Restless

Have you ever felt that crushing feeling? The one that traps you, and no matter what you do it crushes, smothers, and oppresses all your thoughts, actions, and motions. It’s like a voracious hyena that nibbles at your heels every time you stop to rest. It is a kind of discontent, like a film over top of contentment that prevents us from touching it, no matter which direction we approach from. It takes our successes and gives them that “just not right” smell that milk gets when its about to go.
 

I wonder if this state isn’t something similar to what was frequently called, in an age gone by, the blues. I would call it the Great Burden, a kind of cosmic weight bearing down upon us.
 

For Restless 2To elucidate my own experience with this universal struggle, allow me to take you back five years to when I spent my summers hitchhiking across the breadth of Canada.
 

I can recall a time when I first began praying. It was during my long hours spent on the side of a highway that I’d started to ask God, or the Universe, or whatever was out there, for the things I wanted most. It appeared like my prayers were being answered. Again and again I told myself, it’s just coincidence, you’re praying for the things you need after all. This did not explain, however, both the speed and shocking accuracy with which these prayers were answered.
 

Imagine thinking to yourself, “Man, I’d really love a ham sandwich with tomatoes…”
No sooner had you uttered these words then someone would walk up to you and say, “Hi! Sorry to bother you, but I just ordered this ham sandwich but they put tomatoes on it and I don’t like them, do you want it?” It was in the face of situations just like this one, where reason had to suggest – this is greater than coincidence, something else is has to be going on here. Truly, there are no coincidences with God.
 

Though what I pined after was hardly below the surface levels of desire, it was all granted to me.
 

With that said I should note that I do not seek to create the impression that prayers are always answered in such a fashion. It was, according to that time in my life, how God so decided to show me his presence.
 

My journey of indulgence came to a peak.
 

I’ll never forget this moment so long as I live: I was sitting on a couch, in a bar which belonged to my girlfriend’s brother, and I was weeping. In the middle of the dancing, the drinking, the chaos, and the celebrations, there I was having a good cry. My girlfriend approached me and inquired into why I was so downtrodden. I responded, “Everything is great!” They were not tears of sadness, but of happiness. “I have gotten everything I ever could have asked for!” I told her, between sobs. It was true. So overwhelmed was I from my prayers being answered on such a regular basis, I wept because I realised that I was so happy, that I had nothing left to want for.
 

Within a week from that day, everything collapsed. My travels ended, she dumped me, I hit the bottom soon after. Numb from the turmoil I felt nothing, but continued to pray and meditate in silence for long periods of time every day. Had God abandoned me? Had He, who is said to be Love, played a cruel trick on me?
 

Quite the opposite: He was calling me deeper, beyond my shallow desires into a communion of persons. God would not remain a merchant in my life, but a living and acting person with whom I began a friendship, a dialogue that continues to this day.
 

In my moments of meditation one message reached me over and over again: Go to the local soup kitchen, live there.
 

This particular soup kitchen, located downtown, serves the homeless. I had doubts. It never occurred to me that anyone might actually live there. Within my experiences of the past, I had learned not to dismiss the message outright, but to seek out its authenticity.
 

Those who ran the soup kitchen accepted me into their life.
 

Though they have no official policy for accepting guests, it was decided that my presence was, one way or another, in line with God’s will. During my stay I put forth my best effort to serve the poor with my whole heart. For someone who had just lived for two years off the kindness of others, while travelling the highways of Canada, it wasn’t hard to sympathize with these struggling men and women.
 

In addition to my firsthand and full time experience with serving my brothers and sisters, I also had lots of quiet time for reflection. During this time I searched for the answers to some important questions: If I had obtained everything I knew to desire, why had I plummeted so quickly into chaos and turmoil so soon after? Was there any amount of worldly things that could fill this void within me? Why was I always still hungry, always still yearning for more?
 

Why?
 

Pope Francis sums up the emptiness I experienced in his apostolic exhortation Joy of the Gospel. He informs us that “desolation and anguish” are “born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience.” And, as though to highlight my own transition, he teaches further that “whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor.”
 

Who hasn’t seen this process in their own lives? No amount of goods, money, or possessions has ever resulted in a peaceful and content heart. The lack of food and daily necessities can lead to great suffering, but to have these things alone is never sufficient for an equation equalling peace.
 

In order to effectively treat an illness a wise doctor must asses the cause of the symptoms, and not just the symptoms alone; likewise, in this context I learned to seek out the cause of my discomfort. I sought to understand why I was not satiated by mere heaps of “stuff”, instead of blindly piling more things into the emptiness, always ending up hungry again.
 

Social Darwinists will be quick to say that due to our evolutionary ancestry it makes sense to have endless desires for things, comforts, and security, that these things ensure a greater chance of survival. Though there is often merit in these types of arguments, I am not so quick to delude the human family into a pack of evolved animals. I do not deny our evolutionary ancestors; however, I affirm that we are much more than evolved apes and the evidence lies within our hearts. It was in silence, in meditation, in searching inwards that I noticed something so spectacular, so fulfilling, so incredible, that a mere few seconds of this experience left me hungry beyond belief for more.
 

It may be argued that I had just replaced one hunger for another, but this was different. This experience satiated all other hungers, it produced peace, contentment, and fortitude. In the realm of consumerism and selfish indulgence we are given fading and inevitably empty promises. In direct contrast and spoken powerfully in the words of Saint Augustine:
 

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.”

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Between Scathing Rants and Flaccid Dissertations: Writing About Truth

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What a difficult task! We must first assume that a person has a grasp on the truth in the first place, but then we are presented with an important question: It is easy to write poorly about the truth, but how does one wield the pen effectively, so as to open the hearts and minds of many? I’ve given this challenge much thought over the rather short course of this blog, and I have some conclusions.
 

There’s a type of voice I’ve come to dislike thoroughly in any writing, especially my own. It is the scathing rant. Every genre of writers is guilty of such expression, whether it be those who write on religion, politics, atheism, or feminism, we all do it. I find such writing ineffective, childish, and worst of all, devoid of hope or compassion. This does not prevent it’s popularity however, but the readership for these types of articles is usually found among either those who already agree (preaching to the choir), or those who wish to pick fights in the comment reel (the trollers).
 

It’s one quality I’ve noticed within a particular, some-what well known blog. Though his arguments are often sound or well thought out, in contrast I don’t perceive hope in his writing. Though I frequently agree with what he’s saying, I can’t help but walk away from reading one of his articles with the sense that I’d just been rubbed all over with sandpaper, and I can’t say I like it or find it useful.
 

There is one type of writing that is uncomfortable to read, but in the best way possible. Writing that is written both with conviction and truth, but also with a rooting in passion for all human people. You know when you’ve come across such writing when you feel at once convicted of your own contribution to the problem being discussed, but simultaneously motivated to work towards something better. Many of the spiritual masters have this quality in their speech, thoughts, and writing. My favourite example is the profound collection of writings from various groups of monastics who, around 300-400AD, lived in the desert as ascetics and monks. They are known, with great reverence, as the Desert Fathers. Their lives were completely consecrated to prayer and good works; few have spoken so powerfully on compassion, prayer, humility, hospitality, living for the greater good, ridding oneself of addiction and vice, and many other worthy topics. One quality I’ve always noticed while reading the sayings of the Desert Fathers is the overwhelming compassion that the protagonists in their stories hold toward those who struggle. They have a firm but gentle touch, one that both guides and also comforts.
 

St. Augustine said, “virtue lies in the middle road,” and it is this middle road I hope to represent.
 

Writing that is completely lacking in any real force or power is like leaves in the wind, here today and gone tomorrow. Such writing leaves us with the feeling — ok fine, but who cares? In contrast, if it’s written with an iron fist, in a crushing and demeaning manner, it will only ever appeal to those who don’t need their minds to be changed, or those who need justification for their anger. If an argument only convinces those who already agree with it, it is useless, a lead weight resting unseen on the ocean floor. The works of the Desert Fathers are neither weak, superfluous, nor flaccid, but neither are they abrasive, ironic, or divisive. Their dissertations lift the reader, showing them their flaws in the light, all the while comforting them, granting them strength to begin again.
 

What a challenge to be self-aware, other-aware, before articulating and discussing the heart and meaning of the topics we’ve chosen to represent.
 

It is an immense battle to fight one’s emotions and to find balance between the “teeth” in an essay and also an awareness of all people, big and small, strong and weak, aware and unaware. When any writer comes off with sheer derision, slander, or irony, anyone who is legitimately struggling to understand the writer’s topic (excluding the truly stout of heart) will be immediately discouraged and turned off. If the topic is worthwhile and meaningful, it will take on a black-eye in the view of that struggling reader. It is to put forth an opinion that will cause the reader not to trust the argument.
 

For my own experience I have come to see, though I am a mere beginner when it comes to writing, that the only path to beneficial writing, that is writing that is of some benefit to others and myself, is continual vigilance.  To fight against my own propensity to relax and to rely upon old habits, combined with an awareness of what I’m writing, why I’m writing it, and with what tone, is crucial if I am to hold a meaningful voice.
 

Love and Pain Are Inseparable


With attention to rising divorce rates and the continuing societal anthem to do only what makes a person feel good, I spent some time in reflection. While contemplating the heartache one experiences when separated from the one they love, I came to a deeper understanding of a misunderstood reality: love and pain are inseparable.

 

ImageIt burns the heart with a holy passion when we miss someone. The heart longs and yearns; it is alive and it groans. Nothing, but the beloved, will truly fill the hole. This reality does not stop us from trying to stuff something, anything, into the longing, to make it stop, even for a few moments. Our attempts are futile. Love is so designed that no other can replace it’s fixation. Would we really want it any other way? Of course not! Love should only be satiated by the beloved. Otherwise our longing takes the form of desperation which will accept anything, good or otherwise. More often than not, the effect of such gluttonous feasting is a form of spiritual indigestion, namely, heart ache and confusion.
 

The lover must accept the pain of the absence of the beloved.
 

In this pain the love is fulfilled and strengthened. Care must be taken to ensure that the longing is not transformed into fantasy or other distractions from the true beloved. Like pornography in relation to sex, fantasies of our beloved are skewed and improper representations of the authentic person. A complex, beautiful, and meaningful person cannot be deduced into “characters” within our mind.
 

How in this moment as my own heart longs, I wish for some relief. However, if the cost of such relief would be to release any knowledge of the beloved, then it would be a fools errand. Every person is called to intimacy. Those who hide from the pain, also miss out on life’s greatest fulfillment. This fear affects everyone, and so we must strengthen one another to achieve a deeper and more fulfilling self-gift.
 

There are many mountains to climb as one matures in their ability to love.
 

Love gives space, when it is needed. It is an immense struggle of a loving heart to grant space to the beloved when every emotion and cell screams for closeness and intimacy. To give in to our desires for intimacy when the other needs space, is to smother the other in our own need.Of course, we must also reach out and allow ourselves to be loved, and here lies the greatest battle: the battle of discernment. The great internal warfare to uncover the source of our motivations, whether they be selfish or altruistic.
 

Beyond our internal struggle comes the even more enigmatic endeavour of learning to understand the beloved’s actions in truth, and not in wishful thinking. The skill of interpreting speech and body language within humility, or grounded understanding, is essential for intimacy and right ordered action.
 

Fear and timidity sap love dry till there’s nothing left but bones.
 

Courage and love go hand in hand; perfect love casts out fear. Every time. It is powerful and seductive, but not given to lust and self gratification. Perfect love prioritizes the need of the other and gives patience in the greatest measure possible. Some may say such incredible self gift is impossible, so lets settle for something more realistic. However, when one analyzes such a statement in-depth, they will see that a deep fear is lurking beneath its logic, a fear that will destroy true love. The beloved deserves more than defeatist rationalizations, they are worthy of our best and never ending efforts to achieve the greatest love possible. There is no substitute for authentic love!
 

Women and Men: Equal, But Not The Same

Have you ever noticed that it’s the same people who tell us that the only reason men and women are different is entirely because of socialization, are also the same people telling us that homosexuality is purely genetic, and has nothing to do with socialization at all? Though this standpoint is tempting, it represents wishful thinking as opposed to reality.
 

Genes are expressed differently depending upon our environment. Likewise, they predispose us to different environments. So the environment we are exposed to affects how/what genes are expressed, as well as having a profound effect on the human personality and behaviour. Nature and nurture are two complex and intertwined realities, but there’s one thing I know from my own experience: I have never been able to find an empirical study which showed that any particular behaviour or disposition was entirely the result of genes or environment. To make such a claim is not only unfounded, but also has an imminent risk of negatively affecting those we love.

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To illustrate my point consider this study: In Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding by Lilenfeld et al. (published February, 2013) several studies where referred to in which identical twins raised in separate homes were studied to try and understand which factor (genes or environment) produces homosexuality. In an Australian study done with over 1500 identical twin pairs, only 20% of the time when one twin was homosexual, so was the other. That means that 80% of the time only one of the twins was found to have a homosexual orientation, even though, they were genetically identical. The authors state that “the finding that a substantial percentage of identical twins aren’t concordant tells us that environmental influences play a key role in homosexuality, although this doesn’t tell us what these influences are” (Lilenfeld 452). Genes cannot be written out, but the idea of “100% genes” can be.
 

One reason this debate has become so heated is that people treat the statement “men and women are different…” as if it were the founding platform for the next point that “men are better then women at…” or “women can’t do ______ as a result of…” I do not, and never will, support such a view. The contribution of women to society during the entire history of the human family is immeasurable. I have a profound awareness and gratitude for this immense gift. Sadly, women have been treated, and are being treated, with injustice, with hatred, and with oppression. Women have been undermined and unrecognized for their irreplaceable contribution to humankind. I wish I had the ability to wipe the slate clean, but I do not.Feminists have seen and acknowledged the power of social and cultural movement, and so they are trying to alter its course for their perception of what is best. Don’t we all? Many feminists will tell us that a woman is not free until she is free from all societal pressures and preconceptions. We cannot forget, however, that the idea that a man or a woman is merely a blank slate waiting to decide who they want to be, is yet another societal pressure and preconception. If men and women are different, it is a misleading one; one that if continued will have a negative impact on future and current human beings.
 

I pray and work for a world where women and men will become two equal partners in the pursuit of human life, art, philosophy, love, science, medicine, and every other aspect of our lives. With that said, I will never support the idea that women and men are identical. We must never confuse equality, which is intrinsic in every human being, and sameness, the idea that they are the same. An apple is different from an orange, even so, this is not an argument that one is better than the other. A life of intellectual pursuit is different from a life of intense manual labour, but this again, is not an argument for which is better. Equal, but not the same. We already know and embrace this understanding when it comes to individuals. We know that just because a person lived their life in India doesn’t make them any better or worse then someone who lived in Australia. Yet, we don’t have a hard time acknowledging their differences, even though differences like these have been used in the past to effect certain forms of hatred or oppression.
 

Within the aforementioned text, one chapter dedicated to childhood development makes a clear statement on the subject of gender and socialization. The authors reveal that in regards to a child’s early years “a popular misconception is that gender differences don’t emerge until socializing influences, like parenting practices, have had the opportunity to act on Children” (Lilenfeld 402). They continue, “Yet some gender differences are evident in early infancy, rending this explanation unlikely.” Among the differences noted are children’s tendencies to play with gender specific toys, even when presented with either gender neutral options or equal access to gender specific toys like balls and fire trucks versus dolls etc. This raises an important question of the chicken and the egg. It is possible that the use of gender specific toys arose out of the preferences of the children, and not the parents preferences for their children. This study supports this hypothesis.
 

There is one commonly implied idea that I disagree with most of all. It’s the idea that our society cannot be deemed equal or fair until there is an equal balance between men and women in various places in the workforce. While it’s impossible to deny that unfair gender biases exist in the workplace, and that this is a tragedy, on the other hand, the constitutive differences between men and women will affect their inclinations, choices, and tendencies on average. If both men and women are allowed to be truly free, we will notice some gender dominated areas of society. This reality can be a symbol of our freedom, not our inequality. If a man or woman with equal qualifications is refused from a specific positi0n because of their gender alone, this is a grave and moral error, one which every effort should be made to fix.
 

I stand against stereotypes whole-heartedly, however, they do not exist in a vacuum. The difference between how women and men communicate is both noticed and partially understood. To pretend this contrast doesn’t exist is to throw ourselves backwards in our understanding of one another. Likewise, applying one simple stereotype over all men or all women, is equally harmful. Careful discernment, centered in love, is the gift every human being deserves, regardless of gender. Acknowledging our diversity is the first step in working towards communicating effectively and with care.
 

We stand to lose a great wealth of understanding of the beautiful dynamic of our genders if we toss the baby out with the bathwater. As a whole, great effort should be undertaken to ensure that gender stereotypes do not work to enslave, to subjugate, or to crush either men or women — in fact, stereotypes should never be used. Some have succeeded greatly in this good pursuit. Just because a particular institution has failed us on one occasion or another, is never a sufficient reason to comprehensively eradicate it. Our differences are not arbitrary, but complimentary. This reality gives birth to the great potential for a beautiful balance between strengths and weaknesses. Many assume that difference will therefore fuel separation or discord, but this thought misses the point altogether. In the pursuit of balance and harmony, our complementary differences give us all the more reason to work together, to love one another, and to strive to reach absolute and complete equality, because when we co-operate together, it creates something altogether more beautiful and powerful, then what we ever could have reached apart.