Narcissus' Echo

Thoughts, tears, rants, ruminations, hopes, fears, love(s), and prayers of just another being passing through this wracked sphere...

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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Moving on

I made a difficult decision today. I have been struggling with it over the weekend. I made it as painless and dignified as I could, but rejections, no matter how sugar-coated, never are. And so, I found myself returning to the center of my world, the Mission Santa Clara de Asis, on a rainy, windy afternoon (how's that for a pathetic fallacy?).

Today's 12:05 PM mass was conducted by Father Theodore Rynes. There is something inexplicably comforting and familiar in the sight of your professor as the priest officiating the Eucharist. Knowledge of the secular, guided by him, is now replaced by knowledge of the divine, channeled through him.

In his homily, Father Rynes talked about a book he recently read, William Styron's Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Styron is better known for his other book, Sophie's Choice. Darkness Visible chronicles Styron's journey through clinical depression. One line stood out in the novel:

The music that strains and breaks the strength.

Father Rynes interpreted it as one of the tenets in living life: the tests and toils of life strain us, and will eventually break us, but it is only in the act of living life to the fullest can we expend the strength that we were given--and, in the process, create the music which celebrates the passage of our lives.

I think of the notes on the music sheet that I struggle with every Sunday night. (I suck at note reading). They do not remain constant. They rise and fall, stretch and truncate, move to different beats. I often get confused. Sometimes I even flub up. Nonetheless, I try. I sing. We sing melody. We sing parts. It all melds together for a greater purpose in the end. ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Change may be unsettling and painful. It often seems unwise, even stupid, to walk away from that which is comfortable, easy--simple, but personally, to accept a fate of constantly being under-challenged reeks of complacency; and complacency is a form of sloth. I have more self-respect than that.

The Rock of Gibraltar.


Excerpt of an interview with Karen Armstrong, by David Ian Miller:

MILLER: It's often difficult to convince people that they are in the same boat. You know, in this country people are building gated communities. They are actively hiding from things they don't want to see.

ARMSTRONG: And that is antireligious. The Axial sages said you must see things as they are, that delusion was one of the major things that hold us back from enlightenment, from God, from Nirvana. So we cannot get trapped in illusion.

Small groups now have powers of destruction that were previously reserved for the nation-state. It is only a matter of time before one of them will get some sort of nuclear device. And a gated community is not going to help at all if that happens. It reminds me of the story of the Buddhist pleasure park. Do you know it?

MILLER: Tell me the story.

ARMSTRONG: When the Buddha was a little boy, some Brahman priests are called in to tell his fortune, and one of them predicts he will leave home and become a monk because of seeing three disturbing sights -- a sick man, an old man and a corpse -- which will so distress him that he will become a monk. And he will save the world from suffering.

And the Buddha's father is not thrilled with this career option -- he has more ambition, more worldly ambition -- so he creates a sort of pleasure palace and brings his young son up in this. And he plants guards around the grounds to prevent any such disturbing sights coming within a radius of the young man.

So the Buddha grows up in this fool's paradise for a long time, and finally the guards get fed up with this and they send three of their own number disguised as a sick man, an old man and a corpse past the [other] guards. The Buddha sees that, and he leaves that very night.

The point is that the Buddhist pleasure park is an image of the mind in denial. It's the gated community. It's the United States before 9/11, which was retreating into isolationist policies within the Bush government.

Suffering will always break in. And if you turn [away], it's useless. It will somehow break in because suffering is ubiquitous. And it will certainly go past these guards that the Buddha's father erected. It will certainly come through the gates. You can't block it out.

Karen Armstrong is a 61-year-old former Roman Catholic nun, who is recognized as one of the world's great religious historians, and has spent the last 17 years deconstructing the major faiths in scholarly but accessible books like "A History of God," "Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths" and "The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism."

Her new book, "The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions," details the evolution of the major religious traditions in the Axial Age between 900 and 200 B.C., a time of upheaval when four different philosophies took shape -- Confucianism and Taoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, monotheism in the Middle East and philosophical rationalism in Greece.



Blogger KnightofPentacles said...

I read your post and for some reason the Jesuits come to mind..

1:37 AM  
Blogger -ben said...


Yes, Father Rhynes is a Jesuit:

Theodore J. Rhynes, S.J. (1970)
B.A., 1955, Ph.L., 1956, M.A., 1957, STL, 1964, St. Louis University; Ph.D., 1973, University of California, Berkeley.

3:31 AM  

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