August 5, 2008


“I went through the city, realizing for the first time in my life how good are all the people in the world and how much value they have in the sight of God” — Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonas, p. 92

“The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all to see if there is any who are wise, if there are any who seek after God. Every one has proved faithless, all alike have turned bad; there is none who does good, no, not one. — Psalm 14: 1-3

This is my little prayer grove where I sometimes say my morning office. In the quiet corner beside some big and beautiful bougainvillea (quiet, at least, when the A/C unit on the other side of the wall is not running) there is a beauty and tranquility of God’s creation that expresses itself whenever a welcome breeze stirs its branches or the trees nearby, or bird sounds fill the air. Today I found myself contemplating the state of the world, with these competing views of humankind occupying my thoughts. So which is it, I thought – Merton’s positive sentiments from his street corner experience, or the faithless, wicked, and perverse world as expressed by the Psalmist? Or is this a question without an answer?

Perhaps it’s a question of whether one sees the glass as half full or half empty?

Me, I think I used to be a half-full glass kind of guy who saw the world as everyone’s oyster, that if one worked long enough and hard enough goodness would always triumph over evil. But I don’t think that way so much any more. Now it seems to me more than anything else that the ones who get ahead are the ones who have perfected the art of kissing ass, or bullshitting, or sucking up, or those who talk in big flowery phrases but never really say anything, or those who can “stay on message”, or those for whom the only thing that matters is the bottom line. And I think everyone of us knows someone who fits that characterization.

And then, Merton’s words aside, the fact is that there are people in the world who are truly evil – those with no redeeming value whatsoever, those who seemingly only exist to make others’ lives miserable, or to damage or destroy people physically, psychologically, or spiritually. I think of my former brother-in law who has spun a web of deceit and psychological and physical abuse around my sister-in-law from which she’ll never escape. Or Islamic fundamentalists who strap on bomb vests and detonate themselves in crowded marketplaces or on buses, or kill innocents simply to make a political statement. I think of people who celebrate when conservative columnist Robert Novak announces his retirement due to a brain tumor. Or people who take advantage of the elderly or the sick or the less-than-well-to-do, or who prey upon the vulnerable. Sure, people have been bemoaning the state of things since the beginning of time (I mean, look at the Psalmist’s words) but there’s something else going on here – a darkness that seems to be encroaching upon everything that truly makes me fear for this country and the world. I mourn the loss of this country’s soul and the increasing vulgarity, mean-spiritedness, and coarseness of our culture. Not to mention the devaluation of human life seemingly everywhere in the world.

And yet, you can see good in the smallest of ways – you just have to be awake to it and respond to it whenever you see it. I think of this one elderly gentleman who works down at the local Fry’s. Like many of the stores nowadays you have a greeter who stands at the door to say hello or “thanks for shopping with us”, or to check your sales slip if the transporter thing you walk through engages and threatens to ship you off to some unknown latitude and longitude. This particular Fry’s has several people on this task, but it’s only this one gentleman who’s always smiling, who always recognizes you when you walk in, who always says “Have a great day!” as if he means it no matter how many people are coming and going at the time. He’s not a “HEY HOW ARE YA!” kind of a guy; he does it quietly, often wordlessly – but he always makes you feel good.

So I don’t know. People like him seem to be few and far between. I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’ve gone back to church, and a church where the sacramental Presence of Our Lord is so central to worship. Even though I don’t receive communion, to simply be in the Lord’s Presence and cross myself with a little holy water helps, I think, to infuse my soul with the sacred armor of grace and help keep the inner and outer demons if not away, at least at a fairly safe distance.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:18 | Comments Off on Contemplations From The Prayer Grove
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