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markdohle

Prophets are so very annoying|

 

Prophets are so very annoying

(The feast of St. John the Baptist)

 

Prophets are noted for their urgency as well as being very annoying.  They are outspoken and can be strange.  St. John the Baptist is no exception.  He spoke out about the seriousness of our lives.  About the importance of taking stock of what we are doing with our time here and how we are living and from that honest appraisal, to make straight our paths in serving the Lord in our daily lives.  Prophets bring to light how short sighted it is to not spend our lives in carrying out God’s will for us.  We are made for God, the Infinite and it is easy to forget  in our everyday lives.  Comfort and security can take center stage so completely that the thought about God, our lives and our death and what comes after can seem unreal and unimportant. 

We see it all around us how transitory our lives are, yet we can waste it in simply escaping that fact.  Julian of Norwich, a great mystic talks about how the heart of man is made for God, that nothing but God can sooth and heal the restless heart.  Today restlessness seems to have become the reality of our everyday lives.  Is it because the central reality of our existence, that we will all die, lose everything in this world and one day stand before God is a truth we would rather not contemplate.  Do we fear looking at what we are becoming when we uproot ourselves from that which we are made for?

I believe that the Near-death-experience (NDE’s) also play a prophetic role in our culture today.  Over and over again when people come back, they tell us that just about everything we give weight to in this life is really not that important when we go over our lives.  It is about how we grew in love and service of others.  It is not about power or success, or being famous etc., but about the simple fact in how we treat those we interface with everyday, especially those who can do nothing for us.  If we interface with love then our power and success will be used to uplift others and not to simply use and manipulate them.

 




 

markdohle

The struggles of those in prison

 

The struggles of those in prison
(the normal human struggle though intensified)

Human beings are complicated.  Our inner lives can often be messy, chaotic and can often be filled with inner conflict.  Sometimes the conflict can comes from a place buried so deep that it may never be found out.  Yet it must be dealt with.  In fact we can even be unconscious of the affect we have on others, but for those on the receiving end, it is in plain sight.  So growth towards humility/self-knowledge can be slow and painful.

While writing prisoners can be ‘iffy’ if proper boundaries are not kept, for there are some who only want to take advantage, yet there are more who are really seeking to better their lives and many who seek to deepen their lives in Christ.  The struggles in prison are intense because of the environment, one in which they are forced into, which makes it harder to deal with.  So sometimes their letters can be very real. 

People can forget that those in prison who seek to center their live on Christ Jesus, or seek to find God the best way they can, really do need our prayers, for I believe that we are connected to everyone when we pray at a very deep and intimate level.  As Christians we are part of the priesthood of the faithful, and prayer for others is perhaps one of the most important aspects of that. 

Below is a letter that I wrote to a prisoner who asks me a lot of questions, some of the very personal but very human.  I would like to share the letter.  Why?  Well so that others will remember to pray for them.  Also, maybe some one person may want to write a prisoner as well…..though again, discernment is needed. 

The subject matter is adult at one point, so if you need to understand that before you start reading.  I find it hard to write sometimes, because those who really want to live a different kind of life in prison can be at a disadvantage with others.  I have deep respect for their courage.

 I will call the prisoner Joe.

 

++++++++++

Dear Joe,

You ask a good question about sin and its effects.  First of all, if you think more globally, at our own culture for instances, or even in your own environment, you can see the effects of sin.  How we treat ourselves for instance.  We as humans can often take on habits that are self destructive.  Some of the major addictions come to mind.  Then there are the more acceptable addictions, like with food, or work, or the desire to control others.  Sin is self wounding as well as wounding to others.  These wounds can lead to a type of death bringing on bitterness, hatred as well as despair. 

There is personal sin, as well as bondage that have it roots in how we were treated in the past.  Sexual abuse for instance, can lead for the one abused, to become so wounded by the experience that their lives can become chaotic and self destructive.  There is also emotional abuse which can be just as destructive as sexual abuse for the victim, who also passes it on to his or her children.

When we commit personal sin, we are seeking really to escape the pain of life.  However sin never leads to what is promised.  It cannot fulfill us, or if it does, not for long.  So when we start off on a way of life that is dedicated to running away from our inner chaos and pain, it can soon become a compulsion and then we are chained to a way of life we have little control over….though we can fool ourselves otherwise. 

God does not punish family members for anyone’s sins.  However when someone whose life is not based on love of others as well as self, then when they sin against another in whatever way, it does wound and it does ripple out to others.  There are family problems that can be passed on from generation to generation.  However when one seeks God and tries to love God and neighbor, and lives it out, then family cycles of chaos and destruction can be stopped, or lessened, at least in the life the one who dies to a ways of life that lead nowhere.

In the 12 step program it shows what must be done in order to get ones life back on track.  Conversion is a turning away from one love to another one.  To turn towards God means a death to all that leads us away from God as well as what harms others.  Yet God is so merciful that when we fail, sin, even in the worst way, mercy and forgiveness are given freely to all who ask.  We are then called to forgive and love others. 

God is not too be feared in the way that word is used nowadays.  We need to fear what we can make ourselves into.  We need to fear in the way it is meant in the scriptures, of losing that which is what we are called to.  God calls us to loving relationship, to look to Him and not to ourselves, to trust in His mercy and compassion.    It is not that complicated, though it takes self-knowledge, humility and patience to grow into becoming a man of God.  In the end it is grace that allows this to happen….

Your second question about chaste relationships between homosexuals, about it being sinful….well no of course not.  If they are chaste then it is friendship that is all.  Your friend if he loves a straight man but does not ‘use’ him, or try to seduce him, then it is a good thing and will help him to grow in his ability to have healthy relationships.  In prison I am sure that sexuality can be confusing for many of the men there, no matter their sexual orientation.  He is lucky to have such a friendship. 

All things work out for the good of those who love God/Christ.  Men tend to want to express love with their genitals, yet when this happens, then the relationship become short circuited, that becomes the relationship.  They become triggers for one another.   In the end this can become even more painful and frustrating.  True friendship heals because it leads to expressing love in manner that is respectful of the other party and does not wish to harm in anyway. 

Hope this helped a little bit.  Just look to Christ my friend in all things, knowing that God’s love is eternal and absolute.  The more that is understood, the more you and others will want to give, instead of use and take.  For all of our longings are fulfilled in the love of God.  Though the path can be difficult, this serving and seeking God…….so the other path can be even more frustrating and difficult.   

You and those there are always in my prayers.  Tell your friend to keep on track and pray that the Lord will teach him to learn to truly love.  I know it must be difficult for him

In the love and peace of Christ Jesus

Br. Mark

 

markdohle

Grumpy

Grumpy

Some mornings I do wake up grumpy.  That is not normal for me, since I am what you could call a morning person.  You know the type that can drive others crazy by my smile and chipper ‘good morning pilgrim’ kind of corny thing.  However there are mornings when I just want to stay there until my grumpiness goes away.  So I get up, have some coffee, caffeine does help a bit and start my day just as other ‘grumpy’ people do.  I am just glad that I only visit that group rarely.  However I have come to respect them having to go through that every morning.  On the other side of the coin, perhaps some ‘non-morning-people do have a happy waking up…I wonder if they become more understanding of the  more-chipper-than-thou kind of behavior, or if they get even more resentful because they are shown another way but must go back to the shadows.

Of course there is another side to being a morning person.  By evening my chipper-than-thou-attitude is barely putting one foot in front of the others, and the evening people are winding up for an evening of ‘doing-stuff’.   By 8PM I am cross eyed with fatigue and here they are laughing, smiling and looking down on a person cut off from the stream of life.  Well that is ok, for I can sleep and in the morning I will look at them and say “good morning pilgrim” with a special big smile in the bargain!  It all balances out I guess.  In the end I world rather stay a morning person.  I would rather jump out of bed when I wake up than be poured out like slow running molasses. 

 

markdohle

The life death of Sr. Mary Magdalene

The life death of Sr. Mary Magdalene a 97 year old Nun
(In her own words)

(this a written as a response to a post from this site
https://www.worthychristianforums.com/topic/200404-a-nuns-story/)

My birth name was Ruth and I was born on the 1st of January 1918 and died on the 25th of March 2015.  Though I was born on a day that promised new beginnings, sad to say that was not true for me.  I really did not have a childhood for I was abandoned at birth in a dumpster in back of the apartment building that my mother lived in.  Back then there was no way to find out who my mother really was, so I was taken in by the state.  All I remember was the orphanage that took me in.  The people who took care of me did their best, but it was a rough environment.   There were so many of us and the staff were so overworked that none of us were able to get much attention.

When I was seven I was adopted by what seemed to be a nice family.  However when I got to the home I found out otherwise but it did not surprise me.  All I knew was neglect, though in the orphanage the neglect was benign, in my new home it was far from that.  I was more or less a slave to the family and the father and teenage son sexually abused me on a regular basis until I was 16 when I ran away from home.  Living on the street was better than living where I was at.  In 19 34 things were rough it was the depression. 

Since I was a beautiful young woman I was taken in by people who gave me all that I ever wanted.  A nice place to live, food and good clothing, though not without some sort of cost to me, there is always someone to pay.  The nice man at first turned out to be a pimp and since I was so used to being used sexually it was not that difficult for me to adapt to that kind of life.  Though I say that with a certain reservation; for soon after I started taking drugs to dull the pain of my life, I believed that I was a worthless commodity. 

After a few years, when I was about 25 and used up, I was thrown out on the street.  I started using drugs big time then and sold my body to get by.  I never experienced love, or met anyone that I could trust….for me a young woman that was simple reality.

When I was 27 I almost died of an overdose.  I was found by the police and taken to the hospital.  It was a Catholic hospital and they showed great concern for me and I stayed there for a month.  That was how sick I was.  While there I noticed that the nuns and the nurses who worked there were filled with joy and had a trait I never experienced before, they had compassion and what I guess at the time was what was called love.  One of the nuns shared her faith in Jesus Christ with me and though I rejected much of what she told me, her love and joy as well as the gentle way that she presented her faith n Christ Jesus with me did plant a seed.

Slowly over the next two years I got my life together for the first time.  I was very distrustful of everyone but my heart started to open up to the possibility that there might be more to life than simply struggling with myself and others.  My heart felt dead and my chest always felt tight and guarded.

When I was 30 years old, I volunteered on weekends at the hospital that took cared for me at the time when I almost died from my overdose of drugs, when I was a working girl. I found great joy in helping others; it got me outside of myself.  I found that I was good working with people who had my kind of background.   I started going to mass with the Sisters and learned of the importance of Eucharist for them.  I listened to the scripture readings and over time found myself going to the church to sit in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament and simply be there.  Over time I felt a glimmer of hope in my heart and slowly learned to love Jesus.  In the end, to make this short, I wanted to become a Nun and help and serve others.

So over the years as a Nun, they sent me to the roughest places on earth to take care of those who like me had experiences of sexual abuse and different types of addictions to deal with the pain.  I was amazed at the love I had for those I took care of.  I did not know where it was coming from really, since even then, I was still distrustful of others and yes, I struggled with this trust with Jesus Christ, though I loved Him and spent time with him everyday in prayer and adoration.  Even though I felt healing in the Eucharist, there was still a barrier that I could not get through over or under.  I often talked to the Lord about this, but I never felt heard, yet I continued on my journey of faith.  When I would talk to a priest, he encouraged me and told me that Jesus walks with me, uses me in helping his wounded children and to simply move forward in faith, even if I felt trust was lacking.  It was good advice.

On the day I died at the age of 97, I was not feeling well and knew my time was very near.  I was afraid to meet my maker for I still felt soiled and unworthy and still had not really experienced true love.  I knew that it was my own doing, even if I could not over come it.  For I was surrounded by the love of those I took care of and my religious community.

So on the night of my death I went into the chapel and prayed.  I told the Lord that I knew that death was very close (though I did not understand how close) and I was afraid and that I was sorry that I could not experience his love, that I blocked it out because of my lack of trust.  Then I went to bed.  I was exhausted and short of breathe.

I never dream, or I have never remembered my dreams.  Perhaps it was because I was afraid of them.  When young I did dream a few times but they were dreams filled with violence, fear and self loathing.  So I guess for my own protection I repressed them.

Not this night.  I found myself dreaming and knew it was a dream.  I was outside of a room and the door was closed.  The area I was in was dark and cold and from under the door there flowed a bright warm light.  I knew who was behind the door and I was so afraid, all of my fear came up in waves, I felt like I was drowning. I fell to my knees and wept shaking in terror of what I will find behind the door.  I still did not understand the love that Christ Jesus had for me.  So I got up and went to the door and opened it. 

I entered and sitting at a chair was the most beautiful man I had ever seen.  He was strong, majestic, filled with light and I was afraid to look up at him.  Then gently he said:  “Ruth, please look at me my child”.  Still trembling I look up.  When I saw Jesus, I totally lost it and fell prostrate before my Lord.  My heart that was so guarded suddenly burst open and all the pain and sorrow and abuse I experienced poured out, I saw it all. I saw all the pain I also poured out on others before my conversion.  I was not spared from any of it, I felt it all.  Then my rage at God came out in full force and I screamed it out before my dear Lord, who came over and picked my up and help me tightly and tenderly at the same time.  He was weeping with me and this is what he said:

“My beloved child, I was always with you.  I never left you.  In your pain as a child, when you felt abandoned, I was with you.  Each human is unique, each has a different name, and so with each their journey is not like any others.  So I accompanied you and slowly through my love drew you close to me.  Through all the events in your life I have drawn out for the greater good for your soul, evil never has the last word.  For all things come out for the good for those who love me, and you have loved me deeply child, even as you struggled with trust.  Your struggle with trust was the thorn in your side that kept you seeking me.  For even when you thought you did not trust, you really did for you kept on your path in serving and loving others.  The love you have for others was mine my child.  Your heart became my heart, your hands my hands, your healing words were me speaking to my beloved children that I sent to you over the years.  Your prayers were the prompting of the Holy Spirit, your groans was the Spirit groaning within you.”

I could not move after these words and for the first time I allowed fully the love of Jesus Christ into my heart.  Though I knew it was always there.  Then Jesus smiled at me and gave me a stone with my name on it.  I could not believe what my name was and I cannot tell you, but it is something beyond anything I could hope or dream of.  Then Jesus said, “We will now walk through another door my child and you will continue to work as you have worked on earth, but this time you will be deeper in and higher up, for now you truly have put on the Mind-Of-Christ. 

So now the love of Christ Jesus propels me to continue my work with Him so as to bring all into the kingdom, for it is all grace, mercy and compassion.  No one on earth can understand it, I did not, yet now I do, though my knowledge continually grows, it is an eternal journey. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

markdohle

Pray what you are

Pray what you are

When I pray and am disturbed, I gather that disturbance and offer it up as my gift to the Lord.  All that is good and loving in me is from graces giftedness, all I have to offer is what is still in distress and rebellion against God's loving intent for my life.  In prayer we become transformed into Christ Jesus......it is a true wonder, though I am still very much on the way.  Now if only I could allow Christ to work in me in such a way that others see Him when they encounter me.  Even in failure I trust in God's mercy and love not only for me but for all. Yet in spite of myself, God will have His way with me. I pray that is true for all.

markdohle

How we talk, respond and listen is important

 

If in anger we speak, we draw down the same upon us.  In speaking truth, love and calmness suffice, for others to listen, they must not feel attacked. No one sees into the soul or heart of the matter, yet we must speak what we think is right.....we must also allow others to speak as well. To have a disagreement is to expected, it does not imply bad will.

 

No one can change me, nor can I modify others, yet in communication with respect and love, we all plant seeds that will grow at their own rate. It is the Holy Spirit that waters, it is God who changes each one of us who have open hearts.....we are called to listen and respond with compassion and love, just as we want to be respected and heard.

 

To become bitter and argumentative is easy for it is fed by anger and deep pain.  Yet in the end it only leaves us alone and bereft.  Anger causes us not to see others, or to hear them, they become invisible to us, and we to them, when they respond in anger back.

 

It is difficult to live the Golden Rule, to actually treat others as I would like to be treated.  It takes a deep death to self to accomplish this so as to stop the endless cycle of yabering, jabbering, calawagging, and wampering.  I calawage a great deal.  God help me.--Br.MD

markdohle

Prisoners and prayer

Prisoners and prayer

One of the prisoners I am writing to is named Leonard. He is in prison for a serious crime and he admits to it. He is also in for a long term. At this time he is in a ‘religious block’, where they get classes not only on religion, but also about culture and math, as well as learning some sort of skill. He has a lot to work with and to top it off his mother has cancer and there is no one to help her at this time. He is also trying to deepen his relationship with God and will ask me questions on prayer etc. One of his questions was on distractions during meditation and prayer and asked me if I ever experienced that. After I chuckled over that I remember just this morning, it was one of those days that I had to gently keep coming back to my mediation over and over again. So I thought it would be good to answer him on that point, since my Morning Prayer time was still very fresh in my mind.

Please pray for all prisoners, I know that many really need to be there, and then there are those who made a mistake and others not bad but have problems with impulse control, and may actually be better off where they are…yet all are made in the image of God, so pray for them if you feel the call.

He also asked about praying seven times a day, which is mentioned in the Psalms, so I said something about that.

To Leonard

(In one of the psalms it mentions about praying 7 times a day…that would be formal prayer, most likely at the temple or perhaps in the synagogue. The psalms, if they speak to you can be a great form of prayer, especially if read slowly and pondered gently. In prayer there will always be distractions. In fact some days when I pray there are nothing but this thought and that, not all pleasant. It is just part of being human. Even if you have distractions, when you become aware of it, just gently go back to prayer. It is the intent that counts, your desire to be in the Lord’s presence. Also if your mind is really distracted try saying the Our Father very slowly, thinking of the words, or repeating the name of Jesus slowly, again in a gentle manner. Distraction can also be a subject for you to pray about; especially if you keep getting the same inner drama… healing can come through prayer. Don’t worry about results, just pray. When you pray, or struggle to pray, you are responding to God’s invitation, which is all that matters. Prayer is not always easy, it is about developing a deep and loving relationship with God…..time spent with a loved one is never wasted. In fact we show love by the amount of time we do spend with those we say we love. So with God, who is always present in your heart is present to you in a loving manner… to pray is to become aware of that. God’s love never changes, he does not get tired of you, nor will he ever cease giving you grace, mercy and forgiveness. His love is for everyone, unique, but each human person is his child…even those who do not love God or believe in his existence.

Fear and despair come from us, they are lies, don’t believe them, always trust, it is a choice based on faith. In that we die to our old selves and become aware of a bigger reality that is based on love. We are called to put on the ‘Mind of Christ’.)

markdohle

Living ones faith

Living ones faith

Religions have always stressed that compassion is not only

central to religious life; it is the key to enlightenment and it the true test of spirituality.

But there have always have been those

who'd rather put easier goals, like doctrine conformity, in place.

I believe it is important to know what one believes. Study of ones spiritual path is important, but the living out from its central driving force is of absolute importance. When this is forgotten is when we can have trouble. It is always about connecting with the heart, both our human heart, as well as with those of others, and the infinite Heart of God. The death to self is really rebirth into a deeper, broader and more loving life. To be off-center with ones path is to become fearful, angry and judging in ways that we are told we have no right to do. I believe that religion and spirituality go together. Religion without a deep personal spiritual life is static, rigid and not life giving. Spirituality without religion ‘can’ become shallow without deep roots. One of the processes of staying within one’s religion is that it leads to compassion for failure, knowing that we are all fragile vessels easily drawn towards chaos, war and acts of destruction towards others as well as self. The older ones religion is, the darker its history can seem to be.

markdohle

The greatest accompolishment

The greatest accomplishment

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to

make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

If ones faith, religion and spiritual path, doses not lead them to their true selves, then it is a sham and will not become real until what one says they are seeking becomes ‘Real’ as well. Until then, our friends, culture, mind numbing entertainment and advertisements will fill that void.

--Br MD

markdohle

Meeting Peggy

Meeting Peggy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

markdohle

Fr. Jerome RIP

Fr. Jerome RIP

He was a man of deep emotions,
shy, introverted and fearful of many things,
covered over by a blanket of anger,
with a glowering stare,
yet underneath was a man of tenderness
and open to friendship and true. 

His silence was deep and he could sit for hours,
Yet when he laughed, such a sound,
after being with him when he exploded in a roar of mirth,
you think he would die from it,
he would become purple from gasping,
you understood what a belly laugh truly was.

If a friend suffered he would weep,
sometimes for days, yet he struggled with many,
over the years he softened and his last
mile was a peaceful one.

We prayed for him with him as he was dying,
he slipped out in such a peaceful manner,
like a gentle breeze and then gone.


markdohle

The noonday devil (Acedia)

 

The noonday devil (Acedia) and the experience of nothingness
Chapter Talk 4/1/17

When ask to respond to the invitation to describe the ‘Cistercian charism’ specific to our Order as you desire to live it out in your community?  My spontaneous response was this:

“I believe that Lectio Divina is at the heart of our charism.   Without it, our lives can become too scattered and we can lose our focus.   As well as enclosure, which is often hard to keep when living near a large city and dependent on their patronage for our survival….I am called to deepen my love of scripture and the discipline needed to continue to deepen my practice.  It has been a long journey, but the monastic vocation and growth into its charism takes time and patience”. 

In my own life, I can go through periods of deep inner discontent.  Even the word discontent does not apply, it is more like a feeling of ‘nothingness’, more than boredom.   I call it the Sunday afternoon syndrome.  When young, and in the Navy, Sundays afternoons for me would be absolute torture.  Just the feeling of ‘nothingness’, of feeling rootless, wandering around finding no relief anywhere, it was not painful, or even distressful, just empty air…which from my experience is much worse. 

In the Monastery this also happens, and my way of dealing with it over the years has changed.  When a young monk, I would exercise a great deal, swim for hours, do yoga and lift weights.  Which are good in themselves, but for me it was a way to escape.  I would also read for knowledge and pleasure, which is also not something bad, but good.  However, that underlying feeling of ‘dissipating’ and being ‘nothing’ would not abate, I felt rootless and in fact, it is still with me more often that I would like: I still struggle with it.  I am of course talking about the ‘Noon Day Devil”, or “Acedia”

 

Signs of Acedia
(The Noon day Devil)

The signs or symptoms of Acedia may be bodily or psychological, and again, pertaining to sadness or to its consequent tedium or languor. Bodily signs range from mere sleepiness to general sickness or debility. It produces feelings of ill health, making a person feel unable to fulfill his duties.

Some psychological signs are a lack of attention to prayer, an overall dissatisfaction with life, and boredom, showing itself in a general laziness or refusal to work or to pray.

It is usually seen as naming a fault, which is subject to one's will, rather than simply a psychological state. Acedia is to spiritual health something like what depression is to mental health.

 

Over the years I have found that the only way to deal with it, to profit from it, is to stop running from that ‘restless nothingness’ and simply embrace it.  For me, that can take some time, but as the years roll on I have slowly learned that restless wandering only makes it worse and ever more deadly.  The more I try to get away from it, the more like a tar baby it sticks to me.  “Feed me” it seems to say.  Feed it what?

Lectio is, of course, different from other forms of reading.  Study and the love of literature is a good way to spend one’s time, but when ‘aecedia’ hits hard these activities may not be possible.  Lectio is not done for pleasure or as a way of escaping but of facing deeply the hard reality of our human existence.  Living in a Monastery with its quiet life and strict schedule will only open us up more deeply into the human situation.  One being, that our inner thirst for meaning and our longing for God can only be ignored at our own risk.  Many addictive actions are used to find some form of release from this often deeply painful situation.  This in the end only makes our situation worse and will keep us at an immature level of emotional development, for we can’t grow without a disciplined response to life and what we are called to become.  In any case, when living any kind of life that goes against what we say we are doing, is deeply destructive to both mental and spiritual health.  It is a way of fleeing from personal responsibility and the painful road of self-knowledge. 

 

The demon of Acedia suggests to you ideas of leaving, the need to change your place and your way of life. He depicts this other life as your salvation and persuades you that if you do not leave, you are lost. – Evagrius of Pontus, De octo vitiosis cogitationibus 12

 

When I am in the grip of Acedia, below the emptiness and nothingness I sense panic, anxiety and a desire to run away.  As I age this is becoming more apparent to me.  What is also becoming more obvious to me is that the only cure for this dilemma is to simply sit, open up my bible, and slowly read, ponder and pray from the Word.  This can be difficult, like swimming up river, but in the end, perhaps later during the day, because of my desire to center myself in the Word, I get a feeling of ‘home’, or of even feeling the living waters rise up in my heart.  A joy comes, and I feel how much I need the grace of God.  To pray, to do Lectio, is in actuality a response to an invitation to center myself and to die to ways of being that only trap me in an endless round in the desert, like it did the Israelites with their 40 years of wandering in the desert.

One reason that I like aging is that I have many years of experience behind me that allows me to stop the endless cycle of seeking relief from my own inner poverty without the grace of Christ Jesus.  It also connects me more to the community, which is another way of allowing the Lord to minister to me.  In seeking to serve the community, to love them and not to judge harshly, frees me from my-self as well.  

In any life, to be successful (however that is meant), discipline, focus, and determination are needed.  I like the adage:  “Believe that nothing is possible without the grace of God, but act as if everything depends on you”.  I would like to say I am always successful, but not true.  That is the difference between isolation and solitude.  One is destructive and other life giving.  Acedia leads to isolation, or to relationships that are shallow and in the end lack meaning.

So, for me, I guess Lectio is, in reality, central to our charism.  Without it, I believe everything else falls apart.—Br.MD

 

markdohle

A monastic presence here in Georgia

Fr. John O’Brien has been a monk at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit since 1973.  He was ordained a priest in 1983.    He entered the Monastery at the age of 38.  He is a quiet man, very thoughtful and compassionate.  He is one of our Confessor’s here at our Retreat House.  He is deeply in touch with the human condition and when he gives his homilies it comes through in a gentle, loving manner.  

The piece below is a talked he gave about a year ago.   

 

A monastic presence here in Georgia  
(Its importance) 

 

Fr. Francis Michael thought it might be helpful to our discussion if one of his monks said a few words about why we think it is important to keep a monastic presence here in Georgia when there are some voices out there that might say monasteries are just relics of the early middle ages, and they should just be allowed to wither away, since they don’t seem to be serving any useful function in today’s modern, technological society. 

 

They are important today, not because of the monks who live in them, but for the many visitors who come to our guest house in ever-increasing numbers. Down through the centuries monasteries have always been a destination for pilgrims looking to find an oasis of peace and solitude away from the noisy, distracted world with its many stresses on the human psyche. A place where they can reflect on things which they wouldn’t have time for in their busy work-a-day world: things that the poet Wordsworth would call “deep down things.” 

 

I suspect that not too long ago most people thought that monks in monasteries were hermetically sealed away from the world, and had no real interest in what was going on in it; and to a certain extent there was some truth in that; but for the past 35 years that I have been here it has been completely different; the doors have been thrown wide open, and when the people come into the church to join us in our liturgical services they come right into the choir stalls and sit down right beside us to chant the prayers with us. 

 

The visitors who come to our guest house are not just Catholics, but people of all faiths, and people of no faith. Over the years I have met any number of people who profess to be atheists or agnostics; so why do they come here? Some will say that they see the monastery as set apart from the institutional church, which they may have some unresolved issues with; but mainly they are responding to a vague, nebulous rumbling in their psyche, which is whispering to them that there just might be something more to this world than just atoms in the void. 

 

Many of the visitors who come here come with a heavy burden on their shoulders, a pain in their heart, a wound in their soul. If you pass through our church any time during the day you will see some of them sitting in the back pews, and not a few of them will be in tears. Those of us monks who minister to these pilgrims try our best to lighten their burden, soften their pain, and heal their wound; and we do it not by proselytizing, but by listening, and that is right out of St. Benedict’s rule. If you look at the south wall of our building over there, you will see sculptured right into the stone these words, “Ausculta et Inclina”, “Listen and incline the ear of your heart.”  

 

Benedict doesn’t say the ear of your body, but the ear of your heart. Mystics down through the ages are forever talking about the thinking heart as opposed to the rational mind. One of the great works of mystical literature is a book written in the 14th. century called The Cloud of Unknowing ; the author tells you right there in the first page what the search for God is all about, “ by love He may be gotten and holden, but by reason, never.” This goes right back to St. Augustine who said, “our whole business in this life is to restore to health the eye of the heart whereby God may be seen.” 

 

For centuries religious philosophers have continually pictured man in an attitude of attentive listening; if we mean to find the God we are seeking we must listen with every fiber of our being, for He who actually dwells within us is often hidden from us. Seeking God, St. Benedict says, is seeking Him amid the trials of life, amid the doubts and misgivings about His existence. All of us find ourselves from time to time with our own share of atheism, which we carry painfully in the depths of our being. But we also know by experience the crucible of faith, and how the hand of God works in it to strip us of all our false idols, and it is only on coming out of this crucible does a glimmer of light begin to show itself. “I do not honor Christ as a child,” wrote the great Russian novelist, Dostoyevsky, “my hosannas have passed through the crucible of doubt.”  

 

And all of this is contained in the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ. It is clear from St. Matthew’s gospel (Mt.8:17) that Christ does not bring us help through his power, but through His weakness and His suffering, which passes into our weakness and suffering, and then the healing begins, not as modern medicine heals, but in other ways. 

 

This was clearly understood by one of the great spiritual masters of the last century, a Sufi mystic who said: 

 

“One who searches for God does not find God, 
but one who leans on God for support will  
not be unaware of His
presence.” 

 

What he is saying is that before I lean I don’t know if there is anything to lean on, 

 

but when I lean I feel the support, and the more weight I put on it the more powerfully it supports me. He is saying that leaning is believing;  an experience of God comes from the leaning, and you feel the presence. 

 

And that is what we try to convey to the wounded pilgrims who come here; but that doesn’t mean that their pain, suffering and wounds are going to disappear overnight just by staying a few days in the monastery, because its not, and they know that. But what we hope for, and what we pray for is that they will see their wounds with new eyes, and that will give them the faith, and the courage, and the strength to face them, and to know that they are not alone in their trials, that Christ the ultimate wounded one will be there with them on their journey.

 

And that is why we are here, and that is why all of you are here, to help us, and to participate with us in this mission to try to add a small measure of grace to a world that is sorely in need of it. 

 

 

 

markdohle

It is just life

It is just life

Each day all of us struggle
we desire meaning
so we seek each day
in the end it is just life—Br.MD

markdohle

Dialogue between heart and gut

Dialogue between heart and gut

I met a man once, not so long ago,
who asked for help in a convincing manner,
so I did, and he came back a few times after,
yet a part of me did not trust him,
however,  I wanted to, so we would talk
about nothing really, until money came up.

Heart and gut can work together,
yet when in a pinch, the gut is usually right.

My heart said, well you may be wrong about him,
do not be unjust.

My gut said, he is draining you, you can feel it,
even before he arrives you feel depleted,
you need to listen to my counsel.

My gut won out and I let him know not to contact me again,
I could not help him anymore.
Though even if it was the right move, my heart still was unsure,

Yet,

I knew it was the right thing to do.

I got a letter from him about a month later,
he was in jail on drug charges, driving without a licensee,
and a parole violation.

He wrote asking for forgiveness,
saying that he was turning his life around,
and wanted to come and see me when he got out.

Again, heart and gut conferred, both adamant what to do,
however both agreed that when he got out,
he needs to stay away for a full year,
get sober, go to 12 step meetings
and build a circle of friends who will help him
and not enable.

Many who con, are just surviving,
not evil, or even cruel,
just in a cycle going ever downward,
I don’t want to be part of that whirlpool.

You know Lord it is not always easy to discern
just give me the desire to seek counsel,
to listen to both heart and gut,
and to seek always to do the most loving thing.

The most loving thing is often the hardest.


markdohle

Choose one or the other

Choose one or the other

We choose to trust, a hard one. We also choose not to trust, to become fearful, bitter and isolated. This choice is easier because it is something we know and understand.

markdohle

Pursued

Pursued

The gift of melody with it different rhythms,

Soft, and gentle, soothing the soul;

Or fast pounding in its is presentation,

Causing the blood to burn as it flows,

Bringing life and the joy of movement to the fro,

Is like an arrow with it's point aflame

Piercing the heart causing waters to burst forth,

A fountain of healing mist

Bringing life to an otherwise inner desert,

Parched and longing,

Thirsting for the living stream

Which only certain melodies can release.

Bringing freedom for a short time;

The veil thins and the Eternal one draws close,

Catching the one listening unawares in its embrace,

Allowing the inner depths already known by God

To be seen and felt by the one sought after.

Until...

The song ends

The heart once again closes

And vigilance returns,

Until once again caught unawares

By that which pursues

markdohle

Self-confrontation retreat

Self-confrontation retreat

 

This weekend we are having a retreat on self-confrontation.  It is a strong title and when I thought of doing this retreat I thought that it would not be very well attended.  I expected around 12-15 people at the most.  That was in 2014.  To my surprise it filled up and seems to do so every year.  It is a retreat that seeks to pull in everyone’s participation, for you will only get out of it what you put in to it.  Jackie R., one of our Lay Cistercians helps me with it, or perhaps I help her.  I think we are a good team.  I am proud of those who come for this, for it is not an easy task to do.  Before we can grow in self-knowledge, we also have to have a love and respect of self that allows that to happen.  A weak ego can’t do this.  I guess each person in their own time will one day do what is necessary to grow, mature and deepen their relationship with God and self.  Below is one of the papers I use as notes.

 

+++++

The healing that comes from Self-confrontation
(which is a form of humility)


How do we experience the new life that Jesus wishes us to have.  I am going to say that humility is an important aspect of being able to allow the heart to become freer and open to life.  Humility is often misunderstood to mean being unable to accept that one has gifts, or is intelligent, etc.  Humility understands our giftedness.  We all have gifts, some may seem more humble than others, but all are very important and need to be developed as much as possible.  Humility also allows us to accepts aspects about ourselves that are experiences as ‘negatives’, but in reality they are part of our being simply human. 

Humility is based on true reality and it is in developing this virtue that we grow in inner freedom.  Humility and self love go together.  If self love is missing, then what masquerades as humility can be in reality a form of self-hatred.  Putting ones self down and making comparisons with others, that are harmful in the long run and leading nowhere…just another cycle we can be trapped in.

Humility is a based on authenticity, it leads to inner strength, allowing for the ability to take responsibility for ones life.  By humility we understand our limits in how we can change others.  We understand how difficult it is for personal growth and change to happen, and in this understanding it takes away the pressure of ‘saving others’ or of ‘taking care of them’ in ways that are counter productive.  In the end they are just strategies of seeking to control those we live and work with, so that some sort of personal comfort or self satisfaction can be had.  

The opposite of humility is arrogance.  Now arrogance can hide behind the appearance of humility, but those who experience this understand what is going on. Even if they can’t articulate it and will respond in a defensive mode, or even in an offensive one, that only causes alienation for both parties.  Leading to suffering in the lives of those involved in this destructive relationship, this can become just another vicious cycle in ones life. 

Humility allows us to see ourselves unflinchingly, though it is a virtue that is always growing, for we never get to the bottom of understanding ourselves.  It is a life long project.  The more we ‘see’ ourselves with compassion, leads to also being able to ‘see’ others at such a level that many cycles of contention will often unravel on their own accord.  When the compulsion to control others is missing, there is no need to for them to be defensive or offensive.    Boundaries can be had, healthy ones without endless emotional turmoil.  Though like anything worthwhile, discipline is needed.  Insight does not always make life easier, it allows however for inner freedom and a lessening of conflict with others. 

It is about becoming a true child, a child that has let go of childishness, of the need to be the center of the universe and the compulsion to seek the impossible, which is controlling and forcing others to be a certain way so that we can be comfortable.   We say what must be said, then let it go.  We have faith that God is working in others lives as he is working in ours.  That the mercy and healing we have received, and continue to receive is also there for others and in fact a reality in their lives even if at the time they may not understand.

When we experience our own inner confusion and chaos and do not fear it…..then we can have compassion for the humanity of others, who though while unique, are still bound to us by certain types of human experiences. 

There is no magic key to life, it is a day to day affair with many set backs, but when the self knowledge is present we do not get discouraged, we deal with ourselves with compassion, for we are commanded to love ourselves, so that we may have love and compassion for others.

 

markdohle

A woman who really tried my patience

A woman who really tried my patience

I love to get up early in the morning.  I do not say very early because that is a term that will mean different times according to one’s life situation.  So when I get up at 2:30, it is not that early, since the wake-up bell goes off at 3:45.  The reason I am saying that, is because, it also applies to getting to bed at a decent hour.  So for me, 8 PM is more like midnight, I guess. 

Last night I was finishing up some work in the retreat house office when I heard a tapping on the retreat house door, gently tapping, tapping, over and over again.  I got up and there was a woman in her early sixties seeking entrance.  I opened the door for her and she explained to me that she was left off here by a friend earlier that day, but she lost her friends card and did not have her phone number.

I really tried not to give her the “Lady you need to plan things better” look. Not sure I succeeded.  I did feel my eye brow go up…it is always my left one, which seems to be something I can’t control in some situations.  So she came in an sat down and we talked a bit.  As we talked I had to monitor my wanting to box her in as ditzy, even though I knew this ‘feeling’ I had about her, was nonsense. 

So we talked for about 20 minutes, and my eyebrow (proud to say) did not go up even once.  Once I got to understand her life situation, I came to understand that because of what she is going through, she was simply tired, scattered, and she came out for the day to find some peace.  Which she told me she did, she had a good day here.  She used to come here as a child with her parents.  In fact,  I was here when she came  for the last time in 1973, the year she graduated from high school.

She did find the card after an extensive search. You know how woman put, well, just about everything into their purses.  She called her friend and then she went out to wait for her to arrive by our old bookstore. 

As I was getting ready for bed, I went over how ‘harshly’ I judged her at first, because just like her I was tired and perhaps not my best self at the time.  As I age I am becoming more aware of this tendency in me that I guess was hidden from my inner eye when younger.  Or perhaps I am getting more sensitive to my own insensitivity. 

She really is struggling, weary, and perhaps in a cyclical situation that will take years to work out.  The more I talked to her, the more I liked her.  A woman carrying a burden that when I did not see or understand and judged her harshly, it was automatic.  I am not surprised by this in me, for there are also other aspects of my inner life that I am becoming more aware of….self-knowledge is a b****.  

If I truly want to do the ‘loving thing’, then I have to let go of the freedom/compulsion to put others over and away from me, as if I was somehow superior to them.  When I fact, I have lost all kinds of things, not planned well and have inconvenienced others, who were very kind to me, in spite of it.  I can conveniently forget many things about my life, or play them down when it suits me.

I often wonder when I stand before the Lord and have my life review (per the NDE), I have no doubt I will have to face many instances when I was too hard on others, judging them, and perhaps not even knowing I have done so.  Hopefully, this needed lesson will brand my heart and soul at a deeper level than in the past. 

She was my teacher for a short time and I am glad that I met her.  Little acts of kindness are important, just as little acts of discarding another leaves a mark as well. Both on the one receiving, as well as the one who dishes it out.  In any case, she is coming back to make a retreat and we will talk some then. 

Working in the retreat house is interesting, that is for sure.

Just a woman

When she came in she was a bother,
until I got a small glance into her soul,
her burden carried, yet she smiled,
and thankful for what little I did,
well, it was nothing at all,

How is it Lord my eyes can be so blind,
not to see your heart one with hers,
her smile, yours Jesus,
and her pain you carry as well.

 



markdohle

Writing….why?

Writing….why?

I am amazed that I still write. Before I was fifty, sixteen short years ago, I had a dislike or an actual aversion for writing. When young I did some writing for classes, but apart from that, no, I had no inclination. The few times that I did sit down and try to scribe, what came out on paper only showed inner chaos and pain; no wonder I hesitated to continue that endeavor.

I however did (and still do) love to read. I perhaps read too much, book after book, no doubt a way to shut down the inner voices. Or on a more benign note, to simply try to figure things (the inner chaos) out for myself, as well as to give the impression that I was strong, in control and yes, very intelligent. I suppose that is still operative on all levels, my ego is still quite fragile.

There are many ways to isolate one-self. One way is to close everyone off, another is to be open but opaque or to project a false façade that everyone then believes, perhaps even oneself…..it is a lonely place to be. I had a dream when I was 23 and was still in the novitiate here at the Monastery. I was at the bottom of a long flight of cement stairs. I seemed to be in a cellar of some sort. The steps were lit up with a very intense light, the kind I dislike, like a desert sun, bright and merciless. I felt safe in the basement but at that time I was given a choice. I could stay and allow the gates to close in on me. The gates themselves were made of bone with teeth that extended outward, that would lock together if I let the gates close. To be truthful, I had to think about it, but in the end, I said I would like to keep them open. Perhaps my writing is just another way to keep the cellar from becoming a tomb, a deeper development of that ‘yes’.

In my late forties I would have dreams of my sitting in front of a computer, writing long pages of ‘stuff’. I would wake up and think, why am I dreaming about this (?), I hate writing. Then when I turned fifty I simply wanted to learn how to express my faith by writing about it and have not been able to stop sense. Is it al compulsion? At times I believe it is. Then at other times, when I write I feel as if a great weight is taken off of me, some release of inner pressure. Perhaps it is the relief to be able to show how not in control I am.

I really don’t think per-se. It is only when I sit down that the thoughts flow. I am not an intellectual; don’t have deep thoughts, yet when I write I have no idea where it comes from. Yes I know it comes from me, my experience along with what I have read over the years, but still it is an amazing experience to simply sit down and write to see what comes out. I feel for any editor that has to deal with me.

I find I am normal (whatever that means). That no matter what I write about others get it for the most part. When I talk to people it is often when I tell them that what they are experiencing is common to our species and they feel better and more connected to others. Perhaps I write so I can be seen. Is that not what we all want in the end? To be seen, loved, embraced?

In the loving gaze of the Father (our Abba), all is seen, we are loved, that is why fear is useless……the bright light that was shown me on the stairs was perhaps the gaze of God that I feared.

I believe that the desire for the gate not to close was the seed that led to me writing. Could be true of all writers no matter what they write about. For when we write, we do show ourselves to others perhaps more deeply than we imagine. Especially in our stories even if they are about others and their experiences. I have a priest friend who is a very good story teller. I believe I learn more about him reading these stories that when we actually talk about ‘things’. His deep compassion for others comes across as well as his faith. Even if he may not know this is happening….which I think he does. I do know that when I write, I am often amazed at what people get from it. No doubt if I talked to an author of any piece and told them what I received from the reading, no doubt they would be amazed as well.

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

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

Prayer and the Image of God

Prayer and the Image of God retreat

(13-15 Feb 2015)

This weekend we are having a retreat titled “Prayer and the Image of God”. A synonym for image is the word ‘icon’. So it could be called ‘Prayer and the Icon of God’. In the Eastern Church icons are used instead of statues that Christians in the West like to use. Though in the West, their use is becoming more common among Roman Catholics. The theology behind the use of icons is profound and if understood properly can be a powerful aid in prayer. Icons are windows, and when gazing upon them we see into the transcendent world, they become alive in a manner of speaking and can lead to deep prayer and contemplation.

As spiritual growth continues and maturity gained; slowly the realization that all of creation are also windows that can show us deeply God’s presence in the world and the closeness of his presence to us all; the world becomes sacramental.

In prayer, as our relationship with God deepens and trust grows as well, fear is let go of and we become living icons of God in the world. We become channels of his love towards all without exception, even to our enemies; our hearts expand in order to be able to truly experience and understand this reality. The fire of the Holy Spirit purifies us and as we grow in self-knowledge, so does our openness, our availability to be used by God in our lives. It is grace, this expansion of our hearts, all we need do is to be open and to respond to the best of our ability….which is itself a grace.

Then there will come the time when it is understood that we are all called to be a window in which God’s love can be seen and experienced. We allow the Holy Spirit to burn away all that keeps us from becoming truly ‘human’ as Christ Jesus was fully human. Until St. Paul’s saying that “it is not I who live but Christ Jesus who lives in me” becomes a conscious reality.

markdohle

The meeting of a wise gentle man

The meeting of a wise gentle man

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday.  As I was sitting in the office reading, a man walked in, I guess he was a little younger than me, but in his 60’s.  He seemed weary and brought in with him a cup of coffee.   After a while we started talking to pass the time, for the Doctor was running late.  He was a man who for the past ten years has had many serious, chronic, medical conditions that he has had to endure.  Yet as he continued speaking he brought up his faith.  He spoke in simple terms about how he has never lost trust in God even in the worst of times.  As he talked he brought up ‘trust’ and how it is never too late to begin again, even after a life that has been wasted on activities that have been self destructive.  He spoke with such gentle compassion that I felt in some way he was revealing some of his past to me.  Yet in all the time he did not feel the need to quote scripture.  He just talked about his personal experience of the love and mercy of God.  I found it very powerful and when I got up to go to the back office, I shook his hand and told him that he has given me quite a bit to meditate over.   He seemed surprised, for I suppose he was not telling me anything new, since for him that was the world he lived in.  In such a quite gentle way he touched me at such a depth that I will never forget him. 

The way to touch another heart is to be gentle, loving and respectful.  This man was all that, though I doubt he was conscious of the fact.  Perhaps it was because of that childlike unconsciousness that allowed me to listen so freely and openly.  My only regret is that we did not have more time to share.  However, I think I needed to be ministered to by him.  People don’t understand the power of their personal experiences when spoken in simply loving language.  We each have a way with words, just as this beautiful soul did….he showed me how to embrace my own life on a deeper level and taught me the power of gentle speech.

In all of my years, when someone talks to me about their faith, when they start coming from "I am Infallible in my own private interpretation of scripture"  and then starts preaching or talking down, he or she has little or any impact on me.  Scripture can be used to back up pretty much any position.  I think it has got to the point that everything is really an opinion.  So many disagreements and each feels that the Holy Spirit is enlightening them. 

markdohle

Lent and waiting

Lent and waiting

Once a month a few of us meet for a faith sharing group. There are usually around six members of our community who attend. Each month a monk is chosen to present a point of discussion for the gathering. This month the presenter wanted to discuss Lent and Joy.

I don’t like Lent much. It is not like Advent, which is also a time of waiting, but it is more of anticipation, so advent is peaceful for me. Lent is another matter all together. When Lent arrives coldness sets in, both in my heart and soul. Or perhaps a feeling of emptiness or nothingness would be a better word. It is for me about waiting for ‘the horrible’ to happen. The worst that can befall a human is what is meditated on during Lent. Betrayal, abandonment, mockery, being accused while being innocent, torture and then before death the abandonment of God….so yes the waiting that I experience in Lent is different than the waiting that is there for me in Advent.

The liturgical cycle is about sharing in the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also a reflection I believe of each human life. So Lent brings to center stage how fragile life is, how easily we are swayed and can turn against one another. How illness, suffering and death await all in varying degrees.

The image of the Pilot from Iran being burned to death will not leave me. Then the thought of all who are tortured and killed by those consumed by what? To tell you the truth I don’t know. That man burning represents something universal and the absurdity in how we deal with our problems. Christ Jesus scourged, then burned, or stoned to death, or hanged, or murdered in a back alley, or starved to death, or sold into sexual slavery, in the horrible way that children are treated and abused by those they trust, is all of the same clothe. We do it to each others, and apparently to God as well.

When Jesus died; for those who followed him and loved him, it was over. For those who hated and despised him they were glad they were victorious. Yet it was not to be. For the bleakness of life on many fronts is not the true picture. In Lent, the waiting, the coldness and yes my failure to ever do it right, leads to something impossible almost to believe, to the reality that this man, Christ Jesus, who died a failure, deserted by his followers who forgave all of his tormentors from the cross, overcame death!

In the play “Waiting for Godot”, two men are waiting for Godot’s appearance. His coming is announced but he never arrives. It is a cold bleak play, filled with the nothingness that our waiting’s can often be filled with, yet in Godot there is no hope or relive, except in death…..yet that was denied, the escape into eternal nothingness.

In Holy Week, the bleakness and coldness and nothingness are about something different, showing that what we think life is about is a lie. It is about being surprised at how vase our reality is, even if hidden. It is about deepening our free choice of saying “yes’ to God, and in that our freedom continues to grow. We choose, we follow the path and in that, in our hope, in the final outcome of lent, is our joy. Deeper than happiness, for joy flows from our focus on Jesus Christ and his revelation of the wild passionate love of the Father, allowing our hearts to be filled with the Spirit and in that our heart expand eternally.

Just because I don’t like Lent does not mean it does not have meaning for me. Perhaps one day it will not be so bleak and cold for my inner life…..though there is hope, and again there is joy even if that does not change.