Archive for the ‘spiritual care’ Category

Written by Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

The greatest movie I have ever seen depicting the life of Jesus is the controversial 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ.

The following is a theological reflection inspired in part by this amazing film:

From error to error, one discovers the entire truth” – Dr. Sigmund Freud, Austrian psychologist (1856-1939). Could Jesus, while he walked the earth, identify with Freud’s statement?  If the words are applicable to the human condition it is reasonable to assume that the answer is “yes.” For Christians, the great mystery of Jesus is that he was truly human and truly God. A Jesus without the truly human aspect leaves only the divine, which would mean that he wasn’t really like us at all. The New Testament refers to how Christ lived while he walked upon the earth. It reminds us, “For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

As human beings we can learn from our mistakes. They are an opportunity to learn something about ourselves, about the way in which God works in our lives, and to grow, as Jesus did, “…in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:52). One of the most important things Jesus taught is the need to be open and to learn from life experience. It may seem unusual, even challenging to think of Jesus as being someone capable of making a mistake. It is important to note that sin involves intention; making an innocent error is not sinful. It is an inescapable part of the human condition. Again, the fact that Jesus was truly human is a fundamental truth of Christianity. “We believe…true God and true man…not a phantasm, but the one and only Son of God” (Council of Lyons II, DS 852). This doctrine was more recently affirmed by the Second Vatican Council, which emphasized,

The new relationship in which the Word, in taking on flesh and becoming human like us, has initiated himself with every human being. By his Incarnation the Son of God has united himself in some fashion with every man and woman. He worked with human hands, he thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, he has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin (GS 22).

Truth was essential to Jesus. He spoke about it just prior to his death as he stood before Pontius Pilate, “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice” (John 18:37 – 38).  In response Pilate uttered the infamous question, “What is truth?”

When reflecting on Jesus’ words to Pilate we might ask, “To what aspect of his being was Jesus referring? What is the truth to which his life gives testimony?” It is a question well worth pondering. And further, “How did Jesus come to know that truth?” The likely answer is that the truth in Jesus’ life was revealed to him gradually as his life evolved and unfolded. Since he was human, this necessarily included learning from his mistakes. This is important because as followers of Christ, we will discover the truth about our own lives, and who we are in relation to God, the same way.

Only a humble heart can be guided by the wisdom of Freud’s statement.  Jesus’ earthly life provides a most excellent model of humility for us to emulate. His humble way of life is a path on which he invites you and I to follow, “…learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29).  But what is behind the humility of Christ?

Jesus being “humble of heart” epitomizes a human being’s relationship with God. Although it does not always receive the amount of attention as his divinity, Jesus’ humanity was the same human nature, and God’s grace, that you and I have to work with in the pursuit of truth in our own lives.

The greatest movie I have ever seen depicting the life of Jesus is the controversial 1988 Martin Scorsese film, The Last Temptation of Christ. The following summary of the movie is taken from Wikipedia:

Based on an earlier novel by the same title, the film depicts the life of Jesus Christ. Its central thesis is that Jesus, while free from sin, was still subject to every form of temptation that humans face, including fear, doubt, depression, reluctance and lust. This results in the book and film depicting Christ being tempted by imagining himself in sexual activities, a notion that has caused outrage from some Christians. The movie includes a disclaimer explaining that it departs from the commonly accepted Biblical-portrayal of Jesus’ life, and that it is not intended to be an exact recreation of the events detailed in the Gospels.

This film dares to depict a Jesus that has real human feelings and emotions. He was depicted as a person capable of imagining, even desiring, a life different than the one he was being called to live. In the end despite the powerful temptation to choose another way, he chooses to be true to himself and to whom God was calling him to be: the Christ. Until seeing Jesus portrayed in this way I never realized how important the human part of his being is to my personal belief in him.

For the most part, traditional “Jesus movies” are film adaptations of the Gospel. Moving from one biblical scene to the next they show a very compassionate, heroic, courageous, yet tragically misunderstood Jesus. The portrayal of a Jesus who is always brave, always in the role of the teacher, a Jesus that is apparently filled with nothing but wisdom, is not a Jesus that experiences what it means to be human. While no film or book is comparable to Sacred Scripture, which is the written word of God, it is important to realize that the Gospel accounts of Jesus are skeletal at best. Jesus’ life and personality while he walked on earth involved infinitely more than the few scenes and words recorded in the Bible.  Experiencing a film like The Last Temptation of Christ can be helpful. It presents aspects of Jesus life not revealed in scripture in a way that, while fictional, portrays a fuller version of what his personality might have been like from a human perspective.

The year 1988 was a difficult time for me. It was a time when I was personally struggling with depression, fear and confusion in my own life. After seeing the movie with a couple of friends I came out of the theater feeling renewed and filled with hope.  For the first time I was able to see Jesus from a different perspective, a human perspective. Seeing him portrayed as a real human being, as someone who could make mistakes and learn from them instead of as a deity pretending to be one of us was eye-opening.  I felt that I could relate to this kind of Jesus and equally important, that he could relate to me. The movie helped me to realize that Jesus truly walked in my shoes and that he had to experience the same kind of darkness and inner struggles that I do and, obviously, much more. The moment I realized that he lived his life without possessing some unfair advantage that I don’t have, that he was really human, I was able to open my heart to him at a more meaningful level.

So then, what was Christ really like when he walked upon the earth? No one really knows but long before his birth the prophet Isaiah had this to say,

He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem (Isaiah 53:2-3).

As human beings we need a God that we can relate to and a God that can relate to us. The fact that Jesus experienced the fullness of humanity is critically important. If Jesus were anything less than truly and fully human it would mean that the only possible relationship between God and us would be a pie-in-the-sky relationship with a God that looks down from afar. Thankfully, this is not the case for, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).

The Book of Proverbs instructs us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight” (Proverbs 3:5).  Jesus lived these words while he walked on the Earth, and he did it as one of us, within the limits and confines of the human condition. Jesus shows us, by example, that it is possible to evolve from living a life that is dominated by fear to living a life that is centered on trust. This is an important part of the truth to which Jesus’ life gives testimony. A careful read of Scripture reveals that it was necessary for Jesus to trust in God, whom he called Father.

Humility opens our eyes to God’s presence. It was true for Jesus and so it is for us. Our humility and trust in God’s presence makes it possible for us to keep our minds open when things in life do not seem to be going according to our plans or as we would like them to go. Richard Carlton’s very popular (1997) self-help book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: and its all-small stuff, contained a powerful reflection titled, Get comfortable Not Knowing, in which he addresses the need for us to keep an open mind especially in the face of adversity. The main point of the reflection is that sometimes we may interpret a life event to be something bad when in hindsight we are surprised to discover that it led to something good.  The reflection ends with the following words:

The moral of this story provides a powerful lesson. The truth is, we don’t know what’s going to happen – we just think we do. Often we make a big deal out of something. We blow up scenarios in our minds about all the terrible things that are going to happen. Most of the time we are wrong. If we keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonably certain that, eventually, “all will be well.”

Learning from our mistakes as Freud’s statement, “From error to error, one discovers the entire truth,” suggests will require authentic humility.  “Staying open to possibilities” when things seem to be going wrong requires trust.  We need to trust that God is present within whatever situation we might be facing to guide and direct us. Trust helps us to get through the situation and to grow spiritually through the difficulty in a way we never imagined.

The title of Carlton’s reflection suggests something that is very difficult to put into practice. It suggests that we, “get comfortable not knowing.” This is one of the great challenges of the spiritual life. Jesus trusted that the Father would provide a way for him in the midst of his own trials and tribulations. He needed to trust when he could not see that way for himself, without knowing how his father would provide for him. As followers of Jesus we will need to do the same; we need to become “meek and humble of heart.” In so doing, with our lives grounded in trust, we will eventually discover the entire truth; and our lives will testify to it.

The Common Thread:  Reflect upon Jesus’ admonition to be “meek and humble of heart” in relation to the circumstances of your own life. 

This article is from “Simple Contemplative Spirtuality – View it on my blog:https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

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By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, Blog: https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

The Wizard of Oz is widely recognized as a story which, on many levels, relates metaphorically to our own life journey.

I have experienced enough of life to realize that there are definite personal advantages to becoming a more patient person. I have made it one of my lifetime goals. I call it a lifetime goal because it may take that long for me to actually become patient. There is nothing wrong with that; it won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, I have made what I consider to be a giant step forward by realizing the great truth that patience is not passive. This powerful spiritual principal is contained in the words of sculptor Auguste Rodin who said, “Patience is also a form of action.” It may be one of the most powerful forms of action we can take. The statement “Patience is also a form of action” represents a radically different way of understanding the meaning of the word “patience.” When someone reminds us that we “need to be patient,” it can cause us to feel frustrated. Being told to “be patient” seems to force us into passivity, a helpless, hopeless desert of waiting. The desert of waiting is created from the erroneous belief that absolutely nothing will happen with regard to our situation unless we personally do it. If I believe this to be true and have reached the end of what is within my control to do, regarding something or someone that I care very much about, then frustration is a completely logical emotion to feel.

To understand how “having patience” can be a form of action, it is first necessary to realize that having patience is about being open to other possibilities regarding the outcome of events or situations in our lives as we stand before an uncertain future. It will require a letting go of the need to receive an immediate answer to our many questions. Patience, in a healthy sense, involves really believing in the existence of a power greater than me and trusting in that power enough to allow it to act upon my situation without my constant interference. To live patiently is to decide that you can live with the questions and let the answers come to you through the unfolding of events.

The classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz is the story of Dorothy Gale’s journey through the beautiful and magical Land of Oz. The purpose of Dorothy’s journey is to see the Wizard who will, hopefully, grant her heart’s desire which is to go home. The Wizard of Oz is widely recognized as a story which, on many levels, relates metaphorically to our own journey through life. If you have seen the film, you may recall the beautiful scene in which Dorothy, after just arriving in Munchkin Land, encounters Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Dorothy has just received instructions from Glinda on how to get to The Emerald City, where The Wizard of Oz lives. She is told to, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road.” Dorothy walks to the place where the Yellow Brick Road begins, and says aloud to herself, while questioning the strange directive, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road?” Turning to look at Glinda, she asks, “But what happens if I…?” At this point Glinda cuts off Dorothy mid-sentence and with a tinge of sternness in her voice says to Dorothy, “Just follow the Yellow Brick Road.” The Good Witch then floats away and disappears. Dorothy does indeed follow the Yellow Brick Road with her questions yet unanswered. She is able to set the questions aside for the moment. Dorothy is able to trust enough in the counsel she received from Glinda to place her feet upon the Yellow Brick Road and begin her journey through the Land of Oz. We know from the story that the answer to Dorothy’s many questions was given to her through the living out of that journey.

The dialogue between Dorothy and Glinda, especially Dorothy’s response, humbly accepting the directive from Glinda to follow the Yellow Brick Road, is worth further reflection. Dorothy’s response is analogous to that of the Blessed Virgin Mary in her response to the news of the Angel Gabriel that she was to become the mother of Jesus. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was “perplexed” by the angel’s greeting, and further expressed that she did not understand how she could conceive a child in her womb, because she was a virgin. In the end Mary set aside her questions and trusted in a power greater than herself, a power that was beyond her ability to understand. “Mary said, ‘I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.’ With that the angel left her” (Luke 1:38). The answer to Mary’s questions came as she lived out her life’s journey, and in so doing became a central part of salvation history.

Mary’s patience toward getting the answer to her questions was also a form of action, a very radical form of action. Mary’s patience was an acknowledgment of the power of God to act in her life in an unimaginable circumstance. It was at the same time a most profound expression of trust that the word of God spoken to her would be fulfilled. In the same gospel, when Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, part of what Elizabeth said to Mary included these words, “Blest is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled” (Luke 1:45). Our lives contain a mixture of events, some of which are good and others that are tragic, that are beyond our ability to understand. God asks us to trust in the midst of these circumstances in the same way Mary and many other figures from Sacred Scripture were called upon to trust. When we choose to practice patience instead of insisting on receiving immediate answers to our questions or to know beforehand “how” God will work things out in our lives, our patience becomes a powerful form of action. The verse from the Book of Proverbs mentioned earlier also applies here, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The contemplative connection: Call to mind a situation in your life to which responding with patient-trust might be appropriate. Accept the anxiety of allowing your questions to go unanswered for now. Ask God to help you to move forward in trust, confident that the answers you seek will be given in the living out of your life. In this way your patience is also a form of action.

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This article is from “Simple Contemplative Spirituality.” View it on the publisher’s website: http://vesuviuspressincorporated.com/simple-contemplative-spirituality/

By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC, author of, Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time, and Simple Contemplative Spirituality

As a hospital chaplain I am called upon to serve people from various faiths. My role is to help them to get in touch with their own spiritual resources, which may involve different religious practices and beliefs, and to help provide for those specific needs. My personal faith and religious formation is that of a Catholic Christian.

Far and away one of the most helpful things we can learn on our spiritual journey is to appreciate the religious beliefs of other people. One of the greatest blessings I have received as a hospital chaplain is exposure to religious traditions and beliefs of people that are different than my own. Sometimes I am invited to participate in those religious practices. These times have provided a priceless opportunity to learn about other faiths, thereby enriching my own spirituality by transcending the religious barriers that tend to keep people apart.

I recently heard a speaker use the term “Cultural Humility.” I had never heard it before and it immediately intrigued me. Cultural Humility is a term that was coined to describe a way of infiltrating multiculturalism by healthcare professionals. Going beyond the idea of Cultural Competency, Cultural Humility focuses on self-reflection, fostering mutual respect, and lifelong learning between cultures.

The concept of “Cultural Humility” reminds me of the following quotation which I think epitomizes the term (adjusted slightly to be inclusive):

Our first task in approaching another people, another culture,   another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on another’s dream. More serious still, we may forget that the Universal Creative Life Energy (referred to by many as God) was present before our arrival.  (Raymond Hummer)

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The beauty of belief in the “Communion of Saints” is that it serves to remind us of our basic connectedness to one another as human beings, a spiritual connection that transcends death.

This is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti

Life can be very lonely at times. It is also true, however, that we are never really alone. Something common to many religions is that they have certain men and women whose lives of faith stand out in such a way that they serve as examples for others. Some religions call them saints, while other religions do not, but most have their great men and women whose lives inspire those who read or hear about them. There are also people found in many faith traditions whose life stories, though less well-known than saints, whose lives nonetheless are an inspiration to the faithful. These may be authors, speakers, clergy or lay people. They may simply be caring, courageous people whose life stories serve to lead others on their own spiritual journey. There are people we have known personally, living and deceased, including family members, friends, coworkers and acquaintances, who have helped and taught us in the way of faith. The point is that the lives of others, the famous and the well-known, as well as those in our everyday lives, touch and influence us in deep and meaningful ways.

One of the things I find most beautiful about the Catholic faith is the belief in what is called the “Communion of Saints.” In this theological reflection I will simply share with you what the teaching means to me, and how I integrate this belief into my own spiritual life. The beauty of the Communion of Saints is that it serves to remind us of our basic connectedness to one another as human beings. The Communion of Saints, however, goes a step further by saying that this connectedness is not bound or limited by the power of death. The wonderful message of this teaching is that our love and unconditional regard for one another transcend space time, and even death.

This personal story describes how I found comfort in this teaching in my own life. One day I was sitting in the hospital chapel, praying about something that was worrying me. As I sat there, feeling kind of sorry for myself, I began thinking about the lives of such well-known biblical figures as Moses and Abraham. It occurred to me that they, too, had to live their lives by faith, just like me.

We tend to see such biblical figures as larger than life and living with some mysterious advantage that we don’t have. We may not see them as having the same human limitations with which we live. When we fail to see them as regular people, we limit how helpful their lives and stories can be to us. We sometimes see them as having an inside track to God, kind of like having “the God card” hidden in their back pocket to use when they need it. In reading about them in Scripture, it can seem like God broke through the clouds during their times of crisis to speak with them directly, giving them just the advice they needed. We ignore the fact that God has ways of speaking with us, too, offering the same guidance in our lives. What really set these biblical heroes apart is how receptive (open) they were to Gods message.

The value to us in the lives of the biblical people we look up to is that they were human, that they had to walk in our shoes, really walk our path. The realization that living a life of faith was just as challenging for them as it is for me caused me to feel a connectedness with them. I found myself calling upon “their faith” to come into my being. I literally said these words in a prayer, “Faith of Abraham and Moses, come unto me. Faith of Mary and Joseph, come unto me.” I immediately felt a connection that was both consoling and comforting and that has remained with me. It is a peace that transcends time and space and the separation of religions, a spiritual connection.

Many people, myself included, feel a connection with loved ones or special people who have gone on before us in death. There is a knowledge that comes to us, helping us to know that the love and guidance we enjoyed with these special people did not end with death. Because of physical death, however, the way we experience the relationship changes.

It is not uncommon when talking with people to hear them say that their deceased loved one lives on in their heart. In our daily lives we help, console, comfort, and pray for one another all the time. The teaching on the Communion of Saints acknowledges that the bonds of love, support and connectedness we have with others in this life are not limited in any way. The teaching on the Communion of Saints brings to our conscious awareness that in a transcendent and very meaningful way, we are all connected. We are already one.

Connecting Point: Is there a person, living or dead, young or old, whose life of faith you admire? Or is there someone whose life has been a source of wisdom and guidance that has provided you with direction? Realize and take comfort in knowing that they, like you had to truly live their life by faith. They had no special assistance from God that is not made available to you according to the unique circumstances of your life. Know that the God they prayed to is the same God that hears your prayer today.

Prayer: God of all the holy men and women who have ever lived, help me to realize that love never dies. Help me to feel connected with you and with all of your children. Help me to live in the awareness of the bond of love that exists between you and all people. Help me to know in my heart that we are already one. Amen.

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By Charles W. Sidoti, BCC

As a child growing up in a Christian family, I had a belief in Santa Claus that was a fun and exciting part of the Christmas holiday. When I had children of my own, I enjoyed seeing the excitement on their faces as they heard the story of magical jolly fellow who lived at the North Pole and delivered gifts on Christmas Eve to all of the good little children. All of this he did while riding on his magic sleigh with eight tiny reindeer! What could be better? One day my eight-year-old son, Charles, and I were taking a walk with our dog when he asked me, “Dad, is God like Santa Claus?” I had to pause for a moment. The last thing I wanted to was explain away the wonderful childhood fantasy of Santa Claus for him.

The reasoning that led Charles to ask this question is very easy to understand. To him, it seemed completely logical that God should exist in exactly the same way as a character like Santa Claus. Think about it. A child never actually sees Santa, although children do see Santa’s “helpers” at the department store. Children are told that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole and keeps a close eye on kid’s behavior, rewarding the ones who are good and disappointing the ones who are bad. As the words of the ever-popular children’s Christmas song, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, say:

He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!”

At approximately the same age that children are told about Santa, they also begin to learn about God. To a child, God is also explained as someone with seemingly magical powers. Children are told that God is watching over us from heaven, a place that seems as remote as the North Pole. They learn that God is also someone who cares about them, knows everything about them, and wants them to be good. Children learn that God’s helpers are called angels, who are all around but never seen. Santa’s workers are called “elves,” and we can’t see them, either! And just as with Santa, we never see God. It is little wonder why Charles asked me if God was the same as Santa.

At some point, we need to grow beyond a child’s understanding God. Our relationship with God must grow and evolve with us into adulthood or it will cease to contain meaning, just like our relationship with Santa. Every meaningful relationship grows and changes or it simply dissolves. Our relationship with our parents is a good example. A small child sees his or her parents as all-knowing, all powerful beings. If our relationship with our parents is a healthy one, it evolves as we grow into adulthood. It is then that we are able to see and appreciate our parents for what they really are, human beings.

What determines if a relationship grows or ends? The difference is communication. With Santa there is no real two-way communication, because there is no real Santa. With God it is different. Growing in the awareness of God’s presence in our life and becoming aware of God’s constant communication are what is meant by learning to live a contemplativelife. For our relationship with God to be meaningful and real as adults, we need this awareness of God’s presence and recognition of the many ways that God communicates with us.

The transition from believing in a magical, Santa-like God to growing in relationship with the Living God happens in ways that are as individual as we are. Each person’s relationship with God is different. Personally, my exposure to the monastic tradition, especially the writings of Thomas Merton and other contemplative authors, has had a profound impact on my own spiritual development.

One of the greatest gifts that the monastic tradition can bestow upon a person is what I refer to as the development of a contemplative mindset. By a contemplative mindset, I am referring to the realization that God comes to us from within creation, indeed from within our very selves. God isn’t “up there” somewhere, removed from this world. God is present within the context, the events, of our everyday lives. It is within the events of our everyday life that God desires to meet us, guide us and heal us. The awareness that all of life is Sacred, that all of God’s creation is good and the place where God dwells, is a profoundly healing realization. It is the fruit of attentively waiting upon the Lord through the events and the circumstances of our lives. When you see God in this way, it is impossible to think of God as a Santa Claus like figure, somewhere far removed from us and looking down. No, God is very close, indeed an in-dwelling presence.

Connecting Point: Your image, the way you think of (or see) God, should grow and evolve as you journey through life. Do you think yours has? Ask God in your own words to place in your heart the desire to grow in that relationship.

Prayer: Lord, help me to grow in relationship with you, the “Living God.” Direct my heart that I may wait patiently upon you to reveal yourself to me. May I become increasingly aware of the many ways that you communicate your love and presence to me every day. May I respond sincerely through my life with others and in the solitude of prayer. Amen.

______________

This article is from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time

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Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart. Don’t scratch for answers that cannot be given now. The point is to try to live everything. Live the questions for now. Perhaps then, someday far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.  – Rainer Maria Rilke

By Rabbi Akiva Feinstein and Charles W. Sidoti

When life turns difficult, a common way of trying to get around the pain is to try to think our way out of the situation. The problem with this is that it assumes the process of effectively dealing with emotional upset and spiritual challenges is linear, sort of like a Betty Crocker recipe, in that one step necessarily follows another in order to get the desired outcome.

The truth is that the process of inner healing is inherently non-linear and is often contradictory. When things do get better and our inner struggle eases for awhile, we often don’t know how or why we feel better; we just do. Have you ever gone to sleep with a problem on your mind and awakened not troubled by it anymore? As the saying goes, “What a difference a day makes!” Nothing about your problem changed; you just went to sleep.

Our mood and therefore our perspective change constantly, and that has much to do with the way we process the problems that come our way. Sometimes we wake up feeling great and ready to face the day’s challenges. On these days, problems that come up don’t bother us too much. We process them easily because we approach them from a positive perspective and keep moving along. The very next day (or even hour), we may feel totally different. The world seems to be spinning in the wrong direction and it seems that everyone is working against us. In addition to affecting the way we handle the daily problems that arise, our moods and our perspective affect the way we handle the big problems in our lives. This is especially true regarding the way we process grief, the pain involved in losing someone or something very important to us.

The Jewish tradition, which is full of wisdom gained by facing pain and suffering head-on, says a great deal about mourning, and how to understand the life path and grief process of the mourner. Mourners often suffer deep anguish and trauma. Helping them to recover, according to Jewish tradition, requires the implementation of customs and practices that can seem contradictory.

Yet these work well in helping mourners deal with their own contradictory feelings. For example, individual mourners can feel the need both to be alone and to be surrounded by people and love; the need for silence, and the need to be able to tell their story; the need to give and the need to receive. They can experience waves of denial and waves of acceptance.

It’s contradictory, yes, but it all can be a very real and necessary part of the healing process and the nature of mourning. It is very wise counsel to advise a mourner thus: “Let these contradictory feelings be, feel what you feel. Live with the contradiction and don’t fight it, for it will eventually evolve into something else.”

It is very difficult to put this advice into practice, for in our rational, modern society, we find these contradictory truths difficult to accept. The fact is that the suggestion to learn to live with contradiction is not just some remnant of a confused, out-dated psychological model. Rather, it’s a keen insight into the human condition itself and is a testimony to the power and efficiency of contradiction.

For example, human relationships are uniquely able to stay intact despite competing feelings of pure love and absolute frustration. There are rules to human emotion and pain, but the hope and the salvation lie in the fact that for much of it, there are no rules. It is what it is. You can be sad and happy at the same time. You can harbor a lot of pain, but still move on. You can cherish a memory of a lost dream and still pursue a brand new one.

Quantum physics, which helps us to at least begin to understand the universe, is based upon one of the most poorly understood contradictions known, yet it works and does its job just fine. Quantum physics teaches that it can be scientifically proved that light travels in waves (up and down) but it can also be proved that light moves as physical particles. A person with knowledge of quantum physics understands these principles to be mutually exclusive, yet the whole science of quantum physics is based on both of them being true.

If we cannot answer life’s questions, we should not go into despair. Many a Jewish grandfather would tell his children, “From an unanswered question, you don’t die.” Living with the questions makes life more exciting. A life lived looking for something that has not been found yet is a whole lot more interesting. Consciously deciding to live the questions is a way of responding with trust to life and its inherent challenges.

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This article is an excerpt from “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” written by Charles W. Sidoti with Rabbi Akiva Feinstein

Visit my Blog: Finding God in Daily Life https://sidoticharles.wordpress.com/

Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That’s how I was feeling.

By Charles W. Sidoti, From: “Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time”

Thomas Merton once compared living a spiritual life to standing before a field of fresh fallen snow that you must cross, his advice: “Walk across the snow and there is your path.” Being a trailblazer through the fresh fallen snow, as Merton puts it, involves walking your own unique, untrodden path. As good as Merton’s advice sounds, it can be difficult to put into practice. Many of us would much rather walk familiar, well-trodden paths. Yet it is precisely the walking of a unique, untrodden path that each one of us, individually, is called to do in our life if we truly desire to grow in our relationship with God and others. Reflecting on what walking your own unique path would mean in your life can make all the difference in the world.

In considering how to follow Merton’s suggestion, it is necessary to realize that it involves a paradox. None of us walks through life completely alone. We live out our lives among other people. We have all heard the saying, “No man is an island,” by the great Christian poet John Donne. Hopefully, the relationships we have with others are mutually beneficial in helping us to grow and develop. On the other hand, it is also true that we are at times quite alone. Our personal moments of loneliness remind us of this truth in no uncertain terms. Taking the first step onto our own field of freshly fallen snow involves realizing this paradox and accepting it into our life. Just realizing and accepting that these two things, loneliness and our feeling of being connected with others, are a natural part of life can be helpful. There is a natural rhythm that exists between these two feelings, and at different times one of the feelings is dominant.

It is very helpful when we discover the relationship between our aloneness and our connectedness with others because the two work together in our lives. The relationship was explained to me in a most interesting way on one of my visits to the Abbey of the Genesee, which is a Trappist Monastery and retreat house located in Upstate New York. During a conversation with my spiritual director, Brother Anthony, I asked his advice about something I was dealing with at the time. I remember wanting him to just tell me what to do about the situation. Have you ever wrestled with a personal issue and felt as if you wanted someone else to make a decision for you? That is how I was feeling.

His answer to me contained wisdom. He very kindly said, “Chuck, you know its kind of like making a loaf of bread. You can find a recipe in a book and follow it. You can ask others about how they bake theirs, learn about other interesting ingredients and get advise about how others do it. But in the end, everyone must bake his or her own loaf of bread.”

After this conversation, I realized that I would not want anyone else to bake my loaf of bread – make my decisions, live my life. It is our involvement, our interaction with life, and the decisions we make that keep life fresh and alive. Once we reach the age of reason, no one can really make a decision for us. When you think about it, would you really want them to? Our lives are unique, just as we are, and therefore our relationship with life is meant to be unique. Seek out the wisdom others have to offer, yes, but realize at the same time the precious and exciting opportunity you have in your life to bake your own loaf of bread.

Connecting Point: Can you see a rhythm in your life between feelings of aloneness and a feeling that you are connected to others? Sometimes it is the aloneness part that needs attention, so that aloneness may eventually evolve into the positive state of being, called solitude. You can do this by seeking out a little bit of time alone each day just to be quiet or pray. Through this time, you will discover that you are never really alone.

Prayer: Good and gracious God, place gratitude in my heart for the gift of life. In times of difficulty, I don’t always see it as a gift. Sometimes it feels like a burden, especially in times of loneliness. Help me to make decisions that will lead me to the peace that you desire to give me. Place in my heart the desire to bake my own loaf of bread – with you. Amen.

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Living at God’s Speed, Healing in God’s Time” – Traditionally Published

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