Help Me Accept Partings

Today is the 11th anniversary of my father’s death. It is hard to believe it is that many years. Sometimes it seems like yesterday, especially during those times when the feelings of loss rise so powerfully. The prompts are varied: I listen to my daughter’s recital and think how much my father would have enjoyed hearing her…I am invited to give a talk somewhere and think of how proud he would have been at it…We celebrate a family event together and I miss his laughter – or his sarcasm. This November will be the first wedding of one of his granchildren and I know the pain of loss will arise fiercely then.

I’ve talked about death before. The only real solace is my conviction of resurrection. But that conviction doesn’t take away my missing my dad.

When I think of hid death, I think of the prayer in Clarence Enzler’s version of stations (Everyman’s Way of the Cross) at the Thirteenth Station (Jesus is Taken from the Cross). In our response to Jesus at this station, Enzler has us pray:

I beg you, Lord, help me accept the partings that must come – from friends who go away, my children leaving home, and most of all, my dear ones when you shall call them to yourself. Then, give me grace to say: “As it has pleased you, Lord, to take them home, I bow to your most holy will. And if by one word I might restore their lives against your will I would not speak.”

When I pray that prayer, it is difficult for me to get the words out. When I pray that prayer, I half shake my head, especially at that last line because there are times I’d give just about anything to have some more time with my father.

But I know I can’t ask that. So I pray, let me grown in my acceptance so that I am able to pray those lines more honestly and fully, to more and more bow to God’s most holy will.

Still, I miss my dad.


Teresa’s Poetry

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Teresa of Avila, a woman who displayed a remarkable independence of spirit in 16th Century Spain, during a time when the Church was not particularly tolerant of independence of thought or spirit and when no one was tolerant of such a characteristic in a woman. She bent Church rules, she barely survived the Spanish Inquisition, she annoyed many with her reform of both the male and female Carmelite orders, and she did it all while suffering debilitating illness through most of her life – living with almost constant pain. At the same time, she authored a body of written work that many would call the cornerstone of Christian mysticism, and she is, even today, one of the most widely read writers in the Spanish language.

Among other things, Teresa was a poet. She wrote poems not for their own sake, but rather (in the words of one of her biographers) “as a release for the mystical fire she could no longer contain in her heart.

I once before shared one of her poems (here). In honor of her feast, here is another. It is titled On Those Words “Dilectus Meus Mihi”.

Myself surrendered and given,
The exchange is this:
My Beloved is for me,
And I am for my Beloved.

When the Gentle hunter
Wounded and subdued me,
In love’s arms,
My soul fallen;
New life receiving,
Thus did I exchange
My Beloved is for me,
And I am for my Beloved.

The arrow hew drew
Full of love,
My soul was oned
With her Creator.
Other love I want not,
Surrendered now to my God,
That my Beloved is for me,
And I am for my Beloved.

Human Beings, not Human Doings

I have to get out early this morning, so let me simply share a reminder we all need. This comes from Evelyn Underhill, whose writings on mysticism have been very meaningful for me. Underhill writes:

We mostly spend our lives conjugating three verbs: to Want, to Have and to Do. Craving, clutching, and fussing, on the material, political, social, emotional, intellectual, even on the religious plane, we are kept in perpetual unrest, forgetting that none of these verbs have any ultimate significance, except so far as they are transcended by and included in the fundamental verb, to Be, and that Being, not wanting, having and doing, is the essence of the spiritual life.

As one of my friends observed yesterday when I sent this to him, Underhill describes aptly the dilemma of being human. That we always think we have to do or have in order to justify our existence. Yet all we need to do is Be.

Being “is the essence of the spiritual life.”

Humility in Today’s World

This morning I spoke at St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Bloomington as part of their “Second Sunday” Speaker series. The topic I picked to speak on is Humility in Today’s World.

Although we live in a society that does not particularly prize humility, humility is a central virtue in the Catholic tradition. Saint Augustine called humility and foundation of all the virtues and St. Vincent dePaul attributed all of the graces he received to humility.

In my talk, I spoke about what humility is (distinguishing true humility from false humility), why I think it is an important virtue for us to cultivate in today’s world, and suggested ways we might develop this virtue. I then gave those present time for some individual reflection, after which we had a good discussion of the challenges to developing humility.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 39:02.) You can find the handout I gave the participants for individual reflection here.

Note: My recorder was sitting right next the microphone, so you may want to lower the volume as you listen.

The Drivers On The Bus

Permit me another post about bus riding in the Twin Cities. Last week I wrote about the people one encounters riding the bus. Today I want to celebrate the drivers on the bus.

I recognize that my sample is pretty small, as I’ve only been riding buses in Minneapolis for the last month or so. So I can’t claim that my experience is representative of all of the bus drivers in the city. But my experience thus far has been that the drivers on the buses I have ridden have been uniformly pleasant and helpful.

I’m guessing that being a bus driver is not the most interesting job in the world. One drives back and forth over the same route multiple times a day. I could easily imagine boredom leading to irritation and unpleasantness.

Instead, what I have observed on my bus rides is drivers who great passengers with a smile. Bus drivers who patiently answer the questions of riders not sure whether they are on the right bus.

Yesterday’s bus driver made me smile as she announced each stop. “16th Street. Basilica of St. Mary.” “Walker Scupture Garden. And across the street, Loring Park.” “__ street. Chipote, Kowalski’s.” “– street. Coffee shop, gas stations.” And my favorite, “__ street. My Sister’s Closet. (laugh) My sister never liked when I went in her closet. If I borrowed something of hers without her permission, well, I was in trouble.” I wasn’t the only one who smiled back at her as she looked in the rear-view mirror at the riders.

Some jobs are more intrinsically interesting than others. But how we do our jobs – whatever they are – makes an enormous difference to us and to those who we encounter.

May You Live All The Days of Your Life

During his sermon on Yom Kippur the other night, my friend Rabbi Norman Cohen shared that the Torah describes Abraham as being both “old and advanced in years,” a seemingly redundant description. Rabbi Cohen explained that the Torah commentaries “explain this apparent redundancy by insisting that that not only was [Abraham] full of years but his years were full. He made the most of each day.” That reminded him of a satirical quote by Jonathan Swift: “May you live all the days of your life.”

Rabbi Cohen then shared a blessing he sometimes uses at baby namings, a blessing addressed to all present. I thought it was beautiful and asked his permission to share it here. He gave that permission, while also letting me know that he did not compose it; he found it a long time ago. With gratitude to whoever is the source:

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our minds alive, to be open to new ideas, to entertain challenging doubts, nurture a lively curiosity and strive constantly to keep learning.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our hearts alive, to deepen our compassion, add to our friendships, retain a buoyant enthusiasm, grow more sensitive to the beauty of the world and to the wonder and the miracle of being part of it.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our souls alive, to grow more responsive to the needs of others, more resistant to consuming greed, more nourishing of our craving for fellowship, more devoted to truth and integrity.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our spirits alive, to surround ourselves with positivity and hope, even when life sometimes brings so much uncertainty, while attempting to face the future with confidence.

To live all the days of our lives means to keep our faith alive, to remain rooted in a rich heritage, to be sustained by worship, and strengthened by a community from which we draw abiding kinship, and to which we lovingly bring the finest fruits of our minds and hearts.

To live all the days of our lives means to love and to be loved.

Let us bring all our energies to bear upon the rewarding and exhilarating task of fully living all the days of our lives.

May we each live all the days of our life.

Who Is My Neighbor?

In today’s Gospel from St. Luke, Jesus’ instruction to love one’s neighbor as oneself prompts “a scholar of the law” to ask the question “who is my neighbor.” Jesus responds by telling the story we refer to as the parable of the Good Samaritan.

You remember the parable: A man is attacked by robbers, who leave him lying on the road half-dead. A priest notices him and passes by without helping. A Levite sees him and makes a wide berth around him. But then comes the despised Samaritan traveler, who stops and cares for the man. And not begrudgingly or minimally; he not only tends the mans’ wounds, but brings the man to an inn and pays for his being taken care of there.

I’ve shared before the account of an experiment that I always think of in connection with this parable. A class of seminarians was given the assignment to prepare a sermon on this parable of the Good Samaritan. They were divided into two groups – one group was given two hours to prepare the sermon and the second group was given twenty-four hours. They then left the building. On that stairs of the building lay a man obviously in need of assistance (the subject of the experiment).

Can you guess the results? Almost none of the seminarians who had been given two hours to prepare their sermon stopped to aid the man as they left the building. Indeed, it was reported that one practically jumped over the man in his haste to get home to get to work on his assignment. A much higher number of the group given twenty-four hours stopped to give the man assistance.

The priest and the Levite were very important men. Doubtless they had many important things they had to do and decided they couldn’t take the time to stop and help an injured man. And the seminarians in the first group had only two hours to prepare their sermon.

Sadly, I don’t think the reaction in either case is all that uncommon. Most of us have not jumped over an injured person on the street without giving assistance. But we do – more often than we’d like to admit – behave more like the priest and Levite than like the Samaritan in Jesus’ parable. Some questions for reflection:

Are there times when what I’m doing seems so important that I fail to offer a greeting or even a smile to someone I pass in the hall at work?

Am I so wrapped up in my important task that I fail to even notice that someone is suffering and could use a word of encouragement or a hand on the shoulder from me?

Have I squandered opportunities to do a kindness for another because of my preoccupation with my own projects?

The answer to who is my neighbor is simple: All of those with whom I come in contact during the course of my day. We might ask ourselves every day: How am I doing in loving my neighbor?

Heal Us, God

Through the kind invitation of my friend, Rabbi Norman Cohen, last night I attended the evening Yom Kippur service at Bet Shalom Temple. I found the experience to be deeply moving.

Yom Kippur, as many people know is the Jewish day of atonement. “For on this day He will forgive you, to purify you, that you be cleansed from all your sins before God” (Leviticus 16:30). As the quote suggests, the atonement is for sins against God, not sins against another person. Atonement for sins against another person, requires that one seek reconciliation with that person, and, if possible, the righting the wrongs committed against that person. (That atonement should be done before Yom Kippur).

Last night’s service included beautiful prayers of blessing and prayers for forgiveness, spoken prayers and sung prayers, prayers in Hebrew and prayers in English. There were many parts of the service that touched me deeply. One that stood out was a sung prayer for healing. As the cantor repeated, “Heal us, God,” I found my eyes filling with tears.

At one level, the prayer asks forgiveness for our own sins. But as the words were sung, in my mind I saw pictures of ISIS executions of Christians, the war between Israel and Palestine, the Chinese government’s reaction to the protests in Hong Kong, crimes of violence in the United States and so many more. A kaleidoscope of pictures one after the other of the sins of the world – of the sins of God’s people.

Heal us, God, I prayed in the depth of my soul, as I listened to the singing of the cantor. Heal us, God: Not just those of us sitting here. Not just those of us who pray for your healing. Not just those we feel kindly toward. But heal us, heal all of us who are in need of your grace (that is, every one of us alive today), heal those who recognize that need and those who don’t.

Heal us, O God.

Note: My friend Larry Mitchell writes beautifully about Yom Kippur and Kol Nidrie (the opening prayer for the Yom Kippur evening service) here and here.

The People on the Bus

One of the consequences of our move to St. Paul is that I drive a lot less. Although I ride the UST shuttle between the St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses, I have begun using the city bus system with frequency to get around to locations other than the law school. (Coming from NY, I view this as a great improvement in my life.)

Yesterday morning, I hopped on a bus to get to my acupuncture appointment. I sat behind a well-dressed man in his mid-50s who was engaged in an animated conversation with two older men, one of whom – a man in his sixties – looked like he hadn’t changed his clothes in a while. It became clear to me that the three men had never met before. They joked back and forth about their respective ages until the one in his 70s said, “You got to be grateful as long as you can stand up.” The well-dressed man added, “yes, so long as you can eat some food,” prompting the disheveled looking man to add, “I’m happy for my oatmeal and strawberries in the morning.” One of the others added, “yes, and grateful you can still remember who you are.”

The three men continued to carry on until the disheveled man got off the bus. After he did, the older man turned to the other and said, “you know, I couldn’t really understand a lot of what he said, since he was mumbling a lot.” They continued speaking in a friendly manner until the second of the three got off the bus.

A couple of thoughts went through my mind. One was that the disheveled man may have been hard to understand, but the others talked to him anyway. And, from the looks of him, it is entirely possible that was the only friendly conversation he might have that day.

Another was that even those sitting around the three men, including myself, who were not involved in the conversation were all smiling – and not just individually smiling to themselves, but at each other. You don’t get those kind of shared moments sitting in your car.

Finally, I was touched by the expressions of gratitude offered by the three men. Whatever their respective circumstances, each expressed a sense of gratitude for what they had.

If you haven’t done so in a while, try taking public transportation rather than driving. You never know what you might experience.

What Brings Me Joy?

Yesterday was the second session of the series on Discerning My Place in the World I am offering this year at UST Law School. The subject of our gathering yesterday was the question What Brings Me Joy?

An important part of our discernment of who we will be int he world has to do with ascertaining what brings us joy. Yet it is a question many people never focus on.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardon said “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Unlike happiness, which depends on external stimuli, joy comes from a sense of rightness about where I am with God and others.

During our session, I spoke briefly about joy and then showed an excerpt from a video by Michael Hims title Three Key Questions. The full video appears below; we watched the first eleven minutes. After watching the film, the participants spent time in silent personal reflection with some quotes and questions on a handout I distributed (which you can find here). We managed to leave a little time at the end for dyad sharing and some larger group discussion, focusing particularly on how we recognize joy and distinguishing between happiness and joy.

[for those receiving this by e-mail, click through to the blog to see the video]

Note: I am informed by one of my readers here that the phrase “joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God” was “first coined by Leon Bloy, a now-obscure 19th-century French writer. Teilhard repeated it.” (With thanks to Hilary)