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
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
Spirit of divine Love, bring back to my mind and heart
The memory of my love for my father,
Now deceased, beyond the agonies of time.
Carry my soul, Spirit, back in time—ever present in you--
When I was a small child in a small town
In the Dutch country of Pennsylvania,
with cows and sheep and horses in the beautiful fields--
On the beautiful rolling hills with those earthen smells.
He was a family doctor, a general practitioner, and husband,
The father of the three of us, all who loved him.
To my father I now speak through the Spirit, remembering:
Daddy, I utterly adore you, and am not ashamed to tell you.
I think the world of you, Daddy.
In my own little-boy way, I worship you.
For You and Mommy are everything to me in my world--
You are my world, about all I know, with Jeanie and Sandy.
You are more than a hero to me, you’re a great hero.
You are all good, and gentle, and kind, and very smart.
And when you play with me, I feel sheer delight.
When you laugh with me, and tease me, I feel so good, so proud,
Merry and light is my heart. Joy is all I know.
When you draw near to me, Daddy, I feel safe.
When you correct me, I want to obey and please you.
And when I’ve done wrong, I still feel your love for me.
I hear you whistle, and my heart flies like a bird.
When I am hurt, you bind up my cuts and scratches,
And give me vitamins to make me strong.
And hoagies, sauerkraut, spaghetti, meatballs.
And best of all, fried chicken and beets,
With a bib so I won’t make so much of a mess.
I am growing up, Daddy, with the help of your love.
You will be very proud of me one day, I know.
By your love, I will become a good man, just like you.
Because of your love, I will be strengthened for life’s hardships.
When I kiss your stubbled cheek, I feel safe at home.
When we play rumpty-dump in bed, and you tickle me,
I squeal with sheer delight, feeling so utterly loved.
Is it any wonder I sing in my sleep, as you told me?
You call me “Willy,” and “Wormy,” names I love.
You have made me a very happy little boy,
And I love you more than words can ever say.
Now the Spirit of divine love brings me back into the present,
And lets me feel from where I am now:
If I cry, thinking about you, Daddy,
These are tears of gratitude mixed with pains released.
The years are past, and you are utterly gone from this world,
But not from our hearts and minds—with your children, you abide.
We remember, and we love, each in his / her own way.
I see so much of you in me now, Daddy,
That I can truly say: My father lives in me, and I’m very thankful for it.
My goodness, I am so like you in many ways, especially in mind.
Thank you all for that you gave me, and keep giving me;
All for all that you mean to me.
My most beloved father, I will love you until I die, I promise you.
“You have restored the joy of my youth.”
06 Jan 2020 Traditional day of Epiphany
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