Thought for the Week – The Lonely Man of Faith

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In 1965 Rabbi Joseph B Soltoveitchik wrote an essay called, ‘The Lonely Man of Faith’. In it he examines two images of Adam based on the first two chapters of Genesis – he suggests that these reflect two sides of our nature.
Adam One is found in chapter one of Genesis-  he is the,  “majestic man” commissioned by God to master the world. He is the pragmatic one ambitious with his motto of success.
Adam Two emerges in chapter two of Genesis. He is a different, ‘the keeper of the garden who tills and preserves it’ , the ‘contractual or religious man’ who surrenders himself to the will of God.  He is the humble side of our nature and his motto is love.
These two sides of our nature operate different logics.  Adam1 has an external logic – an economic logic – input leads to output, risk leads to reward. Adam 2 has an internal logic – a moral logic and often an inverse logic – ‘you have to give to receive’, ‘to find yourself you have to lose yourself’.
Soloveitchik is not suggesting that either Adam is better than the other, but that they represent the struggle we undergo between these sides – the  spiritual and material, the mystical and scientific. We have to integrate both sides.
In Western culture we tend to adopt Adam 1 – we spend a lot of our time and energy focussing on values such as ambition and success – mastering or trying to master our universe.
We need Adam 2 for balance – to listen to him, integrate his compassion, kindness and honesty – befriend this inner reality. Our sense of alienation is due to our over emphasizing one side of our nature to the detriment of the other – we need to integrate both.
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BOREDOM and CREATIVITY

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As we fill every moment of our lives with activity boredom is becoming extinct.  Cell phones have become Swiss army knife-like appliances – we use them as a dictionary, a weather forecaster, a calculator, a calendar, as a torch, for messaging – they feed our mania for cramming every minute and leaving no downtime – waiting in a queue I check my messages – lying on the couch I am texting or catching up on the latest podcast.
The spaces, which once populated our day, moments when we may have felt nothing was happening, moments when we felt bored, have value.
Neuroscientists now know that during this  ‘downtime’ when the brain is not focused on a specific activity, it switches to its default mode – a network of neurons switches on – and in this default mode it gathers disparate ideas and makes new connections – it begins to think creatively – it has a chance to solve that problem that has been nagging you for ages.  – While you walk to work, or fold laundry, or wait in a queue – in other words when we are on ‘autopilot – our brain has a chance to work ‘off line’ – and think beyond the conscious.
If we are always on our devices – this default mode is blocked and there is no time for new connections to be forged and you are less creative.
So we need to re-educate ourselves and our children about the value of ‘boring time’-  as a time to be creative – rather than as a time to be fixed or filled with activity.
We need to change our relationship with our phone – change it from it being our task master to being a useful tool when it is needed. Learn to use technology to improve our lives rather than dampen our creative capacity. And we need the next generation to be creative – they have huge problems to solve – climate change, over population etc.
This in no easy task – the competition for our attention is stiff – there are numerous technology companies employing thousands of clever engineers to keep our attention – working to keep us hooked to our devices – they want our attention 24/7. These people refer to us, their customers, as ‘users’ which should give us a clue about their priorities. They want you to have that itchy feeling, that hunger to stay connected and they build their technology to trigger this. The CEO of Netflix commented that their main competitors for your attention are Google, Facebook and sleep.
So turn off your device, take back control and then stare out the window..take a break…and know that by doing nothing you are actually being your most creative –  it might feel strange at first but “boredom can lead to brilliance”.
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Thought for the Week – Silence to hear the deepest needs of our heart

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We have a natural bias towards the visual  – image pervades our culture -when we visit somewhere

new, especially where the scenery is dramatic, it is the landscape that gets our attention – we stop,

we look, we photograph it. This bias is not surprising given that sight takes up to one third of our

brain and uses about two thirds of its processing capacity – but it does mean we can miss out on

other aspects of our surroundings especially the soundscape which is often more varied an

interesting.

 

A meagre 3% of our brain is dedicated to hearing – that may explain why we find

listening difficult. But listening is also challenged by our noisy world. We pump sound into

every available space  – supermarkets, lifts , city streets, waiting  rooms, our homes – the TV is on,

and music is mobile now – we can take it with us – constant static  drowning one thing out with

another until we are left with  no perspective at all – swamped by noise.

 

In his ‘The Screwtape Letters’, C.S. Lewis, discusses ways the devil has for winning souls away

from God. In one of these letters, Screwtape, the senior devil, is advising Wormwood, his young

nephew, and a trainee devil, on the most effective way to win souls from God.

 

Wormwood is trying all sorts of elaborate techniques to win the person assigned to him

and getting nowhere. Screwtape eventually loses patience and explains to Wormwood that they

have a well established method to seduce  people from God. “All you have to do is create

enough noise so the person can no longer hear the voice of God and he is yours.”

 

So Wormwood reverts to this tried and tested technique and soon has his  man. In a

later letter, Screwtape announces, “ we will make the whole world a noise in the

end.”

And it doesn’t help that our stone-age brain was never designed for the bombardment

of noise and data it gets today – data – feeding the mind’s hunger for information and diversion –

24/7 – and squeezing out important alternatives…time for silence, peace, thinking,

playing, for  doing things that are real rather than two dimensional…

 

Our relationship with God, (as are all our relationships) is premised on our capacity to listen

– prayer is above all an act of listening and it takes work- it is not just hearing which is passive

– and the anatomy of listening reveals three things we can do to free up the 3% of our brain set aside

for listening:

 

We need to be humble – put ourselves aside (de-centre)- get off your high horse,

shelve ones pre-occupations and create a space for the other- be hospitable.

 

We need to pay ATTENTION/ to focus, “absolute attention is prayer” according to Simone Weil.

And our frenetic lifestyle is reducing our ability to pay attention – the average attention span

of a goldfish is nine seconds, and according to a new study from the Microsoft Corporation ours is

now down to eight seconds….work to do…

 

We need SILENCE: silence to hear the voice of the other and our own internal tappings

– silence to hear the deepest needs of our heart and the promptings of the spirit – areas and moments

of silence – time and space to hear the voice of the other. Take a technology detox

– dare to switch off our gadgets.

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Thought for the Week – A simple gesture

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In Africa, the Kikuyu tribe use a hand made bag to bring a gift when visiting another home – the bag is returned when they are leaving.  But it is always returned with something small inside – a simple gesture of gratitude and appreciation.
They also use a gourd to carry porridge or beer as an offering and whoever receives the gourd polishes it with castor oil before returning it. Over time the gourd becomes highly varnished. The deeper the colour of your gourd the more generous you have been and the more connected you are to the world around you.
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Thought for the Week – Furoshiki

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A furoshiki is a piece of cloth, often brightly coloured, which the Japanese use to wrap gifts. In Japan, as in many cultures, it is traditional to bring a gift when you visit someone.

Once your host receives the gift, he or she removes the furoshiki and returns it to you for future use. The giving of a present is a ritual of exchange with the formal handing over of a gift balanced by the receiver’s returning of the wrapping.

It made me think of the packaging and wrapping we throw away after a present is opened the made me aware of the genius and simplicity of the furoshiki.

Not only can the packaging be reused but the giver and receiver both recognise that their friendship is not only contained between them but it is part of a longer chain of givers and receivers who have, over time, been handed the furoshiki and returned it.

I wonder if there could be an Irish equivalent?

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Thought for the Week – Stress

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Most health issues stem from stress of one form or another. Bruce Lipton of Stanford University Medical school believes that 95% of all illness and disease is linked to stress.

The Harvard Medical School says on their web site….”too much stress for too long creates what is known as ‘chronic stress’ which has been linked to heart disease, stroke, and may influence cancer and chronic respiratory disease.

The New York Times online health guide points out that ‘stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry or anxious. What is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful for another.

John O’Donohue suggests that stress is due to ‘a perverted relationship to time’. He says;

“Seven out of every ten people who go in the door of a doctor’s surgery are suffering from something stress related. There are big psychological books written on stress but for me philosophically, stress is a perverted relationship to time.”

 

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Thought for the week – Disgust

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The psychologist Paul Rozin, an expert on the psychological experience of disgust, noted that a single cockroach wrecks the appeal of a bowl of cherries but a single cherry will do nothing at all for a bowl of cockroaches!

He points out how the negative trumps the positive in many instances. Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.

We are more motivated to avoid bad, self-definitions than to pursue good ones. Bad impressions and bad stereotypes are quicker to form and more resistant to change than good ones.

John Gottman, an expert in marital relations observed that the long term success of a relationship depends far more on avoiding the negative than on seeking the positive! Gottman estimated that a stable relationship requires that good interactions outnumber bad interactions by at least 5 to 1.

 

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Thought for the Week – A simple message

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“And he summoned the twelve, and began to send them out in pairs; and he gave them authority over the unclean spirits; and he charged them that they should take nothing for their journey, save a staff only; no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse; but to go shod with sandals: and, said he, put not on two coats.” Mk 6: 8-9

In this short section from Mark’s unified Gospel message – we have the disciples being ‘sent out’….…..

‘Sent out’ – what to take with you? – nothing to pack other than a simple message – a message free from spin, not cloaked in fancy packaging – repent!

What has to be done, what we have to do as God’s chosen ones, is to be aware of the ‘good news’, spread the message of truth, of freedom and this requires no-thing, no possessions, no bread, no money, no haversack.

Yet our culture tells us different  –  tries to convince us that we need lots of things, tries to convince us to use our every waking moment gathering more and more stuff to take with us – possessions, money, cars, a haversack….weighed down – too full to be sent  –  and stripped of these possessions what are we left with – an empty shell with nothing to deliver.

Jewish culture sees things differently. It urges us to use our every waking moment not working to accumulate more and more stuff but to gain time – working to harvest time, time for family, for God, time to spread the Good News, to discover the truth.
While we are busy building great cathedrals in space, Judaism builds great cathedrals in time – festivals, sacred moments, the Sabbath – one day in the week – time guarded.
Mark, the Jew, echoes this emphasis – if you enter a house stay while you are welcome, but don’t waste time with those who don’t listen – walk away, wipe the dust from your under your feet…

And they went out proclaiming a message of Repentance – turn – wake up – don’t be fooled- taken in – become alert, attentive to what is happening – for attentiveness, as Nicephorus the hermit puts it,  is the sign of perfect repentance. Attentiveness the sign of perfect repentance.

Without the Sabbath day, Sabbath times in our days, time to pay attention, we remain slaves in Egypt, slaves to the Pharohs in our lives….and the whips and chains of busyness and possessions.

Repent, become aware – turn – value time, not as a commodity but as a moment to share with your neighbour, with God and to spread the good news! Valuing time over space – a necessary corrective for us all.

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Thought for the Week – Angels anytime anywhere

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“You might see an angel anytime of anywhere. Of course you have to open your eyes to a kind of second level but it is not really hard. The whole business of what’s reality and what isn’t has never been solved and probably never will be. So I don’t care to be too definite about anything. I have a lot of edges called Perhaps and almost nothing you can call Certainty. For  myself, but not for other people. That’s a place you just can’t get into, not entirely anyway, others people’s heads. I’ll just leave you with this. I don’t care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. It’s enough to know that for some people they exist and that they dance.” Mary Oliver

My confidence in angels is based on their steady presence in my life. They come in all sorts of disguises – as a parent, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, a helper….good people dotted round the landscape of my life …and they come is all sorts of acts too – acts of kindness and of generosity – we can miss these angels but they are there to help us turn the sometimes bitter water of our lives into vintage wine…

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Thought for the Week – Remaining close to Nature

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When the plough was invented in neolithic times, the straight line became necessary and so Neolithic people began to shape the landscape. They made square fields – for when you plough you need to go in straight lines. Having invented the square for ease of agriculture the next step was a square house. This may have altered our way of looking at the universe.

Straight lines are rare in nature and right angles are practically non existent…the earth is a globe and so are the planets.

When we began to think and feel in straight lines we took a big leap towards separating ourselves from nature- to feel that we were not a part of nature but something different.

Until the white man came, the Bantu tribe in Africa did not have a plough.  Cultivation was done by women once the men had cleared the ground using fire. They used a simple hoe or digging stick. The shape of the area didn’t matter and they had no need for straight lines or corners. In Africa everything is a circle – their cultivated land, their huts, pots and they remain closer to nature.

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