Heroic Women of the Bible

As I work my way through the Bible for what I believe is the ninth time, I am again struck by the presence of heroic women and am also struck by how my Church has minimized the role of women. I am not a Biblical scholar and am aware that there has been some excellent scholarly works on women of the Bible. For me, my awareness of the role of women in the Bible had been limited to Catholicism’s attention to Mary the Mother of Jesus. Further, my understanding of Mary Magdalene was limited and quite possibly inaccurate. Here then are some heroic women I have met reading the Bible:

  1. Esther. I don’t believe I knew who Esther was until I read her book in the Bible for the first time. What a dramatic story of a courageous woman who uses her position at great risk to protect her Jewish community! She had the opportunity to hide behind her position, hiding her own Jewishness and standing by while her husband wiped out the Jewish community. Instead she used her position to ensure the protection of her people and the deaths of those who had conspired against her people. I thought then that it would make a great movie.
  2. Mary Magdalene. Mary Magdelene has had a bad reputation. There is now reason to believe that she was never a prostitute but rather a leader of the early church and that the label of prostitute was later applied to minimize her significance as an early Church leader. Others have minimized her significance to Jesus. Her reputation has not been helped by stories such as The DaVinci Code. In fact, there is good reason to believe that she was a leading force in the early days after Christ’s death and resurrection. After all, she did not run away when Jesus was crucified. As to her relationship with Jesus, that remains open to speculation. The uncovering of the Gospel of Thomas adds to that speculation but also illustrates her significant leadership.
  3. Rahab is a prostitute in Jericho. Two spies of Joshua seek her protection. She agrees to do so, recognizing the power of their faith and redirects soldiers of Jericho when they come to her establishment searching for the spies. She then helps the spies escape. When the Israelites invade Jericho, she and her family are spared.

One other observation about Rahab. She is an early example of a theme that runs throughout the Bible. There are many we would label as sinners who act with courage and integrity. People like Rahab are the same class of people with whom Jesus dines. He selects the likes of a tax collector to be a disciple. He reaches out to a thief, promising him a place in heaven as they hang on crosses. Were she around at the time of Jesus, Rahab would have a place at His table.

These are only a few of the heroic women of the Bible. Eve is heroic because she does not try to defend herself when Adam tries to blame her for the apple incident. Sarah is heroic as she leaves her home to accompany her husband to a strange land. Deborah leads the Israelites into battle. The woman at the well speaks to Jesus and then does not get defensive when He speaks to her about her past. Women stand by Jesus’ cross while the men flee.

These and other women of the Bible stand as a challenge to the lingering paternalism and sexism of the Catholic Church. They challenge us men to look within to see if we too harbor some ecclesiastical bias.

Reflection: What women in the Bible or other sacred scripture do you find interesting and inspiring?

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A Successful Marriage

My wife and I once had a discussion of what contributes to a successful marriage. We (mainly she) came up with : respect, good communication, and a good sex life.

When I respect someone, I speak to them in a way that honors their dignity and humanness. I do not attack or name-call. I treat their opinion as valid even if I don’t agree. I honor their physical and emotional boundaries. I do my best to support their path of growth even if it creates inconvenience for me. Although I may know their vulnerable spots, I do not poke those spots either out of anger or a poor attempt to be funny.

The most difficult part of good communication is listening. When I listen, I don’t simply sit silently and stare. I ask questions to clarify. I may reflect back what I am hearing to ensure its accuracy. I don’t interrupt.

Good communication also means that I try to express my thought and feeling without attacking or blaming the other person.

This does not mean that good communication does not involve arguing. It does! The problem with arguing is not that couples argue but how they argue. The goal of a fight is to solve a problem, perhaps to compromise. The goal is not to win or be right. The kinds of behaviors that throw couples off track and into something ugly include: name-calling, bringing up the past, and blaming. Couples need to also avoid fighting when one or both have been using alcohol.

Good fighting involves accepting responsibility and acknowledging the other person’s point. It involves admitting when I am feeling defensive. If necessary, it involves taking a time out so that I can calm down.

Finally, good communication involves talking about mutual needs. Some years ago, my wife and I were going through a bad time. She asked me a good question: “What are your needs?” I thought for a moment then said “Well, other than that I apparently have a great need to meet other people’s needs, I don’t know.” She made the perfect response: “Well, when you figure out what your needs are, please let me know because I’m very interested in trying to meet them.” Good for her! Only I can figure out my own needs but couple’s often get into expecting one another to mind-read each other’s needs.

Regarding sex, I’ve noticed that many couple’s have trouble talking about sex — their wants, what they enjoy, what they don’t enjoy, what they’re interested in trying. As such, there is much room for misunderstanding and hurt feelings. For some couples, sex becomes a focus for all their difficulties. For example, resentments get expressed through sex.

Another phenomenon that I see is the sexless marriage not due to illness but simply due to life style. I remember one couple. Both were in their 30s. They were very attractive professional people with no children. When I asked them how often they had sex, they said maybe once a month. They both acknowledged being interested in more sex but stated that professional busyness led to time limitations and fatigue. I made a suggestion that some couples do not like– scheduled sex. Of course, we all really like spontaneous, tearing off clothes sex. But I always argue that scheduled sex is better than no sex!

I have been fortunate to have been married 52 years to an extraordinary woman. We have had our struggles. At one point, we looked at separating. But I believe we have never stopped working at it. A successful marriage is much like sobriety. Keep trying — a day at a time.

Reflection: What are your thoughts on what makes a marriage successful?

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On The Shakers

On the Shakers

Posted on January 2, 2017 by richp45198

Image result for sister frances carr

I recently had the joy of visiting the Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake in Maine. It is beautiful in its simplicity and dedicated to sustainability among many spiritual virtues. I wanted to repost this piece in their honor.

Sister Frances Carr died recently. I never met her but did have one exchange with her. She was one of the last of the Shakers. I first saw Sister Frances in a documentary on the Shakers. At one point, images of her cooking are interfaced with a nearby auction of highly valued Shaker furniture. Oprah Winfrey ends up winning one bid. Sister Frances then reflects on the auctions, noting that it is often said that it rains on auctions days. She observes with a catch in her throat “Some say it is the old Shakers crying.” Their furniture, beautiful in its simplicity, was never meant to bring in riches.

After seeing that video, I grew to admire the Shakers. Their spirituality was simple and straight forward and is reflected with sayings such as “Hands to work. Hearts to God.” and the more well-known “Tis a gift to be simple. Tis a gift to be free.” I think that is one aspect of the Shakers that draws me. Their approach to life is based on hard work, simplicity, and welcome. To this day, visitors who wish to come to Sabbathday Lake where Sister Frances lived and who wish to join in the work or simply reflect are all welcome.

I also feel drawn to their commitment to pacifism and to their commitment to meaningful roles and leadership for women, lessons that other more mainline religions would do well to note.

There were at one time as many as 6000 Shakers in the U.S. due in part to the Shakers welcoming of orphaned children. As Child Welfare laws changed, so did this source for membership. In addition, the Shakers commit to a celibate life. As such, there are only a handful of Shakers left.

Legend has it that composer Aaron Copeland was driving in upper New York state and overheard a hymn coming from a Shakers’ church. Copeland adapted that hymn and it became a centerpiece of his great Appalachian Springtime. The hymn is known as “Simple Gifts”. The hymn and its many adaptations live on as part of the Shaker legacy.

No, I am not a Shaker. I lack the self-discipline. I also think too much. But the Shakers have a treasured place in my spiritual tapestry, in part because they remind me always that perhaps my relationship with God need not be so complicated and so troublesome and that freedom can indeed be found in simplicity.

Reflection:  Do you see a need for simplicity in your own spiritual journey?

Here then is a version “Simple Gifts” that I love for its simplicity.

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On Blue Collar Roots

On a shelf in my office is a large piece of coal. It is there as a reminder of where I come from and where my roots are. Those roots are solidly amidst what is now referred to as “blue collar” workers, i.e., men and women who wore work shirts not white shirts. My blue collar roots include coal miners.

Several of my male relatives started out as coal miners. Some got out. One of my uncles became a fireman. My great grandfather became a cobbler. Another uncle didn’t make it out, dying of black lung disease.

My father picked slate from coal heaps when he was a boy. He had a high school education and worked for a trucking company as a claims adjuster. We would go back to work with him in the evening and play hide and seek on the freight docks with truck drivers named Jake or Skinny or Buddy.

Part of what I learned from these blue collar folks has to do with work. I grew up with an understanding that that’s what you do. You work, preferably starting at a young age. Thus I had my first job when I was 14. That job was golf caddy. It lasted one day. I got there at 6AM and did not get called until 4 PM. I then lugged some woman’s golf clubs around for two plus hours and got paid $.50! Thankfully a parish priest got me a job at the library of a local college.

In subsequent years through high school and college, I worked as a mailman (a job I loved!). I also worked in a plastics factory where most of the men were missing fingers from plastics presses. I worked in a paint factory. I met many people who taught me a lot about hard work and enduring boredom. Like the steel worker in Stud’s Terkel’s Working, these people were working so that their children could have a better future than they did.

What became important to those men and women was that their sons and daughters would go to college. I remember what a big deal it was when my cousin Bob Ruane (son of my uncle who died of black lung disease) graduated from college, the first in my mother’s family to do so. Similarly, it was important to my aunt who ran an elevator at the electric company that I attend the local Jesuit high school rather than the parish one.

These blue collar men and women were usually people of faith, drawing on that faith to persist in trying to build a life for their families. They sometimes coped in other ways too. Thus many of my blue collar relatives were two-fisted drinkers.

I am aware that the work I do now as a psychologist has its own inherent meaning and rewards. I am aware of how fortunate I have been to receive the education that I did. I understand that I am more than what I do but the fact is that, for most of us, what we do becomes a major part of who we are. Thus, the discomfort that can come with retirement.

I am grateful to all the blue collar men and women who made it possible for me to have a better life. Here is a poem celebrating my blue collar roots

At The Old Folks

So now you know.

This is where we old coal miners come.

Maloney Home.

Oh it’s not so bad.

The sisters …they feed us well.

Nurse us when we’re sick.

Bury us when it’s time.

But here’s the joke.

Somewhere in the bowels of this building

A boiler room works day and night to keep us warm.

That boiler runs on coal.

But they won’t let me go down there.

I who know so much about those black rocks.

They won’t let me go down there anymore.

They say I might get hurt.

That’s the joke.

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On Sobriety

Yesterday marked 39 years I have been clean and sober. I would like to claim credit for that but I can’t. It is a result of grace, receiving some very good help, and being blessed with supportive family and friends.

Sobriety isn’t so much a thing as it is a process. It is indeed hard work.

When I first confronted my alcoholism, I thought arrogantly that I could do it alone. Thus, the first ten days were ones of white knuckles and strong cravings. Finally, on Day 10 I asked for help and, with the guidance of some sober people, began my own journey.

The obvious question I faced early on was “Why do I drink?” In my high school days, it was because that’s what men do. So if I wanted to be a man, I had to drink. In my Irish Catholic culture, the rite of passage to manhood wasn’t so much a bar mitzvah or even Catholic confirmation. It happened when you were invited to drink with the men. I remember being at a wedding with my family. My uncle asked me to get him a drink at the bar. Then he said “In fact, why don’t you get yourself something like a beer.” This was the rite of passage. As I sat drinking with my father and uncles, I did indeed think “Now I’m a man!”

Later I drank for three reasons: 1. to be more comfortable socially. I am a strong introvert and was shy as well. Drinking helped me feel more relaxed in social situations. 2. To take my mind off my worries. 3. To manage my emotions.

I realized that these were all good goals. The problem was with the means. So part of sobriety would involve me learning other non-destructive ways to meet those goals. I had to find some way to be more sociable without getting buzzed. I had to find better solutions to manage my worries. And I had to learn new ways to face my anger or my sadness or my fear. I even had to find new ways to celebrate!

I don’t know that I’ve done that well with the social part. But I at least no longer judge myself for being an introvert. I came to see that the best approach to managing my worries was spiritual and centered on the Serenity Prayer a copy of which hangs over my work desk. I had to learn to be more open with loved ones about my feelings. Sometimes just acknowledging them was a challenge.

In time I came to see that sobriety was more than the absence of alcohol. It was a different way of living. I had to learn to deal with emotions. I had to learn to be more honest. I had to learn to be more forgiving and to seek forgiveness. I am still learning and still have much to learn.

Finally, I have had to accept that the pit is only one drink away. Do I think about it? Of course! I remember waking up on the day marking 30 years of sobriety and thinking “I haven’t had a drink in 30 years. Surely I could handle one beer!” Thankfully, I was able to shake my head and remind myself “Patterson, when did you ever have just one beer?”

My journey has been blessed with many angels. My family. A friend who helped me get started with getting help. Some wise people in support groups. A very good therapist. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I’d add to that by saying that it also takes a village of helpers and support persons to help an addict get and stay sober.

There are many paths to sobriety. I’ve known folks get sober through Alcoholics Anonymous. I’ve known folks who got sober by turning to religion. I’ve known folks who got sober at treatment centers. I’ve known folks who just quit. (How they did that I’ll never know. I tried and failed at that many times). All that I know is that sobriety has been perhaps the finest gift with which I have been blessed. I plan to keep working at becoming sober — one day at a time.

Reflection: 1. What have your experiences been with addiction and sobriety? How have they affected you spiritually?

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I wanted to share this piece that appeared in the local online newspaper El Paso Matters.

In the aftermath of the Uvalde shootings, we are hearing lots of rhetoric but little actual hope that legislative steps will be taken here in Texas to better protect our families. 3 years ago after the Walmart shootings, we heard the same rhetoric. Now 3 years later it is easier to buy guns in Texas.

Most of us feel impotent in the face of escalating violence. Is there anything useful we can do?

1. Our vote is more important than ever. In addition, we should compel candidates to publish donations from gun organizations and manufacturers as well as their voting history on gun control.

2. We should demand that our representatives support legislation to permit victims of mass shootings and their families to sue the manufacturers of guns used in the shootings.

3. There is a lack of spiritual leadership in our country. We are therefore each called to look within and confront that within each of us that is violent or racist or sexist or any other form of prejudice. For those of us who practice any form of religion, we need to encourage our spiritual leaders to be more outspoken and to challenge each of us to truly live a spiritual message, not merely to mouth it. This would include spiritual leaders providing true guidance on the spiritual dimensions of gun ownership.

We have become a polarized society caught up in self-interest. If we believe in prayer, perhaps this is the most pressing issue.

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On Conspiracy Theories

Conspiracy theories are nothing new. We have fostered them for centuries mainly to offer explanations for troublesome events. During my lifetime, the conspiracy theories around the assassination of John F. Kennedy have been the most wide-spread ones and are still generating books, documentaries, etc.

Conspiracy theories often are rooted in a mistrust of organizations such as the federal government. The theme of UFOs is an example. The government has the remains of a space alien at Area 51. Aliens were responsible for the Pyramids and Stonehenge. Such theories are an integral part of UFO lore. The popular series The X-Files owes its success to the preponderance of and fascination with UFO conspiracy theories (which, by the way, are experiencing a resurgence.)

Mistrust of government was greatly fostered through the Nixon Administration and Watergate. Those events showed that indeed the government does hide things and even lies. Watergate showed us that cover-ups do indeed happen.

As noted above, conspiracy theories reflect a desire to make sense of things. I suppose they are relatively harmless. But when conspiracy theorists begin to act on those theories, then they are no longer harmless.

Last week a young man killed 10 African American people in a grocery store. It appears he did so after embracing the current “replacement” theory in which the powers of government are believed to be letting in immigrants to control voting. Similarly, almost 3 years ago here in El Paso, a young man entered a Walmart and killed 23 people, having embraced a conspiracy theory that the government was allowing criminals to enter the country. Inspired by political anti-immigrant rhetoric, this young man said he was there to “kill Mexicans”. One of his victims was a man who was not only a U.S. citizen but also a veteran.

As mistrust of government increases, so too does fear. Those who espouse conspiracy theories attempt to play on those fears. This also is nothing new. Senator Joseph McCarthy played on fears of Communism in the 1950s. He spun a conspiracy theory that the State Department was filled with Communists and accrued great power in the process. His claim of having proof was false. Sadly, though, I believe McCarthy could be reelected these days if he were still around.*

Unfortunately, too, conspiracy theories are now being fostered via news programs. There was a time when news broadcasters felt obliged to report, not to offer opinions. Thus, the great Walter Cronkite hesitated when CBS encouraged him to present an opinion piece on the futility of the Viet Nam War. Cronkite hesitated because he believed that was outside the scope of his responsibilities. Nowadays conspiracy theories such as the replacement theory are being espoused by news reporters.

Issues such as immigration are complex ones in need of intelligent dialogue to find realistic humane solutions. Conspiracy theories about the government’s involvement in those issues are definitely not part of a healthy dialogue.

Wikipedia presents a listing of conspiracy theories with 12 broad topical areas ranging from UFOs to government to sports. Within each topical area are multiple sub-topics.

Are all conspiracy theories wrong? Sadly, no. There is for example plenty of evidence of government cover-ups ranging from Nazi death camps to research on syphilis to White House tape recordings. But then that’s the point. Those conspiracy theories are validated by evidence, not by emotion. As long as we embrace unsubstantiated theories and give power to those who espouse such theories, shootings such as those in Buffalo and El Paso are likely to continue.

At a personal level, I believe we each need to examine how we deal with fear. Do I face them and name them? Do I pray about them? Do I utilize the methods at hand to address them, e.g., voting? If I feel called to protest, do I do so peacefully? Do I examine all points of view before deciding my own beliefs about an issue such as immigration?

Conspiracy theories will be with us for some time to come. Hopefully, by not acting on them we can make them harmless again.

*Here’s an interesting historical footnote. Joe McCarthy’s aide Roy Cohn later became Donald Trump’s mentor.

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In Praise of Grandmothers

As we celebrate Mother’s Day, many will pause also to remember their grandmothers. I’m aware there is now a Grandparents’ Day in September, I believe. But Mother’s Day is a day to celebrate mothers everywhere and many of those mothers also happen to be Grandmas.

In the past, when I would present workshops, in a guided imagery I would ask participants to picture someone who loved them unconditionally. Many would share that the person they saw was their grandmother. The image of their grandmothers would often bring tears.

Sadly, I have also known some grandmothers who were put in a position of raising their grandchildren. Not babysitting them but raising them. They would have to take on all the parental duties to include discipline. Many of those women grieved that they would not have the chance to be a doting Grandma.

I never knew either of my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother Ellen McDonald died in the flu epidemic of 1919. My paternal grandmother Catherine Patterson died in the early 1940s before I was born. But I did have an aunt. Whether she did so consciously or not, she served as my surrogate grandmother.

My aunt Margaret Walsh was in her teens when my grandmother died. Her older sister Mary was mentally ill and so Aunt Peg stepped in, helping to raise her siblings. My grandfather referred to her as “My Sparkplug” because she was full of energy and would get things done. As time passed and her siblings married, she became for many of us our surrogate grandmother. She would do grandmotherly things like sending me a birthday card with a dollar in it. She did this well into her 90s. She would bake the greatest peanut butter cookies I ever had or would have. When I would visit her back in Pennsylvania, she would have a bag of cookies for me. One poignant memory was when she apologized to me for not making the cookies, saying simply that she now had arthritis in her hands.

I never heard her speak a critical word to me but instead she seemed to take a grandmother’s pride. The last time I saw her she was in a nursing home. She had some memory issues by then. She asked me several times how old I was. Each time I would say “47, Aunt Peg” and she would clasp her hands together, saying with a slight Irish brogue “Oh saints preserve us!” We were in a large social room with other residents. As I was leaving, I heard that rich voice saying “That’s my nephew. He’s from Texas. He’s a psychologist.” Praise indeed!

I was also able to witness the joy my children brought to my mother. Her love was unconditional. My mother hated beards. On one visit my son Matt showed up with a beard. I asked my Mom “What do you think of your grandson’s beard?” “Whatever he wants” she said. Incredulous, I said “You’re kidding!” but, stubborn woman that she was, she simply nodded and said again “Whatever he wants.” Such was her attitude with all four of her grandchildren.

As with mothers, not all of us have had a good experience with grandmothers. For those of you in that category, I can only hope that, like me, you were able to find or will find a surrogate Grandma to meet that need.

So, hoping that you had a positive experience with a grandmother, I encourage you to celebrate them as well this Mother’s Day.

REFLECTION: Did you have or are you having a positive experience of a grandmother’s love?

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On Walls

Walls is still a big issue here in El Paso, mainly because elements of it can be seen along our border with Mexico. A wall serves two purposes — protecting those within the walls and keeping others out. What is interesting to me is that many who profess to be Christian support the building of such a wall, thereby ignoring much of the Bible’s guidance to be kind and welcoming to strangers.

In our individualistic culture, good walls appear to make good neighbors just as Robert Frost said. We treasure our privacy. A wall serves an age-old desire to own land and to have autonomy. A wall serves to define property and in some sense identity.

Not all walls are bad, as seen with this picture

In 1972, the Susquehanna River flooded many Pennsylvania towns. In the town of Sunbury many homes were actually below water level with a wall keeping the river from flooding those homes. Residents there nervously watched the river rise, trusting in their wall. The wall held!

Similarly, we all develop inner walls intending to protect ourselves and to keep others out. Is this good or bad? Depends on whom or what you are trying to keep out. What is important to note is that these inner walls are at times fear-based, mainly trying to protect me from being hurt.

Like physical walls, our inner walls are not all bad. Some people are not to be trusted. Others simply have their own aims in mind with little concern for our feelings or even safety. This is where having the inner equivalent of the Sunbury Wall can be helpful. We cannot afford to be flooded by others’ desires to use or manipulate.

But if we desire true intimacy, we have to at some point be able to lower that wall and let someone in. That can be scary. If I allow someone to see me at my worst or to share with them my areas of pain, can I trust them to honor that decision to lower my wall and not to misuse or betray that vulnerability? Sadly, many persons conduct relationships with walls. There is minimal openness, minimal sharing of wounds. People who have lived together for year end up as strangers.

Inner walls do protect us and that is as it should be. But if I am unwilling or unable to lower those walls with someone with whom I want to be close, I run the risk of ending up like the singer of “I Am A Rock, I An An Island”: “A rock feels no pain/And an island never cries”

Ironically, I may try to build a wall against the God of my understanding. I make my prayer life automatic. I do not present my hurts and my angers. Much like Adam and Eve, I believe I can hide from God. I may at least think that I can fool God. But if I truly believe that the Kingdom of God is within, then there is no place to hide.

Finally I may actually build a wall against myself, trying to keep out painful memories, personal failures, unfulfilled dreams. All this hurts too much and so I build a wall, trying to convince myself that such issues do not bother me. I deny my feelings of hurt or anger. I avoid the room marked Resentments trying to convince myself that I have forgiven when in fact I haven’t. I’m afraid to let down that inner wall, fearing that those walled-off thoughts and memories will overwhelm and destroy me. Thus, I expend much time and energy shoring up that wall.

Walls do serve a purpose. How much you need them in your life is up to you.

REFLECTION: How have walls showed up in your life and spiritual world?

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The Road Not Taken

Today is Robert Frost’s birthday. As such, this morning I find myself meditating on his great poem “The Road Not Taken”.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Many of us, myself included, focus on the last 4 lines, reflecting perhaps on unconventional paths we followed at various points in our lives. But consider the title — the road NOT taken. For me, this poem is also a reminder and a warning that sometimes we dwell too much on a path we didn’t take. For some of us, those ponderings of what if include regrets and shouldas. Frost poem too suggests that, as we ponder the road not taken, we shall miss the beauty of the path we are on.

We all have a history of key decisions we have made in life. We may find ourselves wondering what if I had taking the other path. In my own case, what if I went ahead after high school and attended the seminary where I was already accepted? What if I had stayed in the Army? What if I had taken that job in Rochester? This to me is wasted energy yet we all do it.

Then too there are seemingly minor decisions that ended up having huge impact. When I was a sophomore in high school, I chose not to pursue basketball anymore. One year later, I auditioned for a play and that path led eventually to me meeting my wife of 51 years. If I ponder about the road not taken regarding basketball, I don’t feel regret. I feel gratitude.

For some, reflections on key decisions relate to their beliefs about God’s will. “When I took the left path instead of the right one, was I choosing in accord with God’s will for me?” God’s will is a slippery concept for we are also told we have free will. It makes me think of parenting. We may want our child to make a certain decision, even try to push them in that direction yet knowing all the while that it is our child’s decision.

Then too there is the issue of how specific is God’s will for us. Personally I do not believe that God somehow intended for me to be a clinical psychologist in El Paso TX. I think perhaps that God’s will involved certain gifts I was given and the expectation that I would live out those gifts to benefit others. Sadly, I have sat with persons who lived in fear that somehow God was angry with them because they have not followed God’s will.

Perhaps all that God’s will involves for each of us is “Make your decisions out of love for yourself and for others.”

Sometimes too we dwell on the serious mistakes, sins if you will, that we have made. We run a Dr. Phil on ourselves: “Good Lord, what was I thinking when I did that?’ That type of regret can include a lack of forgiveness of ourselves. I have made some serious mistakes in my life. Do I dwell on them, saying “How would my life be if I hadn’t done such a stupid thing?” Or do I try to do what I believe we are called to do — forgive myself and change.

So, no, I did not choose the path of becoming a Holy Cross priest. I did not choose the path of changing my major from psychology. I did not choose the path of staying in the Army. Just as Frost says, that has made all the difference. So I try not to waste my energy wondering what if but rather try to focus with gratitude on the path I’m on.

Here is the poet himself reading his great poem. Enjoy! (If the link doesn’t take you there directly, you can find it at Youtube)

REFLECTIONS: Have you struggled with roads not taken?

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