Tuesday, January 19, 2010


On a recent afternoon, I spent time praying with friends for common concerns and people in need of God's intercession, as well as for kind mercies. As I looked up from what turned out to be only our first round of petitions, I met the eyes of the woman across from me. They looked like I felt: drunk.

I can begin to understand (or at least feel) what my alcoholic friends and relatives (now sober or not) appear to have experienced -- an overpowering pull toward the bottle. For me, it is the power of the bottle of prayer.

There is something about the sweetness of prayer that induces in me a kind of stupor. For some reason, I have not spoken of it to others (yet perhaps I should). I wonder if they, too, have felt it. If I were to judge by the eyes of some of my prayer partners, I would hazard a positive answer to that question. With one friend who is a frequent dinner partner, for example, we often cannot speak for a few minutes after saying a heartfelt grace. It is indeed akin to being under the influence, but in this case it is the influence of the all-consuming presence of God.

Similarly, I find more and more often now that I simply do not want to step away from contemplation, from that sense of union, from being part of something far greater than anything of this earth, from sifting into the presence of a loving God. I belong to a contemplative prayer group, and when Fr. Kevin pulls us out of contemplation back into a social environment, I increasingly feel immense resistance. I don't want Fr. Kevin, as good as he is and has much as I love and admire him. I want God. I want to stay in contemplation without any regard for the world around me.

When I am home, it is possible to remain in contemplation for longer than I plan although it has happened that I have ended up late at work as a result. How then does one balance an earthly life and job (a job, in fact, which God insisted I take and keep) and the desire to spend ever more time with God? How do you, dear blog readers, do it? At times, I envy those who have been called to a contemplative life or who do not have to work or have intervening responsibilities that would would pull them away from contemplation at length. Then, I remember that God put me in my job and that in it I have already had many opportunities to help Him help others -- and it is an interesting, rewarding job. He chose well for me. I love what I do, and I love that He is there with me all the time and makes a difference for many people.

So, I am back to my original question. How does one balance the spiritual life against the secular life. Spiritualize earthly experiences? My workplace does seem to be becoming very spiritual. God is not only present with me but also with many of my employees, especially the senior managers who work directly for me. God is there not just in our personal beliefs, but in our conversations, in our decisions -- I am extremely pleased from time to time when a senior manager decides to break a rule for the benefit of an employee. I am extremely pleased that I can use spiritual leadership guidance, in particular servant leadership, in developing new and junior leaders. I am extraordinarily pleased to see my once secularly oriented boss now occasionally do the same. Perhaps that is why God wanted me in that job, so that He could make these kinds of changes there. Perhaps there is a different reason that I will come to know or never know. Why God wanted where I am does not matter. He wanted it, and I am here. That matters. And so, again, I am left with the question of balance.

But perhaps I am not seeing clearly. Perhaps I do have it without seeing it for even if I have to end a session of contemplation before I feel ready and even if there is no time for anything except a snatch of prayer here and there during the day, perhaps as short as one word, "Help!", I can feel God with me all the time. So can the senior managers. I think we are all, using Brother Lawrence's term, practicing the presence of God, and that should be sufficient.

But again, and finally, I will raise the question to you. What are your experiences? Successes? Frustrations? Solutions?

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Many, many thanks to all of you who have been praying for Ray and our family, especially those who promised to pray at 6:00 last night as he was taken off life support. There was no way to let you all know that the 6:00 prayers were excess -- but, then, are any prayers really excess? -- for Ray had already passed away.

At 9:20 a.m., Noelle called me at my office. She told me that the hospital had just called. The doctor relayed the information that Ray's respirator hose had suddenly and unexpectedly torn, and he had died instantly. The doctor added that no one had touched the hose at all, so there was some puzzlement as to how it had happened; this is not something that they routinely worry about or look for.

That event made unnecessary the need to go to the hospital at 6:00, give permission to remove Ray from life support, and watch him die. While Noelle is experiencing much grief from losing Ray, there was wonderment and immense relief in her voice as she told me what happened. She had been very apprehensive about the planned trip to the hospital.

"This is a blessing, Mom," she told. "A real blessing. He did not die by my hand, by my concurrence that he should be unplugged. He just died because his life was over."

Sometimes God's kind mercy is so startling that one cannot even say a normal prayer but just keep repeating over and over in awe and gratitude, "My Lord and my God, THANK YOU!"

Concurrently posted on Clan of Mahlou and Blest Atheist.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


For me, in dark moments, moments of grief, I am helped by focusing on moments of joy for the past, knowing that life is a balance of both. As we await the pulling of the plug and the formal end of Ray's life, with the understanding that he really died a week ago and has been artificially kept alive thanks to marvelous modern technology, I think back to something that happened a few years ago and which I describe at the end of my book, Blest Atheist.

Even if there are difficulties ahead, there will be help and protection. There will also be rewards. There always are. With God, the rewards are unanticipated and unusual. The simplest among them are the greatest.

One evening last December, the thought came into my head that I should take my evening walk around the mission grounds early. Normally I walk there around 9:00 p.m., and it was only 6:00 when I felt the push to go outside for my walk.

No, I thought. Why would I want to go now? Even though the eventide falls around 5:30 on December nights in San Ignatio, I still prefer to go later—after dinner and dishes and before retiring for the night. It is a marvelously restful way to end the day. Walking brings out the happy endorphins, and just being at the mission provides great encouragement toward prayer.

No, I’ll go later, I thought and began cleaning the kitchen in preparation for dinner. Then the impulse came again. The “argument” went back and forth a couple of times until I approached Donnie, who usually accompanies me on these walks.

“Donnie, how do you feel about taking our evening walk early tonight?” I asked.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know why,” I answered. “I just feel like we should go early.”

Donnie acquiesced and quickly assembled his pipe tools. (He likes to sit and smoke while I walk.) We opened the door and stepped out under the night sky. And there it was, spread across the heavens: a breathtaking lunar ice halo.

Ice halos are rings of light that surround the sun, moon, or other sources of light, such as street lamps. The ones in the heavens are caused by millions of ice crystals in thin, cold, cirrus clouds floating in the troposphere reflecting and refracting light. This particular ice halo was circumhorizonal, a rare phenomenon for which adequately descriptive words, other than scientific ones, are even rarer. Refracted light from the moon spread in a 360-degree circle all around the sky on the same level as the moon yet at the same time touching the horizon wherever we turned—or so it seemed although in actuality the circle of light was parallel to the horizon and not lying upon it. The halo filled the whole sky, with the full moon in its zenith filtering a stream of light through a gossamer foramen in the firmament onto the mission grounds below.

I could almost hear the proud words, “Look what I did!” The hymn of Isaac Waats came to mind instantly: “The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.”

On the mission grounds canopied by the horizon-to-horizon crystal glow, I walked, my arms extended. Irrepressible joy spread past my fingertips, riding on the splendor of light toward the horizon.

Then it was gone. Had I come at my usual time, I would have missed it.

These then are the things that have been seen and experienced by the blest atheist. All the events reported herein [in the book] have enriched my life, but the greatest of these was God sharing with me the lunar ice halo: “Look what I have done!” The hound of Heaven had finally caught me and then had shown me what I had been missing: “Look what I have done!” Indeed, I could almost hear those words and a few more: “Look at what I have done—for you, for all people, because I love you whether or not you even believe that I exist.”

All the miracles that God has done in my life and in the lives of others through me have been wondrous, but pulling me outside to view the ice halo stands out above them all as the most affirming act of God’s love. The miracles were about healing and turning bad into good. They have been important, of course. Viewing the ice halo, however, was about relationship: God’s relationship with me, God’s relationship with all of us. When God called me from my house onto the street and into the field at the mission, I understood that I was special—not special out of many, but special among many, special like all people are special to God.

On an individual level, I was and am at best only a Good Samaritan, and still God wanted a relationship with me. In so many ways, I was and am but a child who finds the adults who can help a sick child artist, a crying lady, a boy in white, or an orphan dying from brain tumors. Like a child, I have no burning desire for financial gain, material possessions, or fame and power. Those desires were beaten out of me in my youth. Although many of these things have appeared unbidden in my life, my true treasure is the people who have come into my life from all continents of the world. There is where my heart is. I want to “pass on” the good that God has brought into my life by using my linguistic proficiency, cultural acumen, and multi-domain knowledge gained from living in the land of splat! to connect people who need help with people who have the ability to give help, no matter where they live or what language they speak. For what good is money if it cannot be used to help those in need? What good are material things unless they make this world a friendlier place: a blanket to warm a homeless man, food for a hungry family, clothes for those burned out of a home? What good is power if not used to empower the powerless to be free to flourish? What good, too, is dreaming an impossible dream if it does not kindle the dreams of others? What good is reaching an unreachable star if it does not sprinkle light onto a dark existence? What good is happiness if it does not splash joy onto dispirited ground, inspiriting the life within to sprout and reach for the heavens? If, indeed, as I have found, helping those in need, making the world a friendlier place, empowering the powerless, kindling dreams, lighting the dark, and splashing joy across the land is what a Good Samaritan does, then I want to be a Good Samaritan for life. To my delight, God seems willing to use me in that capacity. For certain, God knows my heart and what I treasure.

God has many Good Samaritans. Some, like me, are blessed to help a few wounded souls in intensive ways. Others are blessed to help many people in more extensive, but less intensive, ways. Some God leads with their full knowledge. Others, like me for so many years, God leads through their hearts alone. In return, God gives them a treasure far greater than money, honor, power, or prestige: they know a perfect joy that nothing else can give.

I am sure that others saw the ice halo that night for God encourages all people to step bravely out of the grey boxes in which they are cowering and stride buoyantly forth into a divine world resplendent with color, love, and joy. In our tiny town, though, I was the only one who showed up at the mission to see the splendor on that particular winter evening. Others may have showed up elsewhere for the ice halo could be seen for miles. Perhaps even more were called to behold it but were not listening. Those who did listen experienced an unrelenting tug to come outside and witness an awe-inspiring manifestation of God’s loving caress ephemerally spread against the heavens and permanently imprinted in the mind and on the heart.

Note: Concurrently published on all Mahlou blogs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time Out from Blogging in Reverence for Life

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts this week. There is an explanation beyond the fact that I am once again on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. (or more accurately, Arlington, Virginia). I will probably be able to post Quick Takes tomorrow evening since I wrote most of them on the plane here. However, anything else may take a few days.

Upon arriving here, I received an urgent phone call from Noelle. Her significant other of ten years' duration had a heart attack during dialysis (he has no functional kidneys) and is currently unresponsive. X-rays show a swollen brain, and doctors would like to have permission to pull the plug. Noelle, our hopelessly hopeful, never-say-never, that-empty-glass-will-soon-be-overflowing child, wants to wait. Probably Lizzie will be the one to make the decision for everyone, as she did in her grandmother's case ten years ago. That time she decided that keeping her grandmother alive artificially was in no one's interest, including her grandmother's, since even if her grandmother came out of the coma, she would not be able to care for herself or even think since all functional brain tissue had been destroyed by a brain bleed. Since Lizzie is a professor of cognitive neuroscience, doctors are willing to share records and test results with her that they would not normally share with family members; they know that she will look at them dispassionately and make an objective and measured judgment as a professional colleague.

Lizzie has conditionally weighed in on Ray. Not having the x-rays yet and just listening to the description of what has occurred and considering his comatosity, she has informed her sister that in her opinion the situation is "bad." However, she won't give any final advice until she sees documentation.

A little background: Ray lost kidney function in 2006 and was comatose (without brain swelling or damage) for several months, then was on life support in a city five hours away until December 2007. It was a wonderful Christmas present to have him be taken off life support and breathing on his own. Then, in December 2008, he was released into a care facility and transferred to Salts where he was just a few minutes away from Noelle. That was another wonderful Christmas present and a prayer answered. Ray and Noelle have had a full year beyond what they hoped for together (or as together as they can be, considering that Ray cannot even come home to visit).

Until Lizzie weighs in with an informed opinion, we wait and pray. I have asked for Ray to be put on the Old Mission prayer list, and I would ask you to pray, too. It is difficult to know what to pray for since Ray, even if he regains consciousness, will never be able to come home, will always be tied to a dialysis machine, and will likely be in pain much of the time. Since God knows better than I do in all cases, I personally am praying that God will do what is best for Ray. No matter what we personally would like to see happen, the rest of us really are insignificant in this instance. I am sure that God will take good care of Ray without prompting, but I like to pray about it, anyway. I love the support and guidance.

So, with the exception of the Quick Takes and the MMM, I plan not to spend time blogging but being available to my family and to Noelle. (I will be home on Saturday.) Life itself is special, and we should take time to acknowledge that and show our reverence for what God has given us. It is unfortunate that we tend to do so only when Death looms or has completed its reaping. Nonetheless, better now than never.