WHAT IS REALLY "GOOD" FOR US ?
Two of the most frequently used words, each with a wide spectrum of meaning and application, are: "GOOD" and LOVE". St.Thomas Aquinas wondered about these complexities, so let us look at something he said about POWER. This is particularly appropiate at the moment, because of the dictatorial politics in Venezuela and North Korea. 'Worldly power cannot be man's highest good, because it is unstable and many evils attend to it'.(Aquinas). Good comes to us in many forms and strengths. This indicates that happiness increases as we move higher in our widening and purifying the application of our thoughts and actions.When we do not reflect on the consequences of our actions, we risk letting our ego take absolute control. Dictators, deep down, are unhappy people, masked by aggressive, grabbing behaviours. To change a political culture of that kind, we would need to ask them to define "good" so that then a possible link can be made in a diplomatic conversation. Not impossible if we ourselves can zero in on the fact, that dictators are still persons, albeit malformed, such that we owe it to ourselves and to God, to try to bring about change. This all applies to all power situations. It is the grabbing and the trampling of justice rights, that stops the good and love, inherently interlinked, being able to flower as God wishes. Love, for Aquinas, is epitomised by the very act of creation of the world by God, with all its spectrum of possibilities. The resulting freedom of will that then follows, is where the clash between good and love occurs. Herein lies our responsibility to goodness.
'Light is given to the sun, not to shine alone upon itself, but also on the whole earth. So too, God wills that all our gifts of wealth, power, and knowledge, should benefit others.' This summary sentence from Aquinas, should be a point of reflection for dictators.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
How should one live? Live welcoming to all.
In this most positive and at the same time, demanding of statements, Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-1280 A.D) throws down the gauntlet to all of us. For how can we be welcoming to all, when we are stressed, angry with others and even more importantly, angry with ourselves. Yet, herein lies a tiny ray of light, for if we can try to be consistenly "welcoming" in our interactions and decisions, with other people, then very slowly our own world will change shape and hue. 'What is the test that you have indeed undergone this holy birth? Listen carefully. If this birth has truly taken place within you, then every single creature points you towards God' (Meister Eckhart 1260-1329 A.D.) Wow! Tell that to our politicians and military commanders,overly paid executives and on and on.... So the question now is, "where do we go from here?" St.Thomas Aquinas formulated the seven key virtues: Prudence (Wisdom): Justice: Fortitude (Courage): Temperance (modesty in salaries!): then the Theological virtues of Faith; Hope; Charity(Love). By exploring for ourselves and the developing of the applications of this big programme of improvement, we can begin to formulate a real change in the quality of our lives and of others. E.G. to apply Fortitude we have to interact with those whose views are not ours and where such interactions with maybe a government, require a patient long term approach, sustaining our energies in so doing. The Virtues need to become HABITS, so that we can naturally access them. But why do all this? Simply put, we have two options, one to half heartedly build these habits of virtue, the other,' to become God and let God become me'.This radical statement by Eckhart wraps up our duty to expand into God. Just think of the revolutionary impact on our and others' daily lives this would have. GO FOR IT!
Thank you, Tom Baxter
'Evil is accidental in its nature: it stands outside, draws and directs things outward, distracts from inner things, draws into otherness, and division. It is therefore nothing but a defect or shortcoming'. (Meister Eckhart 1260-1329 A.D.) Here, Eckhart highlights the deeper understanding that we should have about the roots of bad actions. It is very easy to be assessing, say a politician, as inherently evil, but Eckhart takes up Thomas Aquinas' view that evil is not something built into our nature, but instead, is a misdirection of our will and of our thoughts. This raises two key points. Firstly, if that is so, then this is a matter of education, using the term in its widest possible sense. Secondly, as a consequence, our own interventionist skills, where applicable, and our move towards some acceptance of that person as a fellow human being, can begin to develop. The alternative after all, is to separate one's understanding of the "other". This will only increase conflict. Yes, we have an extreme example with ISIS.But although there is an enormous weight of history, and cultural divides, to name but two, seeking some form of dialogue, however frustrating, is not impossible. By believing in the work and support of the Creator, there is a possibility of bringing the beginnings of peace. This, though, does require us to believe in another vision of what can and what should be done. A different mindset, produces different results, albeit slowly. 'To find this birth, it should rise up out of God, from within us' (Eckhart). Both Eckhart and Aquinas of course, considered that we are not simply animal beings, evolving, but that we have a divine inner touch, however damaged by our own actions. This has enormous implications for our daily lives and creativity.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
'Many are called, but most are frozen, in corporate or collective cold. These are the stalled who choose not to be chosen, except to be bought and sold'(Lee Pieper). Here the poet shakes us into action by getting us to realise the appalling consequences of Acedia, as comprehensively outlined by St.Thomas Aquinas, who defined it as knowing deep down inside ourselves that we should do something good over a particular matter, but that we are blocked by an inner lethargy. This becomes more of a problem in today's world, because it is very easy to be overwhelmed by the bad political news constantly asssailing us . So what is the way forward? One substantial answer is to alight like a butterfly onto a quotation, and there to savour the words as fully as we can, and then each of us to make a commitment to a first step into the world seeking transformation of what is lacking human good. Lisa de Quay in her publication, "Guide to the Rosary", wrote a reassuring prayer to our Guardian Angels for which most people would find a resonance. -
'Guardian Angel, from Heaven so bright, Watch beside me, to lead me aright. Fold thy wings around me, O guard me with love, Softly sing songs to me of Heaven above. Beautiful Angel, my Guardian so mild, Tenderly guide me, for I am thy child.' Reflection on this imagery provides an essential reassurance that we are not alone. A cynic would reject such an explanation, and lead himself into a cul-de-sac of emotional isolation. Therein lies our choice.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
LIGHT FROM DARKNESS
'Grace pours all beauty into the soul...the soul means the world' (Meister Eckhart 1260 -1320 A.D.). Here Eckhart is referring to the gift of creativity that is being made available to each of us as we are born. With that inherent beauty of form and thought, goes the responsibility to actually being aware of potential conflicts within ourselves, and then seeking to overcome them. We all are obstructed from being creative, from finding our inner sense of energy and direction. So we may stall, even retreat from taking decisions because of fear about imagined consequences. Strangely, fear to act, produces courage as we become too entrapped in the coils of fear, we finally, slowly, sometimes, explosively, erupt into action. The same for despair. The internal ringing of hands, the withdrawal from the world of creative action, finally almost forces us to feel hope in a new and better scenario. Hildegard von Bingen (1100-1179 A.D.) reminds us of hope and courage when she wrote: ' God has gifted creation with everything that is necessary. The entire world has been embraced with this kiss... such that all creation in all things,stands by us.' Mechtild of Magdeburg (1210-1280 A.D.) underlines the picture of light and darkness when she wrote,'The Creator has given us two wines to drink: the white wine of bliss and harmony; the red wine of pain, loss and suffering'. It therefore is the clashing of these two forces that create a new world.
Thank you. Tom Baxter
OVER THE CLIFF?
" Those who would storm the heavenly heights by fierceness, deceive themselves badly.They carry grim hearts within themselves; they lack true humility which alone leads the soul to God" (Mechtild of Magdeburg. (1210- 1280 A.D.). Here Mechtild outlines the dark inner reality of people, whether politicians or soldiers, that as in America at the moment, we onlookers need to be aware of the potential darkness that could envelope us post election. All leadership, whether spiritual, or political, requires a true heart, one that is well balanced with reason, and sustained by an inner sense of light. As Meister Eckhart emphasised, -"We are to become heaven, so that God might find a home here". This may seem a million miles from the current social and political realities, but it alerts us to what is both a global as well as an individual task. This requires us to find ways to reform, however moderately, the various contexts in which we exist. After all, allowing our minds and wills to be diverted from this ultimate goal, leaves us teetering on the brink of the cliff, materially and psychologically. Hildegarde von Bingen(1098-1179 A.D) explained all too clearly, the consequences of not reforming our heart: " Now in the people that were meant to green, (create) there is no more life of any kind,there is only shrivelled barrenness." To allow our hearts to grow and flourish therefore, is far from being on an easy journey. This is why we all so easily become diverted in our attention to happiness, so often understood as chasing idols that are without real substance and growth. Happines, real happiness our final goal, does require a certain Letting Go. Mechtild said," Love the nothing, flee the self; Stand alone, seek help from no-one. Let your being be quiet; Be free from the bondage of all things."
Good Luck! Thank you. Tom Baxter
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
"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
'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
"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