Thursday, February 20, 2014

Journal of a Soul 44

And What or Who Keeps you Going?

That is a good question indeed.  Especially when some people give up on life, while others apparently, no matter how tough life is for them, manage somehow to "keep on keeping on." In case you don't know the provenance of those last several words, they come from a song of Bob Dylan called Tangled Up In Blue.  That song is one of my favourites from the pen of Bob Dylan as it has haunting lyrics which show the deep inner longing of a drifter for love, companionship or meaning in his life.  Interestingly, Dylan mixes past, present and future tenses in this song with consummate ease, with an readiness of transition that is magical. Indeed he changes person, too, from verse to verse, even changing the "I" of the first verse to "he" and "she" in his later concerts.  But that only adds to the magic, wonder and beauty of this wonderful song.  Lest I lose my path in this post, I had better curb my musical passions here, and point out that the phrase "keep on keeping on" is an important one for me that shows the strength, persistence and determination of the traveller or wayfarer in life. Now let me turn my attention to the question posed in the title of this post.  What, indeed, you may ask, keeps me going?  Let me attempt to list those reasons in no particular order.

1. My Job.  

I remember Pat Kenny, one of our foremost broadcasters here in Ireland, remarking that he was lucky as his hobby became his profession.  He was luckier still as he is currently the best paid broadcaster in the country at 66 years of age.  While few of us can boast the contentment Kenny talks about, some of us do get immeasurable satisfaction from our work.  At the moment, I count myself one of those lucky souls.  Not that my job was always that rewarding.  It's just that I was lucky to realize that m  y job was driving me crazy at 48 and I decided to change track.  In all of that, self-awareness is of utmost importance. There is simply no sense in staying in a job that is soul-destroying.  So I retrained as a Resource and Special Education teacher and left the main stream classroom to begin working with autistic boys, mainly those with Asperger's Syndrome in the area of Social Skills and Communications.  I also do learning support in Mathematics for the school at large.  This is all extremely rewarding work as I can see the results of my labour on a daily basis.  I suppose the big thing in this work on a personal level is simply being needed.  That is why being unemployed leads to such depression in the lives of those afflicted with that dreadful problem.

2. My Creative Outlets

Creativity can never be underestimated as it is literally the food of the soul if I may use a metaphor.  Ever since I can remember I have been a writer, and over the years I have had many bits and pieces published here and there.  In these more recent days I have been engaged in blogging.  This latter has been a soul-saver for me as it allows me to instantly publish online the ideas and, more correctly and importantly, my concerns online.  I also write poems in two languages, English obviously, and then, also, in my native tongue, Gaeilge or Gaelic or as it is more commonly called Irish.  By writing, I am engaged in getting to know myself better, and consequently becoming more contented.  If one reads and writes poems as I do, then you will appreciate that poetry does not really sell, that getting published is difficult to say the least.  However, I remind myself often, as one poet wisely counselled me once, that it is more important that a person writes a poem than that many people read it.  If only a few others read it, in a writing group or in some community setting, then that is the reward.

Other creative outlets are reading, listening to music, travelling and going out with friends. Lest this become like a boring list of my hobbies as would appear on a CV, let me proceed onto the next point.

3. My Spirituality or Religion 

In more recent times, religion has become a somewhat sullied word, while spirituality has become a more positive one.  In my young day, I remember the good things about religion: (i) the sense of wonder evoked by what seemed to me as a child to be very colourful and dignified services, (ii) the sense of a mystery or something divine beyond me, (iii) the beauty of the Latin language and of the hymns and (iv) the sense of the unity within the community. I have long ceased to be a practising Catholic, but I can still tap into some of those old feelings when I attend funerals, baptisms, and Christmas and Easter services.  

However, secularization has long since consigned the role of religion in Ireland to the periphery of life.  As well as a more secularized society, there were indeed intrinsic and endemic problems within the Catholic Church itself.  Those problems in short were the corruption of power and the abuse of that power through allowing child abuse by clerics to go unchecked.  One of the most crippling aspects of any organised religion is the abuse of power. It happens in all and every religion, and let none of us forget that.  Such happens in every human organization: there will always be people who hunger for power and control over others, and they will use every doctrine under the sun to hang onto that power so that they can use it and abuse it.  In every human organization, be it church, state, government, medicine, law, or any other one, those who hunger for power will manage to get their way into the top echelons.  It is only now - in the last ten or so years - that we here in Ireland are properly watching and checking all professions. It is a truism that needs repeating that no organization can monitor or check itself Here I recall that old Latin quotation attributed to Juvenal:  "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" "Who will guard the guards?" A question still worth asking 2000 years later.

Like the Dalai Lama, the smile on Pope Francis' face says it all!!
Religion, uncoupled from spirituality, is a mere power structure that aims at controlling people, at least in certain people's hands.  That's why the election of Pope Francis was/is one of the more prophetic things that have happened in the Roman Catholic Church in the past 50 years.  For me, as for many Catholics, Francis is on a par with another prophetic Pope, namely John XXIII who inspired and opened the historic and prophetic Vatican II.   It was not by chance that Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose Francis as his name as pontiff, as St Francis was the apostle of the poor and unfortunate, with a deep commitment to ecology.  It is more than apparent by his actions that Pope Francis is a highly spiritual man who loves ministering to the poor, and all his actions speak of one with a deep conviction and commitment to Christian principles.  In short, he is Christlike, not church-like!  And there lies the difference between him and  his immediate predecessor. Here is an interesting post written by an unusual but firmly believing (non-Catholic) Christian on why he admires Pope Francis:  His comments are really worth reading and I have signed up to be a member of his blog: they boil down to the fact that Pope Francis is Jesus-like, that is he is more interested in spirituality and in acting like Jesus than in the power structures of the Church.  He is an old man of 77, but his spirituality allows him to walk, smile, talk, and obviously think and feel like a far younger man,  Maybe, just maybe, this man can turn the tide for the Roman Catholic Church, but he must be meeting some opposition within its power structures.  Unfortunately, that is why the bigger Churches are losing so many members: they are too petrified literally - "petrified" means stone-like, unmoved and unmoving.  That is where and how power corrupts, and boy does it corrupt no matter where frail human beings belong.  Finally, it is no wonder to this writer at least that Pope Francis is a Jesuit, one of the foremost orders in the Roman Catholic Church who truly believe in discerning the signs of the times, in discerning their own relationship with Christ and with humanity as a whole.

Spirituality for this writer is all about connection or connectedness with all of creation, which obviously includes other humans.  It is about union with whatever power or spirit runs through the heart of this universe and keeps it "together."  It has involved me in community work, in helping others through the Society of St Vincent de Paul and so on.  It inspires me to meditate and do yoga practices with others.  It also inspires me to read spiritual classics from all traditions.  That's what I love about these modern times where pluralism is more important than uniformity.  I remember a scholar once informing me that unity never means uniformity, and I have never forgotten that piece of wisdom.  (Interestingly Pope Francis realizes that as he says that even atheists can get into heaven if they live moral lives. Mind you, he's only repeating the teachings of Vatican II here!) No matter what religion one belongs to, even none, everyone has a spiritual sense.  I will write later in these posts about the spirituality of atheism, and indeed this topic has been written about by a few scholars in more recent years.

And what is it all about?

I will finish this rather meandering post with this question as it was one put to me when I was only 22 and a young teacher beginning my career.  I was so innocent and "green about the gills" back then that it is almost embarrassing to remember the way I was.  However, such is life and such is the cost of experience.  Anyway, one morning a man called Ger Smith asked me that question.  I was too young and too busy to take the man seriously, far too caught up in my own little world.  It was only some three years later when I had learnt that Ger had died from a congenital heart condition that none of us his colleagues ever knew about at the time., that I realized the import of Ger's question both for him and indeed for all thinking and feeling beings.  If you like, that question, along with legions of others over the years, opened up a giant unknown world to me, a world of infinite questions seeking answers or at least seeking better forms of questions as Rev Dr. Patrick Wallace used to put it back in the day.  Really good and deep questions open us up to mystery and never confusion.  And mystery, as they say, is an ocean we dive into, and never ever a wall against which we bash our cognitive heads. And so to Ger, RIP, I owe a debt of gratitude for opening up the vistas of mystery to me all those years ago.  I do hope that someone somewhere holds you in their heart.

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