Thursday, July 19, 2012

Health and Discernment

I am currently reading the book:

The Way Is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage Along the Camino de Santiago

This is more a book about life than about walking, or you might say it is a book about walking through life.    I am a lifelong walker so it should be no surprise to my friends that I picked up this book about walking the  Camino de Santiago in Spain.  (I have no intention of travelling to Spain to walk.)  But I do walk (and hike) other places and much of what this author said resonated with me.  Here’s one quote:

Addictions counselors advise paying special attention to being HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. . . I was hungry, lonely, and tired, and in no time at all allowed myself to be uncharacteristically swayed by unsolicited advice from strangers. (p. 79)

I have seen this in myself.  Hungry and tired.  Lonely and tired.  Or simply, tired. . . or hungry.  Any of these states leaves me with less discernment and with the tendency to make poor decisions.  When I am hungry and tired, arguments over silly things may lead to shouting.  This morning, it was an argument over whether gelatin expands in water (it does).  Hardly an important matter.  In fact, most of the arguments between my husband and myself have occurred when we were both tired or hungry.

Do you want to make good decisions?  Do you want to avoid foolish arguments?  Consider these questions.

How is your health?  Are you well-rested?  Do you have friends?  Do you let go of anger?  Do you eat on time and nutritiously?  If you cannot say no to all of these, you may be harming yourself with an unhealthful mental state.  You may be making poor decisions or unable to think clearly.  Take time in life to eat well, sleep well, let go of anger, and spend time with your friends and things will go well for you.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gratitude and Envy

The word “covet” appeared before me on the page of a book I was reading.  (I no longer remember the title or author of that book.)  As it entered my brain, I began to ponder its meaning.  256px-Panthera_tigris_-Franklin_Park_Zoo,_Massachusetts,_USA-8a_(2)The Bible states:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17, NIV).  That’s the last command out of the well-recognized Ten Commandments.  I might tell you that I have been working my way through the Ten Commandments, but that would be both a lie and a lost cause.  In reality, I rarely think about them. 

As I considered this command, it didn’t sound difficult to follow.  Our cultural differences from the time it was written allow us to throw out the servants (although we could substitute employees or anyone who does work for us), the ox and donkey (or substitute anything associated with how we make our living.)  Once those are gone, we have only the house and the wife. I have no intention of coveting someone else’s wife (or husband) or their house. But what about the last part “. . . anything that belongs to your neighbor?”

I have never been considered either greedy or a shopper, nor am I someone who wants the finer things of life, so I had never considered myself a covetous person. No, I have never considered myself a coveter.  I have never wanted someone else’s things.  Yes,  I felt neglected when I visited other children at Christmas and saw the mounds of toys they had received.  I often wished my childhood had been different, better, like someone else’s childhood.  When I was 10 or 11 I saw some beautifully illustrated books that I did not have money to buy.  For years afterward, I fantasized that I had stolen the money to purchase them.  But all these things happened in childhood.  I am mature.  I do not violate the Ten Commandments.  Or do I?

As I considered what it meant to covet, my mind was immediately drawn to a problem that arose about 6 months ago.  My walking partner moved.  For a week or two, I enjoyed the solitude, but that was before I noticed two other people walking together, laughing, and talking, having a good time.  As I listened to them, I felt worse and worse about my own lonely situation.  I resented that they were happy in their own little world with no thought for me.  I wanted what they had so badly; I envied their relationship and coveted it.  I wanted a relationship like theirs.   

I digress with a quote on friendship from C.S. Lewis:
In each of my friends there is something that only some other friend can fully bring out. By myself I am not large enough to call the whole man into activity; I want other lights than my own to show all his facts. Now that Charles is dead, I shall never again see Ronald’s reaction to a specifically Charles joke. Far from having more of Ronald, having him “to myself” now that Charles is away, I have less of Ronald.” (The Four Loves)

Several years ago, I purchased a greeting card, a friendship card that I held on to for years, never able to send it.  The card described the perfect friendship as I’ve seen it portrayed in books and movies where two women share intimate details, laugh together, cry together, shop together, share makeup and clothing. . . things I could see those two walkers doing together.  I wanted a friendship like that, but after many years of trying to find the right person to receive the card, I threw it away.

My rational mind tells me I am not a morning person or an extrovert.  There is no way I could have carried on a conversation as the two women walkers did, or have the type of relationship which includes a lot of talk and laughter.  Indeed, my mind tells me that I will never have a greeting card friendship and if one presented itself to me I would not enjoy it. 

But, envy and covetousness are not rational.  Envy springs forth like a tiger clawing its way across its wounded victim, tearing and gouging and finally devouring the choicest parts.  Pain, pure and raw, pushed me, pulled me, dragged me into covetousness.  These emotions were strong enough to keep me from walking, an activity I enjoy.  I first skipped a day, then a week, then months.  

When I started walking again, I varied the path I had never before changed, now taking a circuitous route only to avoid those two companions and my own ugly emotions.   What is the limit of my covetousness? I wondered.  Would I wish them dead?  Could I like Raskolnikov in
Crime and Punishment

kill to make myself happy?  Or could I  spread ugly rumors to break the partnership?  What would I do?  How low would I stoop?  At first, avoidance was the only thing I could think of.  But my walks had became a furtive cat and mouse game where I changed direction and doubled back to avoid the two talkers.   

It was then that I began thinking about gratitude.  Gratitude is the opposite end of envy and covetousness, but anyone who says they can simply push the dark emotions out and declare the space filled with gratitude is a liar. 

Gratitude grows gently and slowly, requiring constant and conscious effort.  I began by thinking of the people who had offered to help me when my mother died.  I remembered two friends who helped me price items for my garage sale.  Another directed people at the garage sale.  One friend took me to lunch.  Two other friends sorted items.  Another arranged the house for sale to look more appealing.  I don’t have that greeting card type friendship, but I have the type that I need, the kind that suits me.  Maybe I no longer have that one friend who regularly walked with me, but I have half a dozen who help me when I need it. I am beginning to to feel gratitude growing.  Lord, thank you for my friends who step in when I need them. 
I am an extreme introvert.  My parents moved four times during my childhood.  I lived in one city until age five and had one friend (Patrick).  I attended Kindergarten through 3rd grade at one suburban school (2 friends, Gail and Karen); fourth grade in another city (no friends).  Fifth and sixth grades were at an urban school (no friends), seventh and eighth at a different urban school (1 friend, Betty), ninth at a suburban school (2 friends (Candy and Karen), and my final high school years at another school (Candy, Karen, Kevin, Dave, and other friends).  I didn’t form any lasting friendships until I was in high school.  Those high school friends remain my friends to this day, and I have acquired more friends besides.  None of them are greeting card friends, but they are friends just the same. 

Gratitude focuses on what we have; not on what we don’t have.  Gratitude focuses on the quality; not the appearance.  Gratitude focuses on the giver; not the gift.  My friends are all high quality gifts from God. 

Now that I have gratitude, are the walks any easier?  No, not easier, but different.  Those same two women are still chattering away with laughter, and I am still following a circuitous route.  But as I do, I focus on what I have:  time to contemplate and to enjoy the rhythmic movement of my body as I connect with earth and pavement.  I give my walks to God and let him direct my thoughts.  With a sense of anticipation I look forward to one dinner with friends this week, another next week, and still another in the month to come.  I keep my eyes open for the friend who walks only during good weather and then only sporadically.  I think of my closest friend, my husband, who often cares for me more than I care for myself.  I pray for his day, that he would enjoy his work and arrive home safely.  And I think of Jesus, who is closer than a brother to me, who for the joy set before him became one of us.
I can practice gratitude for a few days, but without continual conscious recognition and thankfulness for the gifts I have been given, gratitude fades away and envy pops back into focus like an image hidden in a painting.  Painters have a term for this—pentimento—which refers to faint images of an artist’s original work visible through the completed work.  Pentimento literally means repentance or turning around.  The artist turns away from their original idea and paints something different.   In the same way, gratitude paints over envy with clean, bright colors.

When gratitude dims it must be renewed, but the danger is pride.  Too often we try to create gratitude in the same way we tend to covet:  by comparison of ourselves with others.  I can look at the headlines and be grateful that I have electricity while others suffer without refrigeration and air conditioning, that I am healthy when others are sick or disabled, and that I am employed while others are jobless.  It is then that I become proud, rather than grateful for what I have.  What’s the difference?

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable:  “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’   “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’  “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
When we start comparing ourselves to others rather than simply being grateful, we become proud, thinking that all we have, we have because we are special.   Or we may believe that it is due to our own merit, our own work, that we have more than the next person.  We exude self-confidence.   Gratitude, however, reminds us that we deserve nothing.  Gratitude informs us that our very life is a gift and that the tools and benefits we are given in life are also gifts, given to us for our own use and also to benefit others.  When I look with gratitude at the gifts I have been given, there is no room for envy or coveting.  The root of gratitude is thankfulness.
All are indebted much to thee,
But I far more than all,
From many a deadly snare set free,
And raised from many a fall.
Overwhelm me, from above,
Daily, with thy boundless love.
What bonds of gratitude I feel
No language can declare;
Beneath the oppressive weight I reel,
'Tis more than I can bear:
When shall I that blessing prove,
To return thee love for love?
Spirit of charity, dispense
Thy grace to every heart;
Expel all other spirits thence,
Drive self from every part;
Charity divine, draw nigh,
Break the chains in which we lie!

All selfish souls, whate'er they feign,
Have still a slavish lot;
They boast of liberty in vain,
Of love, and feel it not.
He whose bosom glows with thee,
He, and he alone, is free.

Oh blessedness, all bliss above,
When thy pure fires prevail!
Love only teaches what is love:
All other lessons fail:
We learn its name, but not its powers,
Experience only makes it ours.

William Cowper

“Experience only makes it ours.”  Keep pursuing and you will gain the experience; gratitude will be yours to keep. 

What causes you to envy or covet?  How can you respond with gratitude?

Tiger photo by Eric Kilby from USA (YAWN  Uploaded by Snowmanradio) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, July 5, 2012

What Is Truth?


Pascal said that to arrive at truth, all contradictions 256px-Grant_DeVolson_Wood_-_American_Gothicmust be reconciled. (Pensee 684)  When you consider his statement, it makes sense.  If one person tells us that a paper we cannot see is black and another tells us that it is white, we must reconcile that contradiction to arrive at the truth.  But, how do we do that?

There are two common techniques. Using either of these techniques, we must first believe that both people believe in the truth of their statements, and that by reconciling the statements we can arrive at the ultimate truth.  That is the bedrock to any inquiry. 

We must also retain or eliminate other assumptions.  This is not trick paper which changes color.  Neither person has put on colored glasses.  There are two people in a room with a sheet of paper that each one sees differently.  

The first way to reconcile these two contradictory statements is to say that the two people are viewing the paper under different conditions or at different times.  The room must have been lighted for one, completely dark for the other.  In this way, the paper is viewed as both black and white.  Under similar conditions we can also say that a river is both dry during a drought and free flowing during the rainy season.  Conditions change. 

We might also posit that the paper is truly both white and black, white on one side, black on the other.  If we hold this view, the paper and the conditions remain stable, but the underlying assumption that paper is only white or only black has changed.  This assumption or point of view (POV) is critical to knowing truth.

Your personal POV may be influenced by parents, peers, or culture.  Your POV has its own underlying assumptions of which you may be unaware.  To reach awareness, you must be willing to release closely held assumptions and beliefs if you discover them to be in error.  That is one hurdle too high, one climb too difficult for many people. 

Let me give you an example.  I have a deeply held underlying assumption that some of my innate, inborn traits are symptoms of sickness.  This is not true, but my belief became embedded due to input from parents, teachers, and my culture.   It would not be a problem if it was simply a philosophical assumption, but it affects how I view life and how I act in response to stimuli.  It governs my entire life and needs to change.

In an effort to change my assumptions, I asked my spiritual director (aka counselor), “how can I get my mind around the truth?” “You’re looking at it from the wrong perspective,” he told me.  “You think this is rational and you can solve it by reason.  But this is emotional, rather than rational and you cannot confront or challenge your erroneous point of view by reason.”

And that’s the way we need to view our own points of view.  They may seem reasonable, even right, but once you try to challenge them by gathering relevant evidence, your efforts will end with emotion:  sorrow, anger, dismay, depression.  The result of a confrontation intended to change POV is as loud and loaded with emotion as  a ticking bomb which, when it explodes, will kill a cherished part of you, because the truth is that the beliefs handed us by our parents, teachers, peers, and culture are deeply rooted, deeply cherished. 

Think about that the next time you hear someone speaking about an emotional topic.  Use your rationality to gather all the facts on both sides, then try to reconcile the contradictions.  If your view is a deeply held belief, you cannot perform the reconciliation without losing part of your cherished self. 

Look at the arguments between the Creationists and the Evolutionists.  (For purposes of this discussion, I am greatly simplifying the positions of both sides. )  A Creationist cannot believe that people were created by anything other than a direct word from God.  An Evolutionist cannot believe that we exist apart from natural selection.  To see the truth, the Creationist must accept all geologic, biologic, and other scientific evidence.  However, the Evolutionist must accept that our existence may be ordered by a being that is outside of scientific proof.  For most of these people this is a highly emotional subject (yes, even scientists have hidden emotions) and neither side really desires to reconcile.

But to reach truth, they must be reconciled.  Reconciliation works only when we move outside our place of comfort and grab onto the opposing belief, accepting it as true, and then looking for the one thing that reconciles them.  Think that’s easy?  Then you haven’t tried it.

Here’s another problem:  we tend to reach conclusions, to reconcile the contradictions, too quickly.  We think we have all the facts, but we don’t.  We think we know the answer, but the answer may reveal itself only over a span of days, weeks, months, or years.  In our rush to reach emotional security, we play with logic, constructing syllogisms with false premises.  Instead of conclusions, we reach delusions and, satisfied, continue on.   

Other philosophers agree.  Thomas Merton said that you cannot reconcile contradictions.  (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander) Instead, you must find the larger unity which contains both.   Someone else (I can’t remember who) said that rather than reconciliation or unity, we must find coherence.  Unity is grinding spices together so that you still have the spices (the contradictions).  Coherence is separating the spices into a logical arrangement that makes sense (you might put all the Asian spices in one place in the cupboard, the French spices in another, and everyday spices like salt and pepper in another).

Let’s use some of these principles to discuss issues of our day, without being too quick to reach conclusions.  Do you have any ideas for discussion?  I’d be happy to try to reconcile contradictions in a later post.


Thanks to John Leax’s talk at the Festival of Faith and Writing 2012 for getting me to think along these lines.


Picture by By Grant DeVolson Wood [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, July 2, 2012

10 Items to Have on Hand for Your Next Power Outage


  1. Toilet Paper, trash bags, and a plastic 3-gallon or256px-Power_line.svg larger bucket—your toilet substitute if you can’t flush the real one.
  2. A pond, stream, or other water source.  Did you know you can flush a toilet by pouring liquid in the bowl.  If you have a well and no electricity, your pond or stream is your best friend.
  3. Cash—it may be the only way to buy what you need.
  4. Gas camp stove with extra gas canisters.
  5. Matches
  6. Canned food.  I keep Chunky Soup, Chow Mein, Baked Beans, and Minute Rice (OK, that’s not canned, but I can make a nutritious meal with any of the other canned items).
  7. Bottled Water and water purifier for your stream, pond, or lake.
  8. Battery operated radio with a crank power source.  Look for one that will also charge your cell phone.
  9. In winter, it is good to have a wood stove or fireplace and an available source of wood.
  10. Flashlights and plenty of batteries—whether you are cooking or preforming other necessary acts, you will need light. 

What’s on your list?  Have I forgotten anything?



Benoit Serrier [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons