31 July 2009

Ignatian decision

Today, the 31st of July, is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius was a military officer in 16th century Spain. He was a wild young man. He kept himself well-groomed, because he loved the ladies! While fighting the French at Pamplona in the north of Spain, a cannon ball, passing between his legs, tore open his left calf and broke his right shin. Ignatius endured many painful months of recuperation.

While bedridden, he requested some of his favorite reading, stories of knights and chivalry. They weren’t available, so what were brought to him were stories of Christ and the saints. He experienced his conversion while reading those books. Ignatius decided to use the energy he formerly devoted to warfare to the cause of Christ. He became the founder of an order known as the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits.

In his book, The Spiritual Exercises, he includes a section entitled, “Discerning the Spirits.” His use of the word “spirits” reflects a medieval concept; today, we might say “inclinations.” Discerning the spirits, discerning one’s inclinations, is central to making decisions.

One key Ignatian theme in decision-making is being aware of spiritual desolation: times and events that present a crisis. It is unwise, Ignatius says, to make major decisions during “desolation.” I can recall a time when my mother, without being aware of this terminology, gave me sound Ignatian counsel.

In my final semester at Middle Tennessee State University, I got the idea in my head that I should leave school and go to California. My interests had shifted considerably from the time I started college.

My major was Political Science, but with my exploration of religious faith—Christianity, and to a lesser extent, Buddhism and Zen—I began to see myself as a seeker of truth, wandering the Earth. (Though probably not wandering as far as Tibet!) Combining that with my great love of music, I decided that I should return to the land of my youth, San Diego, and get a job in a record store. I even went to the school library, looked through a San Diego phone directory (this was in the dark ages before the internet), and found a store near the ocean.

So I called my mom and told her what God was leading me to do! She didn’t have very much to say. She suggested that I go ahead and finish out the semester, since I was so close to graduating anyway, and then see what I thought. If God really wanted me to make this fairly major change in my life, waiting a few more weeks wouldn’t hurt.

And after a couple of days had gone by, it occurred to me that God really didn’t want me to run off and do my wandering seeker bit!

So, thank you, Mom, and thank you, St. Ignatius…

23 July 2009

circus handlers beating elephants

For those questioning the entertainment value of intelligent animals being forced to do "circus tricks," you're not alone. Regardless of one's opinion of PETA, it doesn't change the backward mentality of these shows.

18 July 2009


Today’s reading in the Rule of Benedict is chapter 39, “The Proper Amount of Food.” It begins, “For the daily meals, whether at noon or in midafternoon, it is enough, we believe, to provide all the tables with two kinds of cooked food because of individual weaknesses. In this way, the person who may not be able to eat one kind of food may partake of the other.” We may think, “Wow! Two different kinds of cooked food! What a buffet!” Still, in the 6th century, most people would have felt differently about it than we in the 21st century.

In the second paragraph, Benedict says, “Should it happen that the work is heavier than usual, the abbot or prioress may decide—and they will have the authority—to grant something additional, provided that it is appropriate, and that above all overindulgence is avoided, lest anyone experience indigestion. For nothing is so inconsistent with the life of any Christian as overindulgence. Our God says: ‘Take care that your hearts are not weighted down with overindulgence (Lk 21:34).’”

Overindulgence takes many forms. I’m not tempted so much by overeating and drinking. (Although the spiritual practice of fasting isn’t at the top of my list!) And it’s easy for me to display the image of the person addicted to shopping. One of my overindulgences, however, deals with how I jealously regard my time. I’ve always been one to value “my” time. And while we all need to have “our” time respected, we have to remember that even time is a gift from God.

When we forget that, we realize that we’re wasting time…which means, we’re wasting our lives.

13 July 2009

dog in water

I realize that this will be of little interest in the known universe. (Perhaps beings in another dimension will be fascinated by it.) This morning, our Shetland Sheepdog, Duncan, who avoids (liquid) water however it encounters himas rain, in pools and lakes, and certainly as bathsdid something for the first time in his twelve and one-half years on earth. He voluntarily jumped into a body of water.

However, as the photo demonstrates, it appears that he may have had other intentions. His heart probably wasn't set on water, but on waterfowl.

11 July 2009

pax benedictus, pax christi

Today, the 11th of July, is the feast of St. Benedict. Banu and I have learned about Benedict from a number of sources, but the single greatest factor has been as oblates at Mount St. Benedict in Erie. We now live at a three-plus hour drive from Erie, but we don't forget, "The corporate commitment of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie is: To model the Benedictine charism of peace, PAX, by working for disarmament, ecological stewardship, and social justice in solidarity with the poor and oppressed, especially women."

The Pax Christi is "the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Ph 4:7). It even surpasses political understanding! We take as our model Jesus, who chose among his disciples, Matthew the tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans. He also chose Simon the Zealot, a revolutionary who wanted to overthrow the Romans. And he chose some fishermen, who (likely) had no particular political allegiances!

The peace of Christ breaks all boundaries.

09 July 2009

this is who we are

What are the odds?

What are the odds that, sitting in a doctor’s office this afternoon, my wife would hand me the current issue of Art in America magazine? Inside it would be the image of Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare. As it would happen, I would come home and do a Google search for the image. I would find it on the first page, taken from an excellent website dedicated to the TV show Millennium, which was on in the late 90s, starring Lance Henriksen and produced by Chris Carter, of X-Files fame. Fuseli’s painting appeared in an episode titled Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions.” The cable network Chiller has been airing Millennium for some time.

What are the odds that Chiller would air, on the same day, the very episode containing the painting that I Googled after seeing in a magazine in a doctor’s office? Come to think of it, what are the odds that a doctor’s office would have a magazine that is both current and interesting?

What are the odds?

08 July 2009

meet the new boss—same as the old boss (?)

I’ll admit it—I’m beginning to wonder if Barack Obama’s fine words on torture and the rule of law weren’t just that: fine words. He has spoken eloquently about a choice between our values and our security being a false one. The change we had hoped for, so far, has largely been cosmetic. On his TV show, Bill Maher recently wondered when these changes were going to start taking place. I was wondering about that myself in March.

In some ways, Obama is taking the Bush playbook on indefinite detention and running with it. Jeh Johnson, Department of Defense General Counsel, stated yesterday that it is a “policy question” whether acquitted individuals will be released or held indefinitely.

It’s already a perversion of justice that we’ve jailed hundreds of people for years without charging them with anything. But now the Obama White House seems to be saying that even if those caught up in the Bush dragnet are in fact put on trial—and then acquitted—they can be sent right back to prison. That hearkens back to the bad old days of the Soviet Union.

I haven’t given up on Barack. Like all of us, he needs encouragement to do what is right. He needs our prayers (as well as the members of Congress)!