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While driving this morning, I heard a commercial announcement boasting of the chief benefit of the service advertised as “ no human contact”. The message was striking and I found myself more than a little uncomfortable. This was made especially odd given a series of recent conversations with business leaders about the deterioration of team identity and true collaboration despite regular otherwise productive virtual meetings.

We have all necessarily come to rely on virtual meeting platforms in this time of social distancing. Tasks are getting done and even religious services of a kind are moving forward online. One can only be thankful that this option is available to us. Yet, there is a gnawing uncertainty about the “ new normal” over the next two years. Today’s news of a possible mutation of the Covid-19 virus potentially further complicates the search for an effective vaccine. How long will we need to social distance and with what psycho-spiritual impact?

We are a social species and touch is a central quality of our nature. Consequently, it is not at all surprising that so many, however foolishly, ignore warnings and take advantage of partial state reopenings to simply flip the switch and return to the lifestyle to which they are accustomed.

Witness the opening of the State Parks and the crowd of tourists this week making a beeline to Yellowstone and “Old Faithful” in large groups mostly mask-free. The same defiance is occurring on our beaches and in so many other settings. We will see in the next month what consequences accrue, though I fear the worst may be yet to come.

If we assume a smart and prudent reliance by most on social distancing, applying all reasonable precautions, how do we safely but surely restore intimacy and the essence of our humanity? The answer is in focusing on the well-being and experiences of our brothers and sisters.

Team meetings and virtual gatherings tend to follow focused agendas. Many complain of distractions as people look to their phones for other incoming messages and other attention- grabbing activity happening around them. This is an opportunity to really concentrate on what’s happening in the lives of others. Leave time to ask what people are feeling and learning. What new questions are they asking? What thoughts preoccupy them? How do they envision the road ahead. Place a decided accent on storytelling about these times, related concerns, learning and insights.

Emotional intelligence need not take a holiday because we have gone virtual. Eyes, facial expression, and tone of voice are all there for us. This time together-apart calls us to sharpen the saw of our appreciation of what someone else is saying.

This can only redound to our collaboration when we have an effective vaccine and can once again be physically closer. This time spent in our pandemic shelters can be a proving ground for learning the one skill that is notoriously in short supply among human beings: Listening !

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Lumination

My Dear Sisters and Brother,


Eastertide Blessings in this opening of the Season of brilliant Light breaking through an oppressive and fearsome darkness. Peace and love shatter the prison of despondency, cynicism, demoralization and fear.

Watching our 2 year old granddaughter on an egg hunt, enjoying the moments of discovery and the joy of looking for what’s hidden, is a moment that will remain with me.

Innocence savors the moment and reminds us what it means to be fully human: vigorous and earnest searching for what’s unseen with faith it’s there to be found !

Joy awaits the childlike heart that upon finding feels exhilaration.

Peace and All Good.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Metamorphosis

Holy Saturday 2020 for millions is being spent apart from family as protection against the spread of Covid-19! We have been waiting for weeks to see a strategy for opening the country back up but the timeframe is largely set by what the virus does.

Waiting is what Holy Saturday and the Vigil is all about.

While we wait for the New Dawn of Easter, we can harness the gift of silence to prepare for the Light. Emerging from the chrysalis, the butterfly is wholly transformed from a creature that crawls to one that takes flight.

No chrysalis, no flight. We keep vigil tonight in the darkness so that when the Light breaks our hearts are truly set on fire.

Peace, joy and illumination.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Whether we envision the 40 years the Israelites remained in Egypt, Exodus, or 40 days in the desert for Our Lord, both were times of trial. “Athlos” is the Greek word for the hero’s work (the origin of the word “ athletics”).

The athletics of the Soul involve overcoming the limitations of ego, the lesser self, to open up the higher Self. The athletic work of the spiritual initiate is to confront her shadows, fears, and temptations. It is nothing less than the alchemical work of transformation.

Carl Jung regarded it as essential to distinguish between the two expressions of self: ego ( tied to our sensations and emotions) and Self ( tapping into the collective and the unitive). The mystics, such as the Desert Fathers, would agree.

Looked at through the lens of the two levels of “self” we can discern the Archetype of the Quest. Whether viewed collectively as the struggle of a community, or individually, as the hero’s journey, both involve a confrontation with our baser instincts, our animal nature. Desert time brings with it true solitude: the environment that forces us in on ourselves.

The pandemic of 2020 has defined this Lenten Season. Passover and Easter will be a time of continued isolation away from usual gatherings and customary celebrations. We are all discovering the possibilities of virtual connection.

We are also struggling with cabin fever and finding ways to meaningfully spend our time. The air is filled with dread and foreboding mingled with prayers for health, healing and safer times. Absent the usual distractions of work and customary activities, this has become a time of Exodus in a very concrete way.

If our time in solitude is one of self-examination, of prayer and contemplation, and honest reflection on our thoughts and feelings, it can be true spiritual athlos. If so, it will bear real fruit and unleash the Way of the Heart, illuminating our Easter-tide. If not, we become further ensnared by the ego’s self protection focus, survivalism, and reactivity: an all- consuming viscious circularity.

True solitude only enriches true community. Anxious solitude renders community full of suspicion and fear. The two dimensions, solitary time and community, are inseparably linked. They depend on each other.

Community without solitude yields superficial and ceremonial exchanges, an interaction of masks. Community fed by prayerful solitude is authentic, an exchange of gifts: the caring of sisters and brothers.

May we be opened in this Season by the Holy Spirit to experience the full Presence of the Christos.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Each bird has its unique call signifying its species. Quite impressively, birds have dialects, variations by locale. Whether to make territorial claims or impress the opposite sex, calls and songs are a blend of species patterns and learned nuances.

Individuation blended with common patterns make up the choral world of birds. We delight in listening and, the closer we listen, the more attuned we become to subtlety.

This same story of commonalities orchestrated with uniquenesses and accents is the mark of human speech and expression. We hear the special qualities of a single voice while marveling at the alchemical blend of melodies and harmonies among choraleers.

The Christic journey is about seeking the simple one word portal to the Sacred. The anonymous English mystic and author of The Cloud of Unknowing and Book of Privy Counseling, encourages such one word prayers. The goal is an open heart that calls for emptying of all other thought: Contemplation.

Only God’s Grace makes contemplation real, yet we need to spend our lives making space for the Spirit to fill. Like the birds, we have our own voice. Embedded in it, woven into the harmonics, is the voice above all voices.

Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this mystery in his inspired poetry:

“Let me be to Thee as the circling bird,
Or bat with tender and air-crisping wings
That shapes in half-light his departing rings,
From both of whom a changeless note is heard.
I have found my music in a common word,
Trying each pleasurable throat that sings
And every praised sequence of sweet strings,
And know infallibly which I preferred.

The authentic cadence was discovered late
Which ends those only strains that I approve,
And other science all gone out of date
And minor sweetness scarce made mention of:
I have found the dominant of my range and state –
Love, O my God, to call Thee Love and Love.”

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Lovers Journey

Braided lines, heaving forward, lurching back; timeless movement heading westward toward the place of setting light;

children loving grandchildren, deep wells of playful joy, give age it’s lustrous meaning and it’s passage precious rhyme.

Once Sweethearts now watch together as the clock’s tick fades to whispers, and their ship of certain purpose slips gracefully out of sight;

Tristan and his Isolde, well- assured in love-soaked reverie, sip tablespoons of wonder, tender carried on the flow of time.

Each kiss, each hug, each smile and gentle consolation, steadies the way as she goes from place to place;

Till we finally see the wonder we’ve been seeking, right there before us, never flinching, the eyes of the Beloved’s Face.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

One Body

It is not an idle thought that saw de we must care for each other.

It is not a moral platitude to place on a lovely card or to say when we are comfortably “fat and happy” or without a care.

It is not a quaint sentiment made to order for those looking to merely sound wise and then off they go to solitary activity.

We perish alone. This is the root fear of all people.

We were not made to be islands set apart without the tether of real connectedness. Only the hermits truly called to solitude know the deep truth of interdependence.

They feel closer to their communities of brothers and sisters in proportion to the depth of their solitude. They feel that yearning for true communion.

The other’s voice reminds us of our part in the the choir. The glimmer in their eyes reminds us of the first spark that cleared our vision; our first light.

I see the gift of Solitude now as conditioning to better hear the voices of my sisters singing of love and life, loss and remembrance.

How I yearn to see again the faces of my sainted parents, grandparents, baby sister, aunts and uncles. I strain hard to recall the sound of their laughs and the tembre of their voices.

“We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other. And I tell you that the time will soon come when if men will not learn that lesson, then they will be taught it in fire and blood and anguish. Good night.” J B. Priestley, An Inspector Calls

I am reminded how precious this moment really is.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

Exposed on the cliffs of the heart. Look, how tiny down there, look: the last village of words and, higher,(but how tiny) still one last farmhouse of feeling. Can you see it?

Feelings in the moment are so intense and all consuming. Whether irritation, gratification, awaiting delivery of a delayed package, anger, resentment, envy or desire, they loom large at first and then often simply evaporate.

Rilke captures for me this human foible in a time when we are all learning scarcity. Toilet paper is now an obsession along with paper towels. All the stores near us have been out of stock for days. It is the “ go to” topic of conversation along with whether or not we should all wear masks.

Altitude is our friend. We need to rise above the mass hypnosis of “Armageddon” and locate the nearest thing of beauty and give thanks. Take it in and savor it. Beauty is the antidote for fear and thoughts of pending annihilation. This simple moment is precious. The higher up the mountain we climb, the farther we can see across the valley.

Our hibiscus is blooming in our front yard, a flaming red flower, as is the delicate pink petals of the begonias in the backyard. The half crescent moon illuminates the night sky and a family of Ibis regularly stop by and walk across the lawn on many mornings. From up top of the hill, we can see the lake in the distance; a comforting scene.

Shifting perspective from looking from below to gazing from well above changes everything. With practice, we too can come to see, as Rilke saw, “ the tiny last farmhouse of (earlier) feeling.”

We come back to ourselves and the soul becomes ascendant once more.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

At the moment I looked at it, the bench outside the monastery was empty. Morning fog was just beginning to burn off.

How many prayerful souls sat quietly there? How many moments of deep sharing did the bench support?

Fog may obscure the view while lending a magical backdrop to the mystery of the empty bench.

When hearts open and prayer charges the air with loving presence, such a place is consecrated forever. I imagine that many sisters and brothers brought their hearts and wonders and trials to this place. Some may still be among us; many others are enveloped in the fog.

Women and men may forget, but such places retain eternal traces of those who came before. Every step we take around such places is a journey through time.

The grand illusion is that the “then” is gone and only the “ here” is real. Deep listening in stillness collapses time and space and our true identities as children of the stars can be felt.

These are moments of Christ and among the gifts of the Holy Spirit if we can put aside our expectations and all that we think we know.

This is the blessing of “ Unknowing”.

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

“ makes no difference who you are; when you wish upon a star your dreams come true.”

These lyrics were beautifully sung by Cliff Edwards playing the character of Jiminy Cricket in the original Pinocchio. It is the signature tune of the Disney Corporation (now closed during the Corona Virus crisis).

It is a tune I often sing to my granddaughter. The melody brilliantly captures our upward gazing aspiration to conquer personal fears and self-doubt. Wishing though can also go astray and become a cognitive distortion.

“Wish fulfillment” is the propensity to bring a wish to fruition in our dreams and daydreams. It is also as an instance of self–hypnosis: conjuring a thing until it convincingly shows up in one’s perception.

As the 1972 parapsychology “Phillips Experiment” showed, this form of hypnosis can happen on a group scale. The goal of the study was to “create a ghost”.

In it, a small group of eight participants studied the life of a fictional aristocrat who was said to suffer from depression who later committed suicide.

These same eight people then conducted a formal Seance. During those proceedings, they began hearing unusual noises that they soon attributed to a real poltergeist. Voilà – a ghost was born.

Magical thinking makes an appearance in evangelical Christian rhetoric about how dramatic events, such as the current pandemic, is God’s punishment for the “sinful” beliefs or actions of its victims. In these instances, the wish fulfillment is pernicious.

How can we ensure that our prayer lives reflect our awakened Heart and not magical thinking? How do we discern the difference?

Too often, petitionary prayer exemplifies magical thinking when it is recited swiftly like a childhood wishlist to “Santa Claus”. I recall someone sharing with me how they regularly pray for open parking spots in their busy city and, how, miraculously, spots just open up.

We read Jesus in Matthew 7:7 saying “ask and it shall be given”. So, are we licensed to ask for literally anything? This has been likened to turning Almighty God into a latter-day genie. I’ve been reflecting on the meaning of this teaching in the larger context of Matthew chapters 6 and 7 as an extended Lectio.

Just prior to the text about asking, seeking and receiving (Matthew 7:1-6), the disciples are admonished to not judge others “lest ye be judged”. Our hearts must be purified of our penchant for swiftly judging others if we are to enter into authentic prayer.

In chapter 6, Jesus teaches us to pray the “Our Father”.

The Christic Way of prayer begins with our total Surrender to the Beloved: “Hallowed be thy name. Thy Kingdom Come. Thy Will be done. On Earth as it is in Heaven.”

True surrender means jettisoning all of our worries and fears about finding security in worldly things. These are the attachments that weaken our resolve and make us vulnerable to the entreaties of our lesser angels. We pray: “ Give us this day our daily bread.”

Finally, we are called to expunge all anger, our passions for revenge; letting go of any thoughts of others as undeserving of our love or mercy: We pray: “ forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

When Jesus instructs us to “ ask and it shall be given, knock and it shall be opened” what more would we be asking for and seeking in the light of the “ Our Father”?

One thing only remains: the grace to experience true intimacy with the Holy Spirit absent our filters, agendas, or conceptions to impede the way. In effect, we ask for the grace to set aside our neuroses.

We bring our hearts to prayer, including the needs of those we love, with faith and Thanksgiving : all our loving intentions without expectations. We do this in the knowledge that Goodness will prevail in God’s time.

Authentic kindness, generosity, willing service and readiness to be a friend on the winding road ahead are the true marks of those who know the Prayer of the Heart. Pure prayer operates ultimately beyond words.

Prayer reveals our condition; Not God’s! It invites us to examine the nature of our relationship with Him.

Our wishes, fantasies, delusions, allusions and illusions all show up in our prayers. Over our lifetimes, our sacred task is to come back each day, again and again, to reexamine and deepen the state of our relationship with God.

It is still Lent: A good time to make a reassessment of what’s real and what’s wish -fulfillment before we reach Holy Week.

Awakening the Prayer of the Heart opens the surest path to Joy when we can join with Jiminy Cricket in full-throated singing of the final two stanzas:

If your heart is in your dreams
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do.

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing.

Peace

© The Harried Mystic, 2020 and Br. Anton, TSSF. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.