Featured

Black Lives Matter.

Although we ought not to change our former resolutions in time of desolation, it is very profitable to make vigorous changes in ourselves against the desolation, for example, by insisting on more prayer, meditation, earnest self-examination, and some suitable way of doing penance. – St. Ignatius Loyola, SE 319

Ignatius urges us not to make decisions in times of desolation, however, he also reminds us that these times of desolation are not to be times of complacency.

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.

“They didn’t have to die” is something I have heard over the past week and it has brought me great pain and clarity. Often when hearing about someone being killed, there is back and forth about context, circumstances, and legality. I have been a part of these conversations in the past, I remember vividly “waiting to gather all the facts” when hearing about the death of Trayvon Martin. What I often don’t hear in these conversations is the specific, searing, and compounding pain these conversations and this waiting is inflicting on Black lives.

I was reminded this weekend reading the following from Roxane Gay,

Racism is litigated over and over again when another video depicting another atrocity comes to light. Black people share the truth of their lives, and white people treat those truths as intellectual exercises.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/30/opinion/sunday/trump-george-floyd-coronavirus.html

When I take time to do what Ignatius described, “earnest self-examination” I realize there’s something much deeper at work, something sinister that needs to be faced – racism.

Why am I waiting in the first place?

What am I waiting to do? Grieve? Pray? Advocate?

Would I wait if the life lost was a member of my family?

“Waiting to gather all the facts” is a hurtful false cover to hide behind, failing to open myself up to the painful truth that the real fact – there is suffering, and the real question – am I willing to do something about it?

Acting is difficult because it requires a great deal of ownership and deprogramming. This can happen by listening – not as an intellectual exercise, but with my heart as well. This can happen by learning – not just figuring out what to say or do or not to say or do, but how to be helpful, not hurtful. This can happen by praying and working – not just for peace, but for reconciliation for there is no peace without reconciliation, no peace without justice.

I need to advocate and fight – showing the love I know God has for me and putting it in action. Changing my way of proceeding from avoiding being racist to being antiracist, as Dr. Ibram X. Kendi calls us to be, standing with those who are being oppressed, victimized, and even killed, is a conversion Pedro Arrupe, S.J. spoke to when he wrote,

To be just, it is not enough to refrain from injustice. One must go further and refuse to play its game, substituting love for self-interest as the driving force of society.

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd.

“They didn’t have to die.”

The death and hurt caused by racism and police brutality have brought me pain and clarity – there is only one way of proceeding, they are members of my family, and they didn’t have to die for me to be reminded of this.

So, what now?

For me, today, it is taking these words from Fr. Bryan N. Massingale to heart:  

https://www.ncronline.org/news/opinion/assumptions-white-privilege-and-what-we-can-do-about-it

For all of my white friends, today: please consider this article and the one above, with your hearts.

For all my white friends, tomorrow and in the future: let’s do what is necessary, and whatever it takes to end racism.

Black Lives Matter.

save, please

Years ago during a run, a good friend of mine showed me a Zen garden here in Baltimore. The caretaker is someone who lives in the neighborhood who has been curating it since 2016. I remember being inspired and impressed that someone would put so much effort into creating what is a beautiful respite nestled away in the woods of Druid Hill Park. After leaving the space, I remember saying to myself that I had to come back with Anita, my girlfriend at the time (now my fiancée) and years later, we finally visited.

The caretaker, seated on a humble bench, greeted us with a calm smile.

He showed us around and pointed out various aspects, including architecture inspired by his time in Japan and so many other places far from Baltimore.

His last comments directed us towards a graveyard of gravestones that had been incorrectly marked. This pile was hidden by other rocks because he said the site of gravestones makes people unsettled.

Anita moved some of these rocks so she could get a better view and this was what she found:

A broken cross with the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus engraved in the center.

This might be unsettling for some, but for me, gazing on this broken, discarded cross brought great peace.

Standing there looking at Anita, who is an inspiration to me like the women at the cross, I reflected on how her moving the stones away revealed this peace, one that requires seeking and surrendering.

A moment after this, my phone buzzed – it was a text message from the same friend, Tym, who told me about the Zen garden in the first place. We had not spoken in a couple weeks and him contacting me – call it coincidence, chance or Providence – was the icing on the cake of this experience.

Praying this morning with Mt. 21 “Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem” led me to reading more about the meaning of Hosanna. In Greek, it means “save, please” and it is yet another name for Jesus that requires seeking and surrendering. The people yelling this were seeking a savior and those who surrendered their ego and comfort were able to find ultimate peace in following Him.

Knowing everyone who reads this might not be Christian, what we can hold in common in this reflection is the need to not only seek and desire peace but to do so in places we might not traditionally go to find it and then to to actively roll away the stone.

The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.

Psalm 118:22

Peace be with you.

What am I missing?

Context.

Mispronouncing words when reading aloud has been a stumbling block of mine ever since middle school. In Language Arts class we would read aloud and many times I needed to use my favorite strategy, context clues, to at least figure out what a word meant, even if I butchered the pronunciation. This didn’t save me from the embarrassment, but I could defend myself by saying, “Yeah but I know what it means!”

On the SAT’s I was intimidated when all that mattered in some sections was memorization, no context clues to provide guidance, no opportunity to defend myself.

As an uneasy middle school student, trying to avoid having to read aloud, this was the context in which I first learned, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39)

My parents often spoke with me about this social imperative and for many years I took it simply as manners, similar to the importance of saying “please” and “thank you” and avoiding cursing.

Over time, like all of us, the concepts I learned early in life took on new meaning based on changing context. Over the past few years I’ve given more time in reflection and prayer to the words in Mt. 22:39, asking myself – Who am I? What is love? Who is my neighbor?

I’ve unpacked a lot of my realizations in previous posts, but I want to focus on the last question some more. One aspect of neighbor I have been wrestling with is that it includes my enemies, or those with whom I do not relate well. It sounds weird to think that I have enemies, I like to think I don’t, but we can all agree that there are people in our lives we treat as enemies, sometimes without us even knowing we’re doing it. My biggest enemy is often myself, and when I name this, I’m better able to engage in reflections like the one in Loving Your Enemies, a sermon by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where he states,

A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity.

In re-defining who my neighbor is, including enemies, including myself, I’ve learned to redefine what it is to be myself and what it is to love. The shift happened when I began asking myself the question, What am I missing?

The focus on loving my neighbor as myself isn’t simply so I can be a pleasant and kind person, it’s because if I do this, I’ll be opening myself up to all that life has to offer.

So how does this relate to my middle school understanding of Mt. 22:39 and context clues?

In middle school, if I alienated myself from certain people, didn’t branch out or hid my face to avoid being called on, the ramifications could be feeling isolated and missing out on learning or on a friend. I was my own worst enemy because I was being guided by fear of what others might think. Now I am guided by a new fear, a healthy one: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:39) What am I missing by not living this way?

The relation to context clues is that shortly after Mt. 22:39, in 41-42 Jesus asks the Pharisees, “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” Reflecting on the context, I think Jesus is asking about possibilities. He’s asking if they are, if we are, and ultimately if I am open to this new possibility.

Back then, what I understood as only an exhortation concerning the way to act, I now understand as an invitation to new understanding, to new life.

signposts

I’m named after a saint who was known for his faith, resourcefulness and impeccable sense of direction. In the past, I’ve used this as a comical way to introduce myself because of how woefully short I fall from my namesake. There was a time I’m not sure I could find my way out of my own driveway.

Saint Brendan was an Irish monk from the 6th century who established churches in Britain and Ireland, and then travelled across the Atlantic, in a simple boat wrapped in leather – some even say he reached North America before the Vikings. The book, “The Brendan Voyage” makes the case that it was at least possible.

Recently, I had a realization that although our journeys are much different, I am gifted with a strong faith and more resoursefullness and sense of direction than I think.

I just finished the book “Becoming Who You Are” by Fr. James Martin, SJ where he highlights a variety of holy people, including Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen. In one of Nouwen’s short book of essays titled Encounters with Merton, he states that Thomas Merton, “loved his friends, but didn’t use them, he was intensely thankful for everything he recieved from them, but he didn’t attach himself to them. More and more he learned to see his friends as signposts to God.”

After reading this I spent some time thinking of how I’ve interacted with my friends over the course of my life. There have been times when I attached myself to them and even defined myself by them and depended on them too much, not allowing the creation of my own identity. For most of my life, however, I have been blessed with the awareness that friends are exactly as Merton described, signposts to God.

St. Ignatius of Loyola would refer to his fellow Jesuits as “friends in the Lord” and ever since learning that, I have redefined what that word “friend” means. I do understand the deliniation of friends, family, co-workers, loved ones, aquantiances, etc. However, over time I have come to accept friend as a more fluid concept. Any one person in those groups described can act as a friend in various situations. I know it’s cliché but many people consider their significant other their best friend and I don’t think that’s wrong to do. A professor once told me the word friend can be defined as to mean “to set free” and I’ve always loved that concept. When we show ourselves as friends, we are helping to show the way to a more full existence, to share love and maybe even some guidance as we navigate troubled waters.

Because I’ve been paying attention to these signposts, I’m learning more about myself and my God.

I’m named after a saint known for his faith, resourcefulness, and sense of direction.

Hopefully now I can say that without it being a punchline.

finding peace

Telling someone to relax never works.

We have all done it, someone is distressed and we feel the need to do or say something. This advice isn’t ineffective because it’s wrong, it’s ineffective because the desired state can’t be bestowed by another person, it must come about from within.

Walking the streets of Montréal this past summer, I was struck by the amount of partially completed buildings. One gentleman I spoke with said the reason for this is because of some loopholes in contracts where developers automatically get paid a certain amount when they finish at least 75% of a project. Now, I’m not sure if this is true, but I hung on this metaphor for a long time. These buildings, strewn about the city with exposed beams and abandoned scaffolding, became reminders of how I was feeling mostly in a good place, but somewhat incomplete and vulnerable.

The main grace I sought at this time was inner peace. The peace I’ve observed in people who seem to encounter hardships and handle them with quiet confidence. Not only is their foundation strong, but they seem to be weather proofed and solid.

This year I’ve spent a lot more time in prayer, letting God know my desire for this peace. I’m not sure I have it completely but I have found many role models and I’ve seen little signs everywhere. It’s been heartening that less people have told me to relax and even if I have an emotional response to something, it’s often from a place of strength, not devoid of vulnerability, but not as defensive.

The true test for my inner peace is how it endures changing circumstances. Regardless of how complete I might feel, I know I’ll always need help and guidance from my Creator, who has given me everything I need to build a full life.

can’t fly without wings

We are all called to be saints. This is a common message shared at All Saints’ Day, which is a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church. This means I’ve been going to mass for years, drawing inspiration from the saints.

One year, a Jesuit at our school, Fr. Bruce, challenged us to look at the lives of the saints (those who are officially canonized and the people in our lives we look to as saintly) and then look at our own lives and contemplate how we can live this in our own way.

I have a very easy time identifying those in my life who are inspirations to me, saintly people in my daily life. I also believe in angels, spirits that accompany us on our journey. Not to conflate the two, but I often find saintly people to have an aura about them, almost as if the presence of their guardian angel can be felt.

In Theology studies at Loyola University we were challenged to engage in the study of “higher things” as we make our way as creatures here on earth. Focusing on higher things, while being rooted in earthly things, is a way of describing the path to sainthood. When I was younger I believed that in order to do this, I literally needed to look up, because that’s where heaven is. I also believed that in order to get there, I needed wings.

For most of my adult life, I laughed at this way of thinking. It was naïve and overly simplistic. It turns out that I don’t think I was too far off.

Recently a friend gave me a copy of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. My heart leapt when I read this passage, “With two wings a man is lifted up above earthly things: that is, with simplicity and purity.” He goes on to explain how living with this duel focus will free us from what binds us, all that holds us back from being who we were created to be.

So I do need wings.

It is a tall order, and one I found to be inspirational and haunting in it’s accuracy. Rising above the daily hinderances which inhibit freedom requires personal focus and communal support. As I was reminded earlier this year by a guest speaker, Carlos Aedo, who said “no one is saved alone.” As I’ve grown in understanding, I now know that heaven is much closer than I think. Focusing on higher things involves looking up but also looking around, being inspired by the people in my life and as St. Ignatius of Loyola would say, “see God in all things.” Thankfully, I can now believe this and also let my imagination run free with the childlike notion of having wings that help me soar free from all that holds me back.

“I can’t get to heaven without wings.” Maybe that wasn’t such a silly thought after all.

with passion

“Alright, time to read!”

“Nope. Time for soccer.”

(Ball flies across the room and hits drawings off wall)

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a couple hours with third graders for what was supposed to be drop everything and read time. For the first twenty minutes after picking out their favorite books, soccer seemed to dominate their attention. I had a realization after the third failed attempt to get them to focus –

they were b o r e d.

Last week I saw a former student and had this conversation. “Wow, I remember you sitting in the back row of the classroom. I used to feel so bad because for so long I thought you weren’t paying attention out of disrespect, but then after grading your tests I figured out it was just out of boredom.” We laughed and he told me about his plans to finish his senior year in college. Leaving the store, all I could think about was how I wish I came to this realization earlier – how many students did I think were being rude, but at the core were just uninterested?

I briefly won the battle against soccer.

I started using voices, acting out the dropping of dishes, waving flags, and speaking slower when a pivotal moment in the story presented itself. Sure enough, almost thirty minutes later, I looked around to see sets of eyes focused with anticipation.

Soccer followed our reading time and I don’t think any major breakthroughs occurred, but we read. All it took was a shift, despite the perceived interest not being there, regardless of how powerful the soccer lobby was, bringing new energy and even being silly was what made it happen.

This isn’t just about the third graders or my former brilliant back row scholar, this is a reminder of the potential daily situations where my body language falsely communicates passivity.

Proceed with passion, that’s what I learned in class.

what my soul helps me see

When the Soul wants to experience something she throws out an image in front of her and then steps into it. 
― Meister Eckhart

A few minutes from my door, there is a place that has many of these images waiting for me. It’s home of bold exhibitions, complex expressions of joy, pain, injustice and beauty – the Baltimore Museum of Art.

I treasure the hours I’ve spent there with my fiancée, like this date where we were invited to leave hearts on the pieces of art we loved the most.

Each curated selection evokes different emotions, but there are some to which we keep coming back. For me, one of these is Artist in Greenland by Rockwell Kent. Maybe it’s the color scheme and lighting, maybe it’s the simplicity. Maybe it’s how it seems to greet me like an old friend, with a mixture of familiarity and surprise.

Last time it made me laugh.

Even though the painters face is hidden, all I could see is a proud smile as to say, “Look at how beautiful this is! I painted it so I can be reminded of it every day.”

The glacier pictured is probably long gone, but the joyful scenario has survived – someone sledding to their favorite wonder, taking the time to capture it, then covering and tying the canvas creation to their sled before heading home.

Maybe I’m so drawn to this piece because I too try to hold on to scenes, to moments.

Being that Anita lives in D.C., often I find myself dreading dropping her off at the train station because that means our time has come to an end. However, it’s this same train station that I drive past that brings me great joy. Just as I cope with her leaving, my soul throws out images of her walking towards me when I go to pick her up, and it challenges me to see things differently.

an unknown know nothing

I heard a political commentator mention that the candidate who will be the most successful in the 2020 election, will be the one who is able to steal the spotlight long enough to get their point across.

Speech and debate was way outside my comfort zone in high school, but as an adult I was able to attend a high school tournament and support some students. While sitting in the back of the classroom, I observed a Lincoln-Douglas debate and at times shifted nervously in my seat. After a few exchanges, it became clear that one student was far superior. They knew their facts, had a dominant presence and dispensed zingers at just the right time. I began to feel bad for the other student as they scrambled to save face.

by Cédric Lothby

On the main street in a part of Montreal populated by many schools and museums, sat this statue.

I stopped my run to spend some time with it, and then the rest of my way home I wondered why it moved me so much. Then it hit me, it was the struggling student from the Lincoln-Douglas debate.

A mixture of stress, fear and worry, the face of both this statue and that student has also stayed with me because it looks all too familiar – I see it in my mirror.

Over the years I’ve realized that as I become less worried about saying the wrong thing or not having my statistics exactly correct, I become less familiar with this face. Recently, at times, I notice it has been replaced by a different one – the other student in the classroom – the confident debate winner with the zingers. Just yesterday in a conversation I caught myself one-upping and saying things like, another thing to remember, rather than listening and processing what was shared with me.

So what’s the lesson here? I’m not running for president and there are no judges declaring a winner or loser. Being that school is about to start up again, I’m so grateful for this reminder. In every interaction I can certainly try to be more like the intellectual, witty, well-known know-it-all, but sometimes there’s nothing wrong with being closer to the second-guessing, nervous, unknown know nothing who realizes there’s still a lot more work to be done. Thomas Merton said it best,

Pride makes us artificial; humility makes us real.

The downhill optimist

The road rises to challenge me, not to meet me.

My pace slows, my lungs burn, and I’m taught yet another lesson.

As I’ve said before, for the longest time I have been in awe of runners who choose to run trails instead of roads – hills instead of flats. Running is tough enough as it is, no?

Recently, in an attempt to become a better runner, I’ve embraced running more elevation.

These hills have humbled me in the most cutting way and have made me realize the trap of the downhill optimist.

Oregon Ridge Park, MD

When preparing for the Boston marathon, I told my friend Conrad that I was not a good hill runner. I remember how he said (in the nicest of ways) that my statement wasn’t even really viable. Basically if you’re in shape – meaning you’ve trained on hills and put in the time – you’ll be able to run the hills. Until I gave legitimate hill training a shot, how would I know if I was a good hill runner? It reminded me of the scene in Man on Fire where Denzel Washington teaches Dakota Fanning,

There’s no such thing as tough just – trained or untrained

He also spoke to me about the importance of mindset and that I can change how I speak to myself and begin affirming and viewing myself as a strong hill runner.

Yesterday on the hills in Patapsco, I was nearly brought to my knees on what is far from an impossible hill. A few minutes later, on the downhill, I was loving life.

The same story forty minutes later at the end of the run going up a hill familiar to many runners (again, not the most difficult hill in MD, but a major challenge) – Gun rd.

As I jogged the final meters, thinking back over my run, I wasn’t ashamed of how slow I ran up the hills and how fast I ran down them. I was really disappointed with my mentality.

Up the hills all I was doing was surviving, down the hills all the sudden I was a competitor again.

Truth is, so much of my experience in life can be reflected in this way of proceeding. It’s too easy to go negative, too easy to relent and to start shuffling when times are tough. At times I’ve piled on myself – doubting, shaming – all just because things weren’t going my way.

I know the downhill will be waiting for me and it’ll be time to fly, and it’s easy on the bright side but the true test is what happens in the midst of the pain, in the dark.

The next time I race will be purposely on the hills and in the heat at the Annapolis ten miler. I won’t be going for a fast time, but I do have a new focus for the race and for life in general – when the prayer says “may the road rise to meet you” I don’t think it’s so life will just be easy. I think it’s so that we can learn about ourselves on this road, the ups and the downs. So now I’m telling myself, don’t be a downhill optimist.