Life, the Way It Is

WE can never comprehend the vicissitudes of life no matter how much we might try. Besides, we were never meant to anyway. If we cannot accept that we have little control over what happens in our lives, then we may admire people who supposedly appear self-assured and in charge of their destinies. This last point overlooks the fact that we are all vulnerable precisely because we are human. We all must live with our imperfections and if we do, we will likely forgive others for theirs as well. Tolerance of others usually means we feel a greater sense of peace internally and with one another.

Yet here is the really good news. Since God created the universe, God is to be discovered in everything. This applies to the

darker, unhappy aspects of life too. For example, I visited a long-term care facility

to witness patients who could not feed themselves, patients crying out for attention, patients who could not sit still even for a moment and patients who could not communicate. A place for the aged and infirm is not exactly a joyful place at the best of times. However, in the midst of the infirm, God is present. Nurses dispense medications, nursing aides feed those bound in wheel-chairs, PSW hold hands and comfort the afflicted and other caregivers offer a smile and kind word to the distressed.  This love and dedication can be seen daily, rendering it all the more remarkable. This feat is phenomenal as the care givers are not seen with the same status as a someone with power, wealth and status. In short, the long-term care workers, serve quietly

no doubt, without the three “virtues” so highly valued in our culture. Essentially, the higher selves in their natures, what we call the presence of the Holy Spirit in Christianity, is active in the lives of these people. Truly, they are living out the gospel, despite their own imperfections because of the love they exhibit towards the patients. Certainly this is my perspective as I have a loved one living there.

Do you wish to increase your own sense of peace? Then, thank those unsung heroes that help you and your loved ones by expressing gratitude towards people who genuinely and  unselfishly care for others. You will be happy you did as we find it so much easier to criticize than to give praise. I see Mother Teresa active here in many ways!

 

The Journey of Grief- How Might we Help?

Note: Despite being preoccupied assisting an ill, loved one, I pray that I can make more consistent entries!

There are no easy answers about how  best to assist those grieving a significant loss including that of a spouse, child, grandparent, aunt, friend or anyone else that someone may have loved. There is probably no greater challenge in life than to face personal loss! But here are a few ideas on how we might be present to others. Never say to a grieving person that things could be worse as there is nothing worse than a loss; your world may be the same after a funeral but the widow or widower’s world is usually tumultuous. Indeed, he or she may appear strong but they may be in too great a shock and too numb to realize fully what has just occurred. In fact, it may be some three months later when supporters say “he must be over it by now”; it is usually then that the grief may become worse as the full impact of the loss sets in. Sufferers will often feel overwhelmed and worry that they are going insane. Many times the grieving, months later, will pine for a friend to talk about their loss only to find the visitor will talk about everything except the person who is missing. After all, we may worry that we will upset the lonely individual if we broach the sensitive topic.

Hence, if there is no one available to listen, the mourner may conclude that no one understands them and that their ability to cope is poor! In reality, we must learn to empathize even  if the situation make us nervous. If the mourner is ready, talking about their loved one’s life and the memories it evokes may be very helpful. Find any way you can to let your friend know that you will help them get through the crisis. Do not pretend you have all the answers but instead, simply listen to the person who may wish to retell, repeatedly, their story. Respect that everyone may grieve differently than others and that the above are merely guidelines for assisting others. Certainly grieving for a loved one is an indication that the person really cares for another. Unfortunately, in this life, there is much we cannot control; hence, our task whether we be Christians, some other faith group or good humanists is to help  each other through this journey we call life. Remember what you say is not nearly as important as how you make the person feel after your visit!

*** I wish to thank and acknowledge Dr.Bill Webster for sharing his wisdom about the grieving process.

 

Death and the After-Life

Due to caring for an ill loved one I have not been able to write for some time….

There are many times in life when it seems we have little or no control over our destiny and that of our loved ones and acquaintances. A loved one receives a terminal diagnosis

and you are stunned by the implications. This is someone that interacts with you and affects your life directly. The person has cancer and you storm the heavens with prayers asking God to heal that person. The person does not get better physically necessarily (although this can happen) but learns to accept their situation. I witnessed this transformation before my eyes. Naturally, the loved one wanted to live on but miraculously accepted her terminal illness. God supported her in her trial as her faith grew enormously! She gave her family strength through her courage. She even had visions of the after-life. When this person’s husband heard about these “imaginings” he simply said his wife must be dreaming. However, she assured her spouse that these images of heaven were real. She knew they were real.

My loved one was reluctant to tell others outside the family believing that others would interpret her experiences as being fantastical. Today this woman’s testimony remains the most solid evidence for us personally about life after death. Because of this experience the woman felt that her mission on earth was accomplished. She also felt she was unworthy of such a unique experience but I can attest she was a very loving person. Alas, God notices as Mother Teresa would say, to perform small acts of service with love. For example, if you give someone a cup of tea solely to make them feel better, then it is being done with the right intention. Probably one of the most moving scenes in the Charlton Heston movie of Ben Hur is when the protagonist gives the cross-bearing Jesus, a cup of cold water.  Earlier when Ben Hur had lost the will to live, Jesus lovingly provides water to the despondent, galley slave. Jesus of course uses his entire life unselfishly loving others. For me I sought out and was consoled by Jean Vanier who listened to my tale of woe and sense of helplessness. He assured me that the family should continue to love the dying person to the best of our abilities. This timely advice sustained us in the coming months and years. Truly God is present-especially when we need our Creator the most.

The Art of Forgiveness

I once heard Jean Vanier say during this season of the full harvest moon, that we are all

called to forgive one another. This is very difficult to do for it is so much easier to see the faults in other people rather than ourselves. In fact, if we become greatly upset by another’s actions, it could very well be that we are seeing our own imperfections which manifest themselves in another person. If we do not recognize this, then we may feel wronged and be angry with the individual. Oftentimes, the person irritating us is unaware that they have upset you; hence, we can waste a great deal of time and energy feeling angry because another individual does not behave the way we want them to. When the apostles asked Jesus if there is a set number of times we should forgive, He responds that there is no limit since we all fail one another many times.

Nevertheless,the great English writer, C.S.Lewis says we must try to rid ourselves of resentment and the desire to humiliate the offender since we tend to see only how we have been hurt and not what the other is experiencing. However, Lewis recognizes that “forgiving does not mean excusing” especially if one has been bullied or cheated. While extremely difficult, we try to pray for people who may have wronged us and whose level of consciousness is so low that they cannot fathom our point of view. Hopefully, there will be more groups and voices like those in the Middle East where for example Palestinians and Israelis try not just to see one another as victims but see each other as having been wounded. A rapprochement is indeed more likely if you see the other’s pain and suffering.

On an individual level if we accept ourselves as we are -including our faults then it is unlikely we will judge other s so harshly. It is important then to work on our own stuff, raise our level of consciousness and then help others to raise theirs. Only by practising love not hate will be able to learn better to work together in greater harmony.

Thanks

MIchael F.

The Prodigal Son’s Father

I heard a story recently in church about a teenaged daughter who asked her father if she could

take his new car for a ride promising to be careful. Unfortunately, she is cut off while driving and ploughs into a tree. Thank God the priest says she is not seriously injured.

While her family members express alarm, the young woman is most concerned about her father’s negative reaction. However, when he sees her, the father only says he is overjoyed that his loved one is not seriously injured.

This positive attitude is not easily achievable. But perhaps the wise father (or mother) knows that their child is not remotely reckless and that ultimately harshly condemning the daughter cannot undo the accident. The insurance and repair costs may rise but perhaps the daughter will remember her parent’s forgiving attitude more than the accident itself. After all, the above parental reaction is not typical because it is natural for us to criticize what we may consider poor judgement. Emotions may easily over-rule our thoughts and the harsh words may flow.

Hence , the parent figure above acts like God does. He/ She is delighted that the child averts a terrible tragedy especially since we are all very vulnerable in this sometimes violent world. This family will experience what Henri Nouwen calls the  “hidden joys” that only the family and small circle of relatives and friends may only know about. For example, I have seen handicapped children -with numerous health issues -undertake therapeutic horse-back riding. On one occasion, a little girl who could not walk very well raises her hands to the heavens and cries in pure delight “I can ride. I can ride!!” All the hill-horses-wallpapers-8091-2560x1600volunteers present that day rejoiced like the father or mother above because of the infectious joy of the youngster. While the world is filled with so much sadness, may we rejoice by delighting in the small joys expressed by others.

God bless.

Michael F.

Contemplation Sept. 7 /16

WE live such hectic lives that at times it seems almost impossible to make time for prayer. While it may be impractical to set aside twenty minutes twice a day due to job and family

obligations, we can sit fruitfully for shorter periods of time. My wonderful meditation teacher Barbara W. teaches a class where one of the exercises is a three-minute reflection where one calms the mind, relaxes the body and accepts the present moment as it is. For Christians, the Holy Spirit communicates with our conscience through the Bible and our daily experiences.(see works of Fr.Keating).  For example, if I am really concerned about something, I pray continuously. Oftentimes, I will receive a phone call, an e-mail or read something supportive that addresses my worry. Naturally, this does not occur magically but I find

that God does respond in some way. You may only feel thirty seconds of complete and utter

consolation while being in the throes of agony a few moments ago. This albeit, brief relief

signals that God is addressing the True Self in our being.

Moreover, I admit it is not easy to sit still for even twenty minutes and think of nothing. The mind is like a wild bronco! What one must do is to think of a mantra every time the “monkey mind” meanders. For example, you might say the word, Jesus  before trying to maintain an “empty mind”. This act seems unproductive to the Western mind but in fact helps one  feel connected to God. Afterall, we are spiritual beings not just material ones.

With time you may find yourself forgiving yourself for your faults and those of others as a result of regular contemplation. You may even be surprised to discern God’s presence in your daily life. Unquestionably, I have felt this.  Once while leaving after a late class in Toronto I had a flat tire. A complete stranger saw me and without saying much proceeded to assist me! He could have easily have just walked by because it was past 10 p.m. and it was hard to see. Truly, this is only one of many occasions when I saw the True self emerge in these good-natured souls.

Today I am inspired above by the work of Thomas Keating.

Becoming Fully Human Sept.6/16

In a hyper-competitive society it is difficult to show any kind of vulnerability because to some

this implies weakness. Further, we are not here just to achieve success and reach a higher social status. We are here in God’s image, to love one another through both word and deed.

Movies make it seem easy to love but of course it is extremely difficult particularly if we have had a difficult day at work or are encountering someone who is very different from us whether it be their culture, ethnicity, race and so on. To love means having noble intentions and acting on behalf of another. Oftentimes, we forget we are capable on our better days, of loving others genuinely. WE in turn if inspired by faith, can encourage others in turn to be just a bit more loving. Fear freezes us while love warms and opens us.  (Jean Vanier) Everyone yearns deeply to be loved and appreciated. If we are spurned by others we may become bitter. I dislike the acronym V. I.P. simply because it impliess that one human being has more worth than another.

While one person may have more responsibility than another, in the eyes of God we are all equal. However, if we do not feel secure, we may have a desire to let another know how intelligent we are, or how much we have accomplished so that another recognizes our superiority. Of course there is nothing wrong with being proud of what we do in our career for example, as long as we do not make another feel inferior intentionally. Hence, while speaking to another, we should try to be aware of our motivation in the present moment. This is difficult but a greater level of consciousness can be sought if we contemplate on a regular basis. Nevertheless, do not condemn yourself if you acted selfishly at first when trying to impress another but having recognized this fact, try to do better next time.

God bless.

Michael F.

Jean Vanier inspired me in this blog.