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Great ( Holy) Thursday, April 1, 2010

A day also called “Maundy”  Thursday in the Anglican tradition, or the “mandatum”, the mandate to perform the “Lord’s Supper.” This is also the day of the washing of the feet. Traditionally, the Pope washes the feet of priests and priests do so for parishioners. Together, these ritual jewels of the Church celebrate the central mystery: the Presence of the divine savior among us in the intimate acts of washing and eating.

A good friend and fellow Bishop refers to the “Mass” as “Divine Alimentation.” We are fed by the Prince of Peace. We are directly privy, without need of any intermediary, to the sanctum sanctorum. Celebrating the savior in an act of eating is to continue in the path of total conversion; the transfiguration of mind-body and spirit from the inside out. We literally become the Temple of the Lord.

The word “Mass” is telling. It derives from the latin word “missa,” which means dismissal, or, put differently, a going forth in accordance with a great commissioning. In the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, we are fed with the expectation that we will then go and likewise feed others. We are given the mandate to be fishers of men and women; to bring them the great comfort and consolation of the truth that the Kingdom of G-d rests within them.

It is traditionally on Holy Thursday that the bishops consecrate the oils of chrism, the catechumens, and the sick. In addition, the Holy Thursday celebration also calls for a gathering of the priesthood so that priestly vows can be reaffirmed. Looking at the day in its entirety, we recognize in it a call for deep personal and transpersonal renewal and a resetting of purpose. It is a time for blessing, cleansing, and the reinvigorated zeal to serve the Gospel. We are reminded of our sacred identity and our calling. It is a beautiful celebration and it is an alchemical re-enchantment.

I am a priest. I vowed to serve for the rest of my life. My service is different from that of a parish priest as I do not have daily celebrations to officiate but mostly ad hoc ones. As the Abbot of  a “monastery without walls,” the role is that of spiritual facilitator, teacher, friend, and the sacerdotal functions come as they may.

What does it mean to be a post-denominational priest? It means that one’s identity is wrapped in continuous and diverse prayer, and the readiness to fulfill the mandatum in nontraditional ways. It means finding new paths for engaging the teaching in dialogue with people while maintaining a less visible or pronounce priestly profile. It  also always calls for celebration of the sacraments as living vehicles for conversion and epiphany when there are two or more gathered with a yearning to do so.

I enter into this Holy Thursday evening as I have earlier ones, with a deep sense of awe and gratitude. I feel honored to have been called to witness to mystery and to be a voice for spiritual living. I rejoice in the meditative time in which I can hold up all those I love and know, and the world around me with profound hope of an enduring illumination. I rest tonight in the firm conviction that a powerful force is present to synchronistically guide my next steps and words.

I am a child of the stars, of the wind, of the stillness and of the laughter. I am a child of the Eucharist and a minstrel singing about the depth and breadth of our capacity for love. I am a humble poet searching for the right words and phrases to give sound to my heart.

I am a simple priest. I open myself to the next mandate, the next need, the next chance to touch the fabric of the Son of Man. I am one who is ever searching for His face among all the writing, all the poetry, all the religions, all the cries and tears and laughter, and the rich tapestry of human thought and scientific discovery.

Maranatha!

Amen.

1 Corinthians 11- 23-26, New American Bible

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread,
and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. 12
A person should examine himself, 13 and so eat the bread and drink the cup.
For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment 14 on himself.
That is why many among you are ill and infirm, and a considerable number are dying.
If we discerned ourselves, we would not be under judgment;
but since we are judged by (the) Lord, we are being disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world.
Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.
If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that your meetings may not result in judgment. The other matters I shall set in order when I come.
[I am separately uploading a Liturgy this evening that emerged from my scholarship and passion for ritual over the years. It is the Liturgy that I use in the Order and at the High Masses that we celebrate here. I hope you find it a helpful complement to your Eastertide meditations. You can find it on a page linked to the “Garden of the Christos” page in pdf format.]
© Brother Anthony Thomas and The Harried Mystic, 2010. 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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Great ( Holy) Wednesday, March 31, 2010

This day is also called “Spy Wednesday,” the day designated by the Western Church, as the one on which we recall the first betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot in his collusion with the Sanhedrin, while Jesus was himself at Bethany where he was anointed by Mary, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The spikenard oil she used was expensive, and so a controversy broke out among the apostles over what seemed to them an extravagance, and frivolous behavior on Mary’s part, especially given the fact that the oil would have fetched a good price at market and the proceeds could have been better applied to feeding the poor.

The power of this day is in the parallel themes of betrayal/ second-guessing, and a costly, unhesitating generosity.

On the theme of betrayal, we can all painfully recall moments when those close to us have acted without  forethought in ways that hurt us. Maybe they revealed a confidence, or chose to openly criticize us in front of others, perhaps making use of knowledge that they could only have had because they were so close. Much in the news these days, and far more serious, are the stories of flagrant infidelities; promises broken that wound whole families and tarnish reputations.

Very often, the one committing the act of betrayal is well-intentioned if misguided. In the case of Judas, he was the dupe of the Sanhedrin. He envisioned a rapprochement between Jesus and the Sanhedrin. His real sin was in being so blinded by his own egoistic vision of how things should evolve ( and his inflated sense of himself as more politically astute) that he failed to accurately read the motivations of shadowy and secret alliances, and the deeper vision of the one he truly had hoped to serve.

When we let people draw very close, they become the most dangerous people in our lives. They have intimate details of our habits and usual whereabouts and our soft spots and vulnerabilities. The old cliché “you hurt the ones you love” is all too true. We are given a treasure to hold when people offer themselves to us in deeply personal ways. Our faithful stewardship of that gift is a spiritual imperative. In acting, we must always ask: In whose interests am I acting? To what degree is it mostly about my needs, agendas, priorities and beliefs, and not theirs?

There are certainly betrayers among us, and those who one day can become so. One only need look at the depth of enmity expressed between once trusting but now estranged partners in a marital breakup to see the tragic miscarriages of love. More important on this day, however, is the “spy” (or betrayer) within. It is a day on which to think back to the moments when our own better judgment was absent, and when we acted so foolishly as to cause someone dear to us to suffer through our words, deeds, or sins of omission.

There are also those times when we feign friendship in cultivating a politically valuable relationship. In those moments, we deceive and are disingenuine,  using the other person for our own ends. (We have all been there either dramatically or in more subtle and nuanced ways). The Gospel calls us to a very high standard of conduct. It demands so much more from us by way of fidelity and follow-through on our commitments and vows. It also demands that we move swiftly to forgive those who wrong us through a thoughtless word or deed for there, by the grace of G-d, go we.

We live in a time when vows seem anachronistic. This is the age, after all, of the pre-nuptial agreement, and the so-called “trial periods” of living together. We suffer cultural paranoia and so risk losing the joy attached to firm and unshakeable vows in which our fidelity, though surely to be tested, is proven resilient and robust. In achieving such relationships, we move, as Teilhard de Chardin captured in his writing, toward the “Pleroma,”  or the Fullness of the Christic vision.

What are the vows that I have taken? Today is a good day to renew them and consider the history of my faithfulness to them and where, when, and why I fell short.

On the matter of the anointing with precious oil by Mary at Bethany, I can certainly appreciate the frugality expressed in the Apostles’ objections. The act seemed wasteful and careless. Of course, this is the epitome of homo economicus, a strong feature of the current zeitgeist. But there are other considerations. In Mary’s gracious act of expending the precious oil, she, in one movement, foreshadows the Chosen One, the death on the Cross, and the later anointing of Jesus’ crucified body  with the precious oils as mandated by Jewish custom of those times. Her intent, in the moment, spontaneously and without calculation, was to signify, viscerally and sensually, the deep personal meaning of her vow to Jesus, her devotion, and Christ’s unshakeable vow to the World; to be its Light!

My daughter has her best friend joining her in our home this week for a few days. My wife and I are delighted to see her again and extend the warmth of our home to her. We have worked pretty hard over the last few weeks to make things ready. We wanted her to feel an important part of the family. We have (and would always) go the extra step to make the time and the space special, and invest the resources to do so.

Now, one can argue that the “budget” may not have a line item set aside for such an occasion, especially because they are usually not planned well in advance. In our case, we accelerated needed work on the room that would be offered to our friend and guest. We redecorated it (certainly with the longer term future in mind) but with principal focus on making her time with us very special and memorable.

There are times when we spend more than others might, who,  looking “in” at these times of constrained finances, might challenge the wisdom of  unflinching and unreserved hospitality. They might (and have) argued that doing less is more prudent, and that the extras are nice-to-have, but maybe ill-timed. These are well-meaning comments and articulate a reality I recognize, particularly since the economic crash of late 2008. They are offered from an objective and essentially economic vantage point.

Nevertheless, having acknowledged that, our choices are motivated not by objective criteria alone,  but more substantially, by a subjective “enthusmia;” our intent to create a place of relaxation and restoration, a sanctuary of warmth and friendship. In doing so, we extend our love for our daughter to all those that she calls “friend.” This is as it should be. This is spiritual practice ( and very much consonant with the spirit of Franciscan Spirituality).

While one can still be “economical,” life is too short to miss the small chances to add light and joy when given the opportunity to do so. Hospitality, as I wrote in an earlier post, is an advanced form of spiritual practice, and it warrants pulling out our finest linens, dishes, foods, and, yes, the precious oils by which to “anoint” in the names of Love and caring.

The Spirit of Holy Wednesday asks us to retake our vows, redouble our efforts to fulfill them, and recalibrate the sincerity of our loving so that it  transcends the vagaries of politics, economics, and all the many other temporal agendas.

Mark 14:10-12 (King James Version)

10And Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, went unto the chief priests, to betray him unto them.

11And when they heard it, they were glad, and promised to give him money. And he sought how he might conveniently betray him.

12And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?

The Hymn of Kassiani

[written by Kassiani the Nun in the 9th century]:

O Lord, the woman who had fallen into many sins, sensing Your Divinity, takes upon herself the duty of a myrrh-bearer. With lamentations she brings you myrrh in anticipation of your entombment. “Woe to me!” she cries, “for me night has become a frenzy of licentiousness, a dark and moonless love of sin. Receive the fountain of my tears, O You who gathers into clouds the waters of the sea. Incline unto me, unto the sighings of my heart, O You who bowed the heavens by your ineffable condescension. I will wash your immaculate feet with kisses and dry them again with the tresses of my hair; those very feet at whose sound Eve hid herself from in fear when she heard You walking in Paradise in the twilight of the day. As for the multitude of my sins and the depths of Your judgments, who can search them out, O Savior of souls, my Savior? Do not disdain me Your handmaiden, O You who are boundless in mercy.

© Brother Anton and The Harried Mystic, 2010. 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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Great ( Holy) Tuesday, March 30, 2010

“Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”

This day in the Easter cycle commemorates this parable about remaining attentive, vigilant, at the ready to receive the invitation to join in when that offer comes.

Recalling the parable, ten virgins awaited the Bridegroom of which only five were really well prepared when he arrived. The attentive five had procured what they needed by way of oil for their lamps. The other five were lax and put off doing so, and when word came of the Bridegroom’s approach, they begged the well-prepared five for some of their supply. The vigilant five denied them realizing that all of them had equal opportunity and resources to get ready. The “foolish” five then rushed to the market to buy the necessary oil, but the Bridegroom arrived before their return and so they were shut out. The five that had planned were ready and were received with open arms and enthusiasm. The other five were denied access. G-d favors the well prepared.

This is a story about “mindfulness,” a much used, if not abused, word in today’s lexicon. There are many moments in the Gospels ( and, indeed, in the Jewish scriptures overall) about the need to be watchful. It is also a story about the differences between false and true compassion. Doesn’t the Master’s rejection of the five “foolish” ones betray a lack of compassion on his part?

Not at all! He simply holds the lax five accountable; a lesson in “tough love.”  They failed to be ready, so he moved on. They squandered the time they had with trivialities. They allowed themselves to become distracted. Authentic compassion is not saccharine and undifferentiating. Quite the contrary, it respects each person enough to hold them accountable.

We are all accountable for what we say, do, and think. We must answer for who we really are. In facilitating executive leadership development sessions, there are those who invariably return late from a break or from lunch. Some argue that it is best and more gracious to wait for all to arrive. Others contend that at the appointed time, our session continues regardless of who isn’t yet in the room. I am an advocate of the latter over the former philosophy. Out of respect for those who are there on time, I begin on time. The stragglers simply have to catch up.

In these days of political spin-meisters and subterfuge, excuse making and deceptive speech and advertising, the art of lying has been elevated to a seemingly grand and noble art form. The gift of gab and salesmanship has taken a front seat, and quiet leadership, diplomacy, and inviolable integrity, a back seat. With but a very few refreshing examples of notable leaders who are working hard to be otherwise in a terribly dysfunctional system ( e.g., Barack Obama), the choir of demonizers, hate mongers, fear peddlers, and distractors are legion.

It would seem that telling a lie over and over, despite clear factual evidence to the contrary, is held equal to truth in the easily influenced minds of way too many. Whatever happened to accountability? Ignoble and disreputable behavior should result in penalty. In these days of rehab clinics for all things, taking a brief  time away in so-called “rehab” ( e.g., Tiger Woods and the sexual addiction rehab clinic), and all is forgiven. Remarkable, it seems, is the rate of rehabilitation among those with means.

Camouflage, gamesmanship, coercion, lobbying, advertising, bargaining and calling in favors, and buying votes does not a well prepared “virgin” make!

Today is a day for inner diagnosis. In fact, all of Easter week is a time for self-assessment, and this day is set aside as the one on which we test our integrity, our attentiveness to detail, our discipline, or the lack thereof, and the mindfulness with which we step through our daily round. It is a time to ask about whether we too are caught short and find ourselves rushing off to the store to buy some 11th hour oil as we’ve just heard of the Master’s approach. As usual, the best tests are not those that involve big things, but the small ones that betray our careless distractibility.

Yesterday, our gardener was scheduled to stop by the house to pick up the signed contract for his continued work with us over the upcoming growing season. I marked down that he would be stopping by and had the contact in hand when we spoke by phone of his intent to do so. Well, he came by  the house and my wife answered the door and then notified me that he was waiting. I then rushed around my office desperately looking for the contract that was nowhere to be found. Obviously, I mindlessly set it down somewhere meaning, no doubt, to put it out so it would be handy when he arrived.

In effect, when I spoke with the gardener, a very good and hard-working man who cares deeply about the fine work that he always does, a generous and gracious man, I was not really paying close attention. My mind was divided among several things. As a result, I embarrassed myself by not having the contract to give him. He was, as always, gracious and understanding. He laughed it off and said he would catch it two weeks from now when he stopped by to begin the Spring cleaning.

As I meditate on this event today, I  must confess to being like one of the “foolish five” having allowed myself to get fragmented and lose focus and so make a commitment that I couldn’t keep. When I spoke with him on the phone, I was clearly NOT present!. This is a call to fresh action. I apologized for my lapse and I was sincere in that apology but what was also necessary was an immediate change in how I handle planning for meetings after such phone conversations. The only proper response is an accountable one which means one followed by demonstrable and reliable change. There is no excuse. He came out of his way and I wasted his time, and his time is no less important than mine.

This is the meaning of this day. To recalibrate our inner resources so that we are fully vigilant. To practice real, not theoretical zen, in being alive to the compelling NOW, and embrace the real and emergent over the anticipated and imagined.

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
And five of them were wise, and five were foolish
They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.
And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.
Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us.
But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

– Matthew 25:1-13, King James Version

Final questions: Why ten virgins? Why not two, or four, or six ( three wise and three foolish)? The Bible in fact makes much of the number “10.” It recurs often. For example: the 10 plagues visited upon Egypt, Abraham’s 10 trials, completion of the Lord’s Prayer in 10 clauses, Noah’s completion of the Antidiluvian Age at the 10th generation from G-d, etc. The examples are many. Many commentators refer to the Biblical reference to “10” as symbolic of the perfect Divine Order.

The number ten completes a decade cycle and is a short-hand representation of all numbers. It is the end of one cycle and the beginning of another. The “10” Virgins are symbolic of the entire nation of Israel and the fundamental paradox of maintaining the sacred vigil vs losing heart, focus, and becoming lost on the narrow path of righteousness.

Why virgins and not mature women? Well, this seems more straightforward. The Bridegroom brings experience to innocence. There is more of a trembling expectation among the young and inexperienced, and a mix of intoxicating excitement and profound tension and apprehension about being all the other expects.

When one pictures the scene and recalls that time in life, it is easy to feel the rightness of the parable. To be distracted on the night of the Bridegroom’s arrival is truly a sinful condition. It suggests that the full import of this night and the transformative character of it compared to all others is unappreciated. The foolish virgins betray a lack of right and natural anticipation.

The characteristic enthusiasm of such a night would never permit even the possibility of being so blatantly ill prepared. Is the “Nation of Israel” keeping faith, eyes wide open on the truth, and seeking after true Knowledge, or is she seduced by matters of power, wealth, status, territoriality, gossip, and game-playing?

This day challenges us to answer this query personally.

© 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.

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Great ( Holy) Monday, March  29, 2010

Here in the Northeast, this day has been one of incessant rain and cold: a thoroughly raw and inhospitable day. While the first buds of Springtime have appeared and the forsythia are in partial bloom, it feels as if Springtime has been put on hold,  in stasis for a time. A sheet of dark clouds fills the sky.

I also discovered today that one of the large evergreen trees in our yard fell unnoticed into an adjacent one in a storm of several weeks ago. It is being supported by the other tree but can, with another windstorm, fall and destroy the fence and a shed that it now is just grazing. Other smaller evergreens also fell to earlier storms and the debris is abundant. The task of Spring cleaning will be time-consuming this year.

Inspecting the property for damage and assessing what needs priority attention was well-timed to today’s celebration of Holy Monday.

This is the day on which we recall both the life of Joseph, one whose loving heart made possible the care and nurture of a soter, and also the fruitless fig tree cursed by Jesus: a symbol of Pharisaic and official religious who are full of words but bear no fruit. This day is a time for meditation on who we are, striped of all the public and quasi-public masks. It is a day to contemplate authenticity and what it means to bring ourselves daily to the work of being found fruitful when the Bridegroom comes as Joseph surely was. We are invited by the Spirit to live joyfully and productively in the service of true compassion in the world.

We prepare today, at the opening of Holy Week, with reflection on where we are inauthentic, not truly ourselves, dishonest, uncaring and narcissistic. We are invited to inspect our inner “yard” to identify the priority debris that needs Spring cleaning.

So, the weather today is perfectly well-suited to its mystical import as I meditate upon my own shadow:

  • What fruit have I produced that radiates the Light of Christ?
  • What thoughts nourished such fruit, and what thoughts rob them of needed nutrients?
  • In examining my behavior within the last 24 hours,was I a vigilant steward of the essential teachings?
  • What distracted my vigilance?
  • How will my reflections today shape Holy Tuesday? How do I envision living tomorrow?

Troparion of the Bridegroom

Behold! The bridegroom approaches in the middle of the night,
And blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching;
But unworthy he whom He shall find careless.
Beware, therefore, O my soul.
Be not overcome with sleep,
lest thou be given over to death and shut outside the kingdom.
But arise and cry:
Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God!
Through the Theotokos have mercy on 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.

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On a visit last week to Fort Lauderdale, I visited the Butterfly Garden with my wife and daughter. The weather was on the warmer side, the sun shone brightly, and the butterfly aviaries were a delight. We spent a few hours walking through the extensive property made up of a small bridge over a well manicured pond, colorful plant life and trees, and, of course, quite a few separate aviaries dedicated to diverse species of butterflies and one set aside for hummingbirds.

The best part of the experience was to sit quietly on a bench surrounded by tens of butterflies and letting them settle on my arms and clothing. Fortunately, the aviaries were not crowded with people so it was easy to sit for a while and appreciate the amazingly rich array of color and patterns. These are among the most fragile of life forms but few are as inspiring. Just before Easter, they served as a marvelous metaphor for resurrection and rebirth given the metamorphosis from caterpillar to taking flight on breathtaking wings ranging from pure white to spotted, turquoise, various pastels, full yellow, and a striking red and black variety ( see the picture above).

It is hard to imagine  being anxious (barring phobias) in such spaces. A sense arises of the inter-connection of all things. What a privilege it is to be conscious and able to savor for days weeks and months to come the experience of a quiet afternoon in the Florida sunshine with creatures such as these.

As I walked and took my many pictures using my cellphone camera (which, surprisingly, captured some wonderful shots), I came upon a white butterfly that sat on the ground in harm’s way already clearly having suffered wing damage. I became immediately saddened at the sight and then pensive at the scene as one tries to reconcile the tragedies of life with its glories. What came swiftly to mind is the rosary and the important juxtaposition of the Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries. Almost without a thought, I felt compelled to pick up the butterfly and return it to a nearby leaf. It was clear that it was dying, and it felt right that it should do so on a leaf and not against the cold, unnatural pavement.

I am a panentheist and this moment brought that home to me once again. The Spirit runs through all the created. Each natural form is a face of the mind of Ein Sof, the otherwise unknowable. Once again, as creatures with personhood, we know the Divine Presence personally. We feel the Presence more so than we can adequately think the Presence. This is the Gnosis Kardia, the Knowledge of the Heart.

So, on a quiet March day, just a week ago, I was visited by a butterfly who stopped me in my tracks to consider my own mortality, the mortality of others, life’s mysterious transits, and the power of regeneration, resurrection, renewal and the true heaven that emerges in every moment illuminated by authentic compassion.

This is Holy Week in the Western calendar. May this week be a time for you of profound revelatory moments, of transformative experiences, and a deeper dive into the Heart of the Cosmos.

© 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.

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When I usually think about the matter of our advancement and progress as a species, I, as I suppose many, begin to enumerate technological accomplishments, innovations, and breakthroughs in our understanding of the universe. All that is certainly relevant. But, a simpler, more straightforward, and not sufficiently well appreciated metric is the condition of our public toilets.

Civilization is really less about knowledge and more about compassion, fellow-feeling, watching out for one another, empathy, and caring.  Without these qualities, our advances are cold, and can too easily convert to a merely more sophisticated manifestation of barbarism.

So, how far really, examining the state of public bathrooms, have we truly come?

I never cease to be amazed by the deplorable state of American public toilets. I will spare my reader any of the imagery that I am sure s/he can conjure at the mere thought of American restrooms. If we look at it as a reflection of how advanced we are as a culture, the experiences all Americans and visitors to our shores have had paint a depressing and demoralizing portrait indeed.

I am constantly shocked at what I discover in public facilities. How can people, who no doubt are, for the most part, otherwise fine and upstanding citizens when in the public eye, behave so thoughtlessly when in these private moments in public facilities. To leave the toilets in the way they do suggests a total absence of civilized attitudes and mores. There is a passive aggressive character to what one sees in these places. One’s heart goes out to those who have to put things right who are in the employ of the restaurants and stores.

By contrast, my diverse British, European and Asian experiences suggest far more mindfulness and care in leaving a clean facility the way it was found. There is a cultural maturity that American society appears to have not yet achieved. With the state of public toilets as a measure, we in the U.S. are relatively uncivilized. The behavior is at best adolescent and at worst the product of people who lack even the most rudimentary hygiene and social graces of a toddler.

It seems to me that one cannot talk about spiritual progress unless the words are first made credible by virtue of lifestyle and action. For all the rhetoric about social progress, this is one example of the distasteful truth that our illusory march of civilization is a quite thin veneer; a pretense, a front for violent, thoughtless disregard for others. I imagine that these people, who anonymously deface and defile our public bathrooms, act, for the most part, with what must be a feigned cordiality and at least a modicum of  intelligence in the open square when their behavior is anything but anonymous.

The measure of spirituality is what we do when alone and when others cannot see what it is we are doing. By that reasoning, there is a much distance that we need to travel before we’ve earned the right to be known as civilized society. As a personal practice, I work to be attentive to what I pass on to others from the standpoints of both the quality of my work, and the simpler gestures of care and concern.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta summed it up admirably:

In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.

My own personal campaign involves such small things as:

  • drying off the sink after use with paper towel
  • informing the management if a toilet is clogged or a faucet or urinal is running constantly
  • alerting the management if the waste baskets are full to overflowing vs throwing ( as I see done so often) on the floor in the general vicinity of the wastebasket
  • ensuring that the person who follows me will be glad that I preceded him.

I hear a lot of talk about civility ( and the lack thereof) and I often make comment about it. The talk is fine as long as we are spending our energy to do what’s right on behalf of the next person. Anything less is hypocrisy and sophistry.

It is not the magnitude of our actions but the amount of love that is put into them that matters.

Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.

Good works are links that form a chain of love.

We, the unwilling, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful. We have done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

– Various quotes from Mother Theresa with appreciation for her example

© 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.

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I marvel at human ingenuity and it assumes so many forms. Not the least demonstration of our creative prowess as a species is the invention of signs for every conceivable condition and situation under the sun. When I travel, I am always struck by the wide range of signs ( traffic, warnings, announcements, and designations). Around the world, there are the clever varieties of stick figures and cute expressions differentiating the men’s and women’s toilets. On flights, proof that classical conditioning is a powerful force, there is the tyranny of the red lit restroom light signifying an unwelcome delay to one’s own relief, and the sheer delight that comes over one when that light turns green.

Engaging our visual and sometimes auditory sense, signs awaken us to present or emerging realities. We are made aware. We are told to mind our way forward, alter our behavior, adjust our expectations, and do things that are judged more healthy and wholesome by the authorities that be. With the rampant fears attached to pandemics, there are notices posted in restrooms world-wide reminding us to wash our hands. Public service advertising reminds us to do the same and dispensing bottles of Purrell and  related antiseptic equivalents are popping up everywhere.

Signs are comforting. It accentuates the essentially social nature of our conduct as human beings. It reminds us that life entails obligations for the other and for the society in which we are a part. Signs are a check on individuality. They represent the boundaries of personal freedom and represent curbs on the otherwise unbridled appetites of the narcissistic and solipsistic.

There is a tension that exists always between signage and the personal individual spirit. This tension is itself a trigger for a meditation. It represents the truth that we are neither individual nor collective, but a hybrid species alive at the intersection.

Spiritually, taking time to nullify the two polar myths of life opens up extraordinary vistas: the myths of individuality and plurality. These two myths define poles of a central dilemma in our consciousness. As we ponder the tension they inspire we become aware of a third way forward: the way of the sojourner, voyager, and argonaut.

We cannot complete the journey alone. We are vitally and necessarily interdependent though what inspires us is deeply personal. We emerge as transpersonal beings. We live in-between these poles and, as captured so masterfully by Homer in the Odyssey, we must navigate between the two sirens, Scylla and Charybdis, and avoid being lured too close to either and crashing upon the rocks that lie there as we traverse a turbulent sea. We must chart our course, boldly, bravely, and mindfully, straight through between them.

When next you see a sign, consider it a meditative trigger on the true state of our being in the World and an invitation to explore the psychic geography of our true home in the Spiritual City.

© 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.

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Seated diagonally across from me in business class was a quiet couple and my attention was drawn to them almost immediately upon boarding my flight. The gentleman was very quiet, unassuming, and seemingly pensive. His wife, dressed in traditional clothing, was also very reserved, relaxed and attentive. Every once in a while, they looked at each other and just smiled. It was a smile that I recognized immediately. It’s a smile that cannot be faked and is earned only after many years of marriage. It says: ” Hello my dearest friend and my reason for being.”

It was certainly not my intention to intrude but I simply could not tear myself away for too long though I made certain that my observing was covert and unobtrusive. What captivated my interest was the depth of their comfort with each other, the simple intimacy and affection without sentimentality. It was reassuring and cut through all the thinking one does about life purpose and meaning. Here, in a moment, was the unadorned answer to the puzzles of meaning. Their worlds were defined by one another. They saw life and its purpose in each other’s eyes. The smile, like that of so many Buddha statues, was one of profound recognition and imperturbability.

At one point, they each turned inward and simply sat quietly, as we all did, awaiting taxi and takeoff. Our flight was delayed owing to a mechanical problem so there was more time to either doze, read, or, as did so many, flip through email and send and receive text messages. The Hindu couple just sat. No reading, dozing, and no cell phone. They just awaited the next moment. Then, at one point, I noticed the distinguished gentleman ( distinguished more in character than in dress) take out and open his passport as if to read it. He opened it up and then, to my surprise, touched it with seeming reverence to his forehead.

At this gesture, I was perplexed. I wondered:” Is this a devotional, a simple prayer, a superstition, or did I see it all wrong?” A few more moments of thought and I concluded that the motion was too deliberate to be  misread. Once again, I found myself impressed. It was not a movement intended for anyone to see. It was not a grand and ostentatious motion designed to draw attention at all. I only noticed it since I was already taken with this couple. While others may know better, I surmised that this was a prayer perhaps of protection, a blessing for  a bon voyage, and an homage to the reality that we are not in control of so much that happens to us and around us.

Within the bosom of the divine, all things are reconciled. We wrap ourselves in mystery and in acknowledging it we are profoundly freed of the worry that otherwise consumes us as we work hard to take control where control doesn’t belong to us. We are creatures of ritual. I am always comforted and impressed when people of whatever faith openly practice their ritual without any need of recognition or the attention of others. When it is inspired by a profound personal identification with mystery it is full of hope and it offers that hope to any who, with eyes opened and hearts opened wide enough, can benefit from the warmth and glow that the practice affords to the practitioner.

“Where beauty and love are there also is G-D!”

© 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.

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According to Plato, “all is remembrance.” But, there is so much that I’ve forgotten.

With each passing year, I lose more of what I once knew. As I catalogue the range of topics into which my lost memories fall, they include:

  • song titles and artists,
  • names of theorists,
  • book titles and authors,
  • names of key attractions in some cities around the world,
  • where I left my car keys, pens, collar stays, cuff links and belt,
  • how to drive to certain regional destinations I’ve visited in the past without benefit of a GPS device,
  • names of computer files, documents and passwords, and,
  • lists of things I need from the supermarket.

Hmm. Now that I look at the list, most of the items on it ( except for my car keys and maybe my belt), are trivial, unimportant clutter. In reality, it’s not that the brain is “winding down” with age. It’s just cleaning house. With each year, in fact, I am remembering things that I experienced years ago and doing so with added meaning. The time machine of mind replays the past so that more recent experiences can look at them with new perspective and through new lenses.

Memories are reintegrating, clustering, and interconnecting in novel ways. In our Western societies, aging is too often interpreted as degradation, an unwinding, a devolutionary experience, and deterioration.The social programming is strong and after the age of 50, one hears people talking about themselves as anachronistic. Every ache and every pain is enlarged as further proof that best days are no longer ahead. This is altogether a brainwashing; a set of expectations baked into the culture and its worship of youth. We can learn much by looking to the Far East.

In fact, the so-called “senior moment” certainly need not be a cause for embarrassment, apology, nor a fretting over the march of time. On the contrary, with the exception of diagnosed neurological disease, it is merely a sign of learning taken to the next level. Bits and bytes are rewoven into whole cloth, and the narrative storyline of a life emerges.

I raise a toast to the senior moments in celebrating their function as a cleanser for the soul. To forget some things is to make room for new ones. All learning requires forgetting.

© 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.

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This has been a difficult Winter for many parts of the Nation and Europe. London and many German cities have seen snow that they haven’t experienced in over a decade. The Southeast has experienced unusually cold temperatures and one after another serious storm.

As soon as the news media get the word, all attention turns to tracking the storm. Language becomes quickly melodramatic and even small things get big coverage. People are deployed to capture footage of the storm, and we watch. The next predictable behavior is a somewhat frantic run on bread and milk at the supermarkets ( though I prefer fruit, sparkling water, and cheese). In all the hustling and talking about the “approaching storm,” one detects a certain palpable undercurrent of real excitement.

Like so many others, if I am at home, I sit mesmerized by the reporting. It’s exciting. In our lives of otherwise predictable tomorrow’s and the round of boring tasks, a storm brings with it clear uncertainty and unquestioned authority. It isn’t relative or nuanced. It just is what it is. We can’t control the weather. We have no idea how big and bad it will really be until it hits and passes. We stand in awe of nature’s power and it speaks to us in primeval ways. It speaks a language of creation and the forces that violently gave birth to our world.

The tempest is the face of mystery. It is the one manifestation of the unknown and of the danger of living that brings us to attention. We are alert in a storm. Our senses are on high gain. We are attuned to all around us. We are full of expectation and watching. How delicious is the waiting and the wondering and the force of it when it strikes. Secretly, we hope its big enough to be really challenging but not so big as to put us in serious jeopardy.

G-d resides inside the storm. We feel a Presence, a defining power, and an immediacy. It is no wonder that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Jesuit philosopher, theologian, archaeologist and Priest, wrote of a conversion experience in the face of an approaching storm.

The sky was “green” with electrical activity and he watched as a front moved swiftly toward his place in an open field. Rather than run for cover, he stood tall and threw all caution, quite literally, to the wind. Lightning strikes were many around him, trees were split by them, and yet he remained standing as the coming fierce rain and wind came down upon him with a seeming vengeance. When it passed, he was transformed, more fully alert and alive than ever before. He sensed the Presence of the Sacred and was briefly united with it.

I recall, as many readily can, the storms that were moments of encounter with the great mystery. As a young man, this happened, while unadvisedly traveling in a Boston whaler, out by about a mile off shore into the open ocean. A storm suddenly came up and the waves grew swiftly very large. With waves lifting the propeller out of the water with each crest,  I turned and headed back toward shore in both abject terror and exhilaration. The sky was “angry” and the rain fell hard and literally hurt as it fell on my face, hands, and head.

I was, like Teilhard, more truly alive, if terrified, than ever before. Life brings these peak moments to us infrequently, but they are memorable when they do arrive. The weather is a vehicle for intimacy with the Sacred. Our instinctive attraction to them is testament to our kinship with the raw forces in them that are part of our collective unconscious.

It’s the storm that cries out for us to really awaken to the creative act and moment. All creation is a destruction. After the storm, the sky is clear and the air is clean, and the world feels as if reborn.

© 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.

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