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...

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Heat wave

Keno, a 2-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, helps water owner Nita McVickar's lawn in La Habra, Calif. (Mark Boster, Los Angeles Times)

Forecasts predict a high of up to 110 F (43.3 C) later today.

I am thinking of seeking refuge either in a library or by the beach at Half Moon Bay.


Hinc illae lacrimae

A friend sent me the following story the other day. Despite the inherent theological problems within it, nonetheless it remains a touching tale.

With the Sign of the Cross, the old monk Abba Joseph trapped in his cell a dark and miserable demon who had come to tempt him. "Release me, Father, and let me go," pleaded the demon, "I will not come to tempt you again". "I will gladly do that, but on one condition," replied the monk. "You must sing for me the song that you sang before God's Throne on High, before your fall."

The demon responded, "You know I cannot do that; it will cause me cruel torture and suffering. And besides, Father, no human ear can hear its ineffable sweetness and live, for you will surely die." "Then you will have to remain here in my cell," said the monk, "and bear with me the full struggle of repentance." "Let me go, do not force me to suffer," pleaded the demon." "Ah, but then you must sing to me the song you sang on High before your fall with Satan."

So the dark and miserable demon, seeing that there was no way out, began to sing, haltingly, barely audible at first, groping for words long forgotten. As he sang, the darkness which penetrated and surrounded him began slowly to dissipate. The song grew ever louder and increasingly stronger, and soon the demon was caught up in its sweetness, his voice fully lifted up in worship and praise. Boldly, he sang of the power and the honor and the glory of the Triune God on High, Creator of the Universe, Master of Heaven and Earth, of all things visible and invisible.

As the song sung on High before all ages resounded in the fullness of its might, a wondrous and glorious light penetrated the venerable Abba's humble cell, and the walls which had enclosed it were no more. Ineffable love and joy surged into the very depths of the being of the radiant and glorious angel, as he ever so gently stooped down and covered with his wings the lifeless body of the old hermit who had liberated him from the abyss of hell.

If we could all strive to be like the old hermit.

"I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love" (Mother Teresa).

Friday, July 21, 2006

Have a good journey, my friend

Singapore Serf aka Knight of the Pentacles.

The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And you have burned so very very brightly...

Ubi bene, ibi patria.

Requiescat in pace.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Reading list

Update: added two excerpts to the first book.

Picked up a couple of books at the campus bookstore after Mass today:

Unwanted Wisdom: Suffering, the Cross, and Hope

The film, "The Passion of the Christ," raised anew the question: why did Jesus suffer such an excruciatingly painful death? For centuries, those afflicted with suffering have been counseled by the church to unite their sufferings to those of Jesus. This book asks the question how the cross of Jesus can be reimagined in such a way as to offer a path of hope rather than resignation. Drawing upon resources as diverse as Simone Weil, William Lynch, Dorothee Soelle, Karl Rahner, and Jon Sobrino, as well as the author’s personal experience of deep loss, the book explores the terrain of suffering, from the universal pain brought about by the loss of loved ones to the exceedingly indivdual imprisonment of mental illness and the global catastrophe of AIDS. The book also questions the extra burden of suffering put upon gay Catholics by the church’s teaching of life-long celibacy for homosexuals. Inspirational, intelligent, and globally informed, Unwanted Wisdom sends out a message of hope to all Catholics who've yearned to apply the wisdom of Jesus to their own personal suffering.

Professor Crowley is the chair of the Religious Studies department at Santa Clara University. I read medieval and renaissance religion under him. During that time, Father Crowley also became a spiritual advisor to me.

In reading this book, I hope to find the answers--or, failing at that, at least some direction--to the following questions:

What is the nature of grief?
Why is there sorrow in this world?

The heart seeks comfort, but the mind must be fostered too.

Two excerpts

Does the suffering that attends life in fact have any meaning, or is life itself simply a string of meaningless happenings, a final absurdity? And where is God in all this? Present? Absent? Wringing his hands? Does God even care? And, perhaps the most persistent question for me: Why the Cross? Not only what is the meaning of all this suffering that besets the human race, but why does this suffering, symbolized by the Cross, apparently lie at the heart of the Christian faith and its imagination? How can one possibly hope for a better future, or a future in a loving God, in the face of so much darkness--suffering compounding suffering, an endless chronicle of it? What would it mean to hope to believe in a resurrection from the dead--a triumph over and release from all of this?

[ . . . ]

There are times when the suffering that attends tragic reversal, both in one's own life or in the lives of others, forces upon us a wisdom that is not asked for, not even wanted. But that very wisdom can become a key to a joyful freedom, where one discovers all of a sudden, as if awakened from a long trance, that what once seemed very important simply no longer has any power over us. What ultimately matters, instead, is the joy that one discovers, as Francis did, when he kissed the leper, and the joy the leper discovered when, against all earthly hope, he was finally set free. In Messiaen's opera, the leper springs into a wondrous dance of joy. In the final analysis, we are, each and all of us, lepers--waiting to be kissed, yearning to dance with joy. God's accomplishment of this in us, entering into and working through our sorrows and sufferings, is the gift of what Ignatius called the "Contemplatio," the hope of faith fulfilled, not by us, but by God. Precisely by living in and going through our sufferings, we can in fact enter into joy--perhaps a quiet joy, but nevertheless real. The final hope of Christian faith is that this reality, the reality of joy born of suffering, may become good news for all the suffering world. (bold face mine 146-7)

I am attempting here an essay that combines the passion of personal experience with reflection upon the cross in some parts of the Christian theological tradition. [ . . . ] The goal is to arrive at a theologically grounded sense of hope in the face of suffering. This is a theology that hovers, as it were, at the intersection between speculation and spirituality, between the questioning of the mind and the yearnings of the heart. It is of personal provenance, but seeks to reach out to the suffering of others and ask not simply what Christian doctrine has to say about it, but how Christian imagination can function to help us meet the darkness of suffering in human existence.

[ . . . ]

In theological terms, I understand hope to be a theological virtue, a practice of faith the origins of which like in God's own self-gift, and the endpoint of which is participation in divine life. How, then, can people of faith arrive at a lived sense of hope within present moments of suffering, marked as these moments often are by a sense of hopelessness? The theological virtue of hope cannot simply be conjured up; it is not some heroic mustering of a "hope against hope." A hope against hope may simply be an act of desperation, or even a denial of what is the case about human life as we find it--a kind of Stoic resignation, or worse, a refusal to acknowledge what is real. Christian faith does not counsel such a form of hope. In the extreme, hoping against hope may become an expression of despair.

On the other hand, Christian faith does indeed recognize that life can be grim, and that the promises of God in Christ can seem very remote from life as we know it. The problem for Christian faith, then, becomes how to move from hope as promise to hope as living and realized gift, and doing this without indulging in either fantasy or idealism.

[ . . . ]

In the end, relying on Jon Sobrino's Ignatian-inspired theology, I propose a spirituality of the cross that includes three major moments: the relationship of the cross to the entire paschal mystery (including the enfleshment of the divine); the cross as an utterly real symbol--a symbol of the reality of suffering that cumulates in death; and the cross as symbol of hope. In the concrete, this hope is realized in living a faith where, in Sobrino's memorable image, people take one another down from their crosses of suffering. This solidarity is the historical realization of the promise of the resurrection itself. Such an eschatology offers a vision of God's future that is already being realized, for in mutual solidarity, human beings find themselves already rising, already being raised by God in the "practice" of resurrection. The path to joy through suffering of the cross is found by embracing those who suffer, going through it with them, and moving together toward the horizon of God. (bold face mine 10-6)

Never Let Me Go

From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.

Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day

The wordsmith, Kazuo Ishiguro, needs no introduction. Those who cannot spare the time to read his earlier novel, The Remains of the Day, may choose to watch the *ahem!* fatally truncated movie adaptation. Nonetheless, Anthony Hopkins pulls off a terrific job as the repressed-but-always-dignified butler, Stevens: "our professional duty is not to our own foibles and sentiments, but to the wishes of our employer." Palpably tragic in its subtlety. If you want to know what regret means, read this book.

Picked up the following book from the Jesuit Retreat Center last week, and it has been an illuminating, albeit at times unbearably painful, read:

Is It Love or Is It Addiction?

Relationships that continue despite pain, emotional chaos, and disruptive impulsivity are addictive, says Brenda Schaeffer, a psychotherapist who knows her stuff and provides an excellent primer on the subject of love and love addiction. Especially if there is past loss or trauma, the resulting pain can make us uncontrollably attached to anyone who soothes that pain, even when this creates many other problems. Healthy love helps us expand ourselves and learn higher growth processes; the addictive attachment only distracts, stagnates, and frustrates personal development. . . . Is It Love or Is It Addiction? has helped many people find their way from the fear and distrust in poor relationships to the fulfillment in meaningful ones. Psychotherapist Brenda Schaeffer draws on common sense, compassion, and years of experience to provide tools for moving from addictive to healthy love.

An excerpt

Love relationships can be good or bad, depending on how they serve us. The questions we consider here are these: Does love addiction really exist? What is love addiction? How does love become addictive? How can something so wonderful become something that feels so bad? Is it love? Or, is it addiction? What is a healthy relationship?

My clinical experience of love addiction is that it is a reliance on someone external to the self in an attempt to get unmet needs fulfilled, avoid fear or emotional pain, solve problems, and maintain balance. The paradox is that love addiction is an attempt to gain control of our lives, and in so doing, we go out of control by giving personal power to someone other than ourselves. This attempt, then, results in an unhealthy dependency on others. It is very often associated with feelings of "never having enough" or "not being enough." This is because many of us did not get all of our needs met in an orderly way when we were children. Addictive love is an attempt to satisfy our developmental hunger for security, sensation, power, belonging, and meaning. Love addiction is also a form of passivity in that we do not directly resolve our own problems but attempt to collude with others so they will take care of us and thus take care of our problems. We willingly take care of others at our own emotional expense, or we attempt to control them to meet our needs at their expense. No matter how it plays out, we look to others to "fix" our fear, pain, and discomfort, and we tolerate or inflict abusive behaviors in the process. These others can include any important person in our lives with whom we (often unconsciously) hook up: a child, a parent, a friend, a boss, a spouse, a lover. Or, as in romance or sexual compulsion, it can be someone we don't even know personally. A key element of the unhealthy aspect of the relationship is how we feel when that person disapproves of us, disagrees with us, moves away from us, or threatens us. An escalation in dysfunctional behavior will no doubt occur when the love object leaves or threatens to leave us.

Love addiction may or may not include a romantic or sexual component. When the object of love is, or as been, the romantic partner, the stakes run high. What we witness daily in the news confirms that the more extreme cases of sex, love, and romance addiction can be lethal. Homicide, suicide, stalking, rape, incest, AIDS, and domestic violence capture the headlines. Love addiction can range from an unhealthy dependency sanctioned by society to violence and abuse abhorred, but never-the-less promulgated by, the same society. It is important to know that these are but degrees of the same problem.

[ . . . ]

The psychological seeds of dependent love, romance, and sex addiction are sown in early life when we experience overt and covert abuse from those we love. What starts out as healthy dependency becomes unhealthy. The roots of dependent love, romance, and sexual addiction are similar, and often overlap, but the addiction processes of each are unique.

[ . . . ]

Dependent Love

As a psychotherapist, I am acutely aware of how often my clients' adult love relationships exist in the shadow of early love experiences--especially childhood ties to parents.

[ . . . ]

Love and the Unconscious Mind

[Some] cases are sometimes referred to as examples of emotional incest. Over and over again, a child is invited to take care of the parents' feelings. Sometimes the invitation is overt, sometimes it is covert. The child often misconstrues this silent seduction as parental love. When the invitation comes from from the parent of the opposite sex, it is covert incest. The parent asks the child to be the surrogate partner. Such partnerships set the child up for a role reversal that later translates into dependent love relationships and confusion about the nature of real intimacy.

Behind each obsessive, often destructive, relationship--which we shall call addictive love--lurks a belief that such dependence serves an important purpose. To the unconscious mind, addictive love makes perfect sense; it feels necessary to survival itself. And to an addictive lover, even a pathological relationship may seem normal and necessary. As we understand our fears and the ways we use addictive love, they often lose their holding power.

[ . . . ]

Addictive lovers labor under the illusion that the dependent relationship will "fix" their fears. We will explore the many complex reasons that addictive love exercises a powerful hold over people and why it is not easily given up. [M]any people are drawn into it over and over again. But how do people get drawn into love addiction? The seeds of love addiction lie deep in our biology, our social education, our spiritual quests, and our psychological beliefs[ . . ..]

[E]ach person in an addictive relationship followed an individual road map leading into it. Finding out how love addiction makes sense to its victims is necessary in creating a road map out of love addiction and into mature love and belonging. We return to the puzzle: How does something that feels so good become something that feels so bad?

[ . . . ]

Our primary focus [...] will be on the dependent love relationship. It is dependent love to which the human condition seems to direct most of us most often. It is so common that we frequently fail to recognize it until it wrecks havoc on our love lives. (8-18)

A year before his death, the seriously-ill and persecuted David Herbert Lawrence penned the following poem:


I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.

An admonishment against apathy and despair, if there ever was one.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

10 Great Things

Ten great things about being Catholic

1. We brake for mystery

The word mystery has a particular meaning in pop culture. We may think immediately of detectives trying to solve crimes, or suspenseful movies with some monster hiding in wait for its next victim. Our basic assumption about mystery is that it’s something to be uncovered or resolved.

But the larger and more religious sense of mystery is of something that cannot be solved by human reason or even perceived by human senses. This is our first understanding of who God is—a Being infinite, eternal, and essentially unknowable by limited mortal minds. We can ponder religious mysteries but never come to the end of them. So we meditate on how God becomes a human being, how a virgin can be a mother, how a crucified man rises from the dead, or how one day, the last will be first.

2. God's story is our story

For all Christians, the Bible is the foundation of our faith. But it’s not a history book about how the world came to be, or stories of people from long ago. We believe God’s Word is alive, that these stories are bigger than history and truer than a mere retelling of the past. Catholics don’t look to the Bible to explain or replace scientific knowledge about the world. We accept these stories as the way ancient people shared what they were learning about the God who was leading them to become more fully human. They came to believe that the story of God is also the story of humanity, because our origin and life is in God. When we read the Bible, we find our own story written in its pages.

3. There's no cosmic even-steven

Without scripture, we might be forced into considering two rather distressing ideas about reality as we know it. One is that things happen in a random way and nothing matters or has meaning. As hard as that sounds, the other idea is equally unhappy: that God is handing out rewards and punishments according to a scale of justice that is coldly precise. Who among us wants to face perfect justice? But according to salvation history—another name for God’s plan as the Bible illustrates it—God’s desire is to save us, not to condemn us. Because we’re not good enough to face even-steven justice, God chooses to exercise mercy instead. If we seek God’s mercy, our sins are forgiven. This is why we call the gospel “the good news”!

4. In the common we find the holy

We have said God is unknowable, but that’s not the end of the story. God is beyond our comprehension, but God wants to be known by us. God created us out of love, and love always seeks to be closer to the beloved. So God reveals the divine presence and purpose to the people of the Bible, folks like ourselves—part saint and part sinner.

God also expresses the divine will in the ancient law of the Old Testament. Finally, God enters human history directly through the person of Jesus, who is Son of God and one with God in a unique way. In turn, Jesus gives us an enduring way to encounter his presence in what the church now calls the sacraments. In common things—water, oil, bread, wine, words, touch, a ring, a promise—we meet the holy presence of God once more.

5. Many roads lead to prayer

Prayer is primarily communication, and there are countless ways to do it. Some pray in silence, mindful of God’s presence. Others like to sing—Saint Augustine called singing “praying twice.” Some find themselves naturally drawn to formal prayers of repetition like the rosary or novenas. The Stations of the Cross, a walking prayer, reminds us that we’re all pilgrims on a spiritual journey toward our true home. Group prayer is often made simpler by using a ritual like the Liturgy of the Hours, also known as the breviary. The ultimate prayer of the Catholic community is the Mass itself, in which we celebrate the central mysteries of our faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!”

6. We have found the church, and it is us

The word church is remarkably broad. We use it to describe a building in which we worship. But it also refers to an authority that governs us—for Catholics, that usually means the Vatican, the bishops or other clergy, or the general body of people who are on the payroll of a parish office. Because we often speak of the church as something or someone “out there,” we have to consciously remind ourselves that we are the church, the Body of Christ. We are called by God and empowered through the gifts of the Holy Spirit to carry the presence of Christ into the world today. You take “church” with you wherever you go!

7. The body has many parts

All who are baptized are known as the “People of God,” according to church teaching. The People of God have a noble vocation to live out that identity with dignity and integrity. We are supported in that calling through the service of our church leaders—the pope who governs and coordinates the worldwide church; the college of cardinals who oversee broad territories; the bishops in their teaching office in each diocese; and the pastors guiding each parish. Add to their service the work of religious sisters and brothers, monks and cloistered nuns, missionaries, lay leaders and teachers, dedicated parents, and countless organizations affiliated with the church. All together, we are the hands and feet, the eyes and ears and voice of Christ in the world today

8. We hold a treasure old and new

Some Christian churches maintain that the Bible alone teaches us the will of God for the world. Catholics believe that the Bible is fundamental in revealing God’s purposes—and that God has made other revelations that are also compelling. Creation is God’s first and largest self-expression, for God spoke the world into being and then created humanity in the divine image and likeness.

Since Jesus told his disciples to “go forth, baptize, and teach all nations,” Catholics also view the church itself as having a role to play in expressing God’s will in the world. The teaching authority of the church, known as the magisterium, seeks to express God’s hopes for humanity in every new generation.

9. Church is a verb

We mentioned that “church” is not just a building but also a people. More perfectly understood, church is also something we do and not just who we are. Our vocation to “be” church engages us with a world in crying need of the presence of Christ. And Jesus wasn’t just present to people; he came to town and got to work teaching, healing, blessing, and giving hope to the hopeless. He spoke out in defense of the poor, the suffering, and the excluded. When we involve ourselves in works of justice, working to right the imbalance of power in the world, we are “being church” most profoundly.

10. We live as we believe

Being human naturally means making moral choices. It might seem hard at times, but it’s not rocket science. A Catholic morality is shaped by many principles, including the idea that human life belongs to God and not to us. This is why we take a moral stand away from abortion, capital punishment, euthanasia, genetic engineering, and all avoidable warfare. It’s also why we support fidelity in marriage, the welfare of children, and public policies that lead to justice and peace. As Jesus put it succinctly, “Love one another.” It’s still the best moral advice there is.

(Alice Camille, Vision: Vocation Guide for Catholic Vocations -- Religious Life and Priesthood.)

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls. (Mother Teresa)

Monday, July 17, 2006

On why we must fight fundamentalism

Who owns Christianity?

17 July 2006

Not many people of moderate persuasion have much sway in the church any more. I was reminded why recently when the Episcopal Church did two important things: It elected a woman bishop to head the denomination, and it backtracked on appointing gay bishops. The first move seems Christian. Women deserve to hold church office as much as political office (one diocese, however, was so incensed that it voted to leave the church, and worldwide there are still Anglican movements that do not permit women to be bishops or ordained priests).

The second move was an act of cowardice because it did not reflect the ideals of love in Christianity and was motivated by reactionaries in the Episcopal denomination. Countering a long tradition of laissez-faire tolerance, the reactionaries have gotten tough and threatened to form their own church if gays are promoted in the priesthood. The worldwide Anglicans are more intolerant, upholding that homosexuality is forbidden, unnatural, wrong or an outright sin, depending on who is doing the disapproving.

You'd think that someone would stand up and ask a simple question: Who are we to condemn gays if Christ didn't? In fact, who are we to condemn any sinner, since Christ didn't? Christianity is about forgiveness, and for the past two decades, as fundamentalism swept through every Protestant denomination, moderates and liberals have been driven out, and were roundly condemned as they left. Along with them went tolerance and forgiveness, not to mention love.

Did Christ teach love or is that just a liberal bias? In the current climate, it's hard to remember, but one thing is certain: Once a tight cabal of fundamentalists takes over any denomination, Christ's teachings go out the window. The reversal of Christianity from a religion of love to a religion of hate is the greatest religious tragedy of our time.

Those of us who haven't been swept up in worldwide fundamentalism, which has corrupted Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well, have been caught in a double bind. We can't join any sect that preaches intolerance, yet we can't fight it, either, because by definition fighting is a form of intolerance. To escape this double bind, moderates have stayed silent and stayed home. But that tactic failed. As healthy as it is to nourish your own devotion and faith, it's disastrous to allow extremists to take over the church, because the statehouse, the board of education, the Congress, and eventually the presidency are next.

Perhaps civil society will solve the problem of religious extremism. So far it hasn't. America finds itself in the sad plight of being the world's most prominent secular society hijacked by sectarians. One can only hope that the church comes to its senses and regains its moral center. If that doesn't occur, the core teachings of Christ will be lost, for all intents and purposes, to this generation.

Deepak Chopra is the author "Peace is the Way," which won the Quill Award in 2005 as well as 41 other books. He is also the founder and president of the Alliance for a New Humanity, an international network of people from all walks of life who are networking together to see a positive change take place in the world.



This Alone

One thing I ask, is the LORD I seek
To dwell in the house of the LORD all my days.
For one day within Your temple heals everyday, our LORD!
Oh, LORD, bring me to your dwelling.

[MP3 clip.]

Hear oh, LORD, the sound of my calling!
Hear oh, LORD, and show me the way!

One thing I ask, is the LORD I seek
To dwell in the house of the LORD all my days.
For one day within Your temple heals everyday, our LORD!
Oh, LORD, bring me to your dwelling.

The LORD is my life and hope of salvation.
The LORD is my refuge, whom shall I fear?

One thing I ask, is the LORD I seek
To dwell in the house of the LORD all my days.
For one day within Your temple heals everyday, our LORD!
Oh, LORD, bring me to your dwelling.

(Lift Up Your Hearts, Volume 1, by the St. Louis Jesuits. More info.)

There is a longing within me.
I long to return...