In one of my Lectio Divina meditations (Phil 2:5), I thought of all that Christ has done for us by becoming one of us. I then asked myself, what have you done in your lifetime that is worth what you did in your lifetime? What do you see, when you look at the sum of who you are and it looks back at you?
WHAT DO YOU SEE?
Being on the far side of 77 years of age, and an AARP member for many years, I look out on all that is around me and just marvel at all the good things I see happening Like baggage, I carry around the virtual suitcase of a lifetime full of seeing and learning what it all means. Don’t get me wrong, I see the bad things out there too, such as the political infighting and senseless shaming of those in both political parties all for nothing. I don’t watch the political news anymore. I see the rise and fall of people around me, in my own sphere of living, some through unauthentic existence (money, drug, orgiastic living), as Eric Fromm says in his book, The Art of Loving. I see that many people love each other and are, with varying degrees of success, trying to find meaning and purpose in their lives. I see that love is one of the reasons I can look out for the sum of my life and say, “Getting 50% correct ain’t bad!” Eric Fromm puts it like this: “Love means to commit oneself without guarantee, to give oneself completely in the hope that our love will produce love in the loved person. Love is an act of faith, and whoever is of little faith is also of little love.” As a retiree, life for me is about discovering what is beneath the surface of what I have taken for granted all these years.
Let me take you on a short journey based only on the photo that you see before you. I will ask you three questions leading to three levels of awareness. I have made this journey and answered the three questions as best as I can.
QUESTION ONE: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
This level involves only look at what you can see with your eyes. For the next five minutes, look at the photo of the cup. Write down only what your senses tell you about the picture, nothing more. On a piece of blank paper, write down everything you see in that picture. Every detail, no matter how small. This is the level of physical reality, or as I like to term it, a physical universe. In this universe, what is real is only what you can see, what is. There is no interpretation. All matter, time itself and all life live on this level.
QUESTION TWO: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
This level of awareness involves looking at the cup with your mind. We are using the physical universe here to move deeper into reality, a place where only humans can go. Animals and plants can’t follow us here. We have a reason for a reason. It is to discover the meaning of what is and ask why, how, when, what, and where.
It doesn’t sound like much until you ask the right question. Take some time to find a place of silence an solitude. For ten minutes, look at the photo of the cup and think of yourself as the cup. Think of the window as your life. Think of the what is in your cup. Is it full? Full of what? Think of the window as your life, and you look at reality through that window that is foggy. This is the level of meaning.
In my case, my cup is full of my life experiences., some good, some I would rather not relive because I was foolish and full of pride. I studied for a doctorate in Adult Education from Indiana University. At the time, I was a Roman Catholic priest, and my colleagues did not think me smart enough to get a doctorate in Adult Education. Not only did I receive a full scholarship, but I also taught several courses on the Faculty as an Adjunct Associate Professor. I went on to become a US Army Chaplain for five years. I decided to get married, had a child, and became an instructor for various State of Florida Departments teaching management and participation skills. Most of my life, from the viewpoint of society and some, has been a failure. All my background did not ensure me fame nor fortune. All of this is in my cup. I did discover six thresholds of life that answer six questions all of us must answer before we die. They are:
In my cup are my health issues. I suffered cardiac arrest (2007) called the Widowmaker and was diagnosed with Leukemia (CLL type) in 2014. My cancer is in remission, and the only health problem is, I am getting older and forgetful but that is a part of me. Like gold in the refiners fire, I am melted and being purified by being allowed to focus on Christ and the power of the Resurrection as I live it out in the context of who I am. Who I will become is not exactly clear, but I see the direction as long as Christ is the North on my compass.
QUESTIONS THREE: WHAT DO YOU SEE?
With this level of awareness, you see with your heart. For me, this is the spiritual universe.
My latest, and I don’t say last, the venture is to be a Lay Cistercian. https://www.trappist.net/lay-cistercians. This is a community of men and women who come together to seek God through the practice of Cistercian practices (silence, solitude, work, prayer, and community) and charisms (love, humility, obedience to God’s will, hospitality and contemplation). We attend monthly meetings at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, Georgia, called a Gathering Day. You can read more about Lay Cistercians at https://cistercianfamily.org/ This is a group of farmers, nurses, retirees, physicians, State workers, couples, and, of course, me. We all focus on trying to convert our lives to be more loving and peace-filled by using Lectio Divina. This is an ancient practice in the Catholic Church and contains four steps or stages set forth by the Carthusian Prior, Guibo II in the Twelfth Century.
There is a fifth level of Lectio Divina is Actio, or doing. My “doing” is writing all my thoughts down. as I sit before the computer. The Holy Spirit has been so good to me, it is like trying to take a drink of water from a fire hydrant. My problems is, I can’t seem to turn down the faucet.
I bring up Lay Cistercians because this approach to reality informs how I look at the six thresholds of life (above) and gives my life meaning. The central rule, if you want to call it that, is to love God with your whole mind, your whole heart, and with all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. The Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6) and Tough love for a world that values only itself as a god. When I ask myself “What Do you see?” as this third question, what I see is informed by my search for love and through contemplation as a Lay Cistercian. Contemplation seeking to find the meaning in life within you, the one place all of us are afraid to go. I look at this third question, as, hopefully, you will do, with the sum of whom I am, of what I have become. As a Lay Cistercian, what I see in this picture is as follows, my reflection.
This picture represents not only a shapshot of who I am now, but where I have been, worn, gnarled, a bit on the seamy side, but with a joy that comes from being who you are in silence and solitude of all being.
Praise be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who is, who was, and who is to come at the end of the ages. Amen and Amen. –Cistercian doxology.