Anyone who has gone through middle age knows that one can either get out of the ego's way and proceed with change, or cling to a crumbling shore. One must be fearless, by which I don't mean standing on the street and challenging cars, but letting go of what you think you know in order to find happiness. Often we have to approach the very things we find intolerable, even repulsive. And always the hope is to re-find our natural sense of good will to carry with us and spread.
I've been on a spiritual path since changing gears, and more specifically since my husband was deployed as a surgeon to Afghanistan. He's in harm's way, and yet despite this very real threat, I'm experiencing firsthand the importance of letting go of both fear and the urge to control. I pause, send my prayers and thoughts, and then get on with building my life. Life is good.
Lately, I've returned to reading the late Fr. Thomas Merton's journals. Best known for his books New Seeds of Contemplation and The Seven Storey Mountain, Merton was a Trappist Monk, poet, artist and social activist who wrote prolifically about the human experience over a 30-year period. If I could think of one way to describe him beyond his complexity, it would be this: he was enthralled with life, despite its tortuous path. The fifth journal, published after his unfortunate death in 1968, is Dancing In the Water Of Life. It resonates the most with me, with its talk of the duality of living with solitude and chaos. There's a lot here to give perspective about the world we live in today.
September 11, 1965 – It is said that the war in Kasmir is due in part to some mechanisms of the CIA. This is a very strange outfit from what I hear, and in some ways typical of what is ill about America. It appears to be monumentally stupid in the first place! What this country has to suffer from fools in the government. But since it is the most powerful country in the world, the whole world is endangered by the folly of these idiots.
And this, after an ex-seminarian burnt himself alive in front of the UN building: "November 11, 1965 – I cannot understand the shape of things in the Peace Movement or the shape of things at all in this country. What is happening? Is everybody nuts?"
Merton grappled with events during the shifting politics of the '60's, whether it was the world at large, the Vatican, or the hermitage where he lived. The reader will find reassurance in seeing firsthand that even Merton had a hard time making sense of the era's events.
On the blog Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain, Fr. Tim shares his experiences in the US Army. In an entry called "I love my job," he talks of the freedom he finds in being able to help others during his deployments to Iraq, and soon Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro.
Fr. Tim describes himself as crusty and irascible, and indeed he often writes about things that annoy him. He's a Jesuit, a Catholic Priest, a former Stanford Professor in molecular neurobiology, and is now serving as a chaplain in the US Army.
He writes: "I'm constantly amazed by the burdens that human beings shoulder, often in silence and solitariness. These men and women are no different."
Fr. Tim tells his readers of detaching himself with love from the soldiers, doing so knowing that God holds them even closer, and in fact having to get out of their way so that their own spiritual experience may proceed. A good signal to the reader as well.
On my desk, there's a pile of cards. Each is printed with a different evocative word. I try to pick one at night before I go to bed. They can help set the focus for the next day. The other night, I chose "Gratitude." I was glad, because it's apropos. A few days ago, I was publishing a new iPhoto book about our summer. I think for most, our journey is difficult for others to understand, with the exception of some very close friends. So I summed it up simply by saying this: "We have chosen to live with gratitude. Once you do this, life is easy."