Note: This short meditation began as a journal entry, which explains how it begins and the way it flows. I choose to share it with an interested reader.
The real issue is not “the Church” or “problems with the clergy,” but God. In not attending liturgies or services now, have I lost faith in God? In not respecting some of the clergy I have encountered in life, have I lost contact with God? By no means. The essence of prayer is the awareness of divine Presence. And this of course implies that the essence of prayer is not “attending church” or “giving money,” or “respecting the clergy,” even if some of them live as scoundrels, betraying Christ and his people.
First things first. What about God? To some fluctuating extent, I remain conscious of the divine Presence in and to consciousness. How dare I say—as some do—that “I have a problem with God”? That would be tantamount to saying that “I have a problem with reality, with the way things are.” No, I accept reality, and I accept the Presence of the divine as part of reality: or part of one’s being in reality.
I awoke thinking of Voegelin’s conception of the in-between, and what could be called the “bi-polarity of consciousness,” although I doubt that he used the term, and it could easily be psychologized into “bipolar disease,” or more likely schizophrenia. As Voegelin has written, there are some who in effect seek to misunderstand. (I see the same thing happening to President Trump repeatedly: some hate him so much that they do not even seek to understand him or what he says. Everyone has his or her problems, but one gains nothing good by proceeding from hatred or ill-will. The sights and sounds of this Trump-hatred are disturbing, and display a decadent society, to say the least.) In any case, some persons either do not understand or actively seek to misunderstand. So I must be cautious in how I word this brief reflection.
For so it is with the divine. Obviously, the Nietzschean approach of radical antagonism to the divine was self-murdering, or spiritually suicidal: he “blew his mind,” one can say, by his active rebellion against God. Nietzsche knew well what he was doing—most atheists and agnostics are too superficial to know what they are doing. Indeed, common in our culture is the habit of ignoring the divine: the practice of oblivion. I do not wish to live in either mode—rebellion or oblivion—but one can easily slip into oblivion without some sort of “spiritual exercises.” One such spiritual exercise is meditation, another is study (as in close reading of sacred texts), one is self-examination, one is dialogue with another on “the things of God.” I presently lack anyone in my life with whom to discuss the things of God in depth—other than in the adult faith class, and we have not met since early or mid-March when we were forced to quarantine because of the Wuhan virus pandemic (COVID-19).
Here is a simple thought: I think that the understanding of the bi-polarity of consciousness as stretched between the human and the divine is incomplete. In a sense, I find a tri-polarity of consciousness: all that one calls “ego,” “self,” “I,” or self-consciousness in all forms; the divine Partner as the ultimate cause and the illuminating power through intellect within consciousness or the soul; and all that is external to one’s consciousness, including body, physical world, and other persons (who are more complex, as some of them in effect become partners with consciousness through love and friendship). Voegelin concentrated on the divine-human I-Thou, and that is decisive in human being. But there is also in Martin Buber’s terms the I-It, and that includes, as noted, one’s body, the physical world and its multipolar parts, and other human beings until one enters into an I-Thou with one / several of them.
Note: For many persons, including Christians, their “relationship” with God is far more I-It than I-Thou. In other words, the divine is treated as “something” external to them, not as a Thou who enters into a living partnership with them.
I am highly conscious of the I-physical world bipolarity, or that aspect of tri-polarity. When I was examining a Rocky Mountain juniper last evening, I became clearly conscious of the tree as an other, as a being-thing to which or to whom I was relating. It was more than just a “thing,” but a living being to whom I was relating. The tree presented itself to me, and its being reached into consciousness as I examined it peacefully, wonderingly, and took several digital images of it using my iPhone. Often I have this sense of communion with either of my dogs: Moses or Elijah is a real person to me, Another, and I am conscious of a partnership. (No few persons have mocked me for this: “It is just a dog.” Well, you are “just a human being.” Do you know what either dog or man really is?) Of late I am especially conscious of partnering with the dogs, but also with physical nature, such as the bushes and trees I have been planting in the back yard (requiring so much digging in very rocky land). I am often conscious of the heavens: the sun, moon, stars, clouds; and the weather in its musical variations. I am conscious standing in a relationship to heavenly bodies, aware that I am in a sense communing with them by gazing on them and appreciating their beauty and their thereness, that they exist or are, as I do (whether they are conscious or not is not the question; that they exist is). Because of the way I experience the heavenly bodies, for example, I have no difficulty moving from observation and scientific awareness into a mythical mode of experience. For example, as I behold the planet Venus, I am aware that it is a planet, a physical body, second planet from the sun. But I can and do easily behold in Venus the goddess of Beauty and of Love, as understood by the ancient Greeks. It makes as much sense to me—and has more meaning—than thinking of Venus as a planet and nothing else. It represents to me the mystery that is divine, and that Christians call “God.” I frankly feel pity for so many in our generation who look at the night sky—if they bother to look at all—and just see stars, planets, perhaps comets, satellites. I have a sense of communing with the Creator in his beautiful creatures, the heavenly bodies. The cosmos is indeed “full of gods” for me, full of divine presence. And I am genuinely thankful not to have allowed this culture to bleach that awareness out of me. How often is it ever even mentioned in school? No, it does not fit the mindset of a highly secular culture (which is in fact decultured).
It is not mentally or spiritually healthy to ignore any part of reality. Just to become absorbed in meditation to the exclusion of awareness of one’s existence in one’s body, and in the whole in which all exist, is by no means healthy. That experiment of Descartes’, that formed the basis for his Méditations, has struck me as wrong-headed from the start ever since I first began to read it. It seems self-absorbed, and willfully blind to me. Descartes (“the father of modern philosophy,” and hence of “modern culture”) does not even reflect from the outset of his meditations that he is an existent being in a “world,” in reality, with the stars and sun above, and earth below, and so on. He begins with his mind seeking to prove that he exists—which seems utterly odd. And then he will make his apodictic assertion: Cogito ergo sum! “I think, therefore I am.” Well, René, you exist, but in truth you are not; only God simply is, and in truth can assert, “I am.” Don’t make yourself a god—it is a very dangerous role to play, and the game of a fool.
And then later in the Méditations Descartes seeks to “prove” the “existence of God”—a fool’s errand if there ever was one. Descartes treats the divine as if it were an object of his mind, a concept, or a mathematical object (and Descartes was a great mathematician, of course). And then he gets himself into his famous “mind-body” problem, which is a false dichotomy to begin with. The mind or consciousness is located within the body, and is highly affected by the condition of the body. There is no separation of mind and body of which one is aware. One can abstract from consciousness of the body—as in meditation—but in doing so, it is mentally balanced to remember that one’s consciousness is bodily located, and that the body is part of an enormous and mysterious Whole. There is no disembodied human consciousness—or none of which I or any you whom I know is aware. There is consciousness within reality, of reality—and perhaps we could add, for reality. Consciousness or the human mind is a part of the mysterious whole, and not apart or separate from it. Is that so difficult to grasp? It was difficult for Descartes, because he began his Méditations by asserting that he was a self-thinking being—in effect, a product of his own thinking. As Puck declares in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “What fools these mortals be.” Take a bow, Rene Descartes. And next time you wish to philosophize, try beginning with humility: an awareness of our being part of the mysterious whole, and not self-thinking “things” (your word).
I am barely aware of any self-consciousness without the awareness of the presence of God in me and to me. In other words, when I think of myself, I am aware of the divine that reaches into me. God is no afterthought for me, or “something out there,” but that which forms, illumines, guides, from moment to moment.
I can recall periods of my life when the awareness of the presence of the divine to me, in me, was much weaker, and virtually was faded into the kind of oblivion in which many in our culture exist: namely, when I was a small boy up through my high school years, mainly. In youth (say, age about 3 to about 19) I had episodic awareness of the divine presence, but it was not sustained, nor was it understood as ongoing and real, whether I was choosing to attend or not. Let’s put the matter a little differently: Until about age nineteen (while an undergraduate student), I was rarely conscious that God was present to me, in me, with me. In retrospect I can say: God was no doubt present, but I was not aware of the divine presence. I did not attend to the divine within. In the famous words of St. Augustine in his Confessions, “Behold, you were with me, but I was not with you.” Exactly. It is not that as a boy I consciously I rejected the reality of God, but “God” was something “out there,” or “other.” During my early years I had experiences of divine presence, but I was not aware that the I AM was ever present, and could not be otherwise. I think that many so-called “believers” are in this state of consciousness, or what could be called, a “partial eclipse of consciousness.” These believers do not flatly deny the “existence of God,” but indeed affirm it; but they barely understand in any real way what they are talking about, because “God” is notional to them, a name for “something,” for a “being,” who may have “created heaven and earth,” or may be “found in the Bible,” or “spoke by the prophets,” and is “taught by the Church,” and so on; but they are unaware that before they can form a single word, or think, or question, or be aware at all, the divine is in the as the light of their minds, as that which was ever streaming into them, ever creating and re-creating them.
Before proceeding, I pause to reflect: In thinking these thoughts presently, I am aware that I am thinking with and for what is called “God,” and that this simple awareness is “prayer” in a certain mode. The awareness of the divine within is not what believers call “prayer” because I am not addressing “another,” or even “listening to God” as such. Rather, I am allowing the divine light to illuminate me, to help me be aware of how the divine is present to a human being—and how one can become unconscious of God, oblivious to God. Thinking true thoughts is by its nature a participation in what we call “God.” I think that many who call themselves “Christians” or “Muslims” are not highly conscious of God. They are thinking and talking about a conception of God, according to their various beliefs or opinions and their level of understanding. That is not what I am doing now. Rather, I am implicitly “calling on the Beginning of all beginnings,” I am aware that as I think about God, I am not some isolated self or being, but a partner of what is called “God.” The divine to which I am referring is the divine as I experience it: that which is the ultimate origin of my existence, the origin and light of consciousness, and the end to which I am moving and being moved. One could call this divine “Intellect,” if one so chooses—as Aristotle did, for one. But in any case, it is not identical with the “God” of the creeds or the “God” that believers say that they “believe in.” It is the power and the presence that moves the mind towards truth, and moves actions towards goodness. The divine is the ultimate ground and being of one’s existence, the rock on which a lover of wisdom builds his house.
As I previously noted, from the age when I first became conscious in concrete experiences (age two, perhaps, but surely not later than three), up to about age nineteen, “God” was to me “another,” “out there,” “the creator.” I had some conception of who or what God was, but it was notional, it was not yet clearly and self-consciously experiential. That may seem odd, given that I had and was aware of having concrete experiences of God. There were moments when, to use verbal expressions, “God broke in,” or “God revealed himself to me,” or “God spoke to me,” or “God guided me.” But these were exceptional moments, and illuminated my life, guided me—but were not yet ongoing, to a greater or lesser extent. They were exceptional. I can recall a number of such occasions, and they are precious in my reflections on the unfolding of my life, because they were highly formative. But they were exceptions. I had not yet drawn the right conclusion, or allowed my thinking to become sufficiently formed by these moments of divine in-breakings to realize that what believers call “God” is that which is ever and always present and forming one’s mind / soul, whether one acknowledges it or not.
As far as I know at this moment, it was not until what I have called my “conversion to Christ” around age nineteen that my consciousness or soul or awareness of the divine radically changed. I had long been dimly aware of my fascination with the divine. But suddenly, it was as if God overwhelmed me, flooded me, and I yielded my mind and life over to God who was and is always present. In words similar to what I used at the time (c 1970):
I read the passage in Scripture in which Christ said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone opens the door, I will come in and sup with him, and he with me” (Rev 3:20) I read the words, I believed, my soul was opened up, and I experienced the inflowing of Christ. I suddenly became intensely aware of God present in me, to me, as the crucified and risen Jesus Christ. That was it.
Although my awareness of the presence of Christ as God in me has at times waxed and waned over the years, it has not been wholly effaced. Rather, it attracts me to think about this presence, as well as to obey and to love it, with a most thankful heart. For the inflowing of Christ was immediately felt as an uplifting of my spirits, a coming-to-life-again,” and it gave me much joy, overcame darkness and sorrow, and truly changed my life. I felt as though I had been “raised from the dead,”and suddenly—as I told a few friends—“everything glows!” The whole world became new to me, because my consciousness was changed, renewed. Not all at once, no “perfectionism,” no Gnostic certainty, but an awareness of “I in you and you in me” (Gospel of John), of a real union with God, a marriage, a state of joy that I could either nourish and appreciate, or let diminish.
Unlike fundamentalists or Gnostics obsessed with their own experiences to the denial of the validity of others’ experiences of God, I am well aware that the divine has “many and varied ways” of communicating itself to human beings. I dare say that no experience is normative for anyone else, but one’s own experiences surely are normative and formative to the one who has them. “To whom much is given, much will be demanded.” What is normative for all is that the I AM is ever present in and with every human being. In other words, God’s action in Moses is normative for humankind. And in asserting this I am consciously inverting the foolish words of Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Confessions: “Did God speak to Moses to speak to Jean-Jacques” (to me)? And I say,“You’re darn right he did, Rousseau; stop playing your self-centered games. The revelation of the I AM WHO AM to Moses is normative for all humankind;and God has many and varied ways to break into one’s own consciousness. But there is no revelation or experience that transcends or dwarfs the revelation of God as I AM. Why? Because God alone is God: He who is. All else is passing.
Even though from about nineteen I have been aware of the divine presence, surely there have been moments since then that were even more intense, more enlivening. To mention just one—without details now, as I have done so before—I had the intense experience of God singing through me, then the divine as a force-field around my head and in my mind, and a powerful awareness of the divine presence. I was about twenty-three then, a graduate student in Santa Barbara, California. It happened during a Lutheran service, triggered by the words, “Cast me not away from thy presence,” as I realized, “To say those words, David was already aware of being in God’s presence.” That was it. And then at the end of the experience, the “word of the LORD” spoken in me, to me, using my thoughts but with unmistakable divine source and authority: “Your life work is to have such experiences and to seek to understand them.” How can I forget? How dare I forget! It was wonderful, delightful, up-lifting.
So the awareness of the presence of God is not constant, not a dead or passive fixture, not just something about which to speak. Rather, as with love between two persons, it is living and undergoes ebbs and flows, and degrees of intensifying or receding. As in a loving relationship—for it is a loving relationship, of God and I/ you—one must “work at it,” renew it, be aware, thankful, not take it for granted. “Prayer” can help keep the awareness alive, but not necessarily For what is called “prayer” can also be alienating from the concrete experience, if one allows thoughts of “God out there” to eclipse the awareness of the I AM in and to consciousness. It is both / and: the divine is ever beyond, and ever near; God is within and without; present and absent; one and in some sense many. Words fail. But I know that falling into the habit of prayer as muttering words even with feelings to “God” can dull one’s spiritual sensitivity. I remember a monk telling me that when he recited the psalms in monastic choir, he just tuned out the words, paid no attention to them. I would often see him twiddling his thumbs, and thought of Dostoevsky’s description of modern man as “consciously thumb-twiddling” (in his “Thoughts from underground,” as I recall). Whether this monk-priest was attuned to God when he just let his mind drift, and did not pay attention to the words he was uttering in “prayer,” I do not know. What I do know is this: much that passes as “prayer” does not interest me. If I “say my prayers,” I may simply be tuning out, or dulling my awareness of the simple, uncaused presence of the I AM in consciousness which is what we call “God.”
Better not to pray at God, but to listen, to be mindful, to be aware of the most simple reality: “I AM with you to deliver you, says the LORD,” as heard by the prophet Jeremiah when he needed inner strengthening. The God of the Hebrew prophets was, consciously, the God of Moses, the Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh: I AM WHO AM (Exodus 3). That awareness is bedrock, grounding for one’s life. As I have often said, “When Moses left that mountain and the burning bush, he was aware that I AM was with him. Moses became the carrier of God.” (The phrase “carrier” I borrowed from reading Marx in college--Träger; but for Karl Marx, there is no God to carry with one, for there is no God (“In a word, I hate all the gods”). For Marx, as for our “progressives” in the churches today, there are just one’s “social relations.” And that is all. But for Moses, to attend to the divine within him was to become in truth “the man of God” (Ish-‘Elohim, Psalm 90:1).
Here is the point: be mindful of God. Be aware that what we call “God”—for lack of a better word—is that which is present here, now. Enter into this presence now…. Actually, without an awareness of the divine presence to consciousness now, how or why would I have just written what I wrote? On the contrary: the thoughts offered, however imperfect, reflect the awareness of inner presence: I AM with you. Apart from an awareness of the Presence, I have nothing worthwhile to offer.
This awareness is the heart of prayer as I understand it. Although at times I spontaneously utter a sentence—a pattern of words—to the divine, these are the exception to my prayer, not the essence. I may think, “Thanks be to God!” Or “I love you, LORD,” or “What do you want of me, LORD?” But under these words, and in them, is an awareness that the One to whom I utter them is already here, more present to me and with me than I am to myself. The simpler, the more real; the more real, the more present. And what could be simpler than God, that which simply is? Nothing I know—for all things, all being-things, are compounded and diversified, not utterly simple. Except for that which we call “God.”
That should suffice for the present. Would that some mind question me on what I wrote, so that I may justly respond.
—Wm. Paul McKane
29 April 2020
I have not been writing blogs or short essays on politics in America recently, because nearly anything that I can write or say is being said more intelligently by a number of others now, and especially by Professor Victor Davis Hanson. I highly recommend all the articles he is writing on what is taking place in our country. The one element I may be adding to his analysis is seeing what the “Progressives” and “Socialists” are doing in America as another case of a Gnostic mass movement, essentially similar to the Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution, Communism (in Russia, in China, and so on), and National Socialism (in Germany). Search online and you will find Professor Hanson’s analysis of our hard core left in America.
27 Feb 2020
To family and friends,
When I receive emails, especially from one of you, that keep repeating the ugly, hateful propaganda that I read about and hear daily from the mass media in our country, I respond. If you do not want any response, stop attacking Trump and those who are conservative. You can just say nothing, and do not call names, or attack political opponents.
I hear no similar talk from anyone else in my life—no one. People here are commonsensical and show little interest in national politics—and surely no interest in “changing the world.” What is true here in Montana is true of much of our country away from large cities, especially on the two coasts. Rather than promote all of this “social change,” we are content to live our lives in peace, to work, to recreate. Politics is not a high concern to most Montanans. Nor was it in South Dakota or Iowa. It is so refreshing to live among people who are not obsessed with hating political leaders and their supporters with whom they disagree.
At least since President Trump was elected, the left in America has undertaken a sustained character assassination not only of the President, but of his supporters. My goodness, one stupid woman even carried around the likeness of a severed head of Trump, and passed that off as comedy. It is sick and promotes hatred and violence. So do the “Antifa” attacks seen in cities such as Portland. Or the constant political nonsense from Democrats and the bureaucracy in DC. Consider that the leading elected Democrat in our country sat behind the President when he delivered his State of the Union a month or so ago and visibly tore up her official copy of the speech (intended to be placed in the public record). I’ll bet such open and wanton disrespect has never been done before in our history.
Leftists do not realize, or do not care, that they are destroying our country. The policies promoted or tolerated are destroying our traditional way of life. Leftists voice disdain, hatred, for what many of us hold dear. Talk about disrespect! What else is being spewed on MSNBC, CNN, ABC, etc, on a daily basis? And from self-important fools such as Schiff and Pelosi in Congress? What a disgrace to our nation the hard core left is. What I see in these actors is hatred, and under that, their will to power. Why hate Trump? Because he gained what the left most wants: not eternal life, not true happiness and peace, but political power to “transform the world,” or “save the planet,” using phrases from Obama.
From my studies of mass political movements since the late Middle Ages, I am increasingly convinced that the “Progressives” in America are a totalitarian mass movement. There is no essential difference between our hard-core leftists and the Communist movements in Russia that gained power, or the National Socialists in Germany, or the Castro revolution in Cuba. They also were motivated by claims to expert knowledge, to know what is best for humanity, a strong will to power to impose their “dreams” or “visions” or “plans” on everyone else, and their hatred and attempted annihilation of political opponents. Whatever stands in the way of these extreme ideologues is subject to constant attack, to “resistance,” to hatred.
What I am writing would be understood and appreciated by nearly everyone I know personally. We non-leftists see what is being done to our country. Trump has brought the activities and motivations to the surface, because he is the target of so much vituperation day after day. He has not “drained the swamp” (a phrase Pelosi used when she first became Speaker of the House years ago), but Trump has exposed the swamp.
What you may or may not realize is that the entire fabric of our country is being destroyed before our eyes. Under the name of “politics,” the “progressives” are effectively undermining not only our Constitution, but our Republic, our limited Government, the work of the Founders, and the entire basis of our American way of life. Marxists always loved “globalization,” and disrespected individual countries—until they gained power, and sought to “build Socialism in one country” (a phrase used by Soviet leaders, but it fits the Nazis and Castros as well). The demand for more “centralized political power,” to “fight climate change,” is another leftist ploy to advance their “vision.” These “dreams” in effect undermine and destroy the way of life of everyday citizens who want to mind their own business and live in a degree of freedom.
This is what I have been watching with disgust. The left is destroying our country. The best way to see their tricks is to hear the charges they level against their opponents. Everything the left does is smoked out by these charges. It is not the Trump administration that sought to destroy political opponents; it was the Obama administration and Democratic leaders, supported by their followers in government and the mass media. Want to see the tricks of the “progressive left”? Stand back and listen to the charges they level. It has been one huge smoke-screen to mask from the American people exactly what they have been doing. And why? To gain power to “transform the world” (again, Obama’s phrase, lifted from Marx).
It seems that many Democrats and Socialists and Progressives (using their own labels) do not see what is happening. Well, do you think that the Bolsheviks and National Socialists saw that they were destroying Russian or German society? Hardly. Or if it was seen, it was embraced: the traditional ways must be destroyed to pave the way for our “brave new world,” borrowing a phrase from Shakespeare’s Tempest. The ideologue does not accept reality as it is, but is hell-bent to force his or her “vision” of change on everyone else. That is the disease that is destroying our country. “Don’t tread on me” is being torn up by wealthy, powerful leftists in our country seeking to impose their will on everyone. Again, this is essentially the Gnostic enterprise that has caused major wars and social upheavals in our civilization since the late Middle Ages. It is not new. “Progressives” do not know, or want to know, just how similar they are to the self-styled “Puritans” who rocked and killed and destroyed in 17th century England, or the “Enlightened” ones who brought so much upheaval to France and Europe in the late 18th century. Or the Communists or National Socialists. Folks, "we’ve seen this movie before." But some refuse to admit that they are falling into this pattern of human destruction.
Wm. Paul McKane
Saints are not perfect. But they love God more than themselves. And they love their neighbor—the person in need right near them.
Politics is the religion of true-believing leftists in America. Ignoring God, what else do they have to “change the world,” their “god”?
“Blessed the one who blesses God; blessed the one who curses God; cursed be the one who ignores God.” A saying of the rabbis.
The gift of life is to be cherished and lived well. To hate or to kill another is an attempted assault on the Creator of all.
From the moment of conception to natural death, each human being belongs not to himself or herself, but to God, first and foremost.
Christ is made visible when one human being lovingly tends another.
All ways of worship or serving God are not equal, but each one deserves respect unless it is self-deceiving or human-abusing.
Are our country’s best days behind us, or ahead of us? In truth, we do not know; our fate is ever in the balance. Nothing is assured but individual death and eventual death of our society.
Live each day, each moment, as if it could be one’s last. It may be.
Do not delay doing and being what are most essential: truly to love; to speak the truth; to do one’s best; to seek God in all and above all.
Be grateful for the joys and the sorrows that come one’s way. Joy is far more pleasant, but the sorrows of life can build character, if accepted with a humble attitude.
“You are not your own; you were bought with a price.” St. Paul
A human being who cannot rule himself, herself, surely is not fit to seek to rule anyone else.
What is it but hypocrisy for one to espouse “egalitarianism” while living in a mansion, or having considerable wealth?
If you seek political power, live like the lowly person in your midst.
The best teachings of ethics and politics come through setting a good example of a life well lived.
If you want to see society “share its wealth,” why not begin by sharing all that you have?
The poverty of Jesus and St. Francis speak far more convincingly, far more eloquently, than all the slogans and programs of political activists.
Is it not strange for the Pope to speak about accepting all immigrants into one’s country when he lives in a walled city-state that does not welcome immigrants?
The talk about “climate change” in a political context is primarily being used as a means to gain overwhelming power over others.
The extreme left in American politics—self-styled “progressives” and “socialists”—is the nucleus of a major totalitarian political movement, unlike any seen in American history.
What hypocrisy and pretense to hear a man or woman talk about the disasters of “climate change” when s/he travels around in a private jet—or lives in a very large house.
What is there about Americans—and not only our young people—who are so easily duped by idealistic fanatics who promise so much and deliver so little?
Anyone who will not serve God wholeheartedly is enslaved to himself: his ego, his opinions, his delusions, his desires.
Many Americans in fact live in slavery today: slavery to themselves, to their desires, to their lust for power, to their greed, to their childish thinking.
“Thinking themselves wise, they became fools.” We see the truth of these words in our “educators,” “experts,” “scientists,” “entertainers,” and other know-it-alls.
A man of science may know a little in his chosen field of study, but when he opines on any other subject, he often displays more ignorance than “the common man,” who lives by common sense.
Institutions of “higher education” in America have become purveyors of many untruths, much pride, and sheer foolishness.
If you want to see a “ship of fools,” walk around on an American college campus, and just listen to what people are saying, and watch what they do.
Lack of spiritual maturity and virtues in many Americans have contributed mightily to the growth of our enormous Federal Government.
There is no substitute for personal self-governance; without a self-controlled population, we are veering between near anarchy and a growing totalitarian political regime.
America, watch out! You are becoming more of a totalitarian political society than were National Socialist Germany or the Soviet Union.
Our Federal Government has shown that it has the tools and often the will to control, to dominate, and to destroy.
The modest Federal regime conceived by our Founding Fathers, and enshrined in the Constitution of 1787, has swollen into an unrecognizable Leviathan.
By allowing our governments to become so large, so powerful, we have betrayed our modest, republican roots.
One often becomes like what he hates. We hated National Socialism and Soviet Communism, and behold what we are becoming in the name of “Progress.”
May each of our citizens love God and love our fellow citizens, but learn to be skeptical of those who hold political power—as our Founding Fathers were. They knew what was in the human heart.
The will to power, the lust to dominate others, is, together with cruelty, the most demonic force in the human heart. There is no one who must not struggle against such forces.
The most dangerous demagogue or would-be political leader is the one who assures you of how pure their own motives are, and how all they want to “to serve the people.” Beware the beast in the heart.
The most dangerous political leaders in America have presented themselves as good and loving human beings, who seek only to serve the public good.
We are all deeply flawed human beings; some just hide it better than others.
A good person knows and admits his lack of goodness; a wicked person is self-deceived, and seeks to deceive others.
If a politician is widely praised by journalists in the mass media, it is very likely that that politician is dangerous, and a potential demagogue.
Most people—including most political commentators and journalists—are easily fooled by those who smoothly present themselves as good, well-intentioned, intelligent.
The most dangerous political leader is the one who many believe is highly virtuous and worthy of following.
In a society such as ours, a political demagogue is known by the friendly smoothness of his words and ways, as a “real man of the people.”
Better a leader who is clumsy and obviously flawed than one who presents himself or herself as a political “savior.”
How real “climate change” is best left to a fair and detailed study by climatologists; it is “beyond my pay grade."
An enormous political danger in our society and in others in this century is the use of “climate change” hysteria as an excuse to amass enormous power in the hands of the ruling class.
America has a small “elite” ruling class. They are most easily spotted by proclaiming themselves “friends of democracy,” even as they seek and hold much power themselves.
“Science is a sacred cow.” There is much wisdom in that old formulation.
Beware of those who lust for power and mind-control under the guise of being “experts” and “scientists.”
A real man or woman of science desires to stay far away from anything to do with political power.
It is not Aristotle but Karl Marx who sets the pattern for many of our “learned folks” today: the goal of their “science” is “to change the world.”
Anyone who seeks political power is thereby demonstrating that they must be viewed with much healthy skepticism.
—25 Feb 2020
To be continued
It is not enough to criticize so-called education in America for failures and for poor performance. Failures of our political institutions, especially on the state and federal levels, to govern well and to enact justice are reaching a truly dangerous level that jeopardizes the survival of this regime. The mass media are powerfully engaged in “re-educating” the American public in the image of extreme left-wing “progressivism” to guarantee the death of traditional American beliefs and ways of life, and to usher in an era of extreme left-wing domination in all facets of our lives. These problems are enormous and deserving of analysis. For the present purpose, I’ll focus on churches in America, and most particularly on the Catholic Church as it is today—not in the glory days, perhaps, of generations or centuries ago. Rather than nourish our people in developing sounds spiritual lives, our powerful religious institutions have generally failed in that critical mission.
As a Benedictine monk and priest in the Catholic Church, it would be expected that I would not criticize the institutional Church, but quietly and submissively ignore the evident flaws in the Church and members. It is in effect an unwritten law of the Church that priests do not publicly criticize the institution and fellow clergy, lest they be condemned or at least ostracized. I’ve already been condemned and ostracized within the established Church; the only thing left to be done with me might be more public censorship, or a forced “laicization,” or physically being gagged, or secretly “taken out” by some “accident.” Or any voice such as mine is simply ignored, relegated to the “ash heap of history.”
Reflecting on what I have observed from more than forty years as a practicing Catholic—and during most of these years as a Benedictine monk and as a parish priest—the predominant sense in me is one of strong disappointment at what the Church has become. The primary failure of the Catholic Church has been its neglect of the spiritual, moral, and intellectual well-being of parishioners across the country. For decades, left-wing ideologies have replaced genuine spiritual formation, as numerous churches and religious orders became far more interested in “social justice” and “transforming the world” than in sharing in the wholesome, life-giving transformation of human beings into the living Body of Christ. Political preaching and social action replaced spiritual formation.
I saw this pattern intensely in my hometown of Missoula while I was a high school student. Although not a Catholic at the time, I attended some Catholic Masses and spoke with several priests, and was amazed at the focus on leftist political change. With trepidation I later returned to serve as a priest in western Montana, given what I had seen in Missoula; but I returned to be near my elderly parents in their late years. Soon I was smacked with reality: the priest in Missoula whose “Mass” I attended made up the entire liturgy, rejected references to Christ dying for our sins and his resurrection, had women do the blessing over the gifts, radically changed the “words of institution” themselves, and so on. He did not celebrate the Catholic Mass at all, but officiated at a feel-good quasi-religious service with social justice teaching and “egalitarian” practices. As a Benedictine monk-priest accustomed to actual Catholic liturgies, I was shocked, and discussed what I saw with that priest. He was friendly, and assured me (as I recall) that he was being “ecumenical” and “inclusive.” Without saying anything to me at the time, he probably thought of me as some “ultra-conservative, traditionalistic Catholic,” which I have never been.
A few weeks later I encountered a similar but less extreme pattern in the parish to which I was sent to serve as an associate pastor, in Kalispell, Montana: left-wing political ideology had clearly replaced the proclamation of the gospel, and the faithful were malnourished. The proclamation of Christ was too much for the pastor and the staff who quickly had me removed for being “too traditional” and “dividing the parish.” These political ideologues had a monopoly on the “truth” in that parish, and did not want it threatened.
Meanwhile, evangelicals in this country have often doctrinalized and propagandized the faithful with what is essentially bibliolatry—worship of a book rather than the living God. Their preaching may appear to be more authentically “Christ-centered,” but it is often a highly subjective, even Gnostic spirituality which they impart, that says, in effect: “I know that I am saved; either believe as I do, or you are going to hell.” And they “believe in the Bible as the word of God.” In short, the churches—Catholic and Protestant—have largely failed to nourish the faithful in Christ. Our people are spiritually “running on low.”
I am profoundly disappointed, scandalized, and frankly, disgusted to a high degree at what I have seen in the churches in our country. The institutional churches clearly seem to be far more focused on making money and protecting their own institutional existence than in providing solid spiritual formation for the faithful. In this sense, as with our educational establishment, so with the churches: there is much that could and should be called a “con game”—a confidence game used to acquire monies from the unsuspecting. Here I am thinking not only of such fundamentalistic groups as the “Latter Day Saints” (Mormons), but also of evangelical churches, mainline Protestant churches, and the Catholic church. What I have seen has been deeply disturbing. As no few Catholic and other Christians would admit: “the church seems to be all about money.” In a word, this is disgusting. As an elderly priest said to me on several occasions: “In France, follow the woman; in the Church, follow the money.” Standing back and examining our church life, it does seem to be “all about the money.” That is at least true far, far, too often, and to a high degree.
There is also the enormous problem of bad men parading as clergy. I encountered first hand the case of a diocesan priest who stole huge sums of monies from his parishioners offerings—all done through various deceits. He was indeed a deceitful, clever, and greedy thief in clerical garb. And what was the official reaction to his con games when some of us brought his criminal actions to light? Whatever was thought, that thief still functions in public as a Catholic priest. As his superior told me, “The priests feel entitled” to steal monies from parishioners. Clearly, bishops overlook such actions, as long as chanceries get their required take ($$) from parishioners. If bishops took strong action against thieving priests (as well as deacons and bishops), there would probably be a clerical uprising on their hands, or their own public condemnation for one reason or another. Fellow priests keep silent—whether because they share in the same activities, or just refuse to “get involved,” lest their own sins be exposed. For turning in this priest as a thief, I was effectively ostracized by other Catholic clergy in that diocese.
The problems of wickedness in clergy include far more than stealing, lying, and deceiving the faithful. As noted, the main problem is the neglect of the parishioners’ spiritual lives. But there is more blatant evil that shows up. I doubt that there is any priest serving in this generation who has not seen other priests who are active, heavily drinking alcoholics—a reality for years covered up by their more sober “brothers.” Even to a far greater degree, I think every priest knows himself or other priests who are living active sexual lives while pretending to be “celibate.” (As several clergy told me, “I vowed not to marry; I did not promise not to have sex.”) Whether its sex with children, adult women, or adult men, problems of clerical sexual abuse are rampant and have been disguised and hidden. Why? If the “faithful” knew the truth, they might cease giving money to keep the institution alive, or keep their own parish open. Or perhaps the belief is that it is better to deceive the faithful than to “scandalize them” with the truth. Well, they have been deceived, and increasingly, as these evils come to light, they are scandalized, and no few walk away from the Church altogether. Examine the declining church attendance, and wonder why. (The main problem remains the failure to form the faithful in Christ.) The threat to “close the parish” hangs as a sword over many faithful, and serves to keep them quiet and “obedient” to the hierarchy. Catholics often love their parishes, and would do anything to keep them—even turn blind evils to rampant evil, or bring bad or poor-performing clergy to light.
That there are some men serving in the priesthood who are good and noble, I do not deny. I have personally known some virtuous and Christ-centered priests. However, priests usually keep silent in the face of evils, and in effect are co-opted by the system into “obeying.” “Shut up and obey” is the unspoken rule imparted to clergy and to religious in the Church—and indeed, to the faithful as well. Oftentimes the non-ordained have seen some of the serious problems—grand theft, priests or bishops sexually acting out, widespread failure to nourish the people spiritually—and they, too, have kept silent, because they have also imbibed that unspoken rule: “Shut up and obey,” with an additional phrase for parishioners: “And pay up—or your parish will be closed.”
I have no recommendations for “how to reform the Church.” I truly do not know what would be best, nor what could actually work. That the institution and many of its personnel are spiritually and morally corrupt should now be clear to anyone willing to see and to admit the truth they see. (Willful blindness has been strongly evident in clergy—and in Catholic and Protestant faithful—for centuries.) What is more likely than sane and healthy reform would be that the institutional Church and the priesthood keep limping along, giving lip service to “reform,” and “calling wrong-doers to account,” while in reality, virtually nothing is done in most cases—unless legal pressure is brought to bear, as moral suasion does not work on men of truly low character. And worst of all, the faithful are spiritually malnourished, and often do not know it, or know how to seek spiritual nourishment. They’ve been taught to be “good Catholics,” rather than good and prudent human beings who truly seek God. And priests are praised for being “men of the Church” (that is, obedient to the hierarchy) rather than men of Christ and the truth. In short, there is much spiritual and moral sickness in our churches, which only genuine and sustained return to Christ and God can heal. All else is “window-dressing” and more deceit.
For writing and posting this short blog, I should not be surprised if official permission for me to function as a priest in the Church be withdrawn. I accept the consequences of daring to speak the truth as I see it—I will “shake the dust off my feet.” For centuries, churches (like other political and social institutions) have survived cloaked in deceit and cover-ups. As it is, I receive no financial support from any Catholic institution (or person), nor do I seek it; hence, I cannot be thrown off the “gravy train” that serves to keep some good clergy quiet.
Fr. Wm. P. McKane, OSB
17 February 2020
Painful—not pleasant—to see and to understand
That what I took for education in America
Is not worth much at all, much of it an empty show.
Even worse, my “education” was not worth much,
Although I had some good teachers and professors.
Were we deceived, or did we deceive ourselves,
Thinking that we were “educated,” had some learning,
But in reality, we are clever fools and often scoundrels?
Having graduated from high school, from undergraduate university studies, from “earning” a Master’s and then a doctorate (Ph.D); and having studied in the monastery and an additional three or four years of graduate work in theology for ordination—I must ask: Was it worthwhile? How much money was spent on this “education”? More importantly, how many years of my life were to some degree wasted being “educated,” but not truly becoming educated in any real sense of the word? What could I have done with my life that would have been more worthwhile than “earning degrees,” especially in so-called “political science”?
“There’s no use crying over spilled milk.” Now in my seventieth year, I surely cannot redeem so much lost time, or make good on this so-called “education.” On the other hand, I am genuinely thankful for some things I learned, and for some of the good teachers who sought to inspire, instruct, guide me in learning. My mind often returns to Miss Bradley and Miss Stevenson, grades 5 and 6 at P.S. 15 in Crestwood, New York. These two matronly, unmarried women were genuine teachers, and surely helped to educate me in a good sense. And I had other teachers in school, high school, at in the universities at which I studied who were educators, and not mere instructors. And I studied a number of works that were well worth my time—Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, Aristotle’s Ethics, Plato’s dialogues, the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, some other works of philosophy and theology. The study of classical Greek was some of the most useful learning I did (as well as studying Latin, Spanish, French, and German). So not everything was wasted by any means.
What is it I missed? Growing up. I missed the development of practical skills, and learning common sense through physical work and dealing with people outside of “academia.” I learned virtually no skill with my hands, other than typing, and a little keyboard work. What I really missed was a solid personal, emotional, moral foundation from home life, and then opportunities to develop “life skills” learned. My early life and upbringing were so disordered and often painful that it nearly guaranteed that anything learned would be “bookish,” and not of much use to one so stunted within. I could say, “I tried,” but as one hears in AA, “triers are liars.” So I shall not claim that I actually tried. On the contrary, often I wasted time and “goofed off” in my “education,” and rarely was I challenged to work hard, truly to apply myself to studying. Hence, overall, much of this “education” was for me a waste of time, and much of that is my own fault.
More than this I need not write at this time. Anything said about education in America may be painful to hear, so I limit myself now to a few sentences:
Much of what is offered in our schools and universities is propaganda and a con game. Why do so many students attend colleges and universities, and learn so little? What they receive is very expensive brain-washing, and a removal from the kinds of work in life in which young people might properly grow up and mature. Education in America is largely a vast effort of malformation. Enough said for the present.
Wm. Paul McKane
17 February 2020
Below we explore problems of unbelief and faith, of a genuine desire to find God and the experience of God’s absence in our lives, including perhaps our experiences in Christianity today. It seems evident to me that for many years now, “churchianity” has not provoked questions and seeking in the minds of those who attend, but rather “belief,” “obedience,” and monetary contributions. This kind of Christianity is in serious trouble dying, in effect “dying of experiential atrophy.” It is not reaching into the hearts and minds of inquiring men and women.
This problem of unbelief in the churches is part of the background for the first of the two following prayer-poems; the first one below (A) was written on 28 January, the feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. The speaker in the poem is longing for a sense of God’s presence, for a “touchable God,” and not just for religious services, books, clergy, and so on. Although the way of expressing the experience of absence in the churches used in this tanka-poem may not speak to many, in effect, it does express what in our culture feel and think.
Then on 29 January I found in my mind a response to the prayer, and that response was written up as a tanka-poem, and was given the title, B. “Christ’s Crown.” The solution employed in this poem would probably be highly rare, but it is a graphic way of communicating Christ’s presence for his people.
Please be aware that these two tanka-poems are literary compositions, and not meant to be historical documents or psychoanalysis. To what extent they are true to my own present experience, is not what matters for you. The use of “I” here may be a literary device, and not necessarily refer to the writer. What matters is that you truly seek God; and if these poems aid you in that process, then they are useful for you. If they do not aid you, please do not waste time trying to figure out about whom they may be written. I hope that they speak to you.
(Greek words below: Selene is the Greek goddess identified with the Moon; Aphrodite is the Greek name for the goddess of love and beauty; her Roman equivalent was Venus. Venus-Aphrodite is the divine wonder you see in the night sky, and may know as the planet Venus. By the way, when I see the planet Venus, I think of the goddess of love and of beauty; do you? Or have you become more secularized than you may realize or want to admit to yourself, and “just see a planet” (whatever that may be).
The third section below (C) is a reflection on someone called “a friend,” words that are not fully applicable for the reasons explained. It was the best I could do at the present time to understand a set of human experiences that I find genuinely baffling, mysterious.
I will conclude the present blog with this section. Whether or not I will have anything more to write in time, I do not know. I follow the lead of questions, insights, thoughts, and feelings that emerge into consciousness. Writing them down is a way to exercise fides quaerens intellectum: faith seeking understanding, an activity that remains my foremost mode of praying or seeking God.
A. A Prayer-Poem to Christ
I try to love you,
And I hope to love you well,
But Jesus, Spirit,
I need to love you enfleshed,
Not just untouchably.
You give me some friends
from whom I can feel your love,
And see your work hands,
And hear your voice speak and sing:
In friends you show your love.
You dwell within me,
Within each human being;
Rarely do I sense
That you are present to me,
Often I feel sheer absence.
After Christmas Mass,
Late night in the home of friends,
I beheld your face,
Glowing on the joyful face
Of a beloved friend of yours.
Present in this host,
Who gathered friends for you,
Your own Eucharist--
Not until Mass was finished,
And we spoke, did I behold you.
Not in Eucharist
Do I find you, Lord Jesus;
Not in the blood of Christ
Do I taste your forgiveness,
But in human kindnesses.
If some find you, Lord,
In religious rituals,
Or in the word preached,
Or music sung, or prayers,
That’s between you, Lord, and them.
I’m not hearing you
Speak in words read, preached, or prayed;
Nor in bread and cup;
Nor in my lone emptiness;
I’m receiving you through friends.
That’s now yesterday;
I do not know how you will come
Into this human being,
Not yesterday but today.
I hope to hear you
As I pray and read your word;
I hope to find you
In my mind’s searching for you;
All your ways need disclosing.
You surprise me, Lord,
Coming when and as you will;
A true Eucharist
Is when you choose to break in,
Not when we seek to force you.
Without an awareness of you;
There’s no divine word,
Unless you unveil the mind
To hear you speaking within.
Religious rites, rituals,
And the Mass itself
Have become too empty to me,
As empty as my spirit.
I’m mindful of your presence:
Awesome mountain skies,
Starry heavens, Selene,
And Venus Aphrodite.
Hearing Bach’s music
Raises my heart up to you;
Bach’s faith wings my soul
With Christ alive in glory--
But in churches, emptiness.
Help me understand,
Lord God, what is happening;
Why many today
Feel your absence, as I do,
In religious services.
In many humans
What am I finding of you?
Even in some friends
I sense more of your absence
Than your life-giving presence.
In what forms, Lord God,
Do I sense your true presence?
That is my question
To ask you, and to explore.
Where do I find faith in God?
What can I do, Lord,
To renew trust in you here,
Present not absent,
Alive now, active right now,
Even in, with, and through me?
I try to love you,
And I hope to love you well,
But Jesus, Spirit,
I need to love you enfleshed,
Not just untouchably.
Engaging in sex,
Would I feel and love you, Lord?
Engaging a friend
In conversation with you
Would I find you present then?
Living, true God, guide
My search for you in darkness
Or in light, sunshine,
Cloudiness, or winter storms;
Be my guide home to you, Lord.
—28 January 2020 Thomas Aquinas
B. Response: Christ’s Crown
My heart is pounding;
I had to rise to write words,
Simple, clear, and true--
Truth as I understand it,
Truth as it emerges now.
I should have seen it,
Perhaps. Years prepared for this:
Thoughts, feelings, loves, desires, all--
Blending together in one.
You were standing there
In your home, talking, laughing;
And Christ was present,
Although through faith-love, not flesh,
Visibly to my spirit.
And Christ said to me,
“You need me to be with you
In a special way?
You find the churches empty,
And still you love your one Lord?
Here I am for you.”
And Christ in spirit approached
As you were standing there,
And he merged right into you,
Into your body and soul.
And Christ said to me,
“Here I am now for you. Watch,
Listen and observe,
Love, obey, imitate me
In and through this man, your friend.
He does not perceive
What you are seeing in him.
He does not yet know
That you find the Risen One
Truly present here to you.
He’s my disciple,
A good and faithful servant;
So listen to him,
Learn to be a better man,
Through his living example.”
Should I tell him, Lord,
What you have shown me today?
Is it our secret,
Or reality to share,
To make known to my good friend?
If I say to him,
“I am your disciple now,
You are Christ to me,”
Would he, could he, understand
What may seem strange or untrue?”
“I have crowned your friend
With my own loving presence;
He does not see me
As you do, present in him,
In human flesh, blood, spirit.
You see with love’s eyes,
Illumined by living faith.
He sees with the Church;
You see me Risen in him--
Two modes of disciples’ faith.
Tell him what you see,
And give time to understand.
He’s heard this before,
But not told him so clearly.
He’s a faithful Catholic.
He sees in his priests
And finds in the Eucharist
The Lord whom he loves;
You see in him the same Lord,
Filling you with awe and joy.
You’re my disciples,
Both faithful and loved by me.
I’m nourishing you
In, with, and through each other:
Enjoy the Eucharistic feast.”
—Wm. Paul McKane
29 January 2020
C. An Addendum.
My desire for God leads me on a voyage that clearly ranges beyond the walls of buildings, and even outside of liturgies, scriptures, prayers. Presently I am seeking God primarily through writing, as I must reflect, question, think, write, and refine what is being written. The preceding two little poems turned out to be (unplanned) a unit of analysis: longing for God’s enfleshment, and awareness of his Christ-presence in a “friend.” In this final section I include a brief poem-meditation in which I seek to understand what it is that I experience in this person who is “More than a Friend,” a phrase I recognize was applied to a hog in the musical, “State Fair.” One should never take himself / herself too seriously, eh? Whether the person referred to is real, or a figment of my imagination, or a writer’s “mask” in the Nietzschean sense, I leave for the reader to question—if s/he wishes to do so.
More than a Friend
The friend mentioned in some of my poems is not as real as I would wish.
It seems as though a composite form emerged within my mind,
And soon became enfleshed in black and white
As I would write a little poem upon an empty page.
The one behind the “friend” differs from anything I have written;
No words of mine can do justice to this nameless one.
And this much I also firmly believe: what dwells behind my words is more real--
You are more real, more intimate, and more worthy of respect--
Than anything I could possibly put into words.
“Who are you?” I asked you, out of wonder and ignorance.
I’ve known from our first meeting—as with any being, really--
That you transcend my limited understanding.
I’ve also intuited from our beginning that in seeing you,
I’m gazing into the darkly mysterious depths of God.
I’ve known that truth intuitively since that first moment
When I descended the stairs, and you were there,
Eyes meeting eyes and completing some strange spiritual circuit
As if God were responding to God in two human beings.
You remain a mystery to me, and perhaps so now more than at first.
On some levels, in some ways, you may be ordinary,
Or enough so that you can fairly well disappear into a crowd.
But not to my eyes that track you, for I have seen within you
What many others have probably never seen, perhaps could not.
The fundamental response of my soul to you may differ from love.
You are not comfortable, are you, with such words as “I love you,”
For which you have your reasons, your history, your charming ways.
In no way do I take offense at your reluctance to hear such words.
We both may inchoately sense that such words are imprecise.
What I really intend, but probably have never said, is stranger.
Perhaps the best that I can presently do in expressing
What I think and feel about you is this: I am in awe before you.
Possibly not unlike Moses at the burning bush on Mount Sinai,
Or Christ’s inner band of disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration.
I am awed and filled with wonder and joy by what I experience in you.
If I concentrate on this experience, my soul or body may begin to tremble,
Or tears inexplicably flow from these old eyes unused to crying.
Whether you know it or not, I cannot tell, but I’ll share this truth:
When I behold your face, or form, or hand, or hear your voice,
Then my heart or soul or something softens and melts within me--
My soul is stripped, laid bare; and I am defenseless before you.
Some may call it “infatuation,” or “being in love,” or “being emotional."
I think that it is more like reverence before the presence of God.
And then some might call my feeling for you “idolatrous.” Why label it so?
I have implored you to be with me as I draw near to death. Why?
Because you are the most intimate and tangible link I have to the living God.
Blest is my soul, not cursed, but supremely blest, to find in you
An ever-living sacrament of the world-transcending God.
Will this sense of awe and reverence for you fade with time?
I hope that it will wax, not wane; for this gift is life-changing, and delightful.
But with this gift I stand divinely warned: If in any way I violate the sacred bonds
In your life, and in mine, God’s special gift to me would vanish.
I must allow no thought, no wish, no hope, to mar what is truly holy.
You are not my spouse, nor lover, and something different than a friend.
You are one in Christ through whom God is transforming me.
—Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
31 January 2020
Part A. On Praying to God in Christ Jesus
We begin again with Benedictine wisdom: “Pray as you can, and do not try to pray as you can’t.”
How I can’t pray now: As with many Christians during this period, I have been scandalized and disgusted by some of the crimes I’ve experienced at the hands of clergy, who have often gone uncorrected, and permitted to continue their ways of operating. And many of them have neglected their primary duty: to help form Christ in the hearts of their congregants, of the people to whom they’ve been sent. I’ve also been simply “turned off” by some clergy’s shallowness and inability to proclaim Christ effectively to those present. I find attending such services a waste of time, and so I stay away.
Also at this time in my life, I am not able to concentrate for praying during church services. I often find them distracting, busy, noisy, and not congenial for quiet and real prayer—more fitting for a public show or performance. There is a cost to staying away from services, however: I miss some of the beautiful prayers, as one hears, for example, from the Book of Common Prayer. I miss prayers of the Catholic Eucharist, the anaphora, if and when these prayers are meaningfully and devoutly prayed, and not recited in an overly cultic manner, nor as if it is the priest’s private prayer, nor if they are rushed through as if the celebrant would rather be watching football. I miss hearing God praised by well-trained and humble musicians, and I miss singing some God-focused church hymns. (But as noted previously and below, listening attentively to good music while in solitude is a major part of my spiritual life.) I have missed participating in holy communion. And I have often missed hearing Christ’s word well preached “from faith to faith,” from the faith of the one preaching into the heart of the faithful. All too often, preaching in the churches has been mediocre at best, and a diversion from true living proclamation of Christ Jesus at worst. I find far more of Christ studying , for philosophy example, than I ever hear in churchy sermons or canned homilies. Finally, I do miss the fellowship of friends gathered at a liturgy.
Praying as I can now: Regarding such problems as we see in the churches, we do well to reflect St. Benedict’s wisdom in his Rule: “Of such matters it is better not even to speak.” Anyone with eyes in their head knows all-too-painfully the spiritual and human short-comings in our churches today. I find it far better for me to avoid gathering in such assemblies, and to seek God in solitude. And especially rather than hear poor preaching, I strongly prefer to meditate on Christ’s word in silence. Anyone open to the Holy Spirit and seeking God can and will hear more of Christ proclaimed to his or her heart by reading scriptures meditatively than by listening to a sermon or homily in public when the minister is not properly attuned to Christ. And this lack of spiritual attunement is blatantly obvious in many churches today. Unless and until I hear otherwise, I shall avoid such assemblies and seek Christ at home.
To this I add: what a joy and privilege it is when I am able to celebrate the Catholic Mass in the home of faithful Christians. Of course I wait until I am asked to do so, as one should not impose his will or preferences on others. What I love in a home Mass is its simplicity, quietness, lack of public show or pretense, lack of those present who wish to be seen in public as “church-attenders.” And above all, praying and preaching can be what they most truly are supposed to be: not talking to a “God out there,” and not preaching at anyone, but sharing Christ’s prayer and word together in faith-filled love. As an ordained minister in such gatherings, I am able to concentrate and share the word in prayer-proclamation, speaking heart to heart. It is what I have long enjoyed doing, when given the opportunity—apart from noisy distractions.
Thanks be to God, I am fully retired from public ministry. I feel no obligation to perform religious duties in public, all the more so as I receive no compensation from any Catholic organization (diocese or monastery), nor do I wish to receive any benefits, given what I have experienced in churches in our day. Only under certain conditions would I be willing to substitute on a part-time basis, by way of exception: If and only if the local priest for whom I would be substituting is seeking to live a good life in truth and charity. (Sadly, such is often not the case, as many of the faithful have painfully come to realize.) Furthermore, if I detect antagonism on the part of the priest for whom I would substitute, I would not fill in.
How do I pray or seek God during this time of my life?
First and foremost, I seek to be attentive to movements of divine presence (“the holy Spirit” or “the Risen Christ”) in my soul, in consciousness. Being open to divine actions either directly in one’s “heart” or from the external world and into one’s “heart” is, I suggest, the living core of praying. What good would it do to recite words at God and not keep listening for ways in which the divine speaks to one’s mind directly or from the outside (as through nature or a fellow human being)?
Second, since retiring to quiet Sheridan, Montana, I have taken far more time to write. This process for me is often done as a conscious exercise in participating in the presence of the Risen Lord in me and with me. As a vessel of the Lord, I am highly imperfect, but a sense of one’s imperfections or even spiritual poverty should not be used as an excuse not to make the hard effort of speaking, acting, thinking, or writing in and with Christ—on the contrary, “He gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud.” (Ordained ministry in public is a ready source of pride unless one takes strong steps to guard against it.) I seek to write in communion with Christ for the benefit of others, as well for myself to grow in love and knowledge of the Lord. Writing in retirement has become my foremost act of ministry, and I do it with the same passion and zeal I had while serving in parishes: With Christ, in Christ, for God’s people in Christ Jesus. Otherwise, how worldly our words, and ultimately, how empty.
Third, I still study and read, but recently have devoted more time to writing. I am seeking to crystalize my experiences and thoughts in writing; when I sense the need to deepen my insights, I return to study. Every day I do some spiritual reading—that is, seeking God as I study. I use a variety of texts for this purpose: not only the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, but most especially other very high quality and enriching writings of which I am aware. Once again, Plato comes to the fore, but other philosophers as well. I’m not averse to reading works by those who shut out God—as did Nietzsche, to his ruin—because in studying them and in thinking about their teachings, I may see the folly of my own ways. Still, my preference is for studying Plato and other spiritually solid thinkers; I need to spend more time now deepening my knowledge of philosophy as Plato lived and taught it. Time here is limited and brief; I must study the best I can find.
Fourth, I am conscious that Christ is working on me in and through some “friends,” and including one who without words challenges me to “get my act together.” One may be alive on earth, or in God beyond death, and still have tremendous and profound effects on one’s life; and Socrates-Plato is not the only deceased man through whom Christ works on me.
Fifth, thanks be to God for the beauty we find in Montana. One of my first spiritual acts each morning is to stand on my deck (as the dogs are let out back, around 0230) and stare up to the heavens to behold the handiwork of the Creator. Thankfully, I do not just look up and see “things,” such as stars or planets, or clouds; I am aware that in the act of beholding, of gazing, the divine is present both in consciousness and in what I am beholding. In this awareness I feel what could be called a “cosmic unity,” or my own active participation in the mysterious Whole. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God,” and display that glory, for those with simple faith. By child-like trust (simple faith), one experiences awe before and in the divine presence. The experience of awe (that includes wonder, love, questioning, seeking, thanksgiving) may be Christ’s foremost gift to me. Have I not been awed by God in what I called “Venus Aphrodite” (better known as the planet Venus), mentioned in some poems recently? How many “Christians” can feel awe before Venus Aphrodite? And I’ve felt awe before God’s presence in human beings.
Sixth, at times I pray in words consciously addressed to God. Sometimes I prefer silence and listening, and other times I let words spring up in me. An example of this springing-up of a word of prayer follows in Part B, “Recollecting Christ’s Presence in human beings.” Sometimes I hear a simple sentence in my heart, such as “Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!” For some friends, recited prayers, such as the Rosary, work best. Remember, “pray as you can,” and don’t waste time trying to pray as you can’t—do not try to be what or who you are not. Genuine prayer is an expression of one’s heart, one’s being, one’s life in Christ. And may none of us seek to impose his / her ways of praying (one’s spirituality) on others. “We are all free in Christ Jesus.”
Seventh, I would be woefully remiss if I failed to mention how often I pray listening to good music. As an example, as I am writing this morning, I am listening to the opening movement from a Bach Cantata (BWV 170): “Contented peace, beloved delight of the soul.” There is no way I can put into words the intense joy and meaning I find in good music, and especially the compositions of the Master, J. S. Bach. Some knowledge of his German language is a great help, but the music also speaks, bringing the attentive listener a profound awareness of Christ: I AM with you, right now!
Concluding reflection: What is the essence of prayer?
Mindfulness of divine Presence. What is prayer, without attentiveness? To what or to whom is one being attentive? To the divine as one understand it, yes. If one thinks of God as only or primarily “far off,” only “in heaven” (in a spatial sense), then what form could the prayer take but words addressed as arrows aimed up at God? If one conceives of the divine as present and active, one need not use words, but can attend lovingly to the presence. The prayer can take the form of resting, as if in the arms of the beloved. Let this suffice for the present.
Part B. A Prayer: Recollecting Christ’s Presence in human beings
Eternal Christ, far more than I can know, feel, or understand:
How often were you drawing me to You through a human being,
But I failed to understand what you were doing, and why,
And resisted your drawing within me? Seeing what you are doing now,
I wonder: how many opportunities were lost in years past?
It is better to render the same insight in more positive terms,
Lest one wallow in sin or failures—a waste of time and to be avoided.
Surely you, Lord God, were present to me in and through Fr. Daniel.
I knew it then, at least at times, with intense clarity and reverence.
When I would touch his hand, there was in me an awareness
That I was touching the hand of Jesus crucified and Risen.
I felt love but more than love, as I do with one who is “more than a friend.”
My inner self was humbled, but not humiliated; I was in awe, not dread;
By faith working through awe I was able to touch the hand of God.
Where else did I experience your presence to me, Risen Christ?
Although not yet in clear consciousness, I felt your hand in my mother’s,
When she would take my hand in hers, as when she clipped my nails.
I saw your hand in my father’s, even when shortly before death,
He wrote out checks to pay bills, or signed his photographs for me.
I have seen your hands break bread upon the altar, LORD,
I have seen your hand hold out the chalice to me: You embodied in another.
Have I seen or felt you, Lord, in my own hands? I do not know,
But I shall ponder that question now raised until I see or do not see.
What I know is how intensely aware of you I was in Voegelin,
How I experienced your mind through Neumeier’s mind--
You present in my mind towards him, and his mind towards me,
As you were drawing us both into communion with you
And I summarized the experience: “When two speak, three are present.”
You have been real to me not only in scriptures, nor in liturgies,
But in and through human beings in their bodily and spiritual presence.
I remember seeing Joe Condon as he lay dying, and I know what I saw:
I saw you, Jesus Christ, both crucified and Risen at once,
Radiating out of the face and head of blessed Joe in his final agony.
Do others see as I see, but not mention it, out of embarrassment, perhaps?
I was alone with Joe and praying when I saw you and Joe dying together.
How many persons have told me that they heard Christ speak through me,
Words for which I was both grateful and humbled, and gently let go?
You have spoken to me through preachers, such as Pastor Wagner;
And how often would I listen to your word proclaimed,
And feel as if wings or hands were in my chest, reaching out?
I cannot imagine my life in Christ without the Master’s witness:
You have so often spoken to me through the music of Bach.
The wonder is not how rarely, but how often you have spoken to me
In and through human voices, music, hands, actions, eyes, faces.
That I saw you looking into me though someone’s eyes, I remember:
Blue eyes penetrating into me, you searching me through those eyes.
But who the person was, or when, has not yet returned to consciousness.
Still, Lord, I have seen you gazing into me, gently, lovingly, searchingly,
And for such divine care for this little creature, I humbly thank you, Lord.
Friend more than a friend, I have asked that we pray together.
You are a long distance from me now in space-time, but in Christ
We are together, and space-time is no hindrance at all.
And so we pray: Open the eyes of our hearts and minds, Lord,
To see you in others, and to revere you in them, respect you in them,
Feed you in them, tend you in them. Keep us all from locking you up
In tabernacles or in churches—and from locking you out of our minds.
Lord, is it wrong for me to ask a special favor of you?
May this friend and I, present together in spirit now,
Find and focus our attention on you, the living Lord of all?
Increase our faith, Lord, that we may be truly mindful of you,
Love you more truly, and obey you from the depths of our hearts.
For any way you work within us and through us, we thank you, Lord.
Make us channels of your divine presence to ourselves and others.
One more thing we ask together now, Lord—together in you--
What is the sacred work you have in store for us? We have both thought
That you have a plan to put us to work together for your glory.
Help us to discern your will for us, and to carry it out effectively with you.
Praying alone but not truly alone, I take your hand in my hand, and listen:
“Love me fervently, chastely, devoutly in those whom I’ve given you to love,
And then you will see what I am doing in you, with you, and though you.”
Wm. P. McKane
01 February 2020
God beyond all understanding, origin and end of all that exists, aid me now in my search in You, and for You. Guide me home. Amen.
Problem: It occurs to me that I do not have the same sense of Christ’s presence in me, to me, as I did or thought I did in years past. My quest for God has been far more focused on the movement of consciousness into the divine unknown than a reflection of God incarnate. In usual terms, my way has been more apophatic than cataphatic, although these two modes are inseparable: the way into God without images, and the way into God through images. Christ is the unsurpassable Image of the unseen God. The desire to move from the seen to the unseen, from God as revealed to God “beyond all telling” has long been at work in me. Had it not been, why would I have entered a monastery to “seek God,” the Benedictine way?
As a young man, I prayed, invited Jesus Christ into my soul, and I believe that He entered. The experiences in the early days were intense, fresh, ever-different, and truly life-changing. What has happened to these? The ways that I have experienced divine Presence-Absence have surely changed over time. At this time I will not try to recount some of these experiences for at least two reasons: I have done so before; and I do not think that writing about them is truly beneficial. God has unique ways at working on and in each person, and I do not want to give any impression that His ways with me are normative, or to be expected. What I can say is that over time, these modes of experience have changed considerably. It seems clear to me that God knows what we need, when we need it, in order to draw us into a more authentic life in Him and with Him As Cardinal Newman wrote, “God knows what He is about.” Indeed, He does. We often do not. We grope in darkness—a darkness that is or can be so deep that we often overlook divine workings in us, to us, for us, around us. How blind we often are. How blind am I? “What would you have me do for you,” Jesus asked. “LORD, that I may see again.”
I have been blind to divine workings. What we call “Christ,” or what I call Christ in my consciousness, is not gone or lost at all. God works on me as He wills, as He knows best. As an example, for several years—and perhaps still—I have been strongly drawn to the quite undeveloped Oregon coast to gaze upon the ocean, which for me is an extremely powerful, visible image of the unseen God. I utterly love the Ocean, because it overwhelms me. No one can master the Ocean. “It” (if we dare call the Ocean an “it”) draws one away from self into unknowing, into a realm far greater than anything one can know, understand, grasp. And so I have been drawn back to the Ocean time and again in my life, including in recent years.
When I was suddenly expelled from my home and priestly ministry in Kalispell, Montana, in 1995 (after working there only six months), I experienced God’s healing love through the compassion, kindness, and practical wisdom of Fr. Steve, who at the time was serving as a priest in the Bitterroot. Having felt spiritually abused by the local bishop (who acted harshly on a number of us), I needed to experience God’s love through the personal, brotherly care of an elderly priest. I was Christed through this one man at the time, because that is what I needed to undue the damage done by the uncharitable, heavy-handed bishop and some of his clergy. Again, “God knows what He is doing.” I am thankful for my experiences in Kalispell, and fully trust that the LORD who led me there never abandoned me at all. Not only did I experience Christ’s healing love through a brother priest; even more importantly, perhaps, in the long run, having been thrown out of my home in western Montana, I was led to a very important insight: I have no permanent or lasting home anywhere in this world, so being removed is secondary. Rather, my one home is in God beyond this world. As I suddenly realized, “I have no home but God,” and “God is my home forever.” That is what matters. The all-wise, all-good God brought much good to me out of human evil and foolishness (including my own): I realized that no matter where I am, God is in me, with me, for me, and “my dwelling place forever.” That insight makes a huge difference, especially as so many persons are afraid of change in their lives, afraid of being “thrown out,” or losing their family and friends, and so on. In the wise words of Fr. Steve, “When you are thrown out, just shake the dust off your feet and say, `I’ve been thrown out of better bars.’” Indeed, I have. My home is in God, and only temporarily and for a little while do I live here.
Some friends were surprised when I recently moved from Great Falls to the little town of Sheridan, in the south-western part of beautiful Montana, near Virginia City. I was a little surprised that I had the courage to return to live in the diocese from which I had been ejected by a bishop. But he is long gone, and I am retired—and not as a diocesan priest. Rather, I remain a monk of St. Anselm’s Abbey, and am free from the machinations of diocesan politics which seem to me both endless and uninteresting. Men will be men, and the scramble for status and power is ever at work in human hearts; one must constantly seek to guard against seeking power, status, or wealth. These pursuits are the ways of the world, not the way of Christ. If you doubt this, examine the life and writings of St. Benedict, St. Francis of Assisi, or St. Teresa of Avila. These giants among human beings knew well what is truly worth seeking, and what is worth letting go. God alone is truly worth seeking “with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul.”
And so I came to Sheridan, where I now live. The loss of closeness to friends and former parishioners affected me, and still does. Some of us are still in fairly frequent contact, thanks to the wonders of “modern communication,” including the cell phone and the internet. These really are very useful tools for “building community,” for “keeping in touch” with friends and loved ones, as well all know.
Still, I must deal with a problem. As a single man (and a monk), I have long noticed that I make few if any friends except through my duties as a parish priest. A priest makes his home in and with his parishioners. They become highly important to his personal, social, spiritual life If they do not invest themselves in their parishioners, what is the priest doing among them? A parish priest gives himself in love to his parishioners, as they need it for their growth in Christ. Well, once I retired, I lost that ever-present, ever-demanding way of befriending people. Most of my former parishioners were quickly out of my life. A few have kept up our bonds. As another wise and good parish priest, Fr. Lou, said to me, “Paul, once you retire, most of your parishioners will forget you. Even ones you thought were close friends. It stops when you retire.” He was right. A few friends remain, but far more disappeared from my life. In reality, I retired and was removed from their lives. And so I am virtually alone.
Hence, when I moved to Sheridan, I came without friends, and without my avenue to make friends: active priestly ministry. Fortunately, I have two former parishioner-friends in the area from my short stay in Kalispell, Steve and Carol; otherwise, I came to an area knowing virtually no one. Soon Steve and Carol and I began a form of priestly ministry by setting up and sharing in an adult faith class, in which we listen to one another and communicate our lives in Christ Over time, I may be open to doing a little pastoral work in parishes, but that remains to be seen; I resist getting swallowed up in diocesan politics in any way. To use the cliché, “Been there, done that.” My remaining time on earth is too short to waste with petty jealousies, rivalries, liturgical squabbles, doctrinal modes of existence, and so on. Thanks be to God, I am a free man: free to seek God in love and in truth. Well, I’m free to a degree; everyone has his or her baggage that weighs one down. Part of my baggage is the need for genuine friendship; it is difficult to find, and surely so for a homeless wanderer in this passing world
And so I remain a Benedictine monk, one called to “seek God” either in community, or in solitude, or in a balanced life doing both. Now is the time, it seems, for me to seek God in solitude and peace as foremost in my life. I will still have some contact with former parishioners, but above all, I must keep learning to “be alone with the Alone,” and to find my center and my joy in God, beyond knowing, in searching love. To this end, I know of several foremost activities for me:
to pray as I am able to do so;
to study—seeking God through the writings of philosophers, prophets, saints, and others;
to write to assist myself and others on the journey of the soul into God.
Finally, I am no hermit, nor was I meant to be. I need and value good friends in Christ. Love is the way by which one becomes one with God. There is no other way. My present task is to find a workable balance between seeking God alone and sharing Christ with others Getting this balance right is my foremost task now.
—Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
14 January 2020
All of my writing, like my life, is experimental. I am ever on a journey. We all are—through space-time into God. That is the nature of life. Whether I write below is more prose or poetry, I do not know, nor shall I plan. It may be formless, as fits the subject, the problem with which my soul now wrestles: the movement into the void.
My heart is a void. I would say a “vast void,” a large emptiness, but it may be a small void, but it is empty. When everything is dark and unseen, it may appear infinite, even if very small indeed. I am a little man, not great-souled, not significant, nearly fully unknown to the dying crowds—and that is the way I want it. Fame or attention would defeat the kind of life to which I feel and am drawn. But this also is true: every human soul borders on God, is in God, and God is boundless. Hence, in reality, the soul is boundless in God. Vast indeed is the human psyche, and how mistaken are those who treat the mind or soul as if it were a bounded, limited “thing.” Truly to know any human being well, one must also know God, who is the bonded partner with a human being. More on this issue at another time.
Now I seek to enter into the void of my heart, the wasteland of my soul, if I may say so. There is no way I could survive as a hermit or in strict isolation. Why not? Because I intensely need human companionship, communion heart with heart, mind with mind in God. Although a loner in the sense of avoiding crowds, social activities, parties, committees, and other things that have no attraction to me. I am not a loner in the sense of being a man who could spend three weeks in strict solitude, and be happy doing it. When a friend recently shared some issues in his heart with me, I said, “Now I feel on cloud nine.” What did I mean? I feel communion—a most delightful communion—when friend opens up to friend.
As a child, I was on a number of occasions punished by being placed in complete isolation from any human being. No one would or could speak with me. My father apparently knew how much I loved being with people and communicating. So when he considered it right or just to punish me, he did it in two ways, usually combined: he would hit me with his hand or with a flat garden hose; and then he would isolate me in a corner, or in a car with no one speaking to me, or in the basement, or in a room by myself. On happier occasions I was isolated without being hit first, but often these two forms of punishment were combined. Forced to sit alone, and feeling rejected and shunned, I wept. Even when I stopped crying as I aged, I wept inside. Now some of these tears flow out: years of pain held in.
This isolation may or may not still affect me, but I think that it does. If someone wants to punish me or “teach me a lesson” as my father would say, he or she can do so by refusing to speak with me, for us not to listen to each other, to be together. Isolate me and I feel as though I am in hell. That is a part of the void in me, and part of the personal “baggage” I must carry, day in, day out. It is part of me.
I am embarrassingly needy of human communion. The very threat (not intended as a threat, but felt as one) that my monastic superiors would require me to take vows as a hermit wrecked havoc in my life. It scared the dickens out of me. Ask my friend, Sandra, who witnessed what I went through several years ago when superiors were planning for me to become a hermit. Or ask Fr. Lou, my one priest friend in the Diocese of Great Falls, who said to me on several occasions, “Paul, you are not a hermit.” No one who truly knows me could think that I could be happy living alone and in isolation from human beings—especially from having a few truly close friends. And if one is so needy of real friendship, why deceive oneself with the name of “hermit.” It is unlikely enough calling me “a monk.” As I was told in my monastery, “We do not have a charism for friendship here.” It was evident that I needed close friendship, and several monks let me know that, as far as they were concerned, that need or “charism” excluded me from being a genuine Benedictine monk. Note well: I do not live in the monastery to which I took solemn vows. I simply “do not fit in,” to use the words so often applied to be at St. Anselm’s. And rightly so. I do not fit into the tight boundaries and conformities of Benedictine life.
Out of the utter blackness in me, the void that is painful and ever-present, I know with everything in me that I need one or a few truly good, reliable friends in life. With close friendship, I feel that I am able to be the man God wants me to be. Without a good friend or two on life’s journey, heaven would feel to me like hell. All of the friends I made in childhood were stripped away after a few months, as I attended some eighteen schools in eleven states before graduating from high school. Where were my friends? Gone. I had my family members, with whom I was often caught up in strife and conflict. Such was my life. How, I ask, could such a wounded human soul be expected to thrive and be happy as a hermit? (Or perhaps as a monk in community, for that matter.) What were these monastic authorities thinking? “Father, forgive us, for we do not know what we do.” If someone truly wants to make me suffer greatly, then put me in strict isolation—or throw me into “a cell,” as monks call their rooms.
It is not that I cannot be at peace alone. Well, perhaps I cannot be. With the trust that I have one or two good, reliable friends, I am not lonely when alone, because by love they dwell in my heart, in consciousness. When I pray, they are with me. When I read, they are with me. Without real human friends, I would not want to exist. Life in isolation would not be worth living. I utterly disagree with Jean-Paul Sartre, the French intellectual “existenialist,” who said, “Hell is my neighbor.” For me, hell is myself in utter isolation.
One can say, “But if you really believed in God, that would be sufficient.” Perhaps for Fr. Daniel Kirk, OSB, who was a wholesome and holy man. He had the benefit of a close loving family in childhood, and was not jerked around from place to place. But not for Paul McKane, who is neither wholesome nor holy, but in many ways, full of holes. These holes, these moth holes, eat up the fabric of my soul and character. That is just the way I am, whether I or others like it or not. I cannot be what I am not. “We all have our crosses to bear,” and “I am my own cross.” That much I know, and if you know me, you know how I can be a cross to you. Forgive me, friend.
I feel the draw to move by faith alone into the void, into what I often call “the divine abyss.” But it seems clear to me that I have one precondition for making this journey: I need to carry one or two dear friends in my heart, in consciousness, trusting that I am accepted and loved for who I am, and not because of some title or role, such as “priest,” or “monk,” or “man of God.” I am simply a wounded human being seeking peace and happiness with others in God.
Is it enough that Christ loves me? I think that for a while after my conversion to Christ, yes, that sufficed—or did it? I was horribly lonely and often did not want to exist when I was an undergraduate (ages 18-21). Once I was converted to Christ (age 20, I believe), I felt an intense sense of his presence in me and with me. Still, I needed human friendship. Yes, Christ; but also, a good friend.
“A friend is someone you don’t go to bed with,” as my former fiancée, Judy, would quote from her English professor. A friend is someone who stands with and for each other, accepting one another “warts and all.” A friend as friend does not seek sexual union, but spiritual union, a “meeting of the minds,” and attunement of the hearts. Or so I believe. A self-enclosed, secretive soul cannot truly befriend another human being. Or God.
I am willing to descend into the divine abyss in prayer—“truly to seek God,” in St. Benedict’s words—if and only if I am assured that I have a friend who may drag me out of the cave if I descend too far, for too long. If for a few days, Willy Boy is totally silent, someone better check on me, because that is not my style. God will have me silently in death, and then I will speak only in silence, as does God. For now, words. If you hear nothing from me, ask, “Is that man still alive?” And so I write for you, whomsoever you are.
Now I need to take steps to enter into the divine abyss. Let’s see what happens.
Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
14 January 2020
I chose as a title for this meditation, “into the void,” referring to the movement of the human mind into that which we call “God.” Now I use the term “God” in the sense developed in St. Anselm’s superb meditation, the Proslogion, one man’s address to God in prayer. St. Anselm’s develops with mystical-intellectual skill his insight: “God is that than which nothing greater can be thought, and greater than can be thought.” That “greater than can be thought” is what I signify as “the divine abyss.” No mind except the divine Mind itself knows God as He truly is.
At this time in my life, however, I do not feel so strongly drawn to “seek God” in prayer, meditation, or descent into the divine abyss as I often have. Perhaps my thinking and attitude will change in a few weeks—who knows? At least today—and let’s take one day at a time, for that is all we have—I prefer to seek that which can console, heal, bless my wounded soul, than to journey into the unknown depths of God. As I explained in the two previous blogs in this series, I am strongly aware of having a real need for good human friendship. How I ever thought that I could survive and thrive in a monastery where “particular friendships” were discouraged and frowned upon, I do not know. And what is the Socratic watch-word, which makes eminent sense to me? “Know thyself.” Or more fully from Delphi: “Know thyself: that you are a human being and not a god.”
This human being is not now desirous of going naked into the divine abyss. I am not ready for God.As previously explained, within my consciousness there is such an intense awareness of being moth-eaten, if you will, and full of holes, that I have no interest or ability to “empty myself wholly,” and “be alone with the Alone.” Often have I praised and used Plotinus’ watchword, to be “alone with the Alone.” Yes, I see that as a desideratum, as a great good. But I am not now capable of being truly alone. In fact, at this time I challenge the notion of aloneness. How can any human being ever be truly and completely alone? Is it not a contradiction, a denial of who and what we are?
I have often heard mention by Catholics and others of “private prayer.” That phrase never appealed to me, or made sense to me. How can a human being be “wholly private”? If I go to God in prayer, all that I know and have loved in any way is with me. That is how consciousness, how human reality works. Let’s not pretend otherwise. Yes, I can “go into my room, shut the door, and pray to the Father in secret.” Of course I can utter thoughts in my heart without giving voice to them. As I write now, I am sitting alone in a house with my dogs, who are not pestering me (because I just fed them, and Labs are gluttons, after all). I am in solitude to a degree, but am I really alone? I do not know you who will read this—if indeed anyone ever will—but you, unknown, not even imagined, are with me to a degree. I am writing for myself, yes, to clarify thoughts; I am also writing for you, the unknown reader, if in any way I can assist you in your life, and in your desire for God. We are all dying soon, given the brevity of our lives; so let’s get our acts together, eh?
Who or what is with me right now, other than myself as I am writing, and you, the possible reader? Who else is with me? By faith I trust that God is present—HE WHO IS—the God of Moses and of Jesus Christ. In other words, I trust that the unseen Creator of all that exists in any way is present in me, with me, even for me. So I am not at all alone. On the divine Presence in the search—in one’s daily life—I shall write later. For there are others with me now. My dogs who share my house—Moses and Elijah—are with me, as I am surely conscious of their being in the house. Moses I see napping just fifteen feet in front of me; Elijah went off to the bedroom. I am not alone in the house, but sharing it with “POSSLQ’s. That is one of those silly bureaucratic terms I found on a census form many years ago. It means, Persons of other sex sharing living quarters.” For me it means: “Persons of other species sharing living quarters.”
Who or what else is with me now? My webmaster Sandra, because I am aware that if anyone reads these words, it will be she. And then some former parishioners, especially Betty, who may browse this website. Who else? My friend Steve (who probably does not read what I write), is heading off today to help give a 4-day retreat to men seeking a closer friendship with Christ. I promised to pray for Steve as he sings and presents a spiritual talk to the men. Others are present, more fleetingly. Several are present with me in memory from beyond death: Fr. Daniel, who was my spiritual father in the monastery (and remembering him leads me to the present Abbot, James); my dogs Zoe and Rummy who died—they all come in and out of consciousness. My parents return often to memory from “beyond the grave,” or at least from their lives in this world, having passed into or through death.
In short, I am not alone. "I” does not exist in isolation,. What one calls “I” is a part of a functioning Whole, a part of reality. “I” has no independent existence; the belief in such an existence is in truth an illusion. Anyone who thinks that he or she is or can be a fully isolated, independently existing being is deceiving themselves. I have no being except in relationship to the physical world, to its ultimate cause (thank you, Aristotle), and to all whom I have known and loved in my life. And to others I am not even mentioning—for example, the cows I observed yesterday gleaning in the stubble fields. (I thought, “How hungry they must be, getting so little to eat.”)
So I am not truly alone. What about that which I called “God” above, or “the divine Presence,” or “the divine Mind”? I use the symbols (terms) without really understanding them. Who knows what “God” actually means, who or what God might be? We simply take our guesses. But how little, how weak is our understanding, our intellects. Much of the time in our lives, we are groping in relative darkness, whether we acknowledge it and admit it or not.
What is the divine Presence? How might God be present right now?”
Before proceeding, I feel a kind of tug or itch in my mind. Someone or something needs attention, something comes weakly yet pressingly into consciousness. It is you, a friend. I need to keep suspending that awareness for now. There will be a time to attend to you, but it is not now. I chose to suspend, so let me live my resolve now. LORD, I surrender them to you—all of them, and myself as well—here and now. Be it done to all of us as You will. Takes us to yourself in your way, your time.
Yes, I can try to suspend awareness of you, but even if you died, how could I not recall you to mind, as long as I am able to recall? So please, just sit quietly over there, and let me proceed. I love you and will not forget you. I hope. If I forget you, I’ve probably lost my mind, or at least my memory. For now, however, please sit still and let me return to awareness of simple Presence. If I am able to do this at all…. Getting sleepy. I shall stand and walk about to wake up.
At this time, I am not ready or able to seek God’s Presence quietly in prayer. The loneliness, the emptiness in my soul is great enough to cause constant interior suffering. It is part of who I am as a human being.
Of all the many things I learned between 1981 and 1991 at St. Anselm’s Abbey, to which I belong in solemn vows, words read to us when I was a postulant may come most often to my mind. Abbot James read an account of a Trappist monk, who on his deathbed said mournfully, “I never knew anyone.” Consider those words, as I often do. In reality, I really know no one well (not even myself, really). How can a human being who does not know another, and have a strong sense of communion with a fellow human being, truly seek God in prayer? How can an empty heart reach out in genuine love towards God, as prayer requires? How can a human being without genuine, true communion with another being possibly commune with God? What would that be? It would be an illusion, I believe, although I could be wrong, as I so often am.
I say, on the contrary: the best and perhaps only true aid in seeking God’s friendship is to have a profound and lasting human friend. Aristotle teaches that such friendship is possible if and only if a human being befriends himself—and that, says the Philosopher, means that he loves his intellect, the divine within. Or such is my reading of Aristotle in Books VIII and IX, both on friendship, in his superb Nicomachean Ethics. What happens to those who barely know that they have an intellect, or what it might be? What do they have to befriend in themselves? Their desires? Their lusts? Their imaginations? Their “personalities”? Their bodies? What is truly lovable in a human being?
In sum, I am not ready to depart on an adventure into God, because I lack a genuine and lasting human friendship, and I have not properly befriended the divine in me—that is, the intellect, the divine within reason. So although I am not wholly alone, as explained above, my soul is a spiritual wasteland, a void, that is not truly ready or able to advance on what St. Bonaventure called “the journey of the mind [intellect] into God.” I need to examine the wasteland, the emptiness in my own soul.
—Wm. Paul McKane, OSB
16 January 2020
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