A Grave in an Underground Cave

I’m travelling around Turkey now, so these posts will be brief.

One of the most fascinating parts of the country that I’ve visited is the Cappadocia region.

The topography is fascinating and is the result of volcanic activity that created soft rock deposits which have been conducive to building underground refuges.

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The cost of true adventure is risk

Recently, Geoff Sigalet wrote this marvellous essay, “The Psyche of the Mountains.”

It’s partly a review of the new documentary “The Alpinist” about Canadian mountaineer Marc-Andre Leclerc and partly a broader meditation on the nature of the sport.

Go read Geoff’s essay and then check out the two-minute trailer for the film below:

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There are two ways to leave a job

I was 22 when I had an epiphany:

There are really only two ways to leave a job that is indefinite in nature: Quit or Get Fired.

Since most everyone would hope not to be fired, this means that it is incumbent on each worker to decide when to quit.

Next, it occurred to me that there are really only two times to quit: When Things Are Going Well or When Things Are Going Badly.

And again, it is eminently obvious that it is much better to quit while things are going well compared to when they’re going badly or because some negative reason.

Accordingly, through reflection, I learned the rather counterintuitive but eminently sensible point that what I actually want is to quit work when things are going well.

Many people live day-to-day without considering the end. But, by thinking about endings, we are ever more free to enjoy our days.

Just start now

This is a short post to reflect on how a #mementomori orientation in life can give an exhilarating sense of urgency.

So often we think that we need to wait until we are more educated, prepared, resourceful, well-connected, experienced, etc., etc. before attempting and realizing the projects and activities that we consider worthwhile.

Yet, whatever it is that is worth doing, there is always a way to do that very thing in an incremental way, even to participate in the thing so partially that it seems to barely count.

Step by step, we realize that by doing consistent small steps in the direction of our values, we live those values with immediacy and to the best of our ability and circumstances in each occasion.

So, what does it look like to be participating in advancing your values already?

Brandsma: “Love will regain the hearts of the pagans.”

An Irish Carmelite priest was a guest at my student residence this evening.

Over dinner, he mentioned the recent announcement that Titus Brandsma will be canonized.

Not knowing anything of this story, my friends and I asked the priest to tell us the story.

Fr. Brandsma was a Dutch Carmelite priest who worked as a philosophy professor and journalist.

His campaign for the freedom of the Catholic press to refuse to print Nazi propaganda led to his arrest and eventual martyrdom by lethal injection at Dachau.

John Paul II canonized Fr. Brandsma in 1985 saying, “Of course, such heroism cannot be improvised” in attesting to Brandsma’s authentic Catholic upbringing and formation throughout his life.

“Although neo-paganism no longer wants love, love will regain the hearts of the pagans,” Brandsma had said.

John Paul II even recounted that the “nurse” who murdered Brandsma with the lethal injection could not resist acknowledging that Brandsma’s look toward her was one of compassion.

How much are we seized by the conviction that “love will regain the hearts of the pagans”, that death and evil will never have the last word?

“She loved the poor.”

It’s a peculiar epitaph – “She loved the poor.”

These are the words on the cross that marks the grave of Catherine Doherty, a Catholic woman who founded the Madonna House apostolate, was a noted spiritual writer, and who died on this date in 1985.

Of all the things to have on a person’s grave, why does hers say this?

A quick search reveals that connection between her love for the poor borne out of her reflection on “The Reality of Christ’s Poverty” about which she said:

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Nothing belongs to me

I just came across this neat article on Chabad.org on “Why Don’t Jews Write ‘This Book Belongs to…’?”

Here’s an excerpt:

There is a common custom not to inscribe Torah books with “From the Library of John Doe,” “This Book Belongs to . . .” or similar Hebrew equivalents. Instead, the name itself is written with no preamble. Some have the custom to preface their names with “LaHashem haaretz umeloah,” “The earth and all that fills it belong to G‑d,” or the acronym lamed, hay, vav.

The custom is attributed to Rabbi Yehuda Hachassid (“the pious”) 1150-1217, who writes in his ethical will that people should “not write in a holy book that it is theirs. Rather, they should write their name without writing it is theirs.”

Some explain that this custom is a fitting reminder that nothing truly belongs to us; it is only entrusted to us. Accordingly, one should follow this practice not just with regard to Torah books, but with all personal belongings.

What a remarkable attitude of detachment in recognition of God’s sovereignty and generosity.

Imagine extending the approach more broadly: The earth and all that fills it belong to God. This MacBook, this iPhone, this winter jacket, this meal, etc. belong to God. And I am ready to hand it over to whoever is in need of it when my stewardship of it should cease.

Being useful vs. useful being

Today I was having a conversation with someone who has visited persons who are elderly and receiving palliative care. I asked him if any of them have expressed temptations to end their lives prematurely.

“Many,” he said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

He told me that it’s because of a sense of no longer being useful. “For so many, their sense of worth is connected to how useful they can be to their loved ones and to others in their life. When these opportunities diminish, so does their estimation of the value of their lives.”

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