Laudato Sí was written by Pope Francis on May 24, 2015. Unlike previous papal encyclicals, Laudato Sí was not intended only for religious leaders, nor only for Catholic Christians, nor even people who are believers in God. As Pope Francis wrote, it was directed at "every person living on this planet."
It is popularly considered to be Pope Francis's "Climate Change Encyclical". In actuality, only a small part of it deals directly with climate change. Laudato Sí is an invitation for the modern man and woman to spirituality.
Spirituality is the birthright of all persons, religious or nonreligious, believer, agnostic or atheist. It is not an esoteric quality in some way separated from the everyday human Self. Spirituality is a natural function of the human Self. Spirituality is our "second nature". The Self in all aspects is an entry to Sanctity.
Laudato Sí introduces a radically inclusive spirituality that responds to the situation in which we find ourselves. Pope Francis recognizes the profound relationship that unifies concern for the environment, love for our fellow human beings and a commitment to social justice.
An "integral ecology" eschews the dualism that has characterized and deformed so much of our philosophy and theology.
The world view of the Hebrew culture as experienced by Jesus the Christ differs from the Graeco world view. That is why, in the New Testament Gospel accounts, emphasis was placed on the physical miracles of healing and the Christ's response to lepers and other marginalized people. The announcement of the love of God was made manifest by restoring the body to wholeness.The Kingdom of God is for the whole Self, for all persons, and all nature.
The Graeco world view that was introduced to Christian Spirituality in the writings of Paul of Tarsus, as he strove to adapt the Good News to a gentile audience. Heat evolved was a separation of the spiritual from the material, body from soul, sacred from profane.
The dichotomy is reinforced by a paternalism that came to dominate society.There are the social divisions of free and slave, powerful and powerless, privileged and needy, included and marginalized, reinforced by class and caste. The perduring sin that is the consequence of all of this is the poverty that holds captive the majority of humanity. This is the same evil that makes people pillagers of the environment.
At birth, we enter an unknown world. The love of the parent embraces the infant in the infant's amorphous experience to enable the child to get basic needs met. As infant and toddler mature, experience is categorized based on the need of the growing ego to facilitate successful functioning. Emerging trust facilitates a long developmental process of human relationship.
The science of object relations shows how the person eventually distinguishes and integrates the dualities of safe/unsafe. Through traumas such as abuse, or neglect in certain periods of development, some people delay in this important passage, or fail to do so altogether. The development of healthy human relationship is the outcome of the integration of the good object and the bad object. The mature mind integrates "either-or" into "both-and".
The Whole Self
Perhaps the Great Deception begins with the process of individuation, where the young child discovers his or her separate identity. Or when we look in the mirror and assume the image that appears there ends at the boundaries of our skin. As time passes, the burden of disconnected personhood grows heavily on us. The joy, that others may seem to attain, evades us. Anxiety may push us to the edge of apathy.
Prince Siddhartha became a renunciant, trading power and luxury for a life of poverty and deprivation. Not finding the truth he was searching for in accepted practices of rigorous denial, Gautama Buddha sat under a fig tree to delve into his deepest Self. It was there he experienced “awakening”, the profound realization that, inherently, the Self is part of a greater whole.
Sometimes disasters occasion this kind of clarity of insight, when we realize that the sufferings of others are our sufferings. National boundaries and racial and political differences become meaningless when there is a disaster and people reach out to one another in support and aid. There are instances where individuals will spontaneously perform an act of unanticipated heroism and put their own lives at risk to save a complete stranger. A moment of insight, or the influence of an admired associate, or even a time of physical or emotional crisis, invite the realization that our disjointed personality is part of a greater whole. We align ourselves with a Universal Self. We balance our individual, separate personhood with our shared identity with family, community, nature, God.
The Buddha taught that attachment to the notion of a separate Selfis the cause of most of the distress and unhappiness in life. Ghandi reconciled the tension between the illusion of a disconnected Self and the insight of our oneness by teaching (and living) that individuation is fully realized in service of the greater good.
Thomas Merton writes, "We are already one, but we imagine that we are not. So what we have to recover what is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are."
In Paul's letters to to Corinthians and Romans, the characteristics of the individual body are used to describe analogically what is referred to as the Mystical Body of the Christ. Just as the members of an individual body are connected organically, so the members of the Mystical Body are intimately part of one another and of Divine Being. Just as there are parts of the body that require special attention and care, Compassion, particularly as offered preferentially to the poor, oppressed, victims, is the heart of this Body. Pope Francis is not reluctant to include in our compassionate outreach the natural world as part of this Mystical Body 2).
Analogies of God
There will always be areas of unknowing about the Divine.
There is no description that can adequately capture God. And so we use analogies to help our inadequacies. Our analogies come from a variety of sources: religious myth handed down through the ages; what is believed to be God's own revelations, interpreted and embellished by story tellers in both word and writing; the best of our human nature ascribed to the divine.
We, in turn, strive towards godliness in our lives, actions, and relatedness. Not only do our analogies help us approach and relate to God, they also inform our spirituality.
Analogy of The Trinity
Pope Francis, in Laudato Sí, considers the Trinity as the ideal analogy of God. The analogy of the Trinity -- three Persons in one God, sharing intimate Union -- is the model for interconnectedness of everything and the basis of a spirituality of global solidarity.
Relatedness is an elemental experience, and, in our use of analogy, important to our description of and understanding of God. Our human relatedness, both to one another and to nature, is the basic arena of spirituality.
Analogy: The Tremendous Lover
Isaiah was the prophet come to announce the love of God for the northern kingdom when the kingdom was at its lowest point. The people overrun by the Assyrians. Not only had a once powerful nation, the apple of God’s eye, been divided in two; but each was facing destruction. Everything they hoped for, every privilege they enjoyed, every bright future they envisioned – all in shambles. Yet Isaiah writes that God can never forget God’s people. God’s people are “branded on the palm of the hand”.
The Perfect love characterizing the relationship between the Persons of the Trinity gives us a glimpse of the heart of God.
St. Oscar Romero said:
"Jesus the Christ said there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends. And he added that we are his friends, if we follow him. The very God-Self, in the suffering flesh of the Word, sacrificed his own humanity on the cross."
(Soon thereafter bullets, spawn by U.S-backed governments afraid of the desire of the oppressed majority in El Salvador for liberation, took Romero's life.)
Everything else pales compared to love. Human eloquence is reduced to a " noisy gang or a clanging cymbal" without love. Even faith, even hope may fail us, but love never will.
When asked about the way to salvation, the Christ invited the rich young man to offer unconditional love: to love God above all and to love one's neighbor as one's Self. (Luke is the only Gospel to carry this commandment out in the story of the Good Samaritan. Loving service to the oppressed neighbor actualizes of the commandment of love.)
Self love is a prior requisite to loving others. Implied in the Christ's answer to the rich young man is that difficulty of loving the other or to love God, without first loving the Self!
As with small children, and in different ways throughout the developmental stages (even when the older teen requires "tough love"), love does not have to be earned. It is the most precious gift that the parent gives the child. Similarly, we are blessed with the outrageous gift of a God who has loved us first.
Being freely and unconditionally loved, the child learns to love his or her self. This love survives the many disappointments the individual experiences in life. If one loses a job, if one's relationship fails, if economic failures destroy financial stability, even at the death of a loved one, the Self does not need to turn to others for affirmation of personal worth.
Analogy: High Priest
Thirty-three years after my decision to marry excluded me from the role of liturgical presiding (which is the role of the priest in liturgy), I got a surprise in the mail from the Catholic diocese: an official request that I laicize! (The bishop that ordained me use to call me the "invisible priest" back then, because I was so low key. Didn't realize I was that invisible!)
The Catholic church distinguishes between the clerical state (to which celibacy is attached) and the lay state. I never bothered to request laicization for a variety of reasons. To top it off, soon after I left, the pope of that time was denying requests for laicization. So I basically ignored the whole thing.
In eventually (33 years later!) complying with the request to choose laicization, I acknowledge that the only real priesthood is that of all believers, which we all enjoy at baptism. At Baptism, at the initial anointing before the pouring or immersion in water, the priest or deacon says to the candidate, "As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, so I anoint you..." This charges us with the ministry of High Priest. The role of the High Priest is intermediary between God and humanity. The priestly role assigns to us who are baptized the responsibility of carrying to God the needs of the natural world and all of humanity. Especially, the victims throughout the world, those who are brutalized by oppressive, unremitting poverty, innocents slaughtered by war and terrorism: they do not suffer in anonymity, but they are present in our minds, our hearts, our commitments, to be presented to our God who loves and does not forget.
One strong reservation I originally had when I first had the option is that the liturgical function of "president" continues to be reserved by the church to unmarried males only, even though there is a clear call by the community to include married men and women in this role. In light of the scandal of church authority protecting clergy who sexually abuse children, clericalism emerges as an unqualified evil that has betrayed the mission of the church for reverence, not the reverence expected by men in the clerical state, but the reverence due to the youngest and the weakest among us.
Analogy: the Alpha and Omega
(83) Pope Francis describes a universal destiny which is the fullness of God, toward which all humanity is striving.
Teleology comes from the Greek word, Teleos, meaning end or purpose. Teleology presumes that history is oriented to outcome, although not all existence will attain the actualization that is present in its potential. What oftentimes calls forth being to its full purpose is alignment between Teleos and Opportunity (sometimes referred to as "Serendipity"). Teilhard de Chardin applied teleology to history and society and outlined a course of social development, where creation strains toward the ultimate goal of evolution, which is God, the Omega. God is the both the Source of the evolutionary process and the End towards which evolution is ordered. God is both Alpha and Omega. At the same time, God participates in the process, joining with us as we make decisions and take steps into the future. In the imagery of the Book of Revelation, individual Selves will be merged and all will be caught up in the grand fulfillment, one in glory with the very Self of God!
Individual effort may seem purposeless in the wide sweep of evolution. Yet every little contribution of the self in pursuit of its project in this word has its significance. In the words of Chardin, God accompanies us "at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle—of my heart and of my thought."
The Analogy of the Word
The creation stories in Genesis start out with a void. All was darkness, stillness, emptiness. Then the void was shattered with Word, "Let there be light!" And from the Word of God spilled forth light and life.
The word puts flesh and blood to our innermost thoughts and ideas. Unless spoken, there is no expression. The Self actualizes through expression and overcomes isolation through communication. The inability of a person to find expression is, indeed, an extreme handicap, at times leading to isolation.
The careful use of words is an important virtue, for it reveals the quality of the Self.
So many false promises, persuasive lies; so much double talk and sweet talk. There are words we can't get in edgewise, words that fly over our heads, words spoken in vain, words we wish we can take back, and famous last words. Salespersons' hyperbole, politicians' promises, and, sadly, preachers' distortions. The late Roger Miller sang in " Husbands and Wives": "The angry words spoken in haste, what a waste of two lives."
Open, honest use of words is compromised by the milieu of a competitive and sometimes hostile culture. They say the best defense is a good offense. And so we incorporate subtle forms of violence in our use of words -- prejudice, judgmentalism, blame, assumption, put downs -- often to establish a competitive advantage. But there are many situations that call for the Self to forego such an advantage. Nonviolent communication is a style that can be adapted, not only to personal interaction, but to families, parenting, the classroom, the workplace, the community meeting, the negotiating table.
It would be most informative if the Self could step back and listen to Self-talk.
What kinds of words does the Self utilize in self criticism? Idiot? Stupid? Fool? (Or, in many cases, something more vulgar?)
If we believe that we are loved by God, that we are temples of God's spirit ... is our Self-talk betraying us?
Self love is deeply affected by Self-talk. We, the beloved by God, also are the beloved by the Self.
Too many of the children I see in my private practice are acting out what others (particularly their parents) have called them or say to them. Often the way parents talk to children is the way children talk to themselves, even into adult years. One important lesson I try to teach caretakers is to address the behavior, not the individual. I reiterate to the child that they are good people.
To speak a heartfelt Word entails risking one's heart. God's Word to humankind is a risk; and the hearer is free to accept or reject.
The Word of God becomes analogically more personal when applied to the Second Person of the Trinity, who is the Word. Both what the Christ says and what the Christ does express the love of God.
The Analogy of the Forgiver
The Book of Wisdom (2:17-20) contrasts the righteous and the wicked. The wicked, assuming that life has neither significance nor meaning, turns against the righteous. Good action, positive accomplishment, indiscriminate acts of kindness, inevitably invite criticism. If the Self stands out (does something "out standing"), it is thereby vulnerable to the dissatisfaction of the cynic, the defensiveness of the wrongdoer.
Is there an evil force (devil) in the world? One cannot consider genocides, or the wanton slaying of members of a Black Church, or the terrorism in the name of religion or other forms of the blatant disregard for life that consumes whole groups of people, without believing so.
Is evil ever personalized to take over the Self? Again, there are people whose acts are so heinous without any sense of remorse that – despite the early neglect and abuse that might have made them so – it is quite possible that evil found in them a place to spawn.
The reality of sin can prompt good people can do evil things – think evil thoughts, have evil intentions, rejoice in unfortunate outcomes of others. As seen above, the healthy Self is not a good/evil split. To surrender to Sin is a choice the Self makes with full intentionality. Often a selfish need impels a decision contrary to what are the individual’s beliefs and values.
Nature assails the sinner with guilt. The natural Self has a regulatory mechanism that is aversive to sin. (Lie detectors, with some success, discern internal imbalances when people are not truthful.)
There are religions that use guilt to establish control over its members. Fear of negative consequences in the afterlife ("hellfire") either keep people on the straight and narrow or elicit deathbed confessions.
The next two stories from the New Testament, as told by the Christ, free persons from guilt.
The self-righteous legalists were poised with sharp-edged stones, ready to plummet a woman caught in adultery (a consequence reserved for females only, whose selfhood at the time of the Christ was rated below that of males.) The Teacher intercepted the stoning, and the men walked away, one by one. No one was left to condemn.
Then the two, Jesus and the woman whose beauty he recognized in spite of her transgression, were left alone. The woman caught in adultery must not have known what to expect -- censure? harsh judgment? alternate dire consequences?
Guilt and shame can dominate the Self. Guilt cries out for reconciliation. Shame awaits blessing.
Jesus broke through the woman's shame and her guilt with a word of compassion, and compassion would prove to be many times more liberating than whatever she had anticipated from this Rabbi!
There are two heroes in the other story: the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32): the son, on his way home to his father, and his father, arms extended to welcome his son home.
Any parent can relate to the worry weighing down the father's heart. But imagine the reservations in the heart of the prodigal son, having squandered the inheritance his father worked so long and so hard to attain. Then, at a distance, they catch sight of each other – tmm he son wonders, what disgust, what anger, what resentment his father must feel! As the Prodigal grew closer, he saw tenderness instead of bitterness and received an embrace instead of a rebuke.The father liberated him from alienation by welcoming home to his arms.
The Self can at times be wayward sons and daughters, strangers to the higher Self who wants to accept and forgive. We become disappointed in ourselves when we stray from those ideals by which we would like to define ourselves. Sometimes a dichotomy sets in and the Self we present to others does not correspond to the hidden, more wayward Self. When the vagrancy is exposed, shame overwhelms us, embarrassment confuses us, and only the most arrogant strive to ignore the situation. As we clutch at recovery and crawl back to respect, is there within us a heroic parent, watching and waiting, to help us restore the Self, an alienated Self now reformed, or do we want to hold the once estranged self at arm's length?
Forgiveness sets both the Self and the other free. To forgive for good is to clear the path for works of love.
There is always opportunity to align most closely with the love of God. The now welcoming Self opens arms to "celebrate home" the prodigal.
The Analogy of the Perfect Victim
Our theology of the Victim Christ was elaborated by Paul in his epistles. In Hebrews 5: 8-9, Paul writes that although the Christ was son, what he suffered taught him obedience, and now perfected, he brought salvation to those who obey him. Likewise, in Philippians 2:5-11, Paul writes that Christ did not grasp at equality with God, but he emptied himself like a servant and, born human, he humbled himself to obediently accept death on a cross.
In the garden before his death, the Christ was overcome with dread. He wished to avoid the horrors of his upcoming experience, but finally accepts God's will. At the end, he cries out, "My God, why have you abandoned me."
After the Christ's death, the cross did not remain empty. It continued as the Rome's preferred method of execution for thousands (including Christians), a public spectacle to deter criminals and those who defied the Empire.
The early church, the Church of Martyrs, grounded Christianity in victimhood. Little were the apostles aware of the fate that awaited them when they were marked with tongues of fire in that upper room after the Christ's resurrection. According to Christian tradition, John was the only one to die a natural death. James the Greater, Matthew and Bartholomew were decapitated, as was Paul. James the Less was stoned. Judas Thaddeus was shot through with an arrow and Thomas was pierced with a lance. Phillip, Peter, Simon, Andrew and Mathias were crucified. Ecclesiasticus warns, "If you wish to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal."
Hanging on the cross of oppression are victims of poverty, war, genocide, unjust civil practices ... the sad list goes on. And Pope Francis would add to that list the oppressed and ravaged natural world. Ignacio Ellacuría, a Jesuit priest, scholar, and educator in El Salvador and friend of Oscar Romero, saw as the mission of the church to "take the victims down from the cross". (He and three other Jesuit priests, practicing a preferential option for the poor, as well as Oscar Romero himself, were brutally murdered by the Salvadoran military.)
Throughout the world, in Latin America, in the Middle East, in Africa, in India, in the Philippines, including the Central Valley of California, people are victimized by the desperation of poverty. This may be worsened by gender-or-sexual-orientation bias, certainly by racial bias, or by being tossed aside due to age, infirmity, developmental delay. These are the Selves unseen by people of privilege, who do not conform to the interests of consumerism, or, if seen, ignored, blamed, or judged as ignorant and unworthy. No one will applaud their daily struggle to survive. No one will beatify their Self-less-ness.
The invisibility of profound disability can make children easy marks for adults with violent intentions. Particularly in areas of extreme poverty, the needs of those children exceed the abilities of families to cope. My wife and I recently drove the the jagged backroads of La Gloria, a Mexican barrio not far from the border. My friend, Rev. Jim Hagan, affectionately regarded by the people as Padre Jaime, spends his ministry building centers to attend to and keep safe those vulnerable children (C.A.N.O.A.: Centro de Atención a Niños de Otras Aptitudes). For many, this may be the first time the children have been recognized as having any worth. My hope was to share with the staff my clinical skills. We visited the center in Rosarito, where children imprisoned in their impaired bodies -- teenagers still in cribs or confined in wheel chairs -- shared with us their smiles. Loving staff changed their diapers and cradled their bodies (my wife was more skilled at holding the children than I!) Jim, with the help of Jose, was out front pouring concrete for a ramp. We joined them and those children who could sit at the table, and they shared with us their simple and delicious lunch. We left there with the sense that we had visited a profoundly happy and holy place. They had gifted us -- I had nothing I could share.
The Analogy of Ground of Being
Some refer to the Divine Presence as the "Ground of Being". "Ground" connotes the soil in which we are planned and from which we draw our nourishment.
The Latin root word for culture is "cultus". One would initially associate the word "cultus" with cult or some sort of worship. But the Latin translates "cultus" as "cultivated ground".
Through care and attention, a culture is enriched and thrives. Deterioration comes with neglect.
My home for many years (until the spread of out-of-control development) backed onto acres of agricultural land. Although we feared for the effects of chemical spray on my young daughter whose bedroom was within a stone's throw of the fields of corn or tomatoes (depending on the year), at the same time, we enjoyed the wide expanse of green, walking our dog down the hardened furrows after the land was cleared, acknowledging the farmworkers bent over the ground clearing weeds or planting seedlings, greeting the burrowing owls assigned to stand guard late in the evening at the edges of the field. What followed was the season of cultivation, with tractors working in tandem, through the dust and stubble, turning the earth over and over for long days and into the night. I learned how important cultivating was to the process, in which the landowners invested great attention, energy and time. If the land were well cultivated, enriched by the amenities that were added to the soil and open to receive to embrace the rains of winter, a rich growth would follow. (Sadly, when the owners eventually decided to cash in on the lure of development, they abandoned the land and cultivation was ignored. What the ensuing summers found were meandering dust devils and a few isolated stalks of corn punctuating what had quickly become a refuge for thistles and tumbleweed.)
From the verdant and hilly countryside of Galilee, the Christ must have been in tune with the rhythms of the land. He shared many parables about soil, seeds, planters, trees, vines, and harvests. The best harvests came from the richest soils.
At the base of all the elements that form human culture and identity is the Divine. One description of God is the "Ground of Being". We spring from deep, rich, fertile soils.
Avenues of Spirituality
God loves diversity. The Divine delights in the variety of the palette of life, reflecting the diversity by which the Trinity is characterized. Diversity is the primary ecology of the Self.
Diversity is nature's way to adapt to the ever-changing variety in the world. Natural selection favors facility of adaptation, resulting in the best chance for survival.
In July of 2014, typhoon Glenda took aim at our Philippine jungle home. Taking lives and destroying many people's homes, the typhoon mercifully spared our family and left our residence without severe damage. What was destroyed were the grounds we took so much pride in: orchids which we carefully tended, exotic ornamental plants, and rare fruit trees from around the tropics that took years to finally bear fruit.
It did not take long for the jungle to reclaim the damage. I spent countless hours sitting on the veranda and marveling. Various species of insects reappeared, whose wings have been modified with large eye spots or bodies with artificial armor to scare off larger predators. Smaller insects whose body color exactly mimic the specific host plant on which they alight. Large leaves or tiny ones designed to either capture rain, drain water, or siphon it to areas of need. Copy-cat flowers mirroring each other in a variety of color or design. In the small yard of our California home, the evolutionary process seems to have stalled compared to what I see in my Philippine jungle home. Successive generations of life forms experiment with slight differences to capture whatever evolutionary advantage may present itself. The jungle replaces what the typhoon swept away.
The net result of this cacophony of adaptive evolutionary process is that life unstoppably creeps forward. Better defenses, more effective predation, subtle changes of shape and color (the most attractive or useful of which we choose for our own specializations) diversify the opportunities (and dangers) in the natural process.
From the abundance of God, abundant blessing flows. Luke 6:38 suggests a mental model of abundance -- in return for our generosity, we have poured on our laps a generous amount, packed tightly, shaken down and overflowing. From the God-Self springs creativity, revelation, and boundless love.
The Abundant Self contains resources to sustain safety, identity, intimacy, integrity, and happiness -- as well as the capability to form community, meet the needs of the dependent child, and care for the less fortunate.
What one sees depends on what one focuses on. If one focuses on scarcity, that person is prone to greed and paranoia. With a spirituality of abundance, we can share and help the needy. Abundance spirituality fosters hope. whereas scarcity thinking can create despair.
A growth ethos (all are entitled to more: more possessions, more property, more technology, more of the earth's resources) runs counter to the spirit of abundance. Even more jobs -- when translated into a proliferation of low-paying jobs that do not meet a decent standard of living, jobs that require excessive hours and stressful commutes, jobs that suck the dignity and joy from work -- do not meet the demands of justice and equality.
The Self is blessed with Desire. To desire is to orient the Self to what is better, what is richer, what offers the Self more opportunity, more pleasure, greater fulfillment. Without desire we would settle for mediocrity, fail to invest the Self in improvement, give up on making the world a better place.
Inordinate desire misdirects the Self to objects beyond the capacity of the Self to attain. Frustration, disappointment, disillusionment await the Self who falls victim to its lure.
Wanting to be perfect prevents the self from doing the good enough. A false humility shies away from desire. Distraction from accomplishment disguises righteous pride.
There are some forms of schizophrenia where the Self-critic gains the upper hand. The Self becomes paralyzed. In this case, psychiatric intervention can help liberate the Self.
Then there are desires that direct the Self toward that which, at the outset, are known to be next to impossible to fulfill; yet to many the mere possibility validates the effort. I am aware of those in economically depressed parts of the world with eyes set longingly on the United States. Some sacrifice everything to cross the border, yet many are apprehended and turned back the moment they set their foot on the soil on the other side. Many turn back and try again... and again.
There are those who act on desires that they know are beyond achievement. Those who strive indefatigably for lofty social goals, such as global economic justice or world peace, realizing that they never will see fullness of the justice and peace they desire, yet the effort itself is its own reward. Desire empowers the dream: not night-time fantasies, but hope-filled expectations of a better world.
There is a hunger for the Transcendent, that which transcends ordinary experience . There are various ways to express its fulfillment: "enlightenment", communion, heaven, rapture, nirvana. We hope for union with the Divine. Johann Sebastian Bach's musical piece, "Jesu, Joy Of Man's Desiring" melodically celebrates the fulfillment of our spiritual longing. We place in the Trinity the realization of our deepest desires.
"Did you know when you wonder, you're learning;
Did you know when you marvel, you're learning."
In scientific investigation, certainty pretends to displace wonder, leading to other uncharted areas to investigate. The amazing findings of emerging brain studies and DNA analysis have provided exciting keys to unlock secrets that have long been hidden. Quantum physics presents intriguing alternate cosmologies.
At the same time, they lead us up against deeper secrets. What is the origin of life? Are hope and meaning simply products of brain serotonin or a means to biological and evolutionary advantage? Does religion meet an anthropological need for myth to structure experience? At what point is the human embryo a viable and conscious being? Do near-death experiences teach us anything? Does transcendence transport us to a higher level? Is there God?
The pliant Self tolerates ambiguity. "Life is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived."
It is our predilection, in the exciting age of scientific reasoning, to attach truth to the outcome of the rigid process of intellectual investigation. Even some of our attempts to form an analogical understanding of God are based on the rational extension of human experience. (Thomas Aquinas in the Quinqe Viae, or Five Proofs, use the logic of the Unmoved Mover, the First Cause, arguments from contingency and degree, and the Teological Argument to prove the existence of God.) My thesaurus lists truth as an antonym of imagination. Too often overlooked is the reality inherent in wonder and imagination. Art, poetry, magic, story telling, music -- those and other structured and unstructured expressions of the creative human spirit --are the zones of higher level of truth.
Lost in wonder, the Self challenges the boundaries of "quick and dirty" solutions. Vistas of surprise and astonishment open. Desire sees its outcome and dreams capture possibility.
From imagination, the creative emerges. With imagination, a world of peace and 'justice can be envisioned. “If you can imagine it you can do it."
The word “ecstasy” comes from the Latin roots: ex (out of); stare (to stand), meaning "to stand out of". A unique characteristic of the human is the ability to Stand Out Of the Self.
Scripture recounts many moments of ecstasy. On the mountain of the Transfiguration, the “scales” fall from the eyes of the apostles Peter, John and James; and Jesus was transfigured before them. The mystical quality of the post-Resurrection accounts in the Gospels reflect the ecstatic experiences of encounters with the Christ. In Acts, despite the apostles proclaiming Good News in their native tongue, the linguistically diverse listeners all heard the message in their own language.
There is the ecstasy of composing a song, drawing a work of art, writing a poem. Imagine the ecstasy of the Creator, as evolution continues to elaborate God's handiwork. Imagine the ecstasy of of Resurrection, the hope of victims united with the Christ on the cross.Analogy assigns the role of Sanctifier to the Third Person of the Trinity. To Make Holy is to bless us struggling with sin and death with the thrill of the Sacred.
Often, we use “ecstasy” to refer to peak moments in our lives: those experiences that thrill us when we can transcend the borders of normal experience. The human process of erotic love -- attraction, falling in love, sexual union -- is an ecstatic phase. Standing on a mountaintop overlooking the vista at our feet; surrounded by music and with our senses vibrating to the rhythm and melody; holding our newborn in our arms: these experiences as well can carry us out of our being.
But ecstasy comes in simpler portions than those peak times. Listening to a good sermon. Learning something new. When acquaintance blossoms into friendship. Reading a good book. Cooking and enjoying meal. Table fellowship. Finally solving a problem.
In ecstasy, the Self is fully alive.
Education is training for ecstasy (or, at least, should be).
The word “educate” comes from the Latin words, e ducere, meaning to "lead out". Education leads the learner out of his or her Self, to be open to new things. More often than not, the bureaucracy of the educational system impedes the learning process. The emphasis of high schools (and, sometimes even in the earlier years) on getting into a preferred college and of higher education on career building rather than on the art and joy of learning cheats the Self that is eager to expand their horizons. Not having been "schooled" in learning, once out of school all learning stops, and the mind and heart atrophy.
The Self has a hunger to learn. The Self has a hunger for teaching with authority.
False teaching continues the oppression of ignorance. Ignorance is an unclean spirit, a kind of blindness and confinement.
No wonder forces of oppression want to maintain ignorance. Remember when Blacks in the United States were forbidden to read. Consider that some Middle Eastern countries deny schooling to women. Be wary of organizations that withhold information from its members.
Where there is an effort to keep us confused and ignorant, let us appreciate those who have courage enough to open our minds to the ecstasy of learning. Good teaching is a sign of God's loving activity on our behalf. Good Teachers share in this special ministry towards God's people.
Hunger for community is satisfied by creating bonds with others. There is the basic family community and there are communities of friends, coworkers, church, and neighborhood.
Sad is the elderly person, isolated in a rest home, sequestered from family and friends. Sad is the person whose inability to get along with others alienates him or her from human community. Sad is the person who cannot trust, thereby banishing the Self to a life of lonely skepticism.
Neglect has deleterious effects on the Self. There are functions integral to Self-growth that are stunted if the Self cannot exercise its potentials in interaction. Without interaction the infant will fail to thrive. Likewise, other tasks of early childhood depend on the healthy exchange between the child and the child's significant caretakers. Insecure attachment impedes normal development and restricts the Self's ability to regulate emotional response.
Some Selves, fearful of a threat to their fragile egos, fear intimacy. They put up boundaries. allowing others only limited access. On the other hand, the Jealous Self, sensing a desperate incompleteness, wants to "swallow up" the other, taking all their time, demanding constant attention, on guard lest their interest or affection slip away toward other objects. Then there are Selves with an overly idealized image of intimacy who are disappointed and frustrated at every relationship, never reaching the impossible standards they set. Some, addicted to that experience and the feelings that romantic intimacy engenders, search again and again to repeat them. (Romance novels, offering a safe, vicarious experience enjoy a vast market. Not as safe, and, at times, causing tremendous stress to relationships, are the opportunities in social media for anonymous relationship, at times rekindling feelings from earlier romances or exploring attractions that otherwise should have been kept at a safer distance.)
A culture of isolation detaches the Self from a sense of community. Social networking cannot replace human connection. The addictive preoccupation with electronic media fosters detachment. In the midst of instantaneous cyber communication and a vast array of video distractions, the complaint heard most often by the young is -- "I am bored",
Life fully lived includes positive interpersonal involvement. This is a perduring characteristic reported by people who have enjoyed a longer-than-normal lifespan (definitely characterizing my own mother who lived ninety-eight years).
Conviviality describes a style of living together where needs are met, others are welcome and appreciated, positive neighborliness is fostered. Ivan Illich, author of Tools for Conviviality, describes conviviality as "getting a little tipsy together". Pope Francis writes: "An admirable creativity and generosity is shown by persons and groups who respond to environmental limitations by alleviating the adverse effects of their surroundings and learning to orient their lives amid disorder and uncertainty. A wholesome social life can light up a seemingly undesirable environment." He outlined the basic tools for Conviviality in his presentation at World Day Of Peace, 2016: "An ethics of fraternity and peaceful coexistence between individuals and among peoples cannot be based on the logic of fear, violence and closed-mindedness, but on responsibility, respect and sincere dialogue."
To create situations that impose anxiety on others -- workplaces where executives motivate employees by creating job insecurity, less-than-transparent leadership that obscures important data or withholds essential information, parents saddling children with unrealistic expectations, politicians artificially inflating a neutral situation to garner votes (or to attack an otherwise non-offensive country) -- erode the structure of a convivial society. Financial institutions capitalize on people's naïveté (or inability to supersede immediate gratification) and create economic instability, not only for those individuals, but, eventually, for an entire society.
Martin Luther King Jr., in his Letter from Birmingham Jail on April 16, 1963 writes: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." As a means to universal sanctity, conviviality is a call for Social Change. Pope Francis again tells us: "In an increasingly interdependent world, we see ever more clearly the need for inter-religious understanding, friendship and collaboration in defending the God-given dignity of individuals and peoples, and their right to live in freedom and happiness."
"Let the children come to me, for such is the kingdom of heaven."
Pope Francis fondly remembers his childhood in nature , recalling growing up in the hills, drinking from springs of water, plating in the neighborhood square. A return to these experiences is to rediscover our true selves.
An essential characteristic of childhood is play. Healthy child development goes hand in hand with the freedom to play.
Children of war, children living in constant fear of the deportation of an undocumented parent or separated from a parent, children preoccupied with hunger, children deprived of attention and recognition by a caring adult: growing apathy can overshadow their personality, edging out the ability or desire to play, blocking the development of appropriate spirituality. (There are happy exceptions of children with extraordinary resilience.) Terrorist armies thereafter supply spiritless youth with guns (or they find their own weapons, sometimes in a parent's closet), willing to blast their way into some distorted sense of recognition and meaning.
The child can teach the Self the magic of play. To play is to step aside from our work-a-day world and to replenish (recreate: re-create) our imagination and our creativity, providing enjoyment and relaxation. Leisure is the basis of culture. Play is the opportunity to unwind from the stress we have accumulated.
Sometimes play becomes serious business. At times, such as in professional sports events, entire groups or even countries are swept up in the game. Competitive play establishes winners and losers. Youth organized sport becomes distorted when the game itself is not the focus and asserting dominance is, with parents and coaches imparting values that negatively impact future personal and business interactions. "Playing the table" or "playing the horses" or "playing the slot machine" can cross the line into addiction, at times destroying lives and relationships. "Just playing around" hardly excuses the emotional hurt those "harmless jokes" cause.
Positive play is often accompanied by laughter. Laughter provides a powerful release of emotion and, at the same time, facilitates group bonding. My wife and I spent a few days in a simple Philippines hotel, next to an old basketball court, worn and cracked concrete surface, hoops without nets and somewhat flat, rugged leather balls. In the warm evenings and mornings, before and after the heat of the day, the young men would gather for intense pick-up basketball games. With amazing skill, all participants were laughing with the joy of sport and competition. When I happen upon a grammar school during the recess time, the shouts of children at play present a high-volume cacophony: it is there I can most clearly hear the laughter of God!
One of the gifts that support and order our relatedness (and assure the future of the human race) is gender. Gender mutuality is, at the same time, a need, a challenge, a joy, a comfort.
The passage from the Pauline epistle (Eph. 5:22-33), often read at weddings, establishes a unequal gender relationship between the husband and wife, male and female. Gender bias creates the paternalism that has characterized much of western history and church history.
God has no gender. God is not male (despite the way artists have depicted God), and It God is not female. God is neither "He" nor "She".
Or maybe boundaries are obliterated in the Inner Life of the Trinity. God may be male-female; God is "Father-Mother" ("Daddy-Mommy"), "He-She".
The Human Self has both male and female characteristics. Men and women are enriched by embracing their duality. A healthy all-inclusive Self can engage in relationships with the opposite gender without the need to fall back on gender roles that establish an unequal relationship.
Human gender identity falls on a spectrum. In these days, variations of gender identity are more openly discussed and more readily accepted. Complementariness in human relationship need not be gender determined.
Despite the challenges, it is in partnership that the Self finds complementariness. Because of the gender differences between man and woman, heterosexual gender mutuality often is a struggle. Homosexual mutuality has its own challenges as well, not the least of which is the lack of spiritual support from institutionalized religions.
The ultimate purpose of hormonally driven gender attraction is procreation and family roles. Survival of the species is a mandate planted deeply inside the nature of the Self. Other characteristics of sexuality include gratification, physical and psychological relief and release, partner bonding, increased intimacy.
In sexual intercourse, individual polarities are superseded in the act of union; separate selves experience intimate attachment. The disarray that so often preoccupies our consciousness is momentarily displaced by a primal sense of harmony with all of being. Mutual nakedness relieves us of those things we armor ourselves with to defend and maintain particular identities. Sexual touch renders intimate areas that are otherwise forbidden.
Traditional sexual ethics assigns a moral consequence to all sexual thoughts or actions. Any sexual intention or expression not directly attached to procreation is condemned.There indeed are areas where sex can be distorted, misused, and, indeed, immoral, such as the sexual abuse of children and forced sexual activity without consent.
In this perhaps more enlightened age, we understand gender roles and the meaning of sex in the broader human and environmental context. Morality includes not only appreciation of human nature, but also consciousness of the population and environment, and the need to protect against sexually transmitted disease.
In the abundant array of human giftedness, gender invites mutuality, and sexuality is a gift to be guarded, cherished, and embraced joyfully.
My sister displays a beautiful painting in her living room. It features an attractive Hawaiian dancer facing the surf exactly emulating the pose of a shadow figure, her teacher who had gone before.
Recently I paid a surprise visit to my sister. She is now in her seventies. She has been a student of Hawaiian dance all of her life, finally buying a residence in Hawaii to continue both as a learner and a teacher. She was creating a dance with a lady I recognized as our dancing teacher when I was a child. (Clearly, I did not follow the path of a dancing career!) She was dancing with her former teacher, who had to be close to eighty! They were planning a hula presentation for the upcoming holidays! The two ladies have been dancing partners for so long that they were mirror images of each other, each beautiful and graceful step exactly imaging the other.
The Persons of the Trinity dance in perfect synchronicity.
The universe expresses itself in dance. The fish dance with the sea, blossoms with bees, even predators with prey and fire with forest. The mighty coastal redwood trees cannot find water enough in the ground to sustain them, so treetops dance with gentle mists carried by the morning fog and receive moisture they need. The tune set by each ecology is a pattern containing the steps and moves each partner makes.
Surrounded by the dance of the universe, the Self is invited to do its own dance. Our individual dances are specially scripted by our spiritual self direction and conditioned by our upbringing, our environment, our society. The life task of the Self is to achieve balance between the disparate parts of our personality. When we attempt to deny or suppress any part of the giftedness of Self in order to conform with an alien external standard, our dance loses step.
The Self is a particular and brief dance of the universe in the present time and place. A dance among a myriad of other dancers, in a world where all of nature is stepping out in universal expression.
The violence of God is a frequent theme of the Old Testament. Against the backdrop of the lapses of faithfulness of the Chosen People, God permitted the their enemies to overrun them. When they were faithful, God enabled the Hebrew armies to slaughter their enemies.
The Christ showed a way of nonviolence, but at the same time tolerated the violence of society. And it was the violent act of crucifixion that ushers in salvation.
Violence is a resource of the Self. There is the necessary violence that is part of the natural process and is needed to assure survival and defense. There is assigned violence: a sacred trust imparted to others by society to act in behalf of that society. (We are increasingly aware of the onus placed on those delegated to carry out justice to act in a way that ignores society's biases.)
On the other hand, social mores and institutional endorsement can mask from the Self the evil inherent in current practice. People who not only considered themselves good, sensitive, and honorable, but also whom were endorsed as such by broader society, ostracized homosexuals and perpetrated what we consider this day as the great social evils of slavery and the slaughter and mistreatment of Native Americans.
The Self finds itself in the midst of a violent world. The ongoing violence of war, genocide, and terrorism at times overwhelms our borders. At this writing, thousands of children from Mexico and Central America illegally are crossing into the United States, seeking refuge from the pervasive poverty and the gang and drug-cartel killings that plague those parts of the continent. And, increasingly, gang violence in the United States is proving elusive the American dream of security for neighborhoods and the many who are the families of the victims caught in the cross fire.
(2 ) Pope Francis affirms that the violence in the human heart asserts dominance over the natural world and humans become the plunderers of life, resulting the poisoning of soil, water and all life forms.
Oscar Romero, the Salvadoran bishop himself violently assassinated, counters aggressive violence with the Violence of Love: "The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood; the violence that wills to beat weapons in sickles for work."
Pope Francis writes: "Peacemaking calls for courage, much more so than warfare. It calls for the courage to say yes to encounter and no to conflict: yes to dialogue and no to violence; yes to negotiations and no to hostilities; yes to respect for agreements and no to acts of provocation; yes to sincerity and no to duplicity. All of this takes courage, it takes strength and tenacity."
My experiences as a child therapist have taught me that any understanding or intervention must inevitably involve the family. The Child-Self is intimately connected to the "Family-Self." The Self of the young child emotionally includes the Self of the parent.
As a homilist, I chose the Sunday after Christmas, traditionally the feast of the Holy Family, to remind the assembly that our families are habitations of the Christ child. In the way we cherish, care for, forgive one another, the Christ Child is reborn, again and again. This especially extends to where there may be the greatest need: the young, the aged, the sick, the addicted, the troubled, the outcast.
Family violence may range from child/spousal abuse to the emotional abuse and cruel games we play with one another, to the abuse of the heart/spirit that accompanies the raised voice and rude and vulgar language. The culture of violence in society cannot thrive where families divest themselves of violence.
A few years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to drive through the Northern Rocky Mountains of Canada and Alaska on the Alaskan Highway. We sat in silence as the magnificent wilderness stretched our spirits beyond the workaday world we left behind. Our Selves were cleansed, expanded, renewed.
A feature of modern culture that is most destructive of the Self is the clutter of incessant noise. As if traffic, jackhammers, woofer-shaking bass from passing cars were not enough -- now our young people push pods into their ears to erase any trace of incidental silence.
Aversion to silence may be indicative of individual or societal reluctance at self examination and self questioning. It may be a fear of encountering and, ultimately, embracing the Shadow Self. Or it may be a cynical surrender to a perceived hopelessness of improving one's Self or one's world.
How can a youth raised in the chaos of noise experience the benefits of silence? If there is constant shouting in the home, how can they learn the respect in listening? If others' discomfort creates the need for constant chatter, where would come appropriate pause or reflective response?
In our recent trip through the Yukon on the Alaska Highway, for my wife and me to stand next to a lake reflecting the tall peaks behind it was a sacred experience. In the awesome quiet we heard the heartbeat of God. The wonderful silence of the deep forest, the intervals of silence as spent breakers pull away from the shore, the silence of early morning made evident by the song of a bird or the crow of a rooster -- the Self thrives in these moments, not merely as opportunities for introspection, but invitations to still the chaos within and eliminate distraction.
In 1 Kings 19:11-14 we read of Elijah, who went to a cave to await an encounter with God. There came a rock-shattering and mountain-rending wind, an earthquake, then fire: but God was in none of those places. And finally there stirred a gentle breeze; Elijah covered his face with his cloak and went to the entrance of the cave and said: "Speak Lord, your servant is listening."
The person not only encounters its own Self but also the Self of God in moments of silence. Noise precludes attention and mindfulness. Silence points the heart to the truth within.
The Spiritual Self exercises power in gentleness, in concern, in forgiveness. In acknowledging weakness, we confess a far greater power. The illusion of power slips away for the addict who cannot free him or herself from addiction's strong hold, for the successful take-charge CEO now facing the ravages of terminal illness on his beloved wife or child and can do nothing to change the course of the disease, for a spouse facing a failing relationship where the other is unwilling to work for change.
The symbol of light is an important Scriptural reference.
Isaiah tells the Hebrew nation that their light dispels the darkness of if they witness the justice of God and remove oppression from their midst. The evangelist Matthew applies this same lesson to God's Kingdom, the Christ telling us we are the light of the world.
There is nothing hidden in the Trinity. In inner life of God is luminescence. Isaiah, the Psalmist and Matthew imply that interior goodness and works of love generate pure light.
The symbolic adversary of God is often depicted as darkness, sometimes represented as the "Prince of Darkness".
The Shadow Self is that part of the personality that often eludes awareness.We give it a negative connotation, for often it is uncomfortable to journey to the "dark side" of the personality. Many consider the Shadow Self an enemy of the Spiritual Self.
Inconsistencies between the Self we project and the Self we keep secret intensify the shadow's darkness. Sometimes the Self can be its worst critic. Desire for perfection prevents the self from doing the good enough. A false humility shies away from desire. Distraction from accomplishment disguises self-righteous pride. Cynicism protects the Self from acknowledging goodness.
Sometimes projected goodness, or holiness, or righteousness compensate for the negativity or shame that we have associated with the hidden Self.
Disorders in the brain subvert the need of the individual to balance the shadow in an integrated personality. They may be called Mania or Depression or Schizophrenia or Possession or Paranoia or Obsession/Compulsion, among others . In order to integrate the personality, psychotropic medication often is needed, and, many times, effective.
The Self's urge towards positive integration points those areas of pain and anxiety that call for resolution. Self-acceptance welcomes the good along with (what we may perceive as) the bad; the flaws with the beauty, the foolishness with the wisdom. The self can balance suspicion with trust and thereby function successfully in the world. Echoes from the Discordant Self are invitations to grow.
Just as the object blocking the sun cannot disown the shade it creates, so the "Shadow" defines the totality of the Self, to be recognized and integrated into the personality.
The Christ directs his followers to avoid anxiety. He singles out the birds of the air, secure in their nests, and the lilies in the field, displaying color to outshine bejeweled royal garments. In the intense environments in which we find ourselves, there is the spiritual mandate to surrender, confide, relax. Spirituality invites us to take the countercultural step of putting in perspective the stressors that beset the human spirit.
Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve... You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
A civil-rights anthem sings, "I wish that I knew how it feels to be free!" Centuries of oppression have generated cries of freedom, in song, in oratory, in demonstration, in riots in the street, in declarations of independence.
For many, freedom means "free from". Besides the obvious oppressions of race, religion, gender, and economics -- and the conflicts, bloody or not, generated by these things -- the Self also desires to be free from its past, free from restrictions, free from delusions, free from the scars of trauma, free from unrealistic expectation.
Freedom is relative. In the midst of the most limiting of circumstances, solitary prison confinement as an example, some have managed to achieve a freedom of spirit. (While sadly, others have been driven to madness.)
The ultimate freedom of the Self is also its indenture. Every human freedom carries with it a kind of servitude. Bob Dylan sings, "You got to serve somebody."
Often, through the beguilements of the commercial and material interests that have a chokehold on society, the Self unconsciously surrenders freedom of choice and slides into other, more subtle, forms of slavery that are the enemy of the spirit. Freedom becomes oppression when the Self become addicted to immediate gratification. Freedom becomes oppression when the Self gives in to the lure of power, pleasure and possession. Banking interests securely anchor many to a life of credit-card debt.
In choosing, we tether our Selves to our commitments. There are commitments that emancipate us.
The Christ offers the Spiritual Self the opportunity for the "freedom of the sons and daughters of God". Ghandi espoused the freedom of service, where the Self beaks its bondage to the ultimate tyranny of egocentrism. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: "the
Pope Francis reminds us in that environmental concern is an integral part of a modern spirituality.
Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, writes, "How can we teach our children about creation and creator where there are only man-made streets about." In my private mental-health practice, a proactive intervention I regularly prescribe for troubled youth is unstructured time outdoors in nature. As a clinician at a facility for troubled teens in a large, economically disadvantaged city, a weekly mental-health group activity I structured was to go to the city parks and clean the trash. They probably learned more socialization, survival skills, and civic responsibility from that activity than from sitting in a small room for group therapy the whole rest of the week!
In the natural world, the Self enjoys exercise and free movement; nature stimulates interest and curiosity, invites the Self to construct and organize, and distracts from stresses. Nature leads us to step out of the Self while at the same time refreshing the Self.
Nature places the Self in the presence of God. From the grandeur of Yosemite falls gushing over the granite cliffs in spring to the intricate microscopic pattern of an insect's wing refracting a spectrum of color and light, there is a beauty that surpasses the human ability to create. People are drawn to a source of Beauty from which emanates what the artist at his or her palette can only try to imitate or the photographer at the periphery of the camera's lens can hope to capture..
Beauty inspires mortals to imagine reality in balance, harmony, and grace. A potted orchid offers consolation when all else in a hospital, with children are gathered at an elderly parent's bedside, bespeaks death. Facing another crowded commute after a hard day in the workplace, a sudden sunset turning the sky crimson glimpsed in the rear-view mirror inspires. Encountering a beautiful young man or woman at the turn of a corner excited.
As sharers in the fabric of the natural world, from our bodies to our minds, we acknowledge that the same beauty has been imparted to us.
In many ways, "in wilderness is the preservation of the world." Pillagers of the natural world manipulate needs of consumerism to their own ends. The peril to the natural world -- through climate change, through overpopulation, through environmental destruction -- is all too real. An awareness of and struggle for environmental and population justice, a radical change in habits of consumption, and the consciousness of the Self as steward of the environment entail immediate and necessary action. For if we continue tipping the ecological balance, in the end, what is at risk -- is the Spiritual Self.
Through solidarity, we stand with victims everywhere. To be meaningful, solidarity requires action. It is an individual choice based on the person's unique circumstances. It can be a commitment to service or simply a commitment to prayer.
The Victim Christ, in union with all victims -- of war, of oppression, of poverty -- hung on the cross unto death. God embraced the Christ hanging on the cross and vindicated his victimhood with love and power. The power of God gives hope to victims with Resurrection.