Category Archives: Uncategorized

Everybody Prays

a small thought…EVERYBODY PRAYS

An earlier thought, about talking to myself, suggests another. Prayer is a central element of the life of a Christian, or of any believer in a God that loves and listens to his children.

Prayer can have many different forms and purposes. We can pray our gratitude for something, or for everything.  We can pray for forgiveness for our sins.  Or we can pray for God to do something specific, for ourselves or others.

This last type of prayer, sometimes called intercession, is probably the most common and frequent, as is natural.  We all have a lot to be thankful for, but we all seem to have an even longer list of things that we want or need.

The prayer life of a believer is a way to address his needs, but it is also a need in itself.  A believer always feels better after prayer. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for,” says the book of Hebrews, 11:1.

But what about the unbeliever: the atheist, the agnostic, or simply the “None” who has no place in his life for religion or God?  Does he need prayer?

Here is the truth, so obvious that it is almost unthinkable.  Everybody prays. They just do it in different ways, some better than others, some worse than no prayer at all.  Whether it is intentional or unconscious,  praying is a natural human function, only one step above breathing.

“I hope I get over this cold quickly.”

“I wish the kids would call more often.”

“It would be great if the University could finally get a decent football coach.”

“I hope this hurricane passes us by.”

“Seven come eleven, baby needs a new pair of shoes.”

Whether we call it praying or wishing or hoping or just wanting, we all pray all the time.  But believers do it better, because they know there is more to it. A hope or wish is an undirected arrow shot into the future.  A prayer is a direct request put forth in a personal conversation with the only being that can satisfy the request.

The believer also has a framework for making sure his request is a proper one and is made in the proper way.    The believer examines his request. “Lord, please let me win the lottery.”  Is this really something to ask God for?  Even if I promise to use the money to pay off my friends’ mortgages along with my own, and then give the rest to the church? Do I expect God to swallow that one?

“God, please let the Florida Gators beat Alabama this week.”  Is this something worth asking God for? Even if the Crimson Tide really needs a lesson in humility?

And finally, the believer, especially the Christian, knows how to judge his requests. We are taught to pray: “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In other words, help me to confirm my will to yours, to want what you want, to what you want me to want.

Everybody prays. Believers just do it better.

Advertisements

The Mighty Mice

These “Mighty Mice” (astronomers can be quite poetic) are two enormous galaxies in the process of tearing each other apart. They have actually passed through each other and are pulling away.

Also this one, galaxy M96:

Both courtesy of NASA’s APOD (Astronomy Picture of the Day, the best use our tax dollars have ever been put to.)

And remember: a hundred billion galaxies of a hundred billion stars each, every star a sun; and once so tiny it would fit in the palm of your hand.

For more, check out here: “nasa.apod.gov“, or Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”

 

Talking to Myself

A Small Thought…about TALKING TO MYSELF

I have a habit of talking to myself. I have done so all my life. Mostly I do it silently, confining my conversation to my mind. But when no one else is around, I sometimes speak out loud.

It can be like I am reading a play, acting all parts. (I don’t usually use different voices, though occasionally…)

I think, I express my thoughts, I respond, I argue, I question, I laugh at my foolishness. Really, I have a lively time in here. It’s like there’s a party in my head, and no one is invited (to paraphrase a terrible old commercial).

It has only recently dawned on me, some 70 years into the conversation, that I am not really alone in here.  There is another person listening in, and often joining in. The wise words are his, the foolish ones mine.  It is not a soliloquy; it is a dialogue.

And now I know who it is. (And you, my reader friend, have probably guessed his identity by now.)

It is, of course, God in here with me.  And now that I realize this, I find I am trying to be more careful in my thoughts, which are actually the words I speak to God in m most candid moments. I need to clean up my act.

When I find myself thinking clever but unkind thoughts about others, I stop myself.  When I am passing silent judgment on the obese, tattooed, pierced folks around me at the store, I try to switch over to a prayer: “Lord, bless them and help them.” That short, six-word prayer is all it takes to shut down my cruel thoughts.  I don’t need to be more specific; I know that God knows what they need, and I know He knows I know. And I know that every one of us needs His help, so I add “And Lord, help me.”

It helps.

The Little Girl Hope

Christians have hope because they have faith – the very substance of things hoped for. Christians have hope even in the darkest prison cell (as demonstrated repeatedly from St. Paul to Solzhenitsyn.)

The rest of us? Some substitute optimism for hope, based on a faith in humanity and its inherent goodness.  Others simply avoid thinking about it, relying by osmosis from the ambient cloud of hope generated by a Christian civilization. But can that last? Can we forever be parasites of Christians’ hope?

In Mystery of the Portal of Hope, French poet Charles Peguy describes hope in familial terms.  Two older sisters (Faith and Charity) lead their little sister Hope by the hand.  But in fact, Peguy explains, the little girl Hope is actually leading them, the big sisters.

The little hope moves forward in between her two older sisters and one scarcely notices her.

On the path to salvation, on the earthly path, on the rocky path of salvation, on the interminable road, on the road in between her two older sisters the little hope

Pushes on…

It’s she, the little one, who carries them all.

Because Faith sees only what is.

But she, she sees what will be.

Charity loves only what is.

But she, she loves what will be.

 

But I know this family; they are my neighbors and friends, and Peguy has miscast them. In reality, Faith is the father. Charity, love, is the mother.  But he got the most important part right: Hope is indeed the little child, the daughter whose faith and love are so strong that she cannot help but trust.  And it is she who leads the family along through this valley of the shadow.

MIRRORS AND SINS

Mirror tricks can be delightful. Who has not found himself placed between two mirrors, and noticed in the background a diminishing cascade of reflections; telescoping images of mirror and self and mirror and self…

Another trick, my favorite, requires an array of mirrors, as you might find in a bathroom with a front mirror over the sink, and another mirror on the door of a side cabinet (you can do it with a big enough hand-held mirror, but it is harder).  We all know the oddness of looking at ourselves in a mirror, and noticing that my right side shows up on my left side; my mirror reflection is reversed!

But if you can adjust or tilt one of the mirrors, you can reverse the reversal, and actually see a reflection that is as right-handed as you are in reality. (It probably works just as well if you are left-handed; I don’t really know.)

I was reminded of all this while preparing for my most recent visit to the Confessional for the sacrament of reconciliation. 

Reflecting on my sins, I distractedly wandered into thinking about some of the GOOD things I have done (like a defendant preparing to bolster his guilty plea with character references to show he isn’t ALL bad.)  And I instantly challenged myself – had I done the good things simply to square my accounts with God? Or worse, had I done good so that I might feel good about myself?  In other words, was I doing good for my own sake, rather than to help others or to please God?  If so, was that not a sin of pride, or presumption? A kind of greed for praise or self-praise?

And then I started a round of second-stage self- judging.  Was I being too fastidious, worrying about my motives?  Was I committing the sin of excess scrupulosity, exaggerating the importance of very small distinctions?  (My confessor had in the past introduced me to this sin.)  Was I making too much out of a small sin?

And then I rebuked myself for even entertaining the idea of a “small” sin. Is there such a thing? Or are all sins better categorized as either “big” or “bigger”?

I started with self consciousness in pursuit of self examination. Then, my self-criticism led to an automatic reversion to self congratulation.. That triggered self condemnation. A self-referential cycle of over-thinking, spiraling into confusion.

At some point, I felt like the man in the first trick, standing between two mirrors and puzzling over the endless array of reflections, wondering which one is real.  Then, when mental flip-flops led to mental exhaustion, I remembered the second trick I described above. I needed to get back to my reversal-reversing mirrors to find a true picture of my sin.

But where could I find the properly placed mirrors of my soul?

In the confessional, of course.

Beng a catholic can seem very complicated at times.  But it can also be very, very simple. Not easy, but simple.

God bless you all.  Leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Who Would Have Known…It Would Get This Bad?

Anthony Esolen, writing in the always valuable Crisis Magazine, has put his brilliant pen to list the stark litany of horrors which would have been unthinkable until quite recently.  “Who would have known, as recently as thirty years ago,” just how destructive the sexual revolution would be to all we hold dear: society, marriage, family, childhood innocence, truth?

The immediate trigger of this litany is the Drag-Queen story time for kids at the public library (even in once-conservative Nashua, NH).

Read the whole thing.  Esolen’s is the voice of Isaiah or Jeremiah.  Painful to read, necessary to heed.

Another Beauty

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God.”  Psalm 19

This is NGC136, a galaxy so “ordinary” that it doesn’t even have a name.

[Reminder: When considering the heavens and their magnitude (100 billion galaxies of 100 billion stars each), remember that all of it was, in the beginning, small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Well, not your hand, but God’s.]

Hope Without Faith?

There can be no greater blessing than faith in a loving God.  This much I have learned.  But this blessing is not easily achieved; at least it has not been for me.

“Now abideth these three, Faith, Hope, and Love,” writes St. Paul.  Hope seems to me the future tense of faith and love.  Hope  for the future, without faith in something that can save us from ourselves, seems impossible; without faith we live hopeless lives. But how do we do that?

Surprisingly well, for the most part. The  hopeless life can apparently be lived in a condition of general self-satisfaction.  The Swerve, a recent book about Lucretius and his Epicurian writings, sings the praises of just such a life.  It has become the default setting of modern life: “happiness” as a goal in itself, looking away from ugly things, ignoring the things others must do for me so that I may achieve my happiness.

The other alternative to hopelessness is faith in something – anything – that we can persuade ourselves is greater than ourselves.  If one cannot believe in a loving God, one has other choices.  One can believe in saving the world through political action; countless lives have been sacrificed to the belief that a political party holds the key to the salvation of the world.  Hegel first gave scientific pretensions to the faith in historical progress, freeing envy and the will to power to masquerade as world salvation, thereby making a better world by putting me and people just like me in total authority.

Faith in a warrior god, such as some strains of Islam, is an ancient alternative that is reasserting itself.  But faith in a god of bloody conquest tends to be a close kin of the Marxism that gives supernatural authority to our natural desire to destroy our enemies and elevate ourselves.

Or, at a less intense level, one may believe that People Are Basically Good (the PABGoo assumption) and that therefore things will somehow work out.  This variety of the unexamined life, which goes by the name of optimism, is generally coupled with The Swerve’s Epicurianism in the modern default mode.  The only sacrifice most PABGoos are called upon to make for their faith is their contact with reality; most seem only too glad to make it.

I have gone through these alternatives throughout my long life.  They no longer work on me.  I am no longer willing to deny reality, and I am no longer comfortable dressing my will to power in Marxist or Hegelian costume.

And so I have come to the Church, the reality of God’s existence and purpose on earth.  Nothing will be saved without God. God is in fact the only hope which remains when false faiths have fallen away.

 

The Birds and the Bees and the Flowers and the Trees

[Warning:  no birds or trees appear in this essay. This is poetic license. The poet in question is songwriter Herbert Newman.]

A friend gave us a beautiful bouquet of flowers on Christmas day; white and purple daisies and lilies, in a purple vase.  Because the weather has been so pleasant, we put it on our patio table.

Today I saw a bee hovering over the flowers, now a week old but still beautiful and fresh-looking. The bee then landed on one of the lilies and climbed down into its center.  She* then repeated the action with several other flowers, and finally flew away.

A bee visiting a flower is a beautiful thing to see.

But this seemed odd to me.  The flowers are technically dead, having been cut from their plants many days ago.  But they looked alive to the bee (and me) so she stopped by to fill up with nectar and pollen.  It must have been satisfactory, because she repeated it with several flowers.

Continue reading

The Sacred Second

We measure things.  It is one of the things humans do. Mostly because we plan to use them.  

Measurements are of two kinds: natural/intuitive and artificial/synthetic.  Natural ones came first.  Feet based on an average foot (mine, I say without bragging, are exactly one foot long – including the shoe. This makes for a useful way to walk off distances.)  Cubits based on an average forearm of about a foot and a half.  An inch is about the length of a thumb knuckle.

The metric system, on the other hand, is artificial/synthetic, based on…something. (I don’t know what.)  Built on our numbering system, it is more easily used in science and math.

The only area where a natural/intuitive system still prevails in its traditional un-metricized form is our measurement of time.  Natural constants still govern here. A year is one revolution in earth’s orbit around the sun: one cycle of seasons.  A day is one rotation on the earth’s axis: one cycle of light and darkness.  In between a year and a day we have more artificial measures: months and weeks.  And below the day, we have sub-divisions of hour, minute, and second.

Our awareness of the passage of time is a difficulty for us. In late afternoon we ask “where has the day gone?”  Our clocks tell us, but we are still surprised. 

Years are even more so.  On our birthdays and New Year’s Day, we celebrate or mourn the elusive passing of another year; we ponder, for a day, the mysterious year ahead, before moving on into uncharted daily existence.

Even at the much smaller scale, it is hard to track time without mechanical assistance.  Try to concentrate on a single subject or thought for a full minute, without looking at a clock. For me, distractions invariably arise, especially the distraction of wondering how much of the minute has elapsed.  To some extent, this is the problem of reverse concentration: try not to think of an elephant. 

But the crux of the problem is the difficulty of measuring time with our mind alone.  The only way I can make myself aware of the passage of a minute is to count to 60. In other words, to count seconds.

Why are seconds so much easier for us to embrace than any larger measure of time?  Check your pulse. If you are healthy and resting, your heartbeat should be right around 60 beats per minute: a natural standard.

Tiny, fragile, elusive, the second is nonetheless the most tangible form in which we can consciously confront time. It cannot be an accident that it is also the measure of our life blood nourishing our very existence.  The last second-long heartbeat is the end of our earthly life. And long before our birth, the second-long beats of our hearts mark what we are and will become.

The passage of time is thus the passage of life.  Prisoners are said to count the days of their sentences by chalk marks on the cell wall.  If they didn’t do so, they might lose track of the passage of time and their sentences would become infinite.  

Every second is a gift from God.  This can be said of day, week, month and year, of course.  But they slip past us.   Such gifts deserve thanks.  It is appropriate to try to insert a prayer of thanksgiving into every second.  But is it possible?

I am trying.  I find that simply thinking “Thank you, Lord” can be done in about a second.  I can’t do it every second, of course.  But I can do it often.

And I can try to live my life in such a way that I feel grateful for every second.  Some days this is easier than others.  But I can try.

I can try.