Of Marathons and Faith

I am currently reading a book about the streaks of the great baseball players Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripkin. As I read, I am thinking often of my own streak — running at least a mile every day for over 21 years. During that Streak, I ran 3 marathons.

I have written elsewhere that my running has woven itself into the fabric of my spiritual journey. When I read St. Paul’s famous words “I have finished the race. I have kept the faith”, many images come to mind. One of those images is the marathon so I thought I would share some spiritual lessons learned on the marathon road.

The first marathon was the Cape Cod Marathon in Falmouth in November 2000. I found out only later that, among hard-core marathoners, this is considered a tough marathon because of all the hills. My running of this marathon was also complicated by the fact that the previous weekend I found myself in Intensive Care because of asthma. Thankfully, I was able to recover and complete the marathon. Being loaded up with steroids probably helped. And, yes, I maintained the Streak despite being in ICU. But that’s another story.

As I stood at the starting line, I was grateful, an important spiritual reminder. I quickly learned that running a marathon is an act of faith, a belief that I am strong enough to run 26+ miles. I also learned another important lesson at Mile 24.

I was chugging along and saw a sign saying “Last hill.” I assumed this referred to the hill I just climbed. We round a corner and — another hill! (Or as I said aloud “What? Another @#$%&ing hill?”) So it is with a faith journey. We get through a trial and hope that somehow we have paid our dues when, sure enough, another hill. We just have to keep moving, whether it’s a marathon or a journey of faith.

The second marathon was in New York City in 2001, several weeks after the World Trade Center attacks. This time my first challenge was fear. At that early point, we did not know if there would be more attacks and several thousand people standing on a bridge would seem to be a desirable target. Indeed about one-third of registered runners dropped out. I thought of not going but, in my own way, I needed to send a message along with other runners that the run would continue despite tragedy. So it is with faith. The temptation to quit in the face of tribulation is always there. Needless to say, I was also faced with my ongoing argument with God as to why bad things happen to good people.

I also learned one other lesson. My sons Matt and Ben graciously came down from Boston to cheer me on. I saw them at several points, including Mile 23. I was determined that my sons would not see me walking and so I struggled on as they cheered. It wasn’t pretty. As Matt said later, “Yeah, Dad. You were barely shuffling.” So too it can be with faith. In the midst of trial, we must keep moving even if we are “barely shuffling.”

The third marathon was the Marine Corps Marathon in 2007, a beautiful run through Washington DC. I had learned that if runners were not at the 18th Street bridge by a certain hour, they would not be allowed to continue. So I and many other runners pushed to beat the deadline. As I ran onto the bridge, I noticed that, having accomplished this goal, many runners started to walk. That image got into my head and made it very difficult to keep running. So it is with faith. It is easy to take it easy. To do the minimal. To figure out what is the least we can do to “keep the faith”.

I don’t know if I’ve run my last marathon. What I do know is that the lessons I learned on the road will help me make these last few miles so that hopefully I too can say “I finished the race. I kept the faith.”

Reflection: Do you have a metaphor for your faith journey?

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On Being An Introvert

Several years ago I cam home after reading a book titled The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney and announced to my wife that I was declaring myself a Militant Introvert! In her book, Dr. Laney pointed out that many of us introverts grow up believing there is something wrong with us because we are not as out-going or socially skilled as the extroverts in our lives. I resonated to that, having long seen myself as socially inept. What her book and the better known Quiet by Susan Cain helped me see was that we introverts have our own set of gifts and that I would do well to embrace those gifts.

Indeed many people we look up to are introverts. People I had long admired — people such as Gandhi or Eleanor Roosevelt or St. John XXIII were introverts yet were also clearly people of inner power.

What has also been helpful to me is to understand introversion and extroversion in terms of what energizes us versus what exhausts us. I remember after reading this idea in Laney’s book, I had the thought “Gee, maybe that’s why I’m so tired after a day of counseling with others!” We introverts indeed can do many social things and can do them well. (Remember that one thing most people like about we introverted counselors is that we listen well!) It just tires us while solitude energizes us.

As a strong introvert, I am aware, just as Jung said, that I have extroverted capabilities. I drew on those energies for example when I portrayed Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey. But my make-up is that of an introvert and I have come to embrace that rather than judge it negatively.

At the spiritual level, I function mainly as an introvert. I am drawn to introverted practices such as meditation or silent prayer or journaling. To be a complete spiritual person, I see that I am challenged to work at extroverted spirituality. I can do that but only if I first accept that I need to do that to be complete but not because extroversion is the better path.

So, yes, I am an introvert and a militant one and, somewhat later in life, proud of it!

Reflection: How do you see yourself on the introvert-extrovert scale and how does that inform your spiritual world?

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On Being a Veteran

I share this again in honor of the many veterans who continue to teach me lessons of courage, resilience, and faith

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

I have a lot of trouble with the concept of God’s will. Some folks use this concept to bear up under hardship. My mother, for example, would find comfort in that notion whenever she reflected on the deaths of her mother when my mother was 6 as well as her two daughters. Often, too, I would hear words about God’s will in the Third Step of the 12 Step program and would hear others talk about peace they found in accepting God’s will.

I suspect that for me the issue has been that I have seen too much senseless suffering to be completely at ease with the concept of God’s will. Having said that, however, it occurs to me on this Veterans’ Day eve that it was God’s will that I serve in the U.S. Army.

At this point in my journey as a helper, I sit with many men…

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Amazing Grace

On his blog, my friend Tom Russell asked some time ago for readers to reflect on a song that impacted their lives. I answered immediately — “Amazing Grace”.

Those of us in recovery relate to this song, especially to the lines of the first verse: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound/That saved a wretch like me/I once was lost but now I’m found/Was blind but now I see.” I know of no words that better capture the experience I had on June 2 1983 when I was rescued from addiction. I would like to take credit for the decision to become sober. I can’t. It was given to me through amazing grace.

The song derives from a poem written by Anglican clergyman John Newton who, among other things, was involved in slave trading prior to becoming a preacher. Newton also became mentor to William Wilberforce, who became a key spokesman for ending England’s participation in the slave trade. Here is a moment from the excellent film “Amazing Grace” when Newton urges William Wilberforce to use his document of slave trading in Wilberforce’s efforts to end it.

 

“Amazing Grace” eventually was paired with traditional tune “New Britain”. It was this melody that has come to us as the most familiar tune paired with the poem.

Among many favorite versions here is a beautiful one from the ending of the film “Amazing Grace:

This great hymn can be heard nowadays at funerals as well as other services. And one day in South Carolina President Obama sang it, an event that led Zoe Mulford to write this beautiful song;

Music has played a key role in my spiritual journey. This simple song has been first among many pieces that have shaped that journey.

 

 

 

 

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On the Arrogance of Power

Our news these days is filled with stories of persons of power using their positions for personal gain. Often the personal gain is sexual in nature. From the Catholic Church to Hollywood to the United States military to the Federal Government we are learning of persons, most often male, using their status to solicit sexual favors or to force them. In the field of psychology there is a new term –MST. Military Sexual Trauma. The saddest aspect of all is that such abuses of power are nothing new.

Power is a dangerous thing. It takes a person of great self-awareness and spiritual strength to have power and not abuse it. Face it. We all covet power, most often in the workplace but also in other arenas. When we are placed in a position of power, whether by promotion or election, the result is very heady stuff. The temptation to use that power for personal gain is even more enticing.

There are those of us who collude with such abuses by way of silence. We may see a fellow employee be bullied, a female colleague be sexually harassed, a fellow Catholic make an outcry. We remain silent usually out of fear. “If I speak up, I’ll lose my job!” This collusion of silence is as serious a matter as the abuses of power themselves.

For those of us in positions of power, we must face the Shadow within and acknowledge how enticing is the temptation to use that power for personal gain. In an ideal world, persons of power would have spiritual advisors.

For the rest of us, we must face our fears and speak up or otherwise express our dissatisfaction. We can vote those abusing power out of office. We can support union action on behalf of employees being bullied or harassed. We can embrace the whistle-blower. We can take the time to listen to those victimized by power. Historically we know that the Voice of the People can have impact. From Viet Nam protests resulting in a president not running for reelection to Boston Catholics forcing the Church to oust a Cardinal who looked the other way, our history is replete with stories of the power of protest.

Yes, you may be harassed and shunned yourself if you speak up. I know, having once been labelled an “Enemy of the Church”. But for those of us trying to follow a spiritual path, the demands to speak up are unavoidable. The only place for silence may be in meditation.

ReflectionWhat have your experiences been with speaking out?

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Further Thoughts on Hope

These are the days of senseless shootings in Las Vegas and elsewhere, of destructive hurricanes, and earthquakes, of ongoing wars and potential new ones. These are days when hope may be elusive.

Hope for what? Here is the key. What do we hope for? Freedom from suffering? Riches? Success? Suppose we hope for simple things such as peace of mind. Or just peace. It seems more and more difficult to base that hope on anything substantial.

I often find myself unimpressed with our species. We appear to be a violent, self-centered species bent of destruction. And yet I know from Viktor Frankl and others how important is hope in the face of tragedy.

But hope is empty unless it has a real foundation. I can’t just passively hope for a “better day”. I must base that hope on something tangible.

Ironically, as a person who doesn’t like people much, I end up finding my hope in other people. One of the enduring images for me from the recent Hurricane Harvey was the long line of boats heading to Houston to help with rescue. It reminded me of the miracle of Dunkirk, another instance of people at their best. The recent hurricanes, earthquakes, and forest fires have been rich with small stories of people helping one another. Similar stories are emerging from Las Vegas, some of them reflecting people sacrificing their lives to protect loved ones.

Somehow our species also seems to be able to rise above fear and the instinct to survive. The results are dramatic and very moving. That is part of the blessing of my own work as a psychologist. I meet regularly with people who try to rise above tragedy and hardship, trying to face such stresses with dignity and courage.  I think of a man dying of AIDS telling me he looked forward to stepping into the light. I think of a combat soldier holding his dying friend in his arms, trying to comfort in the midst of bullets and bombs. These and many other heroes help me find hope.

Beyond that, if I have hope that peace is possible, I must try to live that life of peace in my own way, embracing the charge to love my enemy. And at dark moments, I remind myself of the words at the end of Shawshank Redemption: “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.” As Morgan Freeman says at the very end of the film, “I hope…I hope.”

Reflection: How do you sustain hope in your own life?

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On Meditation

Modern science has affirmed that meditation is good for us, helping us not only find greater calm but even lowering our blood pressure. Meditation is also gaining ground as a valuable part of treatment for such conditions as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The problem is  — how do I do it?

There are indeed many different approaches to meditation, some of them based in religion. A key element in all forms of meditation, however, has to do with breathing. It may seem odd to suggest that many of us do not breathe correctly. In fact this is true. Thanks to stress, many of us breathe in a shallow manner. In the extreme, such shallow breathing can trigger hyperventilation. In any case, a first step in meditation is proper breathing.

The basic goal is to breathe in the way you do when you are asleep. This typically involves breathing from your diaphragm. Put your hand on your stomach and try to breathe so that your hand moves up and down. If you are breathing with your diaphragm, this will happen. You’ll also notice that your breathing slows down as it becomes deeper.

This is different that the traditional advice when we are stressed: “Just take a deep breath.” Wrong! The key to relaxed breathing is to slow it down. Diaphragm breathing will accomplish this.

Many different form os meditation then suggest focused attention. Such focus can be on your breathing, a mantra (repeated phrase), a candle light, etc. When I do meditate, I find music helpful and in particular like the Native flute music of Carlos Nakai.

Time was I would relax my breathing and focus on the music. Then my brain would take over: “My breathing is relaxed. I am focused on the music. What am I going to do about that depressed client? What’s for dinner tonight?” and so on. My mind would wander and I would get annoyed with myself, muttering “You’re never going to get the hang of this. Just give it up!” I now understand that such wandering is normal and part of the process. I now try to just notice it then bring my attention back to the music.

There is also the variation known as mindfulness meditation where one simply observes the flow of thoughts across awareness without dwelling on any particular thought.

If you decide to take up meditation, be flexible given there are many varieties. You may also find that something less traditional works for you. Thus, one man I know benefits from the focused awareness of leather work. Another prays the rosary. For me, running also accomplishes many of the goals of meditation.

I will never be the highly trained meditator who can meditate for 30 minutes or more. The best I can do on a good day is 15 minutes (supplemented by a 40 minutes run). Nor am I a certified meditation instructor. But its values are clear.

The role of meditation in one’s spiritual journey is also clear and simply summed up in an AA dictum: “Prayer is talking to God. Meditation is listening to God.” Remember that God’s voice does not come in the thunder or the earthquake. God’s voice comes in a whisper. Perhaps we need to quiet ourselves to hear that Voice

Reflection: What have your experiences been with meditation? What has worked/not worked for you? How has meditation impacted on your spiritual journey?

Here for your lisening pleasure and possible meditation is some of Carlos Nakai’s music. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=19nm5_nAwQg

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Excerpt from “Who Do You Say That I Am?”

The following is an excerpt from my article appearing in the September 2017 issue of St. Anthony Messenger

In Matthew 16;13-20, when Jesus asks his disciples what people are saying about who he is, they give him several answers. then he looks at Peter and asks “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers “You are the Messiah, the son of the living God,” a response that pleases Jesus.

Was that a pop quiz for which Peter, fortunately, gave the correct answer? That is one way to view it. But suppose I view it as an invitation. Suppose I consider that the question is directed not only to Peter but to me, not as a quiz but as an invitation to explore exactly who and what Jesus is in my life. That is the invitation extended to each of us.

………..

In response to his invitation then I came up with a list of other names for Jesus that comprise my own answer to his question: prince of peace, rebel, teacher, storyteller, healer, criminal, and friend to sinners.

………..

Jesus clearly is the prince of peace. Calling him this, howe ver, is not simply saying something warm and fuzzy. If I choose to call him this, then I am embracing all that he stands for regarding peace. Jesus clearly stood for non-violence. He challenges me several times to love my enemy, remembering that my enemy may indeed be a combatant in a foreign land, but may also be my annoying neighbor down the street. Further, as prince of peace, he challenges and invites me to be a peace-maker, to not simply keep my moth shut and stay out of trouble but to actively foster peace in all my daily dealings.

 

If you would be interested in receiving a copy of this article, send me your mailing address at <richp45198@aol.com>. If you prefer to have me e-mail it, then send that address to my e-mail. The difference is that the mailed copy will be of the article while the e-mailed copy will be the original draft without the fine editing of the folks at St. Anthony Messenger.

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The Challenge of Charlottesville

White supremacists turn my stomach, especially when they claim to be Christian. I would like to leave it at that, content in my self-righteous outrage. Unfortunately I claim to be a Christian too and so, as my stomach churns as I watch Neo-Nazis shouting words of hate, Jesus’ words come back to me: “Love your enemy.” Surely he didn’t mean these people. Did he? Apparently so. He didn’t qualify that directive. He didn’t say “Love your enemies. Except for the Romans.”

So what do I do? I at least can pray for these people, asking the God of my understanding to heal the hatred within each of their hearts. It is easy to pray for the family of the young girl who was killed. For me, it is almost impossible to pray for the man driving the car. Yet that is what I am called to do.

Beyond being a Christian, I have also embraced the psychology of Carl Jung and specifically his concept of the Shadow. This notion suggests that whatever I condemn the most lurks in my own heart. Thus, the tragedy of Charlottesville challenges me to look within and face the hatred lurking in my own heart. It challenges me to face and redeem that within me that is racist or sexist and to transform it. It challenges me to face and redeem my own inner violence.

Thich Naht Hanh, the great mystic and Vietnamese Buddhist has written a poem that challenges us to explore our Shadow side. It is called “Please Call Me by My True Names”. Here is an excerpt:

  • I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
  • my legs as thin a bamboo sticks.
  • And I am the arms merchant,
  • selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
  • I am the twelve-year-old girl,
  • refugee on a small boat,
  • who throws herself into the ocean
  • after being raped by a sea pirate.
  • And I am the pirate,
  • my heart not yet capable
  • of seeing and loving.
  • I am a member of the politburo,
  • with plenty of power in my hands.
  • And I am the man who has to pay
  • his “debt of blood” to, my people,
  • dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

This is the challenge of Charlottesville. Yes, we need  to condemn white supremacy and Neo-Nazism and destructive beliefs not at all in accord with the great religious teachers. But to heal society we must first heal ourselves.

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On Reading the Bible a Fourth Time

I have once again finished reading the Bible. I continue to experience it as moving, helpful, confusing, at times mind-numbingly boring. I looked forward to some of the stories and characters I find inspiring. I heave a deep sigh when it’s time to read Jeremiah.

There are several themes that can seem antiquated — relevent to a time and culture long gone. Such themes include idol worship, demon possession, and prophecy. Yet as I reflect I find relevance even there.

I for one am guilty of idol worship. No, I don’t worship at an altar to Baal but for a time I did make alcohol my god and continue to be in danger of making money and success a god. Others worship at the altar of power and conquest.

Regarding demon possession, there is a trend to view demon-possessed persons in the Bible to have been mentally ill or suffering from some form of epilepsy. What we miss in these stories, though, is that these people were healed and, in one case, the healing was so dramatic that the townspeople became so frightened of Jesus and his power that they asked him to leave the town. Something was cast out of that man and into a herd of swine.

Yes, I believe that depression and addiction and schizophrenia and any number of other psychiatric conditions are just that and not some instance of demon possession. Yet I also remember a man I saw in a psychiatric hospital. He believed he was possessed by demons. I could dismiss that except that during the interview his teeth would chatter as if he were freezing. This he said was the demon hissing. It made my hair stand on end. I suggested to the psychiatric staff that they consider an exorcism, an idea that was dismissed. He was given a regimen of medication and discharged at which point he went down the street, checked into a hotel, and shot himself dead. I wonder…..

And then there are the prophets. Most of these folks were not prophets in the sense of Jean Dixon or any number of folks whose predictions of the future used to appear in the Weekly World News. Rather they were guided to point out self-destructive trends of the time. Jesus himself was viewed as a prophet and he did indeed try to help people find a new way. Clearly, too, in Biblical times, there were false prophets — people who presumably made things up for their own gain or prestige. (Interestingly, when I was spell-checking this piece, the spell checker flagged the word “prophets” and suggested instead the word “profits”!)

I suspect that God’s prophets are indeed still with us. In this modern age, though, their voices get drowned out amidst the din of left- and right-wing political rhetoric. The few genuine prophets are indeed voices crying in the wilderness.

Is idol worship going on? Absolutely! Is demon possession real? Most likely, although not anywhere near to the extent fundamentalists would have us believe. Are prophets real? I am sure they are. I just find myself struggling to find the true prophets amidst the many false ones.

1. What are your thoughts and experiences with idol worship, demon possession, and prophets?

 

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