The meditation below is from The Magnificat originating from an editorial appearing in Traces magazine. There were a number of stimulating thoughts for reflection with one being right at the start:
How can one live? - another way of asking the question I use in Spiritual Direction: What makes you Come Alive?
How can one live?
Fr. Luigi Giussani’s words rang out:
“The great problem of today’s world is no longer an inquiring theorization, but an existential question. Not, ‘Who is right?’ but, ‘How can one live?’ Today’s world has been reduced to the level of evangelical poverty. In Jesus’ time, the problem was how to live, not who was right; this was the problem of the scribes and Pharisees.”
These words... seem to summarize the malaise we experience here and now, in a situation twisted in on itself like a screw, in which the problem of “who is right” has been carried to the extreme, to the idea that the other is an objection to eliminate rather than a good to take into consideration.
We see it in the way we often face politics, work, family, and relationships, as if the decisive point were theories, ideas, some solution that can “settle” our problems, and not the drama of living that we bear within and that makes such problems useful, even precious, in some way, notwithstanding the difficulty, because, as Fr. Giussani reminded us,
“in the face of questions, problems, and difficulties, that which man loves comes to the surface.”
The stronger the malaise and the harder and deeper the problems, the greater is our need to strip them of the intellectualism, the chatter, and the superficiality, down to the necessary basics: “evangelical poverty” and the question of how one can live, what use faith is in all this.
This is a question that we have already asked ourselves many times. Deep down, it is always the same question, but none is more decisive for life and faith, because a faith that does not help us live is useless. Seen another way, faith is confirmed and made indispensable for us when we see that it responds to
“that which characterizes the human person today: doubt about existence, fear of living, fragility, lack of substance in ourselves....”
The greatest obstacle is often our resistance to facing it, as if we have within a strange resistance to asking, to opening wide the question of fulfillment that underlies our “toil in living.” Instead, when the event of Christ happens, one of the effects is that it makes us realize the importance of our need, the importance of what weare.
From We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, Madeleine Delbrel gives us a penetrating glimpse into the presence of God in our busy lives.
Allowing the Gospel message into our life means letting our life become, in the broad and real sense of the word, a religious life, a life referred to, bound back to, God.
The basic revelation of the Gospel is the overwhelming, penetrating presence of God. It is a call to encounter God, and God allows himself to be encountered in solitude.
... to find God is to find solitude, because true solitude is spirit; whereas all of our efforts at human solitude are merely relative approaches toward the perfect solitude that is faith.
True solitude is not the absence of people, but the presence of God.
To place our lives before the face of God, to surrender our lives to the movements of God, is to roam free in a space in which we have been given solitude...
If the eruption of God's presence in us occurs in silence and solitude, it allows us to remain thrown among, mixed up with, radically joined to all of the people who are made of the same clay as we are.
~ Servant of God Madeleine Delbrêl
(Madeleine Delbrel was a French laywoman, writer and mystic devoted to caring for the poor and to evangelizing culture.) - Magnificat August 2014
THE SPIRITUAL DIRECTION OF SAINT CLAUDE DE LA COLOMBIÈRE Continue to pray as you feel drawn, but do not worry about it, for worry comes from self-love. You must abandon yourself to the leading of God with no other intention than that of pleasing him, and when you know that you have this intention deep in your heart, you must not waste time in reflecting about yourself and about the degree of virtue you have attained; occupy yourself with him whom you love and bother very little about yourself. In general, the mere sense of the presence of God is an excellent prayer, and if you can occupy yourself with it without strain, you need think of nothing else: not that you must avoid making acts when drawn to do so, but do not worry about them unless for some reason you feel constrained to make them. Go to God simply, with great confidence that his goodness will guide you; let yourself go confidently as your heart draws you, and fear nothing but pride and self-love. As for prayer, confine yourself to admiring the perfections of God and the virtues of the saints, and bear your involuntary distractions patiently. I assure you, you will gain great merit. Enjoy, cherish, and increase the desire God gives you of doing something for him. Make this the subject of your prayer as often as you feel moved to do so.
I am not exactly sure where the inspiration comes today that I should post a few quotes from Dr Howard Thurman...
“And this is the strangest of all paradoxes of the human adventure; we live inside all experience, but we are permitted to bear witness only to the outside. Such is the riddle of life and the story of the passing of our days.”
“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”
My friend and mentor, Gil Bailie posted this a while back:
I had the good fortune to know Howard Thurman, a wise and faithful black Protestant preacher and spiritual counselor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and others. I didn’t know Thurman well, but I met with him in his home a few times, and I heard him preach on a few occasions. He had been the dean of the chapel at Howard University in Washington, DC. In 1944, he received a letter from a group of people in San Francisco who were trying to start an interracial congregation. He was asked if he knew any newly ordained ministers who might be willing to come to San Francisco, live on practically nothing, and help launch the new congregation. He wrote back: Mrs. Thurman and I would love to!
I don’t know much about the events of those early days, but Dr. Thurman told me one thing that has stuck with me... Dr. Thurman said that at one critical point he had to say to those who were on the verge of giving up hope:
“Trust it with my trust until you can trust it with your own.”
When dark uncertainties loom, the faith of those who have gone before us shines like a beacon. - Howard Thurman, 1900-1981, may he rest in peace.
In another post where Gil reflected on July 4th, remembering what Howard Thurman had told him many years ago, namely,
You can't be at home everywhere until you're at home somewhere.
In opening a meeting at Boston University, Howard Thurman gave this perfect prayer for us to have in our hearts everyday.
A LITANY OF THANKSGIVING Howard Thurman
In Your presence, O God, we make our Sacrament of Thanksgiving. We begin with the simple things of our days:
Fresh air to breathe,
Cool water to drink,
The taste of food,
The protection of houses and clothes,
The comforts of home.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day!
We bring to mind all the warmth of humankind that we have known:
Our mothers' arms,
The strength of our fathers,
The playmates of our childhood,
The wonderful stories brought to us from the lives of many who talked of days gone by when fairies and giants and diverse kinds of magic held sway;
The tears we have shed, the tears we have seen;
The excitement of laughter and the twinkle in the eye with its reminder that life is good.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day. We finger one by one the messages of hope that await us at the crossroads:
The smile of approval from those who held in their hands the reins of our security,
The tightening of the grip of a single handshake when we feared the step before us in the darkness,
The whisper in our heart when the temptation was fiercest and the claims of appetite were not to be denied,
The crucial word said, the simple sentence from an open page when our decision hung in the balance.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day. We passed before us the mainsprings of our heritage:
The fruits of the labors of countless generations who lived before us, without whom our own lives would have no meaning,
The seers who saw visions and dreamed dreams;
The prophets who sensed a truth greater than the mind could grasp, and whose words could only find fulfillment in the years which they would never see,
The workers whose sweat has watered the trees, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations,
The pilgrims who set their sails for lands beyond all horizons, whose courage made paths into new worlds and far-off places,
The savior whose blood was shed with the recklessness that only a dream could inspire and God could command.
For all these we make an act of Thanksgiving this day. We linger over the meaning of our own life and commitment to which we give the loyalty of our heart and mind:
The little purposes in which we have shared with our loves, our desires, our gifts,
The restlessness which bottoms all we do with its stark insistence that we have never done our best, we have never reached for the highest,
The big hope that never quite deserts us, that we and our kind will study war no more, that love and tenderness and all the inner graces of Almighty affection will cover the life of the children of God as the waters cover the sea.
All these and more than mind can think and heart can feel, I make as my Sacrament of Thanksgiving to Thee, Our Father, in humbleness of mind and simplicity of heart. (from Meditations of the Heart, pgs. 147-149)
And my favorite Howard Thurman quote:
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
[This quote is in Gil Bailie'sViolence Unveiled, p. xv, where he attributes the quotation to a conversation he had with Thurman.]
In one of the letters St Clare wrote to Lady Agnes of Prague:
"Look upon him who became contemptible for you, and follow him, making yourself contemptible in this world for him. Your Spouse, though more beautiful than the children of men, became for your salvation the lowest of men, was despised, struck, scourged untold times throughout his entire body, and then died amid the suffering of the cross.... Gaze upon him, consider him, contemplate him, as you desire to imitate him. If you suffer with him, you shall rejoice with him; if you die with him on the cross of tribulation, you shall possess heavenly mansions in the splendour of the saints, and in the Book of Life your name shall be called glorious among men" (2LAg 19-22).
If Catherine of Siena is the saintly woman full of passion for the Blood of Christ, the great St Teresa is the woman who goes from "mansion" to "mansion" to the threshold of the great King in the Interior Castle and Therese of the Child Jesus is the one who, in Gospel simplicity, travels the little way, Clare is the passionate lover of the poor, crucified Christ, with whom she wants to identify absolutely.
Produced under the sponsorship of the Franciscan Order, Clare and Francis was shot on location in Italy by Italian film company Lux Vide—the producers of Saint Rita, Pope John Paul II, and St. John Bosco. It is unique among films on Francis because of its historical accuracy and its authentic spirit of joy and piety that Francis was known for, as well as the major role played by Clare, who is given equal stature with Francis.
Clare (Mary Petruolo), the daughter of a patrician family, and Francis (Ettore Bassi), the son of a rich merchant, leave it all to follow Christ. Francis renounces his inheritance to live the Gospel in poverty. Clare reads deep into his heart and decides to follow him, leaving her home and family to give herself as the bride of Christ. Both found major religious orders and together they inspired many to follow their radical call to live the Gospel, and their impact has reached across the centuries to change the world.
This tiny book is filled with words of wisdom about the first Franciscan woman, Clare of Assisi. In particular, it examines Clare's dedication to poverty as a way to live with and through Christ, and to achieve union with Him. Clare lived knowing that attachments to material possessions can stand in the way of Love and of the gospel life. Ilia Delio's book is filled with scholarship and intelligence, yet it gets to the heart the true meaning of this great saint's life: Clare is a model of a life lived only for Love of God. There are many sources for biographical sketches of Clare, but this book is deep and meaty in its examination of her spiritual legacy. It is a must-read for those desiring to understand Clare's understanding of the Franciscan way.
On this feast day of St Clare I would encourage all to explore one of these listed or any number of other great resources to enter into the profound spiritual ways of poverty, humility and joy - the essentials of the Franciscan life through the mirror of St Clare and St Francis.
The Day After Trinity - 1980 documentary about Dr. J Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project.
"I have felt it myself. The glitter of nuclear weapons. It is irresistible if you come to them as a scientist. To feel it's there in your hands--to release the energy that fuels the stars. To let it do your bidding. To perform these miracles--to lift a million tons of rock into the sky. It is something that gives people an illusion of illimitable power and it is, in some ways, responsible for all our troubles, I would say--this what you might call technical arrogance that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds." - Dr. J Robert Oppenheimer
These words were spoken by a celebrated physicist in The Day after Trinity (link here to see documentary), a film documentary about the team of American scientists who produced the first atomic bomb. "Trinity" was the ironic code name for that original explosion, and only on "the day after" did the scientists stop to analyze and agonize over the outcomes of their work. The film is filled with images of horror. For me, the most horrifying isnot that mushroom shape that appears in our dreams and lurks just over our waking horizon. Instead, it is the image of intelligent and educated people -- the most intelligent and the best educated our society has produced - devoting themselves so enthusiastically to such demonic ends. They appear in the film as people possessed by a power beyond their control - not the power of the government that summoned their services, but the power of their knowledge itself. ... Watching this film, reliving that history, I saw how our knowledge can carry us toward ends we want to renounce- but we renounce them only on "the day after."
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 1 to 2 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
We have ignored the question of origins because we imagine that knowledge begins as neutral stuff—“the facts.” …The problem, we believe, is not how our knowledge arises but how we use and apply those neutral facts. We think that knowledge itself is passionless and purposeless. So our strategy for guiding its course is to surround the facts with ethics, moral mandates meant to control the passions and purposes of those who use the facts. …But I have come to see that knowledge contains its own morality, that it begins not in a neutrality but in a place of passion within the human soul. Depending on the nature of that passion, our knowledge will follow certain courses and head toward certain ends. From the point where it originates..., knowledge assumes a certain trajectory and target–and it will not easily be deflected by ethics once it takes off from that source.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on page 6 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
…History suggests two primary sources for our knowledge. …One is curiosity; the other is control. The one corresponds to pure, speculative knowledge, to knowledge as an end in itself. The other corresponds to applied science, to knowledge as a means to practical ends.
…Curiosity is an amoral passion, a need to know that allows no guidance beyond the need itself. Control is simply another word for power, a passion notorious not only for its amorality but for its tendency toward corruption. If curiosity and control are the primary motive for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.
But another kind of knowledge is available to us, one that begin in a different passion and is drawn toward other ends. This knowledge can contain as much sound fact and theory as the knowledge we now possess, but because it springs from a truer passion it works toward truer ends. This is a knowledge that originates not in curiosity or control but in compassion, or love–a source celebrated not in our intellectual tradition but in our spiritual heritage.
…The deepest wellspring of our desire to know is the passion to recreate the organic community in which the world was first created.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 7 to 8 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
The love of which spiritual tradition speaks is “tough love,” the connective tissue of reality—and we flee from it because we fear its claims on our lives. Curiosity and control create a knowledge that distances us from each other and the world, allowing us to use what we know as a plaything and to play the game by our own self-serving rules. But a knowledge that springs from love will implicate us in the web of life; it will wrap the knower and the known in compassion, in a bond of awesome responsibility as well as transforming joy; it will call us to involvement, mutuality, accountability.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on page 9 (from chapter 1, “Knowing is Loving”).
To teach is to create a space in which obedience to truth is practiced.
…A learning space has three major characteristics, three essential dimensions: openness, boundaries, and an air of hospitality.
…Openness is no more than the commonsense meaning of space. To create space is to remove the impediments to learning that we find around and within us…. So creating a learning space means resisting our own tendency to clutter up our consciousness and our classrooms. One source of that tendency is our fear of appearing ignorant to others or to ourselves. Even though we are bright into education by ignorance, the fear of “not knowing” often leads us to pack the learning space with projections and pretensions. Teachers lecture longest when they are least sure of what they are doing.
…If we can affirm the search for truth as a continual uncertain journey, we may find the courage to keep the space open rather than packing it with pretense. Second, we must remember that we not only seek truth but that truth seeks us as well. When we become obsessed with our own seeking, we fill the space with methods and hypotheses and reports that may be mere diversions. But when we understand that truth is constantly seeking us, we have reason to open a space in which truth might find us out.
The openness of a space is created by the firmness of its boundaries. A learning space cannot go on forever; if it did, it would not be a structure for learning but an invitation to confusion and chaos. A spaces edges, perimeters, limits. … The teacher who wants to create an open learning space must define and defend its boundaries with care. Not only will this keep the space open, it will also keep the students from fleeing that space. The openness of space–which is at first appealing to our jangled minds–soon becomes a threat. As the clutter falls away we realize how much we depend on clutter to keep our minds employed, to make them feel masterful. We do not want to face the barrenness that comes when our mind-made structures fail, so we run toward some distraction. If you doubt this, try creating a long silence in your classroom as Abba Felix did in his. Feel the anxieties arise in you and your students alike.
…The desert teachers know thees anxieties well. They know that in the desert, before we encounter truth, we must first wrestle with the demons of untruth that arise in the silence, demons that come from our own need to manipulate and master truth rather than let truth transform us. …So the desert teachers disciplined themselves to stand their ground, to stay within the boundaries of the learning space so that truth might seek them out. One symbol of this discipline was the “cell” (often a hut or cave) in which these teachers lived.
…Good teachers know that discomfort and pain are often signs that truth is struggling to be born among us. Such teachers will not allow their student, or themselves, to flee from the “cell.” They will hold the boundaries firm, and hold us all within them, so that truth can do its work.
But precisely because a learning space can be a painful place, it must have one other characteristic–hospitality.
…So the classroom where truth is central will be a place where every stranger and every strange utterance is met with welcome. This may suggest a classroom lacking essential rigor, a place in which questions of true and false, right and wrong, are subordinated to making sure that everyone “has a nice day.” But that would be a false understanding of hospitality. Hospitality is not an end in it self. It is offered for the sake of what it can allow, permit, encourage, and yield. A learning space needs to be hospitable not to make learning painless, but to make the painful things possible, things without which no learning can occur–things like exposing ignorance, testing tentative hypothesis, challenging false or partial information, and mutual criticism of thought. Each of these is essential to obedience to truth. But non of them can happen in an atmosphere where people feel threatened and judged.
…I have been in some classrooms where people seemed to be pressing each other, asking hard questions, stripping off the veils of falsehood and illusion. But behind the appearances, something else was often going on. In an inhospitable classroom, many questions do not come out of honest not knowing. They are rhetorical or political questions designed to score points with the teacher or against other students, questions asked not for truth’s sake but for the sake of winning. In such a setting it is nearly impossible to reveal genuine ignorance–which means that genuine openness to learning is nearly impossible as well.
To Know as We are Known by Parker J. Palmer on pages 69 to 75 (from chapter 5, “To Teach is to Create a Space…”).
The most neglected reality in education is the reality of the present moment, of what is happening here and now in the classroom itself.
To speak of the classroom as a place “in which obedience to truth is practiced” is to break the barriers between the classroom and the world–past, present, and future. To speak this way is to affirm that what happens in the classroom is happening in the world; the way we related to each other and our subject reflects and shapes the way we conduct our relationships in the world. By this definition of teaching, we practice troth between knowers and the known in the classroom itself.
The class is understood as part of the community of truth–more intense and reflective perhaps than other parts of that community, but related to all the rest. Reality is no longer “out there” but between us; we bridge the gap between learning and living by attending to the living reality of the learning situation.
From chapter 6 of Parker J. Palmer’s To Know as we are Know (88-89).