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markdohle

Loss and anger and life

Loss and anger and life is not a maze but a labyrinth
(The more useless skin we shed, the freer we become)


I find myself very angry with John, a good friend who died unexpectedly and I believe uselessly. I believe that I barely see it, or feel it, yet I experience its power deep within. Like a deep wound covered over by a lot of scabs. A painful image, yet one that shows that deep pain can be there, doing its work, without me being all that aware of it. Perhaps the anger that I feel, is something I have for all those who have died whom I loved. My friend Donna Janzar for instances. She died of cancer, I loved her and now she is gone. I think it is the anger and sorrow of a 2-year-old. Who lived in a world for a short time (though a year’s time for a two-year old is very long indeed) where I was abandoned (or felt that I was). Just dropped off in a home that was really not too friendly, it was a dark place for me. Yet it was the nature of life for a two-year old, and I adapted, watched, did not trust and ignored my parents when they came for a visit, for they were going to leave again.

At two I woke up and was sort of like an adult, yet without the ability to reason, though my intuition became my way of seeing and understanding my surroundings, rightly or wrongly. I hated where I was but did not know I hated it. I was fearful, but thought, it just life, and could not name it. I was like a feral cat inside, I believe, but adapted outside to my surroundings. My rage even then was hidden because I intuited that everyone was way too big for me to be able to do anything about my situation.
Put here, placed there, told what to eat etc. I never liked being young and only started being happy as I aged. So the older I get, the happier I get. Yet that two-year-old is still there, watching, waiting and very angry. I have found my peace with him, for he is me still, though not in charge, thank God. What is good for a two-year-old, is not in any way good or healthy for a man almost 69 years of age.

(Though as I aged I understood that my perceptions were wrong. My parents did not abandon me, what they did was necessary and when the year was over they were always there for me. Yet a wound is a wound and takes time to heal. The fact that we became a family again lessened the effect of my ‘so called’ abandonment. )

When a child and all the way through High School, I was often intrigued on how my brothers could have friends, how people stuck to them, while with me it never happened. It was not like I wanted friends, did not feel the need, yet I wondered how it worked. I did have a few that I guess I loved and were friends with, though I did not know it. I think I did not pick up clues when young, clueless I was. Happy to say, I got back in touch with all of them when the internet became common. The fact that I remembered those I cared for in High School shows that I, in fact, had friends but did not know it.

There are a lot of bits and pieces ‘of’ me that are becoming quieter as they draw closer together. Though the process is still a long way off where they will all come together. My faith I believe is allowing this to happen. My anger, and fears, and wounds, so deep that I barely feel them, are not my enemies but are actually seeking my attention by being a vexation. Some of these aspects of myself were needed when very young to protect me and warn me and keep me safe…..now they are still trying to protect me in ways that I don’t need.

So I am still on the way, and the Lord is patient with me. Calling me, giving me strength when needed and allowing me to experience my own inner chaos so that I can understand that there is a great deal about me that I do not really now about. I see the tip of a very large iceberg. Yet the load is getting lighter, though not at the speed I would like. I limp when I would want to run, fall when I want to be victorious, and finding out that my unconscious can be in charge more often that I would like to really consider, but have to. Such is the reality of pain, the goad that pushes forward.

I think most people feel different and unique and yes neither seen nor understood. Perhaps it is the most common feeling that we as a species have. I believe that these feelings are true, though they point to the uniqueness of each of us. The most common thing about being human is that deep within we are unique and that is what helps us to interpret reality, for good or ill. Once that is understood, we can reintegrate once again with all the other ‘weird’ people. Once that is understood, it is found out that there are no weird people, just those who are different and gifted in other ways.

For myself, I have come to the realization that life is not a maze but rather a labyrinth. Many turns, that seem to take me from the center, but if I continue on the journey in trust, in spite of the many voices that seek to keep me ‘safe’, I will arrive at the center. It is despair and cynicism that make a turn of the labyrinth into a wall and life can seem like a maze, because then all one can do is run in circles. Suffering is the shedding process, fear of suffering only leads to deeper suffering and chaos. During the twist and turns of life, we are never alone, faith helps us to keep the light in front of us even when it seems absent, or so bright that we only see darkness.

 

markdohle

Lettuce in my teeth and Nuggets of gold

Lettuce in my teeth and Nuggets of gold
 

Gail, is a good friend, who is on a journey that we are all on.  She is just more aware of it than most I believe.  We were talking when she was here this week about something that she wrote.  She is a very good writer, insightful and in reality has a positive attitude towards life, though, like most of us on our inner journey, she may trip over a nugget of gold that may seem otherwise. 

I won’t quote her because I believe it is very personal, but her experience is archetypical.  It was a small quote but it contained a lot.  It did not say who she was, but it was something that got her attention.  Self-knowledge and the grace that it has its roots in is not always pleasant.  Why is that?  Because it can upset the ego in such a way that it may feel unsure of itself.  Sort of like you are out all day, thinking you have presented yourself well to others, then come home and find that you have a piece of lettuce in your front teeth and everyone you talked to that day did not bother to say anything.  It can be funny, or something that upsets, it depends on one’s perspective.

Nuggets of self-knowledge are like that.  We can learn something about ourselves through prayer, or writing, or something someone says about us, and then shock comes to the surface and it becomes bigger than it actually is.  If shared with a friend, this terrible self-revelation, they may smile and say “Oh I have known that about you for years.”  So then the thought comes up:  “Really!”  Yet the friend thinks nothing of it.  Sort of like finding out that others have seen lettuce in your front teeth all day and did not bother to say anything about it. 

The deeper we go in, the more fragments we will find.  For instance, the compulsive side of our gifts.  We can one day find out that what was thought to be selfless may, in fact, have a certain level of self-serving to it….or a lot.  The sure path to humility is a revelation that hits hard and suddenly, but again is taken in stride.  Once we understand that pure motives are most likely impossible, it is then we can let go of being overly preoccupied with ourselves and seek to allow graces healing to go deeper into our souls. 

Each person, if listened to deeply, is soon known to be a deep, complex, contradictory mystery filled with beauty and yes other things not so beautiful.  Sort of like beauty and the beast.  I believe that we each are on a road of self-discovery, which is what humility is all about.  The ability to see into ourselves and to embrace it and not allow it to dominate our focus is the key that will allow us to continue.

 

 

Stay out of your way

If you want to trip;
just look at your feet,
think about walking
clumsy you will become,
as self-knowledge comes up
just make it part of your dance,
don’t get in your own way.

 

 

 

markdohle

A young woman nearing burnout

 

A young woman nearing burnout

Burnout is an ugly term.  It brings out images for me of a gutted blackened structure that is about to collapse in on itself.  Or perhaps an emptiness where all light is hidden beneath a pall of ash black smoke.  When I was in the Navy, we had an exercise in survival during a shipboard fire.  In one of these, we were given a gas mask to wear and told to enter a room.  There were about 30 of us.  The doors were closed and then the place was filled with smoke, so black that you could not see your hands in front of us.  Then we were told to take off our mask and to leave the room.  It was not a pleasant experience and many of us had to fight off panic since we had no sense of direction, but at least in that instance, we were safe and got out.  I remember the relief of being able to breathe in clean air and the panic going away.  The trouble with burn out is that there can seem to be no way out.

A few months back we had a retreatant here.  She was a young woman who looked to be in her late twenties or early thirties.  She was pleasant, quiet and kept to herself.  She did not attend any of our services, which is what many retreatants do.  She spent her time either in her room or walking around outside in the beautiful spring weather.

On the day that she checked out, it was on a Sunday and she was the last to leave, so we talked a bit.  She told me about her life, well about her struggles with her internship.  She was in mental health and carried a very heavy case load.  She had been doing it for a couple of years and still had a year to go.  She seemed very fragile to me as we talked and I got the impression that she was drowning.  She told me that she spent much of the weekend sleeping and felt better because of it.  However, she went on, she felt empty and had to force herself to go to work every day and to deal with all the mental patients she had to see.  I understood her because I worked in our infirmary for many years and remembered how difficult the last year was for me.  I felt empty, a bit lost at times and had to really work at being present to those that I was taking care of.  It got worse for me when our Infirmary finally started to have fewer monks needing care.  The World-War-2 generation, for the most part, had passed on.   So when things slowed down my fatigue and yes burnout came to the fore.

I asked her how she brought her faith into her studies and internship.  She responded that she was so busy that she had little time for anything else.  I shared that when I was taking care of the elderly monks and with their deaths, it was my faith that gave me the energy and to continue in my work.  I also said that when I allowed myself to drift, it was then that I started to feel drained, empty and so tired that I could not really sleep.  Prayer, I told her, being in silence before the Lord helped because the Lord responds to us and comes to us to the degree that we let him.  I also learned of my powerlessness to change anyone, but in doing that it seemed to lighten the load, it took away responsibilities that I was placing on myself that I had no right to do.

She responded by asking me how could she do that?  Start off small I responded, give to the Lord ten minutes in the morning.  Pray the best way you can, sit in silence and read scripture.  It does not matter if you feel that you are doing anything worthwhile, or if the time you spent was successful; it is about you giving time to the Lord despite the distractions, being tired etc.  Just do it, be open and trusting.  In that way, the Lord will slowly expand your ability to receive his grace and healing.  This also leads you to learn to listen in other areas of your life as well.  Being a care giver has its dangers and burn out, and even suicide are two of them.  She then told me that they had two interns kill themselves in one year.   I responded.  When we forget that we have a soul, we allow it to starve for what it was made for.  A loving trusting relationship with God.  If we do not have that, then our job, or money, or success will become a god for us and in the end, leave us with nothing.  For grace and healing come from opening up our heart, mind, and soul to grace. If you remember that it will make things easier for you, though the profession you have chosen will challenge you to deal directly with your own compulsion to help others.  In all of our gifts, there is both a healthy aspect to it as well as unhealthy and even destructive tendencies that can take over. 

I shared the importance of the Eucharist because she was Catholic.  I gave her a book on the Jewish roots of the Eucharist by Scott Hahn, and she was very pleased to receive it. 

“Don’t take your faith for granted I told her.  Study and seek to deepen your relationship with God and you will find that your ability to help others, to be with them in their suffering will grow without being caught up in thinking you have some power all you own to heal and save.  God heals and saves, he uses our gifts to accomplish that.  Though he will heal you through your weaknesses.  He will slowly show you how to let go of burdens that you do not need to carry”.

As she left I thought of the many people in this world who give themselves for others.  It is often a thankless job, but they continue in it.  God’s grace works in our souls in so many hidden and wondrous ways, who can know them, or number them?  One grace I received is embracing that fact that as I age, stress will affect me differently than when younger.  She is still very young, I am old, and we each have to find a way to the Lord to continue to use us that is appropriate to our time of life. 

To receive

Each is given gifts in which to serve,
some to heal, others to encourage,
some given the gift to accept all they meet,
some pray more and others study,
and some don’t know what their gifts are at all.

There are those with many talents,
others may only have one,
yet each called to serve and restore others,
for within each heart dwells the Lord of light
seeking to use each of us as a soothing balm
for others.  For when even speaking truth
if done in love and not anger
plants seeds that will bring forth a hundred fold. 

markdohle

A beautiful encounter

A beautiful encounter

This evening after compline (our 7:30 prayer), I was going around making sure everything was locked up.  Over the years we have had to become conscious of our security.  When I went out to the back porch that is right outside of our ‘talking dining room’ I saw a young lady there.  I asked her to lock the door when she finished her reading; but she came right in.  The day ends very early here, so by 8 PM most of the guest have called it a day.  Many get up for our 4 AM office.

She was 29 I believe and radiant, gentle, and I could tell a loving soul.  So we talked a bit.  She was a psychotherapist by trade; which did not surprise me.  During our short conversation t I found out she was a 7th day Adventist.  I was a little surprised, but not greatly so, that she would come to a Catholic Monastery.  She smiled and said that some of her friends are very ‘staunch’ in their beliefs, but she was taught to be open to others.  Which shows, her being here and her open loving presence.

My sister was a 7th day and I have studied their faith a bit.  It is not very friendly towards the Catholic faith, at least as far as the founder goes and I guess with much of those who follow this path.  My sister was a deeply loving woman who spent much of her life taking care of the elderly and dying.  She was a joy to be around and to say she was very energetic is an understatement.  She has three lovely children.  She died a few years back and I still miss her. 

When meeting with people, no matter their faith path, or lack thereof, some are easier to talk to, others, better to stay away from them.  This young woman was a seeker after truth.  When Jesus said that those who seek, find, I believe he was talking about being childlike in our pursuit after what is true, good, and holy.  Seekers will always be happy when they find out the truth, for they are seeking.  When that seeking stops, then entrenchment happens and many problems flow from that. 

I believe that the Christian faith is very young, that we are only at the beginning of our understanding about the message and love that Jesus has brought into the world.  The fact that there are so many divisions and conflicts in the Body of Christ, hatred even, and condemnation, of any who disagree, point to being still being bound by what St. Paul called ‘sarx’, or the flesh.  We are still primitive, tribal and can be easily be swallowed up by fear of the other which shows itself in anger and defensiveness.  Christians stereotype just as much as anyone else, and have the same pre-judgements about others races, countries and religions and those who have none.  It is normal, yet I believe that Christ is calling us all to something more.    There are some exceptions, people who get it, but sad to say I still struggle with this aspect of the flesh that keeps walls up between me and others and because of that, with God as well.

Who can understand Jesus?  His Message?  It is the struggle to grow in understanding that keeps the Christian path alive.  The problem with certain types of fundamentalism is that it becomes an ideology, which will one day die of suffocation.  Some liberals (so called) are pretty much the same.   Once we believe that we have found truth in a rigid way we become entrenched, defensive and fearful of anything that will destroy the idol or god that we worship, or political, or social, model that we believe in.  So, yes we are still very young I believe.

It was a joy meeting this young woman and hope to see her back here in the future.  It is the Holy Spirit that compels us to search and to seek wisdom.  As well as to grow in trust of God and in the knowledge of his love for all.  Many Christians seem to delight in trying to prove otherwise.  We do not know the heart of any other human being.  Our own heart is a mystery to each of us as well, so better not to judge ourselves or others.  God is infinite compassion, I am nowhere near that, how could I be?  I see little when it comes to others.   God is Love.  The more I ponder on that, the deeper the mystery.  Yet in meeting this young girl, I got a little glimpse into that love.  She was a window for me, and icon, for did not Jesus tells us that he identifies with all, to the least, to our enemies and we are called to seek to see the way he does, to put on the Mind-Of-Christ.  So why should I be surprised that I see Christ Jesus so clearly in a sister of the faith?

My myopia

O Lord how tired I get
of myself and my fears,
of my tendency without thinking
to judge and forget who I see
before me in all their humanity,
for you dwell in each heart
and each of us is called to see that reality
and to draw out that flame
to deeper love and beauty.

 

 

markdohle

When identity is torn away

When identity is torn away

One of the prisoners I am writing, his name is Sean, an Irish citizen, who grew up when the violence was at its height.  His life has been rough, his father who was in the IRA was killed in a terrorist attack and he lost other friends to this civil war in his part of Ireland.  Because of his background, to say he has anger issues is an understatement and one of the reasons he is in Jail.  Though there are other reasons as well.  He will soon be getting out of prison, and forced back to his home country, because of his involvement with the IRA when very young.  Which causes him some anxiety because he has enemies back home.  Though it has been over 30 years since he came to the United States. 

When I first started writing to him, he was seeking to find ways in dealing with his anger/rage issues.  Being in prison because of the overall population, there is a lot to make one angry and he was smart enough to know that it would only take him further on down the descending spiral he has been traveling for years; albeit, unknowingly.   Being sent to prison was a knock on his head and it woke him up.  It has been rough, but he has made a lot of progress in dealing with his impulse control when it comes to anger.  

When he first starting writing me, he confessed that what he wanted was some help in dealing with this monkey on his back (anger).  I think most people are well acquainted with anger, a large group has to deal with it on a daily basis, and a smaller group knows that it could lead to inheriting the whirlwind if they don’t do something about it.  I, like Sean, belong in the latter group.  I was concerned for him because of the living conditions in prison.  Here is a man, who admits why he is in prison, knows he deserves to be there, yet has to come to enough self-knowledge to know that unless he finds a better way, he will have a bad end, or spend many more years in prison if he gives vent to his rage. 

I was honest about my own struggles and concern about him and would do what I could (though not much) to help him.  He admitted that he is a fighter, good at it, but now sees that it is a waste of time.  He sees how his fellow inmates who don’t try to control their anger only make their lives worse and even get years added on to their sentence if they harm, or sad to say, kill, another inmate. 

He was serious about his spiritual life, knowing that it is a lifeline for him and that his faith would help him to navigate his own inner landscape.  A place he was not really aware of before he landed in prison. 

In his second letter to me, he told me that he was trying to pray for his ‘enemies’ who are there in prison with him and that it helped.  Yet he still had falls and that scared him.  So we talked about being in touch with his moods, knowing when to pull back if need be and to not allow others to draw him in.  Here is something I wrote in the second letter I sent him:

“You are dealing well with your anger, and yes, praying for you enemies is a deeply healing prayer, for it is truly inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Yes, forgiveness is hard, but as you are doing, you seek through self-knowledge to understand others who have wronged you.  We all have a past, we all need mercy and forgiveness…..we receive mercy and then pass it on to others, if not face to face, then through prayer.  Be patient, one day at a time, and allow the Lord to heal you according to his own timetable”.

So over the two and half years, I have been writing him I have seen progress, suffering, struggle, failure and yes a growing trust in God.  While at the same time his life has not gotten easier.  He is just not controlled by his anger anymore, it no longer grabs him by his neck and shakes him senseless.  He is having serious health issues and now worried about getting his meds when he goes back to Ireland.  He is seeing an Irish social worker who will most likely be able to help him in that regard.  He is having another problem, he does not have a birth-certificate.  Which has led him to learn something about himself that he did not know before….which has him reeling.  His identity has been torn away from him, for what he thought for 50 some years about himself, is now seen as a lie.

He found out that he is adopted.  So now he thinks that he was simply dumped somewhere by a mother who did not want him.  His true father wanted nothing to do with his real mom, so she was left bereft and alone. He wrote me:  “I have no idea who I am, my whole life has been a lie”.  So, yes, another milestone for him to face, but I believe he will.  Below is my response, which I know was not sufficient in any way to alleviate his suffering.  

Well, you have had quite a journey haven’t you last the few weeks?  Learning about one’s past can be a shock, especially the news that you became privy to.  I can see your confusion over ‘who you are’, yet, you are still Sean.  I have no doubt that your mother loved you, but in 1965, in Ireland, the pressure must have been too great for her to withstand.  Usually, mothers mourn their children when they had to give them up for adoption.  It was actually the fault of your father, though I would imagine that the situation was trying for both of them.  Your father as he aged may have come to the realization of what he did and came to regret it as well.  The situation of you ‘being given away’ says nothing about you, you are yourself, a man who is seeking God, trying to grow as a human being and wanting to move on in life after you are released from prison’. 

Your true identity is in God, you are a child of God, loved in an infinite manner; cherished.  Everything else is secondary.  Your adopted parents are your real mom and dad, they raised you, probably went through a great deal to see that you were taken care of.  Like you said, your step-mom sent you to America because she thought it would be better for you….I am sure it was a sacrifice for her….because you were worth it.  Keep your perspective grounded, this will only be a big problem if you let it.  After saying that, I know it will be a struggle for you, but be rooted in your faith and in your relationship with Christ.  Pray for your biological parents and forgive them…..even if it may be difficult for you”.


I would say he is being pounded, but that is the nature of our lives in this world.  He is facing this without seeking to blame anyone, or really to allow himself to become a victim.  Our faith in God’s love for us precludes that over the long haul.  My roots of anger go way back.  Things happen, a very young child sees it one way, and those who brought about the experience see it in another.  Yet the seed is there and needs to be dealt with.  I do believe that God uses all of us to work for the kingdom by our gifts, but truly reaches us through our weaknesses, or as St. Paul would say:  “The thorn in his side”. 

Our past does have a hold on us, but it does not define us.  Who is Sean, who am I, who are you, dear reader?  What we truly believe will lead us to one conclusion or another.  Do we believe what others tell us about ourselves?  People who are wounded and filled with their anger and pain, or do we believe what Christ Jesus tells us and shows us by his life.  Or any religious tradition for that manner. 

One morning I was in between waking and sleeping and had a quick dream (?) where I was in a beautiful garden, surrounded by very beautiful flowers, mostly white.  Some of the plants were flourishing, others struggling, yet all alive.  So I asked the Lord or prayed to the Lord.  “Lord, each and every flower is known by you and loved, and I believe you will bring true life to all”.  For each human being is known truly only by God, and who am I to limit his mercy, love, and compassion toward each human being.

I do know that when younger if I would have let my anger consume me, I would not be here now.  Though even if I was a 69-year-old man who was filled with fear, anger, and hatred, there would still be hope, for God knows me to my deepest depth, he sees what is hidden from myself and would call me in love and hope to trust. 

We can judge actions, but not people.  We can be overwhelmed and do things that are truly horrible and evil.  Sean did some horrible things, he is now sorry for it and is slowly growing in his trust in God’s love for him and learning where his true identity is. 

I am amazed at the courage of people, and the struggle many go through to grow in their humanity.  It is an honor to know this man, and please pray for him and all men and women prisoners and those who work in prison.  I have talked with those who work in the system and they tell me of their own struggles and how their faith keeps them from actually becoming like the worst of those they have to take care of.  Prayer, grace and taking responsibility for themselves keeps them on the straight path. 


 

 

 

 

markdohle

50th High School reunion

50th High School reunion
 
When I received my yearbook in 1967, I remembered looking at a picture of the first Cristobal High School class. I was amazed to see that my class was the 50th to graduate. I then thought about the age of that first class of graduates and realized that they were very, very, old, older than my parents. They would be I said to myself, 68 or 69. I of course never thought that 50 years later, being that same age, and how different that reality would look to me. When not looking in a mirror or at a doctor’s office, I sort of feel like I am 18, my maturity level more like 14, on a good day.
 
I should not have blinked.
 
Donna Janzar was a classmate I was lucky enough to get to know again. We became good friends. Or, should I say our friendship continued where it left off. Her husband Stan was a really great guy. The few times she was able to stop off I loved seeing them interact with each other, a very good, loving marriage. We used to talk a lot when in High School. After I finished my paper route in Fr. Gulick, we would often just stand and talk for hours. Good conversation can take those involved outside of time, so that two or three hours seems like, well, nothing at all. She was a good friend and I loved her dearly. I missed her when she left Panama in 65, so getting to spend time with her was a true joy. I am still sad over her death of course, but I would not change anything, she was a good soul who loved helping and encouraging others. She helped and encouraged me in my compulsion to write.
 
You never forget those you became good friends with in High School. Dennis Forsgren, Nan Bell or two of the Canal Zone kids in my class that I remember the most and am still very fond of them. I am happy to say I got back in touch with both of them. I was not good at making friends when a teenager, nor was I looking for it in reality. Yet when someone without their even knowing it broke through my unconscious defenses it was a true blessing. Because of that, I have always believed that friendship is one of the most important experiences in life. To have a good friend is a priceless gift. For no one owes anyone else friendship, it is grace in action. What I find beautiful is the depth of the friendship I experience when reading about my classmates and how hard they worked to get the class together. How after all these years they are still so deeply connected.
 
I remember in 1999 when I was first starting to learn the computer, I recollect with humor how kind Nan Bell was to me. I was learning to use messenger and we talked about it over the phone and I voicing my frustration because I could not find the file. She started laughing reliving with me her own experience in learning the different aspects of using the computer. Jack Sanders, who will not remember this, helped me out in showing me how to correct some of the mistakes I was making and also explained to me some of the slang, like “LOL”, I had no idea what that meant.
 
I did not know many of my classmates, but after I graduated I was amazed at the connection that I felt on a deep level. I guess you cannot help but feel connected when the whole Atlantic area was so small and everyone’s name was known. One name that stayed with me. Connie Fowler, she lived in Gulick Heights and she stopped by for a short visit on her way to the class reunion. I was delighted to see her. Like Donna Janzar she left Panama in 65 (I believe) so I felt a deep connection with her. It was a short visit, but I learned a lot about her. She does love the class that is for sure. I hope to see her again.
 
I am also thankful for connecting with a classmate I did not know in High School: Lenny Huff, a great guy.
 
I like getting older, for some that may seem strange, yet life seems to get richer as my future is becoming less than my past. I have medical problems, I can’t run up the stairs and my lungs could be better, but I laugh at myself when I look in the mirror and see my dad looking back at me. There are losses, in my family, I have lost two siblings, yet that is life, we age, move one and then really move on. I sometimes think of the song: “Row, row, row, your boat, gently down the stream, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”. I am beginning to understand that. You can’t stop a stream from flowing, nor time from moving us all forward. I hope that all of my classmates keep their humor and trust in life’s process no matter if Rapids have to be gone through and from time to time a waterfall gone over. In the end, we all get through it.

 

markdohle

No brake function on the highway of our lives
(Jesus promised that those who seek shall find)

During our retreat this weekend, titled “Sacred Journey, Toward the End of Life” we covered a lot of territories.  In reliving some of my own experiences as a caregiver for 30 years in my community, it was a healing exercise for me.  As I was pondering this the idea of how truly sacred are lives are I believe that I got a little better understating of life and what it is about….though I am still at the beginning of this journey.

Now that I am getting older, I know that sooner or later (well not that much later) I will finally find out what it is like to have others help me in my last mile of life.  That last mile can take a very short time to traverse, or perhaps it may take years.  Some people are spared this journey because they die in an instant.  Are they the lucky ones? That is a question that can’t be answered in this world.  All we can do is to try to live out our lives the best way we can and when our ends draw near to hopefully be able to make that journey with others and with grace.  If not with grace, then hopefully we will be journeyed with by people who understand and will show compassion.  I don’t want to die suddenly.  I believe that the ‘last mile’ is the most important time of life.  My death is the seed that is planted that will bear fruit into eternity.

When speaking about the ‘meaning of life’, I believe that it is impossible to be really objective about it.  There is so much that is right about life in this world, yet, what is right about our lives is not a problem to be solved, we simply live it.  What about what is wrong with our existence.  With suffering, loss, emotional and physical pain?  I guess we have to live through it as well, yet we also want to figure out; ‘why’?  Well, that is what we do.  It is like climbing a mountain, the steeper it is, the greater the challenge.

“Perspective is everything”, as the saying goes.  A strongly held belief, or idea, on what life is about can help or hinder us in how we deal with the ‘down-under’ of life.  Today ‘perspectives’ are shouted from the house tops…each one true for those who hold them.  So, today, it can be very confusing.  Still, whatever life brings us, has to be lived out, there is no escape.  In the end, we get through it.

Christians have a perspective about God, life, suffering, and death.  The more deeply one seeks to understand their Christian faith and live it, make it real, the more it will influence how they deal with life and its many joys as well as its sufferings.  It is easy to shout out slogans about what it means to be a Christian, yet, more difficult to live it out in the day to day world and to have the patience to allow what its central meaning is to sink in at ever deeper levels.  The message of the Christian path is simple on one level, yet multifaceted on others. 

I have been around death a lot.  Been with many who have died, though they were all older than me.  Now that I am nearing the age of those I once took care of and sat with when they died, I am now brought to the face to face reality of diminishment, illness, suffering and the learning to see the meaning of it all through my faith.  This brings me strength and joy, along with the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring. 

I would suspect that people of other faith traditions who seek to understand life’s meaning and mysteries can also arrive at some level of peace with their own movement towards the end of life.  For some faith is about seeking, digging, dying to self and allowing God to grow/expand their hearts, to learn to serve and love.  For others, it is something to do on Holy Days, funerals and weddings and days of dedication.  I would rather belong to the first group.  I do believe however that those in the second group, that many will seek deeper meaning as life “happens” to them. 

Jesus promised that those who seek shall find.  Perhaps seeking means that we understand that we never arrive at the end of our journey to seek meaning and truth as well as the implications of love.  Those who seek, whoever they are, when presented with the truth will rejoice in it, embrace it and joyfully let go of all that interferes with union with ‘Truth’.

 

No brakes

We can stop and stall,
seek not to look and understand
still to no avail.

Life happens, loss comes,
as well as love, joy, and peace,
still, all things pass
for in life there is no brake,
we plow on hopefully
with faith as our guide
a faith deeply felt,
studied and truly lived out
in its fullness.

 

markdohle

A man with PTSD

A man with PTSD

I took one of the brothers to the VA at Fort McPherson, it is in West Atlanta.  I like going there because the base reminds me in some way of Fort Gulick, a military base I grew up in when in Panama.  As usual, we had a hard time finding a parking place, so I let the brother off in front and told him that I would find a parking space eventually and wait for him outside in the front.  I ended up going across the street and parking in a tow zone, but there were a lot of the cars there, so I parked.  Later I was told that the sign should be taken down because the building was not being used in any case. 

It was not too hot at the time and I found some shade to stand in while waiting for my co-pilot to come out.  As I was standing there, a man came over and stood there as well.  He was waiting for the VA bus to come and pick him up.  He started a conversation with me.  I could tell from the way he talked and carried himself that he was a very intelligent man.  We talked about our time in the military.  He was 18 years younger than me, born in the year that I graduated from High School, in 1967.  He was in the Gulf-War and shared some of his experiences with me.  Before he joined the military he worked for a short time in customer services and told me he enjoyed the work.  Yet after he came back, he found himself unable to take stress the way he did before he went into combat.  He lost some friends while there and saw a lot he told me. 

He was honest about his faith and told me “that it was his faith in Christ that has allowed him to not be swallowed up by his struggles with what happened while in combat”.  One thing that came out was that he really believed that he was called to be a loving force in the world, yet his emotional state was so fragile that he could not be around a group of people of any size, it made him very uneasy and at times panicky.  So he kept to himself but did not like it much.  He did mention that he also had to be careful what he watched.  He could watch war movies from before he was born, but not any movies that dealt with the current struggle with terrorism in the Middle East.   I told him that I understood. 

He then mentioned that he also could not watch some movies because they caused him to cry, which is something that he did not do before he went into the army.  These were movies that dealt with family and children and life at its best.  I thought about that for a while and said that perhaps he should rethink his staying away from those movies and music as well that brought tears.   I talked about how tears can be healing, and that in crying toxic chemicals were being released.  That his tears were about joy, but also about mourning because he was not able to pursue marriage and family in his life because of his fragile emotional state.  I told him that I say this because unlike him I find that I am almost incapable of shedding tears and feel that I have paid a price for it.  I went on telling him that now that I am older, tears sometimes come at unexpected times and I still have trouble letting them flow.  Perhaps on some unconscious level, I still think them ‘weak’ or ‘unmanly’.  Yet the tears come and I told him that when they did flow I felt some kind of inner cleansing or relieve from a form of suffering that is so common to me that I really don’t know I have it until some weight is taken off of me.  So I said, your soul wants to heal, tears may be a way of you doing that to some degree.  Also, I said that in it is not always necessary to figure everything out, for I have found it impossible.   Yet to accept that can paradoxically lead to some inner healing. 

I asked him if he ever heard of EMDR.  He said he did not.  So I explained how the mind can get caught in a loop, an endless one, and that our past experiences are on rerun all the time.  In EMDR, you go back to the event and with the help of someone who knows how to direct the experience and it can break the loop.  In each session, the starting point will also take him to other parts of his life that have some connection with his struggles. I told him that I have had some experience with it and it helped.  I was surprised he did not know of it because the VA does offer that therapy to those who want it.  He told me that he would look into it.

We talked about prayer and his inner ocean of unrest.  He told me that in prayer he has learned not to fear the storm but to ride it out and to know he is not alone in it.  He said that is one reason he has not become an alcoholic like some of his friends who have the same struggle.  Yet he told me that he gets tired of it and he was glad that I mentioned EMDR to him. 

His bus soon came and we shook hands and he left.  His name was James and I will probably never see him again, but I always get something from people that I ‘bump’ into at the VA.  The men and women have had a rich experience, if a painful one, of life, and it deepens them and makes them wise.  Though sometimes they may not be consciously aware of it. 

I hate war and I hate the way that throughout history young men and women are used as cannon fodder and when they come home, many have trouble getting the help they need.  Though to be fair, the VA does its best.  The people who care for the veterans or in the majority a caring, loving, group of people.  The problems come from those in the upper echelons for the most part.  I hope that things will continue to improve for our veterans.  The world does not seem to becoming a more peaceful place, but one that is becoming more fearful and warlike.  Hopefully, I am wrong.  In the meantime, we need to be mindful of the burden some of them carry.  Some get better, others do not. Such is the tragedy of war.  I do believe that there is not a single human being who does not deserve compassion and in many cases, if we listen, empathy as well.  The loving force James was talking about can be expressed in our actions as well as in how we pray, for it is the Holy Spirit that prays/groans without our souls.

 

War

Dad never talked about the war with me,
he would just smile and look away when I asked,
“what was it like”

My Uncle one day told me some memories,
he was in Korea, and I could tell he was tortured
by what he had seen and done.

So I said, “in war, we do awful things
that seems right and normal when in combat,
it is when we come home that the struggle begins,
to forgive ourselves and those we fought,
those we perhaps killed in anger
as well as those in a rage killed our friends,
until then, the loop will continue.”

I know of a man who wakes up screaming at night,
gasping from nightmares of guns, and bombs,
screams and pain, so he sleeps little,
alone he is and bereft of family,

Yet he told me

“Things are actually getting better,
though I still get so very tired of keeping my head above the water,
I want to sink, but I cannot,
for the war, I wage now is more intense
than the one I was in when young,
just hidden from sight,
no one sees because I smile and work
and say I am fine when asked how I am doing”.

“Will we ever learn?
When will we stop sending out young men and women
to war, one day perhaps the world will understand
the utter senselessness of the way we handle our problems.
O Lord, have Mercy” he said while smiling.—Br.MD


 


 

markdohle

The Gordian knot of our lives

The Gordian knot of our lives

Grace cuts through marrow and bone, it is like having cold water
thrown on the soul it breaks through many layers of blindness and protection. 

When listening to the life experiences of many retreatants, I am amazed at what many of them had to go through to get where they found themselves on their journey.  Some stories you could make into a movie because of the number of events, often tragic that seemed to have followed them throughout their life.  Others at one time, were rich and even famous, yet when speaking to me, all of that was long gone. 

For some, there was never any happiness nor peace, still, they continued on their path and one day something happened to them that opened their eyes and they started on a journey that they never thought they would begin.  The event was one filled with grace.  Though not all were pleasant by any means.

One man told me that when younger and through his middle age he was self-centered and interested in only what would please him.  Whatever gave him pleasure, he pursued and if anyone got in the way of that, they paid a heavy price.  “People thought I had everything,” he told me.  “Yet, inside I was empty, cold and thought pleasure would heal that.  It did but only for a short time.”  This life made him more and more desperate with fewer and fewer people he could depend on, or who would even want to be anywhere near him.  “I was ignorant,” he said.  “I knew that I hurt people, but never to the extent that I did.  I thought that people simply overreacted to me.”  As he said it, he looked very sad over the harm he did others.  Then one day he against all odds fell in love.  He mentioned that if he knew what was going to happen, or what was happening, he would have run away.   At first, he did not know what was going on.  He was 48, successful at business and feared….something he actually liked, though it contributed to his own inner alienation. 

“When I fell in love, I felt like my insides were melting and felt both a deep joy as well as a form of suffering that I had never encountered.  At first, she kept me at arm’s length because people knew me and warned her about me.  So it took some time for me to get to know her.  What caused me so much distress is that my past, in the end, chased her away.  She had her own issues with men like me and would not risk a relationship.  It took me years to get over that ‘rejection’.  Yet once wounded by loving another person in such a total and passionate way, it did change me and after that, I started to look at people differently.  It took time for others who knew me to give me another chance.  Both my ex-friends and family members.  I was just happy I never married before that point.”  He stopped and did not move for about a minute, then he looked up and continued.  “One day I found myself loving another woman, not as intense, but it was gentler, warm and trusting.  I was 57 at the time, she was 54.   She was a woman of deep faith and I found myself attracted to what she had.  So here I am today, 62 years old, happily married with a woman that I love dearly and who has taught me the power of love as well as faith in God.  In my wildest dreams, I would have never thought I would be in this place.  My wife’s family accepts and loves me and her children from her first marriage (she was a widow) love and respect me.  We are in fact friends.  So the grace was given to me by the experience of loving another and the pain that went with that.” 

After he left, it made me think back on my own life and I suppose when we really think about it, many can say “I never thought I would become the person that I am”.  It was those grace filled moments, both those that were ‘good’, but especially those that were often unwelcome and upset my own life.  Grace cuts through marrow and bone, it is like having cold water thrown on the soul it breaks through many layers of blindness and protection.

I can say one thing, life is difficult, this we all know, it is unrelenting and gives us little time for true rest. That seeking out entertainment and fun to escape life’s ups and downs is only a band aid over a very large inner process that in the end, can lead to deep healing, or a blinding despair.  The hard thing to understand (speaking for myself here) is that wherever I end up, it will flow from a deep place of freedom, not compulsion.  The Gordian know of our lives can only be united by grace, mercy, and healing. –Br.MD

 

markdohle

Sacred Journey toward the End of Life Retreat/Being a Caregiver
(7/28-30/17)

I am aware that there is much in caregiving that is rewarding.  It can bring healing on an emotional level to be able to take care of one’s parents or other family members.  There are times of laughter, of deep sharing and compassion and empathy can deepen.  The relationship with the caregiver and the care-receiver can be one of the most intimate relationships possible.   However, there is a side to being a caregiver that can be very harmful, if care of self and the courage to deal with one's interior experience are not taken seriously.  Both the one giving care and the one receiving will see each other at their best and their worst, there is no backing out, each experience, both those that are positive and healing, and those painful have to be lived through.  Perhaps that is the gift of being the care giver, it has to be seen to, to the end.

Many people will find that there will be at least one time in their lives where they will be called upon to be a caregiver.  This will more than likely be for one’s parents or perhaps a sibling who is dying.  Being a caregiver can become a very long, hard, yet rewarding journey.  It can also be a dangerous time if self-care is not brought into the experience. 

People talk about the Royal-Road of the Unconscious.  It is dreams they are talking about.  However, I believe that being a caregiver can also be a time of accessing the unconscious because of the emotional strain and stress being a caregiver involves. Days can be planned, a schedule developed, yet each day is unique when taking care of someone full time.  Anything can happen.  Some days run smoothly, others can be very chaotic.  Patience can be stretched to the limit and there can be times of physical abuse towards the one being cared for, if not dealt with.  This last point can be a very hard issue to deal with.  Seeking help and being able to learn and forgive oneself is important if that ever happens.  If it happens more than once, then it is a ‘sure’ sign that one needs help and needs the humility to ask for it.

Long hours spent in doctors’ offices, or the Emergency-Room can also be exhausting.  Interrupted sleep can be common place….exhaustion can become the new-norm.  It can cause the caregiver to become house bound and unless some sort of network is formed, isolation can happen. 

Inner defense can become weak, so anger, resentment, self-pity, and bitterness can become very obvious, calling out to be dealt with.  Limitations or experienced as well as the loss of boundaries with the one being cared for.    One can experience their lives as a trap, or a hell like existence, again, if self-care is not sought out and received. 

This sounds extreme, yet it is a reality, a common one for many. 

Inner distress is a call for help.  It can be ego shattering forcing our false notions about or capabilities to be brought out during times of deep stress.   The ‘Royal Road to the Unconscious” is a painful one and is calling out for some sort of resolution.  To ignore this is both detrimental to the caregiver as well as the one being cared for. 

What the unconscious presents to us is not the truth as such, but what has to be dealt with if one has the humility and courage to do so.  It is a call to be truthful with others and most importantly with oneself.  Cycles, especially those that lead to deeper suffering are important to give a listening ear too. 

The stress can lay low the caregiver, or even lead to death because of all the above.  The older the caregiver, the more danger that one place oneself in.  Families will often not understand the stress.  One reason is that the caregiver can give confusing messages to the family, causing them to often withdraw, thinking they are not needed or wanted in taking care of a loved one.

markdohle

The woman gardener

The woman gardener
(Life and loss hand in hand)

We are having some ‘Master Gardeners’ come in and look over our garden in our retreat house.   It seemed an unknown friend called the Extension Society and recommended that they some send experts out to help us.  After some thought (it did not take much time), I decided that our unknown friend was right, so I said yes, send them out. We have a garden in back of our retreat house.  Our main dining room has a good view of it.  It is one floor down, really I guess level with our basement.  Fr. Bob put the garden together many years ago.  I remember helping him put in some very heavy cement benches that he made.  I assisted him in the pour.  I would say they weighed about 300 lbs.  It was quite a chore putting them in, and they are still there.  Every time I see the benches the memory of the far off day comes to mind.  It also has a raised gold fish pond.  It needs some work.  So I am glad that they are here.  We do have some a landscape crew help with it, but ‘Master Gardeners” could add perhaps a nice touch.  I have put some chairs in the garden and cleaned it up, or others have, and the guests seem to want to use it more.  So I really want to make it more inviting.

I had some corners trimmed back about two months ago and now I would like to clear out some ivy that has taken over those corners.  I would like for people to be able to sit under the trees in the far corners without fear of what might be under the ivy.  Besides, as much as I like ivy, they can take over and do damage to other plants.  I also mentioned that if they think we need some more plants, I would like something low maintenance.  I am not a Gardener, and really don’t like the sun much, well not at all.  I have a live and let
live relationship with our sun, been burnt way too many times   One of the ‘Gardeners’ is a friend of the Monastery, in fact, one of our Lay Cistercians. 

Ed is a very gentle lovable guy who just lost his wife, so I am glad we are staying in contact in this way.  He loves gardening and I am sure he and his friends will give us some good tips.  Among those with him is a woman who is 87 years old.  She has been one of the first to take the course in gardening perhaps 25 years earlier, and from what she told me, it is extensive.  She loves it and it seems to keep her young, for she has a very gentle, outgoing personality. 

I talked with her a bit and she shared some history with me.  Some very painful history.  She has 7 boys and has lost four of them.  Three at the same time in a fishing accident up in Alaska, about 15 years ago (not really sure).  The fourth from pancreatic cancer.  As she was talking, she told me about her relationship with her three remaining sons.  It seems to be a deep one.  She talked about how her three boys have helped her so much by sharing their wisdom with her.  I have a feeling they are just returning the favor, she seems like a stellar mother with a lot of insight.

I was touched by the depth of her faith and how she continues to enjoy life.  Gardening obviously keeps her in touch with nature and quite active.  I was deeply touched by her openness, her humility and the way she loved and respected her children, and had a good relationship with them. 

I told her that I can’t imagine how she got through her losses.  It was her faith, as well as her family that circled around her.  People will share about their loss, but can’t convey really the depth of the suffering they had to go through.  Both she and her family had to go through the valley of death and have come out on the other side, intact, loving and deeply rooted in
life and the wonder of it.  She is of course not afraid of death but also loves life. 

I have other friends who are like that.  Clair and Steve come to mind.  Many who come here for a retreat and share their lives with those around them as well.  It is a safe place for many to be open about what they have gone through.  Some do better than others, but I doubt there is a grading system in how to deal with the losses that all of us will have to go through. 

I suppose that when I meet someone for the first time, I may unconsciously think that their lives have been serene and easy because they smile at me and laugh at my corny jokes.  Yet, when they sit down, there are often tears at the beginning of our talks.  There is no way to compare the burdens that others bear.  We each have our way of dealing with sorrow, or we repress it, which is just another way of dealing with it and is its own form of suffering since it will manifest itself in other ways. 

People do not give themselves credit on how heroic they can be in their lives.  Why?  I guess it is because suffering is as common as dirt, but that does take away from its intensity, nor the courage needed in order to get through it.    While it is true many do become bitter and cynical as their lives move forward, I have found the majority continue in hope and faith.  Life can wear us down, but perhaps the wearing down will one day show the gold that is underneath.  Our choices are so important, to face life and go forward, or to curse and back away.  Yet even those who back away, it can also be needed if further healing comes from it.  If not, well a tree is judged by its fruit.  However, it is understandable that in this world suffering and loss can be a very heavy burden.  It is explicable when some seemed to be crushed by life’s losses.  Yet in God, we live and move and have our being.  If that is true, then there is much not understood about the mystery of our existence.

Life goes one for all of us, the years pile up and soon we find ourselves old and hopefully wiser as we await the ending of our short pilgrimage in this world. 

Salt and Pepper and this and that

It is better to live and exist in this world
with its deep crags and dark paths,
than not to have existed at all.
for there are also high mountains
and peace-filled plateaus traversed,

Family and friends,
and yes enemies as well,
our lives are always salt and pepper,
this and that, opposite sides of a coin,
that draws us out like a poultice over a wound,
reasons often unknown,
but it is in the living that we are transformed,
in hope that we move forward,
and it is with love that we are led to show mercy
and compassion even on those who hate us.

For in the end,
we are really brothers and sisters
on the way as we learn ever more deeply
that we are truly wayfarers
seeking our true home.


 

markdohle

A void of incomprehension

 

 A void of incomprehension
(Sometimes you have to let go)

I am a big believer in communication.  So one of the hardest aspects of being human is the painful reality that there are times when it is impossible to talk or help someone else.  It is a hard limitation to swallow.  There are walls that can block understanding someone else.  Yet a wall can be dealt with over time if there is at least some good will on both sides.  Some breakthrough can be attained.  Then there are relationships, perhaps in the family, or at work, or in our cultures, where communications totally break down.  Possibly because there is no wall there in the first place, there is a void of incomprehension. 

I know that I have been on both sides of this equation, where I am the one someone can’t reach, and on the other, where no matter what I say will be misinterpreted.  So over the years, slowly, the wisdom has grown where I know that there will be people in my life that can’t reach me and others that I cannot connect with, even if I tried. 

It is not about cutting someone loose (though that may be needed), but simply learning limitations and knowing when to stop trying to work through the emptiness that can separate me from another or the other from me.  In those times when I could not connect with someone who wanted to associate with me, it was frustrating because of the pain I was causing, but in the end, the relationship never got started, it was stillborn. 

Beliefs have a lot to do with it.  When someone believes that no one can be trusted, or that people are after them and are convinced of it…..well….in the end, nothing can be done.  It is not about giving up, for a relationship of sorts can evolve, just not one where some deeper knowledge of the other can be accomplished.  Or that nothing can be done to help them, since they may not know that they need help. 

I guess it is not that difficult to imprison oneself in an emotional prison so deep that reasonable discourse is next to impossible. When I reach a high emotional state, like with anger, if I lose touch with myself, there is no reasoning with me, I am right and the judge and jury.  I believe that when this happens I am for a short time ‘out of touch with reality’, perhaps a temporary form of insanity.  What if that state becomes permanent?    When young, I learned this lesson, and I guess it has saved me a lot of grief in my life, that any kind of meaningful discourse is not always possible and to just get over it and move on.

To try to reach someone who is buried in their own subjectivity so deeply that no real communication can happen, it is better to stop.  This can also happen with groups I believe.  Yet, it is easier to see it in others than in myself, or in the group, I may belong to.

Deep emotional wounds may never heal for some (many?) and can lead to a life of loneliness and not understanding why no one comprehends them.  We are truly complex creatures.  Sometimes one's faith can help to break through this wall.  But it can also reinforce it as well.  If a group gets together that can communicate within their own small circle, then isolation is no more.  It is the same prison, the circle is just bigger.  Perhaps bigotry in all of its forms is also a much bigger circle.  Crazy ideas which are taken as normal by a large group of people.  Political parties, religions and different schools that follow a very specific philosophy can fall into this trap. 

If one man is sane in a large group of people who have dangerous beliefs, he may be considered out of touch by the majority, or most likely everyone.  The so called cultural wars going on today, are we reaching a point where any kind of bridge is impossible to build?  One side thinking the other evil, crazy, and needs to be dealt with.  I do believe it is easier to fall into these kinds of traps than we realize.  For it is always easier to see it in others than in ourselves, or in the culture, we identify with.

When we make others’, ‘its’ instead of ‘a Thou’, they are just a ‘thing’ to get rid of.  It is difficult to see the ‘Light of Christ’ in ‘others’.  That is why we are perhaps told to love our enemies’ and to not judge at a level that takes away their worth and humanity.  To be human, to grow in our humanity, to become connected with those around us is an arduous process and a sometimes lonely road to walk.   I cannot imagine how lonely Jesus was in the midst of his Apostles and followers while he walked this earth.


markdohle

A turtle in our cloister garden

 

A turtle in our cloister garden
(ByFr. James Behrens)

This a homily Fr. James gave on or monthly vacation prayer day.  It is very good and filled with dry humor, which is something
Fr. James is very good at.  I have written a few pieces on this turtle and am happy to share it here with those who love turtle
s.

There is a turtle in our cloister garden.  I do not know if it is a he or a she.  Let’s call him, a he.  He has been there a long time, for as long as I have been here and probably longer than that.  I saw him twice this week, going about his business, seemingly enjoying the sun after a heavy rainfall.  He was on the grass, his little head raised and looking upwards.

I assume he is celibate.  He certainly is faithful to the routines of his turtle life.  He does not worry about the past or the future – he is completely attuned to the present moment and all that it offers, even though that is perpetually very little.  His diet is modest but healthy.  We monks may strive to live lives that are, according to our tradition, hidden, obscure and laborious.  These traits the little turtle seems to possess with gusto.  And he stays, year after year.  The seasons come and go, the rain falls and the winds blow and the sun shines and he stays within the parameters of the cloister garden.

He has life and has it to the full.  But he does not know that the way that we do.  We may look at him with a bit of envy.  What we struggle for seems to come to him so easily.  But that is the nature of being a turtle in a cloister garden. 

Jesus had a habit of looking about and taking from nature examples to illustrate his thoughts on God and providence.  A mustard seed, the birds of the air and flowers in a field were among those natural everyday sights that enabled him to highlight the generosity of God’s abundant love for us. 

I wonder what he would have said about turtles.

Today has been set aside to pray for an increase of vocations to religious life.  Much has been written about what some, perhaps many, are calling a crisis in religious life.  We are all familiar with the problem – steadily declining numbers and a seeming inability on the part of the dwindling numbers of religious to stem the tide.  So we continue to pray, hoping that our prayers will bring about some positive change in the current state of affairs. 

In many ways, the current situation has caught us unawares.  Massive shifts in culture and religious sensibilities have destabilized the taken for granted status of religious life.  And we are trying to regroup, marshaling whatever help we can get – including God’s.  One very positive result of the vocation dilemma is that it has brought about a reassessment of who we are as Cistercian monks and what we have to offer the world.  It has involved us in an ongoing clarification of our lives. 

The future may well bring about a further decline in our numbers. But through it all we take to heart the confidence that God cares for us.  He cares for us deeply, tenderly, faithfully.  He cares for the turtle as well. And he endowed the small creature with a very slow but sure span of patient growth. We are asked to trust that God cares for us as well and will provide for us the ways and means to live our monastic calling, slowly but surely.  And patiently. The little turtle has all it needs to be a turtle.  We have all we need to be monks. We may look to God for numbers.  He may look to us to be resourceful in other and important ways, ways that will bear fruit.  And that is precisely what seems to be happening.--Fr. James Behrens   

markdohle

Childlikeness

Childlikeness

Children dance, laugh and play,
natural in their abandon, in how they do what they do.
Naiveté that one day must be lost, a must, sad to say.
Life does that, forces us to let go of childish joy,
Something that those who have lost it love to witness,
Wistful for days long past, before sophistication came to the fore.

Childlike joy, and openness to life, in adults, is another matter,
Based on maturity, and in the understanding of the simple giftedness of life;
Choosing to hope instead of despair,
Embracing doubt without the need of surety,
Loving others simply because they are.
Not for what they do, or how much they have.

Letting go of the fear of what others think
Chains heavy and burdensome for many,
To simply do what is right, and not worry about the others.
Putting aside useless baggage accumulated over the years
That only forgiveness and understanding can give,
Laying resentment and revenge to rest never to rise again.

Childlikeness is the fruit of a long hard road,
Truthful with self,
Laying ego aside,
Embracing what is
Without self-hate
But trusting in what life is about.

 

markdohle

A quote from Pope Francis:

A quote from Pope Francis:

“Communicating means sharing, and sharing demands listening and acceptance. Listening is much more than simply hearing. Hearing is about receiving information, while listening is about communication, and calls for closeness. Listening allows us to get things right, and not simply to be passive onlookers, users or consumers. Listening also means being able to share questions and doubts, to journey side by side, to banish all claims to absolute power and to put our abilities and gifts at the service of the common good.”-- Message for World Day of Social Communications, Jan. 22, 2016

 

It can be very difficult for me when a roadblock is reached in an important communication.  Both parties can try, yet there are times when a bridge can’t be navigated because it is not there.  I often forget what a tangle it can be when talking with others.  I am almost 69 and with that comes a lot of experiences.  I also believe that the most significant experiences are the ones that often happen very early in childhood which set the stage for our strengths and weaknesses and can make it hard to listen to others. 

Or there can be periods when the communication is one way.  Where one party understands the position of the other, even if there is no agreement, but the other party is still unable to return the favor.  I have been on both ends of this line.  I have slowly learned that if this happens, no matter which space I occupy. The one who gets it or the one who does not, that there are times when I need to let it go without blaming anyone about it. 

This can be helpful because I know of the hopeless feeling that can surface when communications start to breakdown and both parties believe that if they yell loud enough, or get vulgar enough, then the other will get it.  Of course the exact opposite happens.  Being browbeat, or yelled at, or shamed only makes my walls go higher. 

Stances, perspectives etc., can become repetitious, making listening almost impossible.  Stereotyping someone else, or being stereotyped only leads to anger.  When some connection is garnered it is then that the two parties can truly listen and enter into the experience of the other.  They become real to each other and not an obstacle to be overcome or converted.  When we truly listen, we actually do walk side by side, like Jesus did on the road to Emmaus with his two disciples explaining the reality of the Gospel and the meaning of his life. 

If respect is not there, or love, then there are only enemies, each carrying the darkness of the other.  Mirrors hating the other for its reflection.  For if there is no communication, we become objects to one another.  Contempt is the first step towards physical violence. 

Perhaps the Golden Rule is the only hope for us at this time.  To actually enter into ourselves and come to some sort of understanding how we would actually want to be treated and then go out and treat others in that same way…….easier said than done, self-knowledge takes a lot of work.

markdohle

Our years are so short and fly by so rapidly, it is a wonder that I get anything done at all.


Yesterday, I was in a hurry after Vespers, which was early because of the feast day today; St. Benedict.  We had Vespers early at 4 pm instead of 5:20.   After Vespers, I went over to our office to get some paper for our overworked printer.   On the way back, I stopped by our refectory, where we were having pizza to celebrate the day.  I got two slices of cheese pizza, my favorite, on my way back to the retreat house office.  As I was walking down the stairs from our church into our retreat house, with three reams of paper and the pizza, I found it slow going down the stairs.  As I was nearing the bottom, a young lady retreatant looked at me with some alarm and asked if I needed help.  I smiled at her and said, not today, but in a few years, for sure.  We both laughed and went our separate ways.  Ahhh time, it goes so fast.

I can remember when I would take those steps two at a time, and when descending sort of glide/run down the steps without any thought.  Now going up and down makes me smile.  Sort of like getting out of bed in the morning….I always groan a bit, but soon I am ok.  Pain is now a normal part of life for me, where in the past it would come but then go away for long periods of time.  Now, my pain is sort of like an old friend, it is not too bad, just a ‘6’ or a ‘5’.  Easily manageable. 

I have a lot of energy, it is just used differently now.  It is more inward, focused and questioning.  My search for God intensifies as I age, for as I grow in years, I see how important each moment is, even the moments that are either boring or painful.  “Good times, bad times we all of our share”, as the song goes by Led Zeppelin.  In the midst of every moment, I believe there is a response being awaited from me.  Am I going to be awake, or am I just reacting and slumbering through life.

Our years are so short and fly by so rapidly it is a wonder that I get anything done at all.  I don’t want to live to be a hundred, but I don’t want to die anytime soon either.  In my 80’s would be nice.  Sad to say I will not be consulted about my time of death.  Today, or 20 years from now, it will still be ‘now’.  So all I have to do is seek to respond to life in such a way that I will grow in love of God, self, and others. 

I have an old picture in my room, which looks like it was taken in the late 19th century.  Young people, really overdressed compared to today standards and very serious looking.  I guess back then they had to stay very still when the picture was taken.  Looking at the picture it always brings me to the reality that some of them must have lived into old age, yet here I am perhaps 120 years later looking at them.  I also have an old notebook that was used in 1865.  It has a list of things to buy for the farm and some notes on bills that have to be paid.  We each have one life, unique and one day, like those people in the photograph, or the man who filled in some pages on the notebook, I to will be a part of history.

I would think that in a hundred years if the Monastery is still here, they will look at pictures of those of us here now and wonder what we were like.  Most of the monks who were here when I entered, who were for the most part much younger than I am now, are gone, part of the past, yet very much present.  We are planted in the back of our church, I could not forget them if I wanted to.

I rejoice that I am aging, though I can’t say it is pleasant, yet each day I am giving a choice on how to respond to the reality in this really wonderful world we all live in.  The fact that when I look at the time of my death, I can see how little time I have left.  That only makes life more precious and each moment important.  For when I die, I will be judged by love, and love is what we take with us.  I often fail to be loving, or to be awake to what is being asked of me…..yet it is love, eternal love who marches with each of us through this at times dark valley.

 

Lord,

I pray for myself and others,
that as life comes our way
with its ups and downs,
pleasures and pains
we may never lose heart
but take each new step in faith
and make our choices
rooted in deep faith.

markdohle

Come to me

 

Come to me

(This a good piece by my friend Fr. James Behrens. 
He is a very insightful writer and I hope those who read
this will get something to pray and ponder over)

 

“Come to me, all you who are labored and burdened, and I will give you
rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble
of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy,
and my burden light.”  Matthew 11, 28-30

These words of Jesus touch upon the deepest hunger of the human heart, a
hunger that is always with every one of us.  It is like a hole in the
pits of our stomachs that we can never fill, no matter how hard we try.
It is the delight of advertisers, the bane of addiction counselors, and
the meal ticket of many a politician.  There is that saying that the
road to life is littered with empty and broken promises.  The promise
that there is something or someone in this life that can forever satisfy
human craving has lined the pockets of many a con-artist and deepened
the misery of many a lost and hungry soul.

Yet we are hungry.  And we look.  And we hear these words of Jesus and
wonder how to take them to heart, to that place that seeks rest.
In other translations of the above verse, the word “refreshed” appears
in place of the word “rest.”  Whereas there are shades of difference
between the two words, there is a similarity in that they convey a sense
of a place of rest as being temporary. “Refreshed” seems to more
strongly suggest that sense.  We feel hunger.  We set aside time to
enjoy a meal and after that, our hunger gone, at least for a while – we
resume the routine of life till we grow hungry again and head back to
the table.

We are asked by Jesus to return to him again and again throughout the
course of our lives.  The returning is done through the open doors of a
church, the open lives of those who are the church, the entering into
the ways and customs of life as it is lived by those different from us
and yet who know the same hunger for truth and companionship on this
road of life.

Life is a ceaseless frustration of coping with limit.  We seem to have
no choice but to give God and each other fragments of time, small
portions of heart, half-hearted efforts in our attempts to reach out to
God and each other in this life.  But Jesus apparently was quite aware
of the human constraints that burden life and our chronic inability to
be free of them.  He lived this life.  And he is here, among us, a
living and nourishing rest stop along the road of life, a place to which
and to whom we are invited to return again and again.  It is a place
where we learn, little by little, to take and love the food and drink he
offers, and carry him within us till we grow hungry and need to rest
again.  Someday, when there are behind us many miles, many people and
many memories, it may well dawn on us that he was at once both our
hunger and the living and only means to satisfy it.

James Stephen Behrens, O.C.S.O.
Monastery of the Holy Spirit
 

markdohle

Our understanding of what we believe is important

Studies, keep the mind young and flexible, keeps the heart opened and humble.  The more we learn the more we learn that we don’t know.  “Beware the man of one book” is a wise saying.  To study allows other perspectives, and unique stances on many diverse subjects, to give you a deeper understanding of life, faith, as well as others and how they process and think.  Our minds, like our hearts, are meant to grow and expand forever.  It is good to also study those who have beliefs that are different than ours, as well as those we may think that go against what we believe in.  When doing this, we learn to listen to others and also develop ways of responding that does not lead to further alienation.  We tend to judge our own tribe, whether it be our faith, country or political leanings with the best in the clan, and judge those outside of our own system of belief with their worst.  That way it keeps us from dealing with our own darkness and projecting it onto others.  I suppose the so called ‘conversation’ taking place now in our own political life shows that fully (From a letter to a prisoner I correspond with) ---BrMD

When people speak of studies, they often think of going to school, getting a degree, or a doctorate, etc.  Which is of course true.  However, I believe that it is important for everyone to do some sort of study in their lives, and perhaps most do.  If one can read, truly a great gift, then there is a plethora of books and magazines out there that can stretch the mind, heart, and soul.  If one cannot read, there are other ways to learn and deepen one's understanding of life and what they actually believe. 

When young, I read very broadly because I was interested in what others thought, believed and gave their lives to.  I found some of my reading enriching, some authors taught me what needed to be avoided, and other writings, perhaps the majority, led me to respect the thought process of all, even if we came up with different conclusions. 

What we believe is important.  To delve deeply into our beliefs is even more important, and to learn to express what we believe to others even more so.  To respect others in what they believe can only happen if we understand where our worldview came from and the depth of our understanding.  It is easy to give oneself a label, more difficult to express it and even more arduous to live it.  If what we believe does not somehow come from the heart, it is just knowledge.  Dry, abstract and not much help to anyone.  Books can be read, people are experienced.  The truer we are to ourselves in living out our beliefs and ideals, the more human, compassionate and approachable we become.  For in seeking to live out our heartfelt beliefs, we learn from our failings and new beginnings.  The use of sarcasm, contempt, and ridicule in our dealings with others only shows our own lack of depth and reveals to others the level of our defensiveness. 

Those in prison are in a world where their choices are more black, and white.  Either change and grow or stay where they are and get worse.  Many prisoners choose to study and to try to improve their lives.  Hopefully, when they get out, that will continue.  For to study and ponder like prayer and all forms of true listening to life and others becomes a way of life, a habit, that when it becomes entrenched, is hard to break.  For after experiencing life on a deep level, it is hard to go back to living in the shallow waters of the wading pool. –BrMD


markdohle

Never being challenged

Never being challenged

I often wonder what life would be like being alone,
no other, just me, by myself,
without the bother of others or their problems,
or endless opinions and ideas,
not to be pulled this way and that,
or needing to control my responses
because of some inner turmoil or unease.

In other words,
never being challenged.

If alone, all that being pulled around by others
would be me being submerged by inner chaos,
as well as being infallible in my ideas
for who is there to challenge me?

My world would be me,
and endless cycle of self-talk,
a majority of one,
perhaps leading into insanity
for my world would just be me.

I wonder if that is what hell will be,
eternal insanity,
never being bothered by anyone,
just me by myself.




markdohle

 

 

When we forget whom we see or meet, their inner dignity

Never forget that each of your brothers, within himself, carries something precious – the soul. Therefore, my children, love all those who do not know my Son, so that through prayer and the love which comes through prayer, they may become better; that the goodness in them could win; that souls could be saved and have eternal life.--- July 2, 2017, Medjugorje Monthly Message to Mirjana

When it is finally understood who or what others are, even those I do not like, fear, or even struggle with because of hatred or contempt; when I finally get it, that each human being is the beloved child of God, it can help me to call upon God for the grace to truly love others.  For me it is easy to forget the sacred quality, the mystery of those I live with, or just pass on the way.  It is easy for me to reduce others to ‘objects’, or ‘things’, perhaps pieces of furniture to be moved around to my likening.   

Objects can be moved out of the way or discarded.  It is a wall of protection that can shield me from the messiness of humanity, helping me not to see into their depths and to experience life through their eyes.  Which is often not pleasant and often quite painful.  For people go through a lot of suffering and inner struggle in their lives.  They are just like me, but unique in how it is played out.

Jesus could not shield himself away from others, hence he never sinned, he always fulfilled the will of the Father, and he always loved, looked deeply and always saved from invisibility those with whom he interacted with every day.  

 

A face in the crowd

In the crowd, the milling thousands,
people and their humanity are lost,
yet there are times when I see a face,
a woman, a child or an older man, or woman,
rushing along carried by the stream of humanity,
preoccupied with their own worries and pain,
or perhaps reliving some joy or another,
yet to me, it can just be a face,
seen once and then forgotten.

They have no name, just someone rushing by,
or if I am part of the throng
avoiding me, stepping aside
no eye contact, there are too many.

For am I, not just another ‘face’
soon to be forgotten,
a piece of ‘something’
getting in the way?
I too become an object in the eyes of others,
invisible.

Among that rushing river of life
each is a universe unto themselves,
as am I,
and much that is unknown
 to their own inner awareness,
yet before God they are beloved,
eternal beings sought after,
for whom Jesus died.

When I forget my own dignity before God,
that I am God’s beloved,
I also forget to see the depth of those around me.

They become mere objects that get in the way.


 

markdohle

To open or close one's heart

To open or close one’ heart
(The need for prayer)


“Dear children! Today, I desire to thank you for your perseverance and call you to open yourselves to profound prayer. Prayer, little children, is the heart of faith and is hope in eternal life. Therefore, pray with the heart until your heart sings with thanksgiving to God the Creator who gave you life. I am with you, little children, and carry to you my motherly blessing of peace. Thank you for having responded to my call.---June 25, 2017, Medjugorje Monthly Message


Prayer from the heart flows from a soul who knows of its need for God’s healing grace. Prayer opens us up to the Holy Spirit who is actually always praying within us, yet it is often overlooked or even forgotten. Everything in our lives that happens to us, both the good as well as the bad and even great evils, are taken up in the prayer of Holy Spirit for all of us. No one is outside of God’s love or care, yet if there is no prayer, there is something vital missing; a loving trusting relationship with God.

This life is very difficult for all of us, or I have met no exceptions to this rule. I have known people who are rich, beautiful and on the outside, all looks well and happy. Yet when they sit down to talk honestly, there is often a great deal of inner pain that drives them.

Until our inner wounds are addressed and we bring them to God in prayer, they will control us from a depth that is unperceived. In order to deal with that, a conscious relationship is needed so that we can open up our hearts to God’s love that calls us all to what we are made for…..relationship with the Infinite.

When people admit their need, even if not aware of God’s work in their lives, they come one step closer to the infinite embrace. To seeks healing through others is another step, a big one, for it takes humility to admit of one’s need for healing and support from others. God works through those around us. God works through all of us. Prayer allows us to understand that on a deeper level than those who do not pray.

If God is true. If there is a God and Jesus Christ is his son, then the deeper our relationship with God, the closer we are to reality. All people of faith, all who seek, no matter their faith path, are on the way, as we all are. In our prayer, we learn, perhaps slowly over time, of our deep connection to all of mankind, no matter who they are, or what they have done. For God forgives 70 X 7 times when I fail, so I learn from this to understand that the same mercy is extended to all. Some are called early, others late in life, all in God time.

For those who reject this, do it with full freedom of God’s gracious offer it is what they actually desire; it is the great mystery of our freedom. Hell is not an accident, nor do people fall into it without knowing that they have chosen it freely and it is the only place for them to be. For outside of God, who is life, love, and existence, there is only the prison of the self, trapped in an eternal void. When we deepen our prayer, our desire to pray for others and longing for all to be united in God’s love becomes stronger…..so prayer for all is something that many believers do, knowing that all are loved by God with a unique relationship with them, even if it is unconscious.


 

markdohle

Thoughts on Fr. Ed Morley

Thoughts on Fr. Ed Morley (RIP)

The first time I met Ed Morley, was in 1970.  At that time I was in the Navy and was making my second visit; I was going to be there for two weeks.  The first thing I noticed about him was his dry at times (more often than not), sarcastic sense of humor.  He was often on point and he made me laugh.  He had a heavy cross to bear, in that he pretty much noticed everything about him.  Old eagle eye was my first nickname for him, though it was just between me and my-self.  He was visiting Br. Cornelius, who has sensed passed.  He was a member of the community for a short time in the late sixties.

Ed Morley reentered the community in the early 70’s and for a short time, we were in the Novitiate together.  Again his sarcasm made us all laugh.  We sort of hit it off but I was never in those early years drawn to him for friendship.  Yet I enjoyed his company and he would participate in our classes and I was often impressed by his intelligence. 

He was in politics in Philadelphia but he never really talked about it very much.   However, his passion for setting things right and his ability to see everything both below and above the surface made him perfect for that profession.  Though I believe that some of his anger came from that experience, for he was a man of high ideals. 

Around 1976 I was with Ed on the 4th of July talking over hamburgers and a beer when I suddenly got this strong impression that because of our vows to the
monastic life and to this particular community, we were both in some sense bonded for eternity.  Since at that time we were not friends, I found this insight (grace) both interesting as well as making me look at my Monastic and my connection with my brothers in a different manner, or perhaps in a more conscious approach. 

When he got to the point that he could not drive himself, I fell into the role of being his driver.  One reason that I drove him was because I was Infirmarian and simply did a lot of driving for doctors appointments for the older monks. So over the years, we fell into a routine of sorts. 

He loved to read, and his taste in books was impressive.  We would go to the library once a month to go to the libraries custom of selling overflow books.  He liked all kinds of reading, fiction, history and of course theology, though philosophy was not of much interest to him. 

Over the last couple of years, I noticed that his humor slowed down quite a bit.  So we would make our trip into town and go to the doctor or to the library and have lunch without saying much at all.  I was comfortable with him, and he, with me, so not many words were needed. 

He loved going to ‘Steak and Shake”, their hamburgers the main attraction.  I believe that his going there was a memory when he was much younger and into politics.  He was not one to reach out to people he did not know, he was quite introverted, apart from his humor. 

He struggled with his anger and I can remember once in the 1980’s when a group of us were meeting on a weekly basis to talk about our Monastic life, he talked about how each day we all struggle and fail and simply continue.  It was that moment that helped me to understand Ed better.  He was telling us in the third person how much he struggled and failed and would never give up.

He suffered greatly from Arthritis and in the winter it was very bad for him.  So for a few years, he would go down to Mepkin Abbey and live there and volunteer to work in the parishes around the area.  A few times he went down to Florida to work in a parish.  He liked it, but also found it difficult in dealing with the human condition. 

He took his work seriously, and on days when we went to a doctor’s appointment, he always made them at such a time, so he could be back for dishes if his crew was on that week.  He was a hard worker when younger.  When older he worked in our office keeping the books for Mass Stipends and other duties.

Fr. Ed’s last few months were difficult.  It was difficult for him to adapt after his first stroke and he would often have this prayer on his lips:  “O God help me”.  Said from the bottom of his heart, it was like saying “O God come to my assistance”, the prayer we do before each office.

After his second stroke, he seemed to come to some sort of acceptance.  His right side was paralyzed and he needed full-time care.  He became quite peaceful.  I joked with him one day about that and said: “God is working on you, Ed”.  He gave me his smile and said: “I hope so”. 

Underneath the bluster and lack of patience with others, was a man who was actually quite gentle and loving.  He just did not know what to do with that.  So I believe he joked to keep people at a certain distance.  The last months of his life he did not have that and perhaps that is what led to him having peace, this allowing other to care for him in a loving accepting manner…….a finale grace bestowed on this beautiful, complicated soul. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

markdohle

The ministry of writing to prisoners,
(and how I get ministered from those I write)
 

I have never liked writing letters.  Well before I was 50, I did not like writing at all and would avoid it at all cost.  About three years ago, someone put a letter in my mailbox from a prisoner who asked to write one of the monks.  I was hesitant because letter writing is a chore for me.  Yet I decided to write.  I have not regretted it at all.  Now, I am writing a few prisoners and getting a great deal in return from the exchange.  I guess being in prison does make some of the men think deeply about their lives and how they can go about changing it.  More than one is worried that when they get out they may fall back into old patterns.  One told me that he knows he has ‘impulse control’ problems and is trying to become more centered in his faith walk so as not to repeat and come back.  Following the Lord does call us to discipline in our moral as well as intellectual lives.  We have to learn to choose the path to life instead of just flowing down the stream of life over the waterfall. 

One prisoner is in for life, for murder, that happened when he was a young man.  He was on drugs and tried to rob a convince store.   He is now near 50 and is in for life without the possibility of parole.  He knows he deserves his punishment and is trying to serve the Lord where he is at and is trying to help others as well.  He is a Catholic and belongs to a 3rd order Carmelite group.  I try to encourage him and let him know that where he is at is his world and to just embrace it.  There are days when he gets frightened because he thinks of the years he has left.  However, when we talk about how fast the time goes by, it helps him to get focused. 

Of course, I have learned that some prisoners don’t learn from being in prison and continue their ways.  So a couple have tried to take advantage and I wrote them back on what I could do for them and what I could not.  They stopped writing.  After I write for a while and get to trust them, I will send them books if they need them, or three times a year I will send them a package with snacks and other items that they need. 

I have found that the floodgates of grace open up for those in prison and some really need people who love God to write them and encourage them on their walk.  Prisons, even the best of them are often violent places and there is often not that much protection for the weak and infirm. 

In any case, all of them in prison are humans, beloved of God, even if they have yet to learn that.  One prisoner who wrote me was on death row.  I read up on the case and if guilty, which seems he is because of the overwhelming evidence, he deserves the death penalty, even though I believe it should be done away with.  He told me how hard it is on death row because he does not have the date of his execution, which could be anytime, in a week or years down the road.  In any case, after the second letter, he asked me to do something illegal with some funds that he wanted me to send another prisoner and then he would get it.  I declined and he stopped writing.  I tried one more time but got no response.  So I just continue to pray for him.  I believe that if I am caught doing something illegal, they have a network that would bar me from writing other prisoners. 

One prisoner, I am writing to, shared with me some of his insights on John’s Gospel about his teaching on light and darkness.  Below is my response to him:

Quote:  I like what you said about St. John’s Gospel.  At this time I am spending time on the ‘Last Discourse’, a very powerful part of the life of Jesus.  I did not know that a human eye could see a single candle a mile away. However, when I thought about it, if it is dark enough, yet the light goes a long away.  Perhaps that is one reason so many people find the Lord is when they are in a very deep, dark, place.  It is then that the light shines through.

Light comes from light, darkness is a lack of light.  From my own experience, each person when they start on the journey to seek God, the love of God responds according to the needs and capacity of each.  No matter where we are at in our journey towards God, we love Him to our fullest capacity, it just has to grow and mature.   He stretches our hearts through suffering and struggle, for it seems the only time we actually have to make deep choices on the road we wish to walk. 

The human heart is a deep mystery, seen and understood only by God.  Each of us is unique, but in the light of God’s love we are each known……only God is the true lover and judge of each soul, we can’t judge, not even ourselves, for only the Spirit of God sees the depths of our hearts.

People don’t often underst nd that not only is sin a rebellion against God’s love and will, it is also something that is done to us and can imprison us in ways we don’t understand until the light of God shows us.  I guess that is why so many of us have to hit ‘bottom’ before we understand our deep need for God’s love.

Our hearts are to become one with the Heart of Christ Jesus.  Here is a quote from the Diary of Sister of Faustian which I find beautiful:

“O Jesus, I understand that Your mercy is beyond all imagining, and therefore I ask You to make my heart so big that there will be room in it for the needs of all the souls living on the face of the earth.  O Jesus, my love extends beyond the world, to the souls suffering in purgatory, and I want to exercise mercy toward them by means of indulgenced prayers.  God’s mercy is unfathomable and inexhaustible, just as God Himself is unfathomable.  Even if I were to use the strongest words there are to express this mercy of God, all this would be nothing in comparison with what it is in reality.  O Jesus, make my heart sensitive to all the sufferings of my neighbor, whether of body or of soul.  O my Jesus, I know that You act toward us as we act toward our neighbor”.---Sr. Faustian Diary 692

We are each called as Christians to put on Jesus Christ, which is to be bathed totally in his light and love.  When that is forgotten, we can come across in such a way as to make it harder for others to understand God’s love for them.  There is no one outside of God’s love, yet there is the mystery of our freedom, our ability to choose.  Only God knows how that really works, but as Christians, I believe we are called to pray for all that the Lord will lead them deeper into his life.  If anyone loses their salvation, it is something that could be as hard as following Christ Jesus.  For it is true, his cross is light, we do find rest even in our struggles when we do God’s will.  When we do not, our sufferings are deeper and our lives can slowly become more chaotic and self-destructive.   As CS Lewis stated:  “Suffering is God’s wake-up call to the world”.  Most of the suffering in the world, the way it is experienced is caused by man.  When it is not caused by man, our lack of love for one another can make personal suffering worse and isolating.  --Unquote

These men, for the most part, deserve to be where they are at.  They also, those will get out, deserve a second chance.  I hope that they will take advantage of that.  In prison, it is easy to know what is right and wrong and the choices that have to be made on a daily basis or not that many.  When they get out, all of that will change.  I hope and pray they will be able to make it when they go back into society.

 

 

 

 

markdohle

Choosing Love

Choosing Love

In the fundamental meditation about the goal; that is, of choosing love:
 the soul must love; it has need of living.  The soul must divert the
stream of its love, but not into the mud or into a vacuum, but into God.  How I rejoice when I reflect on this, for I feel clearly that He Himself is in my heart. 
Just Jesus alone!  I love creatures insofar as they help me to become united with God.  I love all people because I see the image of God in them.
(Diary of Divine Mercy)

 

How is it possible to see the image of God in all people?  Those I love or people who are kind to me can bring about the experience of seeing God in them easily.  Yet I am called to see deeper and to love more broadly than that.  For even my loved ones, if they treat me in an unjust manner, or abuse me in some way, or betray me; to find the image of God is them would be much more difficult.  For when I love, it is based on some need.  Love of my family and friends, for instance, is not completely unconditional but can turn.  Yet again, Jesus calls me to love all, even my enemies. 

Agape is pure love that is shown us through the revelation of Jesus Christ.  I often think and pray over the story of the Prodigal Son.  Even though that parable can be looked at from more than one perspective, for it is all about the Father, his relationship with both of his sons, and how he showed his love for them.

He allowed the younger son to leave, to offend him greatly by asking for his inheritance.  In doing so, he in effect, told his father that he wished him dead since he was in the way of living the kind of life he wanted…..yet out of love the father let him go, for love has to be freely given or it is not really love, but something based more on fear and underlying resentment.

The father waited every day for his son to return.  When the son did return, for other than truly being sorry (I believe), but wanted food and a place to stay.  I do not think he in any way expected his father to react the way he did.  Yet even before the son arrived the father ran to him and embraced him, clothed him in his finest robes and killed the fatted calf.  All done out of love and not from anything the callow, self-centered, son did.

I would imagine he was not just surprised, but overwhelmed.  Yet in the story there is no definite ending, you could say that we are left hanging.  Did the son leave again, betray his father’s love?  Did he leave and return many times, until a time came when the son would make a definitive choice to return the father's love or not?  I do believe that when Jesus tells us to forgive 70 X 7 times a day, he is in reality showing us the infinite mercy and willingness to forgive of the father.

Yet I can struggle to forgive, even though I have been embraced by the love of God the Father many times.  When I say the Our Father, I seek to bring into my heart and consciousness awareness all in my life that I need to forgive, especially those who I have forgotten, yet their wounds still affect me.  I seek to consciously to forgive everyone whom I have hurt, as well as to forgive all who have hurt, betrayed, or abused me in any way.  Perhaps I will have to say the Our Father many more times before complete healing comes about.  The very desire to pray this way is a grace, for the chains that are worn that come from not forgiving can truly be heavy and weary the soul to death. Yet the Father, our loving God is always waiting and when we stumble towards him, even if our reasons are not based totally on love, yet he runs towards us because God the Father is free to love, I still struggle with this reality, because such freedom has yet to be given me…..I am still on the way to fully put on Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

                      

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

markdohle

My struggles to understand ‘Trust’ in God through prayer and study

When I received Holy Communion, I said to Him, “Jesus, I thought about You so many times last night,” and Jesus answered me, And I thought of you before I called you into being.  “Jesus, in what way were You thinking about me?”  In terms of admitting you to My eternal happiness.  After these words, my soul was flooded with the love of God.  I could not stop marveling at how much God loves us.(Faustina’s diary 1292)

I believe that the ‘private revelations’ of the mystics can be very helpful for Christians to grow in understanding of God’s love.  Those that are approved by the church have been scrutinized closely before they are approved.  For instance, the St. Faustian revelations were at one time repressed, due to errors in translations.  It was St. John Paul the second who reopened her case and encouraged the faithful to read her.  It, of course, is dealing with the mercy of God.  It is not an easy attribute of God to understand since the Church is still on the road to growing in understanding of the depth of God’s mercy for mankind.  These revelations do not add to the Public Revelation of the scriptures but can give new insights and emphasis. 

There is a paradox for those who seek God and understand their need for grace, no matter what tradition they follow.  For God responds to those who seek and in order to draw them deeper into His embrace, it is imperative that we grow in self-knowledge, which is not an easy journey.  The ego will often hide from the darker realms that exist within each soul.  Repression has its uses, for there are aspects of ourselves that if they came to full light would lead us to despair.  So the Lord in his mercy and his deep knowing what each soul needs, only brings to light what can be tolerated, though not without pain.  For mercy can only be received at the level that we understand our need for healing, as well as for the harm and yes evil we have committed against others, as well as towards ourselves.  We can be very sensitive when we are treated in an unjust manner but may be unable to see what we do to others, for we always have a good excuse I believe….or I do.  I am speaking of course about myself, more than others. 

I struggle with the idea of God’s love and infinite mercy.  In my mind, when I try to figure it out I become confused and I am tempted to unbelief since unconditional love is not something I have ever experienced.  It seems impossible, or too good to be true, etc.  Yet the Lord through the mystics is constantly trying to redirect our fear towards trust and love.  The paradox is that in order to lead us deeper into trust, the Holy Spirit has to reveal to us (me) the truth about my need for mercy and healing.  It is only love that can heal the inner pain, sorrow and yes rage that lurks ln the souls of many men and women. 

When I meditate on the passion and remember that Jesus died for each unique human being, it is then that I begin to understand that it is my own inner rage that lashed Jesus, and mocked Him with the crown of thorns and in a rage nailed him to the cross.  I find this hard to sustain.  I tend to think of myself as one among billions, unnoticed, yet with God, there is only each ‘me’ as if that ‘Thou’ was his only child.  I don’t get it, but pray and work on it and wonder when my heart will break open.  I really do want to breathe, but at this time of my life, I still gasp along.

When I think of the mercy of God, at times I feel nothing.  When I think of the passion, I fall asleep, I can find God boring and find it hard to pray.  I guess that is why I use beads so much, it gives me a track to follow when I pray, a way to settle down and to just ‘trust’ that God is present.

Yet amidst my poverty and yes my still love of ‘sin’, of my own way to deal with my pain, that never works…Yet I still trust in God’s love for me.  All these years, with my stumbling, getting up, wandering off, coldness and indifference, yet the grace of God has seen me through.  Perhaps that is where I need to experience God’s love, in his faithfulness towards me who is not always faithful.  When I am at my worst or feel alienated from God and others, it is then that I am called to open my heart in trust and abandonment to the Divine Lover of my soul. 

When self-knowledge continues to grow, prayer changes, oneness become a reality, where others are also incorporated in one’s embrace of God….none of us journeys alone, we are connected to many and in our struggles and prayers, we support one another. 



 

 

 

 

 

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