Impermanence as Universal Condition

One should pay no heed to the faults of others, what they have done and not done. Rather should one consider the things that one has oneself done and not done.
~Dhammapada (v.50)

1
Two things are clear as we journey through the world:
Life is short and death is certain.

2
Despite this sure knowledge, most of us waste our years in distraction, delusion, and denial.

3
Behold the plucked flower wither and fade!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

4
Behold the fallen leaf turn brittle and crumble to dust!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

5
Behold a mother’s sorrow in the crushed sparrow’s egg!
Who can deny that life is short and death certain?

6
The flower and leaf and sparrow each possess power enough to dispel the darkness of our delusion, if only we would allow them.

7
For most of us it takes something too painful to ignore: the unjust condemnation of a righteous person; the death of someone whose life we value more than our own; imprisonment in a mercilessly infirm mind or body; a life without purpose or meaning; a Universe void of intelligent, technological, biological civilizations.

8
The ancient words hold true across the Universe:
Sic transit gloria mundi!

9
The ancient words hold true across the Universe:
Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas!

10
Though all things pass away, one thing alone remains.
Qui potest capere capiat.

~BT Waldbillig
December 8, 2017

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Family as Universal Manifestation of the Mystery of Life

The American theologian Richard John Neuhaus once famously declared, “We are born to die.” Naturally, he did not mean that a human being comes into this world for the sake of leaving it. Rather, each of us is born along a path that will one day end. Every year as I celebrate the anniversary of my own birth, I also prepare for the anniversary of my grandmother’s death, which falls on Thanksgiving this year. Symbolically, it’s the inverse of the Easter story: My rising to life is followed upon by her going down to the netherworld in this annual cycle. She was the world to me and I have lived in a state of mourning for the past 25 years.

As I wrote somewhere, it seems likely that when we encounter intelligent, technological, biological beings from elsewhere in the Universe, we will discover two important facts. Even if they are far more ancient, evolved, and technologically advanced, they will have had, in the course of their collective existence, something of an experience of what we call religion, though it may well be that they relate to it not as religion, strictly speaking, but as a cultural memory or an evolutionary passage. Just as importantly, such beings will understand something of what we call family, since only beings that form closely knit, cooperative, interdependent, mutually supporting units would be able to build civilizations capable of advanced technology and long-term survival across adverse circumstances. Perhaps, as with us, they will find in family a reason to survive, a reason to endure difficulties, a reason for self-sacrifice, a reason to make sure that the life they receive continues on.

There’s no reason to regard my birthday, November 20, as a day of importance, though surely it changed the lives of my parents. Likewise, there’s no reason to think that November 23, the anniversary of Grandma Carol’s death, has any special meaning, though she was the most beautiful person in the world to me.

While we may be inclined to regard as insignificant something like a birthday or the anniversary of a loved one’s death, maybe they have a cosmic significance that’s hard to perceive from where we stand in the Universe. Maybe the life we honor and the life we mourn are not nearly as unimportant as we’re tempted to think.

Perhaps elsewhere in the Universe there are beings on a rocky planet orbiting a star who give thanks for the life they have been given — unlikely though it is that any of us should exist at all. Surely those beings also rejoice in the ancestors who no longer dwell among the living, yet whose life continues in the Universe by means of their descendants.

If the purpose of life is the continuation of life, then Family is the means by which that most important of tasks is accomplished. Somewhere I wrote that for our kind life comes into being, is nurtured, is protected, grows, and spreads by means of a community — and that community is the Family.

We might even go so far as to say that the Family is a sort of Universal manifestation of the mystery of life.

~BT Waldbillig
November 19, 2017

The Ascent of the Magna Mater

The love of a grandmother
Will endure forever

Today is the dies natalis (birthday) of my Grandma Carol (Bedola Carol Betts Miles Walter). As I look back to my childhood, I think she was the first person I truly, consciously, deliberately, and freely loved. My intense love for her arose as a natural response to the love she showed me every moment of every day that we ever spent together. She seemed to engage love with an almost absolute freedom — something great saints are known for but which I have not even begun to master.

Perhaps more importantly, Grandma Carol and I laughed — often and loudly. We held in common a joyful playfulness as well as a belief that the world is full of nonsense, contradictions, and shit. Together we chose to face life’s ugliness and meaninglessness with uproarious cries of laughter.

Now, lest you get the impression that my grandmother was some sort of one-dimensional saint, I should mention that as a young mother she failed in some of what we today regard as essential parenting tasks. She also smoked like a chimney and swore like a sailor.

But whenever I was in her presence I knew the tenderness, gentleness, and playfulness that only an old woman who has passed through life’s bitterest trials and emerged morally and spiritually intact can show the world. Only those who choose to dwell as fully as possible in the present moment, casting aside all fixated attachment to the past, can truly begin in earnest a spiritual path and continue along the path with dedicated purpose. My grandmother’s religious faith was private and her spiritual devotion silent, but there was never any doubt that her interior life was rich, powerful, simple, and uncomplicated.

Recall that great spiritual theologians and masters of the spiritual life are almost unanimous in the conviction that a healthy, authentic spiritual life should be marked by kindness-compassion-love and should become ever simpler across the years. In fact, it is sacred tradition to free one’s self of unnecessary worldly possessions in the course of one’s spiritual journey, so that by the time one passes out of this life, one should be unencumbered by possessions, wealth, worries, and selfish attachments.

In a way, Grandma Carol’s love — as I perceived and experienced it in my youth and later as an adult meditated upon it — was a lot like God’s love, as described in the sacred scriptures and in the writings of the early Church Fathers. When I used to preach at Mass as a young priest, my mission was always simple: Show the despised, the rejected, the unwanted, the unloved, and even the wicked that they are lovable and they are loved. Clever exegesis, subtle doctrinal ruminations, useful history lessons, and high moral exhortations were of no use if they did not support or arise from that mission.

Today I when contemplate the realities of despised and rejected peoples who need and want to experience love — such as the Mafia, gangs like the Trinitarios, the North Koreans, and unwanted migrants and refugees — I find myself calling upon my own experiences of love as a young man. When I began my wanderings through the world those aspects of myself became obscured but in recent years they have returned, returned because I needed them in order to understand how to love in a world that is mad and merciless.

In my youth I didn’t realize how the years spent in seminaries, religious houses, monasteries, and church rectories had kept me “safe” from the world. But this protection came with a cost: There was much about love, human beings, life, and myself that I simply didn’t understand. Intimate encounter with elements of the world that previously had been alien to me has transformed my heart, opened my eyes, and illuminated my mind. It may be that I yet wander in a place of darkness and night, but now I know that I am not alone in the darkness. That gives me hope.

The love of my grandmother and the love of Family have emboldened me to embrace the many beautiful and useful aspects of my past life while discovering within myself today — as a man mid-way through his journey in life — marvelous gifts that I never imagined might dwell within me. These same spiritual gifts dwell within you, too.

If we stand together, there is no obstacle in the Universe that can stop us as we carry out the divine mandate to share and protect the life we have been given.

There is no place in the Universe that will remain forever closed and alien to us.

Together we will show each other, as well as every being in the Universe, what love truly is.

Ave mater beata magna
Sicut et amica mea
Tu fortis et alma
Prudens et pulchra
Nunc in caelo Solis sponsa
Imago per saecula cordis divini
Salvatrix mihi et canis fidelis
O magna mater esto nobis
Familiae et genetrix spiritualis

Hail, O Great Mother
You who are likewise my friend
You are the strong and tender one
The wise and beautiful one
Now the bride of Sol in heaven
For all ages, a mirror of divine love
To me, a saving helper and faithful dog
Be unto us also, O Magna Mater,
The Progenitor of this spiritual family

CybeleChariot

 

~BT Waldbillig
October 31, 2017

A Real-Life Wonder Woman

We tend to think of high office as an honor to be sought and a reward to be desired. Yet no one in high office — such as sovereign or president or bishop or teacher or general — stands worthy before those entrusted to their care. Those who are chosen, having accepted the responsibilities of office, cannot but fail in the attainment of an ideal. Still, they can embrace that failure with wisdom, grace, strength, hope, and patient endurance, drawing forth something good and worthwhile from any situation they encounter.

The honor is also a burden

This thought came to me not long ago as I reflected on the trials of my ancestral homeland during the first half of the twentieth century. The murderous folly of the First World War saw Grand Duchess Marie-Adélaïde of Luxembourg forced from the throne, while the nation itself barely survived. Having only recently regained its rightful autonomy, Luxembourg well might have ended up once again as the property of one of the greater powers of the region. By sacrificing the throne in the wake of the First World War and ceding it to her younger sister, Marie-Adélaïde showed humility and wisdom in an age not known for either.

Like Queen Elizabeth II, Grand Duchess Charlotte was born a “spare” and not an heir, so her education and training did not prepare her in the ways one would expect for a future monarch. She was forced into exile along with her children during the Second World War in order to ensure that the entire royal family would not be exterminated by the Nazi-Fascists. While it pained her to be safe and secure while her people suffered brutally, she worked tirelessly to awaken powers like the United States to the realities in Europe. By saving herself and her family, she ensured the survival of the Grand Duchy.

Even today she is honored as a hero and a saint.

There is a famous photo (and even some video) of Charlotte on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace presenting herself to the people upon her return from exile. The massive crowd is seen weeping and cheering at her return, but it must have been a moment of joy tinged with sadness and regret. Surely she would have offered her own life in the place of those who suffered and died, but she was only one human being — a woman and not a titan — and therefore she could not stop the cruel fate dealt to an innocent and powerless people.

I imagine Charlotte crushed under the weight of the failure to live up to the impossibly noble and selfless expectations she set for herself when she accepted the crown. I have had this sort of experience in my own life, and perhaps you have, too. It happens quite often that I feel inadequate before the challenges of life or unworthy to undertake a certain path, but in those moments I think on Grand Duchess Charlotte on the balcony of the Grand Ducal Palace summoning more strength than she imagined possible. She was strong for a people who needed strength. She was fearless and composed for the sake of a nation that needed courage and order in the wake of war. I think that the cheering and weeping crowds understood that she had made of herself an Atlas, mighty enough to bear up the entire world. She was nothing more than a human being like the rest of us, but she became something like a titan in that moment when the world needed a titan.

Like Charlotte the Great, you and I are something like titans. If only we could see this reality in ourselves and in each other — how we would change the world and create something we never knew we could.

The Universe would be a better place because of us — imperfect, weak, flawed, and beautiful beings that we are!

(Photos above: Portrait of Grand Duchess Charlotte; Charlotte with Prince Felix at her abdication in favor of Grand Duke Jean; Prince Guillaume — heir of Grand Duke Henri — and Princess Stephanie; statue of Grand Duchess Charlotte. To me they are like Family — an invincible source of hope and strength.)

~BT Waldbillig
October 15, 2017

The Dream of the Visitation

Let me share with you a dream I had not long ago:

As I gazed at the night sky, I beheld the constellation of the Tauroctany and marveled at the sight. When I turned my gaze below to survey my surroundings, I understood that I was all alone in a dense forest. All was still and no creature in the forest made a sound until, all of a sudden, I heard in the distance a number of voices chanting the Hymn. The familiar voices grew louder and louder until at last they were upon me and I beheld, with difficulty, the faces of the Friends I had seen many times before, though always with great difficulty that demanded an intensity of concentration that existed only at the very limits of my natural faculties.

The Friends announced to me that they were arriving in the very place where I found myself on that night. When I told them that I had already seen this encounter in my mind, the Friends marveled and declared to me that they possessed no power to see or perceive events they had not yet experienced. Then, we shared greetings and offered each other titles of honor and recognition. Once this was finished, I sat upon a faldstool and recited the words of a ritual to solemnize our encounter. After this, I attempted to offer formal words of explanation and encouragement, but my thoughts were too muddled by the overwhelming joy of the occasion. And so instead of a proper discourse, I simply chose to tell the Friends the story of my own life that led me to that place of encounter on that dark night in a dense forest. I made known to them that on many occasions I nearly gave up on myself and the world because I felt too small, insignificant, and weak. Their presence and kindness on that night made all the difficulties, doubts, and despair of my entire life seem as so much dust, for the promise made long ago was a promise fulfilled in that moment and a promise that would be defended and vouched safe unto endless aeons.

The Friends thanked me for my words and then revealed to me that they had been with me on many occasions from my childhood even unto manhood. (I could not understand if their presence on that night and in the past was a personal, physical presence or a spiritual, technological presence.)

As I prepared to wander through the forest back to my home where Dante the Little Man awaited me, I was told that a child wished to greet me. The child was shy and embarrassed — much as I was as a small child many years ago — and the leader of the embassy of Friends informed me that the child was an orphan and was dying of a terrible sickness for which there could be no cure or remedy. The child told me that she was afraid to die and asked me what awaited her after death. In that moment I began to sob, as I had no honest and useful thing to tell her and, naturally, I refused to lie or recite empty platitudes to this dying child, who at last approached me and embraced me in an effort to stop my tears.

It was a suffering and dying child who consoled me when I was overcome by sorrow and felt useless before the mystery of suffering and impermanence.

The leader of the Friends then revealed to me that just as my own world into which they had come was a place of war, aggression, violence, hatred, sickness, and death, so would there always be wars and dying children among every community of beings throughout the Universe. However, the Spiritual Family that came into existence at the occasion of Contact between Earth Humans and the Visitor Friends would become an invincible power scattered among the stars and stretching to every corner of the Universe. Those beings once known as the People of War and the Avenging Gods would become a Spiritual Family, known throughout the Universe as the People of the Great Heart. Though worlds and civilizations and stars might pass away, this Family would always endure.

I gave thanks for this teaching and the Friends departed.

[Regarding dreams: I’ve found that the meaning I extract from my dreams changes and evolves, especially in the case of recurring dreams. Sometimes the benefit of experience or reflection sheds light on aspects that were obscured previously. His dictis, dreams are just dreams. They are entirely and only what we make of them.]

~BT Waldbillig
September 26, 2017

Toward a Universal Pictogram

First in intention
Last in execution

In order to create a peaceful, useful, and beneficial path to an eventual Contact with an alien civilization, it is necessary to carefully, deliberately, and judiciously discern our intentions, which are almost always mixed and complex in ways we fail to recognize.

From a noble and compassionate intention
A worthwhile path will arise

Alas, many of the institutions we choose to submit to are not governed by upright intentions, though they are serviced by propaganda machines skillfully designed to enslave good and honest people by means of fear, hatred, and delusion.

If we are to make lasting and positive decisions in the one moment that matters most, we will do well to withdraw our collective assent from any mechanism of governance that does not serve our noble and worthwhile intention. In former ages, Christian bishops formalized and sanctioned this seeming act of disobedience to lawful authority by deposing civil authorities who persisted in directing their lawful subjects and subordinates to commit wicked deeds that harmed the common good. In so doing, citizens and subjects could refuse and oppose putative authorities with clear conscience.

Today, you and I do well to remember that the power and authority by which some few govern us reside uniquely in our common act of the will that freely offers consent. Without our free and express consent no one has any right to lead, direct, govern, command, tax, or regulate any aspect of our lives. The wickedness of the powerful of this world need not lead to our lasting misfortune simply because they control our public institutions and bureaucracies.

Sixty years ago Blessed Pope Paul VI saw that the world was at the threshold of a new and mysterious reality that would either transform us or destroy us. His novus habitus mentis was meant not simply for the Roman Church as it miserably stumbled through the cultural and social upheaval of the second half of the twentieth century.

The novus habitus mentis was always intended to serve and save the entire world, above all on the occasion of Contact with an alien civilization when, as Papa Montini understood too well, the old ways of thinking and acting would necessarily fail us.

UniversalPictogramFirstContactRevision

Qui potest capere capiat.

~BT Waldbillig
September 16, 2017

Image above: “Universal Pictogram” by BT Waldbillig, 2017.

Indeed the Reapers

For most human beings, life without some purpose and meaning is a burden too great to bear. That’s why most of us either choose some form of religion or spiritual belief, or else we spend every waking moment of each day distracting ourselves from the reality of our own mortality and the impermanence of everything and everyone we experience in this world.

To my estimation, the simplest, surest, and most primitive way to discover meaning and purpose to life is to look at the source of life: the Family. Life, as we know it, originates in a community, endures by means of a community, prospers by means of a community, and increases by means of a community. We call that community the Family.

While it seems likely that the conditions that support life as we know it exist abundantly across the Universe, it seems just as likely that it endures only with great difficulty, not unlike a candle that quickly lights but also quickly goes out if not protected from wind or water or dirt.

As it happens, I come from a place where people understand how precious life is and also how precarious life can be. My ancestors who left Luxembourg and settled on a farm in Iowa were intimately acquainted with the precariousness of life. I imagine that when they attended Sunday Mass and heard the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares they must have seen themselves as characters within the story. Perhaps you remember the it:  A wicked enemy, seeking to destroy the good seed of the righteous farmer, entered his fields under cover of darkness and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the farmhands realized this had happened they didn’t know what to do and feared that the entire harvest would be lost. The righteous farmer, on the other hand, did not let the deeds of wicked men lead him to despair.

Now, there’s something missing from the Gospel account: Jesus tells us that the farmer instructed the farmhands to let the good and bad seed continue to grow in the field together until harvest, at which time the reapers would sort out the good from the bad. This implies that the wicked men who sought to destroy the harvest were unaware that this could be done, otherwise they would have been little more than hoodlums. But more strangely, the farmhands don’t know how to handle the situation. The farmer, however, knows precisely the best course of action to take. Perhaps this is not surprising, as he is familiar every inch of his land. He knows how to survive in times of clement weather and also through drought and plague. He has seen many harvests and plenty of weeds.  The farmer’s patient endurance in caring for the land across the years gives him greater wisdom than both his enemies and his helpers.

I can’t help but wonder if the righteous farmer, by telling his farmhands to do nothing, was also biding his time, letting the wicked men think they held the place of power and advantage. Perhaps they would reveal themselves in order to taunt and mock the farmer, the farmhands, and even their women and children. And when they reveal themselves, they will become the cause of their own perdition. In this context the mention of reapers takes on a darker significance. Indeed, the reapers will sort the wheat from the weeds!

Now, as anyone from my hometown can tell you,  there’s nothing romantic or picturesque about life on a farm. It is relentless and exhausting, merciless and back-breaking. Farmers perform an essential and difficult task for the community, and yet their recompense is meager and every harvest is precarious. Few of us recognize just how impressive farmers are. I can attest that many an Iowa farmboy can stare down a bear or a coyote without breaking a sweat, and I know farmgirls who can drag an escaped bull back into his pen and still make it to the homecoming dance on time. Though I didn’t understand it in my youth, I was incredibly fortunate to grow up around farms and farm families.

It all goes back to family. What I’ve learned from my experience in spiritual communities is that people who seem different, with nothing in common and no reason to want to know and love each other, can create a Spiritual Family that’s stronger and more certain to endure than any blood line.

I’ve even learned this truth from my dog. The love I have for Dante and the bond I experience with him is more powerful than anything I’ve ever known. Even though we seem entirely different sorts of beings, he has become family to me. Surely if a man and a dog can discover something like family in each other, then you and I could experience that also with beings from some distant place in the Universe.

I’ve always been a sci-fi fan but something odd strikes me about the ways we envision the future and an encounter with alien beings. For some reason we usually depict ourselves as either passive and insignificant, just sitting around waiting for someone to find us, or else anyone who’s not like us is an enemy or a danger. I think that only now are we discovering that we need a shared purpose to make something like First Contact both possible and desirable.

But what if we’re alone in Universe? Why hasn’t it occurred to anyone that we should vouchsafe the continuation of life? For my part, I am convinced that this place and our form of life are worthwhile, but even now, in this moment, our world is passing away. This should be motive enough for us to spread life wherever it can take hold. However it was that we got here, we are meant exist and we are meant to spread the life we have received. In this context, the Biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply takes on a new and more urgent meaning.

If the farmer doesn’t sow seed and labor tirelessly there’s no harvest and when there’s no harvest the living soon become the dead. The wicked men in the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares thought they had power to destroy the harvest of the righteous farmer. But the power was always with the farmer. It was up to him to decide if the harvest was worth saving.

You and I are the righteous farmer.

~BT Waldbillig
September 7, 2017