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Archive for the ‘Practical Spirituality’ Category

Mary Mallon was an Irish cook who was responsible for infecting 53 people with Typhoid fever in the early 1900s. She was forcibly quarantined not once, but twice, as an asymptomatic carrier of the illness.

Mary persistently refused to accept responsibility for being a vector of the bacterial infection. She refused to acknowledge her condition even after numerous positive lab tests. Like today’s Republicans, facts were inconsequential. On the contrary, she complained bitterly that she was being victimized. This is a bit like those who complain that their rights are being assaulted when mandated to wear a mask.

What earned her the nickname was her complete disregard for the illness and death that she caused. After release from quarantine the first time, she changed her name and returned to cooking ( despite having agreed to not do so as a condition of release). Having infected others, she was arrested and quarantined once again. Mary’s selfish mindset is now being boldly replayed by virtually the entire Republican Party.

Republican governors and congressional representatives politicized mask wearing with intent to deliberately foster widespread infection. This was all in the pursuit of the so-called herd immunity scenario. Tragically, reaching that goal would require the loss of more of our sisters and brothers than any other nation. These cold-hearted monsters were ok with that. We have reached 3500 deaths in the last 24 hours!

This is sociopathic behavior perpetrated on a National scale.

It amplifies the flagrant disregard for human life and absence of personal responsibility of Mary Mallon. It does so by a factor of 5850!

She killed 53 people. We have suffered the loss of 310065 souls as of today, and Trump and his party have nothing whatsoever to say about that. Fifty three deaths in the early 1900s was considered an atrocity. How far the value of life has fallen!

US Republican political leaders are guilty of negligent homicide.

Their flagrant denial of science and medical expertise is the most grotesque form of political malfeasance. The evidence is becoming clear that the Whitehouse deliberately strong-armed the CDC. In doing so, they have blood on their hands and should be charged with crimes against humanity for gaming the Nation and playing with the lives of men, women and children ( see the James Clyburn memo).

We need a post- inaugural commission to investigate what is unsurprisingly coming to light about the deliberate choices that this Whitehouse made to “sit out” enacting a National strategy anchored in public health best practices. I have no doubt that much more will be coming out in the weeks and months to come that will make clear the true depths of the National blight of the Trump era.

Our dead deserve justice. Those who acted with such blatant disregard for human life need to pay a price for doing so. It doesn’t appear that that will come in the form of a high political cost. Republicans may, when all is said and done in Georgia, succeed in retaining the Senate majority. They also won back most of their Senate seats and did pretty well in the House.

Absent a high political cost, one hopes that the lives of our deceased will nonetheless be honored with justice. This should happen through more than the offer of prayers and best wishes, and moving cathedral bell-ringing ( though that’s all lovely). We need indictments of those cruel officials whose deliberate choices lead directly to untimely and unnecessary loss of life. These malicious officials should, at the very least, feel profound shame at the consequences of their action and inaction.

This Holiday Season is awash in far too many tears at the loss of dear ones. It did not have to be this bad.

Competent and caring leadership would have produced a very different outcome. We should be ashamed at the state of our country’s health when compared with that of other Nations where action was swift, decisive and way more effective.

Shame on Donald Trump, his Cabinet, and the complicit Senate Republicans! History will be unkind to them. It will speak of the legacy of these years with reference to corruption, hatred, violence, atrocity, unmanaged pandemic, fascism, and the weakening of democracy and global alliances.

Trump defined himself as a “stable genius”! So, I suppose Stalin was deeply compassionate? I can’t wait for the National nightmare to end, though I fully recognize that it only recedes for a short while.

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

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Ubiquity

.. the fact that something or someone seems to be everywhere.

Cambridge Dictionary

This is the principal ingredient in the secret sauce that keeps Trumpism alive. Repetition confers the illusion of validity to the inflammatory memes people internalize.

Malignant narcissists are masters of giving truth to lies ( lying so boldly and incessantly that their veracity comes to appear self-evident). Donald Trump commits crimes in plain sight and wraps it in a rhetoric of American virtue. He works hard at only one thing – to be perpetually in the news. Whether negative or otherwise, all press is good press to one like Donald who needs, above all things, to be at the center of the National conversation. This is a lesson for those of us committed to truth and the exercise of authentic leadership.

How can we constructively apply this lesson in practice?

Trumpism needs to be buried under an avalanche of truth-telling. All available and able voices need to join the choir. There is no such thing as over-communicating. There needs to be a detailed strategy and a vigorous storytelling engine for truth telling and a celebration of democracy that commands attention.

From where I sit, Biden needs a Communication Czar who can manage social media content and all vehicles for outreach. This needs to be so much more than a Press Secretary. It should be a cabinet position. In our times, the dark web is a factor that needs to be part of the strategic response to conspiracy theories and counterbalance to false narratives designed to confuse, misdirect and contort the truth.

Over this holiday season, I am embracing the spiritual exercise of being explicit about what I believe and why. Even more importantly, it is the right season for an Examen of consciousness focused on how my beliefs affect my listening. Doing so provides a potent spiritual inoculation against viral messaging untethered from the facts.

May your season be illuminated by the real and the true.

© 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.

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Blessed are they who make peace, for they will be called the children of God.

Matthew 5:9

We tend to recall the true value of things when we are faced with the threat of their loss. This is what many are experiencing about our once assumed democracy.

The Trump years have revealed a persistent cultural malignancy. Five years of hate-soaked rhetoric and callous disregard for the dignity of persons has reawakened the “shadow”of the Nation. The fragility of the American democratic experiment has been fully exposed. We find ourselves on perilously thin ice.

The Executive Branch and the Senate have been complicit in the raw pursuit of power for power’s sake. Servant leadership has been totally eclipsed by a cruel distemper. We have been witness to the elevation of a latter day “ democratic autocrat,” a replay of the norm-bashing history of Andrew Jackson.

Wrapped in a perverse American Nationalism, Trump’s dark poison awakened a perennial plague. It is a recessive cancer that only needs a big pulpit for a celebrity voice ready to fan the fears of disaffected people. It has once again resurrected the love affair with the idea of the “ elective monarch” that our founders worried about and warned against.

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are President and Vice President Elect. Providentially, this sets the stage for a desperately needed correction in the National spirit, a treatment for the cancer. That said, we will hopefully enjoy a season of true remission. But remission does not eliminate the malignancy which can, and likely will, resurface.

The sociopolitical disease has progressed significantly: a virtual stage 4 scenario. We need to watch for the face of the cancer and address it swiftly and with unflinching fervor when it appears. As citizens and patriots, we need to make our voices heard over the unhinged irrational worship of alternative reality.

The Holiday season is a time set aside for the celebration of the light. As a Franciscan, I am called to pursue the way of peace, to seek the best in everyone. We are admonished by our founder to embrace all of our brothers and sisters and to be healers.

How do we heal the cancer of Trumpism and the allure of autocracy (which is clearly alive and well in our Nation despite Trump’s decisive defeat)?

Peacemaking is so much more than a Hallmark card sentiment. It is the antithesis of looking away, ignoring misbehavior, or pretending that there is no lasting illness. It is not merely a neurotic need to just “ smooth things over”. Denial and appeasement are enablers that make more room for the spread of the disease. What we must do is name the “ beast” when we see it (a gift arising from a mature discernment of the spirits).

In caring for souls in fraternal and sororal solidarity, our task is fourfold: (1) a duty to care (enough to directly and proactively engage the darkness); (2) diagnose/ discern where thought and behavior are misguided, unbecoming and inappropriate; (3) act in the service of greater goodness and the protection of innocence; and (4) decisively and affirmatively shun those who eschew personal accountability.

Let’s not forget that Jesus had no hesitation in calling out Pharisees and Sadducees ( learned men of the Temple) as “ hypocrites” and “ vipers”. In offering these thoughts, I also reflect on the counsel of St. Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from any brother who leads an undisciplined life that is not in keeping with the tradition you received from us.

2 Thessalonians 3:6

Take note of anyone who does not obey the instructions we have given in this letter. Do not associate with him, so that he may be ashamed.

2 Thessalonians 3:14

Trumpism unfortunately appears to know no shame. Like all things evil, it awaits a next shot at ascendency. Those afflicted must be held relentlessly accountable.

The Republican Party has been completely overcome by the spirit of Trumpism. It is wholly corrupted and morally bankrupt. Conservative men and women of good conscience will likely need to form an alternate party in accepting the reality that, after Trump, the once great party of Lincoln is dead.

Saying nothing, doing nothing and just hoping that Trumpism will settle down after the inauguration of a new Administration would be a dangerous and naive complacency. This is especially so when the evil being perpetrated is powered by an unabashed narcissism and greed.

Women and men of peace have equanimity and comity as their goals. Achieving both demands watchfulness for the reappearance of the many-headed hydra of the lesser angels of our nature.

Let us each commit to keeping watch with implacable dedication and keen attention.

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

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How to Think

At its heart, language is about connecting with others and sharing experiences. Yet, it is, more often as not, a case of fog heaped on top of fog. Subterfuge, ambiguity, misdirection, spin, and intentionally dodging inquiry seem more the point of language these days.

Reason is touted as the one gift that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. Truth is, we are not born with reason, but the equipment that makes it possible. Thinking itself is a discipline that requires training over many years.

In university, one of my philosophy professors taught a course entitled “ How to Think”. This course comes back to mind in these days of rampant deceit boldly packaged as high art. It’s objective is clear: the seduction of millions who have been irretrievably duped by one fantastic lie after another. An entire alternative reality has been conjured by the virtually illiterate and unintelligible word salad of the current occupant of the Oval Office.

I’ve been thinking that this one course ought to be mandated for high school graduation. Advanced classes in the same should be present in every semester at college as well and built into every other class. All speech and all writing should be interrogated for the presence of one or more logical fallacies. Integrity of thought is the foundation of mature thought and spirituality.

As we await the end of 2020, we see a number of flagrant examples of logical fallacies perpetrated with stunning frequency by a prevaricating Whitehouse. Without the antidote of knowing what these fallacies are, it’s no wonder that millions have been mesmerized by the “ Huckster in Chief”.

Let’s look at just three such fallacies:

1. Unfounded generalization: Yes, bleach will kill a virus. Suggesting that injecting it into our bodies as a prophylactic in the absence of a vaccine is a mind-boggling leap! Yet, we saw cases of self-induced poisonings as some Trump followers took the impulsive Presidential advice at face value.

2. Proof By Assertion: Saying something incessantly is used as its own proof of veracity. Trump and the GOP continue to press the lie of rampant voter fraud and bring frivolous legal challenges to the Biden-Harris victory without any evidence. Some 37 successive losses in the courts, and scathing judicial commentaries on the merits, seem to border on grounds for disbarment of several Trump attorneys ( notably Rudy Giuliani). The histrionic lieutenants of the Trump noise machine simply press on arguing that each loss is further proof of the truth of fraud.

3. Special pleading: This refers to an argument that one is the aggrieved party because of the consequences of one’s own actions. The best example is in today’s news. Trump pouts over his clear loss while arguing he is the victim of a fraud because he cannot possibly lose and would be the winner otherwise. The loss was his own doing, but his argument is that his genius makes clear that something foul is going on.

None of this is to suggest, as partisan critics might quickly complain, that I am suggesting that Trump supporters are “ dumb”. Intelligence is simply not the issue. It’s how our intelligence is focused and used that matters. In a society where news is real-time and social media carries all manner of conspiracy theories, the skills of well honed reasoning have never been so important.

One additional fallacy we see every single day is interpreting the meaning of what someone says out of context. This is a particular favorite of the political establishment, on both sides of the aisle. It usually accompanies the ad hominem attack fallacy: undermining the perceived integrity of a person rather than addressing the facts s/he presents.

There are, by my unofficial count, somewhere in the vicinity of 110 specific types of fallacy. I’ve seen most of them show up repeatedly over the last 5 years. We are all susceptible to their lure. Just knowing that our thinking is prone to them should alert us to be more vigilant seekers after truth.

Integrity of thought is a foundation of living life in good faith with our eyes wide open. It is a foundational virtue (especially in a democracy). We must hold ourselves accountable to cultivate intellectual honesty. Like most things that matter, the discipline is hard to sustain, but the benefits to a life lived authentically are inestimable.

© 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.

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One of the most cowardly things ordinary people do is to shut their eyes to facts. C. S. Lewis

Portrayals of the battle of Good and Evil are legion. The work of two especially notable writers , C.S. Lewis (who converted to Anglicanism at the encouragement of Tolkien) and JRR Tolkien (a devout Catholic) leap to mind: two mutually inspired and inspiring friends. The weekly meetings of the Inklings saw the eventual publication of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Lewis’s Space Trilogy ( among other books of fiction and nonfiction).

Lewis saw the world through the prism of his faith and made it a central tenet of his lay theology to examine what lies beneath human events. In Perelandra, the second book in the Space Trilogy, Lewis takes us on a voyage to Venus: a compelling morality play about the pursuit of goodness in the face of mounting darkness.

A very short synopsis in case you’ve not yet read it or to bring the plot back to mind:

In the story, Lewis himself is the narrator of a tale of space travel told by his philologist friend, Elwin Ransom. Ransom was tasked by Maledil ( who on Earth is known by the name Jesus) to travel to Venus naked in a coffin-shaped capsule. There he would need to deal with an assault on that planet by none other than Satan himself.

On arrival at Perelandra, an oceanic paradise, Ransom befriends its green Queen, Tenedril, a pure innocent (Perelandra’s Eve). He surmises that his task must be to convey to Tenedril the knowledge taught by Maleldil. The Queen lives on a floating island. She is forbidden to live on the fixed land.

Soon after meeting the Queen, Edwin Wilson, Ransom’s enemy, arrives on the scene. He has a lawyer’s skill in weaving persuasive arguments using a demonic rhetoric designed to confuse. He maintains that there is no good or evil, only the life-force. He endeavors to convince the virginal Queen that Maleldil actually wants her to live on the fixed land.

For a time, Ransom engages Wilson in hot debate, but Wilson’s skills are too great for him. Wilson’s capacity for lying and twisting the facts to fit his agenda are incomparable. At one point in the story, he becomes fully possessed by Satan.

At the point of exhaustion, Ransom realizes that there is only one thing to do: annihilate Wilson physically. After a long series of battles, Ransom kills Wilson with a stone. He departs Perelandra (Venus) having spared it from the same Fall as happened on Earth. Yet, in the process, he was bitten on his foot by Wilson, a wound that would not stop bleeding.

I read this book years ago and was captivated by it. It was troubling to consider the futility portrayed by Lewis of trying to outmaneuver the devil with sophistry. Instead, he had to leap on him and beat him to death.

It is important to place this book in the context of Lewis’s experience of the horrors of WWI. It is, nonetheless, a provocative story to reread in these times of fascist voices in Washington and the caging of children on the Southern border many of whom, to this day, have not been reunited with their parents.

Some years ago, a colleague and I were having a discussion over lunch about the perennial sins of humanity. I referred to the inexhaustible supply of “evil.” He was taken aback.

He thought it odd that a rational man of science would refer to “ evil”. He said: “Please let’s not talk about evil. There is a more reasonable and evidence-based way to understand what people do.” I still totally disagree.

There is no talking to real evil. No words are sufficient to sway its agenda. Likewise, one wastes one’s breathe trying to talk to ideologues and sycophants and MAGA devotees of Trump. It’s a sheer waste of time.

In the face of fascism and demagoguery, we can only stand tall and boldly call it out, name it for what it is, starve it of oxygen, and overwhelm it with Truth spoken louder and with equal or greater perseveration. Ultimately, it needs to be physically resisted and jettisoned wherever it wields its dark and destructive intention against humanity.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.C. S. Lewis

© 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.

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Penumbra

At the onset of the Trump regime, I reflected on the rising toxic darkness in America. The lens through which I examined events then was a central tenet of Jungian Analytic Psychology tied to the examination of dreams: the enantiodromia. As we look with deep enthusiasm to the end of the Trump Presidency, in what will surely be a very long 47 days, it seemed timely to revisit the idea.


The notion can be traced to the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus. It refers to natural tension that exists among opposites: the “ left,” as it were, exerting equal and opposite pull from the “ right”. This “pull” is especially pronounce when the expression of one side of the opposition is especially extreme. It has resonance with the notion of the “ying/yang” and the natural tendency of systems toward equilibrium or homeostasis.


A few examples:


(1)When darkness is long and deep, as in Alaskan winters, the summer light is especially intoxicating, and sickeningly so if one isn’t careful.


(2) The inseparability of young lovers invariably leads to their getting on each other’s nerves and a rising need for “space”.


(3) Political leaders preaching extreme puritanical views are often keenly tempted by the very things they claim to abhor.

(4) Leaders of the Republican party, seemingly hell-bent on fighting state mandated stay at home and mask- wearing orders ( all in the name of the sanctity of personal freedom), decry peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights.

Consider how we appreciate individual dreams within the framework of analytic process. They are regarded as “messages” from the realm of the archetypes: guiding patterns within the fabric of space-time. Often, the images in dreams point to the movement of opposites. For example, a nightmare of a 65 year old moving swiftly and deftly across a collapsing steel scaffolding to save lives, points to ruminations about aging and the loss of flexibility and physical prowess.

Let’s reorient from the context of individual dreams to a collective vantage point and the sociopolitical drama of these dark times which feel like a dream to many ( a nightmare would actually be more to the point).

Political leaders on the right hail the recent, if moot, Supreme Court decision in defense of religious liberty (made possible by the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett). The unsigned decision bars New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, from restricting religious gatherings in pandemic hotspots. In publishing its opinion, the Court argued that when a conflict arises between religious liberty and public health, religious liberty wins out. Nonetheless, the same leaders praising this decision were wholly silent at every turn when it came to denouncing Trump’s consistent and blatant Islamophobia.

The last five years have seen the rise of “Trumpism:” a latter-day American Medievalism complete with the systematic dismantling of the infrastructure of effective governance: (e.g., the destruction of the “roads” connecting people in the form of alternative worlds spun by dedicated social media propagandists). Reference is made daily to these social media “ echo chambers” that create airtight “bubbles” impervious to facts.

We’ve been culturally bludgeoned for four years time by unbridled and even celebrated incivility with the attendant rise of hate groups, vicious and ugly name-calling, death threats against those with whom Trump followers disagree. The virulent political theater is marked by one after another act of verbal and behavioral violence: a pernicious pornography of demonization.


It is an illuminating spiritual practice to search for enantiodromia ( signs of rising opposites embedded in the extremes). Once identified, it is instructive to test the degree to which the extreme occurrence is actually pointing to an emerging subdominant drama that lies just opposite that awaits resurgence.

In 2016, I thought of C.G. Jung a lot, and his commentary on this psychic teeter- totter principle, as Trump assumed his very likely ill-gotten place behind the Resolute Desk. I looked hungrily for signs of forces working to move his extremes back toward the center. There were numerous ones in the beginning: mature voices, all now since fired by tweet, that acted in good conscience as countervailing forces to Trump’s worst impulses.

It was frankly reassuring to reflect on events through the lens of enantiodromia. It is a well documented dynamic that predicts that the larger system will, in time, be rebalanced, in this instance marked by a return to normalcy, reliable process and tradition.

Trumpism is American fascism. It represents a wholesale assault on norms at all levels. It wraps itself in the flag and boasts of standing for freedom while actually dismantling democracy in plain sight. Conspiracy theories create a narrative designed to legitimate lawlessness and criminal conduct, normalize malignant narcissism and twist even prudent hygiene (e.g., wearing masks) into a bizarre, nonsensical battle over individual liberty.

The Biden-Harris character lies diametrically opposite the ways and values of Mr. Trump. The American electorate delivered a decisive movement back toward the center with the Democratic ticket receiving more popular votes than any ticket in history.

That being said, close to half of the Nation is holding tenaciously to the dark side and the exercise of empathy-free power by their “ emperor”. Bottom line though, praise God, the quiet assurance and rationality, collaborative style, experience, competence and graciousness of Biden-Harris won out.

I am under no illusions that Biden’s win signals an overnight shift from night to day. There is enormous and difficult work ahead. After all, even the fictional Voldemort had his “ death-eaters” through to the bitter end. After his demise, they just flew away to hide. They go into stasis, like 7-year locusts, until the next spawning cycle is made possible by the rise of a new dark lord to enable them. Such a one will surely be campaigning soon for 2022 and 2024.

Joseph Campbell was right. Mythologies are alive and well and flowing all around us. We do well to keep them in mind.

He wrote:

One thing that comes out in myths is that at the bottom of the abyss comes the voice of salvation. The black moment is the moment when the real message of transformation is going to come. At the darkest moment comes the light.

We must remain vigilant; stand ready, like the Knights of old, to leap into the breech and grapple with the ever present and persistent “ dark side”. It lies in wait for the next moment of distractedness and National weakness. It is confident of the recovery of radical selfishness and isolationism, the corrupting lure of “ strongmen” and bullies among the easily impressed, and the aphrodisiac of power that inspires endless fascination with people who talk power and grandiosity rather than love and humility.

It is said that all politics is local. All evil resides there also.

© 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.

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It is so encouraging and consoling to read the words of a man of peace, a world leader devoted to the way of love! This is especially so as we face the two-headed serpent of a spiking pandemic and grotesque tribalism. In his third, October 2020 encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti,” our Brother, Pope Francis, speaks to our desperate need for true community. He speaks, in effect, of a politics of empathy, compassion, conviction and solidarity.

In his third encyclical, Pope Francis refers to the “ culture of walls” and the importance of “ envisaging and engendering an open world.” The “other” is our sister and brother. We are neighbors. This represents the wisdom of St Francis whose example inspires us, in imitation of Christ, to cultivate a love-centered politics.

Some argue that talk of “politics” has no place in discussions among religious folk. I respectfully disagree. An engaged spirituality demands that our words and actions be informed by our interior lives. What we hold dear as principles, ideals, and guiding beliefs should be mirrored in our behavior if they are to be more than ideological window dressing.

I agree with Roman Catholic cultural commentator G K Chesterton who opined: “I never discuss anything except politics and religion. There is nothing else to discuss.” I am reminded of the counsel of a parish priest when I was a young man in the 70s: “ Keep the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.”

An embodied, experience-based theology informs character and character matters. It is the heart of personal leadership: the quest to become the best possible version of ourselves. Anything less raises the likelihood of our becoming entangled in illusion and delusion along the journey.

At its best, theology is endemically political. It speaks to the matter of how we understand our presence in the world: how we see ourselves in the context of community, how we see one another as we accompany each other on the road toward a “more perfect Union. ” The alternative is thin, overly intellectualized talk of religious ideals that are all too easily distracted by the rallying cries of the darker forces.

It is a cheap and shallow faith that eschews a compelling point of view on the issues of our times. The human heart is meant to be aroused by the call to see something deeper moving in the events that occur beyond appearances.

Theology offers a frame through which to view our experiences from a greater altitude. What follows upon seeing with fresh eyes is the impulse to share that experience with our sisters and brothers. If we are patient and attentive enough, we are fortunate to be invited into true Dialogue. This is so much more than mere discussion. We are encouraged to enunciate our own understanding coupled with an even more generous and genuine interest in all ( especially divergent) perspectives.

When we embrace real dialogue, listening takes primacy over speaking. The driving movement resides in the flow of the ever richer questions we ask made possible by our shared discoveries. The measure of the quality of this kind of spiritual conversation is the extent to which all key assumptions are fully examined.

Dialogue is founded on good faith, genuine hospitality, humility, honesty and candor. What do we do when our leaders act in bad faith and fail to uphold the dignity of ALL of our brothers and sisters? Bad faith action is a dialogue destroyer.

Integrity and a deepening commitment to truth compels us, especially in instances of such violent motivations, to rise and speak truth to power. When leaders lie to us or in any way misrepresent the truth, conspire to manipulate with ideology and fear- mongering rhetoric intended to sow seeds of division and hatred, we must forcefully denounce it. Falling short in the defense of dignity and integrity is spiritual malfeasance.

We are living in times that are stress-testing our stated beliefs and the depth of our interior practice. This is the foundational stuff that we teach our children. They are watching closely and they learn more by our examples than our words.

In this Season of the Light ( Diwali, Advent, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa) we are invited to look within to purify ourselves as the true temples of the Spirit. “For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21).

A blessed and illuminating season to you and yours.

© 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.

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What parent, with even a modicum of nurturing skill, hasn’t placed limits on their young children, imposing guardrails designed to protect them from themselves. We tell them repeatedly to “ be careful” and “watch out”. It’s not safe to put one’s fingers in an active electric socket, touch a hot stove, play with matches, put small objects in their mouths, walk barefoot on the street, or cross the road without being accompanied and instructed to look both ways.

Unfortunately, the chief executive of our Nation is prone to toddler-like tantrums and brazen acts lacking in even the appearance of genuine leadership thought or consultation. He is seemingly untethered by even modest checks on his impulsiveness. What is especially unnerving is that he is in command of the so called “ nuclear football”. Without astute advisors prepared to challenge and offer experienced counterpoint to his emotionally colored whims, the transition to a new administration becomes exponentially more perilous.

There is talk that Trump may yet try pardoning himself while giving pardons out like candy to “ reward” his most loyal co-conspirators. The behavior we witness is frankly reminiscent of unparented, feral toddlers running wildly about brandishing sharp objects. It has been a “ Lord of the Flies” scenario on display in the Whitehouse for the last four years. Asking “ where are the adults and protectors of our National well-being?” is one many have asked since 2016.

In a clearly vengeful and hysterical frenzy predictably brought on after being soundly defeated in the election, Mr Trump rushes to pull troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia, sell arctic oil leases, rush completion of his vanity border wall that was frankly not Congressionally funded, and contemplate an attack on Iran to impede their nuclear program. [On the latter item, he of course was the one who tore up the nuclear accord with Iran in 2018. ]

These are only the beginning of what’s in store for us all over the two months remaining before he is thankfully out of office. Arguably, any one of these actions could well be strategically sound in a more thoughtful and well reasoned context, but not when enacted impulsively.

At the very least, we need to coordinate with Allies on a number of these decisions. It is an axiom of good leadership that all action must be considered against the backdrop of potential unintended consequences. In other words, governing and acting, especially on the global stage, requires thought, deliberation, consultation, real dialogue designed to test assumptions and strategy. None of these have been qualities of the current administration since the outset.

So, here continues “Mr Toad’s Wild Ride” as perpetrated by an immature, inexperienced and unhinged Chief executive. But, “ leader” McConnell and other senior Republican “leaders” ought to know better. Shamefully, all they can come up with is tepid cautionary comments tantamount to telling a toddler about to fall from a great height “ you might want to reconsider what you’re doing,” if that. No! You say STOP!

In the bizarro world of Trumpism, running in the hallways of democracy with sharp scissors is simply normative. Republican leaders look the other way as troops are unilaterally brought home. The validity of compelling results of a fair election are assaulted with so many nonsensical and even clownish lawsuits, and conspiracy narratives are wildly stoked and reinforced. All of this amounts to an abject failure of elected leadership to protect a smooth and secure transition of power central to the well-being of our Republic.

We are unquestionably living through the age of the unhinged toddler, the “enfant terrible, ” and the reign of empaneled sociopaths. It is a clarion call to all of us for a collective spiritual reassessment of what it means to serve one another for the betterment of the world.

These events present the moral challenge to reassert the primacy of love, reaffirm civil norms and demand authentic leadership that is about the good of the Union as a whole. The spiritual mandate for our times is restoration of the architecture of lawful, collaborative and strategic dialogue. Yes, we each are our “ brother’s keeper.”

At this point, I for one just want to see a return to governing by adults, for adults, with genuine regard for building up the culture in which our children can once again come to admire real leadership and courage.

We need the examples of dedicated and accountable service that inspire us all to become the very best versions of ourselves.

© 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.

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As I gaze at the state of our country in this time of tortured transition to a new Administration, I am again astonished ( though I shouldn’t be at this point) by the lockstep manner in which Trump supporters persistently praise their man. They slip without hesitation it would appear into the narrative of victimization. Spiritual maturity is marked not by subservience but by informed choices into the service of the greater good.

Truly surreal is the seeming high regard for a man who is unquestionably a malignant narcissist. This is demonstrated even when these fans of the “ Donald” are confined to what could well be their death beds from Covid 19. How tragic to see one woman recently interviewed on the evening news, who may well be destined for a ventilator, still denying that Covid-19 is real while expressing her heartfelt and misplaced thanks to Trump for great care that she is receiving. Genuine spiritual practice yields ever heightened discernment of the spirits: a capacity to see separate the charlatans and false prophets from the real thing.

These are bizarre times but they are also times that resemble many other times throughout recorded history. Of late, I have been fascinated by the power of ideology, propaganda, and conspiracy theories to pull the veil over people’s eyes. It is helpful to look to the science that seeks to explain the psychology of these phenomena.

First, I return to the master, Plato, who so wisely opined about these things. The Allegory of the Cave did so succinctly. Recalling it:

We imagine prisoners shackled in place without freedom to move their bodies or heads so that their gaze is fixed on a cave wall. Behind them is a fire and a raised walkway with people holding puppets with screens obscuring their own shadows. The prisoners, therefore, can only see the movement of the puppet shadows. They hear voices which they understandably attribute to the shadow figures on the wall. From the prisoners perspective, the movement and sounds of shadows is the only reality.

Plato continues, imagine one prisoner is released and brought out of the cave. The blinding light and vistas would be terrifying. He rejects them and seeks the comfort of the “ truth” he knows – the wall of shadows. As Plato advances his allegory, said prisoner is forced out of the cave, eventually adjusts to the bright light and sees the Sun. In time, he realizes the superior truth of what it is that projects the images he once regarded as sacrosanct. He feels pity for his brothers and sisters, but realizes too that they would want to kill him for forcing them away from the simpler “truth” to which they are accustomed.

I think of this allegory often. Those who see farther and more clearly, and who inquire more deeply, cultivate a love of learning. They cultivate a devotion less for any one act of understanding but, instead, the process of learning, unlearning and relearning. All is hypothesis awaiting the next better test. They come to value the principle of falsifiability ( looking for proof that they are wrong!). This is the essence of intellectual humility. It is also the diametric opposite of our natural tendency to seek confirmation of the truth of our own way of seeing and thinking.

Everything is a simulation of the greater real for the awakened heart. The more the spiritual adepts learn, the more they realize that they don’t understand. Every answer opens more questions. The questions themselves in fact become more significant than the answers. This is a far cry from dressing oneself up in a wardrobe of simple ideas and narratives to cast the real in our own image and thereby think we’ve “ tamed it” and render it more manageable.

Staring at the Sun means accepting the truth of randomness and the difference between ideas and the real. Perpetual students embrace uncertainty and accept their persistent ignorance as an invitation to dig deeper and ask ever better questions. I call this prayerful scholarship.

What is the basis then for the allure of conspiracy theories?

According to Psychologist Jade Wu, there are three components to the attraction of propaganda and conspiracy theories : (1) the need to reduce complexity and uncertainty; (2) the need to feel safe and in control: and (3) the need for a good self image ( e.g., better to think that a conspiracy was afoot in losing one’s job than to face the growing irrelevancy of the skills we have perhaps amassed over a lifetime).

Donald Trump, like other would-be and accomplished despots and autocrats, are manipulators of these needs for simplification. Plato’s allegory is, at its core, about the importance of education. Trump appoints Betsy Devos as Secretary of Education to dismantle the educational infrastructure. In fact, Trump has systematically replaces competence with incompetence across the board ( an agenda that continues even in these last days of his agenda of chaos). He is a destroyer of norms and structures ( maligned as the “ deep state”) and appointing those who become the fawning apparatchik ( unthinking bureaucrats acting as a loyal arm of his power plays).

It is instructive to see what the Trump voters have in common overall. According to Pew Research statistics:

“ Voters who identify with the Democratic Party or lean toward it are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a college degree (41% vs. 30%). In 1996, the reverse was true: 27% of GOP voters had a college degree, compared with 22% of Democratic voters.”

Rural America went resoundingly for Trump by comparison to urban and suburban areas of the country. There is a strong anti-intellectual bent in our Nation and this is not news. It has been with us from the outset.

That said, what about those educated legislators and administrators who have so quickly joined Trump in parading one false puppet after another to cast distracting shadows against the cave wall for the prisoners to see?

Their motivations are purely Machiavellian.

The acolytes of Trump jettisoned the long-standing Republican ideals of smaller government and conservatism four years ago merely to secure a seat at the mad hatters table. Power is the active aphrodisiac that motivates them. Once Trump is gone they will toss him like so much unwanted old clothing ( while studiously avoiding saying anything too harsh that might inflame his base). They will recalibrate to weave a palatable propaganda designed to sate the appetites of those shackled in place with fixation on the parade of shadows that they engineer. They are the greater darkness with which this democracy must deal

What’s the antidote?

Well, it’s the same one that has always been most effective: education and modeling the love of learning. We need to play the long game and do all we can to cultivate genuine independent thinking and humility among our children and grandchildren. They will need to serve as the bearers of the light in the decades to come. After all, Georgia went blue this year in no small part because of the number of young people who came out to vote.

In this Season of the Hindu, Jain and Sheik celebration of Diwali, the celebration of light’s defeat over the darkness, my hope rests in those who are dedicated purveyors of the finer questions that cause us all to reassume the upright and freeing posture so that we can reacquire the horizon.

Happy Diwali!

© 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.

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This time it’s not a “ Joe” but a “ Kevin” who “ has no shame”.

Despite a decisive Biden-Harris win, Representative Kevin McCarthy has the audacity to say he’s not sure Biden will be President come January 20th. He joins the surreal Republican off-key chorus that insists on stroking Trumps fragile ego, channeling his rage and vengefulness, and supporting the denial of a bonafide Biden win.

They do so, once again in unprecedented fashion, to the point of refusing to insist on a smooth transition of power in support of the central tenet of our Democracy. They have no hesitation to undermine the transition and, along with it, the National Security.

Beyond the absurd folly of it all, we need to be very much on our guard right now, and in the years to come, as the inexorable March of fascism once again raises its ugly head. The strong ethic of anti-fascist sentiment in our Nation needs to push back boldly and with deep conviction and resolve.

It is especially needed now as the “ Great Generation,” keepers of the memory of the horrors of fascism, are dwindling in numbers. We should listen to the voices of our European brothers and sisters who saw such horrors perpetrated on their own soil.

Why am I so deeply concerned?

There is seemingly no end to the daily post-election toxic assault on the dignity of our Democratic values. This is especially so when one radicalized political party joins a would-be autocrat, thankfully defeated, in denying the results of fair and now verifiably secure elections.

Make no mistake, well beyond “the Donald’s” penchant for despotism, adoration of autocrats and his obvious psychopathology, there is a far greater ongoing threat from the puppeteers who back his tactics and histrionic alternative reality. There is no shortage of demoniacs ready to fill his shoes who are far more intelligent, cunning and likely less obvious in their pursuit of power for power’s sake.

Philosopher Jason Stanley, scholar of fascism at Harvard, has defined fascism as “ a cult of the leader who promises national restoration in the face of humiliation brought on by supposed communists, Marxists and minorities and immigrants who are supposedly posing a threat to the character and the history of a nation.”

Even a casual study of the last four years and what’s being said now by Republicans about the upcoming runoff Senate seat elections in Georgia is evidence of Stanley’s definition on display. We hear a persistent rhetorical drumbeat about the “socialism” that will surely come to America if the democrats there win those seats. Once again, they raise their voices about Bernie Sanders and his “ socialism” finding a seat in the Biden cabinet if the Senate goes to the Democrats.

Far less concerning frankly than another run for the Presidency in 2024 by DJ Trump (though I confess the thought gives me hives) is the continuing March of a fascist agenda among Republican senators and representatives.

The radicalization of the once dignified party of Lincoln is just about complete. This is why so many thinking and truly patriotic conservative leaders have left the Republican Party in abject disgust. It quite simply bears no resemblance to the party of yesteryear.

So, dear friends, the election is not over. We need to give the new administration a fighting chance to put a countervailing ethic in motion in Washington and do all we can to have the Georgia seats go to the democrats. These two Senate seats must be on the National dashboard for all who are concerned about protection of essential democratic values and freedom.

Republicans would surely denounce my characterization of their actions as fascist. In response, I simply invoke Jason Stanley’s definition, invite an objective examination of the facts of current behavior and rhetoric (compared with like historical banter from Benito Mussolini), and quote the words of their current “ führer” ( translated as tyrannical leader) who spoke of the horrors of the pandemic in five words that seem to fit quite well here: “ It is what it is!”

What does all this have to do with practical spirituality? Everything. As a member of a Franciscan Third Order I am “pledged to fight against the ignorance, pride, and prejudice that breed injustice or partiality of any kind.” The common good is under siege and silence is not an option.

Freedom itself is in the sights of determined political sharpshooters who value power over genuine servant leadership, care for our Democracy and authentic commitment to a secure future for our all of our children.

© 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.

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