December 14, 2016

Ways of Sincerity, More Than One


Author and theologian Thomas Merton wrote about a facet of human nature which he calls fears of the truth. And there are several. In particular, he addresses the meaning of sincerity in every day life.
While much in our lives is motivated by our fears, Merton notes that "sincerity is a simplicity of spirit which is preserved by the will to be true. It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it... Sincerity in the fullest sense is a divine gift."
He notes that it takes more "courage than we imagine to be perfectly simple with other men... False sincerity has much to say because it is afraid. Yet true candor cannot be silent. It does not need to face an impending attack. Anything... may be defended with perfect simplicity."

In the end, by Merton's reckoning, sincerity is really an issue of love. The sincere one is one who seeks the truth and embodies it. Truth then is not just an abstraction. It is real, living flesh, like yours and mine.
Many in today's world fear that they are not really lovable, not lovable to the extent they think they deserve. And others fear that a lack of real, meaningful love in our lives indicates that "since we are not lovable as we are, we must be lovable under false pretenses, making ourself appear to be different that we are."

In the conclusion to his essay, No Man Is An Island, Merton writes that so few believe in God because they do not believe that even a god can love them. The man who will admit that what he sees may be wrong with him, and recognizes that he may be, still, the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings can make a start to become sincere. His love is based then upon confidence rather than the falseness of illusion.

The film Upstream Color examines the lives of two deeply imperfect, and in some ways, flawed individuals. While much is remarked upon the film's abstraction, the central characters meet, develop and share an intense love for one another that becomes based in sincerity.
She suffers from a serious mental illness and he, from a professional shortcoming that results in the loss of the licensing required to carry out his profession. Initially she offers up certain details of her illness, while he initially withholds facts about his own situation.

The resulting social stigma he bears from past indiscretions and the stigma of her illness, combine to create a powerful portrait of two people picking their way through the world, salvaging and in a measure, redeeming themselves, and each other through sincere love.
The simplicity of the film is provided by the many scenes of nature and the interactions with that nature. The film maker leaves us with a certain ambiguity in those scenes, to believe or not. The effect is both spiritually powerful and insightful.

October 12, 2016

Praying the 'Our Father'

There are times in a life when we feel our problems and pressures take over our days at the expense of our hopes and our faith; sometimes we feel that the issues we face are unique, that we must face them now alone. It is frightening to feel out on a limb, alone without the support of the community. Yet for many, their day to day existence is just that.
Author, theologian and Priest Alfred McBride O,Praem., writes a fine story that many will find useful as a springboard for their spiritual growth. His topic: the ever present prayer. He includes in his book, the Our Father (Pater Nostre). Prayed by millions for centuries the prayer is both simple for a child to recite and an adult to ponder. He calls his book, How to Pray Like Jesus and the Saints.

His book is composed of 10 chapters;
each explores the spirituality of mystics, poets and Doctors of the Church, those from whom she has derived much wisdom over the centuries. The 'Our Father' prayer he writes, is "crisp and short." Each of its seven parts invites interpretation and consideration. The antiquity of this prayer, has invited many commentaries, some as ancient as those of Saint Cyprian of Carthage.
It is written in the plural, so that when one prays it, he or she prays not for them self alone but in the plural, we/our. It directs one to think of 'Our Father' rather than simply 'my father.'

This sets the universal tone which follows through the other six verses. It distinguishes God the Father, God the Creator, from the unique, personal father, our earthly father which each one of us may know. It encourages that we identify with this One, universal Father, that we may be community for one another, the Body of the Christ.

'Hallowed be thy Name' the next verse reflects the holy, divine nature of the Creator. The one who prays, prays for the gift of holiness of the Creator personally for all mankind.
'Thy Kingdom Come,' the third verse of the prayer asks that we accept God's will. It acknowledges that the kingdom has already arrived, that mankind might cooperate with the agency of Creation, so as to know their own spark of divinity. This unceasing prayer is for a "kingdom of love, justice, holiness, salvation [from evil]… and the grace of divine life." It lends its sanctity to the whole of human activity within every heart.
'Thy Will Be Done' is perhaps the most spiritually challenging directive of the seven verses. It seeks more than acceptance of the Kingdom, the created world that all can see and touch, but more abstractly, the will of the Creator itself a thing which cannot be easily perceived with the eyes; rather it is more of the heart.
'Give Us this Day Our Daily Bread' which in one sense is the literal daily food we eat to survive, but also it's about the spiritual side of our lives, that which sustains and enlivens us and our faith.
'Forgive Us Our Trespasses as We Forgive Those Who Trespass Against Us,' the spiritual and emotional pains of daily life are nearly unavoidable.
Spiritually everyone who suffers at times needs to be able to release their pains to return to the spiritual state of the child who is loving, without resentment and the essence of forgiveness, hopeful and forward looking.
'Lead Us Not Into Temptation' the Creator makes his creations free, without hold; this is his loving desire that is imparted upon all. While the freedom to choose to love is the ultimate spiritual desire, God recognizes that humanity may be tempted and drawn away from the common good; how many times we are tempted to choose what is our detriment! This verse strengthens our resolve to turn from evil, to walk in the light.
And finally, the seventh verse directly prays that we may be 'But Deliver(ed) Us From Evil.' author McBride recalls C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters, a satire in which there is much tempting of mankind by a devil called, Screwtape who lures people to tolerate and perpetuate wrong doing.

In participating in acts of evil, ones' conscience is dampened over time; the harm which may result becomes more obscure to the perpetrator and establishes a new norm-- that they them self are at the center of their own universe. Sadly it more often leads to a slavery of the spiritual self, an attraction of evil for evil, deceit for deceit and a coldness of heart. Screwtape, we learn, is foiled by an encounter with love and the mercy of the Christ which brings Creation back into the community of the Creator.
Pray this prayer often; let it touch you deeply.