Hearing/Listening

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

The large ad on the side of the city bus read: He may not always hear what you are saying, but he is always listening. There, beneath these words, is the head and features of a young boy. What does this mean? Is it not a contradiction to say someone is not always hearing, but is always listening? Not necessarily. Those of us who live with others—and they need not always be young boys—know what it means to live with someone who doesn’t always hear us, but who nonetheless is always listening. The issue is not one of the physical organism comprising the ear, but rather one of the relationship between people.

For we know of some member of a household who has developed the ability not to hear what another person living there—usually a particular person—is saying, especially if the remark is directed his or her way. On the other hand, should someone else living there say something to that same person, he or she hears it, even it is not spoken any louder than the comment from the first person. There seems to be an issue of selective hearing here, involving, not the ear, but a volitional component. That is, it indicates someone has decided not to hear what a particular person has just said to him or her. The hearing mechanism is fine. But a decision has been made not to hear what a certain person says, as when a young boy who is reading the Sports Page is asked by his older sister to take out the garbage.   For some strange reason he doesn’t seem to hear the remark.

On the other hand, that same boy, who may be sitting in the TV room, shows a surprising alertness to what his father and mother are talking about, as, for instance, gifts to purchase for him at Christmas time. The parents may be speaking softly, and at some distance away from the boy, who is absorbed in reading about his favorite ball club. Yet he shows a remarkable skill at hearing what his parents are conversing about in the living room, at a considerable distance away from him. Even household pets, such as the dog, exhibit a similar agility at perking up their ears when remarks are made about getting the leash to take him or her out for a walk.

We are prone to hear what we find pleasing and pleasurable. And this penchant can occur without too much deliberate planning on our part, whereas an unwelcome remark can fail to engage one already involved in something else. The married couple at the breakfast table, drinking coffee while reading their favorite portion of the daily paper, can be speaking to one another without arousing the slightest interest on the part of the other.

There is a saying to the effect that the messenger who brings bad news often suffers the fate that the bad news entails, as in the case of the messenger conveying the unwelcome news that King Saul had been killed(2 Sam 1), and then undergo death himself at the hands of David. The messenger suffered the fate of the unwelcome news. None of us likes to hear what displeases us. We devise ways and means of avoiding an unwelcome message.   But, at times, that is the very news we need to hear for our own well-being. The false prophets of the old Testament were adept at fashioning messages for the rulers of the land that the latter wanted to hear. The true prophets of that era always spoke the truth, but it was often not wanted or listened to. We hear what we want to hear, while often listening to conversation it were better we had not heard. Unfortunately, we are usually better at listening than hearing.

 

What is Peace?

 

peace

Symbol from: Faithsymbol.org

by James Paulin

What is peace? We readily acknowledge it is absence of war or armed conflict but is it merely a lull in aggressive action and the resulting defensive counter actions? Great jubilation accompanied the end of the first and second world wars. The euphoria didn’t last very long before war was on the horizon again and again. Wars are horrible in every sense and seemingly unavoidable as history reminds us. We all seek peace but some will only accept a peace on their personal terms.

 

Injustice, power, greed, poverty, prejudice, ignorance and malice all play roles as motives for violence. Is peace nothing more than an uneasy standoff or maintaining the status quo? Is it an oppression that threatens to quash any objections to the dominant ruling force? It seems obvious that global peace is unobtainable given the human condition and history as it has played out. There is however a possible avenue towards personal peace many have obtained that is undeniable.

 

Contrary to popular beliefs, peace has little to do with financial status. People have found peace despite unbearable circumstances from concentration camps to intensive care units and from broiling deserts to Artic wastelands. Many times inner peace has enabled a poverty stricken person to rise up to great accomplishment. Connecting to this source of well being takes a leap of faith into the arms of the “Prince of Peace”, God’s only Son. This abiding resource is rooted in trust that God is in control if you just follow Him. It doesn’t mean things will always be smooth or easy but it means you can count on Gods’ support and love. In the poverty that all of us share, our fragile existence, we have only one choice to make.

More on the Science of Compassion

 

As a Passionist High School Seminarian I was taught to meditate daily. I remember very little actual instruction. It was just part of our daily schedule and I simply followed everyone else, sitting quietly in the Chapel after a day of doing chores, studying and playing outside. The time was just before dinner and I must admit, much of my time was spent wondering what was for dinner, especially if the nuns were making bread.

 

We all were assigned a spiritual director and mine was Fr. Randal Joyce, C.P. Our spiritual director helped us choose reading material, which we had time to read for the fifteen minutes preceding meditation. Fr. Randal encouraged me to kneel (we actually sat in a kind of half kneel and half sit position) and think about what I had just read for help in meditating. That’s the only instruction I can recall.

 

I dropped that very valuable activity when I left the novitiate and didn’t return to it on a regular basis for the next twenty years. At that time I was reintroduced to meditation and have since done it on a fairly regular basis.

 

In today’s TED talk brain researcher, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor, tells us about her experience having and recovering from a stroke. It’s an amazing story as witnessed by the fifteen million plus views of her talk. More than her experience she tells the science of what actually happened and what happens to us when we choose to live in our right brain.

 

Why did I categorize this talk as compassion you wonder? Jill chose brain research because she had a brother who suffered from mental illness. Her compassionate choice has given us a remarkable insight into life and especially into a life of prayer and meditation. Thanks Jill.

Wanting/Having

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

A newspaper recently cited a choice to be made: to want what one has, or to have what one wants. Is there a difference between them?   Having what one really wants: can it be truly different from wanting what one already has? After all, why would anyone want what he or she already has, unless they don’t realize that they already have it? If a person already possesses something, is there any basis for continuing to want it? Perhaps, however, one doesn’t realize that he or she has it, and so continues to desire it. But, if that’s the case, there must be little about something to recommend it, that is, little attractiveness about it, if one has it in one’s possession, and doesn’t even recognize it. For surely, if it’s something one really treasures, how could such a person fail to realize that it is already in his or her possession?

Possibly, of course, because one has wanted it, not for him or herself, but for someone else: a friend or a family member. That may possibly dull or dim the awareness that the treasured item has already been in his or her possession, possibly for a long time. It’s just a matter of forgetfulness, or oversight. Such a scenario might account for one person telling another that there’s something I really would like to have, understandably leading another to ask why? you already have it.

Or, and this may be less unlikely, one simply wants more of the desirable item. It’s so intensely desired that one cannot get his or her fill of it, and keeps wanting more of it. Is this not the case, at times, when one nation goes to war with another? It could be a larger nation starting a fight with a smaller nation because it simply wants more tillable territory, or more grazing land, or more mineral-rich veins of precious metals. When this is the case, then it’s not a matter of oversight or forgetfulness, but of greed or blatant overreach.

On the other hand, we consider the implications of having what one wants. And we wonder why such a scenario would eventuate. Now in a positive light, it suggests that one is perfectly content and satisfied with his or her situation in life, precisely because he or she has no unsatisfied wants, needs or desires, and is quite content with what he or she has. This may mean that life has generously bestowed its choicest favors on such a person and provided for every contingency or eventuality. And, to such a person’s credit, he or she recognizes, and appreciates, that life has been good to oneself, leaving no unmet wants or desires.

Of course, there’s a more negative appraisal of such a situation, suggesting: well, such a person likely doesn’t want very much out of life for him or herself, and so is easily satisfied with whatever comes along. That is, this kind of person simply doesn’t expect much out of life. He or she doesn’t aim high, and too easily settles for whatever life “dishes out” to one. That person lacks drive, ambition and determination to aim higher, and to improve the quality of life which one is currently pursuing. If life were made up of people who took what came and easily settled for what happened to be at hand, there would be no improvements in life, no inventiveness, no drive upward and onward, and attitudes like: why not continue to live in the house that one’s parents lived in?   Such a person reasons: look, I have what I want: a house.

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Blind “I”

blindeye

by James Paulin

infinite universe out beyond

swirling round me of which I’m quite fond

global issues encompass mankind

I ignore them with my carefree mind

our nation votes with each earnest voice

declining, I give away my choice

avoid poor, desperate, hungry souls,

consumed in reaching financial goals

let someone else care for social ills

I say “Not this time with all these bills”

don’t have time for elders left alone

or troubled teens without any home

inner conversation left unsaid

only comforting my pride instead

to find any way to joy and peace,

I self prescribe a conscience decrease

my senses report that I exist

to seek purest purpose, I resist

Separateness Leads to Compassion

 

In my last few blogs I’ve been quoting McNeill, Morrison and Nouwen from their book Compassion. In chapter five which is titled Displacement, they write: “The paradox of the Christian community is that people are gathered together in voluntary displacement…Voluntary displacement leads to the existential recognition of our inner brokenness and thus brings us to a deeper solidarity with the brokenness of our fellow human beings. Community, as the place of compassion, therefore always requires displacement.” In our OATS community we referred to this as separateness.

 

In today’s TED talk, Thandie Newton puts flesh on these wordy statements

 

A Tiny Light Shining Dimly

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

One of the consoling things in life is to know that you’re doing what everyone else is doing. It’s always uncomfortable and embarrassing to realize that you’re out of synch with everyone else. As a bishop recently commented to the largely white church congregation, singing to the melodies that the mainly black musical ensemble was providing on this occasion: “You’ve got to learn how to clap better. You’re way out of synch.”

It is legitimizing to know that you’re in step with everyone else. One doesn’t stand out when in step with the group. The famous Broadway Ziegfield Follies dance chorus of some 50 girls or so graphically depicted this over the years it appeared on stage when they displayed harmonious synchronization in their dance routine, except for one of the 50 girls who always managed to be out of step with the other 49. She obviously stood out.

It’s interesting that we so cherish “being in step”.   It supports the idea of harmony and compatibility that is so vital for a group to develop, if it intends to do anything requiring cooperation and coordination, which large groups usually do. That is why military units are taught to march in rhythm with one another.   That kind of togetherness will serve them well in later situations, perhaps of combat, where acting together is imperative for survival, and victory.

Yet, it has its downside.   Other opinions, different ways of doing things and gaining new ideas, can be of as much value as harmony and togetherness.   In fact, routine can be deadening—a criticism often leveled by the laity at the Sunday sermon: I’ve heard that too many times already. More significant is the moral downside of never questioning, never criticizing, never thinking otherwise. This is fertile ground for the inroads of social sin, which acts like a wet blanket, “covering a multitude of sins”. When a departure from the usual or customary evokes the response of: “what’s wrong with that? everybody is doing it.”, we may be in trouble. When the Austrian Franz Jaggerstatter was inducted into the German army in 1941, he refused to serve, convinced the Nazi cause was immoral.   All his buddies joined the army, his family urged him to join the army, his parish priest did the same, nor was his bishop enthusiastic about his stance. He was threatened with severe penalties if he didn’t join, but he steadfastly (stubbornly, in the opinion of most) refused, and so was jailed and ultimately beheaded by the Nazi occupying force. Why didn’t he capitulate? Everyone else was doing it—and they were mostly Catholic. Perhaps we should mention he was an illegitimate child, and, in turn, begot a child out of wedlock later on, so, to that extent, he did what other farm boys (though not all of them) did. But we don’t remember him for what he did in consort with others, but for going against the tide.

Social sin, a blight that had infected the entire society of church and state, provided no opening for those like him who thought and acted otherwise. He was a tiny light shining dimly in an all-pervading darkness. He didn’t manage to turn the lights on, but he did succeed in providing one tiny glimmer of light that stood amid surrounding darkness. Today we call on his memory as Blessed Franz Jaggerstatter. He was sensitive to social sin. He probably knew how to handle his personal sins (his out-of-wedlock exploits), in the confessional, as many of us do. They are much easier to confess than trying to acknowledge our social sins, should we even be aware of them. Perhaps we should pray to him for such sensitivity.