“Everyone must have two pockets, with a note in each pocket, so that he or she can reach into one or the other, depending on the need. When feeling lowly and depressed, discouraged or disconsolate, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: Bishvili nivra ha-olam “The world was created for me.” (BT Sanhedrin 37B) But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: V’anochi afar v’efer “I am but dust and ashes.” (Gen. 18:27)
Today a friend of mine sent me a text with Ed Sheeran’s new-ish song “Visiting Hours” because, as she noted in her caption accompanying the video, it’s “On Mortality.”
I’ve listened to the song several times today, including watching the video of its premiere on the occasion of the state memorial for Michael Gudinski in whose memory Sheeran wrote the song in tribute.
In addition to being incredibly talented, there are other reasons why this song at this time is topping charts and resonating worldwide with the global population that has endured the pandemic – paradoxically, collectively and in isolation.
The first line begins, “I wish that Heaven had visiting hours…”
If there was any doubt that people could connect with such a paradisiacal lyric before the pandemic, the doubt has been resolved. The past two years, we have realized that we wish for our world to have visiting hours, too.
In today’s reading, the prophet Jonah became so frustrated with God for not carrying out the evil He’d threatened against Nineveh that Jonah said, “I would be better off dead than alive.”
Then, when God asked Jonah if he had reason to be angry, Jonah responded with pathos, “I have reason to be angry. Angry enough to die.”
Recently, I met up with a friend who I hadn’t seen for quite some time. We were having one of those conversations that immediately cuts to the heart.
“What have you wrestled with God over lately?” my friend asked, as though this were a casual question friends discuss after years apart. “What has caused you even to be angry with Him?”
The deepest friendships and the deepest relationships admit such pathos and consternation.
The other day I met a woman who is a classical singer and musical therapist. Over lunch she told me about how she works with some stroke patients who cannot speak, yet who can sing.
The photo accompanying this post is from this article explaining how this works.
Take a look at this quick clip showing showing an example of neurologic music therapy:
This classical singer has also worked with orphans, palliative care patients, and others in vulnerable states.
Another musician at the lunch explained to us that the more complexity there is to the music, the more order the music can put into your soul. This led me to think: Instead of medical aid in dying, we need musical aid in suffering.
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:
Today is the 40th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s longtime secretary, was in Rome today marking the occasion and remembering cradling the pope as he felt “his body slip as if paralyzed and fall into my arms.”
The cardinal also reflected, “Today, 40 years after that event, and 16 years after his death, I think with fear of what it would have been like if we had lost him in St. Peter’s Square back then. How poor and different the world and our homeland, Poland, would have been without his witness of faith and doctrine, without his indications and his warnings in the face of the dangers and turmoil that can threaten us in today’s world.”
Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and this post examines Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Letter “With A Father’s Heart” to explore the practical ways in which we can see work as a context for self-gift through which we fulfill the meaning of our lives.
I have organized the themes of the letter into the following eight categories. Each category begins with a excerpt from the letter and then includes a question or two for our contemplation of some possible practical applications.
1. Names and Relationships:
Among my hobbies these days is attending a bioethics book club every two weeks on O. Carter Snead’s new book What It Means to Be Human: The Case for the Body in Public Bioethics. The book is about how the dominant view in our time of persons as expressive individualists contradicts the lived experience of our embodied reality. Snead analyzes why we go astray in our public bioethics when we do not account for the realities of vulnerability and mutual dependence in and throughout our lives.
Most recently the study group finished reading the chapter on Death and Dying. In it, Snead notes: “By far the most common rationales cited for seeking assisted suicide were concerns about ‘losing autonomy’ (92 percent) and being ‘less able to engage in activities making life enjoyable’ (91 percent).”
Since there are many reasons why we can lose autonomy and the ability to engage in activities that make life enjoyable, it is worth scrutinizing these ideas of “freedom” – the loss of which risks rendering life seemingly not worth living.
I am reminded of Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky’s reflections. In Sculpting in Time, he says: “And the longer I lived in the West the more curious and equivocal freedom seems to me. Freedom to take drugs? To kill? To commit suicide?”
He goes on:
Today there is a very interesting piece published in The New York Times titled, “There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing.”
This article describes the paradoxical combination of restlessness and lethargy that many people are now experiencing as “languishing.”
It turns out the etymology of the word is “to fail in strength, exhibit signs of approaching death” and the word is derived from the Latin word languere meaning to be listless, sluggish, and lacking in vigour.
The whole New York Times piece is very much worth reading because the author is not only articulate in describing the phenomenon but is also edifying in proposing some possible antidotes.
Adam Grant writes:
Thanks to a dear friend of mine who recommended this fantastic episode of The Rubin Report in which David Rubin speaks with Bishop Robert Barron and Rabbi David Wolpe about what Easter and Passover teach us about freedom and hope.
I am equally recommending the episode and could not be more impressed by the quality of Jewish-Catholic relations presented in this cordial and substantive conversation.
In the course of the discussion, Rabbi Wolpe says, “This South African author, Alan Paton, has a beautiful scene in one of his novels about a guy who goes to heaven and he comes before God and God says, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And he says, ‘I don’t have any wounds.’ And God says, ‘Why? Was there nothing worth fighting for?'”Continue reading