Heschel: “Prepare a spiritual income for old age”

There is a marvellous little essay called “To Grow in Wisdom” in Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence.

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Baldwin: “People who cannot suffer can never grow up.”

Recently a friend of mine introduced me to James Baldwin (1924-1987), an American author who wrote books, essays, and memoirs on the experience of Blacks in America.

I just finished reading Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, which contains two essays exploring race relations in the U.S. in the early 1960s. “Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality,” he says.

Continuing to reflect here on what case there is for suffering being redemptive without sliding into any justification of (or indifference to) real injustices, Baldwin offers a credible voice.

Here is an excerpt on how suffering can be a school in maturity:

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Jordan Peterson challenges us to have strength at funerals

This evening I finished reading Jordan Peterson’s latest book, Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life.

In the last chapter, Rule XII: Be grateful in spite of your suffering, Peterson mentions that he has repeatedly suggested to his various audiences “that strength at the funeral of someone dear and close is a worthy goal” and he notes that “people have indicated to me that they took heart in desperate times as a consequence.”

After a worldwide book tour and many other public appearances, Peterson has had the opportunity to test and play with his ideas with many audiences. And it is interesting to read his thoughtful reflections based on his careful observation of the reactions of persons in the audience.

Earlier in the book, he mentions, as he has said elsewhere, that he sees people’s faces light up whenever he speaks about responsibility. Peterson is keenly aware that people have been raised with a greater emphasis on rights and the corresponding sense of entitlement that ensues with this focus. Yet, a sense of responsibility is what ennobles and fills persons with a sense of their proper dignity and capacity.

Accordingly, this challenge to have strength at funerals is an extension of his usual exhortation to responsibility.

He writes:

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“Without the day of the Lord, we cannot live.”

In his splendid essay “On the Meaning of Sunday,” Joseph Ratzinger wrote about how the early Christians would say, “Without the day of the Lord, we cannot live.”

Take a look at how he describes this existential priority and what it means in the lives of those who hold to it:

“Without the day of the Lord, we cannot live.” This is not a labored obedience to an ecclesiastical prescription considered as some external precept, but is instead the expression of an interior duty and, at the same time, of a personal decision. It refers to that which has become the supporting nucleus of one’s existence, of one’s entire being, and it documents what has become so important as to need to be fulfilled even in the case of danger of death, imparting as it does a real assurance and internal freedom. To those who so expressed themselves, it would have seemed manifestly absurd to guarantee survival and external tranquility for themselves at the price of the renunciation of this vital ground. […] For them it was not a question of a choice between one precept and another, but rather of a choice between all that gave meaning and consistency to life and a life devoid of meaning.

I often think about this passage when reflecting on contemporary Christians who risk their lives to go to church in countries where there is severe persecution and repression.

There is indeed something luminous in the witness of those who would risk their lives to affirm the values that make life altogether precious in the first place.

It is a profound and potentially orienting question to contemplate: What is it in our lives without which our survival has no value?

Photo: Maronite Church in Kfar Baram in northern Israel in summer 2017

A Graduation Speech About Deathbed Reflections

This is a really short post to direct you to this excellent commencement address delivered by Ryan T. Anderson.

He titled it, “‘He Knows What He Is About’: Living a Life That Matters”, which is derived from one of the most splendid quotations of John Henry Newman that Dr. Anderson quotes at the outset and on which my friends and I have been reflecting a lot in recent days.

Particularly of relevance to the theme of this blog, I was struck by how Dr. Anderson exhorted the high schoolers on multiple occasions throughout the address to contemplate the thoughts they might have on their deathbeds as a key to discerning how to live a life that matters.

Below are three short excerpts:

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Death as gratitude

I love Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s writing so much.

It has that confident aphoristic quality to it that elicits attention.

Such is the case with his short essay entitled, “Death as Homecoming.”

Right at the beginning, Rabbi Heschel proposes that “in a way death is the test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd. Life’s ultimate meaning remains obscure unless it is reflected upon in the face of death.”

Still, Heschel is keen to note that the Hebrew Bible and Jewish tradition do not stress “the problem of dying” so much as they stress “how to sanctify life.”

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Suffering in the Spotlight

I have been captivated by a recent audition on America’s Got Talent.

It is worth every second of your next seven and a half minutes to watch it, here:

Since watching Nightbirde’s audition a few times, I have also watched a couple interviews that she has given in recent days, checked out these podcasts between her and Virginia Dixon, and perused some of her blog posts.

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What would you die for?

On this anniversary of D-Day, I have become curious about educational materials pertaining to commemorating the Canadian contribution at Juno Beach on June 6th, 1944.

I also think that the fact of having roadtripped throughout Normandy to visit these sites in 2018 contributes to my inclination to pay attention to these anniversaries personally.

The Juno Beach Centre provides various resources to educators to assist in teaching new generations about the Second World War and the cost it took to defeat the evil of Nazism.

I am not sure whether these are the kinds of lesson plans actually being used in schools, but here are a couple of the activities that I consider to be interesting and worthwhile exercises.

Example #1:

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Where is Your Devotion to the Mystery of the Person?

Recently, I sat down with my friend Anna to listen to some of her stories.

It might surprise you that this young woman told me, “The happiest time of my life was working 16-hour days in a retirement home during COVID.”

“My body ached and my heart rejoiced,” Anna testified.

She spoke with such empathy about the elderly residents.

“Imagine! A person who has lived a hundred years might be reduced to ‘June at Table 20.’ The residents might have lived a long, fruitful life only to be reduced to their dietary preferences in their final months and years.”

Because Anna regards these seniors’ long lives with reverence, she does not like to see nor participate in taking such a reductive view of the human person.

Instead, she relishes doing her utmost to serve the residents and considers every conversation as an opportunity for a meaningful interaction.

“My favourite residents are the ones who would get agitated easily,” Anna told me. “And it became a challenge: ‘How can I make them happy?'”

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Caregiving as a school in humanity

This evening I read a short book written by my friend and colleague’s grandmother.

In the brief memoir, Walk with Me: growing rich through relationships, author Judy Rae reflects on the experience of caring for her husband Joe while he developed Alzheimer’s.

Presented with honesty and infused with a faith, Rae offers a window into how caregiving can be a school in humanity.

Judy recounts the pain and sorrow of watching her husband lose his memory and she does not skirt the undeniably tragic dimensions of this disease.

“I have been told that when a person is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, he is introduced to a world of loneliness, rejection, terror, confusion, misinformation, and termination. Can this tragedy bring with it any victory into our lives?” she asks.

Rae speaks about how Joe became embarrassed and humiliated by what he could no longer do or remember. Despite the continual accompaniment, affection, and affirmation of his wife, Joe’s feelings of uselessness regularly caused him to get frustrated with himself and even to cry.

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