Reflections on questions & doubt: Thomas as a model of curiosity, questioning, and courage

Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving. 
– Frederick Buechner


I talk to God but the sky is empty. ― Sylvia Plath

I think the trouble with me is lack of faith… often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. – C.S. Lewis

We demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty! ― Douglas Adams

Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one. ― Voltaire

Who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith?… We’ve all experienced this, me too. – Pope Francis

… the Old Testament, which is where many of the questions (and questioners) are. The Old Testament proves that God honors questioners. Remember, grumpy Job emerges as the hero of that book, not his theologically defensive friends. — Philip Yancey

Songs about DOUBTS & QUESTIONS:

A Sonnet for St. Thomas the Apostle
Malcolm Guite

“We do not know… how can we know the way?”
Courageous master of the awkward question,
You spoke the words the others dared not say
And cut through their evasion and abstraction.
Oh doubting Thomas, father of my faith,
You put your finger on the nub of things
We cannot love some disembodied wraith,
But flesh and blood must be our king of kings.
Your teaching is to touch, embrace, anoint,
Feel after Him and find Him in the flesh.
Because He loved your awkward counter-point
The Word has heard and granted you your wish.
Oh place my hands with yours, help me divine
The wounded God whose wounds are healing mine.
 

QUESTIONING: An Act of Faith

When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, David Hume) or the newer ones (Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk, and Lamentations.  I have respect for a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject him, but also includes the arguments we can use in the Bible.  God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually. — Philip Yancey

In other words, no matter how strong our faith is, at some point we may experience doubt. But instead of being a sign of weakness, doubt can actually be something that causes us to dig deeper into our relationship with God, and can even make our faith stronger. — Jesse Carey

Certainty is so often overrated. This is especially the case when it comes to faith, or other imponderables. — Julia Baird

Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith… Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful. – Paul Tillich

Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God. – Eugene Peterson

Surely… we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety. – John Calvin

I do not believe there ever existed a Christian yet, who did not now and then doubt his interest in Jesus. I think, when a man says, “I never doubt,” it is quite time for us to doubt him.  – Charles Spurgeon

The minute we begin to think we know all the answers, we forget the questions, and we become smug like the Pharisee who listed all his considerable virtues, and thanked God that he was not like other men… Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.”– Madeleine L’Engle

When I get honest, I admit I am a bundle of paradoxes. I believe and I doubt, I hope and get discouraged, I love and I hate… I am trusting and suspicious. I am honest and I still play games. Aristotle said I am a rational animal; I say I am an angel with an incredible capacity for beer. – Brennan Manning

We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can almost be as stupid as a cabbage as long as you doubt. – Dallas Willard

All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it, tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say ‘Here at last is the thing I was made for.‘  — C. S. Lewis

I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me—that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. — Anne Lamott

Who among us—everybody, everybody!—who among us has not experienced insecurity, loss and even doubts on their journey of faith? Everyone! We’ve all experienced this, me too. It is part of the journey of faith, it is part of our lives. This should not surprise us, because we are human beings, marked by fragility and limitations. We are all weak, we all have limits: do not panic. We all have them … If one has the answers to all the questions—that is the proof that God is not with him. It means that he is a false prophet using religion for himself. The great leaders of the people of God, like Moses, have always left room for doubt. You must leave room for the Lord, not for our certainties; we must be humble. — Pope Francis

Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long & long for God … The torture and pain I can’t explain. — St. Mother Teresa

For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God. — Martin Luther

The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble … Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints. — Charles Spurgeon

If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation. ― Yann Martel

COMMENTARY on THOMAS as a DOUBTER

Here’s my simple contention about this passage: Thomas is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Think about it. Everything we know about Thomas up to this point suggests that he is forthright, genuine, and even courageous …
      Thomas, I would contend, is at heart a pragmatist, one who likes his truth straight up and who relentlessly takes stock of the situation before making a decision.
     
Which leads me to believe that what changes when Thomas is confronted by the risen Lord is not that he is no longer a doubter – he never really was – and certainly not his realism. No, what changes is his perception of reality itself. Of what is possible. Of what God can do. Even of what God can do through him….
     Jesus comes and takes his mocking words and turns them back on him, not to humiliate or scold him, but simply to confront him with the possibility that his reality was too small, his vision of what is possible too limited. And when Jesus calls him to faith, he’s actually inviting him to enter into a whole new world. …
      And this issue of having too small a vision of reality is what I find interesting. Because I also fall into a worldview governed by limitations and am tempted to call that “realism.” Which is when I need to have the community remind me of a grander vision. A vision not defined by failure but possibility, not governed by scarcity but by abundance, not ruled by remembered offenses but set free by forgiveness and reconciliation …
    There are, I suspect, a lot of Thomases in our congregations…. who should not have to surrender their sense of realism, but instead be invited to a whole new reality that God created  — David Lose

So, two things I noticed and wondered about when reading this passage.
     First, Thomas only asks to see what the other disciples have already seen. … Thomas asks for no extraordinary proof to move his extraordinary doubt, but only requests what the others had already been given.
    Second, is Thomas’ reaction one of doubt or realism? Might it be that Thomas was, above all else, a realist? And that reality had come as never before ….— David Lose

This week’s gospel lection offers us a secret room, and, with it, an invitation to touch, to cross more deeply into Jesus’ story and our own… History has labeled this disciple Doubting Thomas, as if his uncertainty were the most memorable thing about this follower of Jesus who, elsewhere, is the first to step up and say he is willing to die with him Yet Jesus, as is his way, gives Thomas what he needs  — Jan Richardson

I was reminded that in the story of the raising of Lazarus, Thomas is the one—the only one—who steps forward and expresses his willingness to die with Jesus. In this week’s reading, Thomas once again crosses into a place where others have not ventured: into the very flesh of the risen Christ… The wounds of the risen Christ are not a prison; they are a passage. Thomas’s hand in Christ’s side is not some bizarre, morbid probe: it is a union, and a reminder that in taking flesh, Christ wed himself to us.— Jan Richardson

Inventory ― Dorothy Parker
Four be the things
I am wiser to know:
Idleness, sorrow,
a friend, and a foe.
Four be the things
I’d been better without:
Love, curiosity,
freckles, and doubt.
Three be the things
I shall never attain:
Envy, content, and
sufficient champagne.
Three be the things
I shall have till I die:
Laughter and hope
and a sock in the eye.

ON DOUBT

We learn from failure, not from success! ― Bram Stoker

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. ― René Descartes

Doubt everything. Find your own light. ― Gautama Buddha

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.― William Shakespeare

To deny, to believe, and to doubt absolutely — this is for man what running is for a horse. – Blaise Pascal

Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority will believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.
― George Carlin

Doubt as sin. — Christianity has done its utmost to close the circle and declared even doubt to be sin. One is supposed to be cast into belief without reason, by a miracle, and from then on to swim in it as in the brightest and least ambiguous of elements: even a glance towards land, even the thought that one perhaps exists for something else as well as swimming, even the slightest impulse of our amphibious nature — is sin! And notice that all this means that the foundation of belief and all reflection on its origin is likewise excluded as sinful. What is wanted are blindness and intoxication and an eternal song over the waves in which reason has drowned. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess. ― Walt Whitman

And your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism. Ask it, whenever it wants to spoil something for you, why something is ugly, demand proofs from it, test it, and you will find it perhaps bewildered and embarrased, perhaps also protesting. But don’t give in, insist on arguments, and act in this way, attentive and persistent, every single time, and the day will come when, instead of being a destroyer, it will become one of your best workers–perhaps the most intelligent of all the ones that are building your life. ― Rainer Maria Rilke

THE GIFT of DOUBT —from Between the Dark and the Daylight by Joan Chittister (Penguin Random House)

As Voltaire remarked, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”
      The problem is that certitude seduces us. It enables us to believe that what was said to be true is true because someone else said so. It simply cuts off thought. It arrests discussion in midflight. And yet we yearn for it with a passion. We spend endless, sleepless nights grappling with intellectual options in order to wiggle them into a satisfying kind of certainty without so much as a scintilla of evidence.
     Rulers of all stripe and type dispense certainties—theirs—with great abandon. They do whatever it takes—define cultural dogmas, assert organizational doctrines, impose decrees, and use power, force and penal systems—to suppress the ideas of anyone who dares to question them. Ideas, after all, are dangerous things. Ideas have brought down as many myths and mysteries as they have toppled kingdoms.
     But there is another way to live that runs hot and bright through darkness. There are always some in every population who know that life is not meant to be about certainty. Life, they realize, is about possibility. They see certitude as a direction but not an end.
     Doubt is what shakes our arrogance and makes us look again at what we have never really looked at before. Without doubt there is little room for faith in anything. What we accept without question we will live without morality. It is in populations like this that monarchs become dictators and spiritual leaders become charlatans and knowledge becomes myth.
     An ancient people tell the story of sending out two shamans to study their holy mountain so that they could know what their gods expected of them. The first shaman came back from the north side of the mountain to tell them that it was covered with fruit trees, a sign that their god would always bless them abundantly. The second shaman came back from the south side of the mountain to tell the people that it was barren and covered with rock, a sign that their god would always be with them but intended them to take care of themselves. So, which shaman was right? If both, then it is dangerous to dogmatize either position.
     It is doubt, not certitude, that enables us to believe, because it requires us to think deeply about an entire subject, and not simply depend on the side of reality that is on our side of the mountain. Only when we look beyond absolutes to understand every level of life can we possibly live life to the fullest, with the deepest kind of insight, with the greatest degree of compassion for others.
     Voltaire was right, of course. Certainty is comfortable but always unlikely and forever disruptive. As life changes so must our explanation and response to it.

The Blessing of Thomas
— Maren Tirabassi

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” — John 20:29b

Blessed are the ones, says Thomas,
to those who listen to him, this eastertide,
who don’t need a sanctuary to worship God.
Blessed are those who don’t need a choir to hear holy music,
and who don’t need to sit in a pew
to open their hearts in prayer,
and who don’t need a stained glass window,
or a preacher or even bread and cup
to find the good news.
Blessed are those who really touch
even with gloves on,
who really smile with a mask,
who can be kind on Facetime or Zoom,
who follow a livestream to find Jesus alive.
But also blessed is the Thomas in every one of us
who acknowledges our longing
to hold someone’s real warm hand
not just the story of a hand
that reaches out to someone else, and who wants to feel
not Jesus’ long-ago bleeding side
(we congratulate ourselves about that)
but at least to feel side by side
with other Christians
in order to be side by side with Christ.
Blessed is the Thomas in all of us, who lives with doubts and hopes,
and learns to let go of all expectations
when waiting to meet God.

Reflections on journeys that involve struggles with our demons plus healing ourselves, our loved ones, and strangers

It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you, not by angels or by demons, heaven or hell. —  Buddha

…  however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin, to hate and condemn the sin while being filled with compassion for the sinner. – Desmond Tutu

Be kind to people and don’t judge, for you do not know what demons they carry and what battles they are fighting. ― Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Maybe demons are defined as anything other than God that tries to tell us who we are …  So if God’s first move is to give us our identity, then the devil’s first move is to throw that identity into question.― Nadia Bolz-Weber

Maybe that’s all demons ever are. People like us, doing things without even knowing what we’re doing. ― Orson Scott Card

Bible Project videos (spiritual beings series):

SONGS about DEMONS & DEVILS:

SONGS about ANGELS:

SONGS about HEALING:

Link to poet’s readings and full text of more poems from Call Us What We Carry: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/12/13/from-call-us-what-we-carry-poetry-by-amanda-gorman


CALL US — Amanda Gorman

Grant us this day
Bruising the make of us.

At times over half of our bodies
Are not our own,

Our persons made vessel
For nonhuman cells.

To them we are
A boat of a being,

Essential.
A country,

A continent,
A planet.

A human
Microbiome is all the writhing forms on

& inside this body
Drafted under our life.

We are not me—
We are we.

Call us
What we carry.


LUCENT — Amanda Gorman

What would we seem, stripped down
Like a wintered tree.
Glossy scabs, tight-raised skin,
These can look silver in certain moonlights.
In other words,
Our scars are the brightest
Parts of us.
* * *
The crescent moon,
The night’s lucent lesion.
We are felled oaks beneath it,
Branches full of empty.
Look closer.
What we share is more
Than what we’ve shed.
* * *
& what we share is the bark, the bones.
Paleontologists, from one fossilized femur,
Can dream up a species,
Make-believe a body
Where there was none.
Our remnants are revelation,
Our requiem as raptus.
When we bend into dirt
We’re truth preserved
Without our skin.
* * *
Lumen means both the cavity
Of an organ, literally an opening,
& a unit of luminous flux,
Literally, a measurement of how lit
The source is. Illuminate us.
That is, we, too,
Are this bodied unit of flare,
The gap for lux to breach.
* * *
Sorry, must’ve been the light
Playing tricks on us, we say,
Knuckling our eyelids.
But perhaps it is we who make
Falsities of luminescence—
Our shadows playing tricks on stars.
Every time their gazes tug down,
They think us monsters, then men,
Predators, then persons again,
Beasts, then beings,
Horrors, & then humans.
Of all the stars the most beautiful
Is nothing more than a monster,
Just as starved & stranded as we are.

STRUGGLING with our DEMONS

People can change, learn, and grow, and it’s better to face your demons instead of perpetually running away from them. — Jessica Rothe

Confront the dark parts of yourself, and work to banish them with illumination and forgiveness. Your willingness to wrestle with your demons will cause your angels to sing. — August Wilson

Man’s enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself. — Lao Tzu

If you don’t deal with your demons, they will deal with you, and it’s gonna hurt. — Nikki Sixx

I feel that people are basically trying to do their best in the world. Even when you see people making mistakes, you understand why they’re making a mistake. Everybody has flaws, everybody has demons, everybody has ghosts, but I think you watch people and you see everybody trying to do their best. — Jason Katims

We all carry extreme heartache and demons. Instead of pretending like we don’t, I like to be honest and real. — Ashlyn Harris

Being mentally tough is having to battle those demons and push yourself out of your comfort zone and force yourself to be the person that your mind is telling you you aren’t. — Michael Chiesa

My demons, inner strengths and physical battles have guided me through life. — GG Allin

…  however diabolical the act, it did not turn the perpetrator into a demon. We had to distinguish between the deed and the perpetrator, between the sinner and the sin, to hate and condemn the sin while being filled with compassion for the sinner. – Desmond Tutu


Human beings, we have dark sides; we have dark issues in our lives. To progress anywhere in life, you have to face your demons. — John Noble

We try so hard to block out negative or dark thoughts, but sometimes embracing your demons is the most vitalizing thing you can do. — Oliver Sykes

Indeed, our sins—hate, fear, greed, jealousy, lust, materialism, pride—can at times take such distinct forms in our lives that we recognize them in the faces of the gargoyles and grotesques that guard our cathedral doors. And these sins join in a chorus—you might even say a legion—of voices locked in an ongoing battle with God to lay claim over our identity, to convince us we belong to them, that they have the right to name us. Where God calls the baptized beloved, demons call her addict, slut, sinner, failure, fat, worthless, faker, screwup. Where God calls her child, the demons beckon with rich, powerful, pretty, important, religious, esteemed, accomplished, right. It is no coincidence that when Satan tempted Jesus after his baptism, he began his entreaties with, “If you are the Son of God . . .” We all long for someone to tell us who we are. The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans



Be kind to people and don’t judge, for you do not know what demons they carry and what battles they are fighting. ― Vashti Quiroz-Vega

Now I am as uncomfortable as the next … with the notion of exorcising demons. When I get to that part in the New Testament, I’m inclined to take the sophisticated approach and assume the people who had demons cast out of them were healed of mental illness or epilepsy or something like that. But lately, I’ve been wondering if this leaves something important out, something true about the shape of evil which is not merely an absence of good but the presence of a dark and irrational power. — Rachel Held Evans


I don’t always know what to do when it comes to talk about demons in the Bible.  Especially when the demons talk and have names and stuff like that. I’m never sure if back then they had the exact same things going on that we do, but they didn’t know about things like epilepsy or mental illness so they just called it all demon possession …
            Or if we do actually still have demons and it makes it more understandable and controllable for us if we use medical and scientific terms to describe the things that possess us. I honestly don’t know…
            But I do know that many of you, like myself, have suffered from addictions and compulsions and depression – things that have gotten ahold of us, making us do things we don’t want to. Or making you think you love things, or substances or people that are really destructive. So maybe if that, in part, is what having a demon is, maybe if it’s being taken over by something destructive, then possession is less of an anachronism, and more of an epidemic…
            So, in conclusion, are demons forces that are totally external to us who seek to defy God? Are they just the shadow side of our own souls? Are they social constructions from a pre-modern era?
            Bottom line: Who cares. I don’t think demons are something human reason can solve. Or that human faith can resolve.
            I just know that demons, whether they be addictions or evil spirits, are not what Jesus wants for us.  Since basically every time he encountered them he told them to piss off.  And here’s the thing: the authority to do just this –  the authority to face what tell us lies, to face what keeps us shackled, to face what keeps us out of control, alone and in pain and tell it in the name of Jesus to piss off is an authority that has been given to us all in baptism.  — Nadia Bolz-Weber

They are not demons, not devils… Worse than that. They are people. ― Andrzej Sapkowski

But she had known, better than anyone else, what demons he had faced, had known how hard he had fought to free himself from them. That he had lost the fight in the end made the struggle no less honorable. ― Donna Woolfolk Cross

If I got rid of my demons, I’d lose my angels. ― Tennessee Williams

Let me tell you a little bit about demons. They love pain and other people’s misery. They lie when it suits them and don’t see anything wrong with it. They corrupt and kill and destroy, all without conscience. You just don’t have the capacity for something as honorable as loving another person. ― Brenna Yovanoff

Everywhere I looked, demons of the future [were] on the battlegrounds of one’s emotional plane. ― David Bowie

What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

Culture, like science, is no protection against demons. ― G.K. Chesterton

Men who fear demons see demons everywhere. ― Brom

Be careful when you cast out your demons that you don’t throw away the best of yourself. ― Friedrich Nietzsche

I suddenly realized. The zebra. It is not something outside of us. The zebra is something inside of us. Our fears. Our own self-destructive nature. The zebra is the worst part of us when we are face-to-face with our worst times. The demon is us! ― Garth Stein

He who has rejected his demons badgers us to death with his angels.  ― Henri Michaux

People shouldn’t call for demons unless they really mean what they say. ― C.S. Lewis

It is only when a man tames his own demons that he becomes the king of himself if not of the world. ― Joseph Campbell,

All the demons of Hell formerly reigned as gods in previous cultures. No it’s not fair, but one man’s god is another man’s devil. As each subsequent civilization became a dominant power, among its first acts was to depose and demonize whoever the previous culture had worshipped. The Jews attacked Belial, the god of the Babylonians. The Christians banished Pan and Loki anda Mars, the respective deities of the ancient Greeks and Celts and Romans. The Anglican British banned belief in the Australian aboriginal spirits known as the Mimi. Satan is depicted with cloven hooves because Pan had them, and he carries a pitchfork based on the trident carried by Neptune. As each deity was deposed, it was relegated to Hell. For gods so long accustomed to receiving tribute and loving attention, of course this status shift put them into a foul mood.”
― Chuck Palahniuk

Your god, sir, is the World. In my eyes, you, too, if not an infidel, are an idolater. I conceive that you ignorantly worship: in all things you appear to me too superstitious. Sir, your god, your great Bel, your fish-tailed Dagon, rises before me as a demon. You, and such as you, have raised him to a throne, put on him a crown, given him a sceptre. Behold how hideously he governs! See him busied at the work he likes best — making marriages. He binds the young to the old, the strong to the imbecile. He stretches out the arm of Mezentius and fetters the dead to the living. In his realm there is hatred — secret hatred: there is disgust — unspoken disgust: there is treachery — family treachery: there is vice — deep, deadly, domestic vice. In his dominions, children grow unloving between parents who have never loved: infants are nursed on deception from their very birth: they are reared in an atmosphere corrupt with lies … All that surrounds him hastens to decay: all declines and degenerates under his sceptre. Your god is a masked Death. ― Charlotte Brontë

Never trust a demon. He has a hundred motives for anything he does … Ninety-nine of them, at least, are malevolent. ― Neil Gaiman

When you’re dealing with these forces or powers in a philosophic and scientific way, contemplating them from an armchair, that rationalistic approach is useful. It is quite profitable then to regard the gods and goddesses and demons as projections of the human mind or as unconscious aspects of ourselves. But every truth is a truth only for one place and one time, and that’s a truth, as I said, for the armchair. When you’re actually dealing with these figures, the only safe, pragmatic and operational approach is to treat them as having a being, a will, and a purpose entirely apart from the humans who evoke them. If the Sorcerer’s Apprentice had understood that, he wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble. ― Robert Anton Wilson

Our practice of the Dharma should be a continual effort to attain a state beyond suffering.  It should not simply be a moral activity whereby we avoid negative ways and engage in positive ones.  In our practice of the Dharma, we seek to transcend the situation in which we all find ourselves:  victims of our own mental afflictions- such as attachment, hatred, pride, greed, and so forth-are mental states that cause us to behave in ways that bring about all of our unhappiness and suffering.  While working to achieve inner peace and happiness, it is helpful to think of them as our inner demons, for like demons, they can haunt us, causing nothing but misery.  That state beyond such negative emotions and thoughts, beyond all sorrow, is called nirvana. — His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Since there is no notion of absolute evil in Buddhism (or indeed in any Asian religion), and all classes of beings, including beings of the lower realms such as demons, animals, and ghosts, may improve their karmic lot by attaining a higher birth in the human or divine realms, demons are not always and forever demons. They are troublesome but not catastrophic. They are obstacles to be overcome through ritual action, offerings of appeasement, and meditative detachment. Nevertheless, in normative Buddhist texts, the suffering of demons in the hell realms is invoked negatively to warn practitioners to be more diligent in their spiritual efforts—in part to avoid rebirth among these unfortunate beings. As representations of natural bounty, mystery, and fertility, demons threaten to exceed and overturn the human order. They must be controlled, and yet they must be respected, since they are an inevitable feature of that oscillating order. — Gail Hinich Sutherland


A Hot Time in a Small Town — Thylias Moss
  In this restaurant a plate of bluefish pâté
and matzos begin memorable meals.  
The cracker is ridged, seems planked,
an old wall streaked sepia, very nearly black in
Tigrett, Tennessee  
where it burned  
into a matzo’s twin.
While waiting for a Martha’s Vineyard salad,
I rebuild the church with crackers,
pâté as paste  
as a flaming dessert arrives at another table
where diners are ready
for a second magnum of champagne;
every day is an anniversary;
every minute, a commemoration
so there is no reason to ever be sober  
to excuse incendiaries who gave up the bottle,
threw alcohol at the church,
spectacular reform  
in flames themselves ordinary—
there’d been fire in that church many times,
every Sunday and even at the Thursday choir rehearsals.
For years there’d been a fired-up congregation  
so seething, neighborhoods they marched through
ignited no matter their intention;
just as natural as summer.
There were hot links
as active as telephone lines
whose poles mark the countryside
as if the nation is helpless
without a crucifix every few yards;
pity they are combustible  
and that fire itself is holy,
that its smoke merges
with atmosphere, that we breathe its residue,
that when it is thick and black enough to believe in,
it betrays and chokes us;
pity that it is the vehicle
that proves the coming of the Lord,
the establishment of his kingdom,
his superiority because

fire that maintains him disfigures us;
when we try to embrace him;
we find ourselves out on a limb
burning. The meal
tastes divine, simply divine
and I eat it in the presence
of a companion dark as scab,
as if skin burned off
was replaced as he healed
with this total-body scab
under which he is pink as a pig,
unclean at least through Malachi.
In my left hand, a dash of Lot’s wife;
in my right, a mill to freshly grind the devil,
since fire is power
both the supreme good and supreme evil
are entitled to it;
most of the time,
what did it matter
who was in charge of Job?
Both burnt him.



An American Sunrise — Joy Harjo
We were running out of breath,
as we ran out to meet ourselves.
We were surfacing the edge of our ancestors’ fights,
and ready to strike.
It was difficult to lose days in the Indian bar
if you were straight. Easy if you played pool
and drank to remember to forget.
We made plans to be professional — and did.
And some of us could sing so we drummed
a fire-lit pathway up to those starry stars.
Sin was invented by the Christians,
as was the Devil, we sang.
We were the heathens,
but needed to be saved from them — thin chance.
We knew we were all related in this story,
a little gin will clarify the dark and make us all feel like dancing.
We had something to do with the origins of blues and jazz
I argued with a Pueblo as I filled the jukebox with dimes in June,
forty years later and we still want justice. We are still America.
We know the rumors of our demise.
We spit them out.
They die soon.


Howl— Allen Ginsburg
I. I saw the best minds
of my generation destroyed by madness,
starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning
for the ancient heavenly connection
to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high
sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness
of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz, who bared their brains to Heaven …
full poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/49303/howl


Footnote to Howl — Allen Ginsburg
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy! Holy!
The world is holy! The soul is holy!
The skin is holy! The nose is holy!
The tongue and cock and hand and asshole holy!
Everything is holy! everybody’s holy!
everywhere is holy! everyday is in eternity!
Everyman’s an angel!
The bum’s as holy as the seraphim!
the madman is holy as you my soul are holy!
The typewriter is holy the poem is holy the voice is holy
the hearers are holy the ecstasy is holy!
Holy Peter holy Allen holy Solomon holy Lucien
holy Kerouac holy Huncke holy Burroughs holy Cassady
holy the unknown buggered and suffering beggars holy the hideous human angels!
Holy my mother in the insane asylum!
Holy the cocks of the grandfathers of Kansas!
Holy the groaning saxophone! Holy the bop apocalypse!
Holy the jazzbands marijuana hipsters peace peyote pipes & drums!
Holy the solitudes of skyscrapers and pavements!
Holy the cafeterias filled with the millions!
Holy the mysterious rivers of tears under the streets!
Holy the lone juggernaut! Holy the vast lamb of the middleclass!
Holy the crazy shepherds of rebellion!
Who digs Los Angeles IS Los Angeles!
Holy New York Holy San Francisco Holy Peoria & Seattle
Holy Paris Holy Tangiers Holy Moscow Holy Istanbul!
Holy time in eternity holy eternity in time
holy the clocks in space holy the fourth dimension
holy the fifth International holy the Angel in Moloch!
Holy the sea holy the desert
holy the railroad holy the locomotive
holy the visions holy the hallucinations
holy the miracles holy the eyeball holy the abyss!
Holy forgiveness! mercy! charity! faith!
Holy! Ours! bodies! suffering! magnanimity!
Holy the supernatural extra brilliant intelligent kindness of the soul!

Reflections on knowing your heart – theme from Acts of the Apostles 11-15

Then love knew it was called love.
And when I lifted my eyes to your name,
suddenly your heart showed me my way.
― Pablo Neruda

May I live this day
Compassionate of heart,
Clear of mind,
Gracious in awareness
Courageous in thought,
Generous in love.
— John O’Donohue
 

Questions to consider:

  • In what ways do you know you own heart? How have you come to know yourself well? When has your heart surprised you?
  • When you pray, what parts of yourself do you choose to hide from Godself? What would you be most comfortable and uncomfortable for Godself to see and know about your heart?
  • Who else in your life knows you well?

Songs about the heart:

Know Your Heart

To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself. ― Thich Nhat Hanh
 
Take a shower, wash off the day. Drink a glass of water. Make the room dark. Lie down and close your eyes. Notice the silence. Notice your heart. Still beating. Still fighting. You made it, after all. You made it, another day. And you can make it one more. You’re doing just fine. ― Charlotte Eriksson

I wish you knew what I have in my heart for you, but there is no way for you to know except by my actions. — Umar b. al-Khattib

… if it is true that there are as many minds as there are heads, then there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts. ― Leo Tolstoy
 
“I’ve never minded it,” he went on. “Being lost, that is. I had always thought one could not truly be lost if one knew one’s own heart. But I fear I may be lost without knowing yours.” ― Cassandra Clare

When the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object. ― Milan Kundera
 
The heart has its reasons which reason knows not. ― Blaise Pascal
 
The heart is an arrow. It demands aim to land true. ― Leigh Bardugo
 
We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over; so in a series of kindnesses there is at last one which makes the heart run over. ― Ray Bradbury
 
Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong! – I have as much soul as you, – and full as much heart! ― Charlotte Brontë
 
Somewhere, far down, there was an itch in his heart, but he made it a point not to scratch it. He was afraid of what might come leaking out. ― Markus Zusak
 
Her heart was a secret garden and the walls were very high. ― William Goldman
 
One ought to hold on to one’s heart; for if one lets it go, one soon loses control of the head too. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
 
“Because fear kills everything,” Mo had once told her. “Your mind, your heart, your imagination.” ― Cornelia Funke
 
Her heart – like every heart, if only its fallen sides were cleared away – was an inexhaustible fountain of love: she loved everything she saw. ― George MacDonald
 
The person who tries to live alone will not succeed as a human being. His heart withers if it does not answer another heart. His mind shrinks away if he hears only the echoes of his own thoughts and finds no other inspiration. ― Pearl Buck
 
She put one hand on mine. “When someone is in your heart, they’re never truly gone. They can come back to you, even at unlikely times.” ― Mitch Albom
 
Sometimes your heart is the only thing worth listening to. ― Marissa Meyer
 
The heart of man is very much like the sea, it has its storms, it has its tides and in its depths it has its pearls too. ― Vincent van Gogh
 
Nobody sees anybody truly but all through the flaws of their own egos. That is the way we all see …each other in life. Vanity, fear, desire, competition– all such distortions within our own egos– condition our vision of those in relation to us. Add to those distortions to our own egos the corresponding distortions in the egos of others, and you see how cloudy the glass must become through which we look at each other. That’s how it is in all living relationships except when there is that rare case of two people who love intensely enough to burn through all those layers of opacity and see each other’s naked hearts. ― Tennessee Williams
 
Then he made one last effort to search in his heart for the place where his affection had rotted away, and he could not find it. ― Gabriel Garcia Marquez
 
Hateful to me as the gates of Hades is that man who hides one thing in his heart and speaks another. ― Homer
 
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. —  Bible
 
Music is the literature of the heart; it commences where speech ends. ― Alphonse de Lamartine
 
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn. What the swift mind beholds at every turn. ― Edna St. Vincent Millay

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil. Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person. ― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Heart as Sacred Place

One love, one heart, one destiny. ― Robert Marley

Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee. ― Augustine of Hippo

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye. ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ― Mahatma Gandhi
 

Wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding, and embraces the whole of a person: mind, heart, and body. These three centers must all be working, and working in harmony, as the first prerequisite to the Wisdom way of knowing. — Cynthia Bourgeault 

There is a place in you…that is the eternal place within you. The more we visit there, the more we are touched and fused with the limitless kindness and affection of the divine…If we can inhabit that reflex of divine presence, then compassion will flow naturally from us. — John O’Donohue

Heart Center — Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Deep within each of us is a prayer phrase longing to be expressed, what some have named the Prayer of the Heart. It consists of two simple phrases—one said on inhalation and one said on exhalation. Early Christians used to pray, “Come, Lord Jesus,” in this fashion. That was their deep longing, for Jesus to return and be among them in physical reality. We will spend time in this exercise finding those prayers that are as close to us as our very breath. The beauty of this prayer is the way it stays with us all day, all week, or even for a lifetime if we allow it.

The Exercise 

  • Begin seated in a comfortable position. Make sure your body weight is distributed in such a way that you feel stable. Take about five deep, slow breaths and allow the tension of the day to flow out with each exhalation. After five deliberate breaths, turn your attention away from counting and allow your breath to find its natural pace.
  • What is your deepest and truest longing for life with God at this moment? If you find that your longing feels “tacky” or too worldly, try suspending judgment and instead looking at what’s at the base of that desire. When you check in with your deepest and truest self, what is it that you seek from God?
  • Give that longing a short phrase. For example, if your deep desire is inner freedom, then your phrase would be “freedom” or “inner freedom.” Make sure that your phrase is not too long.
  • What is your favorite name for God? How do you image the Creator? Choose whatever name seems to fit best for you. Some examples include: Jesus, Wisdom, Father, Mother, or Mystery. Be as creative as you want to be. But again, keep the name rather short.
  • Combine your name for God with your longing. For example, if my phrase is “freedom” and the name I choose for God is Christ, my prayer of the heart might be “Freedom, in Christ.” Spend a few moments coming up with your two-part prayer
  • Begin to say—either aloud or silently—your phrase. You may inhale on the name of God and exhale on the desire or vice versa. Spend several minutes breathing this prayer. Make it your own. Allow God to inhabit this prayer.
  • After several minutes of repeating this prayer, sink into contemplative silence. Allow the love of God to fill you and surround you.
  • If you want to be sure to remember this phrase to pray it throughout the day, write it down. You might want to place it on the back of a business card and put it in your wallet or pocket. Place it on a sticky note next to your computer, or on the door of your refrigerator.

Reference:

  • Teresa A. Blythe, 50 Ways to Pray: Practices from Many Traditions and Times (Abingdon Press: 2006), 36-38.

Wisdom of the Heart Richard Rohr (excerpt)

Here are five interlocking habits of the heart . . . deeply ingrained patterns of receiving, interpreting, and responding to experience that involve our intellects, emotions, self-images, and concepts of meaning and purpose. These five habits, taken together, are crucial to sustaining a democracy.

  • We must understand that we are all in this together. Ecologists, economists, ethicists, philosophers of science, and religious and secular leaders have all given voice to this theme. . . .
  • We must develop an appreciation of the value of “otherness.”. . . [This] can remind us of the ancient tradition of hospitality to the stranger. . . .
  • We must cultivate the ability to hold tension in life-giving ways. . . . When we allow [these] tensions to expand our hearts, they can open us to new understandings of ourselves and our world, enhancing our lives and allowing us to enhance the lives of others. . . .
  • We must generate a sense of personal voice and agency. Insight and energy give rise to new life as we speak and act, expressing our version of truth while checking and correcting it against the truths of others. . . .
  • We must strengthen our capacity to create community. . . . The steady companionship of two or three kindred spirits can kindle the courage we need to speak and act as citizens. [4]

References:

  1. Terry Tempest Williams, “Engagement,” Orion, July-August 2004. See also Williams, The Open Space of Democracy (Wip and Stock: 2004), 83-84.
  2. [Cynthia Bourgeault, “The Way of the Heart,” Parabola, January 31, 2017.
  3. Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Voice of the Day: Richard Rohr on Sacred Space,” Sojourners, October 24, 2016.
  4. Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy (Jossey-Bass: 2014, ©2011), 6-7, 44-46.

Reflections on going your way, my way, and finding ‘the way’ (themes from Luke)

Question: When do you follow the lead of others, and explore their way, and when do you invite others to join you and try your path, your way?

As you start to walk on the way, the way appears. — Rumi

Music Video:Bless the Broken Road by Rascal Flatts

The Way InLinda Hogan

Sometimes the way to milk and honey is through the body. Sometimes the way in is a song. But there are three ways in the world:
dangerous, wounding, and beauty. To enter stone, be water. To rise through hard earth, be plant desiring sunlight, believing in water. To enter fire, be dry. To enter life, be food.

The Road― J.R.R. Tolkien
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

My Way, Your Way

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential. ― Joseph Campbell, The Hero’s Journey

Just imagine becoming the way you used to be as a very young child, before you understood the meaning of any word, before opinions took over your mind. The real you is loving, joyful, and free. The real you is just like a flower, just like the wind, just like the ocean, just like the sun. — Don Miguel Ruiz

Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you. — Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Don’t keep forever on the public road, going only where others have gone. ― Alexander Graham Bell

You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist. ― Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Unfortunately, when you insist on doing everything your way, what usually happens is that you repeat someone else’s mistakes. ― Augustine Wetta, Humility Rules: St Benedict’s Twelve-Step Guide to Genuine Self-Esteem

We do not draw people … by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. — Madeleine L’Engle

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. — Mahatma Gandhi

The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing. — Walt Disney

Finding the Way

You don’t choose a life … You live one. — The Way (movie) script

In a gentle way, you can shake the world. — Mahatma Gandhi

… we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God. — Soren Kierkegaard

… the greatest spiritual practice isn’t yoga or praying the hours or living in intentional poverty, although these are all beautiful in their own way. The greatest spiritual practice is just showing up. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber, Pastrix

The easiest way to be reborn is to live and feel life everyday. ― Munia Khan

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. — Thomas Edison

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. — John Muir

To enjoy good health, to bring true happiness to one’s family, to bring peace to all, one must first discipline and control one’s own mind. If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment, and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him. — Buddha

I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars. — Og Mandino

Love will find a way through paths where wolves fear to prey. — Lord Byron

There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Reflections on songs & singing

Poem ― Charlotte Eriksson
… so this is for us.
This is for us who sing, write, dance, act, study, run and love
and this is for doing it even if no one will ever know
because the beauty is in the act of doing it.
Not what it can lead to.
This is for the times I lose myself while writing, singing, playing
and no one is around and they will never know
but I will forever remember
and that shines brighter than any praise or fame or glory I will ever have,
and this is for you who write or play or read or sing
by yourself with the light off and door closed
when the world is asleep and the stars are aligned
and maybe no one will ever hear it
or read your words
or know your thoughts
but it doesn’t make it less glorious.
It makes it ethereal. Mysterious.
Infinite.
For it belongs to you and whatever God or spirit you believe in
and only you can decide how much it meant
and means
and will forever mean
and other people will experience it too
through you.
Through your spirit. Through the way you talk.
Through the way you walk and love and laugh and care
and I never meant to write this long
but what I want to say is:
Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself
and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.

So go create. Take photographs in the wood, run alone in the rain and sing your heart out high up on a mountain
where no one will ever hear
and your very existence will be the most hypnotising scar.
Make your life be your art
and you will never be forgotten.

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