Archive for December 1st, 2009

I don’t know about you, but I get a lot out of cartoons. In fact, they are true embodiments of the archetypes that guide consciousness in form and function. In toonland, they are palpable; so near the surface. Theologians should spend much more time with cartoons and, just maybe, try their hand at creating some, or maybe weaving together allegory in graphic novel form.

Well, in any event, I find myself thinking about them as we enter the Holiday season. The television is full of the classics that will certainly be played over and over for the rest of the month: A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and Winnie the Pooh & Christmas Too, and many more.

Today, I am imagining my favorite characters as monks at a Benedictine Abbey advising young novices.

Let’s see, what wisdom might they share?

Winnie the Pooh

Who said, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”

Might say – “When things are a bother just remember there’s honey somewhere nearby. Of course, you might have to walk a ways to find it.”


Who once sang, “The wonderful thing about tiggers / Is tiggers are wonderful things / Their tops are made out of rubber / Their bottoms are made out of springs / They’re bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun / But the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one / Tiggers are cuddly fellas / Tiggers are awfully sweet / Everyone el-es is jealous / That’s why I repeat and repeat / The wonderful thing about tiggers / Is tiggers are marvellous chaps / They’re loaded with vim and with vigor / They love to leap in your laps / They’re jumpy, bumpy, clumpy, pumpy fun, fun, fun, fun, fun / But the most wonderful thing about tiggers is I’m the only one / I’m the only… ”

Might say – “Praying is what Tigger’s do best. It’s all very easy. There’s no need to rest. Just follow me and, heee, heee, you’ll see. It’s all as simple as one, two, and three.  And the best of all is we pray while we trounce. So, off we go, let’s pray, let’s pray, and don’t forget to bounce.”

Christopher Robin:

Who once said: “It means just going along, listening to all the thing’s you can’t hear, and not bothering”

Might say: “If you get bored or aren’t sure, or maybe get totally confused, just go on. It will all mean something some day even if you don’t know what that is.”

Charlie Brown:

Who said: Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, “Where have I gone wrong?” Then a voice says to me, “This is going to take more than one night.”

Might say: “It’s best to learn one step at a time and then, when you think you’ve got it, go back over your steps .”

The Grinch:

Who said: “The nerve of those Whos. Inviting me down there – on such short notice! Even if I wanted to go my schedule wouldn’t allow it. 4:00, wallow in self pity; 4:30, stare into the abyss; 5:00, solve world hunger, tell no one; 5:30, jazzercize; 6:30, dinner with me – I can’t cancel that again; 7:00, wrestle with my self-loathing… I’m booked. Of course, if I bump the loathing to 9, I could still be done in time to lay in bed, stare at the ceiling and slip slowly into madness. But what would I wear? ”

Might say: “Lots to study? Feeling put upon and challenged? How about that pain in you knees after all that praying, poor dear. Oh, and the chanting, and the silent breakfast, and the reading. And, what’s with the thin mattresses. Is it a lot?

Well, get over yourself!”

I intend to enjoy all the old classics and the new ones too this season, and I will come back again to talk theology and spirituality with more of my favorites in the days to come.

For now, Th-Th-Th-Th-Th-Th That’s All Folks!

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

Building on yesterday’s meditation on Penitence, I come to the practical question of spiritual practice for the likewise harried. A sincere daily act of contrition, buoyed by the weekly charism of sacramental penitence and absolution, is as simple as 5 minutes set aside for reflection on the day past.

Plato said ” all is remembrance.” So it is in the case of contrition. At the close of the day, with a few questions as my guide, I can feed my soul’s need for therapeutic fine tuning and awareness of acts that, in the moment, may have been mindless and automatic:

  • What did I deliberately do today motivated by a sincere appreciation for someone else?
  • What were my missed opportunities?
  • What games did I play that weakened the spiritual field?
  • Of what was I conscious that ordinarily I have tended to ignore?
  • What did I learn today that I want to carry into  tomorrow?
  • What ONE question do my actions today raise about being more fully and rightly myself tomorrow?
  • What feedback would my patron saint ask me on reviewing the day I’ve just lived?
  • How would I answer it?

Mohandas Gandhi once said:

Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.

A broom, a dustpan, a wash cloth and we’re all set.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

In the olden days, I routinely got lost. I never quite mastered those bound maps. I couldn’t for the life of me find where the top of one continued on some other page.

Of course, invariably, I would get lost at night, so the light was never good enough to read the map well anyway. But now, that’s all over. GPS is everywhere. It’s in my phone and, frankly,  I’ve grown very attached to it.

Now, I don’t even carry a paper map. In fact, one day, maps in print will probably be merely museum curiosities, or the hobbies of avid collectors of antiquities.

Here’s the thing, though. It’s too good. I mean, I never get lost now. It still seems magical to me how I get from A to B without a hitch. But, I tell you, the fun is swiftly going out of driving. Where’s the adventure.

The days of driving disputes with my wife over taking a left or right, taking exit A or B, or stopping by a gas station to get directions are over. Well, actually, they’re just different. It’s now all about how offended she is that I put my trust in “Karin,” my pet name for my GPS, over her.

True, Karin has taken me through major cities and into the worst traffic imaginable because it was technically the straight-line path. True, a more circuitous path avoiding the traffic would have made more sense. But, we bought Karin, and I had every intention of following her counsel. She had her reasons for the high traffic routing. I am sure of it.

Sometimes my wife’s indignation rises to a level that borders on implying that I am being unfaithful and involved in an unnatural relationship with “Karin”.

Alright. I confess. Spiritually, this is all a problem. I have grown too fond of Karin. I am too dependent on the “eye in the sky” for my every automotive move.

It’s good for the soul to get lost and have to find your way. Our conveniences are making us fragile, less resilient, and certainly  more dependent on more tech toys every day.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri writes:

“In the middle of the road of my life I awoke in the dark wood where the true way was wholly lost.”

Along the hero’s journey, getting lost is obligatory. It will happen. The crucibles that come along in our lives are the fires that purify, the humbling events that make us wiser, and the encounters from which we learn the most.

So, as GPS is now being hardwired into new cars and almost all smart cell phones, it’s worth asking ourselves if we can get too soft and way too attached to these things. Maybe the device knows the most efficient and less time-consuming path, or maybe not. But, that inviting and curious side street never tried before might just pass by some scenery worth seeing, a few beautiful homes and land worth appreciating , or just give me some time to get really lost and enjoy some purpose-free exploration.

Starting this week, we are going to pick a local travel day and leave “Karin” at home.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

Of the writers whose books fill my library, those of Thomas Merton are among the ones I most treasure and revisit often. Tonight I pulled one of his books off the shelves and randomly turned open a page to read:

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

An elegant and enlightened sentence. Happiness is embracing things just as they are. All we need do is find the right tempo, take human bites each day, put things together that belong together, stop working at it so hard, make room for others, and live the life we’ve been given. Sometimes it seems the hardest thing to do is simply accept who, where, and when we are. Natural goodness springs from being natural.

I saw a very big spider on my wall last night. I startled at first and was just about to grab something to kill it, when I paused for a split second to really look at it. It was exquisitely designed. A work of art.

It was alien but impressive: built to move swiftly, flexibly, and with keen purpose. It just remained there on the wall motionless as I looked on. It was just going about its business.

Something in me changed in the space of a second or two.  I left it be, and went to bed. I was happy.

Vietnamese Buddhist Thich Nhat Hanh said:

” Deep in the illuminated heart, there is no storm.”

Let us live well and sleep peacefully.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »

In two earlier posts, I examined the sacraments of Baptism & Chrismation/Confirmation. I turn now to the 3rd gate, Penitence.

At its heart, penitence is the act of acknowledging egoistic needs fulfilled at another’s expense. It is an act of repentance for our addictions of thought, feeling, and action that separate us from others, the truth of our greater Self, and, thereby, from the sacred. Penitence restores a 7th sense after the physical five of sight, sound, taste, touch,  smell and, adding a 6th, intuition.

The 7th sense is keener awareness of one’s spiritual station and place on the mountain path the leads to the Cosmic Heart, Divine Union, authentic compassion, or agape, enlightenment, or satori. Penitence is the corrective whereby we acknowledge the inner shadow and reintegrate it into our persona. It is a process of spiritual re-tuning, atonement for blindness of spirit, and remembering the once and future Incarnation.

It was once an ecclesiastically richer experience than it has become. In our times, the power, grandeur, mystery, and depth of this sacrament are leaner by virtue of the march of post-modern appetites for instant gratification, and a sense among many that it is somehow anachronistic, and no longer either necessary or relevant.

At the Mass, one can simply take part in the collective prayer of confession before the communion and all is forgiven, so why submit to this added, optional, (if recommended), ritual. In time, social ritual dominates and obscures the mystical interior.  What never changes, however, is the meaning sealed within it by centuries of contemplative practice and mystical experience. The esoteric significance is always awaiting the moment of re-enchantment inside of us.

As a young man, I recall with much delight my pre-adolescent years walking the mile or so from my grandparent’s home to the Roman Catholic church in which we were parishioners, Our Lady of Good Counsel. It was our Saturday pilgrimage. My late maternal grandfather and I would head off after breakfast to go to “Confession.” I remember taking this all very seriously, as did he. I wanted to “get it right,” and there was, of course,  a formula greeting to say to the Priest that I had to commit to memory.

What I liked the most about it was the anonymity. I would wait with others in the pews in prayer for a vacant confessional booth, then enter one, close the door, and wait for the Priest to signal that it was time by his sliding the small wooden partition,  between his box and mine, to the left, and through which I could vaguely see him on the other side of a mesh grating, sitting in profile, and looking away from me.

It was a bit like a visit to the Wizard of Oz, to be honest. There was no relationship per se. The Priest didn’t really know me and vice versa, and that was just perfect. It had an air of mystery and gravitas. It was a special moment, set apart from all others. In other words, it was a Sacrament!

I felt that in confession I was speaking to a voice that was standing in for Christ. I routinely rehearsed the mantra: “Bless me father for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.” After that, it was pretty much a list-wise exercise. Generally, I always began with same items: ” I lied, I cursed, I disobeyed ny parents.” Dutifully, the Priest would then assign penance in the form of  a certain amount of “Our Fathers” and “Hail Mary’s,” offer absolution ( the next sacrament), and then admonish me to go and sin no more. I exited the booth, fulfilled the penance immediately, and walked back home feeling good as new.

Later in life, as a college undergraduate, I developed an academic relationship with the catholic chaplain, who was also my instructor in Phenomenology. He was terrific: a deeply spiritual man, authentically contemplative, funny, and intellectual. We met several times a week just to talk about life issues and concerns, hopes and dreams. (Eventually, my wife, then my fiance, and I, invited him to officiate at our wedding.)

In any event, on one occasion, I asked him about confession, and he offered to hear mine. He said, simply: “Go ahead. I’m listening.” Now, this was a culture shock moment as my history was all about anonymous confessions and so, though I requested it, I didn’t realize just how awkward it would feel on a face to face basis. So, formula greeting swept aside, I just began listing out my “sins.” When I finished, he said: “Interesting and scrupulous, but I am having a difficult time identifying any sins.”

For a moment, I felt that I let him down by being boring, and a part of me thought it would have been better to make up a couple of really good ones. You know, something like a series of pure lust relationships. Of all my confessions, this is the one  I recall the most. While it lacked the mystery of anonymity (which I still feel is an important aspect of the process), it was deeply personal, real, inquiring, and I was moved by it.

I walked away with more questions than answers: What is a sin then if the ones I thought to mention don’t fit the definition? I obviously thought cursing, lying, and disobeying my parents were sins. But, were they?

At times, cursing just feels like the right and best response. However, in social settings it comes across as inappropriate, shallow, undignified, and unrefined. But, is it sin? Well, not really. How about lying? Well, it depends doesn’t it on what one is lying about and to whom? Sometimes, the truth is an act of cruelty and violence?

At other times, reframing something, or being less direct, is gracious, respectful, and diplomatic. In other instances, a lie is a crime, as when under oath. But, when is it a sin? A lie is sinful when the intent is to manipulate, swindle, deceive for personal gain or benefit, or mis-represent for reasons of expediency and personal agenda. In other words, sin is a matter of intention (whether conscious or unconscious).

Thinking about my true sins, as opposed to acts of defiance, willful independence, argument, or a challenge of established rubrics of conduct or authority, is a powerful refection on my state of Mind and Spirit. It is a self-analysis. When joined by a confessor (anonymously, or face to face) the self-examination moves to another level of inquiry, precision, and clarity. When not handled in a rote formula fashion, it provides opportunity to clarify intentions of which we are unaware, and help make them conscious to better understand and master them. So far, all of this is therapeutic but it is still socio-sacramental.

What then is the esoteric nature of this sacrament? Penitence begins with the choice to face our failings. Without “spinning” our acts of mind or deed, we simply speak the truth about what we have thought and done. In an authentic act of penitence, we present to a Priest that naked truth. What is critical for this sacrament to activate higher centers of consciousness is deep and real contrition. The contrite heart resolves to mend and restore balance. Simply put, to sin in this way no more. This is pre-requisite for the next sacrament, Absolution.

Penitence, in itself, activates another spiritual center on the Kabbalah Tree of Life, the center associated with Mind, or Hod, הוד. Through a contrite heart, our ties to egoistic gratifications loosen, and the warm Light of the Christos becomes radiant.

We experience profound refreshment. If real, it showers down on others and ourselves in the form of forgiveness. We break free of the prisons of mind defined by self-loathing, self-deprecation, guilt, anger, and angry fear.

For this reason,  Penitence is preparatory for Eucharist and Communion in ways that “Lift our Hearts up to the Lord.”

Regarding the “shadow” that resides in every man, woman and child ( and every group, culture, and nation) Jung wrote: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is.” Let us orient ourselves toward the Light, see what’s real, and embrace the ALL. It is only in removing built-up spiritual plaque that Divine Light becomes radiant within us.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Read Full Post »