— 1 —
Season Five of the popular television series “The Walking Dead” debuted last Sunday. It wasn’t watched in our house as we did away with our satellite feed eleven months ago. Here’s one popular blogger’s description of what I missed:
In the first half-hour alone, there were was a huge explosion and raging fire, four executions by throat-slitting, numerous shots of humans butchered for cannibal feasts, zombies eating screaming people alive, Rick shivving two people in the throat and then machine-gunning another four in the back, and Carol smearing herself with a corpse’s entrails. The second half-hour brought us the Terminus henchman threatening to snap an infant’s neck before being beaten literally to death by Tyreese, followed by Carol hearing harrowing tales of rape from another Terminus flunky before shooting her in the thigh and leaving her to be ripped apart by the undead. Oh, right — there were also more allusions to serial rape in the episode’s final minutes. Basically, the entire 60 minutes was a sneak preview of daily life in ISIS’s caliphate. A show that’s forever threatening to put you to sleep decided to wake you up by punching you in the face repeatedly, and I gotta say — I kinda liked it.
I’m quoting this not to condemn or criticize those who are fans of the show, but merely to synthesize what we feed ourselves. For full disclosure I should mention that I watched the abbreviated first season’s six episodes, but stopped watching about halfway through season two.
I feel compelled to ask: How can anyone deny that we are immersing ourselves in a Culture of Death when this, and other things like it are celebrated in our media and pop culture? We moan and complain that someone has to be held accountable or responsible for the downward spiral of our society, yet who is ready or willing to hold themselves accountable?
Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful. —William Morris
I wrote this quote down recently in my journal having read it somewhere that I cannot remember. Morris is talking about our houses, but I think it also applies to our souls. It echoes what St. Paul wrote to the church members at Philippi:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
So with that in mind here are a few selected journal jottings from my recent retreat.
— 2 —
Imagine a clear, still lake. You can see a mirror reflection of the opposite shore and skyline in the still water that is as smooth as glass. Imagine a single, small pebble tossed onto the lake and the image being distorted by the ripple. The circular rings gradually growing in size and spreading over the mirror and disrupting the reflected image.
This is like the effect of sin on the human soul.
Post-lunch: I’m sitting with my eyes closed on the patio behind the dining hall. There is nothing like the sound of the South Dakota wind—through the trees, leaves, tall grasses—nothing. It’s the same as it was when I was a small boy lying on my back listening under the big blue skies with the puffiest white clouds in a field on my grandparent’s farm with their dog Smokey sitting beside me as my arm rested on his warm back.
The silence is so loud.
It was not nearly as dark inside St. Isadore’s tonight as it was two years ago. Has my “spiritual eyesight” improved?
— 3 —
By Lionel Johnson (1867-1902)
My windows open to the autumn night,
In vain I watch’d for sleep to visit me;
How should sleep dull mine ears, and dim my sight,
Who saw the stars, and listen’d to the sea?
Ah! How the City of our God is fair.
If, without sea and starless though it be:
For joy of the majestic beauty there,
Man shall not miss the stars not mourn the sea.
I read the second half of this poem in the forward to a book I brought on my retreat. It was not identified, and a quick search on the internet revealed the rest of the poem, its name and author.
We do not need to be on a remote, rural retreat to experience beauty in God’s creation. It is our responsibility, however, to slow ourselves down. To talk to our Creator through the use of prayer. To listen.
We must find an oasis of prayer in our spiritual desert pilgrimage.
— 4 —
One of our final readings and meditations was on Luke 24:13-35: The Road to Emmaus. My scribblings and notes below.
“Stay with us.” (v.29)
“Stay with me.”
Commit to time with the Lord at some point each day. A mini-retreat.
Ask God to help me find time for that “oasis of prayer” each day. In addition to the Eucharist or in the Sacraments.
Where are those times I recognize the Lord?
When are the times I can’t see Him?
From “slow of heart” (v.25) to “hearts burning within us” (v.32). This is how it is for us if we are of the world too much and not making time for an oasis of prayer in our lives each day. The world dulls our spiritual senses and our heart slows. A retreat is one way to stoke the fires within again and cause our hearts to burn with love for our Lord.
I have been praying for God to grant me Fortitude, Wisdom, and Hope. This weekend he showed me how to have all three: Prayer. Deep, communal prayer.
— 5 —
#5 is a passage from a book I’m reading that combines two of my favorite subjects: St. Ignatius and the Camino de Santiago. The author is setting out on his trek accompanied by his wife Evie, and the company of saints he has asked to “walk” with him.
Along with my chortling mother, I wanted to share the Camino experience with my younger brother. Growing up together I hated to share anything with the obnoxious, competitive creep. But then we did grow up and, as so often happens, became best friends.
Almost every workday Adam and I sent each other short e-mails, his from an office on the 104th floor of the World Trade Center in New York City. Regardless of the content of our messages, the subject lines always referenced Jack Daniel’s. On the morning of September 11, 2001, Adam’s message was cryptically entitled, “JDJDJackJDJDDanielsJDJD.” In it Adam noted that the account he was in the office early to work on that day “will be the end of me.” That fateful morning my brother and best friend, J. Adam Larson, became one of the casualties of the horrific terrorist attack on our country.
Ten years later, I continue to be consoled by words of Saint Ignatius, who considered all of life on earth a pilgrimage, with heaven as its destination.
If we had our fatherland and true peace in our sojourn in this world, it would be a great loss to us when persons or things which gave us so much happiness are taken away. But being as we are pilgrims on this earth, with our lasting city in the kingdom of heaven, we should not consider it a great loss when those whom we love in our Lord depart a little before us, for we shall follow them before long to the place where Christ our Lord and Redeemer has prepared for us a most happy dwelling in His bliss.
Keeping Company with Saint Ignatius: Walking the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, by Luke J. Larson, pages 42-43.
I, too, have come to see life as a pilgrimage. Many refer to it as a journey, and it surely is that. But there is a difference between the two. A journey is the act of traveling from one place to another. A pilgrimage is defined as being longer than a journey, with the destination being a sacred place.
In this life we may make several journeys. Not all of them will have an end destination defined and we’ll find ourselves simply floating on the stream of this life. I believe that every step (and even misstep) along the path is necessary and brings me closer to that sacred place in which I will share eternity.
I am a pilgrim.
A praying pilgrim.
A Prayer for One’s Vocation in Life
Lord, make me a better person: more considerate toward others,
more honest with myself, more faithful to you.
Help me to find my true vocation in life and grant that through it
I may find happiness myself
and bring happiness to others.
(from The Manual of Prayers, p. 302.)