Monday, September 29, 2014

The Discipline of Rest

"Desert Garden"

Yesterday my wife and I spent a relaxing and refreshing day strolling through beautifully cultivated desert gardens located on the grounds of a sprawling estate not far from where we live. Historically, this estate has served as a place of retreat for most of the modern-day U.S. presidents who have often come there for rest and recreation - sometimes to meet with Heads of State. I can see why, this is such an iconic setting for peace and calm, an ideal place for getting away from it all.

Yesterday as we gently walked in the gardens, fountains gurgling, birds singing, we stopped to sip a glass of iced tea under a shade tree as a cool Autumn breeze refreshed us - a welcome relief from the intense summertime desert heat.  It was at that moment that I had a flash of insight about the vital importance of "resting" for the heath of body, mind and spirit.

As I sat there in the shade, I realized that I wasn't praying, I wasn't meditating, I certainly wasn't working, I wasn't even thinking - I was simply "resting," and in doing so I could literally feel my energy being renewed, my "batteries being recharged."

I sometimes wonder if "resting" may have become a lost art in a culture where everyone seems to be so focused on always "doing" something - always so busy at work, busy going to class, busy shopping or taking care of the kids, busy writing an email, sending a text, checking the phone.

I think that sometimes people even think of their own spiritual practices as being a busy time of doing hard work - busy going to church, busy saying prayers, busy meditating, counting breaths, intentionally working at being "mindful."

Some may think that when you "rest" you aren't doing anything,  or perhaps when you rest you are being lazy. I think the opposite is true. I believe that "rest" is in fact a spiritual discipline and a necessary ingredient on any path toward living a full life.

The Buddha talked frequently about the importance of resting in the living of everyday life.  He taught his disciples:

If you toil without rest, fatigue and weariness will overtake you,
and you will be denied the joy that comes from labor's end.

In the creation poem of the Hebrew Scriptures even "God" took a period of rest after the hard work of creation, and in the Gospels Jesus frequently takes his disciples away from the pressing crowds to put up their feet under a grove of trees. Jesus even offers himself as a source of rest for those who are weary in their journey through life:

Come to me all you who are weary and heavy burdened and
I shall give you rest.

When Saint Benedict wrote a "Rule of Life" for his monks to follow in their everyday living, he told them to divide their day into the practice of four "balanced" spiritual disciplines: "Pray, study, work, and rest." Each of these disciplines are equally important on the path to finding deeper peace.

This is probably good advice and important wisdom for any of us on a spiritual journey.

I am reminded of a lighthearted little story from the ancient Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers:

When a wise old Abbot was asked how he dealt with
any brother who fell asleep during public prayer, he replied,
'I put his head upon my knees and help him to rest.'






  








Sunday, September 28, 2014

Butterfly Effect

"Woven Together"
-in my meditation garden-

The other day a disgruntled employee threw gasoline on a computer that controls air traffic at O'hare International Airport in Chicago - that one destructive act literally affected the entire world.  In Chicago alone, 1000 flights were almost instantly canceled; and since this airport is such a central hub, millions of other people were affected not just in this country but all over the world - flights delayed, rerouted, often canceled. 

I've been thinking about that incident at the Chicago airport - thousands of angry and anxious  passengers waiting in terminals around the globe, travel plans totally frustrated, ill at ease and unsure of what to do.  I also think about how all those millions of people might have spent the remainder of their day - perhaps expressing their pent-up frustration by lashing out in anger against spouses, families and co-workers, or maybe impatience with a waiter in the restaurant or the cashier in a shop.  All this negative energy building up and  flowing into almost every corner of the wold because one disgruntled employee decided he wanted to punish his supervisor by throwing gasoline on a computer.

The physicists and mathematicians of our day help me understand something of what may have been going on with that incident at an airport in Chicago. The scientists who developed "Chaos theory" propose what they call a "butterfly effect" to explain how "stuff happens" in the world, suggesting that  since everything and everyone is so dynamically interconnected in one complex web of relationships, a "very small change in one part of a system can result in large differences in later states of the system." 

The "small changes" contributing to very "large changes" is called a "Butterfly Effect," because it is a scientific fact that the flapping of a single butterfly's wings generates energy that literally affects the weather pattern of the entire planet.  So, for example, a butterfly's flapping wings in the mountains of Tibet will ultimately contribute to a vast hurricane that will strike the Atlantic coastline sometime in the future. 

A few days ago a disturbed man poured gasoline on a computer in Chicago. That one act was "flapping wings" that generated some very nasty energy leading to a storm of negativity that swept over the entire planet.

I think of all the small and seemingly insignificant nasty little things I might do in a given day - angrily honking my horn at the driver who cut me off, a harsh word to my wife because I'm tired or in a bad mood,  a contentious phone conversation with the repairman who said he fixed my refrigerator but didn't.  Because we are all so dynamically woven together, none of these seemingly insignificant actions are ever isolated - every time I do any one of these things I am indeed "flapping wings" that generate energy leading to a storm.

Of course there is a flip side to all this.  

Seemingly small and insignificant acts of everyday kindness, compassion and generosity also have a "Butterfly Effect." Acts of kindness also exponentially grow.  The flapping of the wings of my everyday life can contribute to a violent storm, but they can also help create an ocean of peace. 

The Buddha taught:

As from a large heap of flowers many garlands and wreaths are made
so by one mortal in this life there is much good work that can be done.

I want the single flower of my life to be woven into a beautiful wreath. 








Saturday, September 27, 2014

Eyes on the Prize

-in my meditation garden-

Yesterday the local NPR station featured a story about families who put too much pressure on their children to be "high achievers" in school. One young man was interviewed who explained why he recently dropped out of college, "All my life my parents were always telling me, 'keep your eyes on the prize,' and nothing I did ever seemed to be good enough. If I got a 99 my dad complained because it wasn't 100. I was always preparing to "get into" the best school that would guarantee me success in my future career." 

He concluded the interview by saying, "The pressure got to be too much for me and I even contemplated suicide, so I decided I needed to drop out of the race."   

I have heard many stories like the one told by that boy on the radio program. I think lots and lots  of people today live their lives with their eyes always on the prize. 

As a parish priest I would often shake my head in dismay as I observed so many ambitious parents who were already planning the next step their 1st and 2nd grade children would take up the ladder of success. The day these kids started grammar school, their parents started to "gear up" for that prestigious middle school, that would position their kids for a perfect high school, that would open the doors to get into just the right college, that would launch them into their future careers.  

I would often think about those 1st and 2nd graders on their way to their promised futures. The thing is that not one of them will ever actually achieve that long-desired prize in life because the prize doesn't exist, it's imaginary. 

Kids in grammar school have their eye on middle school but that's not the prize. No, now the prize is high school, but when they get there they haven't yet reached the destination; now they are preparing for college which will prepare them for their futures. Then, of course out in the everyday world of jobs and careers, the longed-for prize still seems to loom on the horizon - a better job, a more lucrative career, more money, a bigger house. 

I have known so many people in my life (in some ways I have been one of them) who have worked all their lives at ambitiously pursuing some sort of desired future; and when they finally arrive at their supposed destination in life, they throw up their arms and cry, "Is that all there is?" 

I am reminded of something Thomas Merton once said:

People may spend their whole lives climbing the ladder of success 
only to find, once they reach the top, that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall.

Of course I think it's fine to have hopes and dreams for the future, goals in life, a vision of where we might like to be. But far too often people only "live for" a future that will never happen- always running toward a prize that isn't there, craving more and bigger, higher and better. And in all the frantic running, they so often miss where the prize really is - here, now, in the present moment.

As I sit in my mediation garden today, I think about all the buried treasure in my life that I often overlooked and walked over because my eyes were always on that imaginary prize.  Climbing up the ladder, pursuing educational goals, pursing career successes, plotting, planning and strategizing,  I wonder how often I failed to recognize a tender touch of my spouse, the loving smile of my children, the fresh crisp smell of an Autumn day.

As I sit in my desert garden on this gorgeous morning in Autumn,  I have my "eyes on the prize."  The prize is here, the prize is now - so much buried treasure.   











Friday, September 26, 2014

A Spirituality of Doubt

"Desert Shadows"

The Most Rev. Justin Welby is the Archbishop of Canterbury - the worldwide leader of 80 million Anglicans. The other day he gave a sermon in which he admitted that at times, he has doubts about his faith, and these seemingly harmless remarks set off a round of strident response that echoed around the globe. 

One London paper said this was the "doubt of the century." The social media lit up with tweets and comments offered by stalwart Christian believers everywhere who declared that they were "highly offended" that such a prominent worldwide religious leader would dare to admit that he has doubts about his faith. Prominent atheists everywhere also chimed in, declaring, "Victory, even someone like the Archbishop of Canterbury isn't all that certain about God." 

Personally, I have never paid that much attention to what Archbishop Welby said or did, but the other day, he climbed way up to the top of my list of respected religious leaders. 

As I see it, faith has little or nothing to do with certainty. In fact if you are "certain" about something you don't need faith. A spiritual journey of any kind is always a journey into the mystery of limitless transcendence - a mystery that cannot be contained within the rigid and "certain" limitations of unquestionable doctrine. A spiritual path is paved with shadows and questions -  without doubt there is no faith.

I am reminded of something the renowned theologian St. Augustine once said back in the 4th century:

In talking about God, if you claim to understand what you are talking about,
then what you have 'understood' is not God.

After reading the story about the Archbishop of Canterbury's "doubt of the century" sermon, I thought of someone else who became much more respectable to me after she declared the doubts she experienced on her spiritual journey.  Mother Teresa of Calcutta was often hailed as a "living saint." She was renowned for her holiness and highly respected by people throughout the world for her work with the poor, the sick and the outcast. 

After her death, Mother Teresa's memoirs were published and she admitted that even though she was a celebrated religious hero, for most of her life she was tormented by doubts and walked more in the darkness than in the light.  In one of her journal entries she wrote:

There is darkness and uncertainty within me, sometimes it feels like everything is dead.
It has been like this from the time I started "the work."

The spiritual path of one of the most renowned "believers" of our own modern era was a path of uncertainty. And yet, it was her doubt and uncertainty, her lack of answers that ultimately opened Mother Teresa to the transcendent, to the "Great Mystery of God," wherein she found the strength to live a life of exemplary abundance and generous compassion. In the end, it was her doubt that saved her, and her doubt that made her strong.

St. John of the Cross, the celebrated 16th century mystic and monk, described the spiritual path as a way that is walked in the mysterious "darkness of night" more than in the clear and certain light of day. He once said:

There is never more danger in stumbling 
than when we are sure we know where we are going.











  

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Picking Up the Pieces

"Olive Branches"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I just read a "letter to the editor" in our local paper. The writer of the letter declared that, when it comes to world events, this past summer was the worst he could ever remember -the recent air strikes into Syria capped off a whole string of violence and bloodshed, death, disease and destruction that has been rocking nations all over the globe for the past months. The letter concluded with a lamentation: "I'm glad summer is over but I think our problems have just begun, I feel as if the whole earth has been shattered into pieces." 

As I was thinking about that image of the shattered earth- broken into pieces, I remembered that today is "Rosh Hashanah," the Jewish New Year, and I immediately called to mind the ancient Hebrew mystical wisdom known as "Kaballah." According to this tradition, the world was created in perfect harmony, flowing with and bathed in the light of "God."  However, that perfect peace was shattered and the world is now broken - peppered with broken "shards of God"- pieces of light scattered everywhere.  

Kaballah wisdom teaches that, rather than just wring our hands and bemoan the brokenness of the human condition, we can actually do something about it.  Human beings can (and should) engage in the practice of "Tikkun Olam," translated as "mending a broken world." Every act of kindness, every act of forgiveness, reconciliation, and compassion, big or small, performed by any single person is an act of Tikkun Olam." Whenever such an act is performed, a few pieces of the shattered light are pieced back together again, and more light is shed on a world of darkness. 

I find this beautiful wisdom to be especially poignant in these times when it may seem as if the earth has been "shattered into pieces." 

There is little or nothing that I or any single one of us can do to control world events. I can't stop radical terrorists from beheading innocent victims.  I can't stop rockets from firing or bombs from exploding.  And yet, while I can't control  these "earth shattering" events, I can personally respond to them by the way in which I choose to live in my everyday life. 

Saint Francis of Assisi once prayed:

Make me an instrument of peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is discord, union
Where there is darkness, light
Where there is sadness, joy


On this day of the Jewish New Year, I commit myself to engage in the sacred work of "Tikkun Olam, " to pick up the pieces of shattered light by doing my best to be an instrument of peace in my everyday life. And I do believe that, when I see hatred and sow love, when I replace injury with pardon, and when I bring joy to sadness, I am indeed "mending a broken world."

The Buddha taught:

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle
and the life of the single candle will not be shortened.
Happiness is never decreased by being shared

Happy New Year!










Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Politics and Religion

"Autumn Sunset"
-At the Desert Retreat House-


Yesterday I listened to a local NPR "call-in" program in which people were invited to share their opinions about a newly-published Pew Research poll. According to this latest survey, a growing number of Americans (about half the population ) believe that "churches and other houses of worship should express their views on social and political issues." A growing minority of people go even further and express the opinion that churches should endorse candidates for political office.

If you really want to have a lively conversation, talk about politics or talk about religion, and if you want to have a volatile conversation, talk about them both.  The callers who participated in yesterday's program were quite vociferous and often vehement in their responses.  Some folks were gleeful over this latest poll: "Religion has been losing its influence in public life and this influence needs to be restored."  Others were stridently opposed: "We live in a country where separation of church and state is guaranteed by our constitution. If you want to see what happens when religion is involved in politics,  just look at the Middle East." 

Throughout the program yesterday I found myself being swayed by both arguments. I think a survey that suggests more Americans want to hear more of a  "religious" voice in the political arena is both "bad news" and "good news."

On the one hand, the voice of "religion" has been deeply divisive in this country. Religious institutions  have stridently opposed and vehemently attacked same-sex marriage and Gay rights. Churches have been vocal and sometimes violent opponents of those who hold "pro-choice" opinions. And on a Sunday morning, churches still remain some of the most segregated places in the country.  Religion in America today has come to be associated with a "right wing" political agenda, and so there is something in me that says, "keep religious voices mute."  

On the other hand, many of the greatest and most progressive social movements of our times have been directly impacted by the involvement of "churches and other houses of worship." The "Civil Rights" movement would have never gotten off the ground were it not for the participation of religious leaders and their congregations. The political speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King were more like sermons, filled with biblical references - those who marched in places like Selma came from churches across the country, many of them where "White." And to this very day many churches, synagogues, temples and mosques are strong advocates for the weak and the poor,  the voice of those who have no voice in society.

So there is also something inside of me that says, "I want to hear a much louder religious voice in the public forum of American politics today." 

I think that the problem lies in the fact that we use and define the word "religion" very loosely nowadays. As I see it, many people who speak or act in the name of religion may not be all that religious after all. 

The very word "religion" comes from the Latin word, "ligare,"- "to bind together."  I think that the fundamental function of any religion in any culture is "to bind people together, " to weave people into a fabric of relationship, binding them with cords of love and compassion. 

When I boil it all down and get to the essence of any of the major world religions, I always find "compassion" at the core of all the teachings - this is what the Bible "essentially" teaches, what Jesus teaches, what the Buddha teaches, and what the Koran proclaims.  

If the voice of "compassion" can be interjected into the political arena because of greater religious involvement, I say speak up loudly and clearly.  If the voice of division and condemnation is interjected into politics because of religious involvement, I say we already have enough condemnation  and division in politics today; and besides, that strident voice of "tearing apart" is probably not all that religious after all. 






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Belonging to the Earth

"Joshua Trees"
-In the High Desert-

Today scientists, ecologists, politicians and world leaders are meeting at the United Nations in New York to address what is now being called the "crisis" of global warming and climate change. Over the past few days the streets of that city, along with many other major cities around the globe, have been filled with hundreds and thousands of protesters demanding that governments and industry engage in an an "all-out" effort to join in the fight to preserve the life of a "dying planet."

Yesterday I watched a TV reporter interview one of the "climate crisis" protestors in New York City who declared, "Unless we act now, "Mother Nature is going to stop serving us."  While I am sure that this man was well-meaning, his statement about "Mother Nature serving us" lies at the heart of the "climate crisis" problem. In our self-centered hubris, human beings actually believe that the world of nature exists to serve us. 

Many if not most people think that the earth belongs to human beings. The world of nature exists to meet our needs- oceans supply us with fish, rivers and lakes provide us with water, the earth provides us fuel for driving our cars and heating our homes, the creatures of the earth provide us food to eat, and beautiful mountains provide us with scenic views to help make our vacations more enjoyable. 

But I think we have it all wrong - the earth doesn't belong to us, we belong to the earth. 

For decades now scientists, biologists and ecologists have argued that the entire planet is in fact one enormous organism, one gigantic "ecosystem."  The earth, wind, air, rivers, oceans and mountains, animals, birds that fly and fish that swim, and all of us human beings on this planet are in fact "one body" that lives and breathes and is dynamically connected and interdependent. 

The world of nature doesn't exist separately, out there and apart from human beings - with humanity at the center of it all. We all "are" the world of nature. And so when oceans are polluted, we are all polluted; and when the air is poisoned, everything is poisoned. 

A story in our local paper reported that due to climate change and global warming, the temperature of the desert is rising, and so those beautiful and exotic Joshua Tress in the High Desert (not far from where I live) are dying off and becoming extinct. As I read that story I realized that as those trees are being killed, I am being killed, each and every one of us is being diminished and destroyed.

Climate change, global warming, the pollution of our air and oceans goes well beyond being a "cause" on the agenda of "tree-hugging" liberals. The climate crisis lies at the very core of our common humanity and is central to a spiritual journey regardless of what path any of us may be on.

Way before the age of science, well before words like "ecology" and "ecosystem" were used, the Buddha taught a wisdom of enlightenment - awake and mindful we become aware that everything and everyone is "one body," one living and breathing interdependent web of relationship, no person, no creature, no thing ever isolated, and nothing or no one more central or more important than anything else. 

Jesus taught the same thing.

The climate crisis is a spiritual crisis. 

As I sit in my garden at the rising of the sun, I think about something the ecologist, John Muir, once wrote:

The sun doesn't shine on us, but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us,
tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies 














Monday, September 22, 2014

The Practice of Pluralism

"Rainbow Colors"
-Dawn at the Desert Retreat House-

Growing up as a boy,  I lived in a "lily-white" neighborhood composed mostly of people who were Roman Catholics. There were a handful of Protestants who lived on my street, but that's about as diverse as it got; and to be honest for much of my adult life that's about as diverse as it ever got. And then we moved to Los Angeles - arguably the most diverse city on the planet.

After we moved to L.A. it took us some time to get used to all the many differences surrounding us,  my wife and I often felt that we were seriously "out of our element." People were dressed in suits as well as hijabs, they wore baseball caps and yarmulkes. Our church was in Koreatown and near us there were Thai Town, Little Ethiopia and Little Guatemala. Many African Americans attended our church as well as immigrants from Africa. I would walk a city street and hear the unfamiliar sounds of so many different languages being spoken at one time- Spanish and Farsi, Greek, Russian, Armenian and Tagalog. Hollywood celebrities lived in Beverly Hills mansions and homeless people slept on sidewalks on a cardboard box. 

When we came to Los Angeles we felt as if we had moved to another planet not another city.

Gradually I came, not only to welcome this vast diversity but to cherish and relish it; however, there was something about all these many differences that always left me feeling somewhat uneasy. While all these beautifully different people lived within the borders of the same city, it was rare that different groups ever really interacted with one another. People confined themselves to their own neighborhoods surrounding themselves with others who looked alike, spoke alike and thought like. In fact some of these neighborhoods were guarded by locked gates and high walls. 

I always thought that driving a car on the many endless highways of Los Angeles was a perfect icon of our common life - safe within the security of our well-protected automobiles, we could look at our fellow motorists and observe all the many different types of people passing by, but we never really got to touch each others' lives, we just sort of drove alongside one another. 

I was thinking about all this yesterday when I came across an article in the New York Times that offered a clear (and very helpful) distinction between "diversity" and "pluralism."

Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity.  Mere diversity without real encounter will actually lead to increasing the tensions in a society.

Pluralism does not require us to leave our identities and are commitments behind…it means holding our deepest differences, even our religious difference, not in isolation but in relationship to one another.

This made so much sense to me, and in a flash of insight I came to realize why I was always somewhat uneasy about my experiences of all the many differences while living in Los Angeles. They had been experiences of diversity, not pluralism.

I think about the colors of the rainbow, the many differences don't just sit next to one another, tolerating one another's existence. No, they interact with one another,  and in doing so "light"emerges.  Likewise, the "energetic engagement" of hydrogen and oxygen is what makes "water" come into being. 

As I see it, the spiritual journey is a path toward "oneness' - an "enlightened" awareness that everything and everyone all belong to one another in a complex web of dynamic "inter being." On the spiritual journey I must begin with recognizing, welcoming and even relishing diversity, but it can't stop there.  The next step is the "practice of pluralism," - doing my best each day to "energetically engage" those who are different so that my life touches their lives and their lives touch mine. 

That's when something new emerges from it all.














Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Time to Plant

"A New Season"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

As the season of Autumn is about to dawn in the Northern hemisphere, I am struck by how different my experience of Fall is here in the desert as compared to when I lived on the East coast.  

Growing up as a boy, and for most of my adult life, Autumn was a season of "shutting down." It was a season when leaves on the trees turned color, then fell to earth and died. It was a harvest season; the crops were all picked and only pumpkins remained.  Backyard vegetable gardens and beds of flowers had all withered away, the earth was "shutting down," preparing for the coming of the winter snows. 

I experience the Autumn season here in the desert in a very different way. 

This is a season for new life and for planting seeds - our second growing season of the year. It seems so odd to me to walk into a nursery and find they are selling seeds and seedlings for planting in the earth - tomatoes, peppers, berries and herbs. The intense summer heat has given way to more moderate temperatures and so now we can plant flowers once again in our garden pots. 

It's cool enough to resume our daily hikes again, even in the afternoon; and as we walk in the neighborhood and along the wilderness trails,  I notice that many of the trees, desert bushes and cacti are putting forth brightly colored blossoms and buds - imagine that, the blossoms of Autumn.

Many times I have said that the desert is the best teacher I have ever had,  and the lessons that the desert teaches in this new Fall season are powerful and wise. It seems to me that all the earth cries out, "Don't ever shut down, don't give up, every day is a day for planting seeds of new life." 

I know plenty of people who feel as if they have come to a "dead end" place in life. Many are bored with their jobs or they feel as if their "same old, same old" routine of life has left them stuck in a rut.  Perhaps their hopes and plans never quite "panned out," and so they have become cynical about what life may have to offer.

I know others who have come to the end of their careers and now in their later years have resigned themselves to believe they are no longer useful; and so as they come to the Autumn of their lives, they begin the process of shutting down - the death of winter on its way. 

That's why the lesson of the desert in Autumn is so vital and so refreshing. There is no season for  "shutting down." Each and every life is filled with blossoms that have not yet bloomed, and every day is an opportunity for planting seeds.

Last evening I had a wonderful occasion to engage in a lively conversation with some friends who had gathered together to plant some seeds as we explored the possibilities of forming a contemplative prayer group here in the desert. Each of us were in our later years, in our "second half of life," (one participant was almost 90); but there wasn't even a hint of "shutting down" among any single one of us. 

I remember one comment that particularly struck me, "There is so much life yet to be lived, so many possibilities, so many surprises yet to be experienced." I thought afterwards, what this man said was spoken like a true "desert person" who has learned the lessons Autumn has to teach.

As I sit in my garden on this first day of the week, at the dawn of this new day, I can smell the fresh fragrance of Autumn in the air, and I am reminded of a wisdom saying attributed to the Buddha:

There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth, 
one is not going all the way, the other is not starting

Every single day offers a new opportunity to start anew - it's always a season for planting. 




Saturday, September 20, 2014

Love Changes Everything

"Autumn Blossoms"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

Now that we are moving into the season of Autumn, those rather annoying "campaign ads" are beginning to surface in the media.  The other day a candidate for local office ran an anti-immigration ad in which a legalized citizen who had come to this country from Mexico decried how "unfair" it is to offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants, "I followed all the rules and I worked hard to become a citizen; it's not fair that we should embrace and offer refuge to those who cross the border by breaking all the rules."

Upon hearing this, I immediately remembered a time many years ago when I was a 10 year-old boy who had just moved into a new house and a new neighborhood. All the other kids on my street had lived there all their lives and they all knew each other well. In fact they had even constructed a little treehouse in the woods that served as a "members-only" clubhouse.  I so very much wanted to play with them -I would have done anything to be allowed entry into the club.  But I was told I had to prove myself before I could belong-when you are 10 years old, it's pretty painful to be told you don't belong.

After about a year of proving my worthiness, I was finally granted access - a full-fledged member  in good standing.  I had finally made it and it felt good. 

A few months after that another new kid moved into the neighborhood, and like me when I first arrived, the new boy wanted to join us and be a member of our club. Some of the kids said, "sure, why not?" But I was horrified at this response - it just wasn't fair!  I had worked hard to get in, I had suffered the pain of rejection, but I paid my dues and won myself a place. So I campaigned against the new boy until the others all agreed that he would also have to "prove himself" before he could belong.

When I was 10 years old I had learned how to speak the language of a self-centered ego, and ever since that time I have done my best to lose that ugly voice. 

I think about the path of the Buddha and the way of Jesus. They preached a message that many established citizens would have thought was "unfair"- a message of radical acceptance and unrestrained compassion. They pointed a path that went in the opposite direction of the way accepted by established society. 

Jesus would often get himself into trouble with the good religious people of his day by breaking all the temple rules as he shared illegal meals with outcasts and sinners and illicitly welcomed pagans and gentiles to sit at a place of equal dignity at the table of his life. 

He once told a story about a vineyard owner who paid those who worked all day the exact same wage as those who had worked for only an hour at day's end. The religious people who heard the story were outraged and they railed against Jesus-- dismayed at how unfair the owner of the vineyard was. Everyone shouldn't have been treated with the same amount of generosity-those who worked longer should have been given more. 

But Jesus told his detractors that this is how love works. Love is NOT fair!  Love is lavish, abundantly generous, unrestrained and unbridled, and he invited those who would follow his "way" to be just as generous in their own lives. 

A few years back Andrew Lloyd Weber wrote a song about how "Love changes everything." Every time I hear it I think about just how unfair love really is:

Love bursts in and suddenly all wisdom disappears.
Love makes fools of everyone; all the rules we made are broken.
Yes, love changes everything; live or perish in it's flame
Love will never ever let you be the same.










Friday, September 19, 2014

Human Hubris

"Mystical Sunset"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

In my reading yesterday I was particularly struck by a comment Daniel Maquire made in his new book, Christianity without God:

Human hubris could not swallow Copernicus' dismissal of our centrality.

I rarely use the word "hubris," and so I decided to look it up in a dictionary to get a better idea of what it means: "pomposity, arrogance, self-importance." Yes, indeed the response to Copernicus is a perfect example of "hubris" and it serves as an icon of our human tendency of thinking too highly of ourselves.

Nicolaus Copernicus, the 16th century Polish mathematician, had the audacity to challenge the well- established belief that earth was the center of the universe around which all other planets revolved. His  stunning revelation that the sun was at the center of it all got him into a heap of trouble with the culture of his day, especially that of the established church. A few years later Galileo would follow in his footsteps also reaping the wrath of the establishment - how dare he challenge the central place that God himself has afforded to human beings? 

As I have thought about it, I think this tendency to "hubris" is something inherent in the human condition. While people today understand that the earth is one of many planets, most people still fool themselves into thinking that somehow we human beings are the center of it all - we are the peak and pinnacle of nature's genius.

The scientists of our own day have observed that there is not just one galaxy but rather there are many galaxies. In fact there are an infinite number of infinite galaxies that we cannot possibly comprehend or observe. Planet earth is but a speck of dust in the larger scale of things, and yet we still go on thinking that everything is focused on us and on our superior human intelligence. Somehow we human beings continue to still believe that we are at the center of the universe. 

In our human hubris, we are still unable to swallow the dismissal of our centrality.

As I think about it, hubris is manifested in almost every aspect of our humanity. Many Americans believe this country is "exceptional," the central focus, more important than all other nations.  And regardless of one's social circle, people tend to see their own personal circle as being "at the center." of it all. 

Many individual people live everyday "narcissistic" lives thinking that they are the center of the universe - that everyone else revolves around them helping them to meet their own personal needs and goals. 

We have even created "God" in our own image and fashioned "God" out of our hubris.  We have designed and defined a "God" who recognizes our centrality -  a "God" who pays special attention to us human beings, watches over our every move, controls the events of this tiny speck of dust called planet earth, and even takes the time to develop a special plan for the personal lives of each and every one of us. 

Hubris - pomposity, arrogance, self-importance.

One thing I have learned from living in a desert is how basically unimportant any individual one of us actually is.  I recall what the famed British adventurer, T.E. Lawrence once said after he had spent a night in the naked desert under the stars of the brilliant cosmos:

We were stained by dew and shamed into pettiness 
by the innumerable silence of stars.

The desert has a way of showing human beings that we are anything but the center of the universe. The desert is so vast in so many ways that I never feel like I'm the one in control. The night skies are so mysteriously brilliant that I always feel like this planet is just a speck of dust in the larger scale of things and I myself am even less than that. The desert has a way of laughing at our human hubris and shaming us all into pettiness.

But interestingly enough, in the taming of my hubris, when the pomposity, arrogance  and self- importance of my ego are put in check, I only then come to experience a Great Mystery,  that "I" belong to it all, "I" am part of it all - the many in the ONE and the ONE in the many.   

Immersed in the mystery all I can possibly say is: Holy, Holy, Holy!











Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wounded Healers

"Blossoms in the Wilderness"

While reading about the frantic effort to find a cure for the outbreak of the Ebola virus in West Africa,  the word "cure" particularly stuck with me and I was especially reminded of the fact that, although people often confuse the two words, there is a big difference between being "cured" and being "healed." A cure is sometimes not available, but healing is always possible.

People get sick and they go to a doctor to be cured - they are given pills, undergo radiation treatment, or have surgery in the hopes that their ailment will go away and everything will be fine again. Healing, on the other hand is something very different. Healing happens when people recognize and share their mutual weakness, emptiness and pain, then stand together in solidarity and support.  

I know many people who were very sick and were never cured of their disease, and yet they were healed and lived out their days "fully alive" and whole.

The psychiatrist, M Scott Peck once wrote:

How strange that we should feel compelled to hide our wounds when we are all wounded. Love demands the ability to expose our wounds and our weaknesses to our fellow creatures. It also requires the ability to be affected by the wounds of others. But even more important is that healing happens when we share our common woundedness.

 I find such great wisdom in this.

We are indeed all wounded - sometimes the wounds take the form of a physical ailment, sometimes they appear as an addiction, a deep sadness, a doubt, loneliness, rejection.  No one's life is ever perfectly sweet and always nice and happy. 

Yet, many times people feel they must hide their wounded self for fear they will be rejected by those who are stronger and "have it all together." At times people reach out for a cure, but "healing" only happens when we are vulnerable enough to share our common weaknesses, standing in support and solidarity with one another, living within both the shadows and the light of our common shared humanity.

When a human being exposes his or her wounds to another suffering creature healing happens:  "I've been there, done that, I too have been in the depths of despair; I also suffer from addiction, my husband died last year, I have cancer too." 

Healers are always wounded people who are aware, courageous and vulnerable enough to expose their wounds to other wounded people. 

It's always so interesting to me to observe how often religious people and people on a spiritual journey are particularly prone to hiding their own wounded natures. Many religious people think that if they aren't perfect, holy, upstanding citizens, they will be rejected by "God" or by their fellow believers.  So more often than not, they hide their woundedness and mask their weaknesses. Yet to be human is to be wounded and what better place for people to be "wounded healers" for one another than while sitting in a pew or on a prayer mat. 

Saint Paul once voiced the great paradox of the human condition:

Our weakness is our strength.

I say Amen to that!









Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A Spirituality of Conflict

"Harmony"
-in my meditation garden-

Yesterday as I sat in a restaurant having lunch, the couple at the table next to me got into an argument - voices were raised, fingers pointed, when suddenly the woman grabbed her companion's hand and said, "Honey, you know what happens whenever we argue, let's just be nice to one another." They both smiled and from all appearances all was well again.

As I observed that couple who resolved their conflict by being nice to one another, my suspicion was that that all was not well with them even though they were being nice. It was obvious that this kind of stuff happened a lot between the two of them and that they had somehow agreed not to talk about problems when they surfaced, just smile and be nice - a sure formula for ultimate disaster.

I recall something the well-known psychiatrist, M. Scott Peck wrote many years ago in his books about building relationships. Dr. Peck suggested that there is a big difference between what he called "pseudo-community" and "genuine community." He went on to say that unless people in relationships were able to successfully deal with and manage the inevitable conflict that always arises, there could be no genuine relationship.  Dr. Peck observed: 

In a pseudo community people operate according to the rules of an unwritten book of etiquette. The rules of this book are: Don't do or say anything that might offend the other person. If someone does something that offends, annoys, or irritates you, act as if nothing has happened and pretend you are not bothered. If some form of disagreement surfaces change the subject as quickly and smoothly as possible. It is easy to see how these rules may make a relationship appear to be smoothly functioning, but the rules also crush intimacy and honesty and the longer this lasts the more tattered the relationship becomes.

That couple next to me yesterday at lunch were almost perfectly following the etiquette of this book of rules.

I suppose there are many reasons why people feel the need to avoid conflict at all costs in their relationships. For one thing, once conflict emerges it very often leads to attack and counteract- everyone proving they are right and the other is wrong.  I also think that people are "nice" to one another because they want the other person to "like" them, and so they will go to great lengths to avoid doing or saying anything that may result in "not being liked." 

But "attack and counterattack" in order to win a battle and putting on a "nice" face in order to be held in high esteem are always "acts of the ego" that isolate us from others and separate rather than connect. And since the primary purpose of the spiritual journey is to be "connected," since spiritual practice is all about building, maintaining and mending relationships, successfully managing inevitable conflict is always and ultimately a "spiritual practice."

Human beings are never "perfect," we all have our own warts and wounds. We make mistakes, we hurt one another, we often do not understand one another - this is simply part of the human condition. When   we can be vulnerable enough to honestly and respectfully share our disagreements and our disappointments, and when we are courageous enough to go beneath the surface to face our mutual imperfections, healing always happens and bonds are strengthened. 

I've been thinking about that couple yesterday who brushed everything under the table and decided instead to be "nice" to one another. I think that may have missed a "holy opportunity." 











Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Practice of Hospitality

"A Vast Expanse"
-Outside the Desert Retreat House-

As I was inviting people to a gathering to be held at our house at the end of this week, the word "hospitality" kept flashing through my mind. For the most part,  when people hear that word they likely think about setting a nice table or assuring that there is enough food and drinks for guests. The word "hospitality" is rarely identified as a "spiritual discipline." And yet, as I see it, the practice of hospitality lies at the heart of any spiritual path that seeks deeper truth and greater wisdom. 

Abraham, hailed as the "Patriarch" of the three major religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, was a nomad who lived in a tent in the middle of a desert. According to legend, Abraham always kept the flaps of all four sides of his tent wide open so that he could see travelers passing by, friends or strangers alike, and offer hospitality to them - a cool drink, a meal, a place to rest. One day he invited three passing strangers to stop, rest, and share a meal with him.  As the legend goes, these three strangers were actually angels in disguise. 

The "practice of hospitality" is at the heart of all the Abrahamic traditions. It is at the core of all spiritual paths. 

When I consider the teaching and example of Jesus, I find that he especially practiced a "no-holds barred" form of radical hospitality as a guiding principle in the way he lived. The tent of his life was always open to any travelers who passed him by - no one was excluded from the table of his life. He welcomed fellow Jews who went to temple every day and he dined with sinners and outcasts. He broke all the rules by embracing gentiles and respecting pagans and nonbelievers. He lived a life of radical hospitality and he invited any who would follow him to do the same.

In her book, Dakota: A Spiritual Autobiography, Kathleen Norris writes:

True hospitality is an open response to the dignity of each and every person.

We live in a culture of individualism and autonomy - our constant fear of terrorism forces us to keep borders closely guarded, gates barred, doors locked, and this "locked gate" mentality seems to have crept into the fabric of so much of contemporary life. "Circle the wagons" is the motto of the day. Be careful of foreigners, stick with safe and similar others who look alike or dress alike, speak the same language and think alike. "Keep out," "Do not trespass," are the signposts of the culture.  It's hard to find a tent with all the flaps open nowadays.

And yet, on the spiritual journey we are guided by the enduring wisdom that there are no different others. We all belong to one another. Every human being has dignity and is worthy of respect, and when we welcome strangers into our tent we often find that they are angels in disguise.

I am very fond of a story that comes out of the writings of the ancient Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers:  Some travelers had stopped to seek advice from a desert monk and they were warmly welcomed into his little hut, a meal was shared and most of the day was spent in lively conversation. Upon taking their leave, one of the travelers apologized:

Forgive us brother, we have prevented you from your daily work and kept you from your prayers and meditation. The brother answered, 'my daily work is to welcome you with hospitality and to send you on your way in peace.'

Above all else, the "practice of hospitality" is the guiding principle for all of us as we walk a path of wisdom and truth, making our way through the wilderness of life. 



  



Monday, September 15, 2014

Taking Life too Seriously

"At the Desert Retreat House"

Yesterday I was struck by an online comment someone made in response to one of my posts.  The person was agonizing over the fact that he was unsure if he was "on the right track"  - he didn't know if he was acting according to "God's plan" for his life.    

That remark got me thinking about the many "religious" and "spiritual" conversations I have with people every day - they are always so very "serious."  When we talk about "religion," "God," "belief" "spiritual discipline"-it all seems like pretty serious business. The task of figuring out who "God" is and determining "God's" plan for one's life sounds like quite a weighty burden to assume.  

I also find that many religious "church-people" (especially church leaders) believe they have the additional burden of saving a dying church and preserving a fading "tradition" in this time of significant institutional decline.  And even people who aren't particularly religious, but see themselves as walking a spiritual path can also be very austere. I am often rather entertained by online conversations about exactly how much time one needs to devote to daily meditation, proper breathing techniques, and the correct interpretation of "Buddhist" teaching.

Lots of people nowadays take life very seriously, probably too seriously, and this is  especially true when you factor in God-talk, religious belief and spiritual practice.

Maybe people take life too seriously because they take themselves  too seriously -  imagining that they are so important that God has a master plan just for them, or assuming that it's up to them to save the church, or that if they don't practice the proper meditation technique they will be a spiritual failure. 

Something Eckhart Tolle once said comes to mind:

Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be

This makes a lot of sense to me.  

We take life too seriously when we allow our "ego," our thinking, to control our everyday living.  From the perch of my ego,  the course of everyday life is up to "me" - that's why "I" must be always planning and plotting and strategizing to achieve "my" desired outcomes. Yet very little if anything in life is under the control of any one of us, and most of life is a vast mystery.

"God" is  a mystery beyond comprehension, a mystery that cannot even be named, let alone explained. As I see it, there is no master plan crafted for each of our individual lives, designed by a divine master planner, so any attempt to figure out such a plan is a "serious" waste of energy.  And, there are no formulae or guaranteed strategies for achieving desired outcomes in life, especially in the spiritual life. 

Life simply comes to us, "life happens," and by embracing it instead of resisting it we find a deeper peace.

Eckhart Tolle also wisely said:

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have.
Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.

Maybe if more people did this, we wouldn't all be taking life so seriously. 








  











Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Desert Spirituality

"A Way in the Wilderness"
--Outside the Desert Retreat House-

Years ago I first read the classic work, The Cloud of Unknowing, a 14th century guide to Christian mysticism. I recall one sentence that I found particularly striking: 

God is a desert to be entered and loved, never an object to be grasped or understood

Now that I have lived in a desert for a few years, I think I may have finally come to grasp what this actually means. In fact I have come to believe that life itself is a desert to be entered and loved rather than grasped and understood. Living in a desert teaches you that.

Real estate people are fond of the term "location, location, location" -the value of a home or property is largely determined by "context" - where the home is located, its neighborhood, its surrounding geography. So it is with living in a desert,  the "location" itself teaches a "desert spirituality."  - location, location, location.

The desert is a mysterious wilderness. A few steps from my home I can be standing on the desert floor - I never cease to be amazed and awestruck when I walk into that place.  The desert is so vast and when I stand in it, I always feel so small. It is also such a barren and empty place filled with thundering silence, rocky stone mountains and dry sandy soil. There are no roads, it is uncharted territory, and it all seems so wild and untamed, even fierce at times in the baking sun and triple digit afternoon heat. 

And yet this wilderness is also exquisitely beautiful, and always full of surprises- night skies so brilliant that you aren't sure if it's day or night, pristine sunrises so beautiful that I sometimes find myself in tears, wildflowers and blooming cacti, exotic birds, even underground streams of refreshing water that mysteriously pop up from time to time from the dried up desert floor.

Location location, location. This mysterious wilderness points a way to walk through the wilderness of life- a path to greater wisdom and truth.  It points a way to "God." 

-Emptiness:  Just as the desert is barren and empty, so must I be "empty" on the journey to truth and wisdom - no reliance on all the glib and easy answers about life and about "God" I have so carefully refined in the past. The desert teaches me to unclutter my mind and open my heart -  No living in the  past, strategizing future plans, just be empty so that I can be filled up.

-Pay attention: Every day in this mysterious wilderness, I come across new surprises that I have never seen before, but I will miss them if I am not paying attention, mindful, awake, "in the moment." So the desert fosters a contemplative spirit.  In moments of prayer and meditation, in everyday living, pay attention to what "is."

-Few words, much silence:  The desert is a place of utter silence. The silence is frightening at first but when you embrace it, it brings a sense of deep peace. So I don't need lots of words on a path to truth, and when I pray I even find that words get in my way. 

-Don't take yourself too seriously: The desert is a place where the "ego" doesn't thrive very well - the wilderness is so vast; and in it, I always feel so small.  So, the desert teaches me to shrink a bloated self-centered ego that must be constantly fed by the high praise of others. 

-Kindness, compassion, hospitality: The great paradox of this mysterious wilderness is that the smaller "I" feel, the more do I sense that I belong to it all.  I can look up into the desert skies at night and while "I" am but a speck, I also belong to the cosmos - everything and everyone belonging together. The One is in the many and all the many are in the ONE. There are no "different others" and so I am drawn out of my self toward others, pulled into relationship, called to treat others with compassion and kindness and everyone is always welcome at my door.

Location location, location. This mysterious desert wilderness is a great teacher, but you don't have to live in a desert to learn its lesson:

God is a desert to be entered and loved, never an object to be grasped or understood
Everyday life is a desert to be entered and loved, never an object to be grasped or understood















Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Language of Metaphor

"Golden Drops of Sunlight"
-morning in my meditation garden-

"This morning, a giant orb rose majestically over the eastern mountains and golden droplets of sunshine were sprinkled all around my desert garden." Now, upon reading this sentence, no one would ask me, "Did that really happen? Is your garden all covered with little golden drops of some sort of substance?" It's clear that I am speaking in the language of poetry and metaphor, so the question as to whether or not this "really happened" is somewhat ludicrous.  

The interesting thing is that religious scriptures, most especially the stories contained in the Bible are almost exclusively written in the language of metaphor; and yet people read those stories and continually ask the question, "Did that really happen?"

In Buddhist scriptures, angelic creatures announce the birth of the baby Buddha, the stars in the skies dance in a blinding array of brilliant light to celebrate the birth, and Indian sages come to pay homage to the newborn child.

Rich poetic metaphor is also abundant throughout the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament).  In the story of creation, God takes seven days to fashion a paradise of pristine beauty with everything and everyone in perfect harmony. In the story of the "exodus," the people wander for 40 years in an uncharted wilderness on their way to the Promised Land - everyone helping each other to find the way as they are guided by God who appears as a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. And don't forget the story of the dry bones scattered over the barren desert that suddenly come back to life, piece by piece, limb by limb, until new life is restored.   

In the Christian Scriptures, the birth of Jesus (like that of the Buddha) is also announced by angels, with stars dancing in the sky over a Bethlehem stable and wise men from the East coming to worship the baby. When Jesus grows up he walks on water, takes a few pieces of bread and a few fish and turns them into enough food to feed 5000 people. He stops a raging storm and restores his once-dead friend back to life. 

These stories are all told in the rich, enchanting, wonderful and mysterious language of metaphor. When I read them, I never even think of asking, "Did that really happen?" 

In his provocatively titled new book,  Christianity without God, theologian and professor Daniel Maguire makes the interesting observation that when it comes to understanding biblical metaphor, atheists and believing religious people often find themselves in the same camp. They both fail to understand the language of metaphor, and in doing so lose the deeper "truth" of what a biblical story has to offer:

Fervent atheists join the faithful in reducing the infinitely varied and image-rich narratives in the scriptures to a literal reading as though they were historical tracts or a kind of ancient journalism. Anti-poets take teachings like 'exodus,' 'paradise,' 'incarnation,' and 'resurrection' and downsize them into happenings that could have been caught on film.

For me, not only do I "not" ask if a biblical story really happened, I don't want these stories to have really happened. If they really did happen to those people long ago, then the story isn't my story. It has little or nothing to do with my life. 

But the stories are metaphorical and so these can also be my stories, speaking a deep truth to me.  I know what it feels like to wander in the wilderness and I know how important it is for others to show me the way. I have seen the dried-bone lives of countless people revived again with the healing balm of love.  I have stood in a soup kitchen and seen how a few loaves of bread can be multiplied to feed and enrich thousands of others. Many times I have stood at a cemetery tomb and had a "sure and certain hope" that somehow life goes on. 

Yes, I even live in paradise. Every morning I sit in my garden and it's a new creation, every morning is "like the first morning" as the giant orb rises majestically over the eastern mountains and sprinkles golden droplets of sunshine all around me.






Friday, September 12, 2014

A Vicious Circle

"Summer's End"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I've been thinking about this summer season now coming to an end - we may not be engaged in a "World War," but this summer it sure seemed like the whole world was "at war."  Israel and Palestine, the Ukraine, and now the escalating threat of ISIS terrorists, beheading and bombings and renewed pledges to "ratchet up" military force in that region so that war will be inevitable for years to come. 

Thinking about the suffering and chaos in so many places throughout this tiny planet  earth, I am reminded of an old Pete Seeger folk song about the ultimate futility of violence and war: "When will they ever learn, O when will they ever learn?"  

When it comes to conflict, retribution and revenge inevitably lead to a vicious circle of violence. An attack followed by an attack inevitably leads to an escalated counterattack - spinning out of control, sliding down a slippery slope that ultimately winds up in a dead end.

The Buddha taught:

Hatreds do not ever cease in this world by hating,
but by love; this is an eternal truth.
Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good.

Jesus taught the same wisdom.
Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. 

The problem is that when we are so immersed in the chaos of a world at war, this teaching may sound too "lofty," too utopian, too impractical as a way of dealing with violence and terror. Spinning around on the vicious circle of retribution, people often believe there is no other  alternate except to "ratchet it up," to spin round and round faster and faster - a very impractical solution.

As I see it, the wisdom of the Buddha and the wisdom of Jesus is in fact a very practical "way" to make the circle stop spinning around  - it is, in fact, the only way to make it stop.  When hatred is met with hatred, destruction "always" results,  when hatred is met with compassion and love, healing happens. This is indeed an "eternal truth."

"When will they ever learn, O when will they ever learn?"  

As I think about my own experiences, there has never been one time in my life when conflict was ever resolved by revenge and retribution - never.  Any time I have ever returned an attack with an attack, the result has always been that the conflict gets "ratcheted up," and the circle spins faster and faster. I have come to believe that you can never actually "win" any type of war -  in a war everybody loses.

I am reminded of a lighthearted and also profoundly wise story that comes out of the wisdom tradition of the ancient Christian Desert Mothers and Fathers:

Two monks lived together for many years without a quarrel.  One said to the other, "Lets have a quarrel with each other, as other people do."  The other monk said, "I don't know how a quarrel happens." The first said, "Look here, I put a brick between us and say, 'this brick is mine.'  Then you say, 'No that brick is mine.' This is how a quarrel begins." 

So they put a brick between them. One of them said, "This brick is mine." The other responded, "No, it's mine."  The first monk then replied, "Yes, it's yours, you can have it."  From then on, they were unable to quarrel with each other again. 

Like the monks in this little tale, my hope and prayer at this "war-torn" summer's end is that we might all be able to break out of the vicious circle and learn how not to quarrel with one another again.