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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace

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

“ O unenlightened creatures, how deep – the ignorance that hampers you! … Who made the heavens and who gave them guides was He whose wisdom transcends everything…” Dante’s Inferno, Canto 7

Today I was visited by disciples of a local Baptist community. They were in full proselytizing mode: quick with scriptures to quote and numerous questions to ask designed to find the fatal flaws in my own understanding. Their command of memorized scripture was certainly impressive and I welcomed them and their ministry.

Greeting them as brothers in Christ, I gave them time to share their views. I explained that I was a Franciscan. This was of no interest. What mattered most to them was to stay on script. It was rather amusing if annoying.

Expressing my faith in the Light of the World was clearly not enough. In any event, I must have “failed” their test. They turned away tossing off a quote from Galatians.

I wished them well and the blessings of Easter. They walked off without a smile or a reply of any kind. It was cold and dismissive.

This was nothing new as I’ve had many past interactions with fundamentalists that go more or less the same way. But, this moment stood out. What was striking was the almost complete absence of kindness and warmth. This stands in sharp contrast to my experience of a neighbor’s kindness in stopping his car yesterday to ask if we needed anything from the local store.

With whom would Jesus choose to spend time: my neighbor or the self-important evangelists?

Men and women of a hollow faith that is actually ideology are legion. They use their espoused faith as a shield against genuine caring and wrap their fears of the other in evangelical fervor. It is a reminder of the importance of discernment of the spirits in our age of unthinking consumerism amidst the hungry peddlers of formulaic religion.

It is not the words and the doctrinal formula that are the signs of a true woman and man of faith, but the capacity for genuine compassion, unfeigned empathy and loving regard. These are the signposts of a true disciple of the One Light that shines through many faiths albeit adorned in different metaphors and narratives.

The morning encounter was good food for thought and rich stimulus for prayer in this time of global pandemic and exposure of the truth of just how fragile and vulnerable we are. It makes clear our desperate need of true community: our need of one another as Brothers and Sisters of the One Light.

May we be blessed with hearts of authentic caring for one another in these fearsome times.

Peace & Blessings.

© 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.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante writes:


“ This the beginning is, this is the spark which afterwards dilated to vivid flame, and, like a Star in heaven, sparkling in me.” Paradise, Canto, XXIV

A neighbor driving by, as I was checking our mailbox, stopped his truck to ask me if we needed anything. He was running up to the nearby gas station to pick up a few things. This kindness left me smiling and made everything lighter for the rest of my day in this time of Covid-19.

It is the tender moments of spontaneous caring that act to elevate the soul. Kindness and caring are a powerful medicine for anxious times. Even a simple smile works as a contagion of grace sparking ever greater compassion.

Our better angels resonate to moments of such empathy and outreach, intensifying the Light of love and amplifying shared joy.

© 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.

Choosing Joy

“Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.” ~ Henri Nouwen

As I continued to shelter in place at home today, the day was filled with phone calls and “Zoom meetings”, writing and cleaning around the house. One task required a visit to the side of the house to unravel a garden hose. It was then that I spotted him: a young wren struggling between the pool pump and filter.

Somehow, his leg had gotten caught in string wrapped around a broken twig. The more he struggled, the tighter the knot was becoming. I gingerly picked him up and tried to unravel the knot that had him bound. ( It struck me in the moment as quite the coincidence that the task I set out to accomplish was to unravel the knots in the garden hose.)

The knot was in fact so tight that I needed to get a pair of scissors and very carefully work it loose without injuring the leg and foot. Finally, with my wife’s help, we got it off. It looked like the string that would tether a child’s party balloon.

We placed him very gently back on the ground hoping that he could still fly. After a few tremulous flaps of his wings, he rose up quickly and vanished into the sky.

I tracked his progress briefly and, for a precious moment, my heart soared with him. A brother who was trapped was now free to rise up again. It felt really good.

One small moment with a life in our hands changed the experience of time and the meaning of the whole day for us. We had chosen joy! Oh, how all life is intricately and essentially interwoven.

Habitat destruction, on the other hand, is bringing wild animals into ever closer proximity to people in crowded places like WuHan China. Bats are problematically caged among the throngs of people shopping in so called “wet markets” whereby novel viruses can more easily enter into the human population and thrive.

I was reminded that, since Covid-19 first made its dramatic appearance, air quality is improving in a number of cities and other species ( notably birds) seem to be making something of a comeback.

This is important stuff on which to meditate as we consider our stewardship of Creation and how mindful we are or are not of the value of ALL life. Unintended consequences of our appetites are combining in complex ways and creating the conditions of our own demise as a species.

Let us, as Henri Nouwen reflects, choose joy over mere unthinking consumption. Let us pause and notice the little thing that makes a difference. That way, all those little choices can combine to weave a legacy of life; the surest route to deep fulfillment, meaning, and collective well-bring.

Peace

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

I awoke to morning prayer again informed by Dante’s poetry:

 “ The more a thing is perfect, the more it feels pleasure and pain.”

Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, inferno-canto-vi-105

A profoundly Franciscan idea!


Over the weekend, my wife and I both became symptomatic and await testing ( whenever that becomes available). We may have a touch of seasonal flu or a cold or something else: worrying to be sure.


AND, yesterday, while standing at some distance from my granddaughter, she spotted me and called out down the street with such joyful exuberance, waving her arms and running our way- “Pop-Pop!”


As neuroanatomist, Jill Bolte Taylor wrote in her book, My Stroke of Insight, after recovery from a massive left hemispheric stroke: “ We may think of ourselves as thinking beings that feel, but we are really feeling beings that think!

Amen!

© 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.

A little cumulus with wisps of cirrus, March 22, Minneola Florida

We’ve all played the cloud game as we watch the changing forms we liken to different animals. Shall we take it up a notch?

Beyond looking for imagined likenesses, there is the real science of clouds and how those shapes act as signs of what’s happening at different levels of the atmosphere.

It’s also simple fun to just look up and try to spot the more unusual cloud formations such as: the Kelvin-Helmholtz, Asperitas, Lacunosus, Horseshoe Vortex, Fallstreak Hole, Tuba, Lenticularus, Mama, Roll Clouds, Pileus and Nacreous, among others. This is nothing less than a dynamic alchemical mixture of water vapor, and dust at varying temperatures and winds aloft: ever-changing sky-scrapes.

The Cloud Appreciation Society was founded in 2005 by Gavin Pretor-Pinney. I’ve been using the society’s “ CloudSpotter Ap” now for about a year. It is another way to open our eyes to the marvels all around us that we often take for granted. You can get competitive too by collecting awards for spotting different combinations of clouds.

As we are spending more time at home in states especially hard hit by the Covid 19 virus, it’s refreshing to mix book time with daytime reading from the Book of Nature. It also puts to shame what passes for most television and the cost of cable.

Coupled with birding and astronomy, what better low cost amusements to feed the mind and, perhaps more importantly, the soul. I commend the practice.

Check out what’s UP!

© 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.

I have embarked on a personal reading project during this Season of the Covid -19 Pandemic: revisit the Franciscan and Franciscan-inspired classics.

One can tackle such a project in a number of ways, but I’ve chosen to do so alphabetically by the authors last name. So, I began today with Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy Getting reacquainted with this narrative poem was a treat and an inspiration for our times.

The poem is structured in three parts: the Inferno, Purgatory, and Paradise. The opening stanza of Inferno, Canto 1 reads:

Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost.

This famous opening stanza captures the essence of what so many are feeling across our Nation, Europe, Asia and South Asia about the dark uncertainty that hangs over us. As the world pursues a vaccine , we must wait.

While we wait, we have one enduring force to bring to these anxious days: Love.

Among the final stanzas of the Comedy (Paradiso, Canto XXXIII), Dante writes:

Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.

Peace.

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

Disciplined reflection is foundational to what it means to “examine ourselves”. We turn the gift of reason inward to check on the state of our souls as a counterbalance for what we necessarily execute on autopilot in our ever busier lives.

The central spiritual challenge we each have as 21st Century pilgrims of the Way, is to uncover our True & Higher Selves. Examens of consciousness are adjunct tools of self- inquiry that assist us in our work as penitents praying for the grace to set aside the numerous distractions strewed along the Path. These tools derive from, among other sages, the practices of Saints Bonaventure and Ignatius of Loyola. Both crafted disciplined “Examens” intended to help augment and deepen prayer.

There is an exercise that comes out of the Cognitive- Behavioral psychology toolkit that offers a different perspective on the work of examining our mental contents; additional scaffolding to help as we continuously work to build the architecture of our inquiry.

The Exercise: Set a timer for three minutes. Jot down, on a blank piece of paper, everything that courses through your mind before the timer runs out. When time is up, count the number of thoughts.

This is an easy way to tap into where our head’s are at any point in time. Once done, and you’ve counted up and considered the content of your conscious thought, ask:

  • How many individual thoughts do I count?
  • How many repeat themselves around certain themes.
  • What’s the tone of the contents of my thinking?
  • Around what issues do my thoughts revolve?
  • What surprises me?

Do this three times throughout the day ( e.g., early morning, early afternoon, and early evening) . In each case, make sure you can do this without interruption.

Before bed, take each of the 3 minute readings and multiply the number of thoughts by 20. As a final task, add together the three products (from multiplying the number of thoughts in each of the 3 minute samples by 20) and divide that sum by 3. This gives an index of the average number of thoughts over your typical waking hour during the day now coming to a close.

Do this every day for the remainder of Lent and plot them on a simple graph and note the trend; a quantitative handle on the degree of interior “noise” we are carrying.

Why bother, you may reasonably ask?

Well, we may know we are busy and worried and preoccupied in general but, just like the advisability of taking a measure of our weight daily each morning if we are working towards a weight goal, it’s good to hop on the “scale” of the weightiness of our thoughts every day to stay alert to the trends if our goal is to open up more space for the Spirit to fill.

For those working to cultivate greater spiritual interiority, it’s a “quick and dirty” heuristic to help flag ways in which we may need to be more deliberate and intentional about managing our thought-time.

What is often revealed is a need to tend to certain kinds of thought in a way that can help us to more effectively set them aside rather than ruminate incessantly. We may spot obsessional patterns, habits of automatic thought. Heightened attention to what’s happening inside our minds helps us to stand down the noise overall.

I have come to refer to this as a part of my own spiritual ” Noise Abatement Program.” It simply does no good to find quiet spots in my home or community in which to reflect in solitude if I carry into that quiet space a heavy load of mental content. That oppressive load will surely undermine the goal of centering and self-emptying.

For me, it is a fitting collateral Lenten discipline along with scriptural reading, other examens, and prayer. I encourage you to try it and see if bears fruit for you.

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

Rainer Maria Rilke speaks to my heart on this quiet day of wondering and waiting.

He wrote:

My eyes already touch the sunny hill.
going far ahead of the road I have begun.
So we are grasped by what we cannot grasp;
it has inner light, even from a distance-

and charges us, even if we do not reach it,
into something else, which, hardly sensing it,
we already are; a gesture waves us on
answering our own wave…
but what we feel is the wind in our faces.

– Translated by Robert Bly

I look ahead down the road where the world recovers it’s center. I see out there, farther off, a brilliant sunrise of love and mutual caring and a landscape of wild flowers celebrating life.

I spot a great gathering of birds, many colors, weaving together their songs of identity into a grand splash of harmony.

I see the advance throng of daughters and sons of Light encouraging us; urging us ever-forward on the long walk toward that open field where the paths narrow and draw together.

It is a gift to hear the call of love and goodness: a voice guiding us along the winding way to the true fullness beyond.

It is this vision that inspires our soul’s to greatness in troubled times, an exponent to resilient joy.

Peace.

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

Garden of Memories

Like seeing things at a distance coming suddenly into view as a gentle fog lifts, so are our memories.

The French novelist and essayist, Marcel Proust, had a lifelong fascination with what he called the ” translucent alabaster of our memories.” His book, In Search of Lost Time, epitomizes that passion. His reflections were so influential that we, to this day, make reference in Psychological circles to ” Proustian memories.” Proust himself referred to such memories as “Involuntary”. These recollections act as primers for other memories tied to them.

Proust illustrates this in his novel, Swann’s Way, in which the pleasure he takes in dipping a madeleine ( small French cake) into lime-blossom tea brings swiftly to mind the house in which his aunt prepared that sweet delight for him as a young boy. Along with it, he would see “in his mind’s eye,” the town surrounding the house and other details of the community. These autobiographical memories, referred to elsewhere as ” precious fragments,” more often than not, involve olfactory and taste cues to recalling other emotion-laden details.

We all can relate. This happens to me ( and many people I know) around certain Holiday foods. My grandmother made “Struffoli,” Italian honey-balls, at Christmas. Whenever I eat them, I immediately recall three things: the joy she had in presenting these homemade treasures, the speed with which they vanished, and, above all, the house , her kitchen in which we spent so much time, the singing, and the laughter. I see the wallpaper in the kitchen, I recall the other fragrances of homemade cooking, and I recall my state of mind as ebullient and playful and time itself seemed to slow to a delightful crawl!

Memories encapsulate the marker events that have shaped us and that continue to wield their influence in our lives. It is curious how we recall certain things vividly while other events and experiences fade away so profoundly that we can’t recall them even when prompted. My wife will sometimes mention an event from the past and, for the life of me, I cannot recall it ever happening though her recall is vivid. Recall and forgetting both are often meaningful and telling aspects of our constructed autobiographical story. It is always a journey of discovery to journal about them.

I reflect on the phenomena of memory during this Covid-19 crisis and the attendant call to engage in social distancing. We are spending more time than many of us may be accustomed to being indoors. What a great time to focus on examining our own story out of time. There is a projective test called the ” Early Memory Procedure” developed by Arnold Bruhn. It asks that we consider our earliest memories in different categories: earliest memory of being comforted, of being afraid, of being curious, of school, of family, etc.. I love it. It strikes me as a very apt way to spend some time, while in relative seclusion, as we travel through Lent considering the memorial loops that define us.

Toward what end do we do such reflecting? Well, Proust summed it up quite nicely: “The real voyage of discovery consists in not seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Such reflection can both honor the experiences on which our sense of self is built while affording us greater degrees of freedom in how we write our next chapters.

© 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.