The marks of the beast

The marks offered them
sure and peaceful sleep,
a way to acquire prestige
and a thousand unnecessary things.
To continue along this path,
they had to harden themselves
against the Lamb and against
His Kingdom of Peace and Justice.
The strategy was always

to gain control
over all the world’s inhabitants,
to acquire all of their wealth,
and appropriate all their glory,
always in obeisance of the Beast.

From Julia Esquivel’s poem ‘Thanksgiving Day in the U.S.’ (1981), published in Threatened with Resurrection/Amenazado de resurrección

Multitasking and the divided self

Multitasking is the drive to be more than we are, to control more than we do, to extend our power and our effectiveness. Such practice yields a divided self, with full attention given to nothing.

This again is from Walter Brueggemann’s Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to a Culture of Now. ‘Full attention given to nothing’ – as a teacher I’d say this is one of the most debilitating faults of our 24/7 society.

Giving up control

Love is giving up control. It’s surrendering the desire to control the other person. The two – love and controlling power over the other person – are mutually exclusive. If we are serious about loving someone, we have to surrender all of the desires within us to manipulate the relationship.

Rob Bell, Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality

Perfect rest is an art

Some quotes from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s wonderful and inspiring book The Sabbath, first published in 1951:

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord.

Things, when magnified, are forgeries of happiness, they are a threat to our very lives.

Commenting on the sanctification of time, Heschel notes:

Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusive and endlessly precious.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, … on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.

… perfect rest is an art. It is the result of an accord of body, mind and imagination.

… the Sabbath is not dedicated exclusively to spiritual goals. It is a day of the soul as well as the body; comfort and pleasure are an integral part of the Sabbath observance.

The seventh day is the armistice of man’s cruel struggle for existence, a truce in all conflicts, personal and social, peace between man and man, man and nature, peace within man …. The seventh day is the exodus from tension, the liberation of man from his own muddiness, the installation of man as a sovereign in the world of time.

I found the following thought particularly remarkable:

One must abstain from toil and strain on the seventh day, even from strain in the service of God.

The Sabbath … is a profound conscious harmony of man and the world, a sympathy for all things and a participation in the spirit that unites what is below and what is above. All that is divine in the world is brought into union with God.

Heschel’s life- and creation-affirming theology is on display in these words as well:

Rabbi Shimeon’s doctrine was: There is only heaven and nothing else; but heaven contradicted him and said: There is heaven and everything else.

One must live and act as if the fate of all of time would depend on a single moment.

One good hour may be worth a lifetime; an instant of returning to God may restore what has been lost in years of escaping from him.

A double bind

Following up a friend’s recommendation, I am currently reading Barbara Glasson’s A Spirituality of Survival: Enabling a Response to Trauma and Abuse, a book that I am finding increasingly insightful, the more I am getting into it. Taking Miroslav Volf’s definition of exclusion from Exclusion and Embrace as her point of departure, Glasson rephrases this from the perspective of the victim, suggesting that:

… exclusion is being made invisible by someone who assumes superior power over us. We are rendered irrelevant and of no consequence. We are therefore pushed to the edges of … relationship to a place of silence, worthlessness and loneliness. … it can mean being owned or manipulated by someone who assumes power over us to such an extent that we lose any sense of autonomy.

Glasson describes this as ‘a double bind of silencing and isolation’, noting that victims are ‘simultaneously completely related to “the other” but also rendered totally irrelevant by “the other”.

Regardless of the motives of the abuser, a victim experiences this double bind of exclusion; this is why it renders them feeling unable to make easy changes. Whatever choice they make, they will be compounded in one cycle or another, of isolation or of ridicule, rendering them simultaneously more dependent and more isolated.

She adds:

In order to not be a victim of either oppression or invisibility … the structures of power [need to be reversed] in such a way that boundaries become liberating rather than controlling.

And she suggests:

The abused person is unable to unbind herself from the knot of victimization without the solidarity of others. These “others in solidarity” need to be prepared to enter into the bind and release it on behalf of the victim. Victims rarely move out of the cycles of abuse on their own but rather need the support, insight and understanding of those who “stand in solidarity”.

Best Reads 2013. VIII: Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom

Henri J. M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of LoveThis is one of the lesser known books by the late Dutch Roman Catholic priest Henri Nouwen, best remembered perhaps for books such as The Return of the Prodigal Son and The Wounded Healer. In the former, he briefly talks about giving up his distinguished academic career in order to work with people with mental disabilities at the L’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. In The Inner Voice of Love, Nouwen reveals that, during his time at L’Arche, he suffered a severe breakdown lasting about six months, a period he describes as the most difficult time of his life. It was, he says, ‘a time of extreme anguish, during which I wondered whether I would be able to hold on to my life’.

I felt that God had abandoned me. … The anguish completely paralysed me. I could no longer sleep. I cried uncontrollably for hours. I could not be reached by consoling words or arguments. I no longer had any interest in other people’s problems. I lost all appetite for food and could not appreciate the beauty of music, art, or even nature. All had become darkness. Within me there was one long scream coming from a place I didn’t know existed, a place full of demons.

The breakdown was triggered by the loss of a close friendship, which Nouwen describes in moving terms:

Going to L’Arche and living with very vulnerable people, I had gradually let go of many of my inner guards and opened my heart more fully to others. Among my many friends, one had been able to touch me in a way I had never been touched before. Our friendship encouraged me to allow myself to be loved and cared for with greater trust and confidence. It was a totally new experience for me, and it brought immense joy and peace. It seemed as if a door of my interior life had been opened, a door that had remained locked during my youth and most of my adult life.

When that friendship came to an end, Nouwen ‘lived through an agony that never seemed to end’. But, he says, he never lost the ability to write. Indeed, writing became part of his ‘struggle for survival’, and so he kept a secret journal, which was to be published years later as The Inner Voice of Love.

In this book, Nouwen describes how the loss of that friendship ultimately deepened his love of God, and how his suffering taught him compassion for others. There are many profound insights in these reflections on issues such as wounds and pain, friendship, love and compassion, God and spirituality, loneliness and transformation, the body, emotions and incarnation, community and living up to one’s calling.

The following quotes, offered without further comment and presented simply in the order in which they appear, give an illustration of the richness of Nouwen’s thought:

… those who seem to reject you … never speak about you. They speak about their own limitations. … They simply ask for your compassion.

Your willingness to let go of your desire to control your life reveals a certain trust. The more you relinquish your stubborn need to maintain power, the more you will get in touch with the One who has the power to heal and guide you. … As long as you run from where you are and distract yourself, you cannot fully let yourself be healed.

It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there.

When your deepest self is connected with the deepest self of another, that person’s absence may be painful, but it will lead you to a profound communion with the person, because loving each other is loving in God. When the place where God dwells in you is intimately connected with the place where God dwells in the other, the absence of the other person is not destructive. On the contrary, it will challenge you to enter more deeply into communion with God, the source of all unity and communion among people.

There is a real pain in your heart, a pain that truly belongs to you. You know now that you cannot avoid, ignore, or repress it. It is this pain that reveals to you how you are called to live in solidarity with the broken human race.

… real healing comes from realising that your own particular pain is a share in humanity’s pain. That realisation allows you to forgive your enemies and enter into a truly compassionate life.

The great challenge is living your wounds through instead of thinking them through. It is better to cry than to worry, better to feel your wounds deeply than to understand them …

It is you who decides what you think, say, and do. You can think yourself into a depression, you can talk yourself into low self-esteem, you can act in a self-rejecting way. But you always have a choice to think, speak, and act in the name of God and so move towards the Light, the Truth, and the Life.

There is much in this book, which I discovered quite by chance and only recently, that I can relate to in deep and profound ways. Nouwen’s journey from anguish to freedom is also one from hurt and pain to love and compassion, and that goal of a loving and compassionate life, while not making the hurt and pain any easier to endure, can give deep meaning to our struggles.