Category Archives: Compassion


I cannot believe I am writing this, but I would like to reflect a bit on this Grateful Dead song: “Ripple”–words by Robert Hunter, music by Jerry Garcia. It is an extraordinarily beautiful song, haunting in its multi-layered meaning and in its lyrical performance. There are various interpretations of it, some shallow and misleading, others catch the deeper drift of this poem. But here I would like to venture another kind of interpretation. And I would like to do this as a kind of preparation for the final installment of my reflections on Christian advaita, which I hope to have for the next posting. So, first of all here are the lyrics of this remarkable song:


If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung
Would you hear my voice come through the music
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air


Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty
If your cup is full may it be again
Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men

There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone


You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home


Because it is primarily a song, it needs to be heard as a song in order to catch its subtle movements and nuances. There is a studio version done by the Grateful Dead that is especially clear for listening purposes and that can be found here:

But you also have to see it in its actual performance where the words may not be as clear to hear but the trade-off is that you see this amazing dynamic of a rock concert by the Grateful Dead performing this very subtle and lyrical song to a very loud crowd! And here is just one example:


Let’s begin with a most fundamental and basic view of the poem: it is both a song and a poem–in ancient times there was no distinction–and its most obvious theme encompasses the various possibilities and problems in communicating a deep experience or a deep insight in human language and through human art, the built-in limitations of language and art to express that which is most intimate and most transcendent in us. But what I would like to suggest and add that this song/poem also expresses one of the deepest dynamics of spirituality and one of the most crucial dilemmas faced by those of us who are trying to come to terms with a Christian version of advaita. (Obviously this was not the intended meaning of Hunter and Garcia but then no work of art is limited to what its creator intended.)

In talking of advaita, Abhishiktananda always referred to the radically ineffable nature of the advaita experience, the fact that you cannot express it in words or concepts, all words and concepts and thoughts and ideas, all fail in touching this experience. All you get are some images and faint reflections of the reality, the so-called “namarupa,” which in Abhishiktananda’s reckoning includes even the most sacrosanct Christian doctrines. As we shall see in the next posting, the theologians will say, “Not so fast, Abhishiktananda, our words, feeble though they be, are truly connected to the reality we are trying to express and in some sense represent that reality.” We shall argue that one later, but here let us see what “Ripple,” and the Grateful Dead have to contribute.

In ancient times poetry/song was considered a “divine gift,” in fact coming from the divine realm and manifesting it. Consider the opening line of Homer’s Illiad: “Sing, Goddess, the anger of Peleus’ son, Achilleus, and its devastation…..” Also here is the opening line from Homer’s Odyssey: “Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story…..” So in this reckoning the artist is not even really the real creator/storyteller. It is the Divine which uses the poet as a medium to speak/sing the story and in its telling/singing we are connected to the Divine realm as we hear it and take it in. The song/poem participates in a divine vision of the human drama. It is certainly not just the poet “expressing himself.” Underlying all this is an understanding of the mystery of language and knowledge as imbued with the numinous. But the “Divine” in that world is not yet a wholly transcendent realm but one simply parallel as it were with our natural world. It is simply like an “alternate universe” or like “another dimension” of pop science fiction. With the development in human consciousness and a growing awareness of a more profound and transcendent divine reality, the limitations of human language and art to “make present” that reality became more and more painfully obvious.


“Ripple” shares in all this in a most remarkable way. It begins: “If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine,” and this immediately evokes the ancient and classical world where language and song illumine all and convey a kind of transparency to all. The song fully conveys the meaning of the artist, the meaning of the reality it sings about. (Classical Christian theology and spirituality seems to have that same kind of confidence in its language.)


“Ripple” continues: “And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung.” The confidence of the artist/singer is not based on his own skill or the “fineness” of his “instrument,” whether it be the “harp” or his talent or his mind. It is the “harp unstrung” which is the source of this song. This is a symbolic paradox, obviously not humanly possible, which veils the real transcendent source of the song (the theology/spirituality). Such paradox is a common motif in the ancient and pre-modern world as a way of veiling the transcendent Divine Reality as when Aquinas says that we know God best when we know Him as Unknown, and recall the Cloud of Unknowing, etc.


But “Ripple” Immediately infuses a kind of doubt about all this, a problematic that may be inherent in this level of communication between two people. Recall that the very first word of the song is “If,” making the situation more like a wish than a reality, the implication is that my words are not quite like that at all, no so luminous and transparent. But the song gets more explicit: “Would you hear my voice come through the music, Would you hold it near as it were your own?” The point is that every artist (and in a certain sense this holds for all of us in our most intimate and most important communication) has the question whether he/she have really been able to communicate their vision, their knowledge, their experience. Whether the song was done a thousand years ago or just yesterday and you hear it, do you really share in the artist’s vision/experience fully or in some incomplete and fragmented way? “Ripple’s” answer is clear:   “It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.” There is a sadness here, and the whole song has a kind of mellow sadness; but that is only due to a realization of human finiteness and limitation even at the deepest levels of our experience. The song ponders the utter futility of such communication. (And also of course theology and spirituality is a kind of “hand-me-down” and these thoughts are also broken and so totally inadequate in capturing the original experience–Abhishiktananda was saying this with vehemence at the end of his life. The utter futility of Christian theology in capturing the vision of advaita was his concern.)

But “Ripple” doesn’t leave us there; it continues:

“I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air “


The poet/singer gives up wrestling with this dilemma, and then suddenly the whole song pivots and becomes something quite new. No matter the limitations and shortcomings and opaqueness of language and art, we must continue the human effort to communicate what is deepest in us. (And no matter the feebleness in our God-language, it is the human thing to continue doing.) From here on the song actually lifts us up.   And all this is marked with this remarkable chorus which is really a haiku and gives us the title of the song:

“Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow.”


The image is once more shrouded in paradox and mystery. The “ripple” is seemingly without any cause, without any reason for being. It is not accessible to rational and “scientific analysis.” The Grateful Dead have been seen as promoting a kind of hedonistic nihilism where the human being is but a faint and feeble “ripple” within a vast and empty space and empty of meaning except to join in the pleasures of the moment. Taken out of context, this haiku could be read in that way. But within this song, it is something altogether different. This haiku evokes the paradox and mystery which imbues our real existence and this song, and the music at this point actually lifts the song slightly out of that mellow sadness which otherwise underlies it thoroughly. Recall that most famous koan with Basho’s frog jumping into the pond, as it does everytime you read the haiku, and in the splash and in the ripples from that the whole cosmos is recreated and renewed. So, really this haiku is a zen koan of sorts–what is the sound of one hand clapping? The poet/singer as zen master. Where we will find our “consolation,” our “rest,” our “place,” our essential humanity, is indicated by this koan. No rational analysis here; it eludes all such seeking. This is true of all koans; we discover what we discover as we awaken from our shallow slumber and our petty notions of who we are. But if we are going to say any words they must be imbued with the same paradox and mystery as the koan. Also, like all koans, when we become one with this “ripple” we will awaken and be liberated from our shallow dualistic vision. There is “no wind,” there is no “pebble” falling into the water causing the ripple, there is ONLY the utter stillness and the ripple. There is only ONE reality. This neither the “spirituality of nihilism,” nor the simplistic spirituality that envisions some God standing out there “making” the world and us “happen,” like the clockmaker God of the 18th Century deists who winds up the clock and stands back and watches it work. No, the “ripple” is all there is; there is only ONE REALITY but it is not projections of our ego self.

The song/poem continues in this vein. The issue it is addressing is not on the level of simple human satisfactions, wants, desires, needs, etc. These may or may not be dealt with on a simple human level and human interrelationships. So whether your “cup be empty” or “full,” there is something more urgent, more fundamental to be aware of.  “Ripple” continues:

“Let it be known there is a fountain
That was not made by the hands of men.”


Robert Hunter, the man who wrote so many lyrics to so many songs performed by the Grateful Dead, said that this was his most favorite line and the most beautiful he had ever written. The “fountain” is that which refreshes us, recreates us; it is the source from which we draw our art, our song, our spirituality, our feeble ability to communicate the experience of the heart. It is this which we seek in all our other seekings; and it is not something that we create or construct or control. It is that which is Transcendent in us, and it is that which we truly are. Gently the song lays aside our concerns about whether our “cup be full or empty” and moves into a whole different dimension of our identity. Interestingly enough, for all the pessimism at the beginning of the song about its communication being a “hand-me-down,” and the “thoughts being broken,” it does appear that at the very least the song can point us in the right direction for this journey. (And so that would also hold for theology/spirituality.)

“Ripple” continues now with a keen insight into the journey into that divine/ transcendent identity, not made with human hands:

“There is a road, no simple highway
Between the dawn and the dark of night
And if you go no one may follow
That path is for your steps alone”


This is extremely important. The way to that kind of awakening, to that satori on the other side of that koan, to a “mystical experience,” if you will, of who one truly is, well, there is no map, no directions, no “how-to” directions, no “GPS” to guide you. And what’s more, it is excruciatingly unique. That’s why you cannot read spiritual works like cookbooks or imitating other peoples lives. There is a “terrible” uniqueness that one has to go through, each of us knows this in our hearts, that particular “eye of the needle” which beckons us, maybe not until we are dying do we become aware of it; but it is that which we must pass through absolutely alone until we emerge into a whole other vision of who we are. Death and Resurrection.


“Ripple” then concludes with some advice for those who consider themselves artistic or spiritual “leaders.” And then the whole song finishes with a line that is both sad and engaging and evocative: “If I knew the way, I would take you home.” The poem/song began with one kind of “If” statement, “If my words did glow…,” beginning with the problematic of artistic communication; and now it ends with another kind of “If” statement, “If I knew the way….,” the problematic of knowledge in the human heart. No one, absolutely no one knows the Way that You have to take to that universally recognized and yearned-for abode of fulfillment and truth and reality: Home (or whatever else we might want to call it). But the offer is beautiful and it leaves us with a sense of companionship on our own effort to make our way there, a companionship of the poem/song that will go with us into the Silence behind and beyond all words and all songs, into the Light.







Can a Monk be in a Funk?

Well, yes! A lot of people would not think that. They project an idealized spiritual world and it is mostly an illusion and too many monks lap it up. I mean that when you “give up everything” you begin to want to be admired for that! And so you can’t afford to show the weakness and fragility and the emotional quicksand that stalks us all–even “holy” people. Well, ok, if a monk can be in a funk, so can anyone else, and sometimes that is the only honest feeling to have. No sugar-coated “hopefulness,” just trying to keep your feet on the ground of the Real. Always, always aim for that; whether it be comfortable or not, whether it be painful or not, whether it be dark or light….it is this which is the true Holy Ground. Staretz Silouan heard the “Lord’s voice” speak to him: Keep your mind in hell and despair not. Indeed. In our time and in our situation, not bad advice. The important thing is to let the Consuming Fire of the Divine Reality cleanse us of all illusions. Truly it will happen. The Divine Light, then, will be that by which we see everything.

And now for a few stories from the “funk vortex” all around us and within us:

  1. Recently I saw a story in the Washington Post about an exhibit at the Library of Congress about that famous World War II American leader, General George Patton. That he was a remarkable military leader and a genius at orchestrating tank attacks is without question and widely known. But something that is not known by many is the fact that Patton also wrote poetry voluminously. Frankly it’s all lousy, but it does reveal him more than his façade of military splendor. Here is a poem written at the end of World War I when he was a young colonel still learning his trade as it were:

We can but hope that e’re we drown

‘Neath treacle floods of grace

The tuneless horns of mighty Mars

Once more shall rouse the Race

When such times come, Oh! God of War

Grant that we pass midst strife

Knowing once more the whitehot joy

Of taking human life.


Patton loved war. He loved the battlefield of human carnage. He felt depressed when WW I ended and also at the end of WW II. If you saw this in a movie, you would consider this a caricature. But, unfortunately, we do not have a movie here. And here is the biggest mistake you might make: you might consider him an anomaly, a bizarre exception, a uniquely distorted heart, etc. I don’t think so. This darkness is hidden in the human heart and it manifests itself over and over, again and again, in the distant past, in the recent past, in our own very “advanced” modern era, wherever you look…. There is something in our hearts that loves war, loves killing and brutalizing and conquering. That’s the real reason we have wars. The myth of Cain and Abel begins this story; but more importantly we see that even religion is involved in this urge and a pretext for killing.

Americans have this fantasy of being righteous and just and in pursuit of the good and the true. We lie to ourselves over and over. We killed Native Americans as a form of genocide among many others. We have participated in the brutalization and the killing of all kinds of people down to this very day in the drone killings approved by both Republicans and Democrats. As the radical Black leader, Stokely Carmichael used to say: Violence is as American as apple pie.

Then again don’t make up the story of primitive people being pure victims. There is plenty of evidence that prehistoric and historic indigenous inhabitants of the Americas committed wars and slaughtered people and brutalized many. So what I am trying to point out is that there is no innocence in this regard, and it is an illusion if you try to disassociate yourself from this history as if these were merely abberrations in our history. Better to be like Gandhi, start with your own heart and find the roots of nonviolence there by facing the dynamic of violence that haunts our nature. Individually we may not be as distorted as Patton, but trust me, the love of killing is part of the fabric of our nationhood because violence is lodged deep in the human heart. Amazing that this man is lionized as a military hero! (And here we might reference that marvelous trilogy of scholarly analysis by Richard Slotkin of the American infatuation with the myth of violence. This explains our love of guns!)


  1. Religion is really very tiresome. I did not say “God.” I said “religion.” Any religion. The word “God” refers to that Ultimate Reality which is the ground of all that is and truly the only Real. Religion refers to what we human beings do about all that, and it has a tendency to become very unreal. And it can become a real source of the “funk.” It can become paradoxically an obfuscation of the Ultimate Reality because it is imprisoned in its own illusions–illusions in “religious garb and religious language.”

For a starter, for too many people “religion” and “God” are inseparable–they think that when you say God you inevitably are “talking religion,” and when you say religion, you are most often talking about God. Not true. I have met people who do not use the word “religion” much but are deeply and truly “religious” and “spiritual” in the deepest and truest sense of the word. Abhishiktananda mentions somewhere that when he met some Quakers in India early in his sojourn there he was shocked–he said that they “didn’t believe in any of the things you’re supposed to believe in” but were more Christian than anyone else he had ever met. Religion can become simply another way to expand one’s ego identity; it can easily become a vehicle for all one’s crazy fears, paranoia, violence, greed, even lust. God has nothing to do with this (or “enlightenment” for that matter), but the words of religion and spirituality can multiply and take over one’s discourse. (The Pharisees in the Gospel are one portrayal of this reality, but let’s not put the problem “back there”–it is our current church situation as well.)

Religion can also become very tiresome when it seems to lose touch with the realities people experience. Religious language especially begins to lose its power to grasp the heart when our leaders wallow in platitudes and banalities and retreat to ready-made formulas. A recent example is this:


This is a short article which I found in the National Catholic Reporter. Written by Bishop Tobin of Rhode Island, it addresses some issues that he had seen addressed in an earlier issue. The key issue, as the Bishop sees it, is that young people are unhappy with the Church and voting with their feet by walking away from it in large numbers. Bishop Tobin thinks he has it all figured out, and it’s summed up in the title of the piece: “Let’s Be Honest, It’s a Lack of Faith.” Really?! The lameness of this is beyond description. I won’t go into a detailed analysis of how bad this article is; let everyone discover what they can in it. When I first read it I got depressed–this is after all the church I belong to. The sad thing is that there is a certain truth in what he is trying to express, but his focus is all wrong and superficial and filled with religious phrases that he learned in seminary, the repeating of which made him a good institutional figurehead. As I have often written in different ways, I don’t believe that the Church (or monasticism for that matter) should be worried about young people or anyone else. Church people who get all wrapped up about this start resorting to all kinds of “gimmicks” in order to appeal to young people (the “liberal” approach) or attribute “sinfulness” that keeps people from coming to the Church (the “conservative” approach). What’s important is that the Church (and monasticism) be truly and starkly real, speak the Gospel in its naked power uncompromisingly, teach the mystical truth of our identity in God and not just a “membership” in the Church, etc., etc. If we had that, we wouldn’t be worried about who is or isn’t “in” the Church.

But the Church speaks mostly in a most compromised and muted way about all these things. It often comes across as simply protecting its institutional skin. At other times the Church seems allied with the forces of darkness and lies and pure institutional egoism disguised by an ecclesiology of “the holiness of the Church.” Recently Pope Francis apologized to Rwanda for the participation of Catholic leaders in Rwanda in the incredible massacres of thousands of people by one tribe versus another. The Catholic priests and nuns were members of one tribe that felt it had been greatly wronged and went on a killing binge. The apology is good but also very weak because it doesn’t get at the root of the problem: Catholic Christianity did not penetrate and challenge the cultural and tribal/national identity of these people, so that tribal identity was primary not the shared humanity they had with all other people. This kind of thing happens all the time and all over the place. It was so true of the “Christianization” of Europe which actually was totally shallow, no matter the grand cathedrals and the “pageants of faith.” And we see this of course in our own American situation. A small example: Amazing to me that Congressman Paul Ryan, a member of the Catholic Church, is not condemned from all the Catholic pulpits–here is a man who wants to destroy Medicare and Social Security and make life miserable for millions of poor people. Another congressman, who happened to vote for a bill that had funding for abortion clinics is told by his bishop that he cannot receive communion at a Catholic Mass. Another example: Still amazing to me that the American bishops never once condemned the various American wars in the Middle East, nor the continued use of drone killings, etc.

Ok, they occasionally issue vaguely worded documents that somehow manage to sputter out something real. No matter. Actually if any of the bishops actually did say anything prophetic, they might not be believed because they have been seen in various kinds of deceptions and subterfuge. Note the New York Archdiocese: it is fighting “tooth and nail,” lobbying very hard against a bill in the New York legislature that would extend the statute of limitations for child abuse victimization, so that those who were abused as children decades ago can come out now and sue the Church for compensation for all the pain they have experienced. The fact that the bishops are against this is interesting. They want to say that they are sorry for all that abuse by priests, but then their main thrust is to protect the institutional church from feeling “any” pain as a result of this. Maybe it’s things like that that can cause “a lack of faith.” I think the Church has a long way to go in this regard. I wouldn’t blame anyone from walking away from this Church.


  1. Speaking of Church language, here is a humorous but cogent representation of a certain kind of “Jesus” that may seem a caricature but I think he is more prevalent than you think. This was written by Derek Penwell and I saw it on Huffington Post:
  • ”Love your friends, bless those who bless you … and screw everybody else.”
  • “If you had the faith of this mustard seed … you wouldn’t need all that fancy ‘affordable health care.’”
  • “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? I mean, look at all these liberals, and their un-Christian ‘caring for widows, orphans, and the stranger.’ Why can’t they care about Christian stuff, like the 2nd amendment or school prayer?”
  • “Go, sell all you have and give it to the richest one percent.”
  • “Blessed are those who hate immigrants in my name, for they shall inherit all the jobs white people don’t want to do.”
  • “Follow me and I will make you fishers of … people who look just like you.”
  • “Give unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and give unto God only what you can’t hide on your 1040.”
  • “Let the little children come to me … unless they’re in Head Start or need help with school lunches, then cast them out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of their tiny little teeth.”
  • “Go ye therefore into all the world … and make sure everybody hates Muslims. Because obviously.”
  • “You have heard it said, ‘You shall not commit adultery, but I say to you … unless she’s a lot younger, prettier (like a model or whatever), and you’ve had enough foresight to sign a prenup.’”
  • “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you … what the hell? They’ve got it coming.’”
  • ”You have heard it said that healthcare should be a right for everyone, but I say to you, ‘If you can store up for yourselves another new Benz, even though it comes from money meant for poor people’s chemotherapy, then you should totally do it.’”
  • “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven … but if you have a suitably large investment portfolio, that definitely won’t hurt.”
  • “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” (Marginalia—“This only applies to People of Color and women in abusive relationships.”)
  • “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but I say to you … just kidding. That’s for suckers!”
  • “And I, when I am lifted up, will draw all straight, cisgender, middle class white guys unto myself.”
  • “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … except refugees. They definitely do not count.”
  • “So therefore , none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (Wait. Actually, he did say that, but he probably shouldn’t have.)


  1. At this time of year, around Eastertime, I am overcome with the hegemony of the Easter Bunny! This character dominates our cultural sense of Easter; his presence is ubiquitous.  Down with the Easter Bunny! Does anyone have a good recipe for rabbit stew?


  1. So lately we have had all this talk about a new health insurance plan, “Trumpcare” if you will, and it got defeated. Progressives should not get too jubilant about this because it was actually only the really, really bad defeating the really bad. The people who actually were responsible for breaking Trumpcare did so because they want to destroy the whole social structure that is a safety net for the physical well-being of people: Medicare, Social Security, etc. Trumpcare, in their eyes, was only a tiny step in that direction and they were expecting a lot more from him. Stay tuned for “tax reform”… will be a doozy!

With all this hullabaloo about health insurance, there is an amazing shortage of analysis that gets at the root problem: this insane American compulsion to put every aspect of our lives in the “free market.” Health insurance and health care “for profit” is a serious distortion of what is at stake. There is not another developed industrial country that deals with the well-being of its people as simply another consumer product, a commodity, by which someone can make money. On the contrary, all this should be considered a God-given right for every person no matter their economic status. Obama had an opportunity to challenge the prevailing view but passed on it, preferring to tweak the system and make it a “kinder and gentler” for profit system. It’s helping some people; it’s hurting a lot of people. But these folks today are out to destroy the whole thing.

Here is an interesting little op-ed piece from the New York Times by a person coming from Finland and reflecting on our health insurance system:


  1. Speaking of the “free market,” (actually there is no such thing but an illusion perpetrated by the upper class that controls all the levers to manipulate the economy), there is this very, very interesting reflection by an Indian economist on our whole economic and social perspective. Lynn Parramore writes about this in Alternet in an essay with the title, “Have We Been Denying Our Human Nature For Four Hundred Years”:


Here are a few relevant quotes:

“Rajani Kanth, a political economist, social thinker, and poet, goes beyond any of these for the answer. In his view, what’s throwing most of us off kilter— whether we think of ourselves as left or right, capitalist or socialist—was birthed 400 years ago during the period of the Enlightenment. It’s a set of assumptions, a particular way of looking at the world that pushed out previous modes of existence, many quite ancient and time-tested, and eventually rose to dominate the world in its Anglo-American form.

We’re taught to think of the Enlightenment as the blessed end to the Dark Ages, a splendid blossoming of human reason. But what if instead of bringing us to a better world, some of this period’s key ideas ended up producing something even darker?

Kanth argues that this framework, which he calls Eurocentric modernism, is collapsing, and unless we understand why and how it has distorted our reality, we might just end up burnt to a crisp as this misanthropic Death Star starts to bulge and blaze in its dying throes.

Kanth’s latest book, Farewell to Modernism: On Human Devolution in the Twenty-First Century, tells the history of a set of bad ideas. He first caught the scent that something was off as an economics student in India, wondering why, despite his mastery of the mathematics and technology of the discipline, the logic always escaped him. Then one day he had an epiphany: the whole thing was “cockeyed from start to finish.” To his amazement, his best teachers agreed. “Then why are we studying economics?” demanded the pupil. “To protect ourselves from the lies of economists,” replied the great economist Joan Robinson.

Kanth realized that people are not at all like Adam Smith’s homo economicus, a narrowly self-interested agent trucking and bartering through life. Smith had turned the human race — a species capable of wondrous caring, creativity, and conviviality — into a nasty horde of instinctive materialists: a society of hustlers.”

“Using his training in history and cultural theory, Kanth dedicated himself to investigating how this way of thinking took hold of us and how it delivered a society which is essentially asocial — one in which everybody sees everybody else as a means to their own private ends. Eurocentric modernism, he argues, consigned us to an endless and exhausting Hobbesian competition. For every expansion of the market, we found our social space shrunk and our natural environment spoiled. For every benefit we received, there came a new way to pit us against each other. Have the costs become too high?”


“Kanth thinks what we’d much prefer is to live in what he calls a ‘social economy of affections,’ or, put more simply, a moral economy. He points out that the simple societies Europeans were so moved by when they first began to study them, conjuring images of the ‘noble savage,’ tended toward cooperation, not competition. They emphasized feeling and mutual affection. Karl Marx got his idea of communism from looking at the early anthropological studies of simple societies, where he was inspired by the way humans tended to relate to each other. Today we are taught to believe that society doesn’t owe us a living, says Kanth. “Well, in simple societies they felt the exact opposite. Everybody owed everybody else.  There were mutual ties. People didn’t rely on a social contract that you can break. Instead, they had a social compact. You can’t break it. You’re born with it, and you’re delighted to be part of it because it nurtures you. That’s very different from a Hobbesian notion that we’re all out to zap each other.”


And so the essay goes. I am sure that you can find some criticisms of his ideas, but the basic thrust of this is without doubt truly valid. I think that Robert Bellah wrote in this vein in his monumental book, Habits of the Heart, years ago, and Merton anticipated Kanth’s analysis in his own social criticism. In some ways, the economic model for society would best be found in a monastery when it is authentically lived out, as Merton pointed out even in his last speech in Asia–but also as he pointed out this requires more than a change in ideas, but a radical change in heart, in consciousness, “a conversion of heart” as Benedict pointed out.


  1. I am eager to get out into the wilderness once more, the true sacrament of the Real! But, alas, my usual places of camping are under 10 feet of snow at present. I usually head out to the mountains in June but this year may be a bit hard for that. Well, anyway, a few positive words in conclusion from some of my fellow wilderness enthusiasts:


“I suspect the real glories of Yosemite belong to the backpackers, the trudgers and trekkers, those who finish a strenuous climb and wait for their psyches to catch up, suffer a thunderstorm on an alpine fell, and most of all, let the night spirits seep into their sleep. The real glories of Yosemite belong to those who are comfortable with being uncomfortable, who know it’s all right to be afraid, to be cold, wet, tired, and hungry, to be euphoric and, on occasion, ecstatic.

                                                                                    Ann Zwinger

“Most of all, I was awed, very early and indelibly…. The universe was neither hostile nor friendly, simply indifferent to my small, freezing-handed, steam-breathing figure in the white waste. You do not feel that mystery in city canyons or on suburban lawns. What you feel is the specious persuasiveness of human control, human management and organization and rearrangement. You do not know who the ultimate Authority is. Out in the public lands, where the nearest neighbor may be ten miles away and the stars are closer than the nearest town, you do.”

                                                                    Wallace Stegner



“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

                                                                  John Muir








Recently I had occasion to walk through a toy department in one of our largest retailers. Very interesting. Toys sure have changed since my little kid days. Some of the stuff looked interesting and imaginative, but too much of it, way too much, seemed to reflect a warped imagination, a distorted view of reality, a proneness to entice our most superficial energies, a programming of the young mind for total unreality. Things do not bode well for our future! Of course all this prepares them quite well for our unreal techno world.


I ran across this quote from Charlotte Joko Beck, a Zen teacher: “We’re here to get our present model repainted a little bit. If the car of our life is a deep grey, we want to turn it into lavender or pink. But transformation means that the car may disappear altogether. Maybe instead of a car it will be a turtle. We don’t even want to hear of such possibilities. We hope that the teacher will tell us something that will fix our present model. A lot of therapy merely provides techniques for improving the model. They tinker here and there, and we may even feel a lot better. Still, that is not transformation. Transformation arises from a willingness that develops very slowly over time to be what life asks of us. Most of us (myself included at times) are like children: we want something or somebody to give us what a small child wants from its parents. We want to be given peace, attention, comfort, understanding. If our life doesn’t give us this, we think, ‘A few years of Zen practice will do this for me.’ No, they won’t. That’s not what practice is about. Practice is about opening ourselves so that this little ‘I’ that wants and wants and wants and wants and wants–that wants the whole world to be its parents, really–grows up.”

Indeed. Well put! In addition to what she is saying here directly, this also has a certain relevence and application to people entering monastic life. Very often they come to monastic life just to get their “present model repainted a little bit.” When it turns out that the life is pulling them into something much more demanding, a lot of them bail out. Another interesting application of this account is to the public sphere, the social and political reality. This extrapolation I will leave to you.


Speaking of politics, we are approaching a very critical national election. An election that has enormous moral and religious dimensions as well as social and economic ones. More is at stake in this election than at any time since I think the LBJ–Goldwater tussle back in 1964. As much as I dislike and distrust Hillary Clinton as a politician and as much as I think that there are many questions around her, it is absolutely imperative that Trump be defeated for the sake of the common good and the well-being of the nation. And it does seem as I write this that Clinton should have a very sizeable victory. But….and this is a BIG “but”….I won’t be celebrating the day after election day. This is not only because of my view of Clinton, but much more so because I realize that Trump is not “the disease”; he is only one symptom of what ails America now. And this problem is going to be with us after election day big time!


Random Thoughts On Politics:

The Economist, hardly a leftist rag, recently had an article with the title, “The Debasing of American Politics.” Just one sentence tells you what that’s about: “By normalizing attitudes that, before he came along, were publicly taboo, Mr. Trump has taken a knuckle-duster to American political culture.” Indeed. So true, but note the key words–“publicly taboo.” Trump is only bringing to the surface and to the light what was lurking there all along, things that were “not allowed” to appear in the public sphere.


Sometimes I wonder…. I recall a Scripture scholar I had in seminary, an elderly Jesuit who was the essence of gentleness and kindness and deeply knowledgeable in all the ancient languages. I never really enjoyed Scripture classes as a rule–they seemed to me to kill the spiritual element there–but this guy was interesting to listen to. One day, however, he jolted me out of my complacency. He pointed to something in the Gospel of Luke that was right there in front of my nose but which we all usually just take for granted, never really pondering the full implications of these words. The full pericope was the “Temptation in the Desert,” Lk 4: 5-7—“Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.’” (Similar words in Matthew.) The old Jesuit was trying to challenge all the young Jesuit students in class (I was the only non-Jesuit in class!) who at that time were totally mesmerized by the call to political action as a religious activity, and you can readily understand that in the context of Liberation theology and other such movements. The old Jesuit was simply cautioning them not to “put all their chips” on politics. This realm is not a “godly realm” no matter how good your intentions; and if you really study history you will begin to see what he means. Well, at that time I thought he was overly pessimistic, and I still do today; but, sometimes, I begin to wonder…..


American history is an eye-opener if you get beyond the mythologized narrative they give you in school. Read Howard Zinn’s account for a change. In any case, just as an example, I used to idolize Thomas Jefferson. I even identified myself as a “Jeffersonian American”—until I discovered the “real” Jefferson, the one who not only was a slave-owner but also participated energetically in hunting down runaway slaves, dead or alive. On top of that, when he became president and got that big piece of land from the French, the Louisiana Purchase, he planned the removal or extermination of all natives from that land. This is the guy who wrote the Declaration of Independence and “all men are created equal.” In school we usually get only half the picture. Or take the case of the Democrat Woodrow Wilson who had the support of the KKK and welcomed that support and wanted to keep Blacks “in their place,” and lied to get us into World War I so that many made money off that–like the Republican George Bush in recent years. So the story goes…..

All through American history the political parties and the candidates they put forward are only “beards” for various money interests. The term “beard” comes from the world of sports betting. When a person cannot or does not want to be seen making a big sports bet in a casino, he will send in another person to make that bet for him. The bet’s true owner is thus concealed, and the person making this bet is called a “beard.” The image is self-explanatory! In any case, the phenomenon can be seen in politics quite readily.


One of the really serious problems in American politics is the truncated nature of our choices. Ok, the Republicans are really a far right party; and the Dems are more a center-right party, to use a European metric. To use the word “leftist” for the Dems is to not see what is really going on. Even the much weaker word “liberal” will not do–primarily because it has had so many different changes in meaning over the last century. If another serious choice pops up, like the socialist Bernie Sanders, he has to run as a Dem to have any chance and then the system will find a way to defeat him. I followed the Washington Post’s handling of the Sanders campaign and it was amazingly negative, even making fun and distorting all his proposals and his agenda. What we have really is what Chomsky called “a manufactured consent.” Only these two options will be allowed. And one is getting so looney that pretty soon we might really have only a one-party system.


I saw in the news an evangelical Trump supporter holding a Bible in one hand and a rifle in another. No more need be said. Then, again, I am totally perturbed, even aghast, that Trump is doing relatively well among my own Catholic community. Granted, these are conservative Catholics, but don’t they know anything about Catholic social teaching? It will be interesting to see what the demographics of the Trump support will be on Election Day. How many vote for him and exactly who votes for him. I predict that he will get about 38% of the vote, which is truly bad for the country considering there are THAT many people who believe in Trump. They will be there after the election as a real problem. If Trump gets over 40%, we are in BIG trouble; and if he gets around 48%, I am getting in touch with the Canadian embassy!


So what has happened to the Republican Party? Way back when, it used to stand against American involvement in foreign wars and supported civil rights, more or less. The party of Robert Taft, Eisenhower and Rockefeller, you could have an honest debate with. Trump’s supporters today talk of rebellion and assassination if they lose the election. Even Richard Nixon, wow I can’t believe I am saying this, had some remarkable positions but all these went down the toilet of history with Watergate. Few people know that he was responsible for starting the Environmental Protection Agency and for getting the Clean Air and Pure Water Act passed. He was also going to push for a single-payer health plan in the U.S. way back in 1970; and he was also exploring the feasibility of a guaranteed income for all American citizens, whether they worked or not, something that is only now being tried in Finland. Even Bernie didn’t openly propose that! What happened since Reagan is a complex phenomenon but it can be reduced to several elements at least. One is a real deep anger and frustration that a lot of people are feeling that demagogues like Trump and the far right have exploited to the nth-degree. This anger is due both to constant propagandizing and distorting by the far-right and it is due to a perceived betrayal by the elites of the country. And so any “anti-establishment” voice will get a hearing in this climate. Both Sanders and Trump actually connected to some of that, but one totally exploited that anger and anxiety ; the other tried to address it to some extent. Interesting that Bernie Sanders, this very old Jewish figure, gave voice to so much of Catholic Social Teaching (unbeknownst to him!!) and appealed to an overwhelming majority of people under 30…..the future.


About the future of the Republican Party…..recently Mother Jones had an interesting article about a Republican senator from Nebraska, Ben Sasse. An obviously intelligent man, a Ph.D. in history from Yale, an evangelical, and someone who was critical of Trump from the very beginning and disassociated himself from “Trumpism.” That much he is to be commended for, and perhaps he can be a building block for a new Republican Party of the future. However, Sasse sees the problems of Trump as a “personal behavior” problem ,more or less, and he is objectionable as a person. I think that is only scratching the surface. Sasse himself seems to be part of that very wave that Trump is riding….the Tea Party. And with support from Sarah Palin and Ted Cruz, he is not in good company. But we shall see….   As Mother Jones implies at the end, we have yet to see the real Sasse and what he stands for. He uses terms like “entitlement reform” and he says he is against “centralized planning,” for example, and these kind of words usually lead to privatizing Social Security, cutting Medicare and the likes. What Sasse really needs is a really different Republican vision, and for that we will have to wait and see. Right now they are starting to spew this “the-election-is-rigged” thing, and they are preparing to be total obstructionists for Clinton just as they were for Obama. Obama’s big mistake was his inclination to try and “work together” with these folks, not really assessing their nasty intentions. LBJ used to pull Republican congressman to the White House and tell them that he would pull all Federal money out of their district if they didn’t vote for such and such a bill. That’s how he got the Civil Rights Act passed and the War on Poverty. It’s not “nice” but when you are faced with that degree of nastiness and so much is at stake, then you better be tough enough to twist some political arms, that is, if you really want to get such legislation passed. That’s a whole other story. In any case, it remains to be seen if Sasse will be with these obstructionists or will he try to lead another kind of Republican “loyal opposition” that will actually dialogue and compromise with Clinton. A lot is at stake in all this for the well-being of the country.


A much deeper survey of our situation is hinted at in this incredibly complex essay by Henry A. Giroux.   As Giroux acutely observes, our problems are a lot more serious than this or that politician. Here is the beginning of this piece verbatim:

“What happens to a society when thinking is eviscerated and is disdained in favor of raw emotion? What happens when political discourse functions as a bunker rather than a bridge? What happens when the spheres of morality and spirituality give way to the naked instrumentalism of a savage market rationality? What happens when time becomes a burden for most people and surviving becomes more crucial than trying to lead a life with dignity? What happens when domestic terrorism, disposability, and social death become the new signposts and defining features of a society? What happens to a social order ruled by an “economics of contempt” that blames the poor for their condition and wallows in a culture of shaming? What happens when loneliness and isolation become the preferred modes of sociality? What happens to a polity when it retreats into private silos and is no longer able to connect personal suffering with larger social issues? What happens to thinking when a society is addicted to speed and over-stimulation? What happens to a country when the presiding principles of a society are violence and ignorance? What happens is that democracy withers not just as an ideal but also as a reality, and individual and social agency become weaponized as part of the larger spectacle and matrix of violence.

The forces normalizing and contributing to such violence are too expansive to cite, but surely they would include: the absurdity of celebrity culture; the blight of rampant consumerism; state-legitimated pedagogies of repression that kill the imagination of students; a culture of immediacy in which accelerated time leaves no room for reflection; the reduction of education to training; the transformation of mainstream media into a mix of advertisements, propaganda, and entertainment; the emergence of an economic system which argues that only the market can provide remedies for the endless problems it produces, extending from massive poverty and unemployment to decaying schools and a war on poor minority youth; the expanding use of state secrecy and the fear-producing surveillance state; and a Hollywood fluff machine that rarely relies on anything but an endless spectacle of mind-numbing violence. Historical memory has been reduced to the likes of a Disney theme park and a culture of instant gratification has a lock on producing new levels of social amnesia.”


Here is the link to this article:


Christ Hedges, my favorite commentator writes about Trump—“Donald Trump: The Dress Rehearsal For Fascism”       Here is the link:

And a more mainstream commentator, Robert Reich, who once served in the Clinton Cabinet and is now a professor at Berkeley, has an alarming prognostication–that a win by Hillary will be welcome by Wall Street and that they will get something important for them from her and the growing income disparity will continue to widen. Here is the link to that piece:


The things these folks predict may not happen, but still we need to face our predicament with open eyes and with thoughtful minds and hearts. The future is going to be a most serious challenge.

Leaving this quagmire of politics, now I would like to turn to a very different kind of person and a very different kind of world: In The Sun Magazine there recently was this article: “Not On Any Map: Jack Turner On Our Lost Intimacy With the Natural World,” by Leath Tonino. It is a marvelous interview with Mr. Turner and here is the introduction to this piece:

Since 1978 he has lived at the foot of the Tetons, one of North America’s most dramatic mountain ranges, usually in cabins without electricity or running water. A retired mountain guide, he believes that to really love a place, one must forge an intimate, bodily relationship with it, and that to do so in this day and age is an “achievement.” One cabin in which he lived, a twelve-by-twenty-foot plywood shack located inside Grand Teton National Park, could be reached during the winter months only by skiing or snowshoeing four miles from the nearest plowed road.  Temperatures sometimes dropped to 40 below. Weeks passed without a visit to town. He says the years he spent there with his wife, Dana, and dog, Rio, were the best of his life.

Raised in Washington, D.C., and Southern California, Turner grew up in a family of outdoorsmen. His grandfather was the co-owner of a hunting-and-fishing camp in northern Pennsylvania, and his father hunted and fished year-round. Turner got an undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Colorado and went on to study Chinese and philosophy at Stanford and Cornell. Soon after, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Illinois in Chicago, but he was less comfortable in the halls of academia than he was wandering the backcountry. He’d become obsessed with rock climbing in the early 1960s, and by the middle of that decade he was partnering with some of the best climbers in the U.S. on difficult routes in Yosemite National Park and Colorado. He loved climbing more than philosophy, so he quit being a professor. The mountains were calling, and he trusted their voice.

Now seventy-two years old, Turner has spent more time outdoors in pursuit of wildness and wilderness than anybody else you’re likely to meet. For forty-two years he worked for Exum Mountain Guides, a company based in Wyoming, leading clients up the 13,776-foot Grand Teton and neighboring peaks. He has climbed the Grand Teton roughly four hundred times and participated in more than forty treks and expeditions to Pakistan, India, China, Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, and Peru. In his free time he’s backpacked, canoed, fished, bird-watched, and camped — often alone and always without a GPS — all across North America.”


Now this guy I really feel in tune with! He makes a very strong case for the human need for real and personal encounter with wilderness for both human and spiritual health. This is a topic that I have touched on a few times in this blog, and I was exhilarated by this interview. He also has a good understanding of the hermit life, which is quite rare. Here is the link to the full online interview:


And let us conclude with an actual contemporary Zen story. This took place at Esalen, the New Age spirituality and therapy center right on the coast of California in Big Sur and just down the road from the Hermitage where I lived at the time. Kobun Chino Roshi, who was a Zen master and a master of Kyudo, the way of the bow, was visiting Esalen with his archery teacher. The teacher fired off some arrows at a practice target and then he handed off the bow and arrow to Kobun and invited him to demonstrate his skill.   Esalen is high on a cliff overlooking the Pacific. Kobun took an arrow and with complete concentration and attention and care shot the arrow into the ocean. When it hit the water he said, “Bull’s eye!” (The story is told in Essential Zen.)

This is connected to everything I wrote above, but don’t ask for an explanation!!











Time to touch base with a number of brief items. So here goes:

*Not too long ago I wrote about the wilderness, hiking, the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail, and the new movie Wild. The other day there was a nice reflective piece in the New York Times, of all places, on this topic. A father and his daughter, inspired by that movie, doing the PCT in segments. Here is the link to that:


I had to smile when the author said that the PCT seems a bit more crowded now, what with quite a few hikers inspired by the movie wanting to do the Trail. It seems that more people are in need of the “therapy” that the wilderness provides. The inner pain that Cheryl carried, more burdensome than her oversized backpack, is shared by more people than you might think. She had tried to anesthetize the pain with sex and drugs, but it was only the “wilderness therapy” that helped her with self-healing. As the author of the article mentions, however, it is not wise to take up the “Big One” like Cheryl did if you have not hiked before! Fortunately it worked out well for her. In any case, I think the Trail can handle this slight uptick in hikers–again as the author points out, more people have climbed Everest than have done the PCT! Climbing Everest became a bit of a sham because you had all those wealthy people paying Sherpas to haul their gear up the mountain and paying big money for mountain guides to take them to the top. With the recent devastation in Nepal that may change for a while. On the PCT you have to carry your own gear!

**Speaking of wilderness, a scientific study appeared recently confirming a long-held view that primitive hunter-gatherer groupings were more, how shall we say it, “mellow.” Here is the link to a story about that study:

They were more egalitarian, with men and women sharing more of life’s burdens and rewards and in general they were less prone to the problems we see in later developments. When human beings start developing agriculture, about 10,000 years ago–but that varied in different places, urbanization followed and then came hierarchy, women start getting pushed into subservient roles, warfare for conquest unfolds, the notion of property and wealth as personal enhancement explodes, as a result you have the division of society into the “poor” and the “wealthy,” the “powerful” or rulers, and the rest, etc., etc. It is interesting how the Bible as a whole, and even in its earliest strata, frowns upon this development and kind of yearns for the days before there were cities and kings. That’s why shepherds play an important role in the various accounts. Of course the shepherds are not the pure hunter-gatherer types, but neither are they the structured agriculturalists who develop into urban human beings. They are nomads, free to roam the land, a kind of half-way point between these two poles. I remember Merton pointing this out somewhere years ago. In any case, there is no point in overly romanticizing these hunter-gatherers–I am sure their humanity had its foibles too–but they do point out to us that our way of life is not written in stone or “must be” like this. Certainly there is no “going back”–the Paleo Diet people notwithstanding!!–but we might want to ponder what these people have to teach us. The folks who painted those marvelous cave-paintings had a connection to nature that we no longer have. Perhaps it is a longing for this that drives some of us into the wilderness, hiking and camping and climbing, etc. Perhaps…..


***The political season is upon us….as if it ever goes away. So the Presidential candidates are all lining up for a run and they will be spending tons of money in trying to fool the American people, who are quite easy to fool but it still takes money. I have made a vow this time round not to comment anymore on this upcoming election cycle. It is all so depressing and discouraging that I won’t waste a minute’s notice. I think the system is beyond repair. I have my favorites, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, but one is not running and the other has about as much chance as Ralph Nader did; but these two, though not perfect, are the only ones saying things that need to be said. The rest of them run the gamut from crazy to frauds and “magicians”–magicians make it look like they are doing one thing while they are actually doing something else which you then see only in a way that the magician wants you to see. Enough said!

****Recently I commented on another piece in the New York Times, a powerful account of the awful suicide rate among young people on the Pine Ridge Reservation. It was a heart-rending account and further documentation of what we have done to the Native Americans. This particular piece was commented on in two lengthy letters of note that are also worth reading:


*****Chris Hedges, my favorite social commentator, surprised me–he has become a radical vegetarian. And here is a link to his “Apologia,” an explanation not only of why he changed but the most passionate and intense presentation of vegetarianism that I have ever read.


Those of us who are meat eaters–but even those who take milk, cheese, eggs, fish, etc–need to read what he says and face that reality. We may respectfully disagree with this or that point, but on the whole your next burger and even your next glass of milk will not quite taste the same after you read his account. So I am going to write this as a kind of dialogue with the challenge he throws out.

First of all, Catholic monasticism, the tradition I come from, has been mostly vegetarian in the past–not the radical kind of vegetarianism that Chris advocates but a more moderate one, allowing milk, eggs, cheese, even at times fish. However, at a certain point, a lot of monasteries dropped the vegetarian requirement–especially the Benedictine ones. Meat became a regular thing. (This was another lamentable thing that was called “renewal” after Vatican II, a modernization of religious life to attract young people!) Some of the strictly contemplative groups still practice moderate vegetarianism, but the rationale for it is often lost in a kind of murky spirituality and asceticism. Its positive values are not enough appreciated. So what Chris is saying is needed by monks also and can be a very serious challenge to them, though again I am not saying that he has an unassailable position. But he will make you look at what you eat in a new way and perhaps see some connections there that you had not seen and perhaps disturb your complacency about your participation in the brutalization of life on our planet.

Way back when, in one of the earliest blog postings, I wrote about an economics professor who brought out a cup of coffee to his class and asked them “What do you see?” He was trying to get his students to see all the effort it took to make that coffee grow, all the labor to bring it to market and sell it–the economic connections in every product. I thought it was a marvelous moment to bring up the larger and deeper connections. Indeed, what do you see? Do you see the hardship of the poor bean picker, do you see the sun making the bean grow, do you see all the connections? And so here Chris is asking us to really, really see what we are eating and what it connects us to.

Modern industrial agriculture brutalizes animals, no doubt about that. The farm is simply another factory where the animals are simply raw materials to make profits with. This is not your Plains Indian hunting down his buffalo and making use of the whole animal to support his family and tribe and giving thanks to the Great Spirit for providing this boon of food and clothing. In modern industrial farming it is all for profit, and even if you are a moderate vegetarian I don’t think you want to see how your eggs and milk got to you(there are some real exceptions where some people run “free range” chickens and just pick up the eggs, but these are a very small minority of producers).

I have no problem with what Chris says about modern industrial farming–I think it is as bad as he saw it and as he portrays it. I wonder, however, if this brutalization of animals is a cause or a symptom, does it lead to the brutalization of other human beings or is it simply another instantiation of a deep inner disorder? I think Chris raises a valid and important issue.

Where I do have a problem with what he is saying is his implication that the taking of life for food is wrong and evil in itself. Thus the proposal of radical vegetarianism. I think this is a denial of how nature is constituted, how we are made.   Living things depend on taking in other living things as food–we cannot take in inert, lifeless matter, like rocks and sand, and live. Radical vegetarians propose that we restrict ourselves to plants, vegetables, fruits, nuts. But these are living things also, and what is the rationale that allows you to take their lives? Merely because they are the lowest forms of life? So we are allowed to kill some forms of life but not another? Seems a bit arbitrary–where and why do you draw the line? Nature itself does not seem to draw any such line. When you are eating your vegetables it doesn’t feel like you have killed any life, but you have. What matters really is how and in what spirit you take in this life as food. Jesus seems to have been involved in the catching of fish and the feeding of people with fish, a fairly advanced form of life at that.

The so-called “grace before meals,” so little practiced anymore in our secular society, is a tiny remnant of an ancient attitude that realized that the life it was ingesting was a gift and a connection to all other life. We should not “pray grace” before meals perfunctorily and in an absurd hurry because it does connect us to our ancient ancestors who did those marvelous cave paintings of the ancient animals and who ate animals with a certain spiritual consciousness that seems strange to us.

Now let me be clear, there is no “nice” way of eating another animal. When a mountain lion takes down a deer, or a coyote gets a hold of a marmot, it is not a “nice” picture, but that is the natural world. Once when I was out in the wilderness I saw an eagle swoop down and grab a bunny rabbit in its talons. What an incredible sight, but that bunny was going to be food for a whole nest for a few days. So it is. But we are spiritual beings also, with a certain spiritual consciousness and so we need to bring our religious awareness to this mysterious order of reality and not just feed our belly or worse, just make these animals as instruments of profit. By the way, the hunting of animals for trophies and “fun” is, I believe, an outrage. I have heard hunters claim that they are merely “reliving” the ancient ways of our ancestors, but that is a lie.

Enough for now! I thank Chris Hedges for his profound reflections and his defense of radical vegetarianism. It is not a quack view or quirky; it demands a respectful hearing; and we have much to learn from it and much to ponder about all the connections.


******Governments (globally) give fossil fuel companies $5.3 TRILLION in subsidies EVERY YEAR–more than the world spends on health care. Big Oil gets $10 million dollars from taxpayers every minute. This is a new estimate by the International Monetary Fund (hardly a radical organization!) and reported by Truthdigg.


*******We live in a world and in an age when so many people want to send “messages.” I am primarily referring to the “messages” on tee shirts and sweat shirts, etc.–but of course we could refer to a lot of other stuff also! All kinds of sayings on our clothing! Mostly I ignore it all, but the other day I saw a young person with this quote and it caught my eye: To thine own self be true. This is, of course, from Shakespeare, so that in itself made me smile. Not often do you see that. But it made me ponder anew the power and significance of that little line. It means a lot more than just: Be Yourself. It means(among other things): Stop lying to yourself–that’s a lot more than just “Be Yourself.”  Yeah, lying to other people is no good, but what’s really, really important in the spiritual life is to begin to stop lying to yourself. Then, and only then, do you BEGIN to “be yourself.” You might say the beginning of the spiritual life is the realization that one is somehow lying to oneself and one wants to change. And believe me, to stop lying to oneself is a mighty, mighty work that will take a lifetime. So it takes a lifetime to “be yourself.” Hope that young person realizes that!



























The Hidden and the Manifest Revisited

These two terms–“The Hidden” and “The Manifest”–are exceedingly important in spirituality, mysticism, and theology. However they are also very little understood, very little appreciated and almost exceedingly unknown. Most all of the spiritual life can be delineated between these two poles; most all of theistic mysticism requires that we take account of these two terms: “The Hidden” and “The Manifest.” Their meaning and significance is not apparent from the everyday usage of these terms. They are lost in a vortex of paradoxes that can make one dizzy if you try to rationally “unravel” their meaning. Consider: in the human–divine encounter what is most hidden is most manifest, and what is most manifest is most hidden. But one might rightly ask, exactly what is it that is Hidden, and exactly what is it that is made Manifest? Suffice it to say for now that these two terms refer primarily and most of all to that Absolute Mystery which we call God, and secondarily they refer then to the Divine-human interaction and Divine-human life. Let us reflect a bit on this–and here of course we are concentrating on the theistic traditions (Christianity, Islam–especially the Sufis– and Jewish mysticism, which we have hardly ever touched upon in this blog). We will not reference either Buddhism or Hinduism to keep things from getting too complicated. There is one other tradition, however, that might help us a lot in appreciating “The Hidden” and “The Manifest,” and that is ancient Taoism but I will leave that for another time.


In Catholic circles, years ago, life in the cloister for monks and nuns was commonly called a “hidden life.” The individual person kind of did vanish inside these religious communities, at least as regard to normal social interactions in society. And there were some truly holy and remarkable people within this “hiddenness”–there was also a lot of pretending and play-acting a role that was, alas, only that, a role, a pious mask that one put over one’s ego self. But these institutions, the monasteries, were themselves hardly a hidden reality within traditional Catholic culture. They were held up for communal and ecclesial admiration and approbation—“the Special Forces of Catholicism!!” The monasteries did not hesitate to play this up and use it for fund raising purposes! Nevertheless, given all this, you could still see within this whole complex picture the iconic nature of that life as it gave a hint–and I use that word deliberately because that is all I can attribute to that life in its institutional nature–a hint of “The Absolute Hidden,” and the “The Absolute Manifest.” Truly, like I said, there were individuals who could go very, very deep within these institutions, who were truly “hidden in God,” and who had intimate knowledge of “The Hidden” and “The Manifest.” But the institutions as a whole were only feeble icons of this great Mystery, and yet in a very ironic way they still managed to “hide” and to “make manifest” what it is they were suppose to be all about. But as we write all this we are still at the most external periphery of this Great Mystery.


Among the Russian Orthodox there is this incredible and beautiful tradition of the “fools for Christ.” How I love these people!! These are people who hide their intimacy with God (and one could say that they at the same time by this hiddenness “actualize” that intimacy) by putting on a “mask” of “foolishness,” “dumbness,” “irrationality,” yes, even madness. They are further clothed in profound poverty, homelessness and a solitude that is difficult to articulate. Certainly they are not beacons of religious formalism, of a well-ordered religious life, of social or religious respectability. (By the way, during the peak of Russian Orthodoxy in the 19th Century some have estimated that these “fools” numbered in the hundreds of thousands over the vast expanse of Russia. Compare that to current USA where there may be up to ten thousand contemplative religious, and that includes all the informal and experimental groups that have sprung up in recent decades.) The chief virtue of the “fool” and his/her most apparent posture is that of an unspeakably deep humility, a humility that itself is a form of hiddenness and manifestation. To all rebukes, to all curses, to all rejection, to all meanness, their one and only response would be a profound prostration and in the spirit of Dostoyevsky’s Father Zosima they would ask forgiveness from their assailant and for their assailant, for as Fr. Zosima said, the essence of the divine life in us is to always in every circumstance forgive and seek forgiveness even from those who hurt us. What madness, the world will say! Here we are not in the world of logic or of rational connections! And these “fools” were found everywhere: yes, in the monasteries, but also in the streets of the large cities; on country roads, in villages, and even as wild hermits in the great forests. But the essence of their hiddenness was never one of location or social setting, a kind of institutionalized hiddenness; but rather it was a radical inversion, a turning upside down of the usual ego attempt to establish a “fortress” of social identity, even a religious identity, and by this inversion transforming that whole process into a kind of non-identity which we witness as a profoundly deep humility. True, within Russian culture the “fool” seemed to have an accepted place that other people at least thought they recognized; but also at the very same time, the “fool for Christ” was a person with no-place at all. And in our culture this notion of the “fool for Christ” is totally incomprehensible and inconceivable–so this reality goes “underground” and reappears in ways that will be equally bewildering but perhaps even more hidden in its religious significance.


Then there are the Sufis. These are the true masters of “The Hidden” and “The Manifest.” Their tradition is replete with holy figures whose holiness and intimacy with God is profoundly hidden and most often hidden by everyday life, perhaps the deepest kind of hiddenness. On the outward surface of things they might be engaged in all kinds of usual human activities, like trade, crafts, etc.; they could even be married; but in the depths they are people of great silence, deep humility, of intimate knowledge of that Absolute Mystery within the Heart and focused on THAT with unspeakable intensity.  They also have their “fools,” and very often their holy figures have also in common with Western monks and holy people, a kinship with deep poverty. Two words associated with the Sufis have their root meaning in a total poverty (like Francis of Asissi): “fakir” in Arabic; and “dervish” in Persian. To illustrate that this poverty is not ordinary and not a matter simply of subtracting items from one’s belongings, consider that there were several Sufi holy men who were men of great wealth and power(rare cases, but still there), but they held these positions as if they owned nothing, with not a trace of these realities leaving even a fingerprint of possession on their hearts. They were totally transparent and impervious to the lures of such things but simply exercised a certain responsibility of stewardship. When you witness in monastic life how monks can get very possessive over a favorite item or book, well, then you begin to appreciate the nature of this hiddenness.


In Jewish mysticism, among the Hasidim, there are the legendary Zaddikim, the 36 hidden holy men in the world, whose holiness keeps the cosmos together. This is close to the Sufi ideal above in that these figures are hidden in ordinary life–one could be a butcher, another a merchant, etc. What’s extra special here is that in some cases the hiddenness is of such depth and profundity that the person himself is not aware that he is doing anything special. In fact, he may be bothered by some possible character flaw or shortcoming. In other words he is even hidden from his own eyes! He has not chosen the path of hiddenness, but is totally on it due to the Divine Reality itself.


Now we begin to get into some very deep waters! And that brings us then to this new level of hiddenness–this is where “The Hidden” is not so much a choice on our part but something that God bestows on us–you might say that it is God who does the hiding! It is certainly not the equivalent of a choice in lifestyle or way of life.   And this applies then not only to these secret Zaddikim, but also to the Sufis, the “fools,” Christian monks, and so many other holy people in ordinary life, among all of whom there are these profound icons of God’s Presence even as they might be thoroughly hidden in a “cloud” that only at rare moments one has the privilege of seeing into. I think each of us has on occasion run into some such figure, on a street corner, in a monastery, at home even, wherever….I think there are certainly more than 36 such figures but it is they who truly hold this universe together. Their holiness is not something that can ever be put on display because it is the Divine Reality which conceals them.


Time to get a bit theological. Earlier I had raised the question: what is this “Hiddenness” and what is this “Manifest” stuff? There is a primary meaning to these terms and a secondary meaning; and it was the secondary that I have been discussing. By looking at some very special examples of very special people, we begin to see that what is both Hidden and Manifest is their holiness if you will. There is a very profound paradox here. What is most truly and deeply hidden concerning the holiness of these people is also the most manifest; but access to that which is truly manifest about their holiness is only available to one who enters their profound hiddenness. The “two” are not two “stages” in life, or two “aspects” of life, or anything of that sort; no, they are both one and the same Reality in which the Heart abides, sometimes by choice, sometimes by realization that THAT is who they are, sometimes even without knowing anything at all….


When I use the word “holiness” here, I am afraid it sounds a bit abstract or some quality of personhood that one can somehow achieve or produce. Nothing of the sort. Let us backup a bit. Recall that the Bible tells us that only God is holy. When we attribute holiness to a person, it is not as if he/she gets somekind of character stamp or merit badge. No, holiness in the real sense is the very Presence of that Absolute Mystery which we call God. And when we call someone “holy” all we really mean, or should mean, is that this person conveys to us something of that Absolute Mystery. It is the very Reality of God that is present.


Now this Reality is both concealed and unconcealed within the same dynamism of Presence–and I say “dynamism” because that Reality is never a static presence. As Aquinas termed God: Pure Act. It is as if God enjoys, so to speak, in concealing Himself so that we go looking for Him, so to speak.   This is the basis of the erotic language of the Song of Songs in the Bible and the language of various western mystics. And furthermore God so enjoys manifesting Who He Is that we have all of creation for that. The Sufi mystical theologians speak of all creation as a true self-manifestation of the Absolute Self of God which is truly and also absolutely unknowable in itself. Like one of our hymns proclaims: All the earth proclaims the Lord. Indeed, but this “proclaims” is not like the proverbial finger pointing at the moon; no, it is like the Russian icon, a bearer of the reality which it speaks of.


So the Reality of God is both concealed and unconcealed in everything! Take a pebble, a beautiful little flower springing up wild, the twinkle in a dog’s eyes as you hold a tasty treat, the lovely smile of a child, the hearty laugh of a friend, a compassionate gesture, the act of sex, a whisper of wind, the loud boom of thunder, etc., etc…..all these hold within themselves The Hidden and The Manifest. But the Sufis push this even to greater depths(naturally!). What if a disease strikes you; or you are financially ruined; betrayed by someone you trusted; slandered by someone; what if your child dies due to an accident or disease, etc., etc. Is God concealed and unconcealed in all this? Many of the Sufi mystics would say, most certainly. But this is not something that one should take upon oneself to say to another in some casual, superficial spirit. It is a Reality that is beyond ordinary discourse and rational concepts and not for the “casual observer.” The Sufi mystics’ approach is something like this: they have a saying that goes along this line: It is one thing when the veil is lifted to behold the Divine Reality; it is quite another to behold the Divine Reality within the very veil. Indeed! One has to be blessed with a very special eye for that!!


And where this does come to a remarkable focus, at least for Christian theology and mysticism, is in the person of Jesus Christ. The Absolute Mystery is most hidden, you might say, in this person: after all he is a Jewish male living in a backwater country where nothing important is going on, far off from our modern world–serious limitations, one could say, to “manifesting” anything much less the Divine Reality. Even in the words of the Gospels he is only a carpenter’s son, from Nazareth, not much of anything significant comes from there; he does not even have the proper credentials within his own religious culture to be a significant religious personage. Go figure!   But Christian faith and theology also claims that this person of Jesus Christ is also the most complete manifestation of the Absolute Mystery (which by the way he called “Father,” which in itself leads to another dose of paradox upon paradox in this round of hiddenness and manifestation). The Gospels then are this textual interplay of concealing the Divine Mystery and unconcealing it, all in the person of Jesus Christ. And where this comes to a crescendo is, of course, on the cross–the crucifix, not just the empty cross, the most remarkable symbol, in my opinion, in all of human culture. In that moment of crucifixion, one of the most horrible events anyone could ever witness, we find the Divine Reality most hidden, most concealed. Who could ever see it there? Yet, and this is almost too much for words and language, and yet, paradox upon unspeakable paradox, it is there that the Divine Reality is most manifest. Blessed are you truly who have seen what you have seen……




Ecclesiastes & Lamentations

So we will be reflecting on two of the most unusual and difficult books of the Hebrew Bible.  Nothing scholarly; nothing pious; more of a kind of orientation to dealing with these texts.  At first I was going to spend a separate posting on each one, but then both practical matters and just wanting to “move on” to other things inclines me to this more shortened version.  Both texts do present us with some of the issues that we discussed earlier:  the very nature of the Bible, how we read it, etc.

  1. Ecclesiastes

What an unpleasant book!!  At least that is the opinion of this writer.  I suppose you can try and salvage it by quoting some “nice lines” from it–because it does have them–some of which even formed the lyrics of a famous folk-rock song from the early 1960s.  But I think you seriously miss the point if you pick and choose your “nice phrases, pleasing lines, and positive stories” out of that whole morass, but that is what so many people do with the whole Bible.  Nowhere in the whole Christian Tradition at least does it say that ONLY the “nice parts” are “inspired” and the rest is “throw-away” material or filler.  No, it says the whole text is “inspired” and this of course leads us to all kinds of headaches!  Now of course all this hinges on what we mean by “inspired” and if by this we intend to say that God “writes” this text, then, yes, we are in trouble.  But there is a more subtle, more nuanced, much deeper sense of “inspired” that we want to appeal to.  The text then becomes a kind of a privileged paideia and a pedagogy of our identity in God.  We read the text as we learn and unlearn our misreadings of our own lives in God. 

It is hard to summarize the thematic content of this work.  “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.”  Some have pointed to its “Buddhist flavor” and indeed there are certain passages that have an interesting resemblance to primitive and fundamental teachings of the Buddha–but certainly not to the later metaphysical elaborations of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism.  Consider lines like this: 

“The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing”(1:8).

“I have seen everything that is done under the sun; and behold all is vanity and a striving after wind”(1:14).

And so on.  The emptiness of it all.  The futility of desires that fill our being. We are driven by desires that ultimately lead to more frustrations and then more desires.  We cannot not only satisfy these desires but we cannot overcome these desires.  The desire to transcend desire is simply another project doomed to futility.  You might say that this is the central koan of Buddhism–what do I do with my desire to transcend desire.  (How do I get the goose out of the bottle without breaking the bottle and without harming the goose!?)

Some of these sentiments are echoed in the Gospels by Jesus as he points out the futility of wealth and its pursuits.  But here even the pursuit of virtue and knowledge is lamented as futile.  There is this intense almost morose focus on the “emptiness” of human activity.  And by emptiness we don’t mean it quite in the Buddhist sense which actually has a more positive quality.  Here the author drills home the utter futility and vacuity of all human endeavors.  And the key to getting a “handle” on the “message”  is the really cranky, dismal persona who is venting all his dark feelings here.  Not a happy camper to say the least!!   The fact is that this whole text is a testimony and witness to how life looks like from the standpoint of the ego self when that is the only sense of identity that we have.  Yes, this ego self can be “very religious” as in the text–this grouchy persona has constant reference to God and “religious values” as it were.  He is commendable in his clarity; that is, if you only recognize the ego self as your identity, this separate hard core of self and God “Over There” somewhere and the world as this stage for this ego to act on, well, then this dark, dismal view is what you are really left with.  There is none of that “rosy delusion” of modern consumerism with all its gadgets to entertain you.  It’s all vanity after all!!

But of course our ego identity with all is desires and hang-ups and fears and frustrations is not all there is to us.  Who are you if you are not simply the sum total of all these?  Who are you in God?  There is No-name for that, and here we would have to leave this book and move on.

  1. Lamentations

Another difficult work, but much simpler and more straightforward.  It is unrelenting in its grief and despair.  Historically it appears to be a communal lament over the destruction of Jerusalem  by the Babylonians around 586 B.C.  The darkness of the book is not everyone’s cup of tea!  Hardly anyone reads this work except as a kind of historical document.  For many Christians the sentiments of this book are “inappropriate” for “Resurrection People.”  However, the New Testament itself quotes this text in several places.  It is also the liturgical text of Good Friday and you really can’t have Easter Sunday separate from Good Friday.  Jesus knew Lamentations from the inside and he was One with God.  So it’s ok to have these feelings, this level of grief, this depth of sorrow, even this awesome despair.  Events and circumstances can really hit hard and you are allowed to “cry on God’s shoulder” as it were. 

 Speaking of which, not too long ago there was a remarkable story about Pope Francis that was mostly neglected by the larger public.  It was from his trip to Asia, and the headline read: “If You Do Not Learn to Weep, You’re Not a Good Christian.”  Here is the link to it:

 Here he is not referring to “weeping for your sins,” but the weeping that comes from seeing totally unexplainable suffering and misery befall even the truly innocent like children.  The Pope encountered a child, a young Filipina girl, who came to him straight out of Lamentations with a question: Why?  And to his credit, the Pope did not give some theological lecture or mouth some pious platitude but pointed to the simple fact of weeping in the face of the unexplainable.  Here is the author of the article:

“As a young, inexperienced priest, I remember walking into a hospital room with a mother caring for a dying child. I wanted to help, but felt totally inadequate with nothing to say.

Yes, I had learned all the canned explanations: It’s God’s will; God has a plan; she will be happy in heaven; we have to bear the cross God gives us. I was smart enough not to inflict such trite responses on a grieving mother, but I did not know what to say.

Glyzelle Palomar and so many children suffered through the devastating typhoon that hit the Philippines last year. “Why did God let this happen to us?” she asked the pope, covering her face with her hands as she sobbed.”

And: “The pope did not respond with a theological lecture on the mystery of evil. Rather, he affirmed her tears, saying, “Only when we are able to weep about the things that you lived can we understand something and answer something.”

 And finally: “The mystery of evil is beyond my comprehension. The answers that I have heard I find unsatisfactory. I don’t find any words in the Bible that explain it. I have concluded that since it is beyond our comprehension, Jesus came not to explain suffering but to weep with us and to suffer with us. I prefer to see the cross not so much as reparation for our sins, but as God’s way of joining us in our suffering. Instead of preaching from the sidelines, he gets down in the dirt and suffers with us. That is real love.”

 No religion, none of them, has an “answer” to this mystery of evil.  And what Lamentations tells us and what Jesus tells us is that weeping may be the first step in recognizing the Reality of God within our own suffering and the suffering of others.  With that we are way beyond any “answers.”


The Homeless Christ

In the past few months there have been several news stories about this piece of sculpture by the Canadian sculptor, Timothy Schmalz.  The title of this work of art is “The Homeless Jesus,” and it depicts a figure lying on a park bench all wrapped in a cloak or blanket of sorts, all covered, even the head, so you can’t tell who the figure is except that the feet are partially sticking out and you can see the marks of crucified legs, the nail-scarred feet.  You can see the photo of this sculpture in the news stories that I link to below.

As you can well imagine this work of religious art shook up a lot of people.  This is not a depiction of Jesus like on the holy cards, Easter Greetings, Hollywood movies, etc.  This is not a Jesus that the “Gospel of prosperity” people can even begin to recognize.  Not even the baroque Crucified Christ found in many Catholic Churches disturbs as much as this vision—for the baroque image is often surrounded by a plethora of gold and decorations and seems strangely “removed” and distant from peoples’ everyday struggles and suffering.  This is the Homeless One we see every day.  In fact Schmalz was inspired by seeing a homeless person sleeping on a park bench.  A subtle but important point is that there is enough room on the park bench for you to sit down next to it.  It is not “enshrined” on some altar.


Schmalz offered the sculpture to two Catholic cathedrals: St. Michael’s in Toronto and St. Patrick’s in New York City.  Both churches turned it down because it was “unsuitable.”  Indeed!  This is not the image of Jesus that fits their “comfort zone” perhaps!  The sculpture finally found its place in front of Regis College, the Jesuit theologate associated with the University of Toronto.    And Pope Francis apparently has blessed an image of this sculpture.  But there is even more to this story.  Somehow a small Episcopal church in North Carolina acquired a replica of this sculpture as a gift and the pastor put it in front of his church, and that has caused a bit of a controversy.  The church is St. Alban’s in Davidson, a very upscale parish in a small college town, Davidson College, a very liberal parish from all indications.  But the image is a bit too much for some of the parishioners.  One of them called it “creepy” and “macabre.”  Another was just patronizing saying that “it reminds us of those who are not as fortunate as we are.”  Truly!  I hope it does more than that!

Here are the links to two news stories and images of the sculpture:


Now I would like to share some reflections that this sculpture invites us to.  Like any true work of art, it can take us in several different directions and touch us at several different levels of our heart and mind—seemingly all at the same time also!


  1. It feels embarrassing to say this because it is so obvious but the sculpture is a radical indictment of the inhumanity of a socioeconomic system that allows this kind of homelessness.  We live in a world that has almost become numb to such human degradation and cruelty.  Whether it be war and famine or being driven out as a refugee, whether it be financial disaster, or whether it be even personal failing and personal weakness, whatever be the cause, no society can be said to be just and humane and civilized that allows such human suffering.  And the solution is of course not the proverbial soup kitchen or overnight shelter—these are merely there to keep someone alive for the moment—but the solution lies in a real and deep revising of our great social priorities and our own way of life.
  2. Now all this is on the socioeconomic level, but there is naturally the underlying foundation for all this which is religious and spiritual.  Many churches favor and encourage “acts of charity”—like the soup kitchen, etc—but few address the actual problem that causes such an attack on the children of God.  And if they do it usually is in some bland generic form like “greed.”  All the large religious institutions are not known for their prophetic voice!  So one thinks of some of the Old Testament prophets and their sharp words, their call for a kind of “deconstruction” of the social structures that oppressed the poor.  Of course the solution lies much deeper even than that.  One has to turn to the Gospels to even begin to get there.  Consider the parable that Jesus tells about Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31):

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores……”

The parable points to “chasms” that we create in the way we view our fellow human beings—the chasm of a kind of “duality” as Abhishiktananda would put it, where we and “our brother” are two, not one—and the social consequences of that are disastrous.  And this “chasm” that we put between ourselves and our brother is the very same chasm that we then put between ourselves and God.  We live within this delusion of “twoness” with really bad consequences.  This is at the heart of the Gospel message.


  1.  But now that we have entered the spiritual and religious significance of this sculpture, let us push even further.  It is clear that the homeless one is of special significance with regard to the Reality of God.  Of course this kind of suffering draws the infinite mercy and compassion of God into special attendance as it were.  But there is more to this.  The homeless one is also a special manifestation of that Ultimate Reality we call God.  The great paradox and mystery is that when we truly see this homeless one we see something of that Ultimate Mystery or we see “into it,” or into its depths.  Thus there are people who deliberately and voluntarily take on this state of being homeless, take on this burden.  Because in it they are immersed in the manifestation of the Divine Mystery. They embrace a true homelessness, physical and/or psychological/spiritual because they are One with the One who is Absolute Homelessness because nothing can be that limitation for the Absolute Reality which is called “home.”  They embrace their namelessness because they are one with the Absolutely Nameless One.  Jesus called him “Father,” “abba,” but this is only an indication of intimate relationality, of infinite closeness.  But there is no name for this Reality.  It is beyond all Names and all limitations, all homes, because in effect this Reality is “all in all.”  Their heart cries out for this Reality and only this Reality.  There is no other home for them but homelessness.  In some cultures, like India, the homeless one is culturally supported in a sense because he has a recognizable “place” within the social cosmos.  This is of course the profound reality of sannyasa.  In Old Russia there was the phenomenon of The Pilgrim.  Then there are people who are simply thrown into this homelessness not out of choice, but then they find within it that Reality which makes them not want to leave it; they find not dereliction but blessedness.  It is as if within homelessness they discover their true home–examples would be the Western saints, Benedict Joseph Labre or Alexius of Rome.  There is one other religious paradigm of chosen homelessness that we need to look at: in ancient Syria, at the beginnings of Christianity.


  1.  In early Christianity, in Syria, about the 2nd Century, there arose a vision of being a disciple of Christ that made homelessness a norm, not an exception.  It was a radical Christianity to say the least.  Radical in its asceticism; radical in its demands for being a “true Christian.”  Baptism was an extremely profound moment, and from that moment when you came out of the water (like in the initiation into sannyasa) you became a homeless wandering monk.  We will have to ponder this Syriac Christianity at some point later, but for now let us just focus on this point.  Baptism meant a kind of uprooting at various levels of your being.  By the way, its radical nature meant that for all practical purposes many put off being baptized until they felt they were “ready” to take this step.  To be sure, when you were baptized you did not simply go home and pick up your life as before.  Gabriele Winkler, a scholar of early Christianity, puts it this way(after having quoted a poem by Tagore to illustrate a similar sentiment):  “In the Gospel Jesus invites those who have this great power of love to stake all they have, and having staked their last penny, to stake themselves—here we find ourselves at the heart of early Syrian asceticism.  The ‘game of undoing’ finds its equivalent in Jesus’ challenge to become utterly uprooted and newly grounded.  Such radical poverty means: 1. Uprootedness from any comfort, let alone wealth; 2. Uprootedness from past origins and present ties; 3. Uprootedness from whatever could be considered as home or familiar surroundings; 4. Uprootedness from the essence of the ‘I’.  These four conditions are particularly emphasized in Luke”(which comes from Syria).  In both Luke 9:58 and Matthew 8:20 we find those overly familiar words to whose radical nature we have become numb: “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head.”  A would-be disciple has just told Jesus that he will follow him, and Jesus basically tells him that this will entail utter homelessness.  We hear no more of that would-be disciple.


  1. Consider this then.  What does “home” mean?  What does it mean to be “at home,” or to “have a home.”  It is an “address” of some kind, a part of an identity-making mechanism that is constantly churning:  I am this…I am that….  And multiplied a thousand times with statements and actions that society will recognize and approve.  Having a home means one has some handle on this process, one is in control, one is thoroughly integrated in the mechanisms of society.   To be homeless is then to be “lost” in a sense.  To be homeless is also to be nameless.  You really become almost invisible to the larger society—unless of course you are culturally “marked” as homeless and given that as your identity.   The sculpture of the homeless one is almost without identity—we cannot even see his face; there is just the lump of a covered body, with the scarred feet sticking out.  The only credentials the Homeless One has are the marks of the Crucifixion.  It is striking that this Ultimate Reality which we call God would choose that as his only identity among us.  We need to see that.


  1.  But, furthermore, “home” means a “comfort zone” of sorts.  This seems to be a basic human need.    It’s a very deep satisfaction that we seek, but ultimately it is a satisfaction we never quite reach—and some expend much money and much effort to reach that “comfort zone” in the illusion that lavish houses, power and praise, possessions, etc. will produce that “comfort zone” of being.  The great fact and the great paradox is that at the core of our being we are truly and profoundly homeless in the sense that nothing of that which is out there—wealth, power, sex, possessions, credentials, etc.—nothing will render our self as being “at home” within itself as this limited isolated self always feeling desire for this or that. (Buddhism speaks eloquently about that.)  Our true home is the Reality of God, the Ultimate Mystery, the Absolute Reality.  The Great Paradox and the Great Mystery is that the Christ who manifests this Absolute Reality has identified himself with the homeless ones to the extent that they and he are not “two” but “one” (“Whatsoever you do to the least… do to me.”) And this sacrament of non-duality invites us to discover and to plunge into the true and profound homelessness of our own hearts and to accept it because it is His Homelessness which is out paradoxical abode.  And then we discover our true namelessness because it is also His Namelessness.   Oneness beyond oneness.   Only the truly homeless will ever be at home in this cosmos.  Only the nameless one will really know who he/she truly is.