Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What is Love? II

What is love and how do we manifest it in our lives?  Why don’t we manifest it more often?  If God is love, as the Bible says, and I believe this to be true, then why is the world so troubled and full of hatred and fear and evil?  Better minds than mine have wrestled with these questions – C.S. Lewis, for example, who says because God is a loving God, He does not force Himself upon us.  He does, however, drop a lot of hints.  I asked what love is and I don’t know if there is one answer.  Again, citing C.S. Lewis, he breaks it down into four categories in his book The Four Loves.  As excellent as his ideas are (and far superior to mine), they are only manifestations of love.  Agape – God’s love, Phileo – brotherly love, Eros – romantic or sexual love, and Storge – empathic love.  (Lewis did not use the term “agape.”  Later commentators did.)[1]   These are all beautiful and necessary, but again, only manifestations.  They do not exactly define the word.
Maybe love, like God, is indefinable.  Maybe all we can do is witness its many manifestations.  But maybe we can also manifest it ourselves.  This too has many possibilities, perhaps an infinite number.  We can manifest, demonstrate, show, exhibit, give, create love by loving ourselves and doing what brings us joy and then sharing that joy with the world.  The reason I write is for love.  The reason I study history is for love.  The reason I teach is for love. I do these things because I love to do them.  They make me happy. 
I like being happy.  I don’t seek happiness directly, because it can’t be found. It’s always attached to something, some type of work, some good deed, some form of self-care or care for others, some form of sacrifice or self-discipline, which means sometimes I do things that I don’t want to do initially, but then as I do them and as I get better at them, I grow to love them. This too makes me happy. This too manifests love.
Again, though, what is love? 
I don’t know. 
All I know is when I feel it, I feel peaceful and joyful and I have no conditions on anyone. I don’t expect others to change.  Well, I do, but not for me, but for them.  When people grow, that too is love.
Love is natural and spontaneous. Once, when I was 17, I was trying to find some answers in life and I was going through a period of spiritual uncertainty and confusion.  I was talking about it to a friend, Eugene, and he said, “I’ll be right over.”  I was standing in the kitchen where the phone was (this was when phones were attached to walls).  A 7-year-old neighbor girl just happened to walk in as I hung up because she was looking for her brother. I was so happy about Eugene coming over that I spontaneously gave her a hug. This was not something I normally did.  But that was love, or a manifestation of it…spontaneous and happy.
Sometimes love is work. It’s commitment and self-discipline and sacrifice.  Sometimes the spontanaiety and the happiness are not there, but the lack of these things doesn’t make love any less valid. I find that commitment, self-discipline and sacrifice often create a different and more powerful type of happiness.  I have a lot to learn about this kind of love, but I find the more self-disciplined I am, the happier and more loving I feel.
To answer my second question, I believe that the world is so troubled and full of hatred and fear and evil is that most people lack something that makes them feel spontaneous and happy and they also lack something worth creating self-discipline for.  Too much of the first leads to laziness. Too much of the second leads to fanaticism. We need to Get Started and Keep Going, but if this doesn’t create love then we need to Get Started and Keep Going in another direction.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advantages and Difficulties

What if I just sat here and wrote, despite the pointlessness of this content, despite being hungry and tired, despite the noise, despite everything else in the world?  What if I just sat here and wrote?  What would happen?  What, if anything, would I discover?

That’s what I wrote the other night when I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t.  I just wrote a page and half of, what I thought was, meaningless material.  Okay, it was garbage.  I got tired and stopped and then I wasn’t sure if I ever wanted to write again because I did such a lousy job the other night.  And that fear, that dread that I felt about ever coming back to this, was, while not overwhelming, strong enough to pay attention to.  I had to make a choice.  I could decide that I have nothing more or nothing new to say (possibly), or I could Keep Going.  Maybe what I’m writing now is nothing more and nothing new.  The thought of even trying to write created a sudden fatigue, the kind my kids get when I ask them to do a chore.  Steven Pressfield says that we can use this resistance to show us what we should be doing.  That is, the thing we don’t want to do, the thing that makes us suddenly tired, the thing we’re avoiding, that’s the thing we should be doing.  Why? 
Honestly, I have no idea. But the feeling that’s keeping me from doing it is the most reliable indicator that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.  Why?
Will I be a famous writer some day?  Will I make a million dollars?  I don’t know.  Maybe not.  Even…probably not.  (I hate that thought.)  Then…why?
I still have no idea.  But I also have no idea why I was raised in one of the healthiest, most educated, most prosperous nations on Earth. I have no idea why I was born into this time or place with all its advances in technology.  Almost all the information in the world, history, literature, philosophy, science…it’s literally at my fingertips.  Why was I born into this time and this place? Why was I given all these privileges?
I still don’t know.  What I do know are these things:
·      I have been born with certain advantages in health, in intellect, in technology, in circumstance.  I recently wrote that life is not a gift, but a loan.  One day it will be taken back.  What then do I do with it?  Here’s what else I know:
·      I can do whatever I want with what I’m given. I can use my advantages well, I can abuse them, or I can ignore them.  The choice is mine.
·      I’m happier when I use my gifts well.  To do something meaningful, however it pays off or doesn’t, always creates an initial and ongoing resistance.  But in the end, when I use my gifts well, my time, my mind, my talents, I’m happier.

I’ve often wondered what the purpose of life is, especially when I’m aware of the materialistic culture in which I live.  I don’t know if I have the answer, or if there is an answer.  Perhaps there is more than one.  In The Imitation of Christ, Thomas a Kempis says that we must suffer so that we can truly find God. He says that God even seems to leave us for a time so that we can learn to trust Him even when we don’t feel His presence.  I think writing, or anything worth doing, is also like this.  The inspiration seems to leave for a while.  The energy is gone. I keep working anyway. Sometimes, when there are deadlines or impending assignments we have no choice but to Keep Going. 
For much of the last 24 hours I’ve had an upset stomach. I think some of it is nervousness. I start a new class tomorrow and there seems to be more reading than I’ve ever had. In addition, I’m moving towards my final project and I still don’t know what I want to write about.  Finally, I still need to improve my academic writing and so far this has been a constant struggle for me.  This master’s program has been my cross, my suffering. I hesitate to use those terms. I’m not being crucified.  It’s not suffering comparable to what millions go through every day dealing with starvation, illness, sexual assault, injustice, racism, poverty, or loneliness, but it’s suffering anyway, because it’s a harder road than is necessary. I’m not Jesus, but I’m choosing this cross. Not for money or fame or a better job (though all those things would be nice if they came), but for love of the assignment, the literal and spiritual assignments I’ve been given. I’ve chosen history and I’ve chosen writing because, like my Muse, they were chosen for me from the beginning of time. I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to accept this pressure. But I have. And that means I can’t do other things I’d like to do. My time for myself and for those I love is very limited. 
For me, however, there is no other way than to Get Started and Keep Going, to use the difficulties to make me a better man and use the advantages I have to make the difficulties easier. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

I Saw a Cardinal

“Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. All they show is limitation. Look with your understanding. Find out what you already know and you will see the way to fly.”

“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way".”

Richard Bach, Jonathan Livingston Seagull

When I was 7 I saw a cardinal.  I’d never seen a cardinal before.  It was on a telephone wire or a tree. I’m not sure. I just know it was a cardinal and it was red and beautiful. I don’t even know how I knew it was a cardinal, but I did. I was in the back yard of my Aunt Marie’s house in Blue Island, Illinois.  Though my aunt and my mom each had three children and I think we were all there, I was alone in the back yard and I saw a cardinal. Life is full of miracles, like cardinals.  It would have been nice to share that moment with someone, but maybe I was sharing it with God then and I’m sharing it with the world now.
I’ve never seen a cardinal since then.  Not once.  I think that’s odd.  No, I don’t live in Illinois anymore, and they aren’t native to California, but I’ve never even seen one at a zoo, or when I’ve gone back to Illinois (always in the winter for some reason).  But I’ve never forgotten that moment. Was there significance to that moment?  Maybe there’s significance to every moment, but most of the time we just don’t see it. We limit ourselves. We limit our vision. At least I often do. I miss things.
I had a hard time writing this morning.  I couldn’t get focused.  I read.  I cleaned.  It took me hours to finish three pages.  Maybe some days are like that.  Today was.  But I wanted to write.  Writing, for me, makes this moment significant.  It makes this moment count.  It counts not just because I’m producing something, though that is nice.  It counts because writing reminds me of many other significant moments in my life, like when I saw that cardinal or when I wrote my 150th blog, or when I met my Muse, or right now when I look out my window and see the cloudy gray day and the seagull in the tree. 
The seagull of course reminds me of the book Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach.  It’s a short book that can be read in one sitting.  The story is about a seagull who wants to do more than survive.  He believes there is more to life than picking through garbage and getting the scraps of life.  He wants to fly, really fly.  He has wings and he wants to use them to soar.  It’s not that he looks down on those who don’t.  He just wants more. He tells others and of course, he’s told that he’s foolish and wrong.  We all are.  We’re cautioned.  We’re warned.  We’re told we’re going against God, against tradition, against common sense. We’re told that we’re hurting those we love.  Maybe in reality we hurt others when we don’t fly.
I haven’t read Jonathan Livingston Seagull in years. I don’t think I even have a copy of it now.  So I don’t remember how it ends.  But he flies.  I think he finds Heaven.  I don’t mean he dies, but maybe he does.  Before I started writing, I wondered if I was doing the right thing.  A voice said, “Relax.  You’re on vacation.  It’s your life.  You’ll kill yourself doing all this writing.  You’ll die.”  Then another voice said, “If a man wants to live, he has to give up his life for Me.”  That was Jesus.  I’m not equating Jesus with writing.  But I think God is in this.  It’s okay if I give up my life for this, because this is where I find my life.  So I’m not dying.   I’m living.  I’m not losing.  I’m gaining. I’m not giving up anything.  I’m getting something, something precious, something significant, something beautiful, like a cardinal.
Here’s something else that’s significant and beautiful: life.  Recently, my cousin Cindy died.  She was the oldest daughter of Aunt Marie, but a year younger than me.  She died suddenly and unexpectedly. It was a huge loss for a lot of people. She wasn’t rich or famous, but she was one of the kindest, most patient, most loving people I’ve ever known. She gave of her time kindly and freely. She made her life significant by loving and caring for others. And she made it beautiful for those who knew her.
It is said that life is a gift. It’s not. We can keep gifts.  Life is a loan.  And it can be taken back at any moment. What do we do then? We can do whatever we want, but I’d like to make the loan count for something.  Like Cindy.  Like Jonathon Livingston Seagull.  Like a cardinal. I’d like to Get Started and Keep Going. I’d like to soar when I can as often as I can.


I haven’t written in a long time.  I still write three pages (almost) every day and sometimes more, but that is for me.  This is for the world.  More importantly, it’s for my Muse.  She is waiting for me.  I usually have reasons for not writing more often:
·      I’m tired
·      I’m busy
·      I don’t know what to write
·      It’s no good
·      I’m scared.
Same old stuff as always.  The list of excuses wears thin, like an old carpet that should have been thrown out because it serves no purpose any more and it’s ugly besides.  Anything that keeps me from my Muse is ugly, even if it seems practical and reasonable.  That’s not to say my other commitments are ugly.  My Muse wants me there, too, to be a good student, to love those who are in my life, to do my best.  But in this place, with this writing, is where I connect with her best.  I just sit here and write and see what happens.  It’s like magic.  Something comes out of nothing.  But it’s not “nothing.”  It’s the power of God, of my Muse, of love, pouring out of me like rain that is pouring outside at this moment.
A friend told me a story.  He had to travel so he stayed with another friend.  When he got there, he was provided a bed, but the room was dirty, the sheets were full of animal hair, and he was left alone in a strange town while his host went out.  At first my friend was angry about this odd and uncomfortable situation but being the resilient type, he made the best of it and even made some new friends.  And he also found a new place to stay.  Was there a lesson in all this?  There can almost always be something we can learn, something that could help in the future.  Here’s what my friend learned.
1.     Maybe there’s a better plan for us.
2.     Maybe not everyone we think is a friend is really a friend.
3.     Maybe some people mean no harm, but they are distracted by sadness and frustration about parts of their lives and they aren’t thinking clearly.
4.     Maybe having a backup plan is a good idea.
5.     Maybe most things work out anyway.
6.     Maybe they work out because we make them work out.

Here’s something else.  Many of us, well, me at least, are looking for answers, for a solution to life’s problems and unexpected setbacks, delays, and discouragements.  Some of us are looking for lasting peace, purpose, and fulfillment.  Some of us are just trying to get through the day.  Some of us are trying to make a contribution or leave a legacy.  Some of us want to be noticed and loved.  (Maybe all of us, no matter how hard some try to deny that.)
Is there an answer to all or any of these desires?  Maybe there is or maybe there isn’t.  Maybe there are a lot of answers.  Maybe different answers apply at different times. Maybe the search is part of the purpose.  Maybe we’re not supposed to give up and entertain ourselves constantly so that we stay spiritually and mentally numb.  Maybe life is like a flower, beautiful, complex and simple at the same time, colorful, perfect but we need to give it some attention and appreciation.  Maybe this whole blog is just a bunch of rambling incoherent thoughts that don’t mean much other than the fact that at least I accomplished something by doing it.  Maybe I fought all my fear and laziness and did it anyway and maybe that’s one of the answers to life’s questions.  Maybe we’re supposed to Get Started and Keep Going no matter what.  Maybe.  Probably.