Tag Archives: pleasure

28 May: Happy Monday!

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What are some of the surprises that God has blessed you with today? Pray with this question and, together, let us allow our hearts to be open to being surprised by God’s grace!

Happy Monday!

Those few lines are by Father James Kurzynski, writing on the Vatican Observatory Website about a day full of good surprises. Do take up his challenge before bedtime, but also  follow this link to his surprising day. He was like a kid in an Astronomical Candy Store, he tells us, finishing with a shared meal with a friend and family.

Laudato Si’!

MMB

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January 10: Temperance IV: Our Appetites and our Reason

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Our human nature was created by God in such a way as to insure our survival as a species. The bodily appetites that deliver the most pleasure also happen to be the very ones we most need in order to keep us going on the planet earth. In themselves, they are good, as St. Thomas affirms, and there is nothing wrong with the pleasure they give. But, paradoxically, we need some moderation in these areas in order to enjoy the pleasure they give. How do we manage this?

There is very little in our secular culture to help us here. The advertising media exploits all our appetites in order to sell its products, thereby increasing our desire to posses those products and experience those pleasures, and giving us a vague feeling of inferiority if we do not. Being sexually active is presented as the greatest and most fulfilling human experience by the story-line of most films, plays and television shows. Chastity is rarely presented at all, and almost never shown in a positive light. The pleasures of food and alcohol are raised to the level of culinary art by celebrity chefs and the entire food industry. Yet, the fact that there are a rising number of individuals pursuing Twelve Step1 programs in order to handle addictions in these areas testifies to the truth that the Church has always known and St. Thomas clearly articulated in the thirteenth century. We need self-control with regard to our pleasures.

We also need to think. Our mind, our reason is more powerful than we may realise and can give us the real guidance we need. How reassuring this information is: that we have within us the capacity to direct our growth in goodness. This is nothing to do with IQ, and everything to do with opening our mind to the truth and our heart to the promptings of grace.

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The media and pop culture rely on us not thinking very deeply – and certainly not praying – so that we may be seduced by the personalities and products the media presents, and become consumers of what they sell. If we do not think too much, then our appetite for power and pleasure and possessions will move us to buy things that the businesses supporting the media want us to buy – things that will seem to feed these appetites, and give us the illusion that we, too, look like media stars and share somehow in their life of glamour and pleasure. This is manipulation on a grand scale. This illusion is something from which we need to withdraw in order to discover our true identity. We desperately need our ability to think, we need the use of what St. Thomas would call our reason, in order to live on a level in which we see through what is fraudulent and empty. Only then will we discover the joy of living in communion with God, and with what is true, and with a set of values in which temperance as a virtue becomes possible to us.

SJC

1It is important to point out that there can be a difference between addiction and intemperance, at least where drugs and alcohol are concerned. Drug and alcohol addiction is usually considered a disease which originates in a genetic pre-disposition to it. The only “cure” is complete abstinence from all substances. This is not the place to give a full description of the characteristics of addiction. I refer those interested in learning more about this to any writings on the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

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January 9: The Virtue of Temperance, III: Temperance and Moderation.

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Good food in moderation: Broadstairs Baptist Church Hall.

One of the words St Thomas Aquinas uses to speak about temperance is moderation. For St. Thomas, moderation is concerned with that place between the extremes of too much and too little. It is a ‘place’ that is not always easy to find because it requires us to make use of our reason – an extremely important notion for St. Thomas in his understanding of the human person. He emphasises repeatedly that the human being is a rational animal. In saying this he wants us to understand that as ‘animals’ we do some of the things animals do. But as rational beings, we have the capacity – indeed, it is an ontological imperative – to order our ‘animal’ life according to principles and values that mere animals cannot begin to understand.

Yet, our capacity to order our life according to the ‘good of reason’ is somewhat weak, because we are ‘fallen’ through original sin. The integrity of our being is affected, and there are times when our emotions and bodily instincts are apt to clamour for what is not truly good for us. We love pleasures of all sorts, and they are often what lead us astray. We are especially attracted to the pleasures involved with food and sex.

The pleasures of food and sex fulfil our bodily existence, and enable us to continue as a species. So far so good. The trouble is that they seem to suggest that we will be made happy by pursuing these pleasures to the exclusion of all else. But pleasures can deceive. If we follow the path of pleasure in an immoderate way, we will soon experience all the misery that comes from addictive behaviour – for the bodily appetites, if unchecked, simply cry out for more and more pleasure while these same pleasures simultaneously deliver less and less of the very pleasure they seem to promise. This kind of problem simply goes with the package of our fallen human nature. No one escapes it; we must all grapple with it. Temperance, understood as the capacity to moderate the requirements of our physical life in accord with the good of reason, is the virtue that is concerned with these matters.

SJC

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December 2: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xxxii – Francis could not fall very far, but he was free.

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The second half of life usually consists of what we have denied in the first half – our shadow; which is not some form of addiction, but failure. We can’t entertain the powerlessness of loneliness, impoverishment, boredom and generally not being in charge. We settle for a kind of pleasure that lacks joy, and even involves denial of joy. We can’t imagine being happy without money, without many options. We have replaced freedom of spirit with freedom of choice.

Why did Francis move into a life of non-power, non-aggression and sine proprio? He was so close to the bottom of life that he could not fall very far, but he was free. He knew that God doesn’t look at our faults and failings, but at the many ways we have been determined to try and say yes [which is what parents hope for seeing their children]. Once experiencing being fully alive we will never fear death, because we will know that we have not just lived but have come alive, and that such life is eternal and another form of it is waiting for us. Which is what Paul urges: reproducing the power of his Resurrection – Phil.3.10.

If I have not lived fully, death will terrify me, not knowing that this is not the end. Working in Zambia showed me a village people who lived – by our standards – with next to nothing. The children played, parents scratched a living from hard ground; but they had something we lack. An attitude with no room for cynicism. When they came together their singing was spontaneous – no hymn sheets; and they smile, with nothing to smile about. Like loving, smiling enjoys its own justification, is not dependent on having a reason to smile.

What do we think about when all else is gone? What did those victims who had no access to computers and phones on the aircraft speak about before the aircraft hit the twin towers? The language we heard was love, nothing else mattered. Life’s only purpose is to live lovingly by choice, and die in the same way. How can this become life’s norm? Be careful of a too ready recourse to detachment. Those victims were far from detached from what mattered. Life’s purpose is not to become detached but attached. For this to be real, other things have to be gently set aside.

AMcC

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13 May: Time to have fun

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The Christianity many of us grew up with was not big on laughs. My childhood parish priest seemed determined to make sure we were suitably miserable. Fun was equated with self-indulgence – all too likely to carry us away into the path of sin. The eleventh commandment was ‘Thou shalt not laugh, nor enjoy thyself’.

The hangover of that upbringing is that I have sometimes struggled to allow myself to enjoy life. The notion that God is a spoiler is not one I adhere to rationally but somewhere inside that image of God must linger. And yet when I remember some of the moments of deep fun that I have known I see how they abound with love, friendship, wonder, energy, and liberation: and as I put themselves back into those times I sense the presence, joy and life of God.

  • Sledging down the snow covered slopes of Greenwich Park while the ambulances circled below
  • Playing foot ball with my nephews in a muddy field
  • Losing myself in working with clay and not minding too much what shape I came up with
  • Making music with a group using my three and a half chords on a guitar
  • Going swimming on the spur of the moment with my sister in West Wales
  • Being thrown around at a barn dance without really having much clue what steps I was supposed to be making.

What moments do you remember?

Fun can have its downsides. Making fun of another at their expense is destructive. Thrill seeking can be addictive and self-centred. But these are perversions of what is essentially good and of God.

It is through fun that we lose our self-consciousness and allow ourselves to run free.

Walls of polite distance or even hostility between people evaporate in shared laughter.

Bonds of friendship are forged.

We stop taking ourselves too seriously – as if everything depended on our performance

We discover that we are creative after all – and all we needed was the opportunity and the courage to dare to express ourselves.

We delight in life, in the company of those with us and are completely held in the moment, putting aside our fears and preoccupations.

These are good moments, God moments.

In our churches and within our neighbourhoods,

in our tired lives, and amidst our difficulties

it is time to have fun!

CC.

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11 May: Getting in the Way

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There are times when life doesn’t go our way. We make plans, and unanticipated events unmake them. It can be as simple as a delayed train, or as devastating as sudden ill health. We are going along, with some idea at least of what shape our day might take, or what form our life might take, but then everything unravels in the face of something we didn’t expect. We are left asking, ‘Where am I? Where do I go now?’

The unexpected happening gets in the way. If it’s a pleasant surprise we’re happy to be diverted, but even then we might feel a little thrown. But when something painful, difficult or threatening crashes in, we can be shaken to the core, bewildered by the turn of events and left with no clear sense of our bearings. I remember sitting down on a London bus and looking up to see the notice by the door: ‘NO WAY OUT’…not the sort of message you hope to receive when life feels uncertain!

There is another sense in which we sense something or someone stands in our way. We have a good intention, even one we sense comes as gift of the Spirit; but we also see an obstacle and it seems formidable. Perhaps it’s about finding work that is meaningful and makes a difference but the jobs don’t seem to be there. Or perhaps we sense we have something to give but doubt that it will be valued by others. Or perhaps it is a persistent call we sense to place our daily life more deeply in God, but we can’t seem to find the time or the means to pray.

Seeing the barrier on our mental map we might not even begin the journey. Or when we walk right up to it and see its size and hear its noise we might give up the task for hopeless. But what if the pull to make the journey continues to be strong? And what if this desire seems to come not just from our self-will but from some inner place where God’s Spirit dwells? Then we might be willing to go on walking trusting that in time we will arrive. But where will this arrival point be? It might be the place we imagined or somewhere entirely different and surprising. God knows.

I recently went for a walk, having planned my route on a map showing all the footpaths, I knew where I wanted to get to. But what stood in the way was a busy dual carriageway. The map showed a footpath running up to its edge and another starting on the other side immediately opposite. There had to be an underpass or a bridge… There wasn’t…

I understood how Moses and the Egyptians must have felt when faced by the waters of the Red Sea. There are no zebra crossings on motorways…

I might have turned back, but the lure of the destination was strong, and so I trudged along the road’s noisy edge for a long mile, searching for a crossing point and finally – when almost at the point of giving up – reached a turning that took me to the other side. I wasn’t on the path I first thought of but now new possibilities for the journey opened up for me. This, rather than the route I had imagined in the beginning, was now my path.

Jesus says, ‘I am the Way’. The Way moves on from where we are, and not from some other place. We don’t know where in detail it will lead us, but it will lead us somewhere. The obstacles we perceive are not barriers to this way; in Jesus they become the Way. All that has happened to us is part of the Way. All that might happen in the future – wanted or not – will also takes its place within the Way. Our part is to pluck up our courage and take hold of our desire and walk: a Way has to be travelled.

This Way might not after all, follow the path we envisaged and may not lead to the destination we imagined. But a Way that can lead someone through the dead ends of betrayal, ridicule and death on a cross, and yet lead to unbounded risen life, is always to be trusted.

CC.

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May 4: A pleasure shared

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We walked home from church with a friend who wanted to see the bluebells in the wood. She had heard about them but did not know they were so close to home. A pleasure shared already, but she took pictures aplenty to share with her mother in East London, a pleasure further shared: her mother will enjoy not just the bluebells but the clear and infectious pleasure our friend received from them.

A gift that is special to an English spring.

A few days before we had walked that way with young Abel, who’s too small to damage the flowers as he walks, but he too loved the ‘blue flowers’: pleasure shared as a little child lets us into the Kingdom of Heaven. I don’t often quote Rupert Brooke, but I remember …

the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
    And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
        In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

The Kingdom of  Heaven is reflected in that very English carpet, but I’m less sure about an English Heaven? One that welcomes people from around the world, I trust, or it would not be Heaven, just an off-shore island …

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30 November Jacopone da Todi 4 :Making our Way back to God.

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Some of Jacopone’s poems work as a dialogue. This one is between a person who takes decisions carefully and develops relationships in a caring and responsible way, and his friend who is self-indulgent, living only for superficial pleasures and a worldly consumer way of life.

“O my brother, before death overtakes you

Come to terms, find your way back to God.”

“If I change my ways, brother,

What will become of these sons of mine?

Come, why not think on death, which awaits

Both father and son? Follow the path

That leads out of the labyrinth.”

“But I’ve become accustomed to being well dressed,

To a certain decorum. How can I suddenly change,

Become an object of people’s contempt,

Have them point to me as that poor idiot?

A baited hook looks good to a fish,

But once he has swallowed it

It gives him little pleasure.

Your arguments frighten me, brother;

You make me feel the wound of holy love.

The world will no longer deceive me.”

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The bait is worldly pleasures and High Street glamour. The hook is a bite of conscience about living an aimless and unmerciful existence.

We realise, however, that we share our mysterious and beautiful lives with a great expanse of fellow mortals. They, too, have buried desires for integrity and kindness poured into their hearts by God. We can only learn how to be meaningful in our relationships, and to make love our purpose, by seeing the beauty of others more clearly.

 

Chris D.

October 2016.

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