Still Alive and Kickin’

March 22, 2015 at 10:26 am

A friend recently wondered if I was still in the land of the living.    My last post was about the epidemic of Swine Flu in India.  Tens of Thousands have been diagnosed and almost 2000 have died.  We have been healthy other than monthly bouts with the common cold.  I have not written much lately.    The longer one stays in one place, the unusual becomes usual.  One is not as attuned to the culturally different as in the past.  Although I must say that we recently watched the new owners of a condo across the road from us bless their home.  Hindu’s invite a cow into their house to bless it.  They know that the cow god has blessed them when he urinates or defecates.  If the cow does not bless the house, then there are 3 days of religious ceremonies as an alternative blessing.   The ceremonies start early around 600 am and go past midnight.  Drums are beat.  Clarinets are played and a large fire pit is built outside the home.  A variety of items are thrown into the fire as the musicians play.   I was recently back in Columbus and shared this story with some friends who were at our house in Columbus while Kathleen was visiting family in North Dakota.  One of them said to tell Kathleen that he “ had blessed our house.”

Apart from stories about India, I have not taken the time to share my spiritual introspections.  Perhaps the lack of writing in this respect  is a sign of being in a place of some equanimity.  It is also a bit challenging to unselfconsciously share.  Being verbal about one’s inner life risks cultivating a persona that is exaggerated, delusional  or prone to spiritual gobbledygook and pontification.

All that said, I have decided to share my last 3 letters to my family with my broader family.  Take what you like and leave the rest…

A Hidden Life in the Ordinary

March 22, 2015 at 10:24 am

It is early morning in Hyderabad.  I am still stunned how I landed here and hope that it is replicated  in my life somehow upon returning to the US.  I sit on a fourth floor balcony.  Our neighbor’s yard is a good size lot filled with trees that make a home for a multitude of birds.  There must be some small fruit.  8-12 birds the size of cardinals are in constant motion with the sun rising behind them.  They have a black crown and are much less colorful than a North American cardinal in that their wings and tail are brown and  their breasts are  gray.  There is a spot of white at the base of the tail feathers and a splash of red appears  as they energetically flit among the branches.  There are tiny birds about half  the size of a wren with thin beaks as long as their body.  Their song is unexpectedly loud.  Its volume is like a cardinal’s.     In the midst of this, suddenly a bright green parrot swiftly flies past the edge of my balcony.  A rooster crows down the street.  The eagles seemed to have left the mango tree while we were gone the past couple of weeks. There are a few butterflies present with their jerky but graceful passage through the air as they seek to escape the beaks of birds who are waiting for breakfast and to quickly dart out from the limbs of the trees.   Later even at the moment that I say  “Thank You,”  a bright yellow bird with black wings flies past to land on a limb in full view.

It is our Garden of Eden.  A sacrament or an encounter with God’s presence in our lives.   The God of surprises blessed our life in India with this sanctuary in the midst of a crazy and chaotic city.  It feels like the medicine of the Lord seeking to restore me to sanity and health after the intense but good years of life in public accounting.  No matter what one does, there are wounds to be bathed and healed.   Here is a spot where I feel and recognize  my hardness of heart that comes from cultivating and nursing bitterness, resentments, and  jealousies.  Hopefully I can  begin to move past them to a better place of knowing both that I am forgiven and how to forgive.  Much of the pain is a result of my own arrogance and pride.  As someone once said:  “Pain is in proportion to the need for purification.”  Feeling the pain also puts me  in touch with my kinship with all the children of God.  Our fragile packages have all been broken, diminished, misunderstood.

I read a quote this morning in Courage to Change from Albert Schweitzer:  “ The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”    As I have probably previously written, Schweitzer has been a favorite of mine since my dad gave me a Landmark biography to read as a kid.  He lived as a doctor in the African jungle working with the sick and needy.  I was surprised to find when I reached college that he was one of the leading New Testament scholars and pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who sought  the Historical Jesus.    Apparently, his understanding of the Jesus of history led him to service in Africa. While admittedly and obviously not as heroic,  I thought that public accounting also provided an avenue to service.

Martin recently shared with Kathleen and I that service is a major ingredient in the transforming sauce that Bill W prescribes.  As Holy Thursday approaches, it is one of the few direct commands that Jesus gave us as he washed the feet of his disciples.   I have always admired how our friends Kathy and Mary have poured out their lives in service as nurses.  Not to mention our own Timothy who has managed to thrive in a high school classroom for almost 4 decades.  They are the hidden ordinary saints found in every age quietly doing the Lord’s work.

Top of the Morning

March 22, 2015 at 10:22 am

It is good to pause for a moment and appreciate our roots and the sacrifices made by those who went before us.

On the Gorman side,  our ancestors were peasant farmers who left Ireland at the time of the Great Famine in the 1840s and 1850s, settled North of Chicago in Waukegan and farmed the land.  At the time of the famine,  Ireland was part of the UK, the richest country in the world, but suffered from neglect.  The Irish people were considered racially inferior.  The English did not allow them to vote, go to Church or school.  The tenant farmers were pushed off land to allow cattle to graze to feed the English appetite for beef.  Absentee English landlords controlled the land.  Ireland is a rich farming area and sufficient food was grown in Ireland during the potato blight to feed the 8 million Irish, but the peasants could not afford to pay for what they grew and the grain was exported to England.  All they could afford to eat were the potatoes that they grew and on which they subsisted.  Originally, a third or more of the potatoes were grown to feed the cattle.  It was a blight that caused this crop to fail and resulted in an estimate of 1.5 million people starving.   Some might say it was genocide, but it was more likely simply neglect, apathy, or the bigotry of the English  and a strong belief in market forces vs government intervention.  During the famine over 25% of the population died or immigrated.   Many boarded the “coffin ships” to the US.  20 percent of the passengers did not survive.  Apparently the Gorman/Egan/Brady families thrived in the US.

Your great grandpa was a very successful coal salesperson in the early 20th Century.  Commonwealth Edison was one of his main accounts.  He married Mame at Old St Patrick’s.   He was a Republican in the days of Teddy Roosevelt.  Not sure if he was actually a progressive or not.  The Depression hurt the family’s net worth, but he was still able to send Grandpa to College and Law School.  They lived on the near Westside of Chicago  around Garfield Park.

The Scanlon’s came to the US in the early 20th Century and reflect an economic reality in the  Ireland  of that time wherein the younger generation was forced to immigrate to find economic opportunity.  While the economy of Ireland has improved in the late 20th Century, many young are still forced to leave Ireland.  Grandpa Scanlon like many Irish worked on the railroads.  He did not actually build them as the Irish did in the 19th Century.  Martin O’Meara was part of the Chicago police force after fleeing the Black and Tams in Ireland.    They immigrated prior to Irish independence.  They lived on the Westside as well in Austin which borders Oak Park.

The Irish were the earliest immigrant group from Europe.  As such, we had the opportunity to figure out how to succeed in the new world and gain positions of influence and power prior to the wave of European immigration.  This is evidenced by the Irish presence in the big city political machines such as the Daley machine in Chicago and the hierarchy of the 20th Century American Church.    As time passes and the Irish find other opportunities and success and the demographics of the city and Church have changed, this  Irish presence has receded as it should.

Whether they immigrated in the 19th or 20th Century,  the Irish and other Catholic immigrant groups left an unbelievable legacy as reflected in the Catholic infrastructure of parishes and schools.  The immigrants believed in educational excellence and  the importance of family as well as  their religious traditions.  The parish community became the vehicle for embodying and propagating these values.   As I lived and breathed these values growing up,  I knew no other reality.  As it has shaped me, I am sure it has influenced you as well.  If you look around, you will see products of the Catholic educational system everywhere.   For instance,  the Supreme Court is largely Catholic as is the partner group at Deloitte.  Catholic Universities continue to provide graduates who not only have the skillset to succeed, but also make a difference in the lives of others for the common good.

We celebrate the memory of St Patrick today.    He was an English lad kidnapped and taken to Ireland.  He later escaped and returned to England  where his relationship with God continued to mature.  He was inspired and discerned a call to return to Ireland as a missionary.  Along with St Brigid, he is a patron saint of Ireland.  His feast day in Ireland is a holy day of obligation.  May Sts Patrick and Brigid pray for us this day that we may grow in wisdom and grace.

Happy St Paddy’s Day!  And Happy St Joseph’s Day to my Italian friends.

A Good Place To Begin

March 22, 2015 at 10:19 am

“Progress can be hard to recognize…the only thing that matters is the direction that I am moving.”

“Keep adding little by little and soon you will have a big hoard.”  – Latin proverb

Courage to Change March 16.

I sometimes wonder if I have grown spiritually at all over the decades.  There is some risk that I may have regressed.  Similarly, I am not sure that I have developed additional flexibility doing yoga. Neither can I jog as far or as fast as I used to do.  Admittedly I have not been consistent with respect to either activity over the past year or so.  Work and discipline are required.   Even when one practices regularly, one soon reaches a plateau and then progress is hard to perceive.  We can hope that our progress looks like a jagged arrow  with peaks and  valleys yet pointed up towards the northeast or towards the 2 on a clock.

“You can cultivate love, compassion, joy, and equanimity by learning to relax where you are.   There is no problem with being where you are right now.  Even if you are feeling love for only one sentient being that is a good place to start.”   –Pema Chodrun

So we should keep the faith.  When I went to Mass a week ago, there was a college student in front of me wearing a tee shirt that expressed a similar thought:

You are where the Lord wants you right now.

Right now.  In this place.  A good spot to begin.  Even in this moment, as we live and move and are grounded in God,  God is communicating to us.

Reveal Yourself to us O Lord.

May we not be preoccupied with ourselves or with work.

May we not be threatened or afraid.

May we accept and follow your way

and put love in our day.

Rex Pai compares  this journey to the Wise Men who followed a star until it brought them to Christ:

“To follow the star is quite challenging.  We have to leave home ( the place where we are secure and comfortable)…”  Perhaps home is simply our everyday mind sets and world view that does not allow God space?

“…and strike out into the unknown (‘Leave the seed that you have sown.  Leave the crops that you have grown. Leave the people that you have known.  Come follow me’)…”

Is it time to shift directions?  It may or may not be.    It is easier to follow the physical principle of momentum and keep going the same direction that we have always gone.  Hang with the same people.   We may have created a safe and secure environment that comforts us in the face of the GREAT UNKNOWNS AND UNCERTAINTIES  that all humans face but try to control.    It is a question of discerning.

“We have to be prepared to face inhospitable deserts and stormy winds that accompany any human quest….Prayer gives us desire to constantly look for the star (Christ) in our lives; it clarifies the Star and helps us recognize the true Star from the many twinkling and alluring lights around us; it gives us the strength to follow…through ups and downs, difficulties and obstacles; it brings real joy, gratitude, love and peace….”

A great vision.   The Fourth Sunday of Lent’s readings proclaim that  a Light  has come into the world, but many of us prefer the darkness to the Light.  The Jesuit presider at the liturgy stated that Jesus is the Light because his thoughts, desires, drives all aligned with God’s will for him.  Are ours?  For example, the many alluring lights of materialism or hedonism have quite an attraction in our Western world and easily distract us or send us down a lesser path.

As Paul states in Ephesians, we are called to be the work of God’s hands.  We are God’s handicraft.  A bold statement to make.   Paul encourages us to put aside our sense of weakness or unworthiness and step into the truth . The creation story of Genesis 1 also affirms this truth by stating that we are made in the image and likeness of God.  What does that mean?  That we are creative like God?  That we are the pinnacle of creation because of a self-awareness, ability to reflect, or possess a higher consciousness than the animal and plant world?   Or  that we are the stewards and caretakers of the created world?   Perhaps that we can love as God loves?

We are called to be the Light.  God is within as well as without.  Let us  “ Let Go and Let God” and then as the Gospel of John states  we will live the Truth and not cling to darkness but  to the Light and our works will clearly be done in God.

May our work be God’s work beginning with where we are today.