Suffering

I wished you a good Lent in my last entry, and here it is Holy Week. Putting the blessed palm behind the crucifix as my old Irish mom used to do, I reflected on how the adulation of the crowd turned so quickly to “crucify him!” And yesterday saw tourists with their cameras in the early part of the day at Notre Dame de Paris, only to end with the flames. One of the themes addressed by the penitential seasons of the religions is suffering. So I will say something about it here.

When we ask for our daily bread in the Lord’s prayer, we are probably intending what the scriptures call the “bread of consolations,” the sweet bread. But there is another bread the scriptures talk about: the “bread of sorrows,” the bitter bread. Both nourish, and both are part of the “daily bread” at one time or another. So when we ask for our daily bread, sometimes it will be bitter. If we resist it, if we will not eat the bread of sorrows when it is offered, we will go away hungry. The growth intended for us will not happen. Maybe the next time it is offered—and it surely will be—we will eat it, and grow in the way that it was intended to nourish us. The sweet bread cannot nourish in the way that the bitter bread does. Both are part of the daily bread. We must learn to trust that what is offered will nourish as only it can. In time, it’s all . . . bread! And for some, it becomes all sweet. Pray for such a reception.

So, yes, suffering nourishes. It is part of what C. S. Peirce calls the “perfection of our universe.” By it we learn trust, and patience, and compassion, to name a few of its benefits. It is carefully woven into the fabric of our lives. It is an essential part of our space-time human experience. It cannot be escaped. It will push us to solve problems. Yes, suffering helps to resolve suffering! This is hard to see in the thick of things. When the workers go in to clean up the water damage after yesterdays horrific fire in Notre Dame, they may not be able to see the crucial roll they play in the next step, and the next step, toward the restoration of the cathedral. But their suffering and surrender to it is crucial for the restoration. In fact, they are a direct line to the photos years down the road that will be shared by tourists of the “newly restored Notre Dame!” And our donations in the heat of initial fervor and generosity: they too play a part in these photos. We may be dead and gone when these photos are taken and shared (however that is done in those days), but have had our part in it all the same. Notre Dame has been being restored for its 800 plus years of being. All being is being restored all the time, here in space and time. “Behold, I make all things new!” he says at the end of the Book of Revelation. Our job is not to resist change, painful as it is sometimes, but to go with it. Surrender to the flow of life! So much suffering for ourselves and others could be avoided if we did not resist change and the suffering it occasions. Death and resurrection, loss and gain—that is the space-time rule we live under.

So, the mantra for this week: Bitter or sweet, take and eat! The daily bread, that is. Before long, all our experience is “just bread,” and growth producing. And if we are open to it, like children receiving from loving parents what they know the children need—if we are open to it, it is all . . . sweet!

Love and more love, this Holy Week.

All weeks are Holy!

Post Script to Last Entry

So, I went for my walk after the last entry (without my phone), came home and wrote here for over an hour, and for the second time—all my work was erased! It is March 8, and I am a bit skittish about proceeding, but I remember basically what I wanted to share a month ago after my walk. Why are we so addicted to distractions? For the long and more profound answer, read Soren Kierkegaard’s Sickness Unto Death. For the purposes of this entry, I say we are AFRAID. We are afraid to confront our self, and therefore, afraid to be alone, afraid of silence, afraid of stillness, afraid of the within. Afraid of what we may find there, within. Maybe we are that empty shell I mentioned in the last entry. Maybe we have no self of any significance.

But Jesus says, the Kingdom of God is within. And Socrates before him, know thyself. And Lao-Tzu before him, silence is the great mystery that calls us within. All the great wisdom traditions are dead set against our addiction to distractions. There can be no wisdom in distraction because there is no within in distraction. Some today will even deny there is a within for fear of what it would cost to change their life, to get a life!

Well, there is hope. As long as we have time, there is hope. Hope that a transformation may yet take place. For some, the transformation takes no time at all. Hardly any effort. They simply open their hearts, and everything starts. Infused contemplation, it used to be called. It is the nature of a genuinely open heart to be continually transformed. Behold, I make all things new, he says at the end of the Book of Revelation.

But for most of us, it will take some effort, some time, some forming of habits. Some will pray or meditate. Some will do lectio divina. Some will journal or bike or hike. Or do yoga. Myriad practices that will take us within where things will begin to happen. We will begin to “get a life!” What is the best practice of within for you? The one at hand. The one offered. The one that works, that holds your attention, that keeps you faithful to the practice. Probably a synthesis of practices will work best, but for now, START! Start with one. Don’t think, ACT! Five or ten minutes of sitting or spiritual reading or spiritual podcasts. Sitting and listening to music. Really listening. Real presence to whatever practice you choose. And don’t despise small efforts. David Swenson told us at a teacher training that some days all you will do is roll out your mat, come to the head, bow, and . . . that’s it! That’s your yoga practice for the day. Anything worth doing, says Chesterton, is worth doing poorly. Don’t get too perfectionistic, or you’ll never start. Soon I hope to have some guided meditations here on site in audio form. But there are some podcasts that offer such already. Don’t wait for me. Start!

When I was recently in New York, in typically feng shui Fecas fashion, I helped a former student set up a sacred space in his home for prayer, meditation, and “just sitting,” as the Zen tradition has it. A portion of the formal dining room seldom used, lots of light, easily dismantled if need be. But in the meantime, pillows, candles, incense, a bell, sacred objects and texts. His children are young yet. They can be taught to sit and enjoy silence and stillness. A leg up for them in the Within! There is so much Without. Imagine if we built into our home a space and time for Within! This would be a way to take back your life. To free it from distractions and the addiction to distractions. Forging new habits, new synapses in the brain. You cannot know how this will feel beforehand. But the mystics in all the wisdom traditions (some, nonreligious) bear witness in their lives to the efficacy of such practices. Green eggs and ham, folks: you have to taste it to get it. I know nothing more worth getting. Good luck. Good Lent. Love and more love

Recent Travels and Thoughts

In Boston and New York with clients and friends. Grandparents on both sides buried in Boston; Greek and Irish. Fried clams, the Metropolitan Opera, the Frick Museum. Haven’t been to either city in years. So many thoughts, especially in the airport and subway. Travel and transitions: perfect time for reflecting on our fragile nature and the constant change in everything. But everyone’s got his or her head buried in technology. Personal phones and pads didn’t exist when I was in Boston last, and hardly at all in New York when I took Simon for his college tour. You can’t get anyone to talk on the phone these days, much less in person. When a poor person asks for money in the subway now, almost no one looks up. I know some people are texting and working, but many, maybe most, are distracting themselves.

Distraction and addiction to distraction: I fear that’s what we’re up against. Not that we weren’t when the phone and radio and television were catching on. They also pulled us away from reading and reflecting. But we chose when to lift our head and think with a book. The insistent nature of the new technology with its bells and whistles will not let us rest. Even when it is not insisting, phantom vibrations suggest that it is or soon will insist. How can we have anything of our own to bring to the table if we have no time with our own thoughts and feelings—no gestation time, no time to look off and muse over things? Too many of us take our phones to bed with us. Given the time we spend with them, they have become the new spouse. We are wedded to them, and dare not miss a demand. Whereas we should be in control of technology and its uses, the opposite is the case; we have forfeited our freedom to its 24/7 demands. And all because the commercial interests want our attention and, of course, our money.

As I have suggested elsewhere in these entries, GET A LIFE! Take back your life! At certain times in every day, and certainly in sleep, no one but God should be able to get you. And when your family and friends complain that they couldn’t get you, you can tell them that you are refreshed from your meditation or sleep, and are open for business now WITH SOMETHING TO BRING TO THE TABLE! You are not this addicted-to-technology-and-the-social-media being, overstimulated, exhausted, and unsure of what YOU think and feel about anything, not having given any time to your self. How can you give a self if you don’t have one? The world needs real selves, not shells of former selves. Pay yourself first, as the financial adage goes, but here we talk about the basic need of the spiritual self. Time to ruminate, gestate, and digest YOUR experience—not the vicarious experience had through technology and social media. Even in planes now when you could be having a moment of recognizing your mortality (takeoff and landing, and those scary turbulent moments), you are lost in the recently acquired nonstop access to phones and tablets and free films in the air. Anything to keep you from being alone with your self, from having a self that may be critical of the uncritical use of technology and the media! Our children don’t have a chance if we don’t give them good example and reasonable limits while they live with us. Good luck, my readers. Me, I’m trying to practice what I preach—to take back my life! I am going for a walk in the neighborhood for about an hour WITHOUT MY PHONE! Love and more love from Fecas

Intrusive thoughts and feelings

In my last entry, I suggested you take back your life from intrusive technology and social media.

In this entry, something more subtle and difficult to manage: intrusive and obsessive thoughts and feelings. Unlike the relatively recent tyranny of technology, this invasion has been with us since the dawn of human consciousness. Nagging thoughts and feelings go with the territory.

These suggestions have been re-purposed from the Cloud of Unknowing. There the context was distractions during prayer and meditation. Here I am looking more generally at mind/emotion control. We can always turn our phones off. How do we turn our minds and hearts off so that we can have some peace and self possession? These suggestions may also be helpful for the will in confronting temptations to act in ways we would not.

First, the direct approach. Look the item in the eye and say “no.” I will control you, not you me.

This approach works wonderfully well when we are on our game. When we feel strong with a clear sense of purpose. The victory is ours, and we push on to the next chosen item or occupation of our day.

Second, the indirect approach. But often we are not strong enough to look the intrusive thought or emotion or temptation in the eye. It will overpower us. So we distract our self, look over its shoulder, as it were, at some other item that absorbs our attention. Before long, the power of the intruder (and the fear we feel in its presence) begins to recede, and we will often be able to move on with the rest of our day free from its grip.

Third, surrender. Not to the obsessive thought or feeling or temptation, but to “God.”

Remember, “God” is a general term. It derives its meaning from myriad contexts of use. Personal Savior, higher power, my friend, “that than which no greater can be conceived,” and so forth and so on. Pick the one that works for you. Having tried the direct and indirect approaches to no avail, here we throw ourselves like children into the arms of the one who alone can protect us from this intruder. “If you don’t intervene here on my behalf, I am lost. I cannot win without you. I have honestly tried on my own (as though the first two methods are not themselves gifts!), and now I throw myself on your mercy.” Then with great faith and confidence, we go about the rest of our day, the victory won “in God.”

Notice the faith and confidence it takes to employ this third method, having tried and failed with the other two. And this faith and confidence cannot be faked. Like the child in the loving parent’s arms, we are released to the rest of our day with the assurance that “all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,” to quote Julian of Norwich. “Would a father give his child a stone if the child asked for bread? Of course not,” says Jesus. “If you, as imperfect as you are give good things to your children, how much more will the Father give you the Spirit if you but ask.” So, the suggestion goes, keep knocking, keep asking, keep searching, for the one who asks gets, and the one who searches finds.

Finally, sometimes we have to make our peace with the intruder, give it space in our life, as a Buddhist text suggests, until it moves out in its own time, we know not why. All resistance only strengthens its hold on us. But suddenly we look—maybe years down the road!—and it is no longer there. The intrusive thought, feeling, or temptation no longer has a grip on us. And we may wonder why it did in the first place. This is our human condition, to be so gripped and to wonder at it. Better to be grateful for the release and the new freedom, however won. No doubt, some new spiritual challenge awaits us in the wings. God help us to enjoy and grow from our experience and the experience of others.

Love and more love, and prayers, from Fecas

Now is the acceptable moment!

Thanks to all who have visited this site

and those who have taken time to encourage me.

I was working with a patron last week for several days.

How distracted we are from real life!

We live virtually on our phones and devices.

We live vicariously in other people’s stories, real and otherwise.

But they are not our stories.

Not our life.

Work on turning that around.

Some suggestions.

No phone or devices after a certain hour.

Nor before a certain time in the morning.

You rule them, not they you.

Leave phone at home or in the car whenever possible.

Only God or a physical person should be able to get you at points during your day.

It is your day!

Yes you have connections.

Family, friends, work.

But YOU are the one to decide when these may break in on you.

This is not selfish.

This is self preservation!

This is having a self to connect with others.

Too many shell selves around.

No substance.

No intention.

No will.

Too much dependence on direction from outside.

Take back your life!

Live it from inner values and virtues,

a spiritual tradition or traditions that nourish

YOUR life!

And then . . . you will have to surrender that life.

But more on that later.

You can’t surrender a life if you don’t have a life.

First things first.

NOW is the acceptable moment

to work on that self,

that life,

your life.

Peace!

21 September 2018

Nothing Personal

Here is a poem that Bob wrote this year, after a friend of mine (and former student of Bob's) passed away.  Of all the writing Bob has shared with me, this one spoke most directly and beautifully about the paradoxes wrapped up in the inevitable matter of life and death. 

--Rob McMaken

 

Nothing Personal

How can it be otherwise-- 

than that gravity works on falling bodies, 

whether that of my son  

from a Florida balcony on spring break, 

or an avocado into a farmworker’s basket 

without any effort, as if by magic; 

than that dangerously low oxygen levels 

will constrict blood vessels in the brain of 

a firstborn in the womb, 

a hiker at Himalayan heights, 

a refugee gone overboard in the Mediterranean Sea; 

than that a sharp arrow will bring down 

the longed for deer as well as 

the hapless frontiersman 

erecting his fence on native land; 

than that a kiss (or more intimate touch) 

will work its pleasure or pain 

depending on why and who 

gives and receives, be you  

Jesus or Judas, Romeo or Juliette? 

 

How can it be 

that your distant descendants 

are less important than your present child? 

So you don’t know them. 

So what? 

You are someone’s great, great, great, great grandchild. 

Everyone cannot stay if others are to come. 

Where would we all stand? 

And they must come, as certainly as we did. 

 

We must learn to share. 

On this space-time material sphere, 

death is the guarantee that we will. 

That we will share the limited goods. 

Limit, after all, shows us just how far we can go 

and no further. 

If we resist, 

the leg breaks, 

the vocal cord frays, 

the body faints. 

Limit is the very term of humility. 

And there is no happiness for the human heart 

without this reverential bow: 

I will not go over this line 

drawn in the sand  

by the hand of the one 

whose “heart goes out to all generations.” 

All must have their day in the sun; 

none is more important than any one. 

 

So . . . savor your time. 

You must share. 

Rejoice in your portion! 

And in others’ too,  

If you have the grace for it. 

Grace, the gift not subject to 

the same constraints of gravity! 

Grace, the possibility of impossibilities! 

The exception to the rule. 

The seeming miracle. 

Really, the demonstration of different rules, 

deeper rules. 

Accessible to all, 

played by some. 

The saints, the believers, the holy. 

Like God, they bow. 

And hope. 

They no longer hope for their own will, 

but for God’s to be done. 

God’s will for them is  

to enjoy what is given 

as they share with their children 

and children’s children, 

even those children outside their tribe. 

 

Again I say, rejoice in your portion! 

All this pain of passing is nothing personal. 

Soon no one on the planet  

will remember any one who remembers you. 

This happens every day for many 

who once gazed in mirrors at young faces. 

“Man that is born of woman 

lives but a little while,” says the Psalm.  

“He cometh up like grass 

which in time will be mowed down. 

He fleeth like a shadow, 

and the place that once he knew 

remembers him no more.”      

Take your turn gracefully, 

humbly, 

with a bow and, if possible,  

a grateful smile. 

A gift gone 

is nowhere near as noteworthy as 

its non-necessary nature in the first place, 

no matter how short lived. 

                                                          And some say  

there may be more for the soul 

come to the end of this sojourn— 

as we each came to this world 

from the world of a woman’s womb— 

yet another life. 

If so, let it be a surprise! 

Nothing used as motive for the sharing. 

Just another sign 

of the generous order, 

the predictable rule, 

the Primal Child of many children, 

millions and millions of children, 

taking their turn at play  

on the face of this innocent orb, 

our earth, under the watchful eyes 

of billions and billions of  

(ah!)                                             

                            bright, 

                                                          blinking stars.   

 

  

  

 

My Intentions

Dear readers, so . . . when I ask, how is your spiritual life, I mean, how is your soul, your heart, your core?  If this is well, all is well. And conversely, if we are unwell here, all else goes poorly. Such is our nature. Probably all nature.  First things first, or we (and others) suffer. Maybe my gifts can be of help in your putting first things first.

As a child, I used to sit in the backyard in a tree and look out over the Charleston marsh.  I was very meditative without knowing that word yet. When I entered the Jesuit order in the Catholic Church in 1963 at the age of 18, I began my life of more formal meditation, an extension of my personality and nature.  This reflective life of “presence” to people and things (music, birds, books) has continued through my 73 years. I left my formal association with the Jesuits in 1974, but have continued my religious and spiritual pursuits unabated.  My 28 years at the Marist School here in Atlanta have contributed immensely to this journey, especially my work with students and adults in prayer, meditation, and retreats. My work during the summers with 5 grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities has extended my training in philosophy, psychology, and mysticism.  Of particular benefit have been the studies in Hinduism, Buddhism,and Islamic intellectual history. I very much enjoyed my years of teaching philosophy, theology, and world religions.

With two children of our own, my wife and I have made a study of Alice Miller, Gerald May, John Bradshaw, Konrad Stettbacher, and Bruno Bettelheim, to mention a few of the psychologists who helped us with children and adult relationships.  (The Bhagavad Gita, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Siena, Meister Eckhart, Soren Kierkegaard, Simone Weil, and Bernadette Roberts are constant companions, as well as Rumi, Rabia, Hafiz, Mira, and Kabir.) Enneagram studies, especially under my personal friend Don Riso, have particularly nourished me and my students. Right now I spend a fair amount of time meditating and writing poetry. I continue to work with Alumni at Marist (retreats, Evening Series in January for adults, and a new men’s group) and hope to do the same in New Orleans with Jesuit High alumni I continue to visit.

So, follow this site for periodic entries in this journal, and get in touch with me via the means offered elsewhere in this site.  Perhaps I can be of help to you.  Perhaps I can supplement my social security.  In any event, I am offering help for you to grow in your spirit, your heart, your core self.  As the Lord says in Proverbs, “My child, give me your heart!” That is certainly what I am trying to do in my life: surrender to the Great Mystery that suffuses all being and experience.  

Love and prayer for you and yours from Bob Fecas