TIME TO THINK

Here’s the beginning of a thought-provoking piece entitled “Violence and Contemplation” by Ed Burns in the August/September issue of Today’s American Catholic:

“In a passage that appears in the book of the prophet Habakkuk, the author speaks very clearly and in contemporary terms about violence, the violence being experienced and suffered by certain segments of the Israelites at the time:

O Lord, how long will I cry for help and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me: strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack, and justice never prevails (Hab. 1:2–3).

We can readily read these words about violence in the context of our own time and experience. Violence—severe and death dealing—is a part of our contemporary global scene and seems to be increasingly so. Yet violence has been, sad to say, a destructive element of our world since time immemorial. The Old and New Testaments are filled with stories of violence. Saint Paul himself, by his own admission, was a violent man before his conversion. The crucifixion of Jesus was just one of many thousands of acts of brutal violence that were all too commonplace before and after the death of Christ.

What are we to make of all this violence and brutality and destruction that we continue to encounter every day in our headlines and on our TV screens? Will it ever end, or is violence, like the poor, something we will always have with us?

I don’t know if we will always have violence with us, or if it will ever end. But if it ever is to end, I do know—or at least I am convinced—of something that must happen. We must learn to regain an essential element of our humanity that seems to have been lost, or if not completely lost, then surely something we seem to be losing. This is the practice of contemplation. If contemplation is too strong or misleading a word, perhaps we could call it the practice of quiet, concentrated prayer and reflection. Putting it even more simply: We need time to think!”

No accident, perhaps, that Burns is a licensed marital and family therapist. Because isn’t the family where we first learn to develop the unhealthy patterns, defense mechanisms, and violently resentful projections that tend to underlie our human interactions in adulthood, no matter how much we wish they wouldn’t?

To that end, I’ve bone back to a book I chanced upon over a decade ago, when I was struggling through a dark night of the soul that went on, and on, and ON…The Search for Silence, by Elizabeth O’Connor.

The above link gives a bit of background on the book and on O’Connor. There’s nothing new under the sun, of course. Still, any course of action that combines examination of conscience, the reminder of our tendency to transfer our shadow upon others, and most to the point here, the encouragement to seek silence and to sincerely pray, throughout the day, carving out the necessary time and space, instead of “performing”: checking off one more item on a list of multi-tasks, none of which are done with 100% presence, attention and therefore love, as I am wont to do.

That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much.

Section I of The Search for Silence is called “Confessing Our Humanity.” The first week of reflection and writing is dedicated to “Acknowledging and Accepting Our Dark Side.” Well, thank you! No matter how much work I always feel I’ve done in this area, every time I dip in again I see I’ve barely scratched the surface.

Here in Pasadena, it was 110 degrees both Saturday and Sunday of Labor Day weekend. Late night and early morning are usually coolish here even in summer, but at 3 am, the temp was still in the 90s. In other words it was freakishly, frighteningly hot, plus the air quality is abysmal.

Therefore I enjoyed a couple of days indoors of reading, resting, pondering, and writing in my journal–and in the process learned some unsavory but nonetheless quite welcome things about myself!

Last week I got to write about the qualities in myself that I would not want known by others (though I always feel my worst qualities are on full display; the operative point may be more that I got to see maybe a little more clearly what the world has known all along). This week I’m going to Acknowledge and Accept My Light Side.

Let’s see…I make my bed every morning? Of course in this kind of heat I don’t even get under the covers…is that cheating?

I will delve further into silence and report back!

5 Replies to “TIME TO THINK”

  1. Interesting, and helpful. I look forward to getting hold of it. I find the work of Rene Girard the most enlightened and applicable presentation of the roots of human violence and window to view the horrible unfolding of it, such as we are seeing today in our torn and suffering country.This especially true in the irrational nature and level of the group hatred, the almost literally single-minded messages, the tightly controlled , ever-narrowing requirements for membership. Unfortunately, the dilemma is that we are fully human, as created. When we become convinced that change for the good requires really bad, destructive behavior, and reward follows, there takes place the daily news media stories of this dangerous era and a replay of where it all started a long time ago, the original con job.

    1. Exactly–violence in the name of change loves to dress up in lambs’ clothing…and present itself as something “new”–when in fact as you say, it’s always a variation on the original con job…Came across this quote recently in a Charles Simic essay collection: “This is what I learned from twentieth-century history: Only dumb ideas get recycled. The dream of a social reformer is to be the brains of an enlightened, soul-reforming penitentiary. Everyone vain, dull, peevish, and sexually frustrated dreams of legislating his impotence. Mao’s uniforms: a billion people dressing the same and shouting from his little red book continues to be the secret hope of new visionaries.” (From Academy of American Poets: “Charles Simic was born on May 9, 1938, in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, where he had a traumatic childhood during World War II. In 1954 he emigrated from Yugoslavia with his mother and brother to join his father in the United States. They lived in and around Chicago until 1958.”) In other words, he experienced firsthand the effects of some of the groupthink we’re seeing In the U.S…Still, I have to come back to–How are we to live, be, speak in the midst of all of this in a way that goes toward the solution rather than compounding the problem…always of course an open question. Re Girard, i know, this is one reason I never jumped on the metoo or even feminist bandwagon. I’m going to purport to despise men and yet at the same time angle to have the same power they have–so that I, too, can (supposedly) lord it over and oppress? That makes no sense to me and is thus sort of logically, morally and even aesthetically abhorrent. I celebrate my womanhood–isn’t that the definition of a true “feminist”? I have no desire to be a man, nor to imitate/emulate a man. Which leaves me free to love men and to get on with living my own life unencumbered by the notion that I’m a victim… Anyway, the more I take responsibility for my own life, the less likely I am to mimetically desire what others may have…I’m thinking today’s donation was from you…many thanks…

  2. Mary Kay Gawne says: Reply

    I just stumbled upon your blog while reading something about father Dowling. As a mother of three teenagers I am moved by the the comment about continuing to check things off of our list without being fully present. That is often most often how I live my life. And then working the steps I realize life is really about being and not doing.Thank you for your writing and sharing.

    Mary Kay.

  3. Hi Heather,
    According to the Huntington Gardens website, that majestic tree is a Weeping Wattle (Peltophorum africanum).

    1. As always, thank you, Michael! I have a basic plant ID app but haven’t had time to look at it, or at the Huntington Gardens website…so I appreciate your help as always–Weeping Wattle, what a fantastic name!…

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