Cat Stevens.

Someone of my age would remember this rock singer from the ‘60s. But now he goes by this name, Yusuf Islam — he converted to Islam in 1977. A very remarkable fellow. With all the bad news associated with Islam and with all the negative feelings toward Islam on the part of so many both here and in Europe, it is a joy to read this:

Yusuf Islam is of course right in pointing out that most of us are ignorant of the power, beauty and depth of Islam and that so many of its adherents have so much to contribute to the human family. I might add that for all practical purposes there are many Christians who are almost as ignorant about their own Christianity also. I would venture to say that there are even more distortions of Christianity than of Islam. But it is more subtle and more immersed in the fabric of our culture and so less obviously visible.



Here is a wonderful story about trees. Yup, trees. I have never thought much about trees; I mean I am against deforestation and all that, but I never bothered to think about trees except in how they impact us. Apparently I have been missing out on a lot. This story just blew me away about the wonder of it all:


We walk, live, breathe, suffer, grow, rejoice, and die within a web of life that we are hardly aware of. This also makes me think of the Buddhist sense of the connectedness of all reality, much more deeper than the article’s “social network” metaphor; and also I recalled that Buddhist expression: “all sentient beings”–which I always thought was a bit too encompassing in its scope, but maybe not…. It’s also striking how in the mindset of the modern West, both secular and religious, there is so little conceptual ability to express this interconnectedness and inner connectedness of “all sentient beings.” Rather we seem doomed to think of ourselves and all reality as these individual entities with some external connection and relationality. Thus we are all wrapped up in “saving our souls” rather than in saving “all sentient beings.”

Then, another thought, reminding me of Tolkien’s famous work, The Lord of the Rings. As a young man Tolkien had witnessed both the growth of industrialization and the savagery of World War I. As just one aspect of all this, he saw also the deforestation and denuding of Europe, the magical forests of Europe destroyed either by war or by the greedy need of industrial power. So in this epic story we see at least one episode where the evil forces are destroyers of trees in order to make their weapons of war, and where the trees of the forest actually come to the aid of the good guys.


Chinese Zen Story.

Here is a Chinese Zen story I picked up from Red Pine. Love it. Lots in it if you pay attention:

“Tao-hsin was the Fourth Patriarch of Zen and his disciple Fa-yung was the founder of the Oxhead Zen lineage. Fa-yung was called lazy because he never stood up or bowed to greet visitors. One day while Tao-hsin was in Nan-ching, he saw birds flocking around a mountain to the south. When he went to investigate, he found Fa-yung meditating and the birds dropping flowers on him. But he also saw wolf tracks and tiger tracks and feigned fright at such a sight. Seeing this reaction, Fa-yung said, “There is still that in you?” Tao-hsin responded by drawing the character for ‘buddha’ in the dirt in front of Fa-yung. When Fa-yung expressed embarrassment, Tao-hsin said, “There is still that in you?” After this meeting, the birds and wild animals stopped visiting Fa-yung.”

This reminds one of several Desert Father stories–it takes a special eye to see true attainment, never mind the external features that attract the populace (or even animals!).


Signs of the Times.

I saw a recent news item about the Chicago Archdiocese. Since I grew up there I was curious what was going on in that city religion wise. I remember as a youngster that each parish used to have two or three or more priests. Apparently no more. The Archdiocese is planning to consolidate and even close many parishes. They are projecting that by 2030 there will be only 240 priests for 351 parishes. Amazing shrinkage! And what is the explanation for all this? I am sure that there is some “safe” institutional answers for this “lack of vocations,” but the whole re-imaging of the priesthood is probably not one of them. It’s not until they get away from this privileged “holy” sacred pedestal of the priesthood (JP II’s kind of approach) and see this person as a servant of the community and within the community that progress will be made. Actually it is the monk who is the holy person…..only kidding!


A Final Thought

I hardly ever see any TV, but last Sunday I happen to catch a bit of the Super Bowl. What a spectacle that has become. It rivals anything that the Roman Emperors used to throw up to lull the masses into docility–minus the obvious cruelty. It’s sad to see what America has become, though of course we never were the “city shining on a hill” that the early colonial propagandists made us out to be. But looking at this spectacle, the mega-hyped game and those commercials, it is a picture of a country sinking ever deeper into a pathological fantasy. Sad.