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talking to myself

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markdohle

Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday

Carved into rock the tomb stood waiting,
the body wrapped in linen tight
with spices;
according to Jewish law.

A stone rolled before the entrance,
within only darkness,
silence,
that only death can bring,
the interior cold
the body alone in its inner nothingness

The void,
the thing feared most,
to drop in
never to be seen again,
gone,
leaving only an interior emptiness
for those left behind.

In the beginning light,
heat death for the universe in the end;
so for the body,
what was once alive
now without heat only cold remaining,
lifeless.

All that we love ends,
our works,
art,
our loved ones,
friends,
civilizations,
brought to absurdity because of this,
the great crumbling,
entropy,
flowers of the field,
the whole universe slowly fading
into it’s ending,
length of time does not matter
for in the end nothing.

So within silence,
only cold and deep darkness for company,
it is just a tomb after all,
yet
a guard placed before its entrance,
which gives us pause
why a guard at the tomb(?),
perhaps,
just perhaps,
we need to wait in the silence and see.

 

markdohle

Nothingness/Void/Death (Good Friday 2018)

Nothingness/Void/Death
(Good Friday 2018)

I got up at my usual time this morning, made coffee, filled a cup and went outside to drink it.  The moon at this time is almost full, beautiful glow from its gentle light as well as a gentle breeze.  There is nothing that is for me more beautiful than a morning such as the one we had today. After my coffee, I went into the Church and as always on Good Friday, it is always a shock to enter without the Blessed Sacrament not being present.  Just an open tabernacle, showing only darkness inside, a deep, cold, lifeless darkness.  For what was once a place of light is now only a lightless nothingness. 

As I sat in the silence, I thought of the burden we all carry in the knowledge of our own deaths.  Even if not thought about at all, still on some level, we know that we have little time here and that our life moves swiftly to its conclusion. 

Death seems to have a bottomless stomach in swallowing up all that lives.  Jesus in pouring himself out entered into that darkness, gone, swallowed, and buried in a cold dark tomb.  Our church is a sepulcher without the Blessed Sacrament, just a hollowed out building resembling a soulless body of one who has died. 

In our Vigil service for Good Friday, we have a different monk read each psalm, and a priest to do the prayer after the reading.  Then the priest when he finishes his prayer, blows out one of seven candles.  The slow dimming of the light.  As I get older I see it as a metaphor of my own aging, my own movement towards darkness, death, the leaving of this world.  The psalms that the monks read are sad, filled with anguish, yet also hope in God’s presence through it all.  

God’s love, his tenting with us, also shares our pain, such is love.  They go together, a dance.  Not a pleasant one, who wants to suffer?  The only way to protect oneself from the pain of loving is to freeze the heart; killing it. Though emotional numbness is worse than feeling I believe. 

Jesus emptied himself when he gave his life.  He allowed humans to do their worst, yet he loved.  He was hated and spit upon; he still loved.  He was betrayed by one of his disciples, yet he still washed his feet, still full of mercy and compassion.  He was denied by Peter, yet he understood and embraced him, loved him back into this heart.  So it is with all of us.

Love is defenseless, for it cannot lash out at one who is loved totally and with complete abandon.  It is hard to fathom as well as to believe, yet I do believe. Hoping against hope as St. Paul states that such is God’s love.  Yes, Jesus was swallowed up into the nothingness, that cold void, which is always hungry, for it is essential emptiness.  Yet Christ’ light swallowed up death because of his love, his not giving into hatred or the desire for revenge. 

I still struggle with this revealed reality of God’s love as shown us in Christ Jesus.  One day, however, I believe that my heart and all of our hearts will be broken open by this love. Our walls will come tumbling down because when love comes and we are seen and feel loved by that which sees us, we will all crumble into the arms of an infinitely loving and compassionate God.  

Christians should live out this truth, pray for the ability to love, pray to be used by Christ Jesus, to make our hearts like unto his, to make our minds into his mind, to incarnate in us, so that we can love, heal, and embrace all whom we meet, not judging, but loving all into the kingdom. When we pray the Our Father, let us not forget that we are praying for all, none are left out. 

Life is hard, and then we die.  True, no doubt.  Yet to have the courage to look into the void and to affirm that Christ Jesus has been there and death, void/nothingness, has been swallowed up in victory, is not always easy.  At this time we see as through a veil, yet we go forward in hope and in that hope, we are able to embrace all that life can throw at us without giving in to bitterness or despair……for Christ Jesus has gone before us, is with us, closer to us than our skin, our thoughts.


 



markdohle

Self-Emptying Holy Thursday 2018

Self-Emptying
Holy Thursday 2018

Today, Holy Thursday, the Abbot washed the feet of all the members of the community after we had our Seder-Meal.  It is a powerful act and one that presents a way of service for all, not only for those who are leaders but also to the least of us.  We are all called to serve one another, to empty ourselves in the giving of ourselves. 

Jesus, in washing the feet of his disciples points to the reality of what Agape (Divine Love) means for us.  Jesus shows us that God serves us, washes our feet and this points to the reality of the Eucharist, Christ becomes our very sustenance.  Such a reality, which is presented by the Christian faith, is hard to take, even for believers.  The love of God is of a different order than human love.  However, human love at its purest can give us an inkling of this reality.

Power and control are human endeavors.  God’s love invites us to a deeply loving relationship and with that, to love others, as well as ourselves.  If we spent our time trying to do that, I wonder how different the world would be. 

It does not matter what state the world is in, or for that matter that perhaps most people can make no sense of what Jesus is trying to convey.  Not sure I get it either, or if I do, it is incomplete.  What is important is that I seek every day to love more and no matter what, to continue in faith on my journey.  Not looking to others, nor being shocked at failures, but to look to Jesus Christ the shepherd of my soul and yes because of Infinite Love, he also serves me. 

Do not judge,
but love and serve,
healing flows from compassion
anger from contempt.

 

markdohle

An old woman, a sign of grace

 An old woman at the VA who was a sign of grace for others

Walking down the hallways in the VA on a crowded day can be very interesting.  Like any crowd, there are lots of people, each dressed differently, some knowing where they are going, others confused and too proud to ask for directions.  Others aren’t shy about seeking information on how to get to some place or another.  There was a couple, perhaps in their 50’s trying to figure which direction to go in.  Each war arguing with each other, but there was no movement.  So I asked if they needed directions, but each looked at me and said no, they are alright.  As I walked away, they started arguing again……we can be funny at times.

On some mornings near the information booth at the VA, there is a woman who is giving out free coffee, a volunteer no doubt.  She seems to enjoy asking the men and women who pass by if they would want some coffee and perhaps a cookie or a donut.  She is very pleasant and I am sure that this little gesture could be helpful at relieving a certain level of stress…..others perhaps not.  In any case, she is always there simply wishing to give away something for free if one is tired or perhaps a little hungry.  Some are gruff with her, others nice when they refuse.  Some when they get the coffee complain that it is not hot enough etc.  She just smiles and wishes them a good day.  All she wants to do is give something away.  She is giving of her time, and perhaps it is out of love and compassion for the many veterans who have a heavy burden to carry, so she does not seem to mind if someone responds in a less than gracious manner.  For me, what she is doing is giving out grace’, she is noticing the men and women and some do receive it, others pass by without seeing and others can be a little nasty, though they are few I believe.  She seemed to understand it all and unruffled continued to show in her own small way a little concern for those who pass by. 

My brother had to go in today for his second treatment.  They were a little behind, but after he was checked in, an hour late, it went quickly after that.  On the way home, he needed to get a sandwich, so we stop at a hamburger place.  All the workers there were Mexican, and they seemed a happy lot, perhaps a family, I don’t know.  The lady who waited on me told me that my fish sandwich would take 5 minutes.   Well, it is a hamburger place, so I guess even though they have fish sandwiches they are not called for all that much.  So we sat down, my brother with his meal, and me with my drink and fries.  In about 5 minutes and 10 seconds, but hey who is counting, she called and said my sandwich was ready.  With it was a small order of french-fries, freely given, and I smiled and thanked her. She laughed, smiled and waved back at me…..she was a sign of grace as well.  She did one small gesture.  She knew I ate my french fries and out of the kindness of her heart, gave me another order to go with it.  I guess I could have said no thank you, but if I did, perhaps I would have been withholding a grace from her.  In any case, her gentle gesture made sure that I would not forget her. 

Little acts of being kind don’t take much energy, but if they become a habit they are ways of connecting with strangers that can plant a small seed that will bear fruit later.  We all liked to be seen and not just looked upon as just another veteran, or customer etc.  When we are noticed in little ways and we become aware on out how helpful and even healing that can be, we may start to pass on the favor. 

Life is often made up of little things, small gestures often not noticed, but they can be very important.  We can grow in our desire to deepen our connection with others, or we can seek to protect ourselves from being bothered.  The long-lasting effect can be enormous. 

Christ noticed little things when he walked the earth.  He noticed the widow putting in her last penny in the offering box.  He noticed the children and told the apostles not to hinder them.  He noticed the women with the issue of blood and turned and praised her for her courage and faith.  He noticed something in Matthew, a tax collector and called him.  Jesus noticed everything in a way that was filled with compassion for all of us.  Even when he comes over strong, he was trying to teach and not to simply beret.  Like when he called Peter ‘a Satan’ for trying to change his course…..it was all out of love. 

Like the women giving coffee at the VA, God is always asking us if we want ‘grace’, in its many forms.  What he offers is a deep loving relationship with us.  Love is the caffeine of the soul I believe.  I do think it is important to seek to notice how grace is given in so many ways.  Through others by their attention and kindness, by our family, because they know us and forgive us over and over again, and by our friends who seek us out even if we are imperfect and even annoying at times. 

Grace is not something hidden, it is in plain sight.  It is true, whatever we do to others and what others for us, it is really Jesus who receives, for in him we live and move and have our being. 

 

 

markdohle

The unexpected (Palm Sunday)

The unexpected
(Palm Sunday)

 

Just before Jesus entered Jerusalem that led to his death, he did one of his most powerful miracles that pointed to him as the author of life.  What he did, if I was there, would not have filled my heart with joy or wonder, but instead with stark, abject, fear.   To witness someone exiting a womb who was dead for four days, and tightly wrapped in a shroud, would not be something expected, or thought possible, hence the terror.  I also wonder how Martha, and Mary, related to Lazarus after that…..surely there was some distance between them that was not there before.  There was a price to be paid for what happened, a heavy price.  Yet, because it was performed by Jesus, it was necessary.  A forerunner of his own death, burial, and resurrection, though different than Lazarus since he had to die again, while Jesus overcame death once and for all.

Some would question, why would Jesus even let Lazarus die.  In fact, I am sure that Martha and Mary and many of the people who were mourning with her thought the same thing.  He could heal the blind and lepers, people he did not know personally.  Some he healed without even being asked, the widow from Nain for instance, whom he brought her son back to life.  What about Lazarus, his good friend?  Jesus did not even try to live up to others expectations, he had his own agenda.  One was apparently, to let Lazarus suffer and die, and to have his sister’s go through four days of gut-wrenching mourning even before Jesus arrived.  People expected Jesus to come at once to save his friend, surely not to bring him back from the dead after four days in the tomb. 

Everyone had ideas and expectations about Jesus.  Some thought he was the Messiah come to make Israel great again.  Wherein all of their enemies would be overthrown and like in the time of David, they would be the unique, free children of God.  It was a this world kingdom, and there are plenty of Old Testament readings that could be and were interpreted that way. 

The religious elite, many of them, though not all, thought of Jesus as a dangerous man, and no matter how many his signs and wonders, they were not moved to either wonder or belief, but only anger and rage and perhaps fear of the Romans who might look upon Jesus as a danger and cause mayhem for the nation.  Their expectation was also false about their plans to destroy his influence forever. 

Jesus was also a man who challenged those who needed to be shook up and was kind and compassionate to the downtrodden and outcaste.  There were many opinions about him, many expectations, from all parties including the Apostles…they were all wrong.    

James and John wanted to sit at his left and right hand.  They would have probably argued who would be at his right.  When they arrived in Jerusalem for the Passover, perhaps the expectation was that Jesus would come into his full glory….he did, it was just not as expected, not even close. 

So in our own lives, as we follow Jesus, or we are seekers, what we expect may not be what we experience, or even need.  We need to trust to go deeper into our journey through this life if it is rooted in seeking God’s love and will for us. 

 

Distress

Before his entrance into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday,
he told how deep his distress was to his followers,
for he knew that goodness often feeds the rage of those wounded,
his loving heart made him defenseless against such tumult.

So he entered, we cheered him, waving palms,
he smiled perhaps sadly and with compassion,
for he knows what is in the hearts of men;
the pain, anger, the desires that can drive us crazy
and the rage against God and existence itself,
so filled with pain and injustice.

How easy it is to turn, to embrace the freedom of rage;
to destroy what is good, most human, and to exalt in violence and injustice,
to be caught up in the mob that flows like a river with ease,
until it flows over that which is sought and hated, at least in the moment,
for often after the horror is over and done with,
we wake up as if in a dream, appalled at what was done.

The loving heart is a human heart; perhaps that is why it is feared,
for to understand the hell that is often our inner lives reality,
bears a heavy price to be borne. This reality was seen and understood
by the heart of Christ, wounded in love, for he has no defense.
 

 

markdohle

The meeting of a loving grandmother at the Veterans Hospital

Last week, I took my brother to the VA for a procedure.  The first of six, once a week.  The trip to the hospital was a slow one.  We left at 7 AM, instead of 6:30, and what a difference it was.  It took us almost two hours to get to the hospital, which is usually a 45-minute trip.  When we arrived, I was surprised to see that there was no line for Valet Parking, so we took it.  Normally I park a few miles away at a church and we take a bus in supplied by the VA. 

We went to the Surgical Clinic first and after my brother was checked in, we went upstairs to the waiting area.  It was crowded and seats were at a premium, so I told David that I was going to go to the canteen to get some coffee and read.  So I went downstairs and got me some coffee and a breakfast sandwich and looked for a place to sit.  As usual, it was crowded, a very lively place the VA canteen.  It was a nice day, so I went outside to sit and read and enjoy my coffee and sandwich.  It is a pleasant place, with tables with large umbrellas attached.  It is on the second floor of the VA.  As I entered the area, I thought it was empty, but I noticed a woman with what I wrongly assumed was her child at the further end.  They were looking down at the construction that was going on. 

So I found a place and sat down.  I did not expect her to talk to me, or even notice that I was there, but she came over and introduced herself as Sandy and her grandchild.  He was two years old and he came up and high fived me, which made me laugh. 

She was very pleasant and as we talked I found out that her son was there because he had cancer.  He was only 28 years old and was not handling it very well.  She explained that he was in Afghanistan, had PTSD and really did not need this added burden in his life.  He had a hard time being in a position of needing to be taken care of and also the possibility of even dying if the treatment did not take. 

I could see that he was 28, going on 50.  Having to deal with such a serious disease will transform one’s life and not always for the better.   She explained to me that he brought back some emotional issues from the war and that he also had trouble with a drinking problem.  So she had a lot to deal with as well.  She was very worried.  Her daughter-in-law came out about 30 minutes after I met the grandmother.  She was a very nice lady and I could see the strain on her face. 

I have this unconscious belief that young people don’t get sick, or should not.  I know this to be true because every time I meet a young person with a serious illness I will often get a jolt of surprise.  Of course, I know this to be untrue, yet it persists in my unconscious.  The younger years should be filled with hope, a career, a loving family etc., yet more often than not, this is not true.  We do live in a world where uncertainty is probably the most dependable aspect of our lives.  So I do not like to think about it.  Not to mention how brief our lives really are. 

Why me?  Is a refrain that is often stated by people who suddenly get sick, or have a loved one come down with a fatal illness, or some accident, or another.  It is easy to understand it happening to someone we don’t know, but it becomes very personal when it hits close to home, or right at our doorstep. 

In my conversation with the grandmother, the subject of faith came up.  She was a woman of deep faith, a Baptist she told me, and her grand-daughter was also a woman of faith.  Her son, not so much so.  His higher power was alcohol.  Which only fed his anger and kept him isolated from truly entering into a deeper relationship with his wife as well as with God. 

It was one of those human situations that more or less had to be lived with.  The young man will have to find a way to deal with his illness and hopefully, he will one day be cancer free.  Yet his anger, his drinking and perhaps his false idea on what it means to be a man will have to be dealt with.

Change is slow, so is a conversion in both directions.  We are all on the way, we are on the way to becoming more deeply human loving, or on the downward slope of becoming more angry, bitter and self-absorbed.  Not sure that is much else on that subject when you get down to the core reason for our lives. 

I do know that fear of suffering of any kind only leads to deeper pain and chaos in one’s life.  Drinking is one way to deal with life’s problems, as well as overwork, or the seeking after power over others, yet in the end, none of them help.  It is the turning away from one way of life to another that lead us in one direction or another. 

 

 

markdohle

Mantras

This is an essay written by Fr. James Behrens, a fellow monk here and a good friend.
and has a number of books published.  He has given me permission to share his writings.
I will be sharing more of his writings. 

Mantras

There are certain little mantras that I think to myself when a day’s
load seems too heavy to carry.  Of course I have always managed to get
through all my days, mantra or no mantra, but that thought does not
easily come to mind when a day arrives that seems to hold more than I
can handle.  One of my favorite mantras involves the male Emperor
Penguin.  He sits on a slowly maturing egg for two months while the
mother returns to the sea to feed.  He stays on the egg through all the
bitter cold and snow and wind that is an Antarctic winter. When the
mother returns, she takes over the nesting of the egg, which hatches
shortly after her arrival.  The father then heads out to sea to feed –
he has, all in all, fasted for one-hundred and twenty days since
courtship days and is understandably a bit hungry. So, that is my mantra
for endurance, for getting through a day.

 


I recently heard another one that I will use when tedium sets in.
A friend of mine raises chickens.  Recently he was telling me all about
them.  How he ordered them and how they arrived as chicks in a little
carton.  How he built a coop for them in his back yard.  He showed me a
picture of the coop and it looks like a Chicken Hilton – a nice little
two story structure.  He has studied a lot about the world of chickens –
what they eat, what they like, what they do not like.  And he has also
developed an interest in the many different kinds of chickens that peck
and strut in different parts of the globe.

 


He told me about the Austrolorp.  His eyes widened as he told me about
this particular chicken and my eyes widened too when he told me that it
is most famous among all its brother and sister chickens for laying the
most amount of eggs in a single year.  A new record was set when an
Austrolorp hen laid 364 eggs in 365 days. They are also known to be good
nest sitters and mothers.  Well, I would hope so, given that number of
eggs.  I hope that they are not, for the most part, hatch-able eggs.
365 chicks in one year would surely ruffle the feathers of the mother.
Indeed, she would fly the coop.

 


In any case, chicks or no chicks, the Austrolorp gives me pause to
ponder.  If my thinking is correct,
that record setting hen had but one
day off.  Not much time for a breather if you ask me.  I presume someone
picked up the new egg every day.  It would have been calamitous to leave
the hen sitting on a mountain of eggs.  The hen teaches me plenty about
learning to deal with routine,
the everyday, the inescapable pressures
inflicted by being a chicken or a human (or a penguin).  I tend to moan
and complain when some things come my way.  I have learned to avoid some
of them but there are others with which I must deal.  But a little
meditation or mantra on the Austrolorp chicken brings home to me the
sobering truth there are those among us who have no way of getting
around what comes their way – or in the chicken’s case, comes right out
of it.  And come it does, every day save one.  And I hope on that day
she catches up on a few things, like maybe reading some Chick Lit or, to
see how her distant relatives are doing, perhaps a good Penguin Classic.
God made the Austrolorp and the Emperor Penguin and blessed them with
patience and endurance galore.  And God made us humans and sends us
mantras to learn from the creatures in our midst whose ways may bind
them to a nest or a sheet of ice. Out of 
these places new life is born.
My little mantras can and do ease my life. They lighten my load –
offering a kind of new and fresh life.


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

 

markdohle

Trauma in today’s world

Trauma in today’s world
(A Christian’s perspective)

A Lenten piece, written in 2015

When we see images of extreme violence on TV or on the internet, is it a form of trauma?  About a year ago someone shared a YouTube video on Facebook.  There was no warning about the nature of the clip and I right clicked it.  Within five seconds I saw a man’s throat cut all the way back to his neck bone, then he was thrown into a grave and still alive, gasping and twitching.  The men who did it calmly talked while he was bleeding out.  This happened within 30 seconds of my click.  I was so stunned that I could do nothing but watch it until the end. 

Then many watched an Iranian pilot being burned to death while he was trapped in a cage.  Most of us saw the pictures I am sure.  These images once seen can’t be forgotten by many if not most of us.  Seeing violence in a movie is ‘make believe’, it is nothing like watching the real thing.  I presume that is why I can’t watch movies about Viet Nam, not because I was there, but because it happened while I was in the Navy and I had two brothers over there.  I also know many who still suffer from the after-effects of that war. 

Then the news about FergusonMo, and other cases like it must take a toll on most of us.  How deep does it touch our souls?  When the latest news about the 21 men killed by ISIS, merely because they were Christian,  broke something in me, perhaps it is my heart, I have no idea.  It was not that something died, but something came alive and I am not sure what it is.  How is it that in the name of God, or some political ideology, or different shades of skin color, or even over sports, we can so easily kill one another?   As I say this I know full well that I am capable of the same things. 

What if those of us who live in Atlanta were subjected over the years, even if sporadic, to rockets being lobbed into the city from Augusta?   Or if from time to time suicide bombers were coming in and blowing up our buses.  Or what if atheist and believers starting killing each other on a more or less regular basis, or let's say Republicans and Democrats?  How would that affect the general population who were the victims of these assaults?  What would our children and teenagers be like?  I doubt they would be like they are now in the Atlanta area….they would act like children and teenagers but would be hardened, angry and fearful.  We already see this in certain areas of any town or city.  Places where violence over drugs, for instance, is common. How easy would it be for us to descend into violence towards one another if it went on for years or for generations? 

Each person on earth when they suffer, Christ suffers with them.  When we hate one another or kill, it is Christ that we also hate and kill.  I am not immune to being sucked into a mob mentality about the ‘enemy’.  I suppose we are all an ‘enemy’ to some other faction.  For me the only thing that keeps me from giving in to hatred is my clinging to Christ Jesus.  In prayer, I can stop, reflect, take stock and ask for a larger more expansive and compassionate heart…..for a heart that is still armored in many ways.

In Lent, we are called to not run from the intimacy that Christ is calling us to.  To embrace the disorderliness of life as well as our part in creating that messiness and suffering…It may be the only way to stop these cycles that seem to take us over in spite of our best intentions.  To become more human, less filled with fear and hate can be a long drawn out process…one that I am still on.  Many people are truly gentle. I am not like that at all. For like many men there is still a sword carrying, instinct driven man of fear that lives deep within me.  Though at my age I doubt I would be much of a fighter. 

So in the meantime, I pray and hope and wait.  Christ Jesus is God, the creator of the incredibly vast universe, omnipresent, and at work in ways that I don’t understand in the hearts of all men and women.  I believe that as Christians when we pray we should seek to become ever more conscious of our unity with all humanity and that in prayer we are really one with them because of Christ who identifies with the least, our enemies as well as with those we love.  My community when I pray is with those who struggle to deal with their inner chaos without fear, as well as those who have been swallowed up by it.  Christ Jesus is one with us. When we hate, kill, and torture or ignore another, it is Christ Jesus that we do these things too.

“Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me.”   So easy to forget this saying of Christ... way too easy, at least for me, I am not speaking for everybody, for that is impossible, I believe there are those who get it, we call them saints.  I believe I have the honor of knowing a few of them.

markdohle

Bang, Bang, I shot the gun

Bang, Bang, I shot the gun

(I was five and he was six, and we used to play with sticks,
Bang, Bang, I shot the gun, Bang, Bang,
that Awful Sound, Bang, Bang, He hit the ground, Bang, Bang.)

---Sony and Cher

 

One of the retreatants came up to me on Tuesday evening to talk to me.  We are having a retreat that is really about aging, how to deal with it, what it means etc.  I will name this woman Edna.  She is a unique person and in a world where people are all more or less unique that says a lot about her; in a good way.  She shares her perspective on life with me that over the last few months I have found enriching and at times puzzling… which are both good.  Puzzling people often speak in ways that upset the wagon but does not cause it to roll over.  In other words she has a lot to teach me I believe. 

So she came to me and told me that my talk on aging was BS and that I need to talk more about feelings and not so much about philosophy etc.  I laughed when she told me and asked her what she meant.  So we talked for about 40 minutes and we struggled to understand each other.  She talked about experiencing life fully without all of the philosophical jargon etc.   So at the end of our talk and she went her way, I began to absorb what she was trying to share with me. 

The first thing that came to mind is that in order to truly embrace the moment, or the day, or whatever experience that is before us, takes a level of trust that I believe has to be consciously made.  Life can be very painful, hard to live, and people, well do I need to go into that?  We all live in a big, colorful, loud zoo I believe when it comes to human nature.  We have birds, and lions and bears, and snakes, and large bugs and all kinds of things in this zoo, and there are no cages, except those we put ourselves into I guess, and perhaps force those around us in as well.  Some are dangerous, many confused and just trying to get through the day, some are aware, others callous, etc.  The list is long and some of what I listed are of course in me as well, or the potential. 

Jesus talks about us becoming childlike.  Is he asking us to become something else, or is he telling us what we actually are….children?  When looking at the world around us it would seem that we are childish. Children playing a deadly game in a very large sandbox with no adults to monitor us…..perhaps there are yet no adults.  Or it may be that real adults are those who are actually childlike in the way that Christ was talking about and we ignore them when they speak….just as today we Christians probably ignore Jesus and what he said more consistently than actually following him.  I still don’t get it much of the time….unless it is an afterthought when I try to rethink some situation that I was not my best in. 

Edna herself has a transparent aspect to her personality that may put some people off, but many will find it a characteristic that draws them in, wanting to understand what she is trying to impart that flows from deep intuition I believe. 

I can be petulant, self-serving, judgmental, cruel, and violent and the list does not end there.  When I am in the grip of the above, am I being adult, mature, or simply a narcissistic child….perhaps that is why we do actually receive mercy because we really don’t know what we are doing.   We are living out the reality of the book called “The Lord of the Flies” in our newspapers every day.  There is just no ship with ‘adults’ that can come in and snap us out of our self-destructive childish behavior. 

To be truly childlike I believe takes faith and hope and trust, that our lives have meaning and that the deepest longings of our hearts are true and not magical thinking.   People rebel against religion because they become to all knowing, all wise, and close off reality into a little closet where no one can really breathe.  Secular philosophies are no better. They can give the impression that someone is putting a plastic bag over one's head and all that can be done is to struggle to take the next breath.  None of us are made for cages, we are meant to roam in wide open spaces, to search, seek and to find in the end.  I also believe that religious traditions are very important in giving us a vehicle to live out these questions without having to start all over every generation.  The problem is when traditions think they have arrived, when in fact they are still on the way as well….hopefully deepening their understanding of the words and actions of their founders. 

Little children play at war, BANG, BANG your dead.  Big children play real war and it is lived out on our TV’s every day with greater and greater detail.   The sandbox has knives in it, and guns and bombs…. OH MY!  So perhaps to become as little children the way Jesus was talking about is a paradox pin-pointing to the deepest maturity that is possible. 

So Edna has something to teach.  She is childlike, loving, living in a world with childish adults like me to deal with.  I hope that she stays in my life and continues to come out here to share with us, participating in our retreats asking questions that make us scratch our heads and go away and think.

We get more than we give our here that is for sure. 

 

Tall hair

Edna told me one day this experience she had,
she was working and a young boy came in,
she looked at Edna and said:


“Wow mom, that lady has tall hair”

She pointed to her head and laughed,
for she does have hair that goes up more than down,
and I laughed with her.

Carl Jung once said:

“Don’t trust anyone who has no sense of humor”.

 

markdohle

When do you stop helping someone?

When do you stop helping someone?

How much should we help those who come for aid?  I believe that it is a serious consideration and each person has to figure that out for themselves.  One way to figure it out is to go the easy route.  Those in need are there because they are lazy, or, are addicted to either drink, or drugs, and helping them is, in reality, making them worse and codependent.  While I do believe that the concept of ‘codependence’ is a reality, yet I also accept as true that it is too easily brought out as an excuse not to help others.  This term is often thought of as a negative because being codependent can be based on compulsion or the mistaken idea that ‘I’ can save someone from themselves…..a grand illusion.  Yet, as Christians, we are called upon to see Christ Jesus in those who are in need.  Or perhaps to put it another way, to never forget the dignity of another human being.

I helped a man a few months ago over a period of time.  He was in need, no doubt about it.  He was disabled and lived in a motel.  I helped him for a while and was glad to do it.  Then little by little I came to understand that he was playing me in a big way, though I also understood that it was his way of surviving.  Then I found out that he was selling the food I brought him for drug money.  I was not surprised by this revelation but still saddened by it.  I could not blame him, he was in the middle of a big web of lies and deceit and I believe that this was his normal way of living, of surviving, etc.   Yet, could I continue to help him?  Since I am not a government agency but only represent the community that I live in, I had to break it off.  So I helped him one last time with his rent and said that I could not do it anymore.  It was a hard choice, but one I believe was for the best. 

Then a couple of months after I stopped helping him, he called me up and left a message.  He told me that he was in the hospital with a serious illness. When I saw who called, I was tempted not to respond, but my ‘gut’ said to do so.  So I went through the hospital operator, to actually see that he was in the hospital.  I do not regret that I called him back.  Even though I knew that I could not help him anymore.  At least in the way, I did in the past.

 He was in serious condition with more than one serious health issue.  He also had a bad staph infection and they were not sure that he could take an antibiotic for it because of his kidneys.  As he talked, I found that he might be in a good place compared to where he had been before.  He was hopefully going to be put into the system and being truly disabled, he may get some help that could actually assist him getting out of the corner he was backed into.  Partly his own fault, but also some things beyond his control.

As he talked, I knew that he was going to start asking me for help.  So I told him that I did not regret helping him in the past, even if a large part of it was based on lies.  Yet, because of the deceptions, there was no way that I could untangle truth from fiction on what he was telling me.  As we talked I related that when he sees the social worker, to be truthful about his needs and hopefully they would be able to place him in a permanent residence.  I have a feeling that it will be a nursing home.   He is only in his mid-fifties but looks much older.  He tried to deny that he needed to be ‘placed’, but I told him that he was totally dependent on others for his room and board and food (and as a byproduct his drugs) and I would imagine that he was running out of people who will help him because of his dishonesty in his dealings with them.  I did not want to be so blunt, but in my own poor way, trying to help him.

I can’t judge this poor man.  I think that if I was in his position I may be doing worse.  So I am in no place to make myself superior in any way.  I entered this monastery at an early age and I believe one reason was to fight my own little group of inner ‘demons’.  We all need places of healing.  In our marriages, hopefully, healing will come by the give and take that it calls for.  Or by our vocation in the workforce.  Or perhaps the extended family that many find as a true healing balm in their lives. Without that, there are other ways to ‘fix’ ourselves, or ‘medicate’ ourselves that only make things worse.  Perhaps my friend, if he can get in a stable environment, would be able to slowly to get his life back in some kind of order.  If he is placed in a residence close by, I will visit him perhaps on a monthly basis and be able to help him in a small way.  If not, if he goes back out, I will not be able to help him at all. 

False gods, like Jesus, demand everything.  The difference is that false gods take us for everything we have and only leave a ruin.  Jesus gives back life a hundredfold.  Hopefully, my friend will be able to see this and open up his heart to the healing that comes from God’s love and mercy.

 

 

 

 

markdohle

My sister Janie’s eulogy

 

My sister Janie’s eulogy

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. 

Two years ago, when I was visiting family, I was able to spend a good amount of time with Janie.  It is funny when brothers and sister get together it is easy to revert to one’s youth.  So here was an old man, and an old woman, brother, and sister, acting like we were 13, watching movies, making fun of the plot, eating way too much, and oh boy Janie could cook.  She loved it and I love eating, so it was a great mix.  We watched the animated movie “Dominion’ I believe and I would yell out ‘Kevin! And she would laugh and yell back ‘banana’.   Silly of us, well yes, immature, you bet, but it was wonderful and I am thankful for that time. 

I was looking at an angel statue I have in my room.  It is composed 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 must go through when our loved ones die, is not really that long as we might think 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 miss mom, and dad, my aunts, and uncles, in varying degrees.  For the closer we are to another, the more we feel their absence.  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 are 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.  Our inner lives cannot be figured out in rational terms alone, for there is much that is irrational about us. 

The feeling of loss for me is like being alone on a vast ocean, in the dark, with a storm coming, or in the midst of one.  Yet the craft is a study one, and at times it seems that Jesus is asleep at the helm, yet ever watchful.  All I need do, all we all need to do, is to learn to trust, sit, and hold on, and we will find ourselves ashore, sometimes in ways that we do not understand. 

Life is a rough journey for each of us and the loss of loved ones is perhaps one of the most painful, but if faith is true, then we can have hope that one day we will embrace again.

 

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

 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

 

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.