COPING WITH OUR DISTURBANCES
"Peace is nothing else but the tranquility arising from order. Within ourselves there is a threefold order: that of the person to himself, to God, and to his neighbour." (St.Thomas Aquinas). This seemingly simple and clear triple guideline, lays out a map of where we all can find solutions to psychological, physical, political,social or spiritual problems that may beset us. We only need to think for a moment about Syria and the military and political paralysis there, to realise that most likely, negotiations are not concentrating on the real issues. But the bad news, for some, is that the real answer to activate these guidelines, is to develop one's faith in a Creator. The alternative is to be either agnostic or even atheistic. These are beliefs that will lead us into a desert where temptations to be intoxicated by power (if a politician e.g.); or to feel increasingly without direction or deep meaning in one's life,take us into uncharted or stormy waters, the psychological or the social. We all know that to find a spiritual path is both complicated, because it means taming our egos, as well as lengthy in time. So we have to reflect within ourselves on what is our understanding of the meaning of life. Immediately we do that, the vast picture of what is barren and meaningless, but also what is fruitful, begins to slowly crystalise. To follow the fruitful though, requires a Letting Go of habits that hinder our real development as truly free persons. If we are weighed down by seemingly exciting desires, such as a political grasp for power in some form, we are not free. Nor will all those on the receiving ends of such a "world" view be free. Wouldn't it be wonderful if warring politicians when they have a moment to negotiate, laid aside their egos and "made their home with God".(Aquinas.).
Thank you.. Tom Baxter
DO WE HAVE A DISPOSITION FOR? ...
"Often our trust is not full. We are not certain that God hears us, because we consider ourselves worthless and as nothing. This is ridiculous and the very cause of our weakness." (Julian of Norwich 1342-1415 A.D.). Here Julian highlights a key cause of the psychological damage we can cause both to ourselves as well as to others. For if we have little real sense of wonder about our identity and our goal on earth, then we will indeed consider ourselves to be outcasts. This can have enormous effects, just to consider for example, malevolent dictators, bad chief executives hunting bigger and bigger bonuses; drug criminals and on and on. In short, to reduce, the damaging imbalance of crime of all kinds, all of us must begin to redress our own imbalance, to recognise their is something much higher than ourselves, the Creator, one who wishes us well, for otherwise why would he have created us ? As Meister Eckhart,(1260-1329 A.D.) commented," A seed of God is in us. Just as a hazel tree grows into a hazel tree, so does a seed of God grow into God." Eckhart reminds of how patient we have to be in our life journey of progression towards a higher happiness, but equally of the importance of our responsibility that we have, each in our varied ways, to bring that spiritual vision into reality. But this in our stressful times, can be extremely difficult to concentrate upon, as it requires an almost monastic sense of disciplined use of our time. In fact Hildegard von Bingen (1098- 1179 A.D.) underlines the issue with."Those who lose their juiciness and greening power, fall into the dryness of carelessness, not caring, loss of passion". So our disposition to do good for the world, begins to splinter, we increasingly shrug our shoulders at others' afflictions, until we become prey to external forces that are not at all helpful to our spiritual growth. We see reminders of this, every day in the media. Every day, each of us is at a cross road, to go which way? To be an agent for good or to be indifferent. By sharpening our disposition to question, to be curious, to be active, we can slowly do God's work.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
THE BLACK CLOUD OVER BRUSSELS
"Light is given to the sun, not to shine alone on itself, but also on the whole earth. So too, God wills that all our gifts of wealth, power and knowledge should benefit others" (St.Thomas Aquinas 1224-1275 A.D.). Here Aquinas is reminding us of our responsibilities to share; to care, not to pursue individual agendas of grabbing things for ourselves alone, whether it is as a chief executive taking a bonus of £50 million as reported this week, or I.S. pursuing hate agendas in Brussels. Thomas Merton the Trappist monk and poet :- ( The roads are white, the fields are mute, there are no voices in the wood. Trees make gallows up against the sharp-eyed stars. Oh where will Christ be killed again in the land of these dead men?). In this little excerpt from one of Merton's poems, the imagery of the underlying aridity of spirit that is the foundation of Isis terrorism, is made very clear. Further on Merton talks of " secret words which divide the essences of things. The one word which strikes at the heart of creation, and dissolves it into its original nothingness, is FEAR." It is fear that underlies hate, that triggers it into aggressive destruction. Fear of oneself; of loss of perceived values, real or grossly mistaken. So what can be done to reduce this social cancer? We all know the answer, it is Love - starting with a positive acceptance of oneself and then moving that understanding into the wider community of the world. But more fundamentally, that can go wrong, if our understanding of love, is not linked to a metaphysical i.e.spiritual platform, namely, God. For it is God who sustains us, if we will that to happen. With Easter on our doorstep, now perhaps is a chance for all of us to make that link more strongly, so that we can counter more effectively attacks as in Brussels, before they happen.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
A POLITICAL LESSON
"The soul is destined for such a great and noble good, that is must always hurry to this goal, that it can by every available means come to the eternal good that is God - for it is for that the soul was created." (Meister Eckhart (1260-1329 A.D.). Here Eckhart underlines the journey plan that we should all endeavour to adhere to. Looking at the excessess of capitalism; political malingering; the constant treating of others as Objects whether in the workplace or nationally, by governments, remind us on a daily basis of the navigational errors in our lives. This is why we need to assess the obstacles in our path towards a greater good. Politicians e.g. can be too easily be pulled off track by the seeming delights of power. Power to control others; to make decisions; to feel a poisonous anger when thwarted, such that they themselves ingest the corrosive anger. To counter- balance the darkness of that scenario, we can remind ourselves of our destiny - "we are but distant mirrors of God" (Eckhart). As we reflect on the consequences of that statement, we immediately see the enormity of our responsibility to spread goodness in the world. How easy it is of course to shrug our shoulders and simply ask oneself, ' now what is on television tonight'. Yet, for many, that simple metaphor will come back to haunt us; to inspire us, so that we can reform ourselves; campaign for good causes and grow a sense of friendship and care to all whether fellow humans; animals; or the environment. We can always if we wish, make a vow, to be that "distant mirror" that Eckhart described. Such a vow would begin to focus our minds and actions. Yes, we may well be faulty mirrors on many occasions, but at least it will provide the beginnings of a framework of action.
Thank you.. Tom Baxter
A THERAPY FOR OUR TIMES
"To reach satisfaction in all, desire it's possession in nothing. To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing. To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing" St.John of the Cross. (1542-1591 A.D.) . This apparently scanty framework for living our lives, hides just below the surface, a deeper reality. This reality is that of Letting Go, withdrawing from our addictions, our habits that imprison us, so leading to an emptying of the dross, rather like deleting unwanted material on our computers. But of course this is not usually a quick process. There has to be a rational for doing it. We need to first realise that we are being slowed down by too much that is not necessary. The advantages of Letting Go are centred around an influx of currents of Freedom, a chance to breathe more deeply, and to see the world in a way that is both detached, yet empathic. This in turn enables us to in turn to become more effective as agents of change, particulary that is, on matters of Justice. As I write, in the paper it describes the dilemmas of people who have had rural bus services taken away, so that they can no longer get to work. The government minister says, "Oh, this is a matter for local councils" - in other words, we, the government are totally innocent. This tiny example of institutional irresponsibility, can now be better confronted if we have re-discovered our energies through Letting Go. As St.Thomas Aquinas remarked, " Justice is about actions, whereby one is to find balance not only in oneself, but also in relation to others". This lack of balance is what is so often, the cause of anger and injustice. Politicians, in this particular example cited, need to upgrade their sense of the spiritual, so as to make more just and responsible decisions.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
WE ARE ROYAL
" God made human beings as ROYAL PERSONS, subject to no bodily creatures." (St.Thomas Aquinas). Here Aquinas pushes us forwards, to renew our self confidence and so to reduce our fear of acting against social and political evils. Becoming an agent of change in any society is always a difficult and time consuming business. It brings fear to the surface - "the beginning of despair, even as hope is the beginning of daring". But getting a grip on the picture of humans as Royal Persons, orientates us to re-assess not only ourselves as individuals, but also the actions of others. This involves the Cardinal Virtues of Wisdom; Justice; Temperance; Fortitude. With this template we can assess e.g. In what ways have I been unjust today ? By referring to Wisdom, we can look at what part our will has played in any of our unjust actions and with reflection, how to improve. This is of key importance, because we cannot begin to do good in life, until we become more at ease with ourselves. Then we can begin to stand up against the actions of others, where they have lost the core understanding of what it means to be human. (The problems in Syria is a good example of that). Underlying all this of course, is that in so doing, by attempting good, we begin to get closer to happiness, a happiness that is more deeply rooted, than just buying a new suit. The Trappist monk, Thomas Merton, in his poem, "Paper Cranes" -(Japanese) wrote: "Wilder and wiser than eagles, It ranges around the world without enemies, And free of cravings. The child's hands folding these wings, wins no wars and ends them all. Thoughts of a child's heart, Without care, without weapons! So the child's eye gives life to what it loves, Kind as the innocent sun, And lovelier than all the dragons!
Thank you. Tom Baxter
COMPULSION TO DANCE
"O great dishonourable beast, War, Cockroach and millionaire, Snake - eyed cousin of pestilence - Why do we dance for you, Why do we dance to exhaustion ? (Thomas Merton, Trappist monk). As we all know the cause of falling out with others, whether on a one to one basis, or between nations is a very complex coming together of many factors. But looking back we can locate some key weaknesses in participants of disorder. 1. Unbalanced emotions, leading to over, or inappropiate reactions, such as unjustifiable anger or, total withdrawal of response. The latter is of course, apathy, or as St.Thomas Aquinas in the 13th.C.called, Acedia. This withdrawal or closing down of our senses, saves us from responsibility - or so we think. Our internal fight is between a wish to improve something for good reasons, and a counter balancing desire to do nothing for fear of what might then ensue. 2. A loss of our own sense of the spiritual. Assuming that we have not started to link in to the concept of God as the Creator of life and of all that is good, we left in a vacuum. What can fill it ? Oh of course, the internet with its beguiling ways, leading us to a dance of the material. At each turn, a new horizon opens up, of new ways to fill our time, but often, not our minds. So we become cannon fodder for those who wish to push us away from the Common Good, and towards a picture of dissent and aggression. We see this exemplified in Syria and the Yemen. St.Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.) defines peace, as "the tranquility of order". But order cannot be forced upon others, only Love, the opening up of our hearts in conversation and decision making can do that. And that is why we must find our route to start a dance of joy and happiness for all.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
COMPULSION TO DANCE
"Mary, you birthed to earth, your Son. You birthed the Son of God by breathing the spirit of God." (Mechtild of Magdeburg 1210-1280 A.D.). Here the German Dominican nun, and mystic, reminds us of the close connection between each of us, and the spirit or soul, that resides within each. This of course is no sugary sweet sentiment, because with a gift, goes a responsibility to return the beauty of the gift as best we can. Otherwise we are like a modern day materialist, forever accruing things for himself, without using them for the Common Good. So where does that leave us? Firstly we need to remind ourselves of the pattern of our own life journey. Its high and low points and the learning from that existential map. The crunch comes of course, in trying to identify what is the, (apologies for this perennial question), the 'meaning of life? ' That is what is the final stop on the line, and what if any, are the implications for our answer? Put extremely simply, we either believe that the world just "happened" or we believe that there must have been some creative and guiding force. If we take the latter route, then naturally that opens up an enormous range of discussion. One entry point is to think about how we managed to effect a social good - e.g. helping an ill person. That according to St.Thomas Aquinas is our will co-operating with God's grace. In football terms, God is the centre forward, the human is the back up player. So creating light in our lives is about assessing the quality of our will and its effects on the Good. Realising that we can only then move forwards and upwards on our journey, if we ask God to help us focus our hearts and minds so that we reduce our egoes for a more creative agency. Each becoming a lighthouse of effective good.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
CAN WE CREATE LIGHT?
"Why is it that some people do not bear fruit ? It is because they have no trust either in God or in themselves. You can never trust God too much." (Meister Eckhart 1260 -1325 A.D.) So as we digest the conclusions of the Paris Summit on the environment, we are left with a maelstrom of thoughts and feelings, ranging from disgust at the lost possibilities of advancing real environmental change, to a certain element of hope and a sense of light over the horizon. As St.Thomas Aquinas mentioned, action is underpinned by a complex of both love and anger. Love, because we all naturally desire the greater good as we perceive it, and Anger, which comes when we see that very good itself, being denied fruitfullness, whether within ourselves, or in the wider world. There is within everyone, a natural disposition to know truth, and regarding the Paris summit, we have a moral obligation to challenge conclusions that deny that the whole is greater than its parts. It is this weakness to take a truly holistic view that allows individual interests to sneak in, carrying a virus of greed. This means that we have to firstly view the globe as a GIFT from God, not as an object to be kicked around. That in turn puts the spotlight on our own individual strengths and weaknesses, in reasoning, balancing feelings and emotions, leading us to action to remedy any deficiencies. It is the repeated pattern of actions that help us to become more effective. This requires the cardinal virtue of Courage. Bringing about change within us and without, is often a slow and messy process. Concerning the environment especially, it is our source of LIFE, and that must never be forgotten. Let us embrace the creation surrounding us, and defend its growth.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
"We can perceive particular good things with our senses, but not goodness as such; only our minds can grasp that, and it is that that draws the will." (St.Thomas Aquinas). In the last few days the word "conscience" has been bandied around by many politicians to justify their varying stands on whether or not to bomb Syria. Aquinas then maps the complexities of our mental activity as we struggle to find the "good" in our decision. The will has to be drawn to what reason perceives to be the good. This though, is dependent on the judgement about the decision being in agreement with God's law, otherwise we fall into the trap of making decisions based primarily on ego or materialistic frameworks. By willing the particular good to come about, we will according to God's willing of the Common Good. This involves our respect and understanding of the Cardinal Virtues (Justice; Temperance; Fortitude; Wisdom). If we are not ourselves sufficiently spiritual in these areas, then our decisions will be flawed with serious consequences. So indeed we can make such mistakes and if done for what we deem to be correct reasons, then we are acting from our conscience. BUT, it does not absolve us from the responsibility of not having wired up our knowledge of values; ethics and spirituality BEFORE we acted. It is all too easy to say, "yes, I acted according to my conscience" but the underlying issue is, how close did you try to get to God beforehand? This involves some prayer and some reflection, otherwise the will flies down the wrong road. Goodness is communicated between the inner act of willing and the outer deed of action by co-ordination. This allows goodness to be constantly assessed both in ourselves and in the action.
Thank you, Tom Baxter.
STRUGGLING TO THE LIGHT
"The wine is mourning; the vine is pining away, all glad hearts are sighing. The merry tambourines are silent, the sound of revelling is over, the merry lyre is silent. There is lamentation in the streets: no wine, joy is lost, gladness is banished from the country. Nothing but rubble in the city" (Isaiah 24). This quote from the Old Testament captures for a moment in time, the moral and emotional devastation that has been inflicted on France with the terrorist attacks. We are all in our different ways endeavouring to come to terms with this so that we can begin to understand how to proceed. There are the obvious answers, such as increased security measures, better community cohesion ( a longer term solution), but as we engage with community efforts, we realise that we are moving into a different level, away from a materialist response, to one where values, ethics, and reason begin to emerge. "We are the Mother of Christ when we carry Him in our heart and body by love and a pure and sincere conscience. And we give birth to him through our holy works which ought to shine on others by our example." (St.Francis of Assisi). Christian teaching particularly emphasises the importance of a creative and reflective stance to our daily actions, wherever or whoever we are. Therein lies the step forward and upward from our being imprisoned in either depression or hatred as we struggle out of the after effects of the French calamity. As Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-1280 AD.) said, 'When you drink the waters of sorrow, you shall kindle the fire of love with the match of perserverance. This is the way to dwell in the desert." In short, when we are in tumultous times, it is critical for our sanity to seek out and to hold onto, a compassionate love of all, even if this may be excrucionatingly difficult.
Thank you. Tom Baxter.
CONSCIENCE - WHAT CONSCIENCE ?
"St.Thomas Aquinas uplifted the concept of Acedia, first formulated in the 2nd.3rd centuries, A.D. as a virus to be very aware of in our daily life. Acedia basically, is allowing ourselves to sleep walk through life, for quite long periods, so that eventually we disconnect from the real causes of what is happening around us and to us. This "switching off" even occurs when we know what we should be doing to remedy something ( e.g. joining a campaign against an injustice), but, yawn, yawn, "why bother?" Aquinas' concern is that this psychological virus can bring us into increasing unhappiness as we struggle to deal with the emotional debris of depression that is the ultimate stop on the line. One trigger for this state is feeling confident in being safe. In our terms today, it is the wrap around culture of 'shop till we drop", or an excessive and misplaced trust in authority, so that we can pass the baton of responsibility to others. Aquinas quotes Jesus - "I came as seed, something meant to bear fruit, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground dies, it remains alone." Jesus was outlining our own responsibility of being fruitful, but also,most importantly, of letting go of attitudes and habits that become barriers to our destiny. Aquinas underlines the reality of our daily lives, where because of habit, we slip into denial of the very fact of uncertainty. "We know not the hour or the day when the Lord will come." So, to combat acedia, uprating our sense of awareness of the unpredictability of life, would be the first step. Then reflecting on how to be more active in actions that orient us towards the good. Praying next, for God to give us support to develop a new habit of greater social good in our community, as we define it. Then as we become more involved, we will get closer to real happiness.
Thank you, Tom Baxter
A WAY FORWARD ?
"Happiness is another name for God" (St.Thomas Aquinas). Here Aquinas is emphasising that there are degrees of Happiness. Of course we can find our own level of happiness in buying things, socialising; reading or whatever. But all those activities are, as we know, at the bottom of our hearts, simply activities that leave us with an inner restlessness, an unsatisfied feeling. The question therefore remains, how can we find a deeper, more substantial happiness? For this, we have to stretch up to the stars. "Nothing can be fulfilled by what is inferior to it. We have to find our final fulfillment in knowledge of something higher than our own minds." In short, a journey of seeking the Truth, in all its forms, in all its depths. This means examining which of our actions advance us higher and which of our actions block our ascent. This simple formula, is a useful commencement for reflection and refinement of our actions. But this is not easy. There are so many diversions, some simple, some gargantuan in their effects. Terrorists e.g. may find momentary, fragmentary happiness in defending their fortification, but what happens when they behead a person. Then their wrecked inner selves, becomes a slave to the dark evil of the devil himself, and for them, happiness is now an illusion. Because the definition of Happiness covers such a wide spectrum, it is important to hold on to Aquinas' definition. It enables us to navigate our way through the turmoil of life. The Cardinal Virtues of Justice; Fortitude; Wisdom and Temperance then can come into play. This in turn means that we have to take up responsibility through our social action to the level of our capability. Campaigning and actioning, bring to life our place in the world community and therefore bring us closer to God. "We are each, a distant mirror of God" (Meister Eckhart 1225-1329 A.D.)
Thank you. Tom Baxter
"Riches give men the power to commit all kinds of sin." (St.Thomas Aquinas). Here, Aquinas underlines our daily dilemma. "Riches" refers to politicians' greed for power; our individual self agrandisement so leading us into an unbalanced pattern of decision making, whether over the purchase of material goods leading to addictive consequences, or distancing ourselves from any sense of compassion and social responsibility. It is like sitting on a hillside in the warm sunlight, looking down into a dark wooded valley, and having no sense of curiosity or connection, because we feel, ALRIGHT! But Aquinas goes on to point out that all is not lost. We were born with a soul. The spirit of a creator God lives within each one of us, but the difficulty is remembering that, in a world of enormous change, complexity and temptations. So we must try to concentrate on practicing the Cardinal Virtues as much as we can - Wisdom; Justice; Courage; Moderation. Each of these are natural endowments that we carry within us. Using them in a holistic way as we explore each day, even each minute in our reflective moments, will power up our internal and external energies. Existentialists talk about Freedom, but their adoring of that concept, can lead us into the dangers of Relativism, and consequent Darkness. To be truly happy, we need a framework to steer our way through the sometimes stormy seas. Aquinas is reminding us that our natural goal in life is to be happy, but the quality of that happiness is the essential question. Unity produces love and hence happiness. But we have of course to be aware of those who attack those concepts. This requires substantial patience and recognition of the good of the other, even if it is hidden below an Everest of whirling dark cloud.But it is worth the effort. Understanding,and seeking the deep causes of darkness, whether in ourselves or within others, brings us to the Light.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
" Acedia is sadness about an inward, eternal good. It is an oppressive sorrow that so weighs upon one's mind, that one wants to do nothing. " (St.Thomas Aquinas). - "It comes from a shrinking of the mind, from that to which we should cleave as a duty, namely to the goodness of God." Here Aquinas highlights a very common dilemma, do we walk on the other side of the street ignoring the person (s) in trouble, or like the Good Samaritan, do we cast aside our reservations and centre our actions on relievlng the hurt of another. To make that first step ideally should be spontaneous, but often times, our own history of childhood; upbringing; current pressures, slow down our intervention, even stopping us. The sadness comes within us, because we know instinctively that we should have done something to help, and possibly it was feasible, but we did not. To reduce that problem in the future, we must become more aware of our own divinely gifted nature; of the responsibilities that flow from that: most importantly that we are NOT OBJECTS. In social /political terms this is the redefining of community as not only just our own town, but the complexities of being part of a global community. The Jesuit philosopher and paleontoligist, said that national communities will eventually coalesce into one global unity. Then there will be evolving dynamic of a newly energised Common Good. This, he maintained is all part of God's plan for the world. It is as though we are slowly coming out of a psychological cave, into the sunlight; a re-birth. " A vast, slow struggle of movement towards and upwards to the light. Born of a cosmic stream ours is a cosmic responsibility." (Teilhard). All this requires careful, patient reflection on the quality of our own actions. But it also opens the door to Hope.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
STRUGGLING TO THE LIGHT
Here Thomas Merton a Cistercian monk, reflects on Aquinas: "The stars put out their pale opinions, one by one, While the black-friar breaks the Truth, his Host, Among his friends the simple Substances: for thus he fathered minds to reason's peace." Aquinas had a marvellous gift of being able to bring a veritable cathedral of thought and consequent reflection, to an astonishingly wide spectrum of subject matter. Used today as a reference point in such things as psychology; dilemmas of peace and justice; theology; philosophy; social and business ethics to name but a few. As always we are much concerned with how to be happy, a subject that certainly interested Aquinas. "In all things there is an appetite for completion, the final end to which each moves marks its own perfect and fulfilling good". So it is the good that is God, beyond which no higher or more satisfying element can be found. Yet it is obviously not so simple as that. We all lack sufficient clarity of where we are going in life, and of course some extreme examples, such as terrorism make the point. To deal with a terrorist a dialogue is needed. " The object of the will, that is the human appetite, is the good without reserve, just as the object of mind is the True without reserve." So it is the starting line for moving forward towards a clearer, deeper appreciation of how to change our or their, life stance. Yes, a slow process, but essential for behavioural change. "Our good is to live according to reason, and our evil is to live outside it." Aquinas opens up a plethora of opportunities for dialogue with even the most evil and recalcitrant person or group. "See the high birds, they do play in wheeling silences, defining in the perfect sky, the bounds of (here below) our solitude." (Merton.)
Thank you. Tom Baxter