Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Why the Name

In a spirit of levity I'd like to write a little bit about the displayed name of this blog and its author. I mentioned early on that I'd explain why I chose the name, "Truth Bear." It's a little playful jab at one of my favorite song-writers. I'll leave his real name veiled but it wouldn't take much research to know who this is.

Anyway, this singer and songwriter liked to play as both the lead singer and guitarist in an alternative rock band and as a solo acoustic folk singer. His strongest virtue as a musician was his lyrical composition. He had a way with words that few musicians can approach. Of course, this was something he had to have worked at which means there are slip ups on the way to literary skill. His stage name as a folk singer was one of them.

The name he took was in Latin. Though it was evident that in taking this name he really didn't know Latin and was relying upon a bad translator (I suspect the early Google translator). He aimed for Bearer of Truth, which is a pretty cool name and in Latin would have been even cooler. It would have been something like Veritatis Signifer. However, he came up with Ursus Veritas. Ursus means "bear" as in the big furry omnivore that hibernates during the winter and known for leaving their doors open for little yellow-haired girls to come and eat their porridge. Given the suffix of "veritas" with "ursus" Latin rules of syntax means that they are qualifying each other. If you had said this to an ancient Roman it would have been a little confusing because which qualifies the other? 

What the young song-writer ends up with is a name that means either "bear truth" as in a bear conceptualized as truth; or "truth bear," referring to something like truth incarnate as a bear. I found the image of the latter quite fun. I imagined a small bear that has a special glow about it shedding rays of knowledge and wisdom as it prowls around in search of fish and beehives. The singer must have realized the disparity between what he aimed for and what he ended up with because he has since distanced himself from the name and goes with his legal given name instead.

I shared this story with my fiance whose pet name for me is simply "bear." As it tickled her brain as much mine it ended up being a little inside joke of ours where "truth bear" was like a comical mythological hero that could serve as back-story for an episode of the Care Bears. As I was thinking of a name for this blog, I wanted something light-hearted and fun with a tinge of quirkiness. Thus, Truth Bear the blog was born, come to shed little rays of knowledge as its author scrounges for any food that may be lying around.

So, in part to honor my favorite singer-songwriter whose lyrics inspired both faith and creativity of thought, I write this blog. You're still my favorite contemporary musician! 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Jeremiah's Candor: The Pain of Happiness

"I say to myself, I will not mention him,
I will speak in his name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart,
imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it." --Jer 20:9
[Part of the readings from the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, A]

This verse from Jeremiah has always struck me as particularly resonant with my own experience of faith and writing. I once took these words as like a mission statement for one of my first (failed) blogs. As you can see, here I am, at it again. This experience of trying to lay down what needs to be picked up is a stunning glimpse into the broken dynamic for human happiness--the brokenness brought about by sin. 

Sin is a major concept that our own sinfulness prevents us from fully understanding. It is so easily misunderstood that even well-meaning Catholics as well as the faithful as a whole tend to get it wrong. Given the nature of this post I will set that aside for another time but what will suffice to say for now is that sin prevents persons from being able to correctly discern the course of action that will bring about that real and fulfilling happiness that we are all wired to seek. This brokenness runs so deep that what truly brings about happiness, we often perceive and prejudge as accursedness and misery--sadness. And yet, such perceptions really could not be further from the truth. 

The wisdom of God confounds us because it is not intuitive, as it shouldn't to a bunch of sinners. Many a time, his word sounds paradoxical, nonsensical even contradictory but it is because God calls man to dare to go against his natural instinct and with the seeming chaos and uncontrolled movements of God's will and spirit. In a world marred by man's sin down to a metaphysical level, God speaks to us the salvific words that we must rely upon in faith if we are to be healed by them. Indeed, they are quite offensive to man's sensibilities. They are encapsulated in a few places in scripture. Some places we could point to are the beatitudes as well as today's readings. Nothing seems as contradictory as the words: "Blessed (happy) are those who mourn (are sad)..." or "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it." And yet Christ speaks them with a straight face and we are called to believe such words. How?

When I began my first blog, I was struggling with the reasons why I wanted to start a blog and write in that I didn't know what the reasons were. All I knew was the urge--the compulsion--to write. I tried to make a reasonable justification. "Maybe it would lead to a fruitful career" was one of the many reasons I tried to project upon this urge. So I struggled with it. I wrote a little here or there. Tried this, promised myself that. I made all kinds of deals with myself. One such deal was, unless I knew that my writing was going to be "successful" which I determined to mean widely read then I wouldn't write. Another deal I made with this urge of mine was unless it was at a high-level of writing on a topic that was relevant for many, I would not write. What ended up being the case is I set so many conditions that writing was no longer possible. I had rationalized the urge away as some irrational passion that would not bring me any more happiness than any of the other fantasies I set up for myself. I not-so-quickly found that I still did not grasp the reason behind the urge so I eventually just put it away to the back of my mind pursuant to "more productive" uses of my time.

In retrospect, I've come to a rather stunning reflection on what I was doing to myself; who said I needed to have a reason to write. I think they were the whispers of evil and temptation that say things like, "you need a reason to do the things that fulfill you." I may be a famous writer, I may not. Such things I leave in the hands of God and are not for me to determine. The only thing I do know is that God has written the act of writing upon my heart. Every time I try to set it aside, my mind and heart ache because they are trying to be warped into doing things they were not meant for. To use Jeremiah's imagery, the fire in my heart grows. I've tried ignoring it as a passing fancy, a personal fad that I would simply bore myself with and then move on except I never do. I tell myself, "you're naive if you think that writing will pay the bills and provide for you." However, there is another part of myself that is not myself that speaks gently and encouragingly: "writing doesn't have to pay the bills, whether it does is not up to you but it will satisfy." I then give in again. I return to the keys, form a new slate and pound away.

Returning to the words of Christ that seem diametrically opposed to themselves, we must recall the state of life we find ourselves in. I do not mean the state we are in individually in the myriad diversity of all its particularities. I mean, rather, the universal human condition of restless pursuit--the quiet desperation we all fight to stave off. Happiness and, by privation, the desire for it is the primal impulse of humanity. What Christ reveals, and indeed had to reveal to us, is that happiness comes from a counter-intuitive lifestyle of self-denial.

Hans Christian Andersen, in the original telling of the "Little Mermaid" writes that for the little mermaid to live and walk as a human being she had to endure the feeling of treading upon needles and knives with every step. However, driven by the desire to be human and to have an immortal soul, "she bore it willingly." The mermaid's journey to certain happiness, the everlasting joy of heaven, could only be completed by painful means. The little mermaid becomes the foil of human striving. What we ultimately strive to be is fully ourselves--fully human. Given a state in which there is a shortcoming, a lacking--sin--the brokenness of which reaches to the very nature and essence of the human being, we must come to our full and perfected identity as glorified human beings, as men "fully alive" by enduring the pain of denying our current state. To continue on in our current state is to continue on in misery whereas to endure the painful realization that happiness with God requires adherence to his designs and not our shortsighted desires is where true bliss is.

I've come to realize that whatever thoughts I may have before, after or even during my writing, I am truly happy. There are times when it is real work and labor, the laboriousness of which can affect my other activities. However, in the act of writing there is one certainty. I am. I am doing what I am supposed to be doing; the fire is quelled and the urge satisfied. It is a painful process and there are moments that I hate it, that I don't feel like doing it, that I cannot see as being even remotely a means to happiness but in the moment I press the keys I am revealed to myself as patient, kind, not jealous nor proud nor quick-tempered nor boasting nor proud. Not rejoicing in evil, but rejoicing in truth. There are moments of true love both for and from me. It is the stream to which God has led me, refreshing my soul. I want for nothing and I envy no man. 

These words may never be read by anyone else but that isn't my concern. In this moment nothing concerns me. If it is the case that no one reads this, it would seem from the outside that it was a waste of time and energy, a futile attempt at prosperity. From the inside, the writing is the reward because it comes form God. This is not to say my writing is infallible and inspired but as a gift from God to me, it is a gift I accept by giving it away freely. In not so confusing of words, in this laborious gift I find God's rest. What comes from it I give to God for Him to do as he wishes; whether it is read by none or many, is acclaimed or ridiculed, I resign myself and the fruit of my labor to God's purposes. 

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Santa Rosa

Today, the Church celebrated Saint Rose of Lima. She was a Dominican saint of Peru who lived from 1586-1617. She was known for her devotion to Christ in ascesis, preached penance and remained a holy virgin. 

I had the privilege of celebrating this feast with the Santa Rosa diocese and read a few of the holy Peruvian's words today on the love of Christ. Her words reveal something of her mystical encounters with the Lord. In them, she writes of the great graces that may only come through suffering and tribulation. This is something that Jesus tells St. Rose she must go on and share this lesson with the world; that "without the cross they can find no road to climb to heaven."

Doing the math, we find that St. Rose made her presence felt and she was able to accomplish her divine mission in a span of 31 years. She died a young woman. As I near the age of 30, I wonder about my own calling to holiness and what I can and should be doing differently. I am reminded of the words of St. Catherine of Siena, who also died a very young woman, saying, "If you are who you should be you will set the world on fire." As I don't seem to be setting the world on fire with faith and love for God, I can't help but pray, "What more should I be? What else must I do?" To answer my question in this message of penance, St. Rose reminds us so much of what Christ did but what he did not do.

A forgotten lens through which we might understand Christ's salvific suffering, also known as the passion, was how in the midst of this suffering Christ was passive. Yet another name for Christ's passion is his passivity. The word "passive" is in contrast to "active." In the moment he entered willingly into his passion, we witness a sequence of events in which Christ is not so much the one acting as the one acted upon. Christ was betrayed, bound, led away to town leaders, stripped, beaten, mocked and killed. This should give us pause as we ponder the great mystery of our faith--the paschal mystery.

The life and ministry of Christ leading up to the passion were revelatory but were not definitive acts of universal salvation. Christ lays hands upon the sick and they are healed. Though "many" are healed it is relatively few in comparison to the rest of the world. Even fewer still are those whom Christ raised back to life from death, namely Lazarus and the publican's daughter. In these cases the graces are given to specific individuals. As Jesus tells John's disciples these were merely the signs that the messiah had come, but none of these were the acts or signs by which the whole of Israel would be redeemed. As scholars glean from the gospels, the recounting of these miracles prepare the listeners for the great act of salvation by God through Christ. Then comes the definitive act of salvation--the act of inaction.

Paradox is the hallmark of God's wisdom as it is truly a wisdom that surpasses our own. It challenges our limited understanding to broaden to a point beyond reason to contemplation. In the contemplation of mystery, no words can truly apprehend it they can only, and meagerly, approximate and indicate the truth. Such is the case here as we explain Christ's "act" of salvation in which the act is a letting go a submission to the will and actions of the other. This inaction ends up being the sign of the heights of God's unfathomable power. What we learn about the passion, in Christ's painful prayer in the garden was that the Son had to submit to the will of the Father to allow what would come to pass and do nothing to stop it. This moment of surrender is the perfection of holiness that each member of the Church is called to learn and emulate.

True holiness is complete obliteration of any differences between one's desires and God's. This is painful. God desires love and love, in this world, requires no little sacrifice. This is the message of Christ that comes through St. Rose of Lima. When we ask, "What must I do? What more should I be?" we can easily be tempted to think the answer will come in the form of some force of the will, some great motion of our personal being that effects the fire that St. Catherine says would set the world ablaze. The reality is when we ponder what is the next "step" we cannot discount the actions we must not do--those that we must let go of--the stillness that leads to true obedience to the Spirit of God. There are times where we must instead ask that God's act be done to us--in us. In such, times we realize that when we become who we should be it will not entail great acts, inventions or creating paradigmatic worldviews. It will involve doing less so as to allow God to act in us more, becoming less so that God may be the more that each of us should be. The paradoxical act of meriting grace is to be passive in one's interaction with God.

As Karl Barth might say, we must let God be God. God does not force or impose his will upon us. We have free will as God does. God acts freely in love toward us. He did not need to, nor was God bound by some law imposed from outside God to love and act in that love toward us. He simply did. The implied question is, given our own freedom to respond as we see fit, what are we going to do about it? We have our Mother to thank for teaching us the best and most loving response: "be it done unto me according to thy word!"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

First Post

Hello! 

This is TruthBear. 

I'll explain the name at some later time (it's an inside joke) but as for the first post I wanted to expose more my mission and reason behind this blog. I want to be an accomplished writer. Anyone who would have bothered to follow such a writer will know that I struggle with perseverance and consistency in writing. I've begun over half a dozen blogs or sites but I end up treating them like novelty gifts. They're fun to play with at first but there's a point at which I put it on the shelf and not pick up again until it's time to throw it away. This is a search for a way beyond that point and truly give myself to writing something.

Of what I've written so far, my most successful project was a blog I did for Lent called "Forty Days of Spring." I wrote everyday for the duration of Lent on various topics in Catholic spirituality. I consider it successful because I did what said I would and set out to do. Now I'm trying to replicate that on a larger scale and with broader scope. 

Some things you can expect to read on this Blog: All things Catholic, particularly theology as well as little bits of philosophy, writing, technology and practical wisdom sprinkled throughout. In seeking to share the most intimate details of my seeking I also seek not to take myself so seriously so as to truly enjoy what this is about. As for what is about...I guess that remains to be seen.

To anyone who may stumble onto this blog, I make no promises about consistency or quality, because, truthfully, this project just may end up on some forgotten shelf on the internet like my other blogs. In any case, I simply intend to try again and let my "yes mean yes" and avoiding this:
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If you benefit from my writing in any way, then all the better.

Pax,
TruthBear