An Advent Tale of Two Cities: New York and Rome

Pope Francis visits US Congress in 2015

His Holiness Pope Francis visited the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015, and became the first pope to address a joint meeting of United States Congress. (Photo in public domain.)

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

In Rome, in recent days, Pope Francis quoted Isaiah 40:1, “Comfort, comfort my people,” and startled the world by extending merciful reconciliation for having had an abortion—beyond the year-long Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which ends this month (November 2016). One year ago, the pontiff had declared that, during the special Jubilee year, he was allowing priests to forgive an abortion in the sacrament of reconciliation, also known as confession. In Francis’s words: “I can and must state that there is no sin that God’s mercy cannot reach and wipe away when it finds a repentant heart seeking to be reconciled with the Father.”

In New York City, in recent days, another world leader invited journalists to a private meeting at his building—then berated them, letting them know that years of confrontation lie ahead.

The comparisons of detail-for-detail, city-for-city could go on and on, but this is not a political column. It’s a ReadTheSpirit cover story on a question our readers have been asking us over and over again this month. That question: How do we continue to promote reconciliation and celebrate our diversity in a world that we can only describe along with Charles Dickens in this way?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.

As a lifelong Dickens’ fan, to be honest, I never cared for A Tale of Two Cities. As a relatively short Dickens novel, the book was required reading in many public schools back in the ’60s and ’70s. Even at that time, I greatly preferred Dickens’ true masterpieces that plumb his responses to poverty, abuse, cynicism and utter Darkness in the world. If you are finding yourself thinking of diving into a Dickens master work over the holidays, please—by all means—tackle the mother ship of the Dickensian realm: Bleak House. (Two years ago, ReadTheSpirit actually encouraged a “group read” of that novel, if you care to look back.)

‘A Little Better All the Time’?

The point here is: As Baby Boomers, millions of us grew up with the assumption—eagerly promoted by many post-Great Depression and post-World War II parents—that our world would only get better, one step at a time. Yes, the Civil Rights Movement claimed countless victims, both in terms of scars and actual fatalities. Yes, our war in Vietnam claimed victims, too. Yes, the battle for LGBT inclusion claimed victims. But, collectively, we Baby Boomers could assume with the Beatles: “I have to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.”

Talking with dozens of readers as American Thanksgiving 2016 came and went this month, more than a few of you have also mentioned the death of Leonard Cohen as “one more thing I’m in grief about this month,” as one interfaith leader put it. Perhaps the prophetic poet/songwriter was telling us all something with his final album, released just last month (October 2016), titled You Want It Darker. Like many other Cohen fans, I remember thinking the title and the music were sly and amusing—back in those heady days of October before Election Day. The album’s title was just more biting Cohen satire, I thought—as did many of us.

Now, I think we may find ourselves mining the album’s lyrics, such as this chorus from the song Treaty:

I wish there was a treaty we could sign
I do not care who takes this bloody hill
I’m angry and I’m tired all the time
I wish there was a treaty
I wish there was a treaty
Between your love and mine

‘Comfort, comfort my people.’

Or perhaps that’s a fool’s errand—as Cohen himself likely would have said at such a thought in such a column as this. Perhaps we all—whether we are Christian or not—should mine the words of Francis as this new liturgical year begins. Let’s close with a few lines from the pope’s recent Apostolic Letter:

“Comfort, comfort my people” (Is 40:1) is the heartfelt plea that the prophet continues to make today, so that a word of hope may come to all those who experience suffering and pain. Let us never allow ourselves to be robbed of the hope born of faith in the Risen Lord. True, we are often sorely tested, but we must never lose our certainty of the Lord’s love for us. His mercy finds expression also in the closeness, affection and support that many of our brothers and sisters can offer us at times of sadness and affliction. The drying of tears is one way to break the vicious circle of solitude in which we often find ourselves trapped.

All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters.

Think about printing out these words and carrying them with you in coming weeks. Perhaps it will remind you, when you’re feeling things are just a bit too dark now, to refuse to pull back from friends and colleagues—to reach out, instead, in “a reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood,” as Francis puts it.

“Comfort, comfort my people”

 

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Carrie Newcomer interview on ‘The Beautiful Not Yet’

Winter is the oldest season,
But quickly beneath the snow,
Seeds are stretching out and reaching,
Faithful as the morning glow.
Carry nothing, but what you must.
Lean in toward the Light.
Today is now, tomorrow beckons.
Lean in toward the Light.
Keep practicing resurrection.

.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. See below for an Amazon link to the album.

Rising from the heart of our nation, central Indiana, comes the voice of Quaker singer-writer Carrie Newcomer in the form of a new album and a book of essays and poetry, collectively called: The Beautiful Not Yet.

That title—so filled with promise and a yearning for a better world—may seem to have an ironic twist to millions of Americans in mid-November 2016. Half of Americans are grieving the loss of a historic election; and the half that “won” are anxious about what comes next. Carrie’s voice and words are uniquely tuned to speak to all of us, since her life’s work is rooted in the same geographic breadbasket of the country that fueled the populist movement that has stunned the world. But let’s be clear: This column is not about politics. It’s an overview of what Carrie has produced—and said in an interview held before Election Day—and the healing power of her message at this uncharted turn in our history.

“Kindness, generosity, hospitality and compassion.” Any of our readers who already know Carrie Newcomer’s body of work will recognize those as her personal watchwords for approaching individuals and, for that matter, the whole world. Obviously, that motto is far from the rhetoric on both sides of America’s cultural divide in late 2016.

So, let’s turn to another major theme in Carrie’s work—a theme as old as Psalm 90, which ends with the prayer:

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands—
O prosper the work of our hands!

Thousands of years ago, the creator of Psalm 90—a singer-songwriter of that era—closed his hymn about the harsh, unexpected twists and turns of life with a simple plea to God that we all be permitted to do some useful daily work. This Psalm has been recited and prayed by millions of souls down through the millennia. Right now, these could be lines out of Carrie’s own poetry and music.

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Carrie Newcomer

In all of her work, Carrie calls us to return on a daily basis to thankfulness for the miracles of everyday life, wherever we find ourselves in our daily work. One of her new songs begins:

A shovel is a prayer to the farmer’s foot,
When she steps down and the soft earth gives way.

A baby is a prayer when it’s finally asleep,
A whispered, “Amen,” at the end of a day.

In an essay, titled Miracle, Light and Considerable Magic, she writes:

The world is made of water and dust, ordinary physical things, but all of them are filled with miracle, Light and considerable magic. When I see the world with this frame, small things take on a luminous quality and daily actions become a sacrament. There is no need to wait for a miracle as proof—the miracle we need is already here.
Holy is the dish and drain,

The soap and sink and the cup and plate
And warm wool socks, and the cold white tile,
Showerheads and good dry towels
And frying eggs sound like psalms
With a bit of salt measured in my palm,
It’s all a part of a sacrament,
As holy as a day is spent.

TAKING HEART IN DREAMS OF FLYING

In our recent interview with Carrie, before Election Day, we discussed these timeless themes. Much like the creator of Psalm 90, Carrie’s music and her book both confront our fleeting mortality and the shocking twists and turns we all experience in life. In an essay titled Another Kind of Flying, she zeroes in on our culture’s denial of mortality. In several pages of prose, she invites us to take apart the individual moments in our life and appreciate that—for all the somber truth of mortality—we are always capable of discovering “moments of glorious flight.”

“Think about a waterfall,” Carrie said in our interview. “We know all about gravity, so looking at that waterfall, it may simply seem like water falling down. The question I raise in that essay is this: Can you see that waterfall as more than just water falling? Perhaps we are witnessing a different kind of flying. For a moment, those drops of water are in mid air.

“And, of course, I’m talking about mortality. If we fully grasp the idea that we are mortal—we’re all quickly falling like the waterfall or the words in Psalm 90—then we can begin to appreciate how every moment we are flying through this air is so precious. We live in that curious promise of very limited time on this earth. We need to ask: What does that mean in terms of the way we appreciate and shape each moment we have, each conversation, each interaction with others.”

One of the most powerful songs on the new album is Three Feet or So.

“I wanted to affirm the idea that we may not be able to change the whole world, but we can change what is three feet around us. We have enormous power to create positive change in the world in how we choose to live our daily lives,” Carrie said. “That’s such an important affirmation. All the things that have personally saved us throughout our lives—compassion, generosity, hospitality, kindness, good parenting and a sense of humor—those things don’t suddenly vanish from our lives because we’re living through a particularly brutal political season.

“These things are still here with us—at least within three feet or so, I say—and they’re completely accessible within us—and with the people immediately around us. I have been working a lot with Parker Palmer and he calls this ‘the news within.’ The idea is: We’re getting a lot of information from a thousand screens a day and that’s the news without. There’s another source, though, and that’s news from within. What we really need is still right here with us.”

LEARNING TO WALK IN THE DARK

Carrie’s new book and album also includes a moving meditation on ideas from Barbara Brown Taylor, especially Taylor’s memoir Learning to Walk in the Dark. Carrie’s song Help in Hard Times is almost an anthem summarizing the central theme of Taylor’s memoir. At one point, she sings:

Bruised and bewildered I am looking out the door,
Unsure of how to do what I’ve never done before.

But I am not alone, with my questions and my fears,
When the old moon is done, the new moon appears.

“I was very touched by Barbara Brown Taylor’s book,” Carrie said in our interview. “Parker Palmer and I were developing a music-and-spoken-word collaboration—and parts of this album and book are from that work we’ve been doing together. Barbara Brown Taylor’s book is closely related to what we’ve been discussing so I included that idea and those questions. What do we do in the dark? What do we do in hard times? We can be afraid. We can spend way too much time focusing on the question: Why do hard times happen? Instead, I’m saying we should be asking: Who will help me heal the wound? How do I walk forward in this hard life?

A closely related song on the new album is called Sanctuary.
Will you be my refuge,
My haven in a storm,
Will you keep the embers warm,
When my fire’s all but gone?

“I asked Parker Palmer the question, ‘What does a person do when they’re personally or politically heartbroken?’ ” Carrie said in our interview. “And he told me: ‘Sometimes, the best thing to do is take sanctuary. There is time for positive action and doing good works in the world—and hopefully we do that daily—but there are times when we need to rest in the arms of sanctuary with an individual or with our community and draw on the love, the courage and the strength we can find there.”

TAPE THIS TO YOUR MIRROR!

Ultimately, the book accompanying this album is a book to tear apart. In his book, A Guide for Caregivers, Benjamin Pratt suggests carrying around slips of paper that can lift your spirits in tough times. He likes to tape those slips of paper places where you can’t escape them. Carrie Newcomer’s new book is perfect for tearing apart and posting bits and pieces all over the landscape of your life.

One of the best is a short poem, called Kindness.

Kindness is human size,
Honest and doable,
Softening even the hardest of days,
The country cousin to love,
Unpretentious,
And daily,
And completely possible.
It takes out its earbuds
And listens to your story.
It gives up its seat on the bus
And hums in the kitchen,
Washing dishes when nobody asked it to.
And more often than not,
If I start with a little kindness
Love is usually following
Just a few steps behind
Nodding and smiling
And saying,
“That’s the way it’s done.”
“Yes, honey,
That’s the way it is done.”

.

Care to read more?

ORDER THE BOOK and ALBUM—Amazon may offer both, if you carefully navigate either the book or the CD page on Amazon. But here are the individual links. The book is available in paperback. The album is available in audio-CD, MP3 or streaming via Amazon.

VISIT CARRIE’S HOMEPAGE—At www.CarrieNewcomer.com you can learn about all of her other work, plus you can check on her public appearances.

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Publishers Weekly on David Gushee: ‘Debunking an Imagined Past’

Gushee author photoIn the November 7, 2016, issue of Publishers Weekly, the magazine devoted an full-page profile to author David Gushee, by PW writer Robin Farmer.

The article referred to Gushee’s A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, the follow-up to his landmark Changing Our Mind.

This PW issue went to press before Election Day, but Farmer quotes Gushee as explaining prophetically: “I was already beginning to see the appeal of Donald Trump to at least a certain part of the white Christian community, and I was trying to make sense of that without focusing on a particular individual. … A widely felt anxiety is one of the major stories of the American election of 2016, so I wanted to offer an alternative kind of spirit and vision, at least for Christian readers.”

Just after Election Day, veteran journalism scholar Stewart Hoover posted four columns all arguing that the biggest mistake forecasters made in recent months was misunderstanding Trump’s deep appeal to “white Christians.” In one column, Hoover writes that “White Christians were the central demographic driving the rhetorical success of Trump’s call to make things great again. For them, that meant a return to the 1950s. The resonance of the ’50s clearly has more than just the prospects of waged labor in it. It is resonant because it was the time when things made the most cultural sense, when a White Protestant moral architecture defined values, behaviors, and public images.”

In PW, speaking to Farmer before Election Day, Gushee said, “We have all this nostalgia about the Christian values of our past. That’s very strong among conservative Christians, but it is usually uninformed by serious reflection on all the evils of American history.” He calls it “a white nostalgia for an imaginary Christian past that doesn’t take seriously the problems of racism,” among other ills.

Gushee said he wants “my fellow Christians” to “lift your head up, don’t be hysterical, try to be as constructive as you can be and engage in our culture at this time. And try to see the good in our country as well as the things we are concerned about.”

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America’s Father James Martin on saints, silliness and a serious need for civility

James Martin on a New York rooftop

Father James Martin, SJ, Editor at Large of America magazine and best-selling author.

By DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine

Father James Martin, SJ, is one of America’s most famous Catholic priests—known for such a hearty sense of humor that he wrote an entire book about holy mirth and appeared several times on The Colbert Report. But in late 2016, Martin is deadly serious about one thing: the need to restore civility and balance to our public discourse.

As usual, he has high hopes.

Martin sees inspiration in a host of unfolding events he’s spotted around the world. This is the 10th anniversary of his memoir-and-overview-of-sacred-heroes, called My Life with the SaintsHe’s justifiably proud that this volume has sold an astonishing 200,000-plus copies. That’s the territory of blockbuster mystery novels! He takes inspiration from his discovery that at least some of his readers are teenagers who regard the saints as guides for their own lives. That’s the territory of YA books like Hunger Games and Harry Potter. And Martin also is proud this month of the way Pope Francis is welcoming the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation as an opportunity for religious reconciliation. That’s—well, that’s historically unprecedented!

Finally, he’s pleased to see a generally favorable view of the Catholic church emerging in popular culture today. Why?

“I can describe that changing public attitude toward the Church in three words: Francis. Francis. Francis,” Martin says in a new interview with ReadTheSpirit.

(NOTE TO READERS: He also visited our magazine earlier this year to talk about his book on Lent. This is a perfect time to pick up a copy of that book as a holiday gift for a friend who will be observing Lent in the new year. His other visits to our magazine have included this interview about his book From Heaven to Mirth, and also this column about his book Jesus: A Pilgrimage.)

FRANCIS RESHAPING THE CATHOLIC STORY

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. Be sure to order this special 10th anniversary edition of Martin’s book, which contains added content.

Worldwide, the public image of the Catholic church has shifted dramatically since the election of Pope Fancis in the spring of 2013. This isn’t merely Martin’s opinion. The Pew Research Center found dramatic change in a survey after the pope’s visit to the U.S. a year ago. At that time, Pew found attitudes shifting particularly among self-identified American “liberals” and “moderates,” groups that had been more critical of the papacy. Pew reported in part:

Nearly four-in-ten liberals (39%) say they have a more positive view of the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis, dwarfing the 4% of liberals who say they have a more negative view of the church. And among ideological moderates, 31% say their view of the Catholic Church has improved because of Pope Francis, while only 5% of moderates say their view of the church has become more negative.

As Editor at Large for America magazine, Martin writes regularly about the Catholic church’s role in the world. He’s seen this shift in attitudes in his own travels.

“I think the image of Catholic priests has changed,” Martin says. “To put it simply, the focus in American media has changed from, let’s say, 2002—when it was all about news of priest pedophiles—to 2016—when it’s all about, ‘We love your pope!’ That doesn’t mean it’s a shift in the church’s image across the board—and it doesn’t mean the sex-abuse crisis is behind us—but Pope Francis clearly has captured the imagination of the world.”

SAINTS GO MARCHING IN

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

This shift in attitude is broader than Francis—and, again, Martin’s experience is evidence. When he published My Life with the Saints a decade ago, he expected a successful book. He had written or edited a number of well-received books over the years. But he had no idea these stories of saints, coupled with his own personal reflections, would soar past the 100,000-copy best-seller mark and go on to top 200,000 copies sold.

Five years later in 2011, he added another book heavily drawing on stories of saints in relation to a theme he especially loves: the value of laughter in spiritual life.

Doubling the best-seller mark as Martin did with his 2006 book is a milestone most authors will only ever dream of achieving. Why did that book catch fire?

“The first reason is: It’s the work of the Spirit,” says Martin. “The second reason might be that people were ready for real lives of the saints, not lives of the saints told in a legendary way. The real life is more interesting than the legend.”

Martin is referring to centuries-old volumes of hagiography, better known as “lives of the saints,” that are available in popular editions to this day. In that genre, the saints often suffer gruesome challenges to their faith, perform miracles and emerge after death with blessings for their various patrons. Martin’s book is different. He does include Joan of Arc, who suffered horrendous torture, as well as officially canonized figures. But he also includes men and women he hopes will someday be canonized by the church. It’s a contemporary spiritual window into the realm of spiritual heroes.

“I think the third reason that book did so well is that it’s a very honest and personal book,” Martin says. “And it’s organized around the trajectory of my own spiritual life as I encountered these saints. The book invites readers to find their way into the lives of the saints with me.”

One of Martin’s most startling discoveries was the book’s appeal among teenagers. “The book caught on with parish reading groups and individual readers who enjoy spiritual books—traditional ways books like this are read. But I remember visiting Boston College High School, where I found that a French class had read the lives of Joan of Arc, Therese of Liseux and Bernadette Soubirous from my book. Then, the students wrote essays in French about their lives.

“That totally blew me away! These were high school juniors who actually were interested in these lives! What I had forgotten was that all of these saints were very young. It was exciting to discover these young people making new connections with these saints.”

Martin believes that, like Francis’s influence on the Church’s public image, the canonization of Mother Teresa—and the volumes of her own writings that have appeared since her death—have shifted the public image of saints.

“We literally put saints on pedestals,” says Martin. “We certainly do that in churches and we do something similar in our own assumptions about them. We think that saints must have led perfect lives. They were totally consoled by God whenever they needed it. But that’s not the case. Many saints really struggled with this and Teresa revealed that in her writings. We know that she spent many, many years living her life on an empty spiritual tank. She was honest about this and that makes her example all the more inspiring to people.”

A CALL FOR CIVILITY, RECONCILIATION

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page. This excellent overview of the 1517 milestone by historian Martin Marty comes with a foreword by James Martin, SJ.

Once again, Martin says, Pope Francis is showing the world a dramatic, personal example of reconciliation in his approach to the dawn of the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation. (Here is an earlier column about the Reformation milestone in our magazine.)

“It’s a great moment for reconciliation,” Martin says. “For Francis to go to Sweden at the start of the anniversary year and have a joint prayer service with the Lutheran church—and then hug the female Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelén—it’s all a great sign of reconciliation. Then, to talk about moving toward a shared Eucharist! Both churches have been moving together for many years. The Protestant world is becoming more liturgical; and the Catholic world is becoming more scriptural. I think this is all fantastic!”

Martin also is modeling this reconciliation by contributing a foreword to historian Martin Marty’s excellent overview of the most famous milestone in Reformation history.

(NOTE TO READERS: You may think you’ve had your fill of books—or films or documentaries—about the Reformation. But, Marty’s book is a smart, concise overview and Martin uses his foreword to correct some mistaken impressions about that era as well. ReadTheSpirit recommends this book along with the other James Martin titles we’ve shown, above. The Reformation anniversary year is just beginning—the October 31, 1517, book could make a timely holiday gift for someone interested in religion and history.)

This is in keeping with Martin’s consistent approach in all of his public appearances—whether writing for America magazine, publishing books or presenting workshops and public talks. For journalists and for religious leaders, he says, honesty, balance and civility remain essential values. Although Martin prefers to avoid political commentary, he does stress that these values are especially needed after the fury of the 2016 political campaigns in the U.S.

“This year, the level of insults, hate speech and invective have been profoundly depressing for most Americans—at least I hope that’s the case. I hope people aren’t delighting in this,” Martin says. “I’ve found the toxic language shocking. This has lowered our standards to the point where I wonder how long it’s going to take for us to recover.”

Journalists should model a civil approach to public discourse, Martin says. “I realize that I’m a public figure and I’m very careful about what I say. I want to ensure that what I’m saying is always accurate and charitable and helpful for people.”

As a Christian, Martin says, “I think of Matthew 5:22, where Jesus says that you may get angry at people but the worst thing you can do is call someone a fool, which I read as ‘engage in hate speech.’ If you do that, Jesus says, you’re going to Hell. Jesus says that so clearly in the Gospel, but many people just blithely ignore that.”

Going forward, Martin advises, “We need to remember that we can be charitable in presenting our views. We can give people the benefit of the doubt. We shouldn’t engage in hate speech, or insults, or name-calling—even though that may be difficult in this era of social media. I think that, if we remember to do these things, we can’t go wrong.”

 

 

 

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World Series spiritual recap: Did you watch the faces?

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the years, many of our readers—and some of our contributing writers—tell us that America’s love affair with baseball is downright spiritual. In fact, author Rodney Curtis wrote a book on that theme: Hope’s Diamond, which was reviewed by another of our authors, Benjamin Pratt. Rodney and Benjamin are our resident shamans of the sport. So, as the Cubs won the series for the first time in more than a century, we invited Ben to do a spiritual recap. Here it is …

By BENJAMIN PRATT

world-series-fans-1Did you watch the faces?

One minute somber; the next radiating joy and excitement. Hands cupped, spired upward over mouth and nose, eyes fixed in reverent gaze, lips mouthing hope. Faith is reflected in eyes and faces that light up with joy—and then contrast with a somber, disgruntled doubtful stare. We might have seen such expressions at a campaign rally—or perhaps at a religious revival. Yet, there they were: Expressions of life’s highs and lows amidst the tangled web of Cubs’ and Indians’ fans at the World Series ball parks.

To watch the passion, the shift from faith to doubt, the formation of community, the miracles, the blessings and curses of these games is to experience the ineffable. You cannot define the ineffable, but you can experience it and know it profoundly. It is what we know when we are in awe of nature or beauty, or when we feel love for a child or mate or God.

Baseball parks are sacred places to some. Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, is sometimes called the “Cathedral of Baseball.” It is treated like a shrine by some fans who have spread the cremains of loved ones there. Chicago funeral director, Brooke Benjamin, was quoted in the Chicago Sunday Times saying, “There are pounds and pounds of cremated remains at Wrigley.” One man even confessed to Benjamin that he had left a bit of his Dad at the ballpark. Sacred Ground!

Life is filled with blessings, curses, religion and baseball. Gay Talese put it aptly: “Like religion, the game of baseball is founded on aspirations rarely met. It generates far more failure than fulfillment.” Face it, if you get a hit one out of three times at bat you will be a league leader.

I have found no book that deals as brilliantly with the relationship of baseball and the religious experience as Baseball As A Road To God, by John Sexton, president of New York University, devout Roman Catholic—and baseball fan. In the formation of this book, Sexton was supported by Thomas Oliphant and Peter Schwartz; the foreword was written by another devoted baseball fan, Doris Kearns Goodwin. Sexton says, “If we open ourselves to the rhythms and intricacies of the game, if we sharpen our noticing capacity, if we allow the timelessness and intensity of the game’s most magnificent moments to shine through, the resulting heightened sensitivity might give us a sense of the ineffable, the transcendent.”

What more needs be said, except, “Wait’ll Next Year!”

Benjamin Pratt is a frequent contributor to ReadTheSpirit magazine and the author of several books, including Short Stuff from a Tall Guy.

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Roger Housden, Dropping the Struggle: Excerpt from Struggle with Change

AN EXCERPT from Roger Housden’s Dropping the Struggle

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Change itself is the one certainty we can be absolutely sure of. You might say this is obvious. We all know this already. Except that we don’t, or at least we don’t often act as if we do, when change arrives on our doorstep. We may have lived for years as the lead character in a story that has enabled us to feel secure in our job, in our family relationships, in our place in the world. Or we may have lived for decades secure in the story of our suffering, the injustice done to us, the bad hand we were given.

Either way, our belief in the story is what creates some sense of a solid identity, which in turn gives us the illusion of security. But then the house of cards can fall at any time, as we also know from our experience, which is why, deep down, however rosy our picture may seem, a constant vein of subliminal anxiety about what might happen next is likely to be running through us.

Our life is already, even now, slipping through our fingers. So given that nothing we are familiar with, including ourselves, is going to last, how can we live another day without breaking out into a cold sweat?

We can bow to whatever passes across our landscape. We can trust the inscrutable intelligence of the life that is living us, as it is showing up for us, in this very moment. If it is sorrow, let us make friends with sorrow. Let us not drown but swim in the waters of sorrow. Naomi Shihab Nye, in her wonderful poem “Kindness,” says that if you are ever to know what kindness really is,

You must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

Why does she say this? Because the experience of loss brings us close, not only to someone dear whom we may have lost but to the whole of humanity; for every individual has and always will know loss. Loss breaks the heart open, and when the heart breaks open we become a kindness to ourselves and to the world.

In the great themes of life—love, loss, parting, and death—poetry can surpass scripture in slipping the visceral experience of a deep truth into the bloodstream. It feeds the imagination with shimmering images more than the mind with the letter of the truth. In his Sonnets to Orpheus, Rilke urges us:

Want the change. Be inspired by the flame
Where everything shines as it disappears.
(translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy)

Exquisite image! Why does he exhort us to want the change? Because change is the way it is. We harbor notions of what is good for us and what is not, and try to organize and strategize accordingly. Yet life does what it does without concern for our preferences, so Rilke is urging us to look beyond the parade of circumstances and events to the fundamental fact of change itself. In wanting the change, we are aligning ourselves with truth, with what is already happening.

We flow rather than self-consciously make our way. In that flow, the sense of who we are and where we are going becomes more malleable and fluid, more responsive to the conditions around us instead of bound by fixed beliefs and agendas. In the flow of change, we forget ourselves, and a deeper remembrance emerges—the remembrance of being always and ever joined to a greater life—not as an elegant concept but as a lived experience in the moment.

So Rilke is urging us to want the change that is happening, to embrace it, whatever it is. If we are in the middle of a divorce, let it be that. If we have lost our job, let it be that, and if we are dying, may it be so. Of course it’s not easy. Nobody willingly allows herself to be dismembered, torn apart, crushed like a grape between the fingers. The ego will never assent to the sacrifice of the story it has so lovingly tended. The impulse must come from something else in us, another organ of awareness, you might say, that knows somehow, however much it hurts, however much we may be on the rack—a sacrificial lamb, it may seem to us—that what is happening is true, necessary, inevitable, and ultimately, therefore, good. .

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Care to read more?

Roger Housden is the author of many books, including the best-selling Ten Poems series, which began in 2001 with Ten Poems to Change Your Life and ended with Ten Poems to Say Goodbye in 2012. He offers writing workshops, both in person and online, with an emphasis on self-discovery and exploration. Visit him online at www.RogerHousden.com. (The above excerpt is from Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. Copyright © 2016 by Roger Housden. Printed with permission from New World Library: www.newworldlibrary.com.

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Roger Housden, Dropping the Struggle: Excerpt from the Introduction

AN EXCERPT from Roger Housden’s Dropping the Struggle

Is it possible to love the life you have—acknowledging and accepting the conditions of your life exactly as they are—and drop the struggle to make you and your life different? That is the question that spiritual teacher and author Roger Housden invites readers to explore in Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. We hope you’ll enjoy this excerpt from the book’s introduction.

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roger-housden-author-of-dropping-the-struggle

Roger Housden

Until a few years ago I had spent the greater part of my time in a more or less covert struggle with life. However well things were going, I often felt that something was not quite right. Either I didn’t want what turned up in quite the form it appeared, or I wanted something else that never quite materialized in the way I would have hoped. Always there was the pervasive feeling that something was missing, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on.

So I struggled to find the missing piece. I struggled for meaning and ran all over India and the Middle East looking for it. I struggled to feel that I was somebody rather than nobody, I struggled to find creative work that inspired me, I struggled with the past and with concerns for the future, I struggled in relationships, I struggled to improve myself, and sometimes I even struggled to get out of bed in the morning instead of hiding under the sheets. And yes, I would struggle to avoid the fact that I am not built to last and that the whole Roger show would be over before I’d even had time to discover what on earth it was all about.

And yet for much of my life I wasn’t even aware that I was struggling. It was so normal, and often so subtle—the background banter in my head as I went about my day—that I never even thought to call it a struggle; until, that is, I gradually became intimate enough with myself to acknowledge the feeling tones with which I moved through the day and to see through the ways I made my own life so needlessly difficult. Now the struggles are mostly over, or when they aren’t, I manage to see them more quickly for what they are and remember—mostly—to step out of the ring. Call it the natural wisdom of aging if you like. If I have not learned to drop the struggle by now, I probably never will.

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Click the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Struggle happens for all of us, so it must have a place in the scheme of things, but I for one have spent way too much time struggling for what struggle can never accomplish. For struggle is not the same as effort—what is sometimes called “right effort.” We all need to make an effort in every area of our life, effort that allows us to fulfill an intention or that edges us toward what we know to be true, even if we don’t inhabit it now. Life doesn’t just provide us with food and shelter as a natural right. Roger Federer didn’t become the tennis champion he is without effort. If you are anything like me, you didn’t make it through college without effort. Effort is a natural exertion of the personal will toward a specified end.

But struggle is an added push that is born of fear. Ultimately, it is born of the fear of not surviving, of dissolving and disappearing, not just as a physical form but as a psychological self. Struggle reinforces the ego’s identity. It is one of the ways the ego asserts its existence.

Yet struggle will never get us the things we want most—love; meaning; presence; freedom from anxiety over the past and future; contentment with ourselves exactly as we are, imperfections and all; the acceptance of our mortality—because these things lie outside the ego’s domain. For these, we need another way. That way begins and ends in surrender, in letting go of our resistance to life as it presents itself.

We struggle with reality when we lose touch with the dimension of our being that is not defined by our egoic identity. Who or what is larger than the ego? You are. This book is dedicated to that larger, indefinable you, to reminding you to rest back into the life you already have, just as it is. And I say “reminding you” because deep down we already know. It’s easier than you think, but it takes more than an hour-long yoga class.

It takes an allowing, in the form of a persistent, deep, and courageous Yes! to life right now. That Yes doesn’t wave away the pain of the world as mere illusion; neither does it attempt to become some detached awareness or witness safely removed from the trials of life. It doesn’t mean not caring about what happens in the world or in our own lives. It means caring so much that the heart spills open. It means being willing to be fully here where we are, wherever we are, however dark or light it happens to be.

When that Yes happens, we open our arms to life as it appears and disappears, moment to moment. We fall back into the larger aliveness that we already are, out of range of the ego’s dictates. This is true relaxation; it is what we are here for. And it is what this book is for: to help you celebrate seven different ways of dropping the struggle and loving the life you already have.

Care to read more?

Roger Housden is the author of many books, including the best-selling Ten Poems series, which began in 2001 with Ten Poems to Change Your Life and ended with Ten Poems to Say Goodbye in 2012. He offers writing workshops, both in person and online, with an emphasis on self-discovery and exploration. Visit him online at www.RogerHousden.com. (The above excerpt is from Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have. Copyright © 2016 by Roger Housden. Printed with permission from New World Library: www.newworldlibrary.com.

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