In a season of a lot of bad and sad news a little-noted story of something positive: first woman elected as President of Nepal. Ok, she was not elected by popular vote but by the parliament, but that is still something. I was always intrigued by Nepal. A truly beautiful, even awesome place–I mean how can it not be so when you have the Himalayas and all the religious history like one of Milarepa’s caves on the border of Tibet and Nepal. I have often dreamed of becoming an expatriate monk there. A very monastic environment. Mostly Buddhist, but also with some Hinduism, especially with pilgrims from India going up the foothills of the Himalayas. Also very, very few Christians–making it especially attractive!! Yes, I am a “total Christian” but there is something about being in that intense religious environment rather than in the pseudo-Christianity of a lot of our society.
One of the truly great political thinkers of our time just died having lived to a good old age. He was always someone to listen to as he understood our social situation extremely well. In fact as a Jewish secular political philosopher he articulated a vision of society closer to the values of Catholic social teaching than many Catholics did, especially the conservative ones. Also, he was very sensitive to the dangers we are facing now. Here is a short piece by Chris Hedges explaining his importance:
Speaking of death, when you get my age you start seeing so many of your contemporaries start to die off. It cannot but nudge you to think of your own death as it approaches. This is not a morose thought but something quite healthy, normal and indeed quite necessary. The passing of someone need not make us sad; the realization of our own death should not make us fearful. I can see missing someone dear and close who passes away; I can see a place for authentic mourning; but really if you think about it death is THE greatest adventure of our existence and the most troubling. Now of course I am not referring to someone who dies in some horrible accident or due to some awful disease or still young or gunned down in violence; no, I am referring to those of us who live to a nice old age and the time is coming to “go.” Simple as that. Yes, there is also the fact that a lot of death is accompanied by pain, drugs, total physical disability, etc. Yet apart from the extreme situations, I think there is an inner and interior confrontation that all this that you called reality is slipping away from your grasp, and you are “invited” to let it all go. But there is another very, very strong dynamic rooted in the body’s built-in will to live; you find yourself “fighting for life” simply because that is a dynamic built into you, but then comes a moment when you “give up,” yield to something Greater, etc. Really all our renunciations in life, the little ones and the big ones, are merely a symbolic enactment of this moment. Yet what an incredible moment that must be, when all our ideas, our images, our everything just dissolves into the Presence of Absolute Reality. In death we lose every name(every title, every designation, positive or negative, etc)that we clung to in life, and I think this is the real underlying scary thing about death for many–who are we when we lose EVERYTHING? (This is what makes sannyasa the perfect sacrament of this ultimate moment.) This seems so frightening that we then make up all kinds of mythic language about “receiving our reward” and we have these mythic pictures of some place called “heaven,” and sometimes that gets very crude. But we lose all our names, the ones we cherish and the ones we think really identify us. We lose “who we think we are,” and we enter into our true Reality. (This is, I think, the real meaning of the Christian Mystery of the Resurrection.) We shall reflect on this some more in the next posting.
A very sad Church.
Recently with the release of a new movie we are once more reminded how bad the child abuse scandal was in the Catholic Church. The movie is Spotlight, and it is a portrayal how several Boston newspaper people exposed the machinations of the Boston Archdiocese in trying to conceal and protect priest pedophiles. It is a reminder of how bad that situation was. Cardinal Law fled to Rome, to the Vatican, and was given a cushy position there to protect him–this was done under the office of Pope John Paul (now canonized as a saint!) and Pope Benedict. Even today I don’t think most Catholics realize how bad that situation was, so the movie is important. And the official Church, including Pope Francis, have not in my opinion responded adequately to all this. I mean apologies to the victims is practically an insult. And it is amazing how the Church only begins to compensate the victims when forced by a court.
Then, just when you thought the worst was over, there was this story just a few days ago:
This is an incredible story that again the Church was forced by a court order to reveal. This time it was St. John’s Abbey in Minnesota, one of the largest Benedictine monasteries in the U.S. This nightmarish account is beyond any comment. Suffice it to say that I don’t believe this kind of thing is a “surface problem” as so many Catholics believe; no, I think it strikes at the very roots of what the Church claims it is….
Years ago, back about 1977 or so, as a young monk I was sent to St. John’s to a monastic conference of sorts. I remember how the place felt creepy to me, but I thought that was simply some problem of perception that I had. Looks like maybe my intuitions were on target! Frankly I hope all the victims sue that abbey out of existence.
Back into the Light: Some favorite sayings of Abhishiktananda.
“The solitary in the Church is the minister of the Silence of God.”
“For at the profoundest depth of the inwardness, there no longer exists a within or without but only the uncircumscribable ocean of the unique Mystery, radiant in all with its particular and infinite light.”
“Shantivanam…henceforth interests me so little. Arunachala has caught me. I have understood silence… Now sannyasa is no longer a thought, a concept, but an inborn summons, a basic need, the only state that suits the depths into which I have entered, that reveals it, realizes it.”
Recently a friend sent me this short piece on this unique monastic community:
Very interesting read. I had mentioned Bose when I wrote about the New Monasticism, and it is a good example of something authentically new and real and rooted in the tradition. It’s not exactly my favorite “flavor” of monasticism, that being more eremitical in character, but from what I see they are doing a good job. I have heard some criticism of them from sources I consider responsible, but you know that is inevitable in any venture–some aspect of it is bound to not suit somebody.
What can you say about these horrible events? There is more than one level of tragedy and evil here. Yes, the needless loss of these lives in such a horrible way is truly tragic, but there is a deeper and larger evil at hand and that is the consequence of these attacks throughout Europe and the U.S. Think of the consequence for the Syrian refugees. Hate-mongers, Islamaphobes, and so many right-wingers have resorted to fan the flames of irrational fear in France, in Europe, in the U.S. So many voices calling to close our hearts and our borders to these refugees; and even to turn against the Muslims already living among us for years. The insanity and the widespread prevalence of these views is very discouraging. Just think: these refugees are fleeing precisely the murderous rage of ISIS and other deadly chaotic situations. If we really close our doors to these refugees, we will be doing exactly what ISIS wants–creating a new recruiting ground for them among the rejected and alienated. It is truly ironic that all this is happening as the Christmas season is beginning. Mary and Joseph and the child Jesus were refugees fleeing the murderous rage of Herod!
And then there’s this whole attitude of denigrating Islam by a lot of Westerners. Do they have that one wrong!!! These folks should take a long look at the mirror to see who are the real pros at killing people. Here is a short piece to illustrate the problem:
And a very discouraging but accurate analysis by Chris Hedges:
One last point: Around Christmas time back in 1890 at a place in South Dakota called Wounded Knee a contingent of U.S. soldiers gunned down, a small tribal encampment of about 300 men, women and children of the Lakota tribe. It was a slaughter, a massacre, truly a war-crime, yet a number of these soldiers got medals for their efforts. More people were slaughtered by official U.S. forces at Wounded Knee than by ISIS at Paris. I wouldn’t let any Americans into my country; can’t trust these folks.