Biography

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The call of life

The effort for this blog has been absent to a certain degree. The hours at work have sufficiently increased due to the loss of my tool partner. He is a gentleman in his mid-seventies dealing with a type of cancer in his heel, soft tissue sarcoma is the diagnosis. He is the only one in the maintenance department with any longevity, thus establishing his knowledge as extremely useful. With chaos and continual fires being the normal mode of operandi, his presence was appreciated. On the human level, he is a good man and friend, sharing an intense devotion to the Cleveland Indians. With the MLB playoffs starting this week, he will be missed.  There is some anger in the fact we knew for five weeks or so he would be going on medical leave for six to eight weeks and nothing was done. The futile effort to hire another maintenance worker provided nobody. We have just added another line with five hydraulic presses, fed by a coil embossing system and the load of work for two men could be quite extensive. Now by myself, I am covering two buildings for a company that operates singularly through incompetence. That will amount to 63 hours of work for the week, amassing a total of 78.5 paid hours. The money will be astounding, yet the level of discouragement is substantial. Providence provided a late-night conversation with a priest from the seminary, a vocational guide who in person is a younger athletic inspiring, intelligent, and fully alive man. A Sunday morning breakfast was scheduled, with plans for further engagement.  I vocalized my weariness with work and he did not finish his thoughts quoting words from St Ignatius due to his own weariness from an overloaded schedule. His advice centered upon the idea of not making life changing decisions while feeling discouraged. In times of discouragement, it is difficult to decipher the calling of the Holy Spirit. I added the need for immediate comfort and solace being the natural reaction, while the greater strengthening may lie in acceptance, perseverance, and fortitude within an overwhelming trust in God. Daily Mass and my Adoration/prayer time has become the grounding and absolute high point of my day. Though my reading and spiritual intellectual activity has diminished, my prayer time remains comforting and profound, the Jesus prayer a constant companion I always return to no matter how many moments I drift away in thought and responsibility. Foreign classic films absorb the little idle time I have while lounging in bed. The early films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Robert Bresson providing a steady diet of images and reflections upon life.

French master Robert Bresson

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Saturday afternoon

A wonderful return to the early Saturday morning Mass and adoration at St Dominic infused reflections. Thoughts wandered around my conception that Adoration, sitting before the exposed Eucharist, was essential to my spiritual exercises. It was a concern whether the Carthusian life could prove rewarding since they do not practice such a form of worship. I thought of Father Prior’s words that one must consider deeply the Carthusian charism, not just the belief one wanted to remove one’s self from the world and focus singularly upon God. If one placed devotions such as commitments to St Jude or St Joseph above everything, a predetermined idea of worship, it would inevitably create conflict with life as a Carthusian. Placing words in his mouth, exercising control over what and how one was going to worship, above the constructs of the Carthusian ways, was an obstinance, a determination that one would do as one pleased—an opening of the door to disobedience. First, it was extremely odd that he would point out St Joseph and St Jude as they are the two saints I have been leaning on the most heavily. It concretely defined his point. I told him of my concern regarding Adoration and he smiled, quickly acknowledging this was exactly what he was talking about. Certain devotions and ways may be good, authentic, and proper, yet if one allowed them to be a means of inflicting self-will above obedience than one would experience strife as a Carthusian. He explained that there had been several incidents proving to him personally the validity of his words. Younger men entered the life unable to abandon their religious prejudices and preferences, causing unfortunate negative circumstances, creating turmoil within the community. Things happened that could not be resolved with later apologies, admissions of blame, that would allow a return to the monastery. Matters were gravely serious regarding obedience and submission. My thoughts during this morning’s worship dwelled upon the matter as an attending gentleman played the flute during the receiving of communion. I realized the life of a Carthusian would eliminate music from my life. Music has always been an extreme joy, as well as a plague with my obsession as a youth with alternative, serious to the extreme, music. The polyphonic Latin chanting would be the music and soundtrack to my days—the absence of one thing allowing the filling by another—when something is taken away another is given. This morning’s reflection mused upon the fact that during the lengthy one-on-one consultation with Father Prior, I spoke to him at certain points as if we were equals regarding the spiritual life. It was a correction I was able to curtail during the happening, demonstrating the natural ignorance to assume that my spiritual experience and exercises could be matched against a priest weathered by decades through life as a Carthusian, a prior travelling the world for the Church as an essential voice within the Carthusian order. There is a time one should listen when God places proper authority before us. Religion imposes the freedom of enlightenment, false or proper. Pride allows for such power to elevate one’s natural inclination to assume that one is the center of the universe.  It is not one’s duty to establish an all enveloping truth, rather to become supple and malleable before God.  Religion must not become simply a weapon to wield upon the world, which it will, if one is unable to let go of preconceived ideas, unable to remain unattached to one’s affirmations and deepest truths. One interacts, defensively or offensively, or runs from the world, on the terms of a spiritual master, convinced one possesses the keys to truth.  Being someone is more important than becoming something that is the fulfillment of being human.  I remember once reading that St Francis of Assisi, a true imitator of Christ, treated every individual he encountered as his superior. Adhering to his devotion to Christ with the greatest of strength, he presented weakness to others.  The Carthusian concept of the recognition and acceptance of mediocrity, without and within, soothes wounds deeply.

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A friend

My Cuban poet friend was riled into compassion today after Mass, inviting me into a conversation filled with coincidences.  The conversation involved two young adults, a male and female.  The young man, an Indian gentleman, astounded with his intelligence and insight.  Others have determined he is bound for a medical career as a doctor, yet through experience he ponders the contemplative life, spending three months of discernment at the monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, a Trappist order.  I happen to spend a week at the monastery years ago, somewhat familiar with their ways.  It was remarkable that the young couple both knew Vermont intimately.  She was raised in New Hampshire, and both spent time in Manchester, Vermont—just north of the Carthusians, while knowing Bennington, the town I spent Saturday afternoon exploring, my second outing in the quaint town.  The significant other is also familiar, through childhood experiences, with the areas of Vermont I ventured into.  My Cuban poet friend was on fire, for good and bad, with spiritual excitation, or possibly torment, regarding the death of a friend.  Her friend died of cancer.  Refusing treatment through the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital, ignoring their impassioned pleas for Lymphoma treatment, she stubbornly pursued medical options self-chosen in Paris.  Her decision proved unwise, the Paris treatments failed.  She passed away before the age of sixty.  The Cuban poet was distressed, reading the eulogy at her friend’s funeral.  She emailed me words she wrestled with in outlining her words to honor her beloved friend.  I feel secure in sharing them.

Writes Rilke: “Through loss, through great immoderate loss, we are actually quite introduced into [completeness]. Death is only an unsparing way of placing us on intimate and trusting terms with the side of our existence that is turned away from us.
(What should I emphasize more: our or existence? Both are here of the greatest significance, as if balanced by the weight of the stars!)”

(…)

“Whoever does not at some point absolutely affirm and even rejoice fully in the dreadfulness of life will never lay claim to the inexpressible powers of our existence; he or she will pass through life along the periphery and will have been, once the decision has been cast, neither one of the living nor one of the dead.”

I add: Adrienne did not pass through life along the periphery. She was and is part of our existence.

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Vamos

Twenty-eight straight days of work, massive hours, and now three days off.  Turning everything down, as close to off as possible. A song, a remarkable find and an artist to keep an ear upon.

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Memorial Day

I am finishing Donald Cozzens ‘Notes From the Underground: The Spiritual Journal of a Secular Priest’.  He is a priest serving as the writer in residence at John Carroll University.  Complex while unassuming, the book has antagonized, compelled indifference—the sort I have always felt when considering Thomas Merton, and deeply inspired—piercing with insight from an authentic individual committed to the contemplative path.  I will post some of his thoughts I am convinced deserve profound reflection.  I was impressed with his insistence to transcend Catholicism beyond superstition and dogmatic practices.  The need to forego exterior exertion aimed toward righteousness.  The importance of interior transformation usurping rigid adherence that only adds to worldly division and the severe angst of modern times.  He guides to the practice of faith profoundly consisting of the ability to let go, the exercising of prayer dominating, and the elevation of trusting in God all coalescing to form a superior hope and love; a living example of peace, gentleness, and kindness pointing toward eternity through Christ.  Yesterday during early morning Mass at St Dominic’s, the priest was ranting dogmatically regarding Catholicism being the one true way.  He sarcastically remarked that if you were going to explore outside Catholicism to please go to an Eastern Orthodox church.  I smiled since I have been fascinated with the Orthodox faith for the last several months.  The utilitarian ‘Jesus Prayer’ evolving into a life companion, a metamorphizing mantra compatible to moments throughout the day.  The last several nights I have been viewing documentaries on Russian monasteries: Valaam—Step to the Skies and the world’s northern most monastery, invigorating with exoticism, while familiar through simplicity and romance.  Today, we toured a Greek Orthodox church in Cleveland, The Annunciation, a quaint vibrant church whose interior, brushed with a soft aqua blue backdrop, offered images and information on the practice of the Orthodox faith.  The church is a highly visible adornment to the Cleveland landscape as it is perched majestically along side interstate ninety just south of downtown; its peculiar golden domes announcing something foreign.  The parishioner presenting today’s tour, a fifth-grade religious teacher, possessed a passion for his faith that easily accentuated his words.  He commented that he would like to claim he was a devout Eastern Orthodox practitioner, however he found that every day he was discovering new aspects of his church, historically and theologically, and within that discovery his place within the church of his upbringing.  Every day he felt he was starting anew.  He spoke of an entrance: the Narthex, a part of the nave, entering the church being the entering of an alternate reality, the altering of time.  Everything changes as one enters and leaves the world behind.  The temporal is replaced by the eternal.  The focus of the church once entered is three doors, Holy Doors, holy being associated with the presence of God.  The doors stand amidst an array of large icons illuminated by presence candles.  The central door, the Eastern Door of light, opens to the sanctuary, the Crucifixion and tabernacle.  The King of Glory returning to His people.  Only the priest and deacons, who bear the Eucharist, use the Eastern Door.  The Northern Door is the entrance door.  Once opened, colorful icons display to the congregation the resurrection of Christ.  Counter-clockwise, time is tampered as the end of the story is told first.  The Southern Door, the departing door, exhibits the beginning of the story, the birth of Jesus.  It was a pleasant day.  I want to post the words of Donald Cozzens.

I’ve written at some length about the silent, wordless, often imageless, prayer called contemplative or centering prayer.  Now, from a different perspective, this “sitting in the presence of God prayer” has a purifying power that allows us to see instinctively what really matters most, “Be still,” the psalmist says, “and know that I am God.”  Be still, in other words, and know that you are not God.  Be still and have faith, be still and hope, be still and love.  Our stillness, metaphorically speaking, breaks down the walls of our monasteries and lets the contemplative charism escape into the streets of our global village where it’s “infecting” ever growing numbers.

People tired of being out of balance, out of sync, tired of being spiritually sick are experimenting with contemplative prayer and reporting extraordinary, if subtle, changes in their lives.  They say they are more centered and less restless; they tend not to judge others, they seem more content with what they have; they are more patient with spouses, children, and co-workers. They report being less neurotic, less anxious, less fearful.  In a word—they are peaceful….

Contemplative prayer, as we have seen, sooner than later leads to contemplative living.  And contemplative living makes a defining difference in our broken world.  By contemplative l;iving I’m referring, with repeated urgency, to the quality of awareness, of mindfulness, that prompts to live fully in the present moment.  Contemplative living honors the now.  It is instinctively willing rather than willful….

Contemplative prayer, while not the only path to contemplative living, remains the truest path, at least from my experience.  I sometime think our only hope rest in an ever-expanding arc of men and women, from all corners of our planet, living contemplatively.  More than through diplomacy, government intervention, military power, or economic policy, the violence and injustice of our world will be diminished by men and women leading contemplative lives. Put less starkly, only a contemplative factor in diplomacy, politics, and economics will prove ultimately effective. 

I’ll conclude this section with striking words from two of the twentieth century’s major theologians.  Turning to the level of the individual, Raimon Panikkar writes, “In this crucible of the modern world, only the mystic (contemplative) will survive.  All others are going to disintegrate; they will be unable to resist either the physical strictures or the psychical strains.”  And from Karl Rahner, “The Christian of the twenty-first century will be a mystic (contemplative) or not at all.”  –Donald Cozzens ‘Notes From the Underground”

Greek Orthodox Metropolis Of Pittsburgh
Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church
Cleveland, OH

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A new mindset

This latest struggle slips into the reality of an arrogance and negativity in my mindset, the need to be right, at the deepest core opinionated. There was a nurse caring for me in the emergency room who made a strong impression. His kindness and concern astounded me. I understood it was an aspect lacking within my interior. I trended toward one who attempts to be right rather than compassionate. First, I intellectualize, forming judgements, attempting to identify deeper meanings, establishing personal dogma, before simply being kind. Walking through the amazing University Hospital near the Case Western campus, the breathtaking architecture and setting produced a sense of awe. I felt connected to those around me, understanding I was truly abandoning an analytical mind.

Walking home from the hospital campus on a sunny day, I meandered through the historic Cleveland Heights neighborhood, admiring the homes and gardens. It amazes me how friendly and sociable the people are in this neighborhood. There is always a smile and a wave for a passerby. The sense of community is authentic. The significant other and I recently took a walk through the gorgeous neighborhood and I was a bit stunned that she was approaching woman asking them about their gardens, walking right up to their porches. The response was always an enthusiastic sharing. There is a cultured willingness to engage others openly and kindly, abandoning judgement and the constant maneuvering to be right.

The significant other brings that endearing charm into my life: kindness, gentleness, attentiveness, commitment and concern before judgement. I am positive it is why God has put her in my life. I am being asked to recognize and remove my arrogant need to be right. I was recently driving listening to EWTN, hearing the woman go on and on about the absurdity of millennial ‘snowflakes’, their weakness of personality in demanding their ‘safe spaces’, the intellectual foolishness of using words like ‘microaggressions’, when I comprehended that was me, always viewing the world with the need to be right. Respectfully to the EWTN broadcaster, I understood I have to let go of such ways.

Nietzsche identified a fundamental human flaw as laziness. I think society has advanced to the degree that over exertion, trying too hard, has become a human  flaw. Opinions, ideas, feelings, and thoughts are taken extremely serious with the majority putting an intense effort in developing and presenting their positions. There will not be a lacking in those willing to engage in battle. For me, I must remove any vestige of an opinionated mind. My spiritual goal is called to advance to a core being centered in kindness and gentleness, open and willing to be wrong, rejecting judgment and proclamations. I must take myself less serious in order to move closer to God.

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