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The Journal and the Journey
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Bob  »

The journals that are stored in boxes in my closet date back to 1971.  All these years I have recorded experiences, impressions, feelings, and reflections on things that happened and things I read.  Occasionally, I will look back at what I wrote at a particular time with amusement or embarrassment, and at times I gain some added understanding of who I was and who I am and how I got here.  Writing in a journal is a clarifying instrument for viewing the past, but also for sorting out what I am thinking and experiencing in the present.  I read somewhere, “In journal writing we often find out what we did not know we knew.”  That seems true.

As the memories pile up and as I find myself more and more forgetful, the journal also simply serves to rescue events and encounters from oblivion.  Looking back at what I wrote, I remember, oh yeah,  this person was important to me or, yes, I was really caught up in this or that once.  I see where I was stuck, maybe still am stuck, or sometimes, wonderfully, where maybe I have changed and grown.

Thomas Merton wrote, “Keeping a journal has taught me that there is not so much new in your life as you sometimes think … Still, it is true that one penetrates deeper and deeper into the same ideas and same experiences.”  That seems true, too. 

Life, like any journey, is often routine, mundane and ordinary, but that does not mean that there is not a lot to discover along the way if you keep your eyes and heart open.  Keeping a journal is not the only way to stay awake and mindful of the passage of time, but for a person of a certain disposition, this kind of conversation with oneself is a way to enjoy and learn a thing or two from the journey.

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Bob  »

See, I am doing a new thing!

                                    Isaiah 43:19

 

Some have described this time we are going through as an apocalypse.  In common parlance, apocalypse signifies cataclysmic end times, but in its original meaning, apocalypse denotes an uncovering or unveiling.  In that root sense of the word, we clearly are in an apocalypse.  The disunity, racial inequities and economic injustices present in our society have seldom been more exposed.  At the same time, the response to the pandemic has revealed the often unnoticed heroism of ordinary people and awakened the consciences of many.

The prophet Isaiah delivered God’s message, “See, I am doing a new thing!”  Likewise, prophetic voices today urge us to break from old ways and to not return to an old normality if it means a society that continues to advantage the few (even if the few are us!) at the expense of the many, and that threatens the survival of the planet.

Religious leaders are urging us to think new thoughts when envisioning how we will eventually come out of the current crisis.  Early in the pandemic, Pope Francis sized up the situation:

Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity.  Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. This is the opportunity for conversion. Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were.

Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, exhorted:

There are ways forward we never imagined – at huge cost, with great suffering – but there are possibilities and I’m immensely hopeful … Once this epidemic is conquered we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all was normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old but is different and more beautiful.

Let’s pray for the grace to join with God in “doing a new thing!”

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The Measure You Use
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Bob  »

For several years I had the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter one night a month.  My responsibilities primarily involved turning off the lights at 10pm and putting on the coffee in the morning.  Other than that, I mostly talked with the guests and slept – good work if you can get it.  For me it was simply a service opportunity; for the guests being there was the result of one grave circumstance or another.

An itinerant preacher once said the foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.  That is the situation that these brothers and sisters find themselves in.  Given our current economic disaster, unfortunately, many more people may not have a place to lay their heads in the months and years ahead.

At the shelter I enjoyed talking with the guests about sports and politics, but the best part was hearing their stories.  I met some amazing people and learned a lot from them about resiliency, perseverance and courage.  I am better for my time with them.  The “homeless” are less an abstraction; they are persons with all the uniqueness and complexity that we all share.

It is a cliché that you get more out of volunteer service than you give.  But it is repeated so often because it is universally true.  Life is too short for us to remain in the confines of our comfortable little worlds.  Whatever sacrifice self-giving entails is repaid many times over.  That same itinerant preacher said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

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Little by Little
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Bob  »

Growth in our spiritual life largely depends upon a lot of little decisions.  That is why we talk about practicing our faith.  It takes a lifetime of practice to become the person God intends us to be – fully alive, generous of spirit, open to life and caring of others.  The person in process is what matters; the end product takes care of itself.  More and more I am struck by how important our little choices are.  Spiritual growth seldom happens in dramatic leaps, but rather in little steps along the way. 

Years ago an old priest gave me some good guidance.  He said it’s all about habits.  Be careful to develop good habits, he advised.  When you are moved to do the right thing – standing up for the underdog, speaking out in the presence of injustice, or simply making a phone call to a lonely elderly uncle or sending a card to a grieving friend – always try to act on it.  Now.  Even if imperfectly.  Try to make virtue in little things habitual.  Exercise those virtuous muscles every day to make you spiritually healthy and stronger for when you need that strength.

He was a person who emanated kindness and compassion.  I see how he got that way.

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I Say to Myself
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Bob  »

First, get rid of the idea that the time you spend praying is any more holy than anything else you do that day, I say to myself.  Remember that there is nowhere in the gospels where Jesus says, or even infers, that we will be judged by how much or how often or how well we pray.  Don’t forget that he expressly rejects the idea that babbling on in prayer in the mistaken belief that somehow simply multiplying one’s words to God has any merit.  And surely keep in mind Jesus’s distain for people that make a show of their piety.

That said, do pray.  Do your best to be a prayerful person – not for God’s sake, but for yours!  Maybe God, disguised as your life, is always whispering to you, nudging you forward when you are just mucking along, showing you the way, standing by you when you think you are all alone.  Maybe God is a river of grace flowing through your life.  Deep down you know it is true.  Stop and pay attention or who knows what you may be missing.  You know from experience that it pays to pay attention.  So, pray already.

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