A CHRISTMAS CARD

'Look down and offer Him, the dim adoring light of your belief, Whose small Heart bleeds with infinite fire. Shall not this Child conquer the winter of our hateful century? (Thomas Merton, Trappist monk). Here Merton highlights the boundless imbalance of our spirituality compared with that of God. Yet simultaneously, Merton reminds us that those who believe in  the Creator God, are presented with a vast dish of Hope - the "infinite fire." In this the"bleak midwinter", this is especially important for all of us. With the political turmoils around us, to hold on to a lifebelt that will sustain us, is of immense psychological and spiritual importance. Attaining that security is not easy, for each of us is on an individual life journey, with all its complexities. St.Thomas Aquinas highlighted the emotional gap by asking whether spiritual joy which grows out of love, can be filled. "Joy is compared to desire, as rest is to movement. Hence joy is full when there remains nothing to be desired". So, what are we spending our energies on desiring? Aquinas is reminding us that desiring is an endless process,  - remember our shopping routines! It is therefore most important for mental health, at the very least, to reflect and prioritise our desires, such that we are not being led into a cul -de-sac. When we read of people who have committed crimes of all degrees, we think of how sad it is that they were mislead by their own weakness of reasoning and will, to run aground. St.Augustine (C.4th.A.D.) described the satifaction of desire, as the 'tranquility of order'. Wow,what a lesson there for our political and military leaders, who so often, like criminals are sucked by their faultlines, into cul-de-sacs, with all the consequent effects on the Common Good. So, let us explore our desires and give them a health clearance as is appropiate.

Thank you, Tom Baxter

RENEWING OUR SENSE OF ORDER

'The elements themselves cry out to their creator in a scream of agony, for they have been perverted by the sins of mankind' (Hildegarde von Bingen. 1098-1179 A.D.) Here the Benedictine abbess and polymath, summarises so succinctly, the realities of our difficulties in current life, but also points us clearly towards where the solution can be found. The "elements" are of course all the solid as well as fragmented aspects of social and political and environmental life that confront us at every moment whether in news reports or in face to face interactions. The Syrian situation is a case in point. It is a clash of emotions, history, and cultural rigidities. But above all, it is a near total disconnect from understanding that God the Creator of the universe, and our resulting responsibilities as individuals. Unfortunately, we all tend to turn away from these responsibilities. St.Thomas Aquinas, the 13th.Century philosopher, referred to this disjunction as, "Acedia", a spiritual weariness. This lack of motivation to take responsible and creative action in countering what is against the Common Good, is often caused by our attention being diverted to overly material pleasures, with a consequent effect on our thinking. It requires a lot of courage to re-orient our habits of thought and action, such that we can truly, each of us, become a force for the good. Aquinas links Acedia also to a certain sadness, when we know we should do something, but we do not. Modern psychologists have linked this to boredom, when we fall into a depressive vacuum, bumping around in a search for meaning. So, the answer to this ailment, is both complex, but exciting, because if we can scramble back onto the ladder towards really getting closer to God, we can then begin to contribute to righting the world's wrongs.

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL...   Tom Baxter

 

POST TRUTH

"Wisdom turned to salt upon the broken piers. This is the way ministers have killed the truth, our daughter. Steps lead back into the rooms we fear to enter; Our minds are bleaker than the hall of mirrors: And the world has become a museum" (Thomas Merton, Benedictine monk). Here Merton is addressing the virus of political untruths, particularly relevant at the moment as emotional thinking often overrides the rational decisions in governments. But of course Merton is referring to a deeper illness that comes as a consequence, that of aridity of the spirit, a lack of meaning. The majority of us are struggling to find clarity of direction in our lives, and particularly, a better balance -  shall I buy that lovely ring, or shall I give some money to a charity? It is the theological virue of Charity (Love) and the moral virtue of Prudence (Wisdom through Reason) that needs to be interwoven to help us be more stable and constructive in our individual lives. 'Post Truth' refers to the current political game of operating primarily with unfettered emotions driving our decisions, such that the real truth is obliterated. "Goals are only genuine, when they lead us towards enjoying God, illusory when they lead us away from Him" (Thomas Aquinas). By reflecting on this we can begin to analyse more accurately, our motivations and the full effects of political strategies. "Justice is a stable and lasting willingness to do the just thing for everyone" (Aquinas).  If only governments could listen better! But of course we are all fragmented beings , trying to pull ourselves together. The exciting point that emerges here, is that if we can each of us, in our own ways, develop and promolgate the Cardinal Virtues of Prudence; Justice; Fortitude (Courage); Temperance, then indeed we will be moving the world forward.

Thank you. Tom Baxter

DISORDERED VISION?

'All the passions are caused by love,and therefore every agent acts from love of some kind of good' (St.Thomas Aquinas). Here Aquinas points out that even in the most disordered of minds and subsequent actions, there is a groping forwards to a wish to achieve some part of good as understood by that person. This brings us to the critical importance of reflection on the quality and direction of our will. When we look at the world today (including ourselves), we are given much cause to wonder on the faulty directions of will, whether political or social. 'God is His own power, and therefore exists in everything (including us), not as a part of its being, but as holding it in existence. It follows that He is a work without intermediary in everything that is active, but without excluding the activity of nature or of free will.' (Aquinas). So the Creator of the universe launched the evolution of nature - planets, plants, animals, humans, but also gave us a remarkable gift, that of free will. This ability to CHOOSE, is an amazing, for some, frightening, gift,because of possibilities without immediate boundaries. Then slowly we mature and then the powers of reflection on direction and consequences begin to kick in. For this reason, we all need each other's help in understanding and improving our own vision of the world. Each person can assist others to remedy their loss of direction when they go off track. And here lies the realisation of how interconnected we really are. Because if we do nothing, to intervene on misplaced decisions, social or political visions, then we will lose our own sense of inner life, and so increased aridity of the spirit. 'From the beginning to now, the entire creation has been groaning in one great act of giving birth.' (Paul the Apostle). As with all births, let us do our best to bring about one that improves the world in every way.

Thank you.  Tom Baxter

OUR FRUSTRATIONS

"Hope has two beautiful daughters, anger and courage.Come Lord, rouse and recall us, fire and seize us, be fragrant, grow sweet; let us love, let us run." (St.Augustine.387-430 A.D.) Here Augustine lays down a framework for action that would centuries later be addressed by Thomas Aquinas, with his truly remarkable works on the psychology of the human, in the fullest sense of the word. Augustine though is firing up the energy of our spirits, by reminding us that actually we cannot do things entirely by ourselves, that we all have deficiencies of varying kinds, but also great potential to change. To what? you may ask. Well the whole tenor of Augustine's work and also Aquinas' is of course referencing the divine in us. We are as a genus, too restricted intellectually, emotionally and physically to totally eliminate life's problems. It is so surprising that atheists and agnostics too , do not come to this simple and rational conclusion. Many of us have had our awareness of a higher reality, diluted, even poisoned, by our lack or reflection on the true path to happiness, whether intellectual or emotional. "Our spirits when afraid, sink down from the heart producing silent trembling. Boldness created by hope, confronts the fear in order to win the battle. With Anger, there is a recognition through reason, of the injury done, and what will count as satisfaction for it. But note, anger is more inclined to mercy, than hatred." (Aquinas) As we contemplate these quotations from these two philosophers, we can, hopefully, feel our reason and our spirit joining up to make a difference, somewhere, somehow.

Thank you,  Tom Baxter