Never Numbing Out; Overcome and Carry On

This is the first of four follow-up articles on the many facets of fear including a four-part Interview/Special Report with Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Palm Beach Synagogue.

After I wrote about the paralysis of fear, its’ numbing effects, and resultant feelings of powerlessness, it was pointed out to me that there was another, more intentional, response to fear beyond freeze, fight, and flight.  That response is loving persistence or courageous non-violence. It is evidenced in the Sermon on the Mount, as Jesus called for his followers when confronted by fear and violence to turn the other cheek.  This was not an instruction of pacifism.  Turning the other cheek was about demanding equality from a person of authority. This is the most measured and effective action that can be taken when fear, anger, and aggression show up.

Courageous non-violent cheek turners were named by Columbia University’s School of Journalism as 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners on Monday, April 15th. One award went to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel for exposing failings by officials before and after the deadly shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Another went to Staff of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.  These journalists stood strong for their communities and for us all in the face of fear and anger.  They exposed the truth and rejected the lure of moving on to other stories.  They refused to numb out.  The parent of a Parkland victim wrote South Florida Sun-Sentinel after Pulitzers were announced encouraging the paper to continue its’ work saying there was still much to be done.  He can rest assured that they will carry on.

It takes a lot of guts to persist, to remain steadfast, and to overcome.  A courageous cheek turner must have the resolve of Gandhi, who when confronted by his jailers with threats intended to invoke fear replied; “They may torture my body, break my bones, even kill me. Then they will have my dead body, but not my obedience.” But this is exactly the kind of response which will defeat fear in its’ tracks.  We shall overcome. It is the essence of love.  And love refuses to capitulate.  It will not retaliate-in-kind.  It will not run away.  it will not numb out. Love is an action-choice made by the brave soul who finally rejects all notions of self in deference to the greater good.

Fear Trumped by Love

Fear is everywhere. Stoked by sensationalist media and greedy politicians, it is pervasive at schools, work and even in places of worship.  Armed security guards and electronic scanning devices stand at too many doorways. Fear keeps showing up.  The universal message of all the major religions and traditions tell us to “Be Not Afraid” as we struggle to overcome and transcend this new reality.  Perhaps the only way to do so is by turning at this critical crossroad toward the spiritual path of love and acceptance.

“We can escape fear’s paralysis and enter a state of grace where encounters with otherness will not threaten us but will enrich our work and our lives.” ~ Parker Palmer

I recently wrote about the manifestation of fear as we reeled in grief from the killing of 49 people, and devastation of their families and communities in mass shootings at two Christchurch mosques.  Fear ignites the anger and hatred which causes such horrific violence.  Of course we witness this fear every day in smaller increments. It is found in anguished faces of victims, hardened eyes of gang members and calls for retaliatory vengeance from our leaders. Love is absent. And without love there is little hope. My belief is that we cannot begin to cast out fear and understand love until we accept, include, and embrace those who are different from ‘us’. We cannot love God until we love our neighbors.

Our fears are not our identity. They do not have to be the emotional director of how we react and respond to each other. We can choose to reject fear and to choose love instead. In times when fear floods in or darkens our self-narrative, it feels like there is little to do but fight or run away.  But the wisdom of Pope John XXIII stands in opposition to this primal instinct.  He told us to ‘consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams’. For when we find the strength to choose love we will find a new freedom and a new happiness which embolden our hopes and dreams.  We will have lost the need to defend our fragile egos and discovered our true selves.

Three Ways to Choose Love Over Fear

Conscious Living Coach, Lindsay Robin Christianson writes about the good basic tools to be used when choosing to love in the face of fear.  Her contribution will help in dealing with fear in everyday life.

Paralyzed by Fear; Numbed Out and Powerless

Fight and flight responses are generally recognized and accepted as the norm when it comes to fear.  We are all familiar with them.  Just like the boys in the 1983 classic movie “A Christmas Story” so comically portrays, a bully pops up and we run as fast as possible to get away.  But at some point, perhaps when enough is enough, just like Ralphie, our rage becomes a fight for our lives.

But fight and flight are not the only behaviors that follow fear.  A kind of numbing paralysis known as freeze is more common than we recognize. Often mistaken as cowardice, apathy, laziness or even collusion, this third survival response has gripped so many people in our times of increasing fear.

When we cannot seem to defeat or outrun the predator a ‘deer in the headlights’ freeze response can be life-saving.  Helpless to do anything about a horribly dangerous situation, we dissociate from what is going on. Over the years in my work as a clinical counselor, kids and adults showed up completely numbed out in my offices. They had been diagnosed with a variety of anxiety disorders when more often than not were actually showing symptoms of the freeze response.  

It manifests in those who are sexually abused, those suffering from substance use disorders, PTSD, and in battered spouse syndrome to name a few. Chronic dread, panic, and terror rob them of the ability to stay in the present.  Available resources become impossible to access.  Being paralyzed allows them to not feel the horror of what is (or seems to be) happening. This can go on for years, long after the menacing situation has disappeared.

“They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from.” ~

Fr. Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries

In ever more anxious times, the tendency to numb out is also increasing. It seems quite likely that our over-reliance upon screens, drugs, alcohol and other ‘addictions’ are freeze responses to chronic fear exposure.  Mass shootings, threats of terrorism and a cacophony of negative talk coming from everywhere including the pulpit have created a sense of helplessness and a need to disconnect.

We must begin to understand this if we are to empower ourselves to change what is happening.  Our power has not been taken away even though it may appear to have been. This is a time to encourage action in those who are isolating.  Together we can overcome the powerlessness caused by fear and fear mongers.  The solution is not complicated.  Here is the message; Bring an abundance of love to the table. Fear cannot coexist with love. Do something to help and do it now. 

Ask for Help

NOTE: It cannot be emphasized too strongly that those who are suffering from trauma and clinical dissociation caused by fear must seek the assistance of professional helpers to get relief and to return from being missing in action. They cannot pull themselves up by the bootstraps nor can they just get over it.  Trauma resolution is possible using such therapies as Trauma Informed Care among others.

The Fear That Divides Us

The presence of fear is chronicled every time we connect with our various forms of media. As we absorb these many reports it would appear that there is an endless abundance of fear and anger as well as the hateful, immature responses to those emotions.  These are not the simple fears we are so attached to which involve our social skills, intimacy, performance or likeableness.  Those anxieties seem to come with the human package.  The fear that is consuming us is fear of ‘the other’. 

When we fear the other our first act is to provide a label to distinguish ‘them’ from ‘us’.  No matter how seemingly innocent, when we label someone, there is a degradation which occurs.  It can infer superiority or inferiority, but always implies that the one being labeled is different. The 1968 Musical, ‘Hair’, had a song entitled “Colored Spade” which listed twenty-one different labels used in American slang to identify black people. 

It was hard to hear despite the ending in which the singer declares that he is now the President of The United State of Love. There is an indictment of labeling which stings the soul in that song.

We create labels because in defining the world around us, we somehow feel more secure.  Yet labels also affect the way we see ourselves and others.  Beyond security and certainty, they bring division and divisiveness.” ~ Colleen Gibson

The labels themselves become touchstones of fear used by politicians and others to manipulate us.  Even in this time of great prosperity, we are anxious about our security. We start to become more and more watchful of one another.  Soon, the watchfulness becomes hyper-vigilance and finally becomes paranoia. The gang member is going to assault me. The immigrant is going to take away my job.  The addict may break into my home and take my valuables.  The black man walking in my neighborhood may steal my car.  That strangely dressed woman with a baby might be a terrorist with a bomb. We settle for fear, act out with angry aggression, or create laws to exclude such people. 

We cannot find safety and security in dividing ourselves into categories.  We cannot find peace by separating from those who are not like us.  We cannot truly love our neighbor if we hate their beliefs or customs.  God supplies us with one label and dreams that we will someday apply it to all of his children.  God calls us ‘the beloved’ and creates us as brothers and sisters.  God puts us on even ground. placing nobody ahead and nobody behind.  God loves us all in ways which we will never fully understand.  With that truth as a light to follow, we can easily let go of our need to fear, label, and divide.  In the final analysis, it is blasphemous.  We have an opportunity today to celebrate our rich diversity and our common humanity. We can join together to become one family, under one sky, beloved from all eternity.

Learn More About Fear and Labeling

Fear and anger physiologically are very similar, with virtually the same effects on the autonomic nervous system with respect to cardiovascular and respiratory measures (Kreibig, 2010). Similar physiology that is part of the development of one emotion can lead naturally to the other. Adam Alter of Psychology Today writes a good piece on labeling which I invite you to read and share.  It is entitled “Why It’s Dangerous to Label People” and can be found by following this link.

5 Dangers of Labels and Stereotypes:

Dr. Nathaniel Lambert published a book about the five dangers of labels called “Standing up for Standing Out: Making the most of Being Different” which can be found both in Kindle or hard copy. It is well worth the read.

Freedom From Fear

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt offered us his four basic freedoms. The fourth being freedom from fear. It is fear which keeps us from experiencing life to the fullest. We withdraw into the places of safety that shut out the rest of the world.  

We retreat from the things that threaten us. The intensity of fear, as it increases, draws us back further and further until we are known only to ourselves.  Finally, we are not engaged at all.  We are only surviving.

“All hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and openhearted vision of people who embrace life.” ~ John Lennon

Fear can be overcome in the presence of a passionate mission. With such a mission we reject the notion of survival and thrive despite fear.  Passion is fueled by love which is the antithesis of fear.  And passion is at the very heart of excitement.   We can be so excited about the present moment with all of its possibilities that fear is pushed aside.  We move through it and beyond it because our mission is more important than anything else.

Video

Jim Valvano

Lou Gehrig

Lou Gehrig and Jim Valvano are wonderful models of what it means to face certain death and ruthless pain with fearlessness.  One had ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and the other had cancer.  Both continued to thrive and overcome every day to the very end. Gehrig’s ‘Luckiest Man’ speech at Yankee Stadium, and his baseball clinics for kids being treated at Mayo in Rochester, Minnesota shine for us decades after his death.  Jim Valvano’s ESPY speech inspires young and old alike.  It serves to fund cancer research efforts through the V Foundation.  He simply tells us; “Don’t give up.  Don’t ever give up.” These are words to guide us.  They are examples of great passion.  They direct us to live it well and to live it without succumbing to fear.

Lincoln and Embracing Grief

Men of power sat around him. . . all struggling with their tears — great hearts sorrowing with the president as a stricken man and a brother.” Nathan Parker Willis on the Death of Lincoln


On February 20, 1862, William Wallace Lincoln, the 11-year-old son of President and Mrs. Lincoln, died of typhoid fever.  The openly mourning president would become a symbol of our nation’s grief as the Civil War began to take the lives of 620,000 soldiers over what remains the bloodiest four years in U.S. history. 

Upon first seeing his dead son, President Lincoln murmured, “My poor boy. He was too good for this earth. God has called him home. I know that he is much better off in heaven, but then we loved him so. It is hard, hard to have him die!”  Willie was interred in a borrowed crypt at Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. 

His coffin would accompany the president’s on a funeral train to Springfield, Illinois in 1865.  This is a story of such profound grief that we can still feel the pain and suffering upon hearing it. Lincoln continues to teach us how to cope with tragic loss…not with a stiff upper lip, but with an unashamed embrace.

According to the United Nations World Population Prospects report, approximately 7,452 people die every day in the United States. Annually, some 37,000 people are killed in automobile accidents, another 45,000 commit suicide and 17,250 more are victims of homicide. There is no doubt that each of us will encounter, and deal with death on a fairly regular basis. 

Chaplains & Grief

For Chaplains and First Responders, the chance of frequently facing such tragedy is imminent.  It is so important for all of us to open ourselves to the reality that we will be called upon as intimate comforters for family, friends and others. 

And it all starts with notifying loved ones.  In order to be of any help to those who grieve we must be able to be with them without offering advice. In his book Compassion; A Reflection on the Christian LifeHenri Nouwen called for us to be first and foremost, people of compassion saying;

“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”

If we are to abandon the stages of denial and impatience in the process of grieving, we must also be able to embrace the darkness of loss.  This is not supposed to be easy.  It requires a listening ear open to suffering with those in pain. It also requires sharing and experiencing personal sadness when grief comes to our own door.


Resource For Chaplains Continuing Education:

The Association for Death Education and Counseling is an organization dedicated to the study of death and dying.  They provide a place for professionals from diverse backgrounds to advance knowledge and promote practical applications to research and theory. Their 41st annual conference will be held in Atlanta this April. Continuing Education Credits are available.  This would be a great opportunity for Chaplains and others. Here is a pdf link to the conference overview. An online webinar, Working with Continuing Bonds in Grief Therapy and Counselling is coming up on Wednesday, March 13, 2019 (12:00-1: 30 pm EDT).

5 Things Lincoln Can Teach Us About Grief

Saying Things are Fine When They are Not

It seems to me that we might have lost our ability to grieve and mourn.  Most people spend a lot of time trying to get over tragic or difficult things that have happened. 

Common counsel from friends and family who have tired of our grieving and sadness is to ‘get over it and move on’.  There is a real problem with this notion.  Getting over a significant loss connotes forgetting. 

It means that we should go on with life as if nothing was wrong, shoving our anguish and broken hearts into the dark night, and burying it in denial. This inability to allow grief to process is a powerful force playing a major role in much of the depression and chemical dependence that surrounds us. It lies at the bottom of unresolved emotions and unfulfilled expectations that have been repressed in a desire to make people believe that everything is okay.

“Give sorrow words. The grief that does not speak whispers the o’er fraught heart, and bids it break.” William Shakespeare (on the death of his son)

It is impossible for wounds to heal by saying that things are fine when they are not.  Sometimes we have to be allowed to wail. The harsh reality of pain, loss, and suffering must be experienced. Lincoln understood this as he gave his address at Gettysburg. Whitman grasped it as he wrote “O Captain! My Captain!” 

Embracing sadness and loss, becoming acquainted with the night, and understanding that life will never be the same are the means for moving through grief toward acceptance.  And the goal is acceptance.


Discover more about coping with grief.

One of the most powerful little resources is a book named Good Grief, A Companion for Every Loss by Granger E. Westberg.  A cousin of mine sent it to me after my mother’s death in 1988.  

I have relied on it ever since and passed it on to dozens of my clients and associates.  It helped me understand that, in time, grief will soften.  We will recognize that life goes on. Almost unbelievably we move through the sadness into a glimmer of light.  Hope will return as surely as dawn gives way to a new day.


A Quick Guide to Rx for Grief and Depression

Both have similar symptoms. With new changes in psychiatric diagnosis definitions, the two will increasingly overlap.

Did you choose “plastics”? Living authentically

There are many people in our lives who have good intentions and sage advice for us.  A famous scene in the 1967 movie The Graduate plays out this dynamic well.  Benjamin Braddock, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is at a party after his graduation from college.  Everyone is fascinated by what he might do next in life.  A friend of the family, Mr. McGuire, corners Benjamin and the following exchange occurs;

Mr. McGuire: I want to say one word to you. Just one word.
Benjamin: Yes, sir.
Mr. McGuire: Are you listening?
Benjamin: Yes, I am.
Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
Benjamin: Exactly how do you mean?
Mr. McGuire: There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?

Mr. McGuire was probably right.  Benjamin would have made a fortune in the plastic business.  The problem was that Ben had another idea.  He tells his father that he just wants to be different.

We do not have to follow a path that has been prescribed for us by well-meaning family members, friends, and mentors.  Their expectations, experiences, and visions for our path are barely relevant to the one that we must forge on our own.  We can be led to the crossroad but, in the final analysis, must travel on alone. 

Our personal passions and dreams are unique unto us.  When we take the road that was traveled by others and fail to follow ours, life will not be satisfying.  As Joseph Campbell would say, ‘follow your bliss’. It might be scary but your own adventure is perfectly fit just for you.

Finding God; Where to Start Looking

Where is God? This is the universal question of our minds, hearts, and souls.  We look for God in all the right places, but often come up without a sense of true encounter.  Emptiness, loneliness, and feeling of abandonment follows us as we search and search.  I am reminded of the haunting, sad song “Where is Love” from the musical Oliver.  But maybe all the right places are not so right after all.  Perhaps we will meet God most authentically in the faces of those who suffer. After all, this is just where Jesus points us.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta found and recognized God best in the faces of every orphan, invalid, leper, and impoverished sufferer.  It was from them that her infectious joy and boundless compassion came.  Mother Teresa was following the directive of Jesus who said; “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

My own search took me from church to church, and from tradition to tradition.  But I best found God in the boys, girls, and adults who came to me suffering from horrible abuse, often with chronic substance use disorders.  They were at the end of their ropes. The people closest to them usually had given up all hope.  And sure enough, there was God in disguise.  The pain in their eyes reflected the pain of Jesus. They carried the weight of a cross I never had to carry. It soon became clear that those I had come to serve were actually serving me.

In answer to the question posed at the beginning of this journal; God is hiding in plain sight.  If we are open to becoming vulnerable and are willing to risk suffering with those in pain, we will find God and Jesus everywhere.

God’s Dream Come True

Verna J. Dozier was a leading African American theologian and prophet who touched countless lives and transformed hearts. Her work and service were prolific.  As a teacher and Board Member of Examining Chaplains, she often spoke and wrote about the dream of God.

She believed that we have the capacity to bring forth the realization of Howard Thurman’s vision of ‘a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky’.  She believed that God wants all creation to live together in peace, harmony, and fulfillment.  She believed that we are called to restore that dream together. I believe she was right.  In truth, how could it be otherwise?

The wounds and struggles of the past have the power to separate and destroy us.  But they also have the power to move us forward to new life, a new identity, and universal oneness.

Our suffering is what we all have in common.  It’s not single-mindedness and strength that will overcome, but acceptance and shared vulnerability.  The Dream of God is attainable if we are willing to let go of our chokehold on yesterday by engaging in healing here and now.  We can start by loving where we once hated.

I think this is about the best starting point for building up the Dream of God;  A boy named Camden asked New England Patriot quarterback Tom Brady at a press Q&A in Atlanta what we should do about haters.  “What do we do about the haters? We love ‘em,” said Brady. “We love them back because we don’t hate back.”  There it is…a glimmer of a friendly world of friendly folk beneath a friendly sky.

The Roadmap to Compassionate Action

“We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become”

St. Clare of Assisi

Self-help teachers have been floating the clichés that we need to ‘love ourselves first’ and ‘take care of ourselves first’ before we can love or help others. This easy wisdom is just too easy. And perhaps it is more a symptom of our tendency to narcissism rather than a guide to furthering compassionate action. 

St. Clare and St. Francis might guide us to the mirror for a closer yet wider second look.  In so doing, we could possibly discover that Self-help and helping-the-Other are inseparable.

The false self would like for us to follow trendy wisdom of taking care of ourselves first.  It seems to make so much sense.  But the false self is never really interested in extending compassion to anybody other than number one. 

It shuns a deep look into the mirror because it will lead us to the discovery that we are one with our true self, with everyone else, with God and all of creation. The false self begins to dissolve when we take that risk of accepting and embracing our absolute vulnerability and inseparable unity.

You are totally loved and totally accepted just the way you are. So am I and so is everyone else.  Two great commandments are retold in the gospels of Matthew and Mark which record Jesus as telling us to love God, neighbor, and self equally with our whole hearts, souls and minds. 

Likewise, the beautiful song “Let There Be Peace on Earth” gives us a simple directive to walk with each other in perfect harmony. The roadmap to compassionate action is clear.  Take the risk.  Look in the mirror. Then, let it begin with me.

How to Crack the Negativity Code

It is so easy to slip into the doldrums.  This seems easy to understand when cabin fever sets in during bleak midwinter, but can also happen for most people on a sunny summer day. 

Negative thoughts are seductive. In fact, scientific research tells us that the brain has an automatic survival default to negative over positive.  We have a kind of bad news bias built into our DNA that keeps us out of harm’s way.

Studies show that we need almost a five-to-one ratio of positive over negative in order to hang onto joy. With the easily accessible barrage of negativity available, it seems like a long-shot that we would be able to resist the depressive lure of distressing and grim conditions. But perhaps our powerlessness holds the key to joy after all.

In order to crack the five-to-one negativity code, we must accept that we are emotionally powerless over the way our brain is constructed and let go of trying to out-think it. 

Like the folks who practice 12 Step Recovery, we must come to believe that a power greater than ourselves will hold us in loving arms regardless of our shortcomings.  Then we have to engage in the work of changing our bad news bias into something positive. 

The same research which identifies our default brain confirms that we can tip the scales towards happiness and override the tilt to negativity with frequent small positive acts of kindness and compassion…again with a ratio of about five-to-one.  In other words, we need to be actively engaged in being nice if we want to have a life of sustained peace, joy, and love. It sounds like we better get busy.

Awakening to Snowfall; Remember Who You Are

“As you awaken to your Divine nature, you’ll begin to appreciate beauty in everything you see, touch and experience.”  ~ Wayne Dyer

Winter snows have come with a vengeance once again to folks who live up North.  I remember how tired we used to get of scooping, scraping and being trapped inside.  My daughter and I have never been big fans, though I liked it more than she. Then there are people like my son who never weary of it.  His Michigan childhood comes back to life when it snows and just delights in it. He reminds me that there is always something magical about snow.  It has elements of surprise and beauty that we should explore rather than shun.  Within each snowfall are thousands and thousands of unique snowflakes which serve to remind us of who we are.

Our unique self, like a snowflake, will never be duplicated.  The evidence of this is everywhere.  Our DNA is comprised of markers that are arranged only for one person. It never has been and never will be again.  Only you! Even twins don’t have the same DNA. Combination of parents, grandparents and countless generations of ancestors each give us a gift of themselves in the pattern that becomes you.  It took thousands of years to come up with the design for each individual.  Our uniqueness also can be found in fingerprints. Each time we touch something we leave a stamp of our existence behind.  We are here and we are one of a kind.  The mold has been broken.

We have an individual and divine purpose in our uniqueness. The odds of your random creation are so small that it is incomprehensible.  Wayne Dyer talks about the fact that a great wind sweeping through a garbage dump, gathering up all of the pieces and setting them down as a fully assembled Boeing 747 is more likely than the exclusive collection of cells and tissue that is you.  Your importance cannot be understated.  The incredible love story of our Creator is at work here.  Such a miracle can have no other explanation. You are God’s beloved child.  Look at that beautiful snowfall and remember.

Freedom from Fear and Regret

“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves…regret for the past and fear of the future.”  ~ Fulton Ourslear

When the end of life comes we will not regret the business deals that didn’t work out, sales that weren’t made, or final exams we didn’t ace.  We will regret the squandered opportunities.  We will suffer the most from our failure to devote enough time to our loved ones.  We will regret our lack of attention to a skinned knee.  We will long to have the moment back when our words of criticism bruised a heart.

I have found that healing begins when we take action here and now. The way to eliminate regrets from the past and to dispel the fear of the future is to fully evaluate what really matters and pay attention to it. We will put an end to the endless repetition of mistakes by unshackling ourselves from the past and freeing ourselves from the future.  We can start by putting first things first. 

The present moment is when to make that extra effort. All we have to do is more fully avail ourselves to those important people in our lives.  Another phone call, a written card, or any added gesture that proclaims our love will wash away fear and regret as we go forward.  By making time and freely giving our gifts of love, we will discover that our resources are unlimited.  This is the next right thing to do.  Nothing is more important.

Finding Joy in Tempestuous Times

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.  Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

Howard Thurmann

The night before he was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. warned us that violence was threatening our very existence.  If we are to confront this reality, there must come a deep joy which springs up in the face of hatred and injustice. The beauty is that this kind of joy exists within each and every one of us. Discovering it can be achieved in prayer along with contemplative practice and outreach. For it is in stillness and silence that the voice of God will direct our actions. 

Years ago, I was engaged in a whirlwind of activity with self-designed goals to have more…more of everything.  I thought that happiness could be found through obtaining lots of money and all the best material things it could provide.  I would do whatever was necessary to get it, often at the expense of anyone or anything standing in my path.  I was ‘on the way up’ and those left behind were regretfully collateral damage. 

This is not to say that I was a mean person.  On the contrary, I was jovial and popular.  And I wanted more of that too.  It was all intoxicating.  In fact, intoxication became part of the equation.  Cocaine and alcohol were perfect running mates as my personal wealth neared a million dollars just prior to my thirtieth birthday.  Then the bottom fell out and I lost all of the people and things I treasured so much. 

Surprisingly, it was during the following years of descent, desperation, and sadness that I discovered inner peace and joy. My path of personal poverty led me to a different kind of richness through centering prayer and contemplation I never imagined. Faith and hope were restored as God’s unconditional love and forgiveness washed over me. I came alive.

For the past four decades, my world has been filled with an inner joy founded in contemplation and action.  Not that there has been an absence of bumps and obstacles. I have had more than a few stumbles. But I have dedicated my life to what unceasingly makes me come alive.  My work with wounded kids and those who suffer from addiction has been my way of confronting suffering, injustice, and hatred.

We are all called to action in this chaotic world. It has never been more important for us to work for social, political, economic and environmental justice and peace. We have to come alive now. Our existence depends on it.

Restoring a Sense of Wonder in the Internet Age

Never question the truth of that which you fail to understand. For the world is filled with wonders.

L. Frank Baum (‘Rinkitink In Oz’ from Land of Oz series)

One of the many drawbacks to this easy-access, instant-information era, in which we can ‘Google’ almost anything, is that the lure and luster of wonder have drastically diminished. While it may seem delightfully practical to have all the facts at our fingertips, the problem is that faith, wisdom, and ideas might be on the chopping block along with actual research.

I remember the wonder, awe and the excitement of discovering whole hidden worlds when I was a boy.  The woods and lake in Danville, Illinois, where I spent countless hours with my friends were so much more than places or destinations.  We were eager and able to focus up and down with magnificent dexterity when we were children.  At one moment our eyes were microscopes that found tiny crawling things in the grass, under rocks, and in the water. 

Life was teeming beneath our feet.  Small hands explored every detail without concern for time.  At another moment our eyes were binoculars or telescopes which identified clouds that looked like dinosaurs or monsters or any other imaginable thing.  Life was exploding just above our heads.  We created forts and trails that were home to wild adventures.  Play came naturally and was unsupervised by incredulous or judgmental adults.  But the hidden worlds gave way to demands of another reality too soon.

The wonders of life and capacity for spiritual growth spring forth from those things which we don’t understand. When presented with new experiences, problems that seem unsolvable, challenges beyond tested limits, and unexplored beliefs, we expand our ideas to become someone who is changed. The fact that we can’t fix a meaning to what is happening is pivotal. It is the birth of wonder.  God is speaking to us in such moments.

That is something you just can’t Google. 


Other Resources:

The Sense of Wonder
Why we need to preserve this vital capacity and how solitude can help.