I have never been bothered by depression. Maybe it’s yet to come in my life. Many people who are close to me are bothered by it.It’s certainly in my genes, for both my mother and my aunt suffered from it. Come to think of it, the vast majority of people I know who suffer(ed) from it are women. The books say it is not just a female thing, but it occurs more predominantly in women.
I remember, years ago, while in training for an overseas government assignment, we were all told that culture shock and loneliness would undoubtedly bring us to periods of depression and we should be prepared for it. I kept looking for it to come but it never did. I do not feel deprived. I have seen what serious depression can do. But I do feel crippled by my difficulty in empathizing for lack of ever having experienced it.
One of the better definitions of depression I have seen is: a chemical imbalance that results in a practiced behavior of interaction that manifests itself in manipulativeness, a hesitancy to give gratification, and feelings of hostility and anxiety. It may be well-said that it is the demon so often cast out in scripture.How does one so afflicted find You in such a mess? Efforts to do so must be very special to You since You so fully understand the demon. I don’t. If I am to be of any help to anyone so afflicted I need to better understand it and the hellish suffering through which it puts people. It is a sickness that can kill as sure as cancer. The position of one who would help is made all the more difficult by the proclivity of the one suffering to assign blame for the imbalance to other people, circumstances, or events. The very one who is trying to help may, in the eyes of the depressed, be the cause. It would therefore seem paramount to show them that it is a sickness from within, not from without. The will to seek treatment must come from within, as must coping strategies. There is no cure yet, so we must do what we can do. Our silent actions, not words, demonstrate our intent and support. This includes our prayers. Love is a great healer!
Every time I go to Mass early at this one church so I can pray before Mass, there is a guy I know who goes out of his way to come over and whisper, “Mornin’, Bill, how ya doin’?” while I’m praying. This has gone on for years. I usually mumble back, “Good morning, Ray,” but I always feel somewhat violated by his interruption.
I got to thinking about that and realized he’s not the only one I consider an interruption. Though I may not voice it or externally show it, there are a lot of people I often consider interruptions. There are people in my own family, those I love most whom I, at times, consider as interruptions to my spiritual life.
Now, there’s something else I realized about that guy who says “good morning” to me. I realized that, over time, I’ve come to expect that “good morning” and actually anticipate it. I miss it when he does not show up. In fact, coming to accept and even anticipate his “good morning” has actually helped my spiritual growth. Likewise with those I love whom I might consider interruptions. All of them and their “interruptions” are channels.I think it’s a remarkable thing that if we just stop to consider it, interruptions can be a wonderful grace. The opportunity to give up, even for just a moment, our rapt attention to ourselves, is an opportunity for growth. To actually come to the realization that an interruption can be a blessing – an opportunity for growth – in itself is a grace and blessing. If only for a moment, an interruption lets us know that the way we make our own way is not the only way and that as we make our way others are trying, in their way, to make it too.
I’m trying to figure out what it is in me that makes me zealous to share what I know of You and, at the same time, disparaging of the way others see You. I have an eagerness to share the ways I seek but a cynicism about the ways others seek. There is a “scotosis” here that comes from – what?
When trust comes with difficulty so does acceptance. Do I honestly think that my journey follows the best route? I really do fall into this trap. I really am cynical and disparaging about the ways others seek You. I sit here and write with great admiration about the saints, about contemplatives and mystics, and about the spiritual writers who’ve shaped me – but I wonder, if I personally knew any of them, could I keep my cynicism at bay?
In our personal relationship there is truth in the position that it’s all about me and You. The complication comes in understanding and accepting that this is equally valid for every other individual.As much as Your ways are not my ways, my ways are not the ways of others. But they are no more and no less valid. Eagerness to share what I’ve discovered, the ways I seek, or new insights need not be validated by acceptance from another, but I continually fall into the trap of thinking they do. Truth does not need validation. But my truth may not be THE TRUTH, just as another’s truth may not be THE TRUTH. Yet each of us may have a piece of it.
I heard a talk recently in which the “quality of love that builds up another” was mentioned. In building up another every attempt to seek You should be supported and encouraged, not criticized simply because I may think you should do it my way. To start to remedy this erroneous discrepancy of thought, one might consider that none of us is 100% right in the way we seek You. As I said, we share bits and pieces, some more than others. But none of us has it all. The very element about another’s journey that I am most critical of may be that which I am most lacking. Foibles are funny. They characterize our personality. We always talk about them in others as if we had none. This foible itself is telling. Each unique one of us is on our own unique journey – never mind somebody else’s.
My Mom is with you now. After You, friends and family meant everything to her. There is a lot of mom in both me and my brother.At the same time, there is a lot in mom to which my reactions to her shaped me. I say this with a sense of it being rightfully so that she and my brother were more of one heart while she was a bit more cautious with me because, I fear, she never really could entirely figure me out. But I can identify with that since I have the same problem. She loved me and cared for me deeply, but she could never quite align herself with the way I approached life.
People were never unlovable to her. They were either her friends, or they were, to varying degrees, “strange.”She knew I loved her and was her friend, but with me there was always an overlap of the “strange.” She told me of a dream she once had where I turned a black face to her. Recently I searched for something “dark” I had done to her that might symbolically correlate to that dream. Since that time I have been ever-cautious and ever-aware of doing nothing that might ”darken” my mother’s perception of me. I shall forever wonder if that face was the dark countenance of impending death she might have seen in the last face she was able to perceive with any clarity – mine!
Yet, on this side we always perceive death as dark. But the dark precedes the light as the door to real life slowly opens to us.
Her services were beautiful and moving, but most of all, as my brother said, she would have smiled down most happily to see the whole family all together there. Her spirit lives among us. Thank You for her.
The music director at our parish is a young Asian-American girl who has held the position for maybe ten years now. Her instrumental and vocal talents filter daily almost seamlessly through every liturgy. I have, over the years, thought to myself many times that this church is blessed to have someone so gifted, so in-touch with liturgical music. I attend six or seven different churches now and then and, on single occasions, have been in many more. Nowhere is there anyone that I know of who can compare to her.
Sometimes there comes a moment when even the extraordinary gifts of one so special as she strike us in a new and insightful way. Listening to her this morning it struck me how near-perfection is a magnet for near-perfection and near- perfection is nearer to God.
In any individual upon whom we look and say, “That’s the way it’s s’posed to be,” that person or those persons demonstrate the apex of God in us and what God in us can be among us. If we were able on every strata of daily life to surround ourselves with such near-perfection we would, in fact, be surrounding ourselves with the discovery of Your presence to degrees to which we are normally unaccustomed.
When we experience the writer whose style and wisdom transports us, the carpenter or mechanic whose obsession is doing it right with meticulous attention to details, the doctor or nurse who not only heals but does so with genuine compassion, the teacher through whom we learn not just facts but wisdom and life – in each instance their near-perfection is reflective of God in us – Your grace accepted and at work. If one could live amongst only such individuals all the time, a touch of heaven would be brought to earth.
To work hard and constantly at perfecting the gift of a particular grace is to acknowledge the dynamics of Your spirit at work in the world. It is for us not to envy such revelations in others but to rejoice in recognizing them and to celebrate the “God with us” they bring.
How many times have I sung, “They’ll Know We are Christians by Our Love” and never given any thought to it. Of how many people can I say I know they are Christians – I can tell by their love? Can I say it of myself? To come across an individual whom you do not know and be able to say this, is a wonderful experience. The vast majority of Mass-attending, rosary-saying, grim-faced devotional pursuers are, outside the environs of a church, not necessarily readily recognizable as Christians.
When one comes across a person who, totally removed from such a setting, is bubbling over with a joyful, loving attitude about everything, it is most refreshing to see, and most admirable. I think I know such a person; and the fact that I do take in her piety and devotion when I see her in church means not nearly so much as when I watch and listen to her exchanges with people at her job as a postal clerk. She is one of the most delightful persons to encounter one can imagine. There is no phoniness about the exuberance and happiness she exudes. Her joy seems her gift and her days are all about sharing her gift.
A while back I wrote to You about how our lives are influenced extensively by others. I’d like to be like this lady and I’d like to be around the people that have influenced her. But, probably because of the influence of those people I actually have been around, it is not naturally in my make-up to be that way. While her Christianity is easily recognizable, mine is under a bushel basket. A gregarious, outgoing extrovert I am not.
Yet, it is with just such an individual that who they are is most evident. There is a somberness and interiority about my witness that is probably unattractive to others and, therefore, makes a lousy witness. I am very much conscious of the ways my soul does not magnify You.
In his book on sacred reading, Fr. Michael Casey says: “The disposition that makes us capable of receiving salvation includes a willingness to be guided and changed.”I think there is latent in each one of us a dim spark of urgency to return to the human friendship of God as it was before the fall. What was ours for the taking must now be sought with effort, cultivated and nurtured laboriously and with determination. What we possessed singly and uniquely as an individual cannot now even be grasped at without help from You through others. While we may be willing to be changed and guided by You, we often balk at the channels of Your grace – particularly other people.
It seems that the more distant the people, such as spiritual authors and dead saints whom we will never confront, the easier it is for us to be guided and changed by them. But the people around us, the friends, family and so on, are, more often than not, missed as the most potent channels of growth, change, and ongoing reflection that we have.
We’re so much more comfortable with messages emanating from the unfamiliar than the familiar. The less we know about the human foibles and frailty of our guides the more secure are we in their ability to influence us. No man is without honor except in his native land. But as I grow in tiny awakenings I become more convinced that we miss a great deal with this attitude. With this we also rope off our attitude of willingness to be guided and changed.We set boundaries against it saying, in effect, to this person or that person, “I know you too well and there can’t be anything you have to offer.” We miss a great deal this way.
It is precisely through those closest to us that You most clearly speak to us. It is we who, through familiarity, refuse to listen. The guidelines of love have been set down by You and Your saints. We can look to those examples for help. We read scripture and see love exposed. But the most vital lessons of love are before us daily in our ordinary lives. It is our willingness to recognize this, to contemplate its meaning, and grow from it that makes us capable of receiving salvation. It is not so much in the lessons of books or the examples of dear saints that my willingness to be guided and changed bears fruit, but rather in the present moment, now, where that willingness is tested by practice not theory.
I recently had the occasion to be present at a Jewish wedding. The lady-rabbi who presided at the ceremony spoke extensively and impressively about the marriage relationship. One thing in particular really caught my attention and gave me pause, and I am getting better at recognizing when the light bulb of insight goes on. In speaking about our relationship to even those closest to us she said, experientially we can never know another person no matter how hard we try. The only person we can ever know experientially is our self. What we know of others is their “story.” Some peoples’ stories we know better than others. But that’s all we know – their stories, because we cannot experience their lives, we can only experience our own.
No matter how much I love my family or how close I think I am to them, all I will ever really know of them is their stories: the narrative of their lives with me. It comes to me from this that it’s the same way I unconsciously go about loving You, by becoming more and more familiar with Your story from every conceivable aspect available. But it also comes to me that in my relationship with You, and ONLY in my relationship with You, can it be more than that; for faint and illusive though it may be, through contemplation I experience You in me. We become one, and for moments, my story is Yours and Yours is mine.
In a far broader sense this spirit unites me with all others and they become my story too and I theirs; for there are parts of others that will always be parts of me and parts of me that will always be parts of others. Our experiences and stories do mesh and we perceive them in our own individual ways.
On the level of the senses our stories are formed by our perceptions. Each of us perceives uniquely, but our perceptions may impact and color the perceptions of others.
On the level of the spirit, though our paths may vary and our journeys be different, our stories are all united in You. So, while some peoples’ stories may be more interesting and attractive than others, it is, essentially, not the story itself that forms the bond but the way in which all stories ultimately merge into one.
Finally, concerning others, it is often necessary to go beyond their surface stories to get at the stories of their spiritual journeys. While they are intertwined, the one more truly defines the person than the other.
It’s sobering to consider that 99.9% (perhaps 100%) of all our actions, expressions, thoughts, ideas, and mannerisms are not original. During the course of life we plagiarize almost everything about us. The essence of our individual being (our spirit) is unique, but that’s about it. We borrow incessantly from parents, siblings, relatives, friends, teachers, and the media.
Our earthly persona is a composite stolen from those around us. This can be a very good thing depending on those with whom we choose to surround ourselves. Such influences are inevitable, but we can control by our choices those who exert power over us – or can we? Certainly we make the decisions about whose company we like to keep, but I think there are influences we’d not choose that end up influencing us anyway – particularly in this media age. I suspect, on close examination, that we would find formative facets of our personalities that, without certain people and events portrayed by the media, would not exist. It seems almost like a sinister conspiracy against us. It tends to make us feel very small and powerless until we realize that we pass on everything that has shaped us.
In another person we may see bits and pieces of ourselves just as we see parts of others in us. There is an endless cycle here from generation to generation of which we are both an active and a passive part.
It was providential that two days ago I attended the funeral of a friend’s father-in-law. The eulogy spoke of the “gospel” of this man’s life and of how all his relatives, friends and associates were better off because of knowing him. Because we knew him, we each carried different measures of him in us. He was a good man, and good men and women, knowingly or unknowingly do this to us. We look for what we perceive they have found, and, since we perceive them to have found it, we try to imitate, in some way, things that we perceive about them that led to their successes. Thus we carry with us parts of, possibly, hundreds of people encountered through life and we personalize their “something” and make it our own. With the realization of this comes also the realization that we have a responsibility to, in our own way, pass it on.
One spiritual writer called our desire to characterize others for being less holy and loving than ourselves as “indiscreet zeal.” But I think there may be more than indiscretion at work here since I’m something of an expert on the subject. Zeal is there, but pride, self-righteousness, and rash-judgment are also there.
First of all, let me say that it’s very hard not to want those you love to be better. With a wife and children and assorted other relatives we not only criticize and judge frequently, but we hold them up to ourselves as though we were some sort of standard. Often we rationalize this by concurrently knowing our own mistakes and faults and acting so as to guide others away from such tendencies. The words “controlling” and “manipulative” come to mind as I write this and I have grown to learn that I am guilty of this.
To zealously wish for what we judge to be best for others is not wrong, but our own weaknesses often render us indiscreet about how we do it. I find my own life greatly wanting in many areas yet zealously desiring to eliminate them from the lives of others. The primary instrument, in my mind, is the example of my life. The indiscretion here may be in the visible hypocracies of my own life, especially to those closest to me who are the very ones I would most hope to influence. For some reason this seems often to generate the very opposite behavior from what we are shooting for, thus giving the idea of “indiscreet zeal”its special meaning.
Having been a school teacher for 30 years firmly fixes a mindset that I have something to teach others, and having prepared lesson plans for all those years further implants a tendency toward autonomy regarding modes of presentation. This carries over and may be the heart of indiscretions committed under zeal.
In the matter of holiness and spirituality there is a very fine line between guiding others and simply “being” for others.