Saturday, December 10, 2005

One of the things that keeps me sane around Christmas is the image of Christ as an infant.

I sometimes fantasize about what it would be like to be a time traveler and go back for 15 minutes on the night of His birth, and sneak into the manger, besides the donkeys and lambs…just to stand by and look at him.

In the stable, with Mary & Joseph looking on, all the sacrifices, the tragedy and the pain to befall Christ as an adult…have yet to come.

For now, they are resting…they’re in transition…but enjoying the peace.

The simple joy of beholding the peace and goodness of the newborn Jesus…on that hushed night...turns into the focal point of my faith.

I won't worry about where I'm going, or what the future will bring. I will allow myself to instead rest in the peace of the moment of the manger – the air still and heavy with the Spirit of God. I'll even pick Him up and cradle Him in my arms.

I'm going to stay for as long as I like…no need to rush ahead.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Christmas Meditation

The snow drops soundlessly on the hard earth...already a blanket of white.

It sounds like silence on silence.

It is so quiet, that we sit up and take notice of something else...a certain newness.

We strain to listen...but we can't hear.

Yet we can feel it. The air is heavy with it. And it can be felt in our hearts.

Something has changed. On this night, the world has become different.

A child has been born who will teach us the secret to peace: how to look into the souls of others and see ourselves.

And for that, there will be a terrible price.

But for now, the world is quiet...hushed under this buffer of white.

Let the child sleep...and enjoy these moments of peace.

Let us all sleep.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dark Tunnel

Recently, a missionary priest, from the Passionist Order, came to our parish.

He stayed for five days, and on almost every evening of the service, our church was packed solid -- standing room only.

He said that, in the 25 years he'd been visiting parishes across America and in many countries of the world, he'd never seen such a response.

I think this priest will witness larger crowds wherever he goes. At least I hope so.

There is something haunting America. We're hungry for closeness with God, with spirit - some kind of substance.
It's like we're in a dark tunnel, and we're looking for the light.

We want enrichment -- something besides a larger home or more electronic toys or a nicer car.

This war in Iraq, the slaughter each day...our rampant commercialism and consumerism...our unhappiness -- these are all behaviors of people who are asleep.

What power we would have...if only we were a force for pure kindness in the world.  I hope we wake up soon and come out of ourselves.  (  

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Boy, Everything Sure is Impermanent!

Got to hand it to the Buddhists, the enlightened ones, anyway!

They know the score when it comes to awareness of the impermanence of all things.

Many learned Buddhist authors that I've read are fond of saying: "All is an illusion." And my take on this is that our perception of all things, e.g. an apple, our feelings, are constantly changing. So the realities of both the apple and feelings are never fixed.

A bit tough at first for me to get my hands around -- given I live in America, where we seem to suffer the illusion that all things, including nature, can be 'fixed' or 'made better' and that they should then stay that way.

It's a cultural thing. Please forgive us.

But the older I get, I'm becoming more aware that things just don't stay fixed. In fact, change is the only thing that seems permanent.

Funny lesson: I like to wash my windows a lot - at least once each season. Love clean windows and the special quality of light that comes into my home.

As November's chilly temperatures locked in place, I got to work cleaning the inside and outside of the windows. It was tough work, and it pretty much took me the whole day to do the entire house.

The next day dawned sunny and bright, and I had about 6 or 7 hours to enjoy streak-free light before a sudden rain storm rolled by. It was only five or so minutes, but just enough to leave water spots on the outside of the windows in the front of the house. The job was ruined.

So how did I handle this? Next day, I redid the outside of windows - but just in the front of the house.

The following day, a new lesson: Workmen from the county water authority pulled up directly in front of my house, and began digging up the street to replace a main. It was a windy day, the dust was blowing everywhere; looked like a scene from "Lawrence of Arabia."

Then, guess what? Another short interval of rain.

My satisfaction with myself, and my desire to have this permanent state of shininess and perfection was in shambles.

After a bit of consternation -- I had to finally laugh. Truly, nothing is permanent, and the weather...the rain, wind, indeed, the earth's dust...changing each and every day, is a wonderful teacher.

Can I accept this reality -- brought home to me via the window-cleaning episode?

Working on it!

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fear is death

When I think about fear, it seems like a kind of death, an everyday death that we put ourselves through.

If I fall into the trance of fear, and the #1 trance for me, I know this by now, is fear over letting others in and revealing all of myself.

I've learned that that could bring rejection -- or at least I've talked myself into believing that.

So, an 'everyday death' for me means cutting myself off from others, and myself.

It feels cold and there are no options. No light.

Life, on the other hand, means letting that light in...and accepting myself (both at peace and in turmoil...regardless of how I feel at the moment). It means accepting others, too, just the way they are.

Recently, I had a revelation about fear...and death...and something that's always been a stumbling block of sorts for me.

It's like this: I have to confess, I've always had a bit of trouble understanding the whole rationale for Jesus' presence here on earth. I've been taught that he died for our sins; to open the gates of heaven.

I guess that's always been hard for me to understand. It's such a big concept, and rather fanciful at that. Maybe I need to follow a more tangible thought process.

Well, I think I've found it.

Try this one on for size:

Maybe Christ showed us how to die to ourselves -- that is, let go of our fears and let God take them completely wrench our hearts from fear and open them far enough so that we can accept and trust God. His way.

Perhaps He wanted to teach us how to die to the self (our learned fears, prejuidices) and accept and trust God, the spirit, the universe -- whatever.

Death on the cross is the ultimate trust in God. Death is the ultimate fear...and he confronted that, and accepted it...and overcame gain everlasting life.

And maybe, when we shed fear, we gain everlasting life. We catch a glimpse of that life with God...through compassion for ourselves and others. Our connection with the divine.

I'll have to think about this for a while.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Being a Child

Went to a public talk a few weeks ago, to hear Sakyong Mipham (a noted Buddhist teacher & spiritual director) speak at the Society for Ethical Culture in NYC.

He said that someone once taught him that some old Buddhist monks seem to get younger as they advance in age.

My take on it is that their meditation practices and "right" actions (in the Buddhist sense), lead them to such a state of enlightenment and compassion for others, that they become very innocent. They are no longer ruled by their fear. They know that all things in life arise and fall away. And, they can accept all as it is -- people, pain, challenges, joy, happiness.

Actually, when you think of it, this state is more like a kind of pure wisdom, a sophistication and knowledge of the world and the mind and the way it works. And it’s an understanding that these things, the world, the mind, are merely tools for us to use…and we are not to be used by them.

I think the earth would heave a sigh of relief if we could all somehow arrive at one-tenth of that state of be more accepting -- of ourselves and others.

I know that I feel relieved and free when I can accept myself, my thoughts, my desires, my failings...and fears.

But it occurred to me, as I sat and listened to this Buddhist monk, that Christ told us the same thing...and it's really one of the greatest things he said. And I love this about him...probably above all else:

One day, as he was teaching, he was asked to bless some children that the people had brought before him. His apostles tried to push them away.

But Jesus knelt down to see the faces of the little ones, and maybe he opened his arms and smiled broadly (this is purely my imagination), and he said: "Suffer the little children, for such is the kingdom of heaven."

In other words, he said: Let them come to me, and let me love them and be in their presence, and enjoy the things they say and do. They're pure of heart. They trust everybody and accept things for what they are -- not what they should be. And when they're afraid, they are worthy of compassion, the compassion of their Father. They know they are protected. And they trust the Father.

I think that, to be enlightened, is like being in the kingdom of heaven. And to be enlightened is to have this childlike acceptance of oneself and of others…and to trust in the wisdom of God.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Did Jesus Think He was a Success?

I've heard people say that, in the "world's" eyes, Jesus was a failure. I guess 'world' in this sense means those who focus on money and career first, then family...spirit next...or maybe spirit never.

After all, Jesus tried to get people to come out of themselves to see the beauty of sharing life with others.

But he got too scary for the people in charge, because what he was suggesting they do would have required tremendous sacrifice. Probably the most feared thing to lose: the self.

And then there was trouble when crowds began to follow him, and people brought their sick or their children to him to be blessed. So, they tried to challenge his teachings, and when they couldn't do that, they killed him.

In the end, I think Jesus probably even had a few moments of anguish, he, too, thinking that he was a failure. Hanging there on the cross, flanked by two criminals dying the same way, maybe he thought: What was it all for? Did I imagine I was His son?

And, as his mother, standing with him, looked up and watched, perhaps she, too, had a few moments of doubt. Did she think: Is this the reward I get for bearing His son, this pain in my heart? My baby. How sweetly we sang together. How I loved his little fingers, and the sound of his laughter.

So, by all those standards...his life and death, and those few moments in which they doubted and wished for more life, I guess he seemed a failure.

But there's another standard by which the world should measure his success. And that is the measure of compassion.

This great treasure he carried in his heart, and gave it freely to all he met.

And, despite the moment or two of doubt he may have had on the cross, I think Jesus knew that he was leaving us with this wealth.

Even on the road to death, he inspired compassion.

A woman, watching him carry his cross to the place where he would die, took pity on him. Perhaps she, too, was a mother, and thought: This is someone's son.

As he stumbled and fell under the cross' weight, she came to his side, and, as he looked up at her, she took a cloth and wiped his face. It was the only comfort she could give.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

What is a Catholic?

Lately, I've been wondering: what does it mean to be a Catholic? Am I a Catholic?

Yes. If the definition means being baptized, receiving most of the sacraments, going to church regularly and receiving communion. Yes, if it means believing that the host is Christ present - not just a symbol. Yes, I believe.

But I must ask myself if I still belong -- based on what I'm hearing these days at Sunday mass, and from the church leadership in America and in Rome.

There are too many statements that seem, well, almost facist.

I paraphrase:

  • "Muslims, Jews, Buddhists may have admirable beliefs and practices...but Christianity, and specifically, Catholicism, is the way to salvation...because Christ himself said that 'the only way to the Father is through me.' "
  • "If you do not baptize your baby, Christ will not recognize him/her in heaven."

And there are other bad things happening. For example, we're reading in newspapers now that an edict from Rome is coming that will bar homosexual priests from taking vows to serve God.

No more men who hear the voice of Christ in their hearts and souls -- just because they are attracted, sexually and emotionally, to other men.

No more homosexual men, even those, who like their heterosexual brothers, vow celibacy.

And because there's to be no more homosexual men as priests, seminary entrants will now be asked about their feelings for other men. And, if they are honest (because we're told it's a sin to lie to a priest), they will be told they are not worthy.

I think the church is doing this to try to stop child molestation. But homosexuality is a separate issue from pedophilia. If you prefer men to women, that does not mean you prefer children to adults.

This is the latest in a long list of 'NOs' from my church.

No women as priests, too.

No touching.

No birth control.

No eating meat on Friday. Actually, you can eat meat now; somebody high-up said so.

I know what I'm not. I am not a Catholic who believes in these things, and who thinks that Christ, through divine inspiration and the Holy Spirit, is directing all this.

But I know what I am. I am a Christian, who believes that Jesus lived among us to teach us a new way. The way of love. The way of kindess and til it hurts...that God loves us matter what.

Oh, and don't judge; leave that to God. And just accept...the moment...the situation...the person...and know that there's enough for all. All the time.

And He said we should be happy knowing that God loves us, and not to worry.

Maybe Jesus was God's son for the Jews. And maybe Mohammed was God's son for Arabs. And maybe Buddha was God's son for Asians. And on and on -- for every culture and every group, I suspect there was someone divinely enlightened...and with a very special relationship to God.

So, maybe God has all these sons (and I bet there's some women in there too that we never heard about). And He sent them all to live among us -- during different eras and among different cultures -- to spread the word that there is more to us than just eating, and copulating and dying.

Throughout history, His sons and daughters are constantly making introductions: People, this is God. He loves you. He wants you to get to know Him.

Just a theory.

So maybe we, no matter what religion we profess, shouldn't be so all fired up about the supremacy of our own particular brand of faith. Because, in the end, we don't know what's on God's mind...or how He operates. Do we?

Another theory: maybe Jesus was a homosexual.

Do we know? No. Would it matter? Not to me.

So maybe we shouldn't be so quick to deny the gifts of others -- based on whether they're attracted to a square jaw and big shoulders...or soft lips and a full bust.

You know, Jesus had a special message for religious leaders of His day, the Pharisees, who conditioned God's love, and made the people suffer under the weight of obligations and restrictions. Something like this:

And woe to any one of you who leads these innocent ones astray. It would be better for you to tie a millstone around your neck, and cast yourself into the sea.

Everything the man said two-thousand odd years ago packs the same punch today.

And, just like then, we're still not listening.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

A thought about resistance

Recently, I had a thought about resistance -- to what is.

Resistance has its rewards - as when you're lifting weights. It builds strength. And certainly, in the face of evil or wrongdoing, resistance often helps bring about change and the overcoming of that evil. I'm think of Jesus and Gandhi and Martin Luther King and and their tradition of non-violent resistance.

But I think that, emotionally, resistance is the cause of much pain. My friend and I were speaking about this recently, and it struck us that our suffering is often colored by resistance and a fixed notion of what ought to be.

Let's say you're gardening, and you've spent most of the morning in beautiful sunshine. Suddenly, in the middle of your work, it begins to thunder and a hard rain starts to fall -- no mere shower, but the kind of weather you need to take cover from.

So how do we react to the storm?

My habitual thought process goes something like this:

I have two whole flats of flowers that I still need to plant, and, even if this rain stops in 10-15 minutes, I will be late for lunch that I've planned with friends -- and, suddenly, all that I had planned to accomplish for the rest of the day must now be postponed for another time.

The rain is plainly an inconvenience. I become angry and frustrated.

But what if I were to accept the rain...simply take it for what it is? And I'm not talking about even arriving at the higher state of acceptance & thanks for the drink of water it brings to the earth...but just pure acceptance with no judgement.

Further, what if I am able to change my notion of what ought to be, in this case, that I should be able to accomplish all my tasks in the alloted time I had initially given myself? False deadlines; naive scheduling.

What if I am able, then, to create another reality for myself? It may be as simple as this:

The rain has begun; it seems time for me to put the rest of the plantings off.

No judgement about the rain. No assumption that the rain should only come after I have completely finished putting the impatience (ironic?) in the soil.

I can first have sympathy for my disappointment...and even feel a sense of pity for this reaction that has welled up in me. But I think that I can try to gently say goodbye to this resistance and drop my notion of what ought to be. Chances are it will not rain forever; the sun will shine again.

This is the recipe for happiness in gardening...and in life, I believe.

Sunday, May 22, 2005


May all those suffering from fear...fear of what may happen...what is happening...what is uncertain in their moment or life situation....

may they know and take comfort in the awareness that certainty is an illusion.

If certainty is an illusion...and all my efforts to be attain a state of knowing which way something will turn out...or to be guaranteed that what I feel or discover will always be to my liking...if all those things are illusions,

then may I know that it is fruitless to seek certainty...

and may I rest and take comfort in uncertainty...

ever-changing moments.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Some Kind of Heaven

Generosity. What a great word.

It's like compassion with a smile on its face. When we're generous, it's really a very upbeat statement of faith...because there's no worry about insufficiency. There's an understanding that there's enough for all -- and then some.

I think being generous is what we do when we feel blessed and our cup runs over. When it happens naturally...and it is not forced out of some kind of sense of obligation...we may be unaware of how significant the act is...but that's when it's most powerful.

Here's a story of generosity I'd like to share.

Sixty years ago...WW II ended...and the concentration camps of Europe were liberated by the Russians and the English and the Americans.

Tom Lantos was imprisoned in one of those camps, a slave labor camp in Hungary. Tom was a Jew. He was there merely because of the way he worshipped God.

He was 16 when he was placed there, and somehow he managed to and bones...hanging onto life...existing on death rations...waiting for deliverance.

After the war, he was awarded a scholarship to a college in Seattle in the U.S.

In a recent television documentary featuring stories of survivors, Tom described one of the defining moments when he knew that he'd left the Holocaust behind. Something like this:

When he arrived at school in Seattle, and it was time to eat, he got on line at the cafeteria, and was handed a tray. Then, the boy who lived on tears and hunger in the slave labor camp, shuffled down the chow line, as cafeteria workers piled great mounds of food on his plate...potatoes, meat, vegetables.

At the end of the line were two great baskets, one filled with oranges, the other with bananas. He remembered his upbringing and imagined that his mother might guide him to take one piece of fruit -- either the banana or the orange.

Unsure what to do, he asked a worker standing by the baskets: "Sir, shall I take a banana or an orange?"

And then the American cafeteria guy replied, "Man you can take all the bananas and all the oranges you want!"

Tom thought to himself..."I knew then that I was in some kind of heaven."

That Tom is today Tom Lantos, venerable California Congressman.

May I be generous, and happy being generous! May you be generous, and may it fill you with happiness.