, suffering, and loneliness.   And in the wider world, violence and corruption.

I must turn inward to prayer.  I ask for the wisdom to accept my fate, without blaming myself or God or anyone else for my age and physical weakness. I picture others in their suffering and connect myself with them.  And I remind myself that the light of love and compassion invariably comes after we journey through the valley of darkness and pain. Life is a balance between light and dark, and it is a very delicate balance.

I think of the words of Pascal:  "Man is equally capable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed."

Happiness is the product of going beyond the mind into the soul and the heart.

As Richard Rohr has said, peace of mind is a contradiction in terms.  We can never find peace by analyzing, judging, and criticizing ourselves and others; we have to move beyond thinking into the realm of feeling and believing in something greater than our own selves.

It is a great challenge to be in awe of nature, to experience wonder and joy while the world around you seems to be pursuing self-serving ends. It is a challenge to be grateful when you feel sick or alone.  It is hard to be patient with the painful beauty that life is--to see amid the pain the light of beauty.

I would like to think that everyone who says Happy Holidays at this time of year truly wishes each other inner peace and a contentment that comes from accepting both the pain and the beauty of life.