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markdohle

One lone bullfrog

 

One lone bullfrog

During our half hour mediation this morning that our monastic community makes halfway through our Office of Vigils, I was making my way slowly around our inner cloister garden, which I guess is a form of walking meditation that I will often partake in.

 In the latter part of February here in the south, you can feel a taste of spring in the air.  A cool refreshing breeze, winter-like, yet also gentle, like the difference of the bravado of a young man and the more humble and hopefully gentle soul of an older gentleman.  I so love the early morning, before the cars begin to drive past our Monastery.  Though the sound of passing cars is really not that distracting for me.

Sometimes, very early in the morning, the silence is so deep that it seeps into my bones, bringing rest to and often weary soul, with a drunken monkey mind.  At other times, the silence brings out my own inner dance with my thoughts and emotions that make them louder and more demanding.  This morning, thank God, I was in a peaceful place, and the dance I was doing was a waltz, a gentle one and not a mosh pit.

We have a small fountain in our cloister garden that is very beautiful and we have plants and goldfish living below its waters.   I often forget that there is a bullfrog in residence as well, for during the day it is silent and for most of the winter, not a peep can be heard.  Some mornings, however, it gives off its sound, even in winter if it is warm enough… calling, calling, for someone to respond.  For the past few years, no one answers his forlorn call.  This morning as I listened I waited hoping for a response, but as has been usual lately, there is only a silent waiting, without end, so it seems for our lonely bullfrog.  Does our bullfrog know that it is waiting?  Yet how like me, for I often forget that I am waiting also, sometimes not sure what it is, but when I wait and am silent, often saying my beads slowly, I feel ‘something’, a gentle response that washes away my fatigue with myself and life, and makes me feel young again.   If I decide or am compelled not to wait, my fatigue only gets deeper making my soul brittle and desperate for rest.  The noon-day-devil only takes and gives nothing in return. 

The inner journey is a slow one, with many side steps and at times wrong paths are taken.  Yet like walking the labyrinth, we circle in and out, taking one-step-at-a-time, until finally after a long journey we do arrive at the center, that for which we are made. 

markdohle

Wrath, what is it?

Wrath, what is it?

Wrath is a scary word, and when used in relation to God it can be terrifying.  In the Old Testament, it is used quite a bit, along with severe punishments towards the people of Israel.  I have to be honest and say that apart from the psalms, I do not spend much time in the Old Testament; so much that I don’t understand, it being written from a cultural perspective that I have a hard time understanding.  God language can only come through the person or culture where they are in their development, so what comes out as inspired writing has to be looked at in its historical situation. 

Jesus used the ‘Father’ metaphor to tell us something deeply real about how God relates to us.  This relationship can seem to be far from how God and relationship were experienced and wrote about in the Old Testament.  So in the story of the ‘Prodigal Son’, where is the wrath of God?  How Jesus explains God’s relationship with us is said in images that seem to transcend culture, since Father’s, the good fathers is something understood and longed for, even if never experienced.

Let’s back up a bit and think about a mother and a father who truly love their child; not abusive and who do not wish to control their child.  They love their child as much as is possible for a human to love, possibly the closest thing to ‘unconditional love’ we can come to in this sphere.  So the daughter or son comes in and admits to the parents that he has fallen into a serious addiction, she is addicted to heroin.  How will the parents react?  Well with ‘wrath’, deep all-encompassing wrath.  What are they reacting to?  Is it a rejection of their daughter or son? Well of course not.  The wrath is directed towards the addiction, something in their child that is a threat, something that could consume their beautiful lovable child.  In fact, an entity that could turn their child into something else.  As time goes on, if the child refuses to change, or to even seek help to try to change, after a while the parents with great sorrow will have to let their child go.  If the addiction continues the child could become its actual addiction, what was truly human is now swallowed in a form of death.   Sadness is there, but the wrath towards the addiction will never go away. 

People often think of wrath, and sad to say rightly so, as something that is out of control, rage-filled and destructive.  Abusive people can be wrathful, hateful towards the person because the man or woman won’t be what they want them to be…..it is a will-to-power issue.  God is not into power, He is into love.  Did not Jesus wash the feet of the disciples?  That event says a lot, we need to ponder that more.  For he is a revelation of the Father love, towards all of us without exception; though we try mightily to exclude people, even other Christians who do not agree with us.  Often we fall prey to making God in our image and likeness.

So in the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son’, where is God’s wrath?  Well, it is in the love of the Father’s response, the son has to choose how to react to that.  If he rejects it and wants only to live there as a servant, he will feel the Father’ embrace as something other than love, it could be smothering to the young man if he rejected the embrace…even painful.

We have great dignity and only the good Lord knows the depths of our hearts and what our final free choice will be.  It is on us, God’s love is free.  Like any true love, it is not forced.  If our free will were taken from us, we would cease to exist because all of our memories of choice would be erased.  The fear of the Lord is to fear to loose what is most dear, what we are made for, and that is love, union and the dance for eternity in the internal life of the Trinity. Hell is an eternal dance with ourselves and the love of God experienced as wrath because what was once human is now no more.

 

markdohle

A man who failed every Lenten Season

 

A man who failed every Lenten Season
(Saying the Chaplet of Mercy)

 

One day a few years ago, one of the retreatants here approached me and asked to see me.  He looked somewhat distraught.  As we sat down he told me how frustrated he was with himself over his weakness and inability to live out his resolution for Lent.  “I have never had a good Lent,” he told me.  I thought to myself, this might not be the best time to let him know that I am pretty much in the same boat as he is. 

As he talked, I began to see a pattern in his life.  He was just as demanding of others as he was with himself.  He had paid a high price for this tendency.  He had lost friendships, and his marriage was in trouble because his wife did not live up to her responsibilities as a wife.  At least according to him.  Everything about his marriage was about his wife, her problems and how she was responsible for the trouble they were having.  It never occurred to him seemingly that his wife was just burned out with all of his desire to correct and control her.

I was a bit befuddled by this time, how to bring these two together. 

So I brought up for his consideration that perhaps he treated his wife and was demanding towards her the way he was with himself, and just as unforgiving about it.  He seemed startled by this.  So I brought up what he said about his failures at keeping his Lenten resolve and his subsequent shame, and anger about it.  Perhaps he was failing at Lent because if he was ‘successful’ he would be even more insufferable to be around.   

“What? Was his response.  Perhaps I said, “You need to embrace the reality of failure in how you live out your faith.  To ‘miss, the mark’ is something experienced 7 times by the just man every day.  Yet we continue the journey, for in reality there is no such thing as a truly just man.  We can judge others harshly and most of the time we do not have the full story, hence the injunction not to judge.  In your critical stance towards your wife, you place her in a position that is both very frustrating but also impossible.  You demand from your wife, what you cannot do yourself.  Your failings are not leading you to self-knowledge, nor to a deeper trust in God’s mercy for you and not only you but all.  So, until you learn from what you struggle with and allow it to deepen your understanding of others, you will be stuck.”

He responded, “I still don’t see the connection”.  So I said:  “When we judge others, the reason it is so destructive is that we are also judging ourselves as well.  I am talking about judging the worth or soul of another human being.”  “How do I grow in understanding of what you are telling me”, he said. 

So we talked about the nature of mercy, towards others as well as towards ourselves.  Which flows from the mercy of God.  He was Catholic, so we talked about forms of prayer, or devotions, which might help him to deepen his understanding of having compassion and mercy towards himself and others.  So we talked about a Catholic devotion called “The Chaplet of Mercy”.  It is a simple prayer and if said in a prayerful manner, can lead to healing on a deep level.  In praying this chaplet with attention, what is happening is the one praying is placing before God all of mankind asking for mercy.  In doing this, they are binging before Christ Jesus, all who have hurt, betrayed, or abused them in any way.  It is asking for mercy for the one saying the chaplet and leaving no other human being out of this beautiful prayer lifting up humanity into the depths of God’s merciful love for all.   It is often said for the dying.

These are the three central prayers of the chaplet, said with rosary beads.

1.  Eternal Father, I offer unto you, the most precious body and blood, soul and divinity, of your beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and for those of the whole world. (Said on the Our Father bead)

2.  For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.  (Said on the Hail Mary beads)

3.  At the end of the chaplet this prayer is said three times:  Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world. 

Many people rush through prayers like this.  I guess it is ok, yet to say the prayers slowly and with focus, can lead one deeply into the very heart of the Trinity, who wills that all be saved.  We unite our will with the will of God when saying this prayer.  In saying the Chaplet slowly, it is not necessary to say the whole five decades, but to simply be present, relaxed, and to allow the feeling of the beads to keep one present to the moment.  Each person will say the chaplet differently in how the heart prays it, yet it is a beautiful healing prayer for all, and for those of us who struggle with forgiving others, this is a good prayer to bring us to the point where we put on the Mind and Heart of Christ Jesus. 


markdohle

Jim,a young man in a wheelchair

Jim, a young man in a wheelchair
(and trying not to blink)

 

 

As I was waking from the parking lot towards Grady Hospital, the day after Fr. Eduardo was brought in to the Trauma unit, I saw the usual diverse group of people going in and coming out.  Doctors, nurses, people who worked there and those coming in to see family members who were patients there. I also noticed a young man in a wheelchair trying to get to the front entrance.  You see, the whole main entrance of Grady is a ramp, no steps, just a steady incline into the building.  For someone in a wheelchair, it can be rough going if no one is with them. 

I watched him for a short time, making lots of short spurts up the incline but making very little headway.  He was a small man, probably weighing less than 110 pounds.  He was young, looked like he was around 25 years old at the top end, or perhaps just 19.  So I walked from the front, not wanting to scare him and asked if he wanted some help.  He looked up and said yes with some relief.  As we went up I found out his name was Jim.  He could not talk very well, so I had to listen intently in order to understand him.

When we entered the hospital, I said goodbye and walked over to the information desk.  Grady is very large and can be very confusing the first few times going there.  As I left the information desk, I again found Jim trying to make his way and helped him a little more.  He was getting off on the second floor and I was going up to the sixth to stay with Fr. Eduardo.  We shook hands and I wished him a good day and hoped that his visit with his doctor came out ok.

I guess we all need a push from time to time from strangers.  Grady is an immense place; for Jim, I guess it was experienced as twice as big and much more difficult to get around in than I did.  When I was young, I took my agility for granted.  The lightness of my body, the way I could move and stand on my hands and do power yoga was not a big deal.  Today, my body is not quite so lightsome, nor supple, but stiff and filled with the pains that come with aging.  Seeing Jim made me thankful for the body I have and that I can still get around……but please don’t ask me to climb more than three flights of stairs.  I tried it and it was slow going believe me.  First flight, no problem, second flight, a little more difficult, the third flight my legs hurt, I was having trouble breathing and I felt like I weighed four hundred pounds, won’t go into the fourth flight, not a pretty sight but no doubt an onlooker would find some comedy in it (I do).   

When young I would run up many flights of stairs without breaking a breath…..now I can barely breathe.  There is humor in all of this.  If I had to actually run anywhere, I would probably die laughing at myself…..it would be a ludicrous sight.  I am not one of those who age with grace.  Sometimes my back hurts, at other times it is my hip, then on certain days, it is my knees turn to let me know that they exist and I should pay attention to them.  I do, believe me, I do.  My knees can be very whinny.  Quite a trip the human aging process, no time to get bored. 

As I was leaving, I saw Jim again and I guess he was there all day.  I said goodbye to him and I kind of hoped I would see him the next day.  I did not, and hopefully, that means he was home safe. 

The shortness of our lives is a blessing, for if we had an infinite amount of time in this world, I wonder if we would actually do much at all?  Time is more precious than gold because we have so little of it.  I can think that ten years from now is a long way off, but then, well, ten years have passed.  As the saying goes: just don’t blink….but I always do, and find myself quite a bit further down the road.

Each of us has to try to make sense of life.  I have not come very far with that, but I am glad I am here, also glad that the trip goes by fast, even if at times I would like to apply the brakes a bit.  I have made peace with how ephemeral life is, and that brings to light how important it is to seek the one thing necessary.  I somehow feel that it is not about money, or power, or staying young looking.  Being a beautiful corpse is not what it is cracked up to be.  I want to look worn out and tired when I die…..no problem with that.  I am more than three quarters (If I am lucky) there already.

 

 

 

markdohle

 A day at the Trauma Unit at Grady Hospital
(Atlanta, Ga.)

Over the past year, I have gone to the Trauma Unity at Grady accompanying, once my brother, and twice, being with one of our monks.  The second time was last Monday.  A member of the community, Fr. Eduardo, had a very bad fall and was rushed by ambulance to Grady Hospital.  I arrived about one hour after the ambulance took him from the Monastery grounds. 

The Trauma unit at Grady is considered one of the best in the country.  They deal with a very wide assortment of men, women, and children, every hour of every day.  On my last trip, it was an eye opener at all that they do there.  Our neighbor, in the next room, was a young man who came in with a gunshot wound.  His family arrived and it was heart-wrenching to see what they were going through. 

One man, his uncle, who was raising him was fit to be tied over concern for his nephew.  He was angry, not at the hospital, but at his nephew for belonging to a gang and had to be restrained for a time so that he would not enter the room of the young man being cared for.  I could see his love, which was expressed in a wrathful way.  The Uncle hated what was happening to his nephew, he hated the gang influence, the guns, the violence, yet even in a wrathful mood, he was not rejecting his nephew, his wrath flowed from his love.  The young man, even after being shot, seemed oblivious to the pain that he was causing his family.  He looked to be about 14, so perhaps too young to be able to respond in a proper manner. 

His mother was there as well as some aunts.  The mother just sat there and was filled with sorrow over what happened, and after talking to the police, she got up and walked out.  The look she gave as she left, the tears, sorrow, and longing, for her son was palpable to me.  They were a close-knit family, besides themselves over the plight of this young man.  It seemed this was not his first trip to the unit.   At the same time, there was another young man across the room in another section who was shot in the neck.  Not sure they were connected. 

After the family left and the young man was taken either to surgery or to a room another incident happened that shook me up a bit. 

Fr. Eduardo and I were in a room that the whole front was clear plastic I would guess.  At first, I thought it was glass.  This is how I found out it was not.  There was, of course, a lot of noise in the unit, so I got up and closed the door which muted the noise well enough that I could easily read etc.  As I was reading, I looked up and saw a young man being seated in a chair about five feet from my door.  He seemed confused.  One of the nurses was talking to him taking some notes when suddenly, he leaped up and ran full speed right into the plastic closed door.  He bounced off and fell to the floor, and seemed to be unconscious for a short time.  However, thankfully, he got up and they sat him down again.  Then even though there were four people with him, he did it again. This time the speed was a bit less, but he bounced once again.  After this, they took him somewhere else.  I was very glad I had the door closed if not, he would have run right up against me and smashed me against the wall…..I guess they would have found a place for me there after that. 

Soon after that, they brought in a man on a stretcher and left him by the nursing station, again, right outside my room.  He just laid there, not moving, covered up to his shoulders with a sheet.  I asked the nurse about him and she told me his name and said that he came in there at least twice a week.  They knew him, and in a funny sort of way, treated him like family.  He would get drunk, and fall down and hit his head or something that, and they would bring him in.  Yes, a very colorful place, filled with humanity in all of its beauty, chaos, and tragedy. 

One of the nurses taking care of Fr. Eduardo, when I asked her how long she worked there, informed me that she was there for seven years.  The average stay is six months she said, it was too much for most who came to work there.  You can either take the stress or you can’t.  I would suppose that the nurses who were there for six months, still, it was good for their resume and no doubt it made them better nurses. 

The staff was competent, calm and unruffled even by the man running up against the glass.  One nurse even came in and said she was sorry about the incident.  I did ask if he was trying to attack me.  She smiled, and replied, “No, he was reacting to a reflection in the glass, he is confused and frightened and on drugs”.   She said this in a very kind and compassionate manner.   I got the impression that he was also someone who was there on a regular basis.

The hospital was full, with people with the flu, and rooms were given to them to avoid it spreading.  So, we spent most of the night in the unit.  They finally moved us up to a room that was turned into a ward.  There were about 10 beds there and two nurses and a CNA working there.  There was a partition between each bed.  This was the first time, I was told, that they had to make waiting rooms into wards because of the overflow. Well within living memory I would think.  It was like being in a time warp.  Perhaps from the 1930’s, except for the all the machines around Fr. Eduardo’s bed. 

It was a blessing that Fr. Eduardo did not have much pain.  So all in all things went smoothly.  He is home now, safe and we are glad to have him back.  I also have a deep respect for Grady Hospital, its staff, and especially for the Trauma unit personnel.   They are good people, seeking to lessen the appalling suffering in this world.  True, much of it is self-inflicted; yet, I guess we all need care from time to time from others who care, even if we have brought it on ourselves.  Others were there by the sudden turning of a dime, which can change everything from one blink to another, the majority there I believe, they all get the best care possible. 

Grady deserves its high praise for their Trauma unit. 



 

 

 

 

markdohle

My struggle with water (anxiety)

 

My struggle with water (anxiety)

When I was younger, I often thought of myself as mostly made up of fire.  Strong flames lapping up from my interior, experienced as anger, or lust, or of fear, and looking around, being on alert.  There were times when I would see myself sitting in a cave looking at a stone that was aflame.  It gave me warmth, and I felt protected while I was there. 

Now the image I have of myself has changed. 

I see myself sitting in a boat on waters that can be either rough or very quiet.  I am just sitting there waiting for something to happen….I find myself as I grow deeper into old age as a man who has more than his share of anxiety.  I experience this as water.  I would rather be filled with fire, as unpleasant as that could be.  For at least I knew what I was facing.  Or thought I did when younger. 

I now understand that what fed my anger, lust, and being on the alert, was this deep well of anxiety.  So I am in a boat, a small boat with me in it, alone, waiting for God knows what.  Yet in the waiting, I sense a presence that is calming and gives me peace.  All I have to do is stay in the boat and ride it out. 

What the mind thinks, or the intuition perceives, does not always have an effect on the deep interior spaces that have their roots in the far past.   Then there is the thought of being swallowed up by the deep seeming bottomless expanse of water.  Yet in sitting I find peace.

In sitting, I believe, I am making an act of faith.  For in sitting, I am waiting.  Perhaps I am waiting for Jesus to wake up in the boat, an unseen loving presence that I often feel when I am in the midst of waiting while struggling with the water that seems to want to overflow and sink the boat I am sitting in. 

One day, Jesus will ask me to get out of the boat and walk on the water….one day.  Perhaps it is the day of my death that the call will come.  Or my own intimate relationship with my own mortality experienced as my last illness.  Or perhaps something less dramatic, but I will get out of the boat, with the grace of God, and walk on the stormy water, perhaps anxious and afraid, but looking into the eyes and heart of my Lord……one step at a time until I arrive home.





markdohle

How do you measure a life

How do you measure a life
(Love, loss, hope, and faith)


“It is more necessary for the soul to be cured than the body;
for it is better to die than to live badly.”― Epictetus



I went with my brother to the VA this week. He has some health issues and we are trying to find out how serious it really is. So, we were back at the VA, and I was sitting again, in the waiting room for outpatient surgery. It is not a big space, enough room for about 20 seats. There are two TV’s but on the day that I went only one was on. It was the news, and for some reason, I felt the toxic sludge flowing into the room. Perhaps it was because of my anxiety over my brother, but I found it very hard to listen to. So I focused on my reading and was able after a while to keep it out.


Next to me sat a family from four generations. One was the matriarch and very dignified looking, in her 90’s, sitting upright in her wheelchair. Then there were her children, grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. It was an interesting group that is for sure. All very close, laughing and poking fun at each other. Their loved one was in for a very serious operation but they were supporting each other in a loving manner. I had the impression that they lived well. I do believe that to grow in love is one of the best ways to live out one’s life. All others avenues lead I believe to nothing but isolation and frustration over the fact that everything outside of love does not bring lasting happiness.


The soul of man is often forgotten, put aside, or even denied. Yet if the soul is not taken care of all else tends to scatter into the wind and end up dust. How fast things disappear, in a second, everything can change.


I love my brother very much. He has been through a lot but does not talk about it very much. We all have our scars, our pain, and our own inner struggles trying to make sense of our lives. Perhaps we never will, but I do believe that ‘love’ is what holds us together. He is patient with what he is dealing with and I do believe that he keeps his worries to himself, which is what most men do and I see nothing wrong with that. In any case, I am glad that he is here. His children love him, and his ex does to. I would think that says something very good about my brother, that even if he does not believe so, love has indeed played an important role in his life.


Our family lost the third sibling, dying over a period of three years. Jane, or Janie, was the twin of Judy….identical twins. They looked very much alike of course, but for me, I could easily tell them apart. Their personalities are each unique. One more serious than the other, but both filled with fun. Janie lived well. She spent a good part of her life helping others. She helped many women and men who were doing the twelve steps. She also ran a small in-home care company and loved taking care of the elderly. Over the years she had to back away from it because of health problems.


How do you measure a life? By how much money they made? Or how powerful they were? History remembers the rich and powerful, but only their memory, death takes away all that is false from us leaving only the love that we carry with us. I do believe that Janie had a lot of love in her and that is what went with her as she became face to face with God.


I was looking at an angel statue I have in my room. It is made of glass and very well made. Sissy, who died in 2014, gave it to me in 2005. As I was holding that statue, I felt like I just received it a few days ago. That is how I experience time. So I guess the separation that we all much go through when our loved ones die, is not really that long as long as we don’t focus on days, weeks, months and years, but just on today. All days are experienced as ‘now’ when we live them. So all other experiences can seem like only seconds away from events from the far as well as the recent past.


Loss, is experienced uniquely by each of us, yet there is also a bridge that connects us, for sorrow, no matter how it is expressed, is a deep pain that stays with us for years, and well worth it. For love, with all that goes with it, keeps us human and more than that, we become more human as we learn to love more and not to fear the pain that comes with it.


It is the fire of love the cures the soul. The deeper in we go, the more our hearts expand and we learn to embrace it even more. To grow in love is a process, and I believe that it is grace at the bottom of it, when love pushes past what is expected and into something enduring and eventually embraces everyone. Such is grace, working in secret, beyond our control, all we need do is to desire to take that next step.


I will miss Janie, just as I still miss Sissy and Skip, yet I pray for them, and I know that they pray for all of us as well. I do believe that our connectedness with others is something that we do not fully understand nor experience, but one day, we will, if our hearts are open, or desiring of more love.


For the heart to grow more human it must be broken, a hard fact of life. For only in our battle with bitterness and despair can we finally find healing and trust.

markdohle

 

There are days, well you know what I mean
Continue to be patient; it will all be for your good.—Padre Pio

There are days when things go well and very smooth, I am in a good place and when a small bump comes up I glide through it.  On those days, patience is not needed.  I love it when everything goes my way, or my mood is such that even if events go sideways, I can just laugh it off. 

Then there are days when everything bothers me.  When I feel like if one more thing goes wrong, or if I am asked to do just one another favor, that I just might snap, it is then that I have to work hard on being patient. 

I would like to say that I always succeed, but I don’t.  I can pout, isolate, snap at others and sort of spiral a bit.  Yet, there are periods of time when I don’t lose touch with myself and I can smile, even joke with others who are driving me crazy and get through it all right.  It is my mood, after all, no need to spread it around. 

Patience is good because the waters settle, the cloudy water becomes clear and there is peace.  If I am patient this comes faster.  If not, it will take longer for peace to return.  I wanted to say ‘normalcy’ but I am not sure there is any real ‘normal’ in life that can be counted on with assurance. 

Yet, “all things pass”, when I can keep that in mind, I can be patient.  Patience, when practiced, does not feel patient, it is what keeps the mind and soul-centered on what is important and even essential. 

 

markdohle

My Own Incompleteness

My Own Incompleteness
 
Be at peace with your own soul, then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. Eagerly enter into the treasure house
that is within you, and so you will see the things that are in heaven; for there is but one single entry to them both.
The ladder that leads to the Kingdom is hidden within your soul
- Saint Isaac the Syrian
 
When I first read the above quote I was put off.  However, after looking back on my own life I can see how true it is.  When I am not at peace with myself, nothing seems right.  I can become easily annoyed, or angry.  Yet, I have found that at the bottom of this inner ferment is a deep anxiety that things will fall apart, the center will not hold, that the abyss of oblivion is ready to swallow everything up.  Much of this comes about because I choose, to run from my ‘inner self’, afraid of what I may find, or perhaps of the nothingness that is there at intervals as well.  Yet when I seek to be at peace with myself, I have to find a way to be with that which causes me pain and to embrace it, not fear it.  Not an easy task and for me, not something that I accomplish once and for all.  For even if from past experience I have learned that inner harmony can only come with embracing my inner world and to find reconciliation with my own incompleteness, yet, I still may choose to forget that and place myself in a dry barren inner landscape, with no living water anywhere.  To find peace with myself I have to be rooted deeply in the living waters, in the depths of grace, and to find peace amidst the storm.  The ladder is a good analogy, one rung at a time, and if I slip, to begin again, in peace, hope, and trust.
 
I know the ladder analogy is offputting for some religious paths, perhaps too linear, but it is helpful for me in my own journey.  I wonder how others look upon the ups and downs of their inner lives and how they deal with it.  Or perhaps, some don't think about this at all, yet have a strong sense of spirituality.  
markdohle

Healing Fire

Healing Fire

Just as a covered object left out in the sun cannot be penetrated
by the sun’s rays, in the same way, once the covering of the soul is removed, the soul opens itself fully to the rays of the sun.
The more rust of sin is consumed by fire, the more the soul responds to that love, and its joy increases
.
— Saint Catherine of Genoa

The paradox of the Christian path is that we are called to one-ness with God, but we are also called to two-ness.  Within the Trinity, there is a dance, a community, a joy that comes from this giving and receiving for eternity.  Christ entered into our human experience, becoming human, so as to be the focal point of our connection with the ‘Infinite Other’, revealed as all-consuming love.   

All of our relationships with others, if loving, is a pale reflection compared to what we are moving toward if we are open to loving relationships.  Even if we care but little for someone, but there is love, say the love we may have for those we meet on a daily basis.  Not something big, or catches our attention, yet in our hearts, there is a love and concern for them  Even then, when in some sort of relationship, no matter how long or short, we have to put some part of ourselves aside in order to deal with who is before us.  So there is perhaps some little sacrifice we pay for being open to others.

The deeper the relationship, if a loving one, say for those in our work environment, or school, or church, again, we are drawn out of ourselves in service to others.  Even if slight, it still has a cost. 

With dear friends, family and especially if married, with our spouses, the cost is even greater.  For if any relationship of any depth is to be experienced, then there is a need for a more radical displacement of the ego for growth to happen.  It is a give and take. If one-sided, it is not a truly loving relationship, but one party using the other.  The more self-centered one is, the more isolated, though that isolation may be thought of as independence.  So friendships, family relationships, and marriages can end.  To grow in love with others becomes more and more difficult as one ages and continues down the road of keeping others at bay, or using them to feed some need. 

So there is always some sort of ‘fire of purification’ going on in our everyday relationships, little deaths, so that someone may be helped or served, or simply be with.  It is a choice in the end.  Perhaps at first, small choices, then as maturity deepens, greater strides in the ability to connect more deeply with others.  This circle can expand as one develops trust, as well as a deepening love of self that is not based on narcissism.  It is a lifelong journey.  As well as a difficult one. 

All of this is incorporated into our relationship with God.  For the longing of our hearts, is based on the call of the grace of Trinity’s desire for each of us to enter into the eternal dance, the community of the Trinity. 

Yet, to be one with God is to allow the fire of God’s love to draw us out, to heal us, to take away all that covers us as a false way to find protection from others, as well as God.  For the very thing we most long for, is what we can also fear….at bottom it may be based on the fear of a loss of self.  A real fear, for we must lose self in order to find out who we really are.  An invitation to drop the façade that our culture demands that we take on in order to fit in. 

It is true that religion and politics can brainwash its followers.  However, so can the prominent cultural movements.  There is truth of course presented to us by religion/culture/politics,  but what we are told we need by the times/culture we live in are mostly based on the fear of having nothing, of being left out, ignored and looked upon as unimportant. 

Once it is found out that there is a deeper meaning to life, that our deepest longings when we actually find out what they are, we begin to truly live.  Everything else is sand that slips between our fingers.  All false gods, be they those of religion, or society, die.  What is left in the ashes is the seed of eternal life waiting to sprout forth after all else is burned away by the passionate love of God the Father.--Br.MD

 

 

 


 

 

markdohle

Below the calm surface

Below the calm surface
(written in November 2006 when on seven-day hermit's retreat)

 

The pond outside my window is small
Surrounded by tall grass on the north end
With trees slowly slipping into their winter sleep.

The water alive with gentle ripples
Footprints of gentle rain disturbing the surface
Still mostly undisturbed
Its depth silent untouched

Life is there below the surface
It's tempo hidden from prying eyes.

Life and death
A place of struggle without compassion or mercy

Yet the surface peaceful to the human eye
So much hidden,
Often forgotten,
What is below the calm surface.

Slowly the light fades
A few birds call out to each other

Calling me to thoughts of rest,

To dream,

To perhaps awaken to what is below
Hidden from human eyes.

The depths within are filled with life
Inhabited by creatures fearful if seen in the light of day
Often thought asleep in the deep inner waters.

A lie often believed if not thought about
None the less there

Waiting to be faced

Seeking expression in the world of non-sleep

Also, great beauty lies hidden,
It's burden too heavy to bear
Perhaps more than the monsters,
Those who dwell and feed below,
Filled with madness from their imprisonment.

To see one's true nature both dark and ugly,
As well as what points to the transcendent,

Places a heavy burden on the one who experiences it.
Tearing away ignorance embraced
Into the light bright with reality exposed;

Who can bear it,
The heights and the depths?


markdohle
A reality often hard to believe or understand

I am expressing my feelings to you:
my motherly love which carries me to you is inexpressible, mysterious
but real.My most beloved Son illuminates lives, dispels darkness;
and understanding
and motherly benevolence:


Part of a message to Mirjana on 2 Jan 16


The human heart longs for God’s love more than anything I believe. It comes out in our seeking after relationships. Yet the problem with this deep desire is that in order to experience the hearts deepest longing, there has to be trust on some level. Even tentative trust is enough. For it is like the seed that Jesus talked about that is planted in good soil. If trust is not there then growth is not possible.

How is it that God’s loves us so much? One way of looking at this is that God has no fear, and rejection does not deter the Infinite outpouring of love. It is God’s nature. In some way, I believe that God suffers when we refuse to love Him in return. Jesus is the revelation of the Fathers face for mankind; if this is believed then that revelation of love has to be responded to if one's faith is alive.


Many people live out of a worldview that is often identified as ‘practical atheism’. They live as if God does not exist and will often forgo passing on their faith to their children. Or by their example make the faith something that is done only on Sunday (if that), or for Christmas, Easter, marriages, and funerals. Their religious tradition becomes a function for major events in life, but other than that; useless. The reality of the soul, the inner life is regulated to a place of marginal importance. In the above message, Mary states:


my motherly love which carries me to you is inexpressible, mysterious but real.
My most beloved Son illuminates lives, dispels darkness; and


I wonder what would happen if people actually took time to delve deep enough to understand what that means. Love in the human realm for me is mysterious, so the love of God is even more so. Yet if I don’t accept love, or believe in it on the human level, I will never experience it until something happens to off-set that. People can come into our lives that can transform us because of a love that is pure and true, even though they see us deeply. So the love of God is something deeper and more intense, yet, if I don’t believe in it, or if I can’t bring myself to trust, then I can put myself in a position where I will not experience it as well. Until, and I believe this happens to everyone, where at a point in their lives the Infinite love of God will in some way manifest itself. A totally free, unmerited gift, often unexpected yet can be life transforming. Like what happened to St. Paul and many others through out history and today as well.

I do believe that the Blessed Mother is a prophetic figure for the modern world. One of the first things she said when she first started appearing in Medjugorje is this: “I have come to tell you that God exists: Yes, prophetic I believe, indeed.

 
markdohle

Dead air time

Dead air time
(Time, how to deal with it)

We might not advert to it every day but our experience of time and extended time – that is duration - does influence us.
In the monastery, we might have too much time on our hands. Or try to escape the boredom of long stretches of time.
Or the classic case of the Atlas monk Br Luc who persevered by promising himself each day that he would
crash the joint the next da
y.—Dom Gerard

 

When I was a young boy growing up I always found Sunday afternoon’s difficult.  When I was in the Navy, it was the same lived out experience; every Sunday.  It felt like dead-air, which is not a very pleasant experience to go through….or is it/was it, a non-experience?  Time was felt as if it was standing still, it almost had a straightjacket feel to it.  I did not want to do anything, read anything, watch the TV, eat, or even sleep…..dead-air.  I guess that was my introduction to the noon-day-devil.  This still happens, though now it may be more often than on a Sunday afternoon. 

In Monasteries, which are busy places, are still set up where there is more time for reflection and prayer.  The challenge is how to deal with that.  To become restless (which only makes it worse) is one way that I can, and have, dealt with this common human experience.  The rule of St. Benedict deals with this aspect of human life and a cause for many monks to slow down their progress or to even lose their way on their monastic journey.

Sleep is one escape, but in the end, it just makes matters worse.  Over the years I have had some success in dealing with this, and yes, perhaps more failures.  Slowly, very slowly, I have learned that the only way to deal with this phenomena is to sit my butt down, breathe, read slowly doing Lectio, if I can, and wait on the Lord.  It sounds pious I know, but it is not when experiencing it.  Yet, it works, if patience, endurance, and faith are present.  To mindlessly run around only makes the restless feeling worse and I can say that it can be an almost hell-like experience, devoid of meaning, color, or emotions of any kind.  Yes, dead-air. 

It is not that I have too much time on my hands, like on a Sunday afternoon, it is that learning the reality that doing nothing, in order to do the one thing necessary, is something very important and takes attention and perseverance.  Waiting on the Lord is hard work and it is understandable for many do struggle with this reality in Monasteries and not only in Cloistered communities but probably in the lives of just about everyone.  When home, after work, how is that time spent?  When simply waiting at the doctor’s office, or at the airport, what do we do with those often long, dragged out moments?   Do we seek to feed our souls, or do we sit, bored and impatient?  Do we just hit our heads against a wall?

Many types of activities can actually be meaningless, devoid of any real value…dead air is just that, dead.  Is it so awful to just be present to oneself for a certain amount of time every day?  To focus on one’s relationship with the Infinite, to take root in the eternal and to seek to grow in self-awareness?  It is easy to fill up one’s life with ‘important’ things to do, so as to not have to deal with the interior reality of one’ life, or the needs of the soul. 

For me, I would say the answer is ‘yes’.  However, to go through that experience of being in a dry place, devoid of water, being bored, can be navigated by simply stopping and not being afraid.  The living waters are there, I just need to take root.  When this happens, when I can sit with it, or pray slowly, or do Lectio, even in the midst of this dryness, I find that the straightjacket loosens, I can breathe and I find myself ‘home’, although I may not fully understand what is happening.   Grace is happening, the Infinite becomes present to me, or I become aware of what was always there. 

I can bounce around, but that makes it hard to sit still, impossible actually, and I may never be able to experience the living waters that reside within me, because God is one with me in love, and love is about relationship, about being present, in the rough times as well as the pleasant.  When I refuse to take root in the moment and become restless, I make a choice not to confront the reality of why I am here.  I have a feeling that frantic activity is not the reason, but an escape. 

All religious traditions have devotions that can be done every day.  For instance, for me to sit and to slowly say the rosary is not only a time filler, but prayer as well.  It is the intent that is important and this allows the flow of time to continue, if slowly.  However, there have been times when I have sat and said my beads at a slow pace, and when I stop, I am surprised that I have stepped out of dead air into something vibrant, alive, and filled with joy, for when the living waters break forth, there is true refreshment.  Even if nothing happens, to sit in the moment before the Infinite is never a waste of time, in fact quite the opposite. 

markdohle

New Beginnings(New Year 2018)

New Beginnings
(New Year 2018)

My brothers and I used to babysit for some our neighbors when we lived in Gulick Heights.  I did for about three years, until I was around 16.  I was always asked to babysit for New-Years- Eve.  I never really got it, why all the fuss, it was just a day on the calendar.  Of course, I did not understand at that young age the need for having a point from which to begin again, and the first of January was that day for many people.  Though how getting drunk over it has never clicked at all.  The reason behind that, is I never liked the feeling of being intoxicated, it just made me dizzy and I would just throw up…..no not very pleasant.  It happened twice while I was in the Navy, and that was more than enough.

Perhaps New-Years-Day is a deep desire for having the slate from the past made clean….in other words, it is a secular way to express the longing for mercy, forgiveness, and healing.  Though, again, how it is celebrated will often work against that what I believe to be a basic desire. 

There are parties, drinking, and dancing, much of it is innocent.  It brings people together, they drink a little and relax and can just be with friends.  Then there is are the celebrations that bring people together in Times Square to wait for the magic hour and to kiss and hug and wish each other well.  The idea and the desire is understandable and decent and very basic for humanity.  It is about hope, that things will get better, that we can start again.  Yet, the past follows us, old habits die hard, and on New Year’s Eve, many people do things that they will later regret. 

It is too bad that we can’t dance and party our problems away.  It can often be just a way to spend the evening letting go of steam, which can be useful if not taken too far.  Once we allow any substance we ingest or inject, to cloud our ability to control the irrational and destructive tendencies, they may be expressed/acted out, with serious consequences. 

For many, New-Years-Day is a holy day.  A day of prayer.  For instance, today for many is a day to pray for world peace.  We pray for peace in our hearts first of all, for we can’t share what we do not have.  We seek to grow in the love of God, self, and others.  Catholic and other Christians honor Mary on this day as the Mother of God.  For her ‘Yes’ to God, has deep ramifications for all of mankind. It is about love, mercy and new beginnings.  It is about grace and a letting go of fear in order to allow the Spirit of God to enter into our hearts.  It is not about seeking to have a good time, to let off steam, but about going inward and in doing so, to grow in the understanding of our oneness with all of mankind, that we are all brothers and sisters, and children of God.  It is about true grace that is freely bestowed without any destructive or self-destructive consequences.   

There is a place where we can begin from, it is each moment, not just New Year’s, but every day.  To begin again takes courage, and humility and trust, in life’s process.  As a Christian, who is part of the Body-Of-Christ, I believe that in prayer I become connected to all men and women, for it is Christ who prays with and through us.  His desire is that all people come to the truth of the love that God has for them.  All who seek will find, though perhaps after many false turns and actual acts that were callous, cruel and yes evil.  Yet, the desire that I believe the New Year represents, is not a false one, for it is there for everyone, at any time. All they need do is to seek and they shall find, knock and the door will be opened.  At the same time, the ‘Good Shepherd’ leaves the 99 in search of the one wandering and alone in the vast wilderness.  We are all pursued and loved in ways that go way beyond our ability to comprehend….so let us seek to love and pray for one another in the coming year.   To love our enemies, both personal and on a global scale, to reach out, forgive and to allow the grace of God to truly heal our fearful minds and hearts. 

 

markdohle

Desire and the Monastic Journey

Desire and the Monastic Journey

 

What has brought us to the monastery? It is the desire in our heart. Of course we are not going to be as conscious of the force of desire itself but we might say something like we have come to love God or to sacrifice ourselves for others. But the fact is we want something. We want – something. I purposely stress the want – because in that lies desire. St Benedict is aware that it is desire that jump starts our journey. In the Prologue, the Lord lifts his voice and using the words of the psalmist says ‘Is there anyone here who yearns for life and desires to see good days’ Desire is behind our coming to the monastery.—Dom Gerard

 

When I was a young man in High School, I knew that I was searching for a life that I could not give a name to.  I was frustrated because when I was 14, after I found out what the life of a diocesan priest was, I knew on a deep intuitive level that, that, was not my calling.  So I was in a state of deep frustration.  Until one day, when I was 15, I was in the Library at Ft. Gulick an Army base on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. 

I would often leave the house when it got too chaotic and either walk or drive up to the Library, to just sit and find a book to read.  It was a place that was away from family, a needed break for me.  So that fateful evening I was browsing for a book to read and a title jumped out at me titled, “The Waters of Siloe” by a man named Thomas Merton, whom I have never heard of.  So I got the book and opened it up at random.  I came upon some pictures of monks living in a monastery.  Suddenly, I knew just as deeply as I knew that I was not called to be a diocesan priest, that this was my calling.  It was like a very bright light opened up in my mind and heart and would not leave.  It put a deep desire in my heart to seek out my vocation in a monastic setting.  I remember that night as I lay in bed, being in a state wonderment about what happened earlier.  That desire never left me, though I never told anyone about it until I was 20 years old and on home-leave with my family.

It was a desire that was awakened, though I could not tell you exactly what that meant actually.  So for the next seven years, that fire burned brightly in my heart.  I joined the Navy for four years, since I knew, or perceived, that 18 was way too young for me to enter a monastery. 

When I came for my first visit here in November of 1968, my desire for the monastic vocation, and to return after I was discharged from the Navy, was only strengthened.  I had no idea really what Monastic life was about and I guess that is still part of my journey that I am slowly figuring out.  Yet there was a deep ‘desire’ for something more than what I saw around me as a child, or in the Navy. 

When I finally entered in September of 1971, I was happy, but I soon learned that the desire for the life, or what my monastic life could lead me to, did not become something clearly defined for me.  Also, it was a time of radical change in the Monastery, or at least I was told that.  I only knew monastic life from that point.  I am perhaps the second of those who entered and stayed, right after the changes began.  Br. Leo Francis being the first.  In fact, things have been slowly moving towards more stability ever since I have arrived. 

What is it I desired?  The answer came slowly over the years and was an often painful process.  When I was here for about a year, I entered a period of deep ‘healing’ that was experienced as my heart turning into a black, empty, pit, of suffering.  I had no idea what I was dealing with.  Yet, for some reason, I persisted and did not even think of leaving.  If I left I think I would have sought out ways to medicate myself from this pain and would have only made my life chaotic.  What made me stay, was that desire that brought me here in the first place and on some level, I understood that going through this was the only way I could finally arrive at what I desired.

I found out that others could not take this suffering away from me.  If I tried, I only found that using others to run away from my deep inner aloneness only made the pain worse.  I was like a scab being ripped off of a wound and the healing had to start over again, only worse.   I guess you can say I was backed into a corner.  It was very frustrating.

Yet over the space of about 10 years, I felt a deep healing going on that I had no control over.  All I could do is to simply let it happen.  It was a time of many failures in my monastic life, but grace always brought me back to the path that I was called to walk.  I do believe that if I was more faithful in my Monastic journey, the healing would not have taken so long.  That process is still taking place.  It just manifests in different ways at this time of my monastic vocation.  My inner struggles and suffering point to the fact that I must still walk my Monastic path in faith and hope. 

I am not unique.  While each of us here in the Monastery has a different story and different struggles, yet they are human ones.  All of them intense and often can seem overwhelming.  Most go through periods of restlessness, of seeming failure, yet if we continue to simply get up in the morning with the desire to live out our vocation, we will find that in the end, it is the Lord who is faithful.

The mind-of-man is one filled with fears, anxieties, passion and often felt as anger.  The mind-of-man seeks to dominate so as to make life more manageable, but others cannot be controlled or changed or herded. In consciously experiencing this and taking responsibility for my inability to heal myself, it is then that for me, the reality of the Mind-Of-Christ becomes a reality.

I know of my need for community and the support and love of the brothers here.  What I can sometimes fail to understand, is that is a desire that we all have I believe.  When I forget that I can isolate and withdraw from the chaos and struggle that is part and parcel of living with others.  However, withdrawal also takes me away from the love and joy that comes from living with likeminded men who also have that deep desire that keeps them here, that they may not be able to articulate.

We seek to be seen, known and loved.  Once we realize that we do have that already in our relationship with God, we come to the understanding that what we desire is already there/here, we just need to allow our hearts to expand in its ability to allow that reality to become a lived experience…..in that we become fearless knowing that we are safe in the arms of our loving creator. 

We can only become childlike when we understand that and can truly be ourselves and share our inner selves with others.  Without empathy, self-knowledge, and compassion, we cannot connect with others, we can only strive to manipulate and control…..which is kind of like being in hell.

To tell you the truth, I still don’t understand where the pain came from, that deep wound, or the pain that flowed from that.  I also do not fully understand the ‘desire’ that brought me here.  That, however, is ok, I do not have to figure everything out, but I do need to live out the mystery of my life, as I believe we all do. 

 

 

markdohle

Trapped (some memories from 1969-70)

 
 
Trapped
(some memories from 1969-70)
 
When I was in the Navy (1967-71) I met many interesting people.  Most were of course in my age range, 18-25, most enlisted men and women.  All shapes and sizes, some brilliant, others not so much so.  There were always some that I thought were trapped in ways of dealing with reality that were very destructive and a few ran with my crowd, as small as the group was.

Drugs were a big deal then, and I guess they still are.  I met one young man who was a drug addicts, addict.  He was only 20 but he would pop anything into his mouth just to get some sort of high, or even for a low.  Anything to get him away from what he called ‘normal’.  I would often talk with him and sometimes he would try to get me to get ‘high’, or ‘low’.  I would refuse, gently, and he, would let it go for a while.  However, after a few days, he would try again.  I did not understand why he thought it was so important for me to partake of ‘whatever’ he was imbedding.  I knew him for about a year before we were both transferred out.  I did notice that during that short span of time that I knew him, he changed.  He needed to take drugs to keep him ‘normal’.  If he did not take his main drug of choice, he would get depressed and paranoid.  It was sort of paradoxical to me.  I genuinely liked this young man, I guess we were friends of sorts, but I felt that he was backing himself up into an ever shrinking corner and I knew that there was nothing to do about it.  Most of his friends took drugs like he did and to tell you the truth, I did not know why he even wanted to hang out with me.  I would think he would consider me boring and very square. 

I have no idea how he looked at his life.  To me it was a hell like existence, one of being backed up further and further into a state of self-inflicted imprisonment.   It actually scared me to watch how his life diminished over that year.  What was amazing was that he was never caught or found out by the powers that be.  Perhaps it was so common, taking drugs, that as long as he did not get into trouble, they let things be.  After we went our separate ways, we lost touch. 

I did not think I was better than him, for I had my own problems with coping and felt some empathy for his plight.  One choice can lead to many others that can bring on pain and in the end, destruction into one’s life.  I believe we all walk a tight rope when it comes to our lives, but we get so used to it that it is often forgotten, this need to keep balance in how we live out our days. 

When young, I guess my main escape was in books, in private study, which had its upside, but could also lead to isolation from others.  Books are safe, dependable, and always have something to offer.  They can enrich one’s life, or actually make it more restrictive if what is learned cannot be shared or used to deepen appreciation of the human journey. 

Also, I guess dancing was an escape for me as well.  Drugs and alcohol did not allow me to escape my own inner stresses, fears and anxieties.   Dancing, however, did.  Once the music entered into my blood, it would talk to me, tell me how to move, jump, or to just shake in one place, all without thought, or even too much self-awareness, just the joy of being totally in the moment…..I believe for me it was like flying, for my body would get very light and I could move without effort.  This kind of ecstasy is common.  Herman Hesse dealt with this in a section of one of his fictional books titled ‘Steppenwolf’, where people got caught up in this kind of experience at a party.   I guess it connected me to my soul for a short time.  Yet when the last song was being sung, and the lights on the dance floor came on, I felt like I was dying.  So I guess dancing was sort of a drug for me.   Sports does it for many.   I was however way too self-conscious to be able to go that route…..to my regret. 

Wholeness, peace, to be rooted, I believe is sought after by everyone.  The problem is that many of the avenues taken to achieve this are illusionary and lead in the opposite direction.  True wholeness I guess can’t be had by seeking it as an escape from our often painful, or tedious, and boring, or lonely, and frustrated lives.  It is soul thing, not a mind thing, though our minds can lead us to see patterns in our lives that need to be broken.  Withdrawal of any kind is very difficult and faith and discipline is needed in order to work it through.

A true connection with our souls is the key and there are many different paths that promise that.  Some are based on just another quick fix, but that is not how it works.  Maturity can only come about by facing life’s tensions without seeking to escape from them.  We have to face up to our situation and deal with it.  As a Christian I have found my way.  A path of prayer, study and seeking to deepen my trust in God even when life seems like a roller coaster ride without rhyme or reason.  Stay in the car, ride it out, and over time things settle.  Over time I have slowly learned that moments are not to be escaped from, but embraced, for they pass and no inner state of our souls, or even our outer circumstances ever become something permanent.  The years fly by and one day, we find ourselves in a place where we can look back and review our lives and see where we went right and then all the wrong turns as well.  Hopefully that will be a time of thankfulness for the journey.  We get one roll of the dice so to speak, but luck has nothing to do with it, at least in how we deal with our circumstances.  There is always hope. No matter how late in life we may wake up, we can hopefully learn that we can always begin again. Every hour if need be. For hope, mercy and new beginnings is perhaps the deepest truth about our lives that is often forgotten.

 

markdohle

God and the Afterlife

 

 


God and the Afterlife
By Jeffrey Long, M.D.
with Paul Perry

In the early 70’s, I went with a few community members, to a talk given by Kubler Ross on the Near-Death-Experience (NDE).  Even though it was 45 years ago, I can still remember the talk clearly.  In the audience was also a young man, named Raymond Moody, whose book was soon to be released.  He stood up in the audience when Kubler Ross asked him to present himself.  From the point on I have been an avid student of this phenomena. 

Jeffery Long started the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF).  His website has been in existence since 1998 (
WWW.nderf.org) and one of the best sites on the web that deal with this subject.  He brings to light for the general audience how important this experience is, that has in fact been something that millions of people, still alive, have experienced.  He also has a questionnaire that people who have had an NDE can fill out and their stories may be shared on his site. 

There are those who of course are very skeptical about NDE’s, and that is good.  They can raise objections to these phenomena and those who write about the validity of the NDE, need to answer.   From what I have read, all objections have been dealt with, though of course, not to the liking of everyone. 

As a man of the 21st century, even though I have faith in God and take that seriously, I believe that most who live in this time period of human history, do have some real difficulty in believing that death is not final.  Yet, for many, faith also persist, in spite of doubts.  It can cause a very creative inner tension that can lead to an intense search for the truth about this phenomena. 

I do know that once an individual has a powerful, life-changing, NDE, they can never go back to what was before.  I cannot imagine what it would be for me to have an NDE, to experience another reality that is more real than the one I live in daily and pretend that life will go on as usual.  PM Atwater deals with the struggles that many go through after they return to this ‘world of boxes’, as Jung stated after he returned from an NDE. 

In the book, “God and the Afterlife”, what comes to the fore is the experience of God’s Infinite Love for each of us.  However, that does not mean that we must not take responsibility for our lives and the ‘life review’ that many go through, perhaps we all go through, brings that out fully.  In other words, we must experience all the joy and pain that we have put others through as if we did it to ourselves.  Not sure that is really good news, at least as far as the pain and shame that will be present for such an experience.  Yet it is done in the presence of unconditional love, but a love that demands that we grow in love, which is our true nature.  Anything else leads to pain, suffering, and still, for some perhaps, a spiritual death that is eternal.  There are hellish NDE.  

If a man or woman of faith has a profound experience of God’s love that is not an actual NDE, it brings profound modifications in their lives.  So if one ‘dies’,  and then experiences the reality that we don’t ‘die’, one can only imagine what changes that will bring.  It can be a very painful process for families, friends and religious believers have to deal with this.  Some marriages end, some NDE experiencers have trouble relating in concepts and language that they were once comfortable with but now seems inadequate.

If a man or a woman has an experience of the importance of love in one’s life, that all else is secondary, how can that be lived out in such a way that others will understand?  We are all used to the paradoxical nature of faith, yet when a man or a woman actually experiences the importance of love in this life, the reversal of values can be startling for those who know them.  They can come across as someone who has lost mental balance and all common sense. 

The book “God and the Afterlife” points to the reality that the NDE experience can actually be a way that God is trying to reach modern men and women in such a way that they will be forced to rethink their beliefs about the nature of reality and the deep mystery of what we call ‘God’.  If we actually live in a universe devoid of all Spiritual realities, how is it possible to even have such experiences?  OBE’s for instance that come back with veridical evidence? 

When the heart stops beating and blood to the brain ceases, consciousness would be impossible, yet it happens.  This alone should point to the reality that something else is at play here.  At death, we experience leaving the body, for many, going down a tunnel and then the profound experience of the ‘Light”, infinite and loving.  Then the ‘life review’, which goes over every aspect of one’s life, how one treated others, loved them or not, and live out all the pain and joy that the experiencer caused others.  What is the point, how did it evolve, and if it did, how is it helpful for our survival as a species?  The NDE opens up many questions for those who take the time to study this profound and increasingly common, experience of those who come near death and come back. 

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the Near-Death-Experience. 

markdohle

Meeting Peggy

Meeting Peggy


On Christmas day, of this year, the abbot came by the retreat house office, asking me to please talk to an elderly woman who seemed confused and may need some help. She was parked in our parking lot that is next to our gatehouse. It was around 7 PM when I went out to speak to her. There was only one car in the parking-lot so it was easy to know where to go.

She was an elderly woman and as soon as she rolled down the window, I knew that I was going to like her. She was not guarded, or afraid, and it put me at ease. She owned a nice car and she was well dressed. She also had a little dog, a pigmy terrier of some sort. She greeted me warmly, and I asked her if she was ok.

She responded in the affirmative and started to chat with me. It did not take long for me to understand that she was in a confused state of mind, at least when it came to expressing what she was going through. My heart went out to her. She being by herself on Christmas-Day. She assured me that she had a room in Conyers and has been in the area for a week. I believed her because of the way she was dressed as well as her car. She just wanted to stay in the parking-lot for the night, for she was afraid to go out now that it was dark, because ‘they’ would harm her. I tried to tell her that the gate was locked at night and it was getting cold. She responded that she likes being in her car and that she had plenty of gas to keep the car-running and stay “cozy and warm”. I could tell that to force her off the property would do her no good and could actually cause her to have an accident, if she really believed (I had no reason that she did not) that ‘they’ were after her. So I said that she could stay and went back in.

I called the abbot and let him know what I did, but I also said that I was going to call the police, and to ask them to please come by a couple of times for a ‘welfare’ check on her. He agreed. I went back to my room and notified the police of the situation. The assured me they would come by and make sure she was safe a few times that night. Afterwards, I became concerned that the police may scare her, or that they may make her leave. It is so hard to know actually what to do in these kinds of situations.

After Compline, which is at 7:30 PM, the last prayer (divine office of the day), I went to the retreat house kitchen and got some items for her to snack on. Also some water and a couple of shakes for her to drink on. I went out and brought the water and other food items to her. She was grateful, especially for the water. She also, to my relief, actually thanked me for alerting the police to her being in our parking-lot for the night. I told her that I was concerned because it was so cold and wanted her to be safe. She said that they sent a very nice lady policewoman to check up on her (a thoughtful touch for sure), who let her know that she would come by a couple of times while she was doing her rounds.

She liked to talk and we did so for about 15 or twenty minutes. She was a kind woman I got that right away, but troubled. I had the feeling that her family was looking for her, and worried, but was afraid to ask her for any family names and phone numbers, since she may have fled if she thought I was working with them. It was one of those situations that I could only do so much….which is true of any human situation.

People come to the Monastery for many reasons. Most come just to visit, others come for retreat and perhaps to talk to one of the monks about this or that. Many come on a regular basis and I have the honor of knowing many of them. One thing I have learned, “All God’s children have troubles”, and it is one reality that can make us understand that we can always be of help to someone around us. Some, we may know and love, others just pass by. However, I never forget those who ‘pass-by’ like this beautiful elderly lady, whose name is, by the way, ‘Peggy’. I hope she finds her way back to her family, or to a safe place where she will be taken care of.

None of us really plan where we end up in many situations that come into our lives. For all I know I could one day end up wandering around, needing someone to just listen a bit and perhaps give a little kindness’. The human condition is a fragile one. So is our mental health.

Some we can help only once, others perhaps more often, and then the few that we seemed called to help over the long haul. Some will be truthful, some will take advantage, but in the end, it does not matter. For each is a child of God and Christ dwells in their hearts as well. Even those who take advantage, and with whom I have to set up boundaries, their lives are harsh and hard. For in using others they only cement themselves more deeply in a style of life that becomes more and more of a burden to themselves. For they are often left alone since they cannot be trusted.

I have to tell myself over and over again, that I can’t save anyone, or change them, but I can be there if it is only for a very short time, like with Peggy. Yet she will never be forgotten and in God’s eyes, she is His beloved daughter.

One thing I have learned. To seek to grow in love of others, which I believe often flows from our love of God (if a believer), keeps the heart fleshy, it does not become hard and bitter. Though if helping others is fed by compulsion the heart will have to build walls of protection which can cause the heart to go numb or angry/bitter. Grace is at work in every heart I believe, in believers as well as unbelievers. It is a reality that goes way above my pay grade to understand, yet I see grace at work in everyone I meet. Perhaps the only reason we are here is to help one another. When we don’t, we then get the type of world we live in. There is no easy answer, yet to grow in the love of God and others is a good start…..grace builds on grace.

I have learned that I can’t help everyone. Another lesson that I have taken to heart, is to listen to my ‘gut’. Don’t know how that works, but over time I have grown in respect for its innate intelligence when dealing with those whom I meet.

 

markdohle

Reduced to silence

 

 

Reduced to silence
(The Word Became Flesh and Dwelt among Us)

We see deeply within the Universe,
distance unfathomable to our mind's eye,
beyond what we perceive with our powerful telescopes
there are more Galaxies that stretch forever?
Well, no, of course not, it is finite,
with a beginning and an ending.

Our minds can travel this vast expanse,
our hearts capable of enclosing all that is,
 for is not the human heart Infinite,
being made in the likeness of God.

In the Beginning was the Word,
eternal, infinite, that spoke once,
became manifest in Christ Jesus,
the immeasurable takes on human form,
my mind gets turned around,
lost in this mystery,
reduced to silence.

God became human!?
Yes hard to believe and many don’t,
so I pray and ponder this happening,
going deeper, yet my understanding empty,
still, there is a light that grows in the silence,
and gives me small imaginings;
I seek to grasp and it is gone.

Lord, teach me to walk in faith,
yet to never stop pondering its truth,
for to keep faith alive I must always journey,
often through paths that only you see
in the dark night of faith.—Br.MD

 

 

markdohle

A quiet sadness as well as joy-Advent Season

A quiet sadness as well as joy
Advent Season 2017

 

I have not written much about Advent this year, well actually, I have written nothing.  Sometimes the sadness in the world and the chaos and war mute my soul, it is a quiet place.  I may act happy and joyful on the outside, and while it is not completely untrue, yet I seemed wrapped in an inner silence, a place of sorrow as well as expectation.  My dreams have been strange over the last two weeks as well.  Being in a Monastery, I guess the Advent season, a time of waiting can affect more deeply because of the silence.

I would like to share one of them.  In the dream, I was getting up and washing my face.  As I looked into the mirror I saw a reflection of someone else, though I knew it was me.  It was shrouded in darkness.  Then it cleared up and I saw that my right eye went blind, all that was there was a white film where my eye should have been.  Yet I could see through it, but very little.  I then went to our nurse and she told me that yes I was going blind, but did not seem concerned about it, so I was not either and actually started to dance.  That dream whatever it meant, sort of shows my inner state I believe.  I feel blind, yet I can see, losing something and joyful at the same time…..perhaps I am both home and nowhere at the same time? 

Yet, my trust in God seems to be growing and when I pray, I sense a union with all men and woman throughout time.  It is as though time does not exist and that all of us are in reality standing before God in anticipation of ‘something’.  I am growing in the sense that each human person, no matter who they are, or where they live, or what they believe or what have done, are loved by God in a unique way.  So in prayer, I feel I am accompanied by all as I raise my heart and mind to the Holy Trinity.  I know this is a common experience that all people who pray experience, for how can they not as their hearts open up more fully to the actions of the Holy Spirit, who intercedes and prays with and us.

In the Incarnation, Christ Jesus put on the ‘Mind-Of-Man’.  Our minds are more often than not filled with fear, anger, lust, jealousy and deep anxiety.   True these deep emotions/feelings can be hidden, yet in how we act out and spend our time can alert to the deep unrest that is more or less our lot. 

Christ put on our nature (The-Mind- of-Man), felt it, perhaps in ways that go way beyond our own experience of our humanity.  For he did not have the luxury that I have, though a false luxury, of escaping for a time.  He could not escape His condition, nor did he want to.  He embraced our human situation fully, not flinching from the pain that each human being has to endure.   He wishes us to put on His mind: The-Mind-Of-Christ. 

Perhaps for those who pray, when they experience their oneness with all and find that their hearts are expanding in ways they did not think possible, then it is then that they may begin to understand that it is the Mind-Of-Christ allowing that to happen.  It is all gift, all we need do is to desire it, to begin, to take that first step, then the next, and it is God’s love for us, each of us, that will allow our hearts and minds to be filled with the love of God in Christ Jesus.  In that, we find joy and begin to understand how wonderful life is, no matter what we have to go through.  For each moment is unique, we are called to do the most loving thing in each moment.  Yes a hard task, yet over time, we find ourselves actually doing it more easily and in wonderment, we thank God for his healing and grace.

 

 

The prayer of Breath

 

Breathe in and sense all taking that breath with you,
breathe out and release all to the Lord of Mercy,
no time before the presence of the Eternal,
for in that moment, we share God’s Infinite Being,
no time, or place, just love, mercy, and healing. 

 

I have no understanding of this union,
yet I experience it, that we are one,
and what we do to another in thought,
word or deed, we do to ourselves as well as to Christ.


 



 

 

 

 

 

 

markdohle

LA–LA-LA... BOOK BY Kate DiCamillo

LA–LA-LA

A BOOK BY Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jaime Kim
by Candlewick pres
\
 

My good friend Gail, came to visit me this week. She was a Liberian before she retired and to tell you the truth, she still is actually. I have always loved books, but as I age, I find myself reading slower so can’t plow through as many as I did when young. Also, I find myself rereading many books now that I am old and gray and loving it. Books can be good and faithful friends, always sharing more wisdom with each new reading. Authors, with their words, speak for us, open up inner doorways that would remain closed if not for their sharing their own ideas and life experiences. In that we find that we are not alone, unique true, but so is everyone else.

Gail
loves books written for children. I have always been fascinated by them because when reading their content and seeing the artwork, they seem so simple and at times I think, hey, I could do that. But not really. I believe that books for children are perhaps the most difficult to write when it comes to sharing ideas with others. When a good children’s book is written, it also speaks to adults as well.

She brought a book this week, titled, “La-La -La”. On the cover, it shows a young girl singing with the moon (or the sun) behind her. So I was drawn to open the book and to read it out loud.

I found this book powerful on many levels. Such a simple concept, with such simple dialogs throughout, yet speaking, at least to me, volumes about my own search from my earliest years until now. When we are seen, or see another, what is spoken is just the tip of the vast ‘underneath’, that endless ocean that makes up our inner lives. Jesus was correct, in the end, we are all children trying to make our way through the dark, seeking the light. Each of us can be a light to others, and the light we share, when we truly see and love those around us, comes from beyond us, allowing love and honor and respect to flow outward.

The only word used throughout the book is “La”, set to different rhythms. There is the tentative LA, spoken out loud, then a look around to see if there is anyone listening and hopefully will respond.

Then, another “La”, waiting, getting impatient, and walking away in frustration.

The first page shows a little girl standing alone, saying just one simple word “La”, perhaps in a whisper. Then the little girl sees a beautiful orange leaf (so it must be in the fall season). She follows it slowly at first, then runs towards the leaves which seems to leave a trail. Then she comes to an opening. Just before she sees the opening, she says “La” with expectation one more time.

She steps out into a beautiful forest scene, filled with beautiful colors that the season of fall is famous for. Again, walking, she says “La”, which I take to mean, hello (?). Then waving to the tree with the leaves she says “La-La-La-“, seeking to get the trees attention. Thena long Laaaaaa, with a mix of frustration and anxiety. She then continues to seek to get a response to her La-La-La’s, though out the forest, that get weaker, and then she walks away crestfallen. Alone.

So she goes back inside, sees one leaf on the floor and scowls at it. Then three leaves fall on her, then more but she for a time continues to be angry and withdrawn. Yet more leaves keep coming into the place where she is sitting, a lonely place, all by herself. So she finally gets up and walks outside again, but this time it is night.

It is beautiful, dark, with purple background, with some light that comes from some ray that is focused on her. She seems a little fearful, hesitant, but she bravely steps out and goes deeper into the ray of light that is shining on her from above.

She comes to a clearing, and sees a patch of light on the ground, a round patch of the most beautiful light and on such a dark night. She is in awe.

She looks up and with expectation, but not yet trusting, however, she is smiling, with some hope, and says “La!” Then with more joy she opens her arms and says again, though this time twice,” La La”, but the smile is gone, perhaps her trust is again wavering.

She stands in silence in the midst of the bright light, hands down, wanting so much to connect with the light shining down on her.

She runs back home and gets a heavy ladder and drags it back outside. She sets the ladder up, though it seems to balance itself (don’t ask me how, I am just the reader of the book), and she climbs up towards the starlit sky. She sees the full moon and says, “La-La”, then again five more times “La”, waits, and frowns and climbs back down, and sits on the ground very sad, not angry, but so sad and alone. She drags the ladder back home….and yes sits and pouts with her back to the door leading outside. Who can blame her, I can’t. For I have done such things many times in my life, and perhaps many more times before I go into the great outside.

She falls asleep next to the ladder. Such a gift sleep. Then as she sleeps, two leaves float inside, she looks up and sees the light shining in the doorway and says with joy, LA!. Such a glorious light, it surrounds her, but does not blind, or hurt her eyes. The light is white in the large middle, and golden on the edges. Like the moon, which can give off a bright light when full. She goes outside and hears this: “LA! - LA! - LA!” Someone is reaching out to her! She stands there, stunned, unable to move! She runs towards the full moon, its rays beckoning her forward through the darkness.


She stops before the full moon which is now no longer up in the sky, but near the earth at her level. She says “La”, a little frightened, for this is something new for her. The bright light that now has a gentle loving face, responds! LA!-LA!......she is ecstatic, her face overflowing with joy.

So they conversed with many LA’s, back and forth they talk on a level that comes deep from within both of them. She is seen and loved and she can now share the love with others that she has so longed for.

In the end, what more is there, what is it we work for, but to be seen, loved and embraced? Everything else if it cannot lead to that is in reality a waste of time. For what does not love us, uses us, drain us and then lets us go.

 

 

 

 

markdohle

A down to earth prosaic place (Chapter talk)

A down to earth prosaic place
(Chapter talk 14 Dec 2017) 

At the end of the Chapter on the Tools of Good Works, St Benedict says ‘These then are the tools of the spiritual craft …. And ….The workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability in the community.’ 

The monastery as St Benedict describes it is a workshop. It is not the paradise of the cloister. It is a workshop. It is a very down to earth or prosaic place. A workshop is a place where there is not a lot of talk but work. A dull place even boring
but a lot of work must go on.

Tools and handled without drama but they are handled every
day and they become tools in the hands of master craftsmen. When

we meet master craftsmen, their tools almost seem like extensions of their hands. They are utterly unselfconscious of how they handle their tools but they produce masterpieces. 

The same with the monk who handles the tools of good works
each day. They become extensions of him,
part of his identity.
–Dom Gerard Abbot of Our Lady of Genesee

++++++++++ 

There is much about life that can seem absurd, useless, just an endless one ‘thing’ after another.  Like Sisyphus rolling up that damn large boulder to the top of the high hill only to have it roll back down again on the other side, and has to be done over and over again.  Tedium can deaden the soul, numb the mind, and can bring us to a state of existence that is a form of living death.

To be present as Br. Lawrence was to the pots and pans that need to be cleaned and to not try to escape the endless job of doing dishes, is the key to making the so-called absurd activities of our lives into moments of Divine Encounter.  A very down to earth practice, which yes, can still seem dull, yet not without significance.  For how we respond to the little events in our lives carry more importance that is often understood, or thought about.  How to I respond ‘now’?  What is the most mindful and loving thing I can do in this moment?  How do I get out of my own way when seeking to grow in my relationship with God, my brothers in the community, and just as importantly those outside of the community that I deal with on an everyday basis?  How can I stay focused on the endless sameness that makes us my daily life?

Times of Lectio Divina/Prayer can be approached in a mindful way, or carelessly.  When being careless we cease to understand what we are doing and if approached this way in a habitual manner, it will be impossible to continue in its practice, for it will become meaningless.   Instead, ways of escape the ‘everydayness’ of our prayer and Lectio will be sought after.  Waiting for the Lord can be the most profound prayer we can ever make, for it is done out of a deep desire to connect with the living waters, that our wanderings can only push deeper under the sands. 


How do I respond and relate to myself? How can I be mindful of my brothers with whom I deal with every day?  What is the most loving way of communicating with them, both verbally and most importantly on a non-verbal level?    When mindfulness is lost, then we react often from our unconscious depths.  Self-awareness prevents this from happening.  When we lose the sense of the holiness of those around us, of Christ being one with them, we can easily punish those around us without even knowing it.  Being overly sensitive towards others often has sources that have their roots that go way back before entering the Monastery.  Lashing out at others is an indication of loss of focus and a form of narcissistic self-regard that has a detrimental effect on the community. 

Are we here to serve others, or do we simply want to be catered too, listened too and obeyed?  Each member of the community has something important to offer.  Each has a connection with the community that is unique.  We all have a very specific way that we can communicate what we see, and then, should be let go of.  Can we share our unique perspectives with the community and then let it go not worrying about how it will be embraced or not by those around us? 

Self-Centeredness is one of the greatest causes of suffering I believe in communities.  Service to others and not seeking my own comfort, or my place of power/control is the royal road to lessening this all too common human affliction. 

We are here to serve, not to be served.  In doing that, then all are taken care of, loved and appreciated for each one’s unique contribution to the community.   To withdraw, hide, or perhaps a better word, to pout, only makes things worse, since it is a turning ones back on one of our vows:  The Conversion of Manners.  We are called to become childlike, not childish.

When we seek to truly put on Christ, over time, our striving becomes a simple extension of ourselves and as St. Benedict states, we can live our lives without difficulty.  Not to seek to transform ourselves into a ‘man-for-others’ is to stay imprisoned in ourselves and our monastic life can be a battleground with ourselves and with those we live with.

In our monastic journey, one of the hardest lessons to be learned is that we can’t really control others, or change them.  We are often called upon to be merciful and compassionate, and empathic, towards those who often through no fault of their own cannot return any of the above.  We are called to love those whom we may personally think are unlovable.

In my own monastic life, I fail more often than not, yet I get up again.  I have learned that self-recrimination is a waste of time, but a gentle beginning again is what is called for.  It is grace that does the work in our souls at a depth we cannot perceive, yet it goes on.  To not learn that the most valuable tool we can cultivate is to love ourselves is perhaps the only true failure.  When the brothers feel loved and accepted despite their human weaknesses and frailties, it is then that they can be challenged.  Shame and the use of force, does not work.  Obedience to the superior and to one another is a choice, and in making that choice, we truly run the race freely and our hearts filled with love become more human, we become approachable allowing others to be transparent. –Br.MD



 

markdohle

Trip to Texas

Time with Fr. Robert Dohle, Georgia, Trisha and Vicki

Went to visit family late last month and got back yesterday on the 9th of Dec.  In the past, there were more of my brothers and sisters living in the Lake Jackson/Freeport area in Texas.  Now there is Robert and Georgia.  Robert, being the oldest boy (now that my brother Skip died about two years ago) and Georgia being the youngest girl.  Judy and Jane are at this time in Utah taking care of a medical issue.  They are usually in the area when I come for a visit and I missed not seeing them. 

I spent a week with my brother at Camp Allen(http://www.campallen.org/).  It is owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Texas. My brother, Fr. Robert, is an Episcopal priest and was ordained in 2008.  He is pastor of the Episcopal-Church in Freeport Texas.  It is a nice church, small, and I like the people who worship there. 

My brother goes to Camp Allen, I believe once a year, to be the chaplain on duty.  One of his duties is to do morning and evening prayer.  I joined him and enjoyed it very much.  He used a modern version of the ‘Book of Common Prayer’ and I loved the translation.  It is a little different from the Divine Office I am used to and that made it all the more interesting.  My brother takes his priestly duties seriously and from the way people related to him at Camp Allen, he is also respected and loved. 

They have a cabin there for the Chaplain and it has two bedrooms, a combined kitchen and living room and a bath.  So it was perfect for us.  November is my favorite month of the year and the weather while at the camp was beautiful.  There are hiking trails that I walked and spent some time by one of the lakes.  One night we went out to one of the lakes so Robert could take some photos of the full moon, he also took some of one of their large crosses that they have at different places on the grounds. 

At night we had a fire in the fireplace and I really loved it.  I guess I could look at a burning fire for hours.  Fire, so beautiful and restful, yet, dangerous as well.  A symbol of God’s love and purifying effect on the soul, as well as healing all that keeps us from union.  It is also a symbol of a God’s love, experienced as wrath, by a soul who freely turns his or her back on the love of the creator.  In California, this year, we see the horrendous fires that rampage out of the control.  It is no wonder why it is a force of nature that enthralls us, as well as fill us with fear. 

After a week we went to the Lake Jackson/Freeport area.  I had a good visit with Georgia, my youngest sister, and with Trisha, Robert’s wife of 46 years, I believe.  She is a very generous person and has always been a support to my brother.  There is always a number of pets that she has around the house.  She loves cats, I tolerate them, though in my weaker moments will pet one, and do believe that in spite of my not loving them; they are beautiful creatures. She also loves dogs, and probably everything else that crawls, leaps, flies, and swims.  She understands people and is open and honest with them……she is great.

I was also able to visit with her sister Vicki.  Probably the most time I spent with her in over 40 years.  I found her to be gentle and soft-spoken.  She has had her struggles like the rest of us, but she makes it one day at a time.

Georgia is the youngest of 11 and I guess no matter how old she is (I won’t tell) she will always be the littlest to me.   She laughs easily and cries as well when it is needed. When I was a teenager, I guess she was my favorite and we played a lot together.  People ask me who among my siblings is my favorite is now.  I can’t say.  Usually, the one I am with is my favorite.  Each is so different from each other.

Over the years, Judy and Jane (twins) were the ones I talked most with.  So I feel very close to them.  Craig the youngest boy, lives in Santé Fe, so I don’t have as much contact as I would like.  John, I have little contact with, but he talks a lot with Judy and Jane.  David, the brother just below me on the list, he is number 4, is visiting me at this time and I love having him here.  As time flies by, I don’t take, or try not to take, my loved ones for granted.  In the last three years, there have been two deaths in our family….a wakeup call for sure.  It is at times surreal to be ‘older’. 

Being older and what that means, can be ignored, until traveling, at least for me.  I have never really liked to travel, but now it is getting harder and harder.  It is more of an interior thing, with some simply aging body problems.  Yet the trip was worth it.  I thank God every day for my family, warts and all.

 

markdohle

The importance of Scripture, and literature

The importance of Scripture, literature, and cartoons

I am writing a prisoner (I will call him John) at this time whom I have only written four letters.  He is very intelligent and a good writer as well.  He also loves reading.  Today he shared with me the title of a book he is reading called ‘Sacred Romance’.  The author when talking about the stories in the Old Testament brings to light how epic it is.  There are villains, heroes, tragedy, and humor and in the end, the good guy wins.  I thought that interesting.  I related to him about an article I read many years ago where the author (forgot his name) talked about the happenings related in the bible to the Jewish people is, in fact, an autobiography of all of our lives and how God works with us.  For instance, the 40 years in the desert wandering around aimlessly can bring to light aspects of our lives or periods in our lives where we felt like we were going nowhere.  Or the betrayals and injustices experienced, and of course in the end death.  I also found that intriguing and helpful.

John also mentioned stories, fairy tales and fantasy that can also be found helpful in growing in understanding about our lives and what it is all about.  I have found that to be true.  Many people do not like to read fiction because they will say “that it is not real”.   I don’t agree.  Stories even if fiction can tell us much about life and teach us how either not to react or how to respond to the many trails all of us have to go through.  If one is conscious of that fact then the stories, fables, and fairy tales can reach us on a deeper level. 

Below is my response to what he wrote about:

“Interesting book that you read the “Sacred Romance”.  One author also wrote on the bible being an autobiography of each of us as we make our pilgrimage through life.  When you think about it, both can fit into giving meaning and understanding to our lives.  I guess all stories do that to one degree or another. Fairy tales come to mind, Grimm’s to be exact.  They are filled with struggle, evil and good and do not always have a happy ending, yet all of them give hope.

Like when we feel that we are in the desert, with no path that we can see, yet if we are faithful we can feel the living water coming out of the dry rock.  Also, the Lord allows us to reap the fruits when we rebel out of love to draw us back to Himself.

I think cartoons can be important as well.  They are more often than many suspect a look at the human condition in a compassionate manner. 
One of my favorites is ‘Calvin and Hobbes’.  I have from the ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ collection, three books that I have read many times.  I let them rest in my bookcase for six months and when I read them again, just as fresh and as funny as the first time.  I guess many see themselves in the characters.  I remember the strip “Kathy”….a woman who had many, many, ‘Issues’ and all of her friends seem to have them as well. Very funny as well as empathetic from the authors' point of view.   “Keeping up appearances” is truly a funny show, yet in real life, it would be truly tragic.  Yes, we need humor.   I find the book of ‘Jonah’ very comical.  Every time we read it in church I find myself chuckling over his response to his call and his temper tantrums, and how God dealt with him.  The same way he dealt with the people of Nineveh, with compassion and love.”


Reading is such a joy and it opens up ways of thinking that we may not have thought possible before.  I believe that when we read certain writers, no matter the subject when they speak to us, they are in reality bringing to light ‘truths’ that we already know, but never knew how to speak.  I guess when we read books that make us struggle to understand are the ones that give us new paths to explore and to help expand our understanding of life.  To understand the inner workings of ourselves and by that of others as well, allows us to be able to listen more deeply and to not have the compulsion to judge.  We can do this because we have grown to a lesser or greater degree of self-knowledge that does not lead to self-hatred, but love and compassion for ourselves and then for others. 

As a Christian, I do believe that the Scriptures are a window into seeing the world in a Godlier manner.  However, there are other books that do that sometimes in a more powerful way because they are written in a manner easier for us to understand.  Yet a firm foundation in the Scriptures especially the New Testament for Christians is essential.  We need a place to stand from, a place to be able to make sense out of life.  Our faith can do that, gives us the means wherein we do not have to flee from pain and suffering, but walk through it, knowing we are not alone, ever.  Some reject this thinking it wishful and childish, yet personal experience for the one who experiences God’s love in his or her life, says otherwise.

 



 

 

markdohle

The anxiety of a prisoner

The anxiety of a prisoner
(no longer your own)

I do believe that everyone has something to teach those around them.  Often, this comes about when it is not done on a conscious level but comes about when people are just themselves.  Open, honest, and not trying to impress or influence anyone.  We can influence one another, but control is not possible.  Even with fear which can give the illusion of control, there is always a place where rebellion and anger resides, and rightly so when a human being is treated as an abject object.  So, I guess in prison, even those who know that they belong there have to deal from time to time with the control the prison system has over their lives.

One prisoner, I am writing is in for 1st-degree murder.  It happened when he was very young, on drugs and did something very stupid and another human being ended up on the floor bleeding to death.  So now, 25 years later he may still have another 40 years to go if he lives into his 80’s. 

He is making good his time in the sense that he is seeking to deepen his commitment to do better and to have a positive influence on the lives of those around him.  He is doing that.  He helps many men find their way back to faith in God, or in his case, if the man is Catholic, to reconnect with his faith tradition.  When I send him a package, he shares all of it with the other men in his cell block.  Which I am sure makes a big difference in their lives.  A little kindness goes a long way in an atmosphere that is often violent and in some cases where life is lost.

Joseph, in his last couple of letters, has shared with me about his being transferred.  What happens is that no one is told until the time to pack up and leave that they are going to another facility.  It came as a shock to him and he had a couple of hours to get his things together.  There were men there with whom he had a friendship, so it was a difficult move for him.  He has told me that as long he is in prison, he belongs to the state and they can move him wherever they seem fit to send him.

His anxiety over this move was intense and he still working on it.  One thing that helps him is his deep faith in Jesus Christ as well as understanding that he is merely paying back to society the taking of a life.  A life that had a family, children and a future…..taken in an instant.  He knows that it does not matter that he was on drugs, for he has taken responsibility for that and it has helped him to adapt and move on. 

In his new place he is settling in, yet, even with his understanding, his emotions become angry and very anxious over being moved around like a piece of furniture, of his human dignity taken away from him.  He knows this will pass and that he will continue to do what he can to help others there.  Actually, before he came there his caseworker wrote a very good report on him and asked that he be put in the cell block that is faith-based; that happened, so it helps.

Below is what I wrote to him about his move and how he is handling it.  Anxiety is a part of most people’s lives and we all experience it as soul-crushing if it lasts too long.  So it is not too difficult to understand and to feel some empathy for anyone who goes through it.

“I just talked to your sister and she says that you are in the same place.  I know that level of anxiety, that you felt, or are still feeling, is (or was) intense my friend. Yet, in prayer, it not only gets you in touch with God but also allows you to take a deep breath and simply be.  I have learned that each moment is unique, especially the most painful ones.  They pass never to return again, hence their importance.  When in turmoil, or conflict, we have to ‘choose’ how we will interact and not react to the situation.  Even if there is a failure, that to can be an experience for growth in humility, so it is a win, win, situation.” 

A deeply lived faith can actually root us in the chaotic reality of any situation.  It does not make it easier, but it can give meaning and direction in one’s life.  Knowing that we live in a realm of ‘choice’, where the smallest decisions are important, can help for one not to be overwhelmed and to become bitter and cynical.  Joseph I believe is doing a good job with that.  In fact, I am humbled by his faith.

We can judge actions.  Murder, for example, is wrong and those who kill, need to be dealt with, just as Joseph is being dealt with.  However, the worth of another human being, who is made in the image and likeness of God, can’t be judged by anyone, since we only skim the surface.  To understand the life of another human being is to in the end forgive. 

From time to time I have the honor of listening to men who come here to make the 5th step.  To listen to their lives, their struggles and what they have to do to overcome their addictions brings to the fore the impossibility of judging them as human beings.  Stealing and lying and using others, yes, that can be brought to the light for all to see, but anything deeper only God sees and understands and loves.  When we know someone who commits a crime or is addicted, we can often not lose sight of their humanity or their goodness in many cases.  We have trouble when we try to save them or to control them. 

I understand up to a point my own weakness and how hard it is to grow in freedom.  In understanding that as well as experiencing God’s mercy and love, I can extend it to all others.  How that plays out may be different in each case, but as a Christian, I am not free to hate or to heap contempt on any of God’s beloved children.  I believe that to judge another human being without mercy, is an actual act of blasphemy, since we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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