News: Bad, Fake, Too Much?

Or perhaps . . .?

Our society seems to have fallen in love with news, and news of any kind. National TV = 24/7. Social & Local = Facebook, Twitter et al. We have this compulsion to know everything that’s going on anywhere in the world, and to share every bit of news that we’ve either heard from others or have experienced ourselves. Why is it so important to share every trifling item with an ever-growing audience? Why should I expect anyone to be interested in my trivia?

There are a few reasons why we are so attached to news.

  • ¨ We need the social connection. Our congenital loneliness welcomes companionship and attention, preferably on a constant feed.
  • ¨ We need to be valued, and having a “scoop” puts us in the limelight, if only for a minor event and if only for a moment or two.

Our insatiable appetite for news ensures that we doggedly keep watching or listening for it, even though it almost invariably upsets us. My repeated and basic question is, “How much news do I really need to be a good neighbor, parent, or citizen?”

I’ve been on the planet for a few years and even as a youngster I remember my teachers alerting us to the fact that we couldn’t believe everything we heard (e.g. rumors, gossip), nor should we believe everything in print (this now includes digital alerts). I still remember teachers telling us how to evaluate the trustworthiness of reports: how reliable is the source? Does it come from someone who routinely trashes others? From someone whose vocabulary doesn’t include those three precious words, “I don’t know”? From someone whose chief occupation lies in fluffy entertainment? From a sensationalist? Or from someone who is willing to die for his/her claims?

I can’t pretend to have the answers to how much news others need, only how much do I need. If the constant stream of robberies, murders, overdoses, and especially wars, violence, man-made destruction – if these pull me down to a place of almost constant fear and excessive grief, then maybe I don’t need so much. If these reports result in numbing my sensibilities, that’s a reason to ease up. I can’t afford to de-sensitize myself; I need to maintain the ability to compassionate with others.

If, on the other hand, these events move me to pray and to ponder how the Kingdom of God contrasts with the kingdom of this world, then I need to keep watching and praying, lest I fall into temptation, as Christ urged his apostles in the garden of Gethsemane.

For after all, we have been given news that is life-giving: the Good News that is a how-to for happiness on this earth – in spite of all its injustice, cruelty and woes.

Reading and pondering the Good News teaches me about the three stages of discipleship:

  • ¨ Servant: The Ten Commandments provide the basic fundamental rules about living justly with others. These prepared humanity for the coming of Christ.
  • ¨ Friend: The Beatitudes, introduced by Christ, deepen our level of knowledge to an awareness of the spirit of the law. These transfigure us.
  • ¨ Child and Heir: taking to heart Christ’s final Command to love others as he has loved us is the ultimate consummation of love that transforms us into the very image of God.

I use the phrase “taking to heart” rather than the word obeying. That is simply because, for many, obedience has gotten a bad rap. It can have the connotation of some kind of slavery to a demanding, tyrannical Boss who will punish us if we don’t follow his Rules. On the contrary, as Jesus showed us, the laws of God and the command of Christ lift us to the highest level of freedom which is our soul’s union with God. To take the command of Christ to heart means that we have allowed God to take complete possession of us, not as slave to master but as lover to lover.

Being lifted up to this transformative level is to experience, to a limited degree of course, what Jesus meant by entering the Kingdom of God, by having the Kingdom of God at hand, close to us, accessible. Now this is really Good News!

When Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus, he affirmed: My kingdom is not of this world . . . I came into the world to testify to the truth. In other words, we can’t find the truth in the values of this world.

Pilate scoffed and asked, without waiting for an answer: What is truth?

Happy are we, in the midst of all this bad news, to have been taught the truth of the Good News. We are more than the “people” of God: we are God’s children. As such, our destiny is to be holy as he is holy. We can say with Christ, our impeccable source and model: Take courage, little flock. I have overcome the world!

Space and the Spirit

It’s no big mystery how the name of this blog came to be. Experience has taught me that it’s impossible to say anything about the spiritual life unless the Spirit itself, this wonderful Muse, dictates it.

So for now, I remain spiritually locked up until the now-distant Spirit decides to let me in on a personal secret or two that I can write about.

These days I ask myself: why has my “inspiration” dried up? Surely I must be doing something wrong. I don’t think I’m alone in typically blaming myself first for anything that seems to go wrong in my spiritual life. But then, as soon as I think or write those self-defeating words, the questions start. Why is something “wrong” just because it’s different from what I was feeling and experiencing just a short time ago? Why is change “wrong”? Where is it written that I must be continually overflowing with ideas, sentiments or (heaven forgive me!) insights?

Because I’ve been given the kind of temperament that looks for reasons, I start looking for them. When I first started writing posts, I saw them as a sharing of graces given. Except for the editing, they rolled almost effortlessly out of reflections on scriptural passages, or from situations in my life. Can I blame the dry spell on the season’s imprisoning weather? Not really. Can it be because I’m sharing deeper conversation with friends and am somewhat used up by talking, instead of filled up by silence? I’d like the inspiration to stay strong. I don’t like the sensation of being dropped, as it were – dropped by the Spirit simply because I may have temporarily diverted my attention. That can’t be the reason.

No. I think this “dry spell” has actually become something to write about. There’s a different kind of lesson here. God is not all around me just for my entertainment, or just for handing out goodies that make me feel privileged to share.

Recently, as I was in my living room, pondering this question and attempting what I sometimes think of as prayer, my eyes wandered to the various pieces of art on my walls. Each is different. Each hangs alone, separated from the others by varying degrees of space. They’re not all hung, one right next to the other. What a disturbing and disagreeable effect that would have on anyone in the room! The violent ocean scene would be scrunched up next to the serene French village next to the embroidered sampler next to my parents’ wedding photo, and so forth. Ancient Latin used to be written like that, without spaces or punctuation. The sentence I just wrote would have looked like this:
ancientlatinusedtobewrittenlikethatwithoutspacesorpunctuation

You get the idea. The perceived emptiness of space is necessary and inevitable. The space we perceive as “emptiness” must exist if we are to find meaning in what emerges from within that space. We can’t appreciate what is until we notice and appreciate what isn’t. I suspect that the emptiness I’m experiencing now is not really space or absence or emptiness, but some thing that’s just different, an entity in its own right.

Each of us is separated from one another. And though we often feel that space between us and God is infinite, it is the miracle of love that moves us to bridge that space and, in fact, to ultimately succeed in finding an undreamed-of unity. For God is even in emptiness. All I have to do is keep my eye on that space and continue my spiritual practices with gratitude.

Conversion

I write this on the feast of St. Paul’s conversion, January 25. And what a conversion was that!

It’s my opinion, produced by experience, that I am repeatedly called to conversion. For me, there was one very big one, so big that I remember the date, place and hour. It was October 4, 1998, in Santa Fe (Holy Faith) at the noon Mass being celebrated at the Diocesan cathedral of Saint Francis. It was the fourth centenary of the Franciscans in the New World. The large number of Latinos at this Mass guaranteed that the liturgy’s music would indeed be celebratory. The contagious joy and enthusiasm of the parishioners acted upon me like Paul’s blinding light: powerfully and instantly converting me, bringing me back to the Faith that I had abandoned 21 years earlier.

Let me say it again: we are repeatedly called to conversion — not necessarily in a grand fashion, but in small doses, mini lights that invite us to make Gospel decisions.

  • Shall I respond harshly to this person to let her know I don’t appreciate her criticism of me?
  • Shall I turn a punishing frown at the guy who practically knocks me over with his shopping cart?
  • Shall I get out of bed for weekday Mass, tired as I am from staying up late to watch a movie?
  • Shall I give in to the “sadness of the noonday devil,”* or will I accept the call to bravery in performing those uninspiring tasks that wait for no one but me to finish?

These are the little conversions, the tiny steps that follow at a great distance from the footsteps of Christ. These are the mustard seeds, the tiniest available, that I’m invited to plant and tend carefully and steadily until they explode into trees, housing flocks of birds.

The Gospel call of the Apostles has always intrigued me. I used to lament that I was not around to be called to discipleship (not that as a woman I’d have been called anyway). There was a kind of magnificence to being called, to being lifted out of the drab dullness of daily drudgery to follow this great healer, preacher, teacher; to view the wonderment of the crowds and to be so intimately connected with the greatness of this man! For me, discipleship represented the best kind of greatness.

Before his call, Saul too had a kind of greatness. He was a leader in the gradual but persistent elimination of heretics who arrogantly claimed fellowship with a blasphemous criminal (as if this were something to be proud of!). Saul’s task: bring them back in chains, let them imitate their master, even to submitting to the same end and manner of execution.

Given his powerful personality, this saint-in-the-making required a proportionately powerful show of God’s great mercy. A mere hint or two wouldn’t be enough. Saul needed a blinding light, a certitude that would impel him to undertake the most trying conditions. In spite of all his sufferings – he recounts shipwrecks, imprisonments, beatings – he considered them as nothing, and himself as the least of the Apostles. Indeed, his new name – Paul – means poor and small. Only in his acceptance of this smallness and the cross could he find true glory.

No wonder “little” Thérèse’s doctrine set the world on fire. Goodness, even holiness, was now presented to the hoi polloi as readily available even to the least of us. This young woman, formally educated only to the sixth-grade level, was named a Doctor of the Church for having taught this humble approach to God. Her longing to be a missionary, even to be a priest, was far beyond the possibilities of her circumstances. She recognized that all God wanted of her was fidelity to what was right in front of her: undramatic daily chores; crabby people; simple prayer which she often slept through. Each choice brought her one step closer to the One she loved “madly!”

How simple are my choices! Not easy, and certainly no longer grandiose as I grow slowly but surely into the reality of insignificance. All that remains is to be totally focused on the desire for the one thing necessary and a dogged determination to live the Gospel.


acedia.jpg* The “sadness of the noonday devil,” a spiritual condition called acedia is a gloomy combination of weariness, sadness, and a lack of purposefulness. It robs a person of his capacity for joy and leaves him feeling empty, or void of meaning.

New Year Inventory

Different peoples celebrate their New Year on dates other than January 1. To my way of thinking, every day starts a new year. We who are Christians are invited to constant conversion. For most of us, a new start – whenever it occurs – brings back hope and confidence.

I won’t go into all of last year’s situations that required hope. Probably if we did a bit of research, we’d find that just about any year in the world’s existence was full of incidents that made us relieved and happy to have the year end, along with the hope for improvement during the coming year.

I’ve now reached the age where some New Year’s “resolutions” are passé. I most likely won’t lose those 10 (or more) pounds in 2018. Nor will I spend a faithful half-hour a day on the stationary bike downstairs. Discipline! What a harsh word! And anyway, resolutions like the ones just mentioned are inspired mostly by my vanity.

This year I’m in an anti-clutter mood. Taking inventory of excess material possessions has inspired me to reduce the contents of my basement storage cabinets. You know the adage, “If you have the space, you’ll fill it!” The pledge to cut down on unnecessary things comes from compassion for my future survivors who will have the burden of disposing of so much stuff after my passing.

The stuff in the basement includes literally hundreds of slides of places visited with my husband. Let’s be honest: for the most part I can find pictures of France, Italy, England, etc., that are more professionally photographed. So one easy decision: those are out. Photos of family get-togethers are harder to revisit, prompting more emotion than I really want to deal with. It’s much more difficult to throw those out, so the kids will simply have to deal with them.

At this point, I’m happy to report that several large trash bags and a few trips to our local charities have helped me keep this resolution. But the other and more difficult inventory has to do with my inner life, my spiritual journey: my relationship with God, family, friends, directees.

Clutter. Just as having more material stuff than we need creates clutter in our home, there’s other stuff that clutters my soul.

Some of the clutter is comparable to my cupboards. There’s stuff in my life that, while certainly not bad (like the photos of our travels) take up space that can be used for better purposes. The real problem with clutter, whether material or spiritual, is that it prevents us from seeing what we need at this moment, or finding what is really important. (I challenge you to find the ordinary house key in the messy drawer pictured below.)

Clutter

For me, interior clutter consists of an excess of wants. “Want” doesn’t only mean “desire”. It also means a lack, something missing from my life. Maybe that something is an absent person; maybe it applies to me wanting to be a person that other people will like and admire. It can be so many things, situations or even persons. If the Lord were truly my Shepherd, I would want for nothing. So clearly, what I want and what’s missing is more of the Lord.

The presence of the Lord fills the empty space of want but only for as long as I invite and prefer it. As soon as I dismiss the presence of Christ, I find nothing but emptiness.

Nowadays, people refer to the ultimate of emptiness as a “black hole.” Oddly enough, a black hole (so Google tells us) is a superabundance of matter, the very opposite of emptiness. “It is a place in space where gravity pulls in so much that even light can not get out. The gravity is so strong because matter has been squeezed into a tiny space. Because no light can get out, people can’t see black holes. They are invisible.”

Isn’t it great to discover that science of the universe conforms to discoveries about the Creator of the universe? At the spiritual level, a black hole is a heart so full of other things, other thoughts, other desires, that even light, i.e. the Supreme Light that is God, remains trapped and invisible to us.

So my clutter, I discover, is ironically an emptiness: wanting that which is withheld from me at this moment, even if they’re good things in themselves. Its opposite is accepting what IS – i.e. Light, God, and what is right in front of me now. What IS, is reality: fatigue when I’d prefer to be energetic; answering the phone when I really don’t want to speak to that caller; accepting the apparent rudeness of a friend, which is really my own thin skin (I know how to behave so much better!); and so on and so on and so on. So much trash in there, so much wasted space hiding God!

But the most cluttering of all desires is the desire to be what only God is and what I’m not: perfect. Awareness of my failure to be perfect is the best gift of all. It keeps me grounded in the reality of accepting this incomplete thing that is my self.

Unlike the black hole, God is total light and draws us, along with all our imperfections, into the total brightness of his loving Being. God is the God of transformation Who ultimately gives us what we lack, what we want, which is God Himself.

+     +     +

p. s. And here’s the key we were looking for: Clutter-key

The King of Love

I’m not sure where I stand regarding this Feast of Christ the King. Yes, this trait of mine can sometimes be a nuisance, but I need to dig into statements or phrases which, through repetition,  may have lost the full strength of their meaning. I need to test their truth, to be dazzled by the newness of their authenticity.

So what’s challenging about the concept of Christ as king? After all, in the gospel for this Feast, Christ actually refers to himself as a king who separates the sheep from the goats, the charitable from the uncaring.

What causes me to ponder this theme are other contradicting parts of the gospel: Jesus of Nazareth, a man of humble origins (the carpenter’s son!), performs some astounding miracle that so impresses the crowd that they  rush at him to make him king – just like that! No polling or voting on their side, no armed forces on his. For Jesus, king-making has nothing to do with spectacular deeds. Furthermore, he frequently emphasizes the importance of rejecting honors and choosing the last place.

The simple, unaffected man from Galilee has a totally different style. Instead of taking people by force, he issues gentle invitations to a life of inner peace and ease.

Come to me, all you who labor, and I will refresh you. My perfect love for you will lift from you the burden of seeing yourself as unloved. If you come to me, if you come to know me, you’ll realize how lovable you really are by loving me and loving others in me. My way is not to dominate you, to be a fearful tyrant, but to be a comfort to your false sense of worthlessness. And even that invitation will not be forced on you.

Jesus did not want to be associated with empty worldly ambitions, and expressed that early on by resisting Satan while in his desert of preparation. For Jesus, the throne of power came from the God of Love, and the favors to be dispensed were those of Love given, accepted and shared. People were not invited to the feast because of battles won, nor for any splendid inventions or even artistic creations; not for nations founded nor for roads built to connect one conquered people to another; not for taxes imposed, collected by force and used to pay for the luxuries of  higher-ups.

The crown that ultimately was placed on Jesus’ head was one of mockery, meant to shame him. But Jesus couldn’t be shamed because he had already totally surrendered Himself to whatever his Father found necessary. Having already taken the lowest place, he could go no lower. I think he must have even rejoiced to be given that Crown of Thorns. He knew only too well the consequences of ambition and greed: nations at war over which would have the highest place, the most power over people, ownership of immeasurable wealth, buildings and clothing that reflected power and greed.

Christ’s idea of royalty was reserved for the kind, the brave and the caring, even if their lowliness separated them from the haughty and made them the  subject of sneers and mockery.

The kingship of Christ was the last word of greatness: the victory of Love over cruelty and injustice. The hymn expresses it beautifully: The King of Love my shepherd is.