Caste

By a succession of arguments and testimonies, she shows convincingly that the underlying problem in race relations in the States, is that Afro-Americans have been the lowest caste in society since the time of slavery. 

If Choice by Edith Eger was my best read in 2020, Caste by Isabel Wilkerson will surely be my best read in 2021.   In Caste, Wilkerson compares the Caste system in India to the structured racism operative in Nazi Germany and in the United States.  By a succession of arguments and testimonies, she shows convincingly that the underlying problem in race relations in the States, is that Afro-Americans have been the lowest caste in society since the time of slavery. 

By revealing the shocking history of the lynching of Black Americans all across the South right up until recent times, she shows how double standards of justice have been followed at the highest levels of State governance. She shows how Afro-Americans are systematically persecuted and ill-treated at all levels of society. By contrasting the three caste systems of India, Nazi Germany and the United States, she is able to isolate the eight pillars of caste and draw out their consequences. Her analysis illuminates the recent political crises in America.

She shows that the Irish, Italian and Polish immigrants did not really become “white” until they arrived in America.  Similarly, an African woman pointed out to her that there are no “black” people in Africa, just people from different tribes.

The book invited me to reflect on my own subconscious biases and prejudices against Afro-Americans that I may have inherited.  I can see that in my previous blogs, about Washington Black and about Jack, I was naïve and did not understand the underlying structures at work.

At the end of the book, in Awakening, Wilkerson offers a kind of checklist to help those who wish to chart a course out from this dystopian structure of human relationships which dehumanize all involved.

Jack by Marilynne Robinson

The love relationship that grows between Jack and Della is like a love between outcasts.  Jack is already an outcast because of his mis-spent youth and his alcoholism.  Yet he is heroically trying to live a “harmless” life as a poor white man scraping a living at the bottom of his society.  Della on the other hand is a dynamic English teacher who loves her job and family.

This is the fourth novel in a series which includes Gilead, Home and Lila each going back in time to follow the story of a faith-filled community in rural America.  Once again, Robinson creates a lyrical and poignant portrait of a host of characters in her last novel “Jack”.  The crucial difference in this last novel is that the heroine, Della Miles, is black while Jack Boughton is white but not innocent. 

The love relationship that grows between Jack and Della is like a love between outcasts.  Jack is already an outcast because of his mis-spent youth and his alcoholism.  Yet he is heroically trying to live a “harmless” life as a poor white man scraping a living at the bottom of his society.  Della on the other hand is a dynamic English teacher who loves her job and family.  Yet she chooses to let all her comfortable life and position go, in order to love and live with Jack.  At that time in the States, it was illegal for whites and blacks to marry so they have “to marry” themselves and live as outcasts both from the white and black communities. 

This novel can only be read slowly as each section needs pondering.  We can feel the stresses and strains on both Jack and Della.  We are afraid that Jack will crack again.  But he doesn’t.  The family of Della send her aunt Delia to speak with Jack in order to break-up the relationship.  It seems to work for a while, but the pair continue to find their way back to each other no matter what obstacles are put in their way.

It is interesting to note that the anguished conscience of John Boughton, Jack’s father, about the fate of his son’s soul finds it’s counterpoint here.  His father’s faithful but distant love is like a thread linking Jack to all that is good in the world.  The novel recounts the love story of Della and Jack, as two flawed souls escaping from the confines of their similar religious background of black and white. Yet by embracing each other, they incarnate the essential religious teaching of that common background.  God’s provident care does not depend on belief or unbelief, God is always and everywhere benevolent to all both black and white.   In loving Della, Jack may find redemption and escape predestination.  This may have happened long before the family’s anguished consideration of the question in the novel “Home”. 

The love affair proceeds by polite conversations in unusual places and at unusual times.  In this sense the novel is properly “old-style” while managing to speak love and religion in a modern idiom. 

Dark Blue;

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”! 

In his book “Dark Blue”, Shane Carthy is a man on a mission.  Carthy is a young, gifted sportsman yet he tells the story of a psychological battle with depression.  The sub-title of the book makes this clear; “The Despair behind the Glory, my journey back from the Edge”. 

Shane Carthy wants to help other young people who suffer from this inner sickness but who are too ashamed to speak about it to anyone.  His honesty and integrity shine through on every page.  His fundamental message is “don’t be afraid to talk about it”!  The dedication at the beginning of the book emphasises this point clearly, “To all of those who are suffering in silence in the hope that these words might help the light to shine”.  

Shane Carthy grew up in Portmarnock village, on the North side of Dublin City, where my own mother and sister’s family are now living.  My nephew and nieces attend the same primary school that he attended.  My nieces are in the same club of the Gaelic Athletics Association (GAA).  It is clear that the Carthy family was a happy one and Shane and his sisters, Stephanie, Mairead and Michelle were loved and cared for by their parents, Gerry and Angela.

They were a “sporty” family and Shane was encouraged to try different sports. He was good at them all.  He had to choose between soccer and Gaelic football.  After he chose Gaelic he played for his local club. Later he was selected for the Dublin Minor Team and then for the Dublin Senior Team.  This all happened while he was still at secondary school, so he became a hero and a legend to many other young people.  He followed the advice of his Dad; “anything you do, do to the best of your ability” but not that of his Mum; “you’ve got to broaden your horizons.  Open your mind and see what life has to offer outside of football”.

Even while enjoying this success, Shane began to notice that his mood changed dramatically and suddenly from time to time.  “Dark clouds” would come causing him to feel desperately sad and disconnected.  For a long time, he held back his tears.  He found it increasingly difficult to live up to the image that people had of him.  His grandparents died just at the time that he had decided to tell his parents so he delayed telling them.  The panic attacks got worse.  Sometimes he felt like his “inner demons” were telling him to end his life.  Later he would learn the words “suicide ideation”.  He wept more and more often.  He tried to harm himself. He never harmed anyone else.

Eventually, after a climatic two weeks of psychological chaos amidst sporting success, he told his mum about his sickness.  Then his parents and sisters and friends rallied around to help him.  He needed to receive psychiatric care in St. Patrick’s Mental Hospital.  He stayed there for eleven weeks. He was on the “secure ward” twice.  He slowly recovered his mental balance and perspective but now he was shy and reserved in meeting people whereas before he had pretended to be confident.

He explains how “Cognitive Behavioural Therapy” (CBT) and the “Young Adult Program” (YAP) were used in his treatment.  The Psychologists and Nurses helped him acquire more tools to deal with the depression when he felt his mood changing and the dark clouds coming.  It was interesting to hear Shane describe his feelings as he started the YAP program.  “Will they judge me, will they think I’m weird, will they think I’m different”?

While Shane does not really share much about the content of his conversations with the Psychologists and Psychiatrists, it seems that he began to listen to his mother’s advice which he had previously ignored.  At one moment during his recovery, he interrupted his father who was chatting on about sport.  He asked his Dad about growing up in East Wall.  (East Wall is an old working class community of Dublin which used to be home to dockers and railway workers). His dad, surprised at first, responded.

Even after he left the hospital to return to “normal life”, Shane was not afraid to seek further help when he felt he needed it.  He added more time to his “Mindfulness” meditation periods.   When he travelled to meet the Psychologist again, he called this his “top-up”!

I am left wondering what would happen if Shane Carthy met with Scotsman, Eric Liddell, whose story was represented in the film “Chariots of Fire”.  (Liddell refused to run his 100 metres heat in the 1924 Olympic games as it took place on a Sunday, which was the Sabbath or the Lord’s Day.  Another British athlete let him run the 400 metres race instead).  Would a conversation with Liddell remind Shane Carthy of what his ancestors may have whispered to him long ago about God who loves and redeems him.  

If he heard Eric Liddell talk about his baptism, about his dying and rising to a new life, would Shane Carthy hear this as a new message or would he remember it as an old truth that he has not yet paid attention to? Could his life journey become more meaningful and his resolve to help others broaden, if he developed a personal relationship with God?

Irresistible and Excessive Appetites

In this blog, I will reflect on Jeffrey Shaler’s “Addiction is a Choice” (2000), Jim Orford’s “Excessive Appetites” (2001), Christopher D. Ringwald’s “The Soul of Recovery” (2002), Bruce K. Alexander’s “The Globalisation of Addiction” (2008), and Adam Alter’s “Irresistible” (2017).

Since returning to Ireland after twenty-seven years spent in Cambodia, I have been puzzled by the links between addiction and spirituality.  Perhaps the link passes through an ecological conversion.

Five books on addiction have provided me with some useful insights.  In this blog, I will reflect on Jeffrey Shaler’s “Addiction is a Choice” (2000),  Jim Orford’s “Excessive Appetites” (2001), Christopher D. Ringwald’s “The Soul of Recovery” (2002), Bruce K. Alexander’s “The Globalisation of Addiction” (2008), and Adam Alter’s “Irresistible” (2017). 

Jeffrey Schaler argues cogently that addiction is a psychological phenomenon not a physiological one. In other words, he argues that addiction is not a disease and cannot be successfully treated as such.  People should be left free to follow their own free choices in life so long as they do not impede on other people’s free choice.  This debate echoes a debate from long ago in the history of Christian theology. Pelagius insisted that all human beings possess free-will and so can make the good choice.  However St. Augustine argued that our free will can be progressively captured by disordered love until only a modicum of true freedom remains.  It is a question of ‘both-and’ not ‘either-or’.

Jim Orford uses detailed psychological and social research to argue that addictive behavior patterns occur not only in relation to substance abuse (alcohol, drugs and food) but also in relation to gambling, sex, exercise and other activities. He then studies how these addictions develop over time until the attachment becomes so strong that inner conflict threatens to destroy the person concerned.

The criteria for determining the existence of a behavioral addiction might include, salience (prominence), mood modification, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, conflict and relapse.  Orford recognizes three similar paths to recovery, spontaneous remission, 12 step programs or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  Rates of long-lasting sobriety are similar in all three cases, about 25%.   Orford concludes that long-term recovery depends on the development of a personal spiritual life.

Christopher D. Ringwald travelled all over the United States of America to visit and evaluate the myriad programs and clinics that have been established to treat addictions.  He analysed programs for the middle class and in poor areas as well as among women and Native Americans.  He evaluated recovery statistics from secular and faith-based programs.  He monitored harm-reduction programs and healing in therapeutic communities.  He interviewed alcoholics, drug-addicts, expert counsellors and family members.  He concludes that in a Democracy, it is vital to allow and encourage all addiction recovery programs that integrate the development of personal spirituality, even when these approaches are faith-based.  The development of a personal spirituality is essential to long-term sobriety.

Starting from the example of his own city, Vancouver, Bruce Alexander argues for a “paradigm-shift” in treating addictions.  He prevents historical evidence to show that the roots of all addictions lie in the adoption of a Free-market society which causes severe dislocation to families, communities, ethnic groups and whole peoples.  This dislocation prevents traditional forms of psycho-social integration so addiction becomes a way of adapting to this dislocation.  If Governments and the Mass-media continue to promote increased consumption in a Free-market economy, the pandemic of addiction will only increase until humanity becomes paralyzed and our civilization collapses like the Roman empire did.  

Alexander does not deny the effectiveness of recovery programs for individuals but he asserts that these individual recoveries will never form a “critical-mass” to overturn the addiction pandemic.  By reflecting on many historical examples, he argues convincingly for the creation of alliances of concerned citizens who will cooperate together to create a new “Republic” by dialogue about values and virtue like Socrates did at the start of our democratic civilization.   It is the impending destruction of our planet that will stimulate this cooperative effort

Adam Alter writes about the rise of addictive technology and the techniques it uses to keep us hooked.  The first part of his book deals with the biology of behavioral addiction.  The second part of the book deals with the features that internet companies devise to engineer addictive behaviors in us.  They include, setting goals, providing feedback, measuring progress, providing escalation, cliff-hangers and social interaction.  He notes that Face-book’s popularity soared once it added the “like” button that could count because suddenly, everyone could compare themselves to everyone else.  He tells stories of young people addicted to computer gaming and illustrates the devastating consequences for themselves and their families.  In the third part of his book, he offers some solutions and tactics to nip these additions in the bud before they develop.  Adler essential point is that Big Tech is slowly turning us and all into internet junkies who become incapable of real human relationships and independent thought.

It seems that all these authors are indicating that the problem of addiction in modern society is really mal-adaption to the ecological crisis promoted by the Free-market economy and facilitated by big Tech. Only a spiritual conversion to a collective effort to downsize in dialogue with those on the margins will allow regeneration of our planet and human communities.  Addictions will disappear in the process! 

Apeirogon

Rami’s thirteen-year old daughter, Smadar was blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber while out shopping with her friends, while Bassam’s ten year old daughter, Abir, was shot by an Israeli policeman while out buying candy with her friends near her school. From these two true stories, McCann has created a wonderful, hard-hitting yet tender novel, that seems to respect both traditions, cultures and religions.

Two men, Rami Elhanan, an Israeli and Bassam Aramin, a Palestinian, have both lost a young daughter to the violence of the conflict between the two Nations.

Rami’s thirteen-year old daughter, Smadar was blown up by a Palestinian suicide bomber while out shopping with her friends, while Bassam’s ten year old daughter, Abir, was shot by an Israeli policeman while out buying candy with her friends near her school. From these two true stories, McCann has created a wonderful, hard-hitting yet tender novel, that seems to respect both traditions, cultures and religions. 

The two men join a fellowship for parents of who have lost children to the conflict.  They become friends.  They share their stories together.  They find that they understand each other on the deepest human level.  It is as if they choose to become brothers.

Each man rows against the current of public opinion on their side of the fence in order to embrace the truth on the other side of the fence.  In this way, instead of remaining small and insignificant cogs in a war machine, they become giants in the creation of peace and understanding.   

Yet Rami and Bassam are nothing without their wives, Nurit and Salwa.  Each woman develops a uniquely intimate understanding of her husband.  The solidness of this love encourages each man to become free to reach the best of himself.

The novel places Rami’s and Bassan’s stories in an evolving political and ecological drama.  The tragic history of both nations is remembered and the geography of the land is nurtured.  In this way, the novel becomes an extraordinary hymn of hope arising from the ashes of the most violent and intractable conflict on the planet.  The novel draws the key to the Kingdom in lyrical prose.

If you read one book in 2021, Apeirogon is the book to read.  Gabriel Byrne is right.  This is Colum McCann’s masterpiece. 

a million little pieces

He does not spare us the gory details. There is plenty of blood, urine and vomit each day. His aggression and humour ensure that we are led on a roller-coaster journey of pathos, violence, serenity and fear both inside his head and in the clinic. Frey wants us to understand the mind of an addict. Perhaps he succeeds.

In this novel, James Frey, describes the inner experience of a twenty-three year old alcoholic and drug addict who is brought by his parents to a rehabilitation clinic in Minnesota.  James tells his story of withdrawal, encounters with the other inmates and care staff. He recounts his progress through the 12 step recovery program of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).  He does not spare us the gory details.  There is plenty of blood, urine and vomit each day.  His aggression and humour ensure that we are led on a roller-coaster journey of pathos, violence, serenity and fear both inside his head and in the clinic.  Frey wants us to understand the mind of an addict.  Perhaps he succeeds. 

During the story he makes new friends, especially with Leonard, the crime boss, who rescues him from self-destruction but also with Joanne, the one social worker who seems to understand and trust him. The clinic arranges for the addicts to meet the parents and guardians and James bravely tries to reconnect with the parents whom he abandoned so long ago.  The ambiguity of these encounters is not glossed over and we are left wondering if the reconciliation is real and long-lasting.

Perhaps the most poignant relationship in the novel, is the friendship between James and Lilly, a pretty crack addict, brought to the clinic by her grandmother.  The two addicts learn to support and respect each other.  After Lilly hears that her grandmother has cancer, she breaks down and flees.  In one of the most dramatic moments of the novel, James defies all the odds to run after and rescue her from a “crack-house”.  This act of love saved Lilly once but the real tragedy of the novel is that it is not enough to save her twice.

All through his recovery, James furiously resists the 12 step program as he refuses to believe in a “Higher Power”.   Nonetheless, by having to formulate his arguments against the program he enters into real communication with other human beings who are different from him.  He learns to appreciate the beauty and silence of nature in the park around the Clinic.  He drinks in silence and peace from it.  Somebody gives him a book of Taoist sayings.  He ponders the deeper meaning behind the apparent paradoxes.  It seems that Taoism offers him a sort of Emptiness that functions like the Higher Power in the 12 step recovery program.  James insists that only his decisions will heal him and bring him recovery.  As soon as he is released, he asks his brother to give him money to buy a drink which he inhales and pours down the sink.  He is able to say no.

At the end of the novel it is clear that James Frey is no longer an alcoholic or drug addict.  However it is not yet clear if James has become an “other-centred” person or not.

There was significant controversy about this book in the States about fifteen years ago where is was originally marketed as a “memoir” rather than a novel.  Many people blamed James Frey for dishonesty since he made up some details and added them into his story as if they really happened.  Once you read this novel as he first intended, you do not need to worry about the details.  It is still a wonderful story about addiction and recovery!

The Beekeeper of Aleppo

The most dramatic aspect of this novel is the secret journey to Istanbul in Turkey and then across the sea to an island off Greece. The couple eventually reach Athens where Nuri has to engage in clandestine work to earn enough to pay the smuggler who will arrange for them to reach England

The “The Beekeeper of Aleppo” by Christy Leffteri tells the story of Nuri and Afra, a Syrian couple, who flee Aleppo after their young boy, Sami, is killed by a bomb explosion. Before the explosion, Afra refused to leave Aleppo because it was the home of her ancestors and a dynamic centre of Arabic culture and Islamic religion.  Even after the war destroyed the city and their friends Mustafa and Dahab left, Afra refused to leave.  When Sami was killed, Afra went blind.  She could see no more.  Only when the Islamic militia came to recruit Nuri to fight in the war did she agree to escape with him first to Turkey, then to Greece and finally to England.

Afra cannot see but she knows what Nuri is feeling.  Nuri can see too much.  He notices, Mohammed, a dark boy who joins them on their journey.  Nuri has many conversations with him.  But Afra knows that Nuri’s mind is not working properly.  The boy is imaginary. Nuri and Afra make this long and arduous journey across Europe to reach England. However the novel really charts their journey from a loss and grief that has torn them apart to a deeper love that reunites them.  Afra begins to paint again even before she can see.

Yet, the story is not a romance.  The vicious cruelty and violence of the war in Syria has destroyed not only their young son, Sami, but also their city, livelihood and shared past.  The one thing outside the marriage of Nuri and Afra that the war has not destroyed is Nuri’s friendship with Mustafa. He is the beekeeper who has already fled Aleppo with his wife after they lost their own child.  Mustafa prepares a way for his friend Nuri to join him in England.  They will become beekeepers again.

The most dramatic aspect of this novel is the secret journey to Istanbul in Turkey and then across the sea to an island off Greece.  The couple eventually reach Athens where Nuri has to engage in clandestine work to earn enough to pay the smuggler who will arrange for them to reach England.  The description of the people they meet on their journey, both the cruel ones and the kind ones, is realistic and credible.  The novel highlights the hypocrisy of European refugee policy in that the only way that Nuri and Afra can claim asylum in the United Kingdom is to arrive there by illegal means and then destroy all trace of their journey.  In order to claim asylum as a refugee, you must first become a criminal.   However if your criminal activities are discovered, then your asylum claim will be rejected.

Hamnet

Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book, “Hamnet”, is quite different and distinct from all her previous creations. Her other novels have revolved around modern families in crisis. This new novel seems to tell the story of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet.

Maggie O’Farrell’s latest book, “Hamnet”, is quite different and distinct from all her previous creations.  Her other novels have revolved around modern families in crisis.  This new novel seems to tell the story of William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet. He died as a child and supposedly provided the inspiration for Shakespeare’s famous play “Hamlet”. 

However the novel really tells the story of the enigmatic Agnes, Will’s wife and Hamnet’s mother.  She is an interesting and unorthodox country woman with “elfic” tendencies.  She knows the medicinal and healing properties of the local flowers, plants and roots.  She communes with nature like an alternative priestess even after falling in love with Will.  She moves to live with his dysfunctional family.

The drama of the novel however is found in the intimate relationship of Hamnet with his identical twin sister Judith.  It is in the description of this special dynamic that O’Farrell displays her literary mastery of the intricacies of close family encounters.  The manner by which Hamnet takes on Judith’s illness is surely poetic license rather than historical fact.   The intense grief of each family member at Hamnet’s passing almost causes the family to disintegrate.  It is only when Agnes realizes that, in creating the play Hamlet, her husband is transforming his grief into memory. Thus she can be reconciled with him.

The language and imagery of this novel is poetical and lyrical.  It reads beautifully.  The other characters emerge as realistic, the irascible and unpleasant father, John, the jealous and vindictive step-mother Joan, the rustic and reliable brother Bartholomew and the practical older sister Susanna.  However I found this novel somehow stilted and laboured unlike all O’Farrell’s other books.  I wondered why.

In most of her modern stories, an unusual sickness or medical condition casts a shadow or poses a challenge to her range of feisty, credible characters.  This detail furnishes a link with Hamnet.  In “After you’d gone”, one person is left in a coma. in “Instructions for a heat-wave”, one daughter has reading disorder.  In “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox”, Esme spends her adult life in an asylum.  In “This Must be the Place”, the son has a serious skin ailment while his father is an alcoholic.  In O’Farrell’s autobiographical account of close encounters with death, “I am, I am, I am”, the most striking event occurs in Italy when O’Farrell and her husband race to find a local hospital to treat their daughter who is  having a severe allergic reaction.    

However in these stories, the inter-play of medical science and common sense work themselves out in a credible and realistic way.  Not so in Hamnet.  Agnes is powerless against the plague which attacks Judith first, before leaving her to attack Hamnet.  Somehow there is an inconsistency here.  Agnes has been presented as wise but “unorthodox” or as living outside the normal faith traditions of the community.  Their ordinary medicines never work anyway.  But now her own medicines don’t work.  It’s as if her “non-faith” is just as illusory as the others’ “faith”.   In this sense, the novel is hopeless.  It does not lead anywhere.  It offers no new way of reflecting on family difficulties and tragedies.  O’Farrell’s previous novels offered new insight.    More than this, one could sense in her previous works that disaster was averted (just about) because the characters’ malevolence was somehow curtailed by a benevolent presence hovering at the very edge of her stories.   Perhaps this presence is missing in “Hamnet”.

Spiritual Direction

From afar, it seems that they could be following a bright star on their spiritual journey even it leads them into the dark. It’s like Frodo and Sam entering the land of Mordor to destroy the evil power of the ring.

In Hong Kong, Mr. Joshua Wong and Ms. Agnes Chow and Mr. Ivan Lam, have chosen to plead guilty to a charge of unlawful assembly.  They are in custody awaiting trial having pleaded guilty at a pre-trial hearing.   These two young people are freely choosing to make a personal sacrifice in the struggle for democracy.  From afar, it seems that they could be following a bright star on their spiritual journey even it leads them into the dark.  It’s like Frodo and Sam entering the land of Mordor to destroy the evil power of the ring.  Only this struggle is for real.

Since returning to Ireland from Cambodia, I have been trying to discern a personal star in the sense of finding the next step on my spiritual journey.

Two books have offered much encouragement.  The first is an old book by a French Jesuit, Jean Laplace and the second is a new book by a Dutch Jesuit, Jos Moons.  Laplace’s book was published in French in 1965 as “La Direction de Conscience ou Le Dialogue Spirituel” which was translated into English as “Preparing for Spiritual Direction”.   Moons’ book was originally published in Dutch in 2019 with an impossible title (De Kunst Van Geestelijke Begeleiding) which has been translated into English as “The Art of Spiritual Direction”. 

Fifty-four years of rapid cultural development separate the two books yet they share some common themes.

The relationship of spiritual director or companion or guide to the searcher is individual and personal.   The key skill of the spiritual companion is the ability to “listen attentively” to what is moving the searcher.   The principal role of the guide is to help the searcher articulate these spiritual movements and to interpret their meaning.  The searcher discerns.  The spiritual director only helps this process.  He or she must remain neutral “like a balance” once a choice about action presents itself.

Both Laplace and Moons insist on the need to be patient and to spend time with the searcher.   The process cannot be rushed. Even the naming of the movements “from the Good Spirit” or “from the Bad Spirit” should come from the searcher.  Help can be offered when requested but the searcher makes the journey.  There are no short-cuts to enlightenment on the spiritual path.

Discernment is the task to be accomplished.  The gold or spiritual treasure that is being sought is goodness, peace, light, love, harmony, mercy and justice.  These will be signs of the Higher Power or God’s presence (or Dharma).   However we can find these signs in human form like in the gospels.  All that is hateful, vindictive, dark, violent and divisive is what is to be avoided and rejected.

Laplace emphasizes the need to situate the spiritual dialogue within the context of mutual prayer and the life of the Church.  Moons emphasizes the need to pay attention to the small details of the searcher’s daily life and their relationships with others. Each offer some practical advice on how to become a good listener and how to ask simple questions to help the searcher further articulate their own inner experience.

In Cambodia, some Buddhist monks serve as spiritual guides to young searchers. The young people still  choose their form of action in society.

It is an amazing mystery to believe that the answer to our spiritual search is already there hidden in our experience just waiting for us to find it.  I wonder what the future holds for Mr. Joshua Wong and Ms. Agnes Choi.

Curlew on Dollymount Strand

In front of St. Anne’s park, I found a natural flower bed where the bees were busy. Inside the park, I followed a new trail for children. Along the trail, 15 indigenous trees had been planted with plaques to show the young people what Irish native species look like. I felt like I was being led by small steps in the right direction.

While on retreat near Dollymount strand during October, I opened my window each evening.  I wanted to listen to the sounds of the sea, the wind and the birds.  No matter hard I strained my ears, I could no longer hear the call of the curlew.  This plaintive sound had accompanied our daily life as Jesuit novices forty years ago.  The curlew was our faithful companion on a lonely spiritual search.  It is amazing that the number of breeding pairs could have declined so dramatically inside a bird sanctuary. 

I have also been struck by the small numbers of bees, wasps and insects both inside and outside the house.  While the sea-gulls, magpies and crows are numerous, the smaller birds, like sparrows, robins, blue-tits, thrushes, starlings, swifts and black-birds are far less numerous than before.  At the same time some foxes and badgers have adapted to urban life.  We never saw these when we were small.  However the hedge-hogs have all but disappeared.  (During quarantine in Co. Kildare in August, I rescued one large hedge-hog with a paper cup on its head from running around in circles).   

In front of St. Anne’s park, I found a natural flower bed where the bees were busy.  Inside the park, I followed a new trail for children.  Along the trail, 15 indigenous trees had been planted with plaques to show the young people what Irish native species look like.  I felt like I was being led by small steps in the right direction.