Excerpt from “Mysticism for the Masses”

I’d like to share with you an excerpt from my article “Mysticism for the Masses” that appears in the August issue of St. Anthony Messenger. If you’d like to receive a copy of the full article, e-mail me at <richp45198@aol.com>

We can’t manufacture them (mystical experiences) as much as we might try. The best that we can do is to remain open. This is a hard lesson for me as I like to be in control. Thus, one time I headed out to the Guadalupe Mountains about 90 miles from El Paso. I had been to this place often and had some remarkable mystical encounters with various wildlife. On this particular day, I set out planning to have such a mystical experience. None happened. As I prepared to follow the trail down from the mountains, I thought “It’s not going to happen today” and let go of the expectation. Believe it or not, in that moment of letting go, I took a last look around and there was a young deer watching me! I could almost hear God chuckling. Only by accepting that I was unable to manufacture a mystical experience could I become open to one.

Many of these experiences have indeed come to me when I have been away from day-to-day living. So, to become a mystic, must I become like Henry Thoreau or John Muir and retreat to the wilderness? Here Rabbi David Wolpe’s notion of “the normal mystic” is very helpful: “In the eye of another human being, in the daily activity of average people, the normal mystic seeks the presence of God. ..The normal mystic looks at life as you and I know it, but with an acute eye, one that tracks the almost imperceptible or often overlooked suggestion of God in every corner, at each turn.” (The Healer of Shattered Hearts, 1990, p. 81). Recalling James’ comment about passivity, Wolpe helps us see that we nonetheless can pay attention!

Wolpe’s reflections also remind us that we can sense God’s presence in the ordinary as well as the spectacular. Essential to mystical experience is the sense of connection, not only to God in some transpersonal way but to also God in the angry driver in the car next to me, to the homeless veteran on the street corner, to the brother or sister addict struggling to get on the path of recovery. Clearly I feel connected to the people I love. But mystical experience reminds me we are all connected and that the source of that connection is found in God.

Here we begin to get a sense as to why people are not in such a hurry to pursue the Mystic’s Way. If I truly aspire to become a mystic, then I am embracing not just the wonder. I am embracing the pain. For to feel a connection is to feel pain as well as wonder. Mystical experience may be the experience of wonder but it also can be the experience of deep compassion that is grounded in a faith that understands God’s presence in pain.

I encourage you to become open to the possibility of mysticism as a special faith-enriching part of your spiritual journey. You don’t have to go to a monastery or even to a National Park. Just pay attention and remember that God is a God of plenty. Monasteries and National Parks can indeed be doorways to the Divine. But there are just as many doorways to the Divine in your hometown. That’s how God planned it.

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On the Stories of Our Childhood

It has been said that we can gain insight into our adult personality by reflecting on our favorite stories from childhood — that those stories would reflect themes that would come to occupy a central place in our lives. Maybe so. A the very least, it can be fun to revisit those stories. I have two.

Image result for ferdinand the bull

I still have my original copy of The Story of Ferdinand complete with scribbling done by my brother when he was mad at me. It is a story about being different and coming to accept ourselves as we are and not as others think we should be. It also is a wonderful metaphor for non-violence. For me, though, Ferdinand reflected my own introversion. As all the other bulls would run and jump, Ferdinand would just sit under his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers. Many of us introverts grow up believing that our quietness and desire for solitude are aberrations. Somehow at an early age Ferdinand reassured me that it was OK to like being alone and enjoy simple things. And let me go on record and say that I can’t stand the Walt Disney cartoon version or the more recent full-length movie. The story of Ferdinand is simple and profound as is.

The second book that I read multiple times was The Story of Doctor Doolittle.

Image result for the story of doctor dolittle

This story captivated me not only because Doctor Doolittle could talk to animals but because he loved adventure. I think that this appealed to the dreamer inside of me and I think it also helped me believe in magic and wonder. The talking animals as well as the great adventures encouraged me to look beyond the situation as it is and to seek out the situation as it could be. I hope I never lose that child-like capacity to wonder and to dream. Perhaps it was no accident that the first date I had with my wife was the movie version of Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison.

The world has gotten complicated and, for many, has lost its magic, reflected perhaps in current popular children’s books with titles like Walter the Farting Dog and Captain Underpants. For that reason I sent my newest grandson his copy of Ferdinand.

Reflection: What are some favorite stories from your childhood? What themes did they foreshadow?

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On Scripture and Politicians

Tornillo Texas is on the outskirts of my hometown of El Paso and currently is housing hundreds of children who were separated from their parents while crossing the border. There has been a huge outcry such that the government is now claiming that these children will be reunited with their parents. In the midst of this crisis Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a quote from the Bible to essentially tell us to be quiet and obey the government.

Politicians quoting from any sort of Scripture is problematic. In part, it seems to fly in the face of the idea of separation of church and state. But more offensive to me is the indiscriminate use of scripture to justify some controversial government programs.

Regarding the Bible, I have read it 5 times and find it to be an impressive but complicated book in which it is easy to take quotes out of context to justify a political position. For example, in exhorting us to behave and support the government in its decisions regarding immigrants, Mr. Sessions conveniently avoided other parts of the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy for example tells us that God “Loves the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So too you must show love to foreigners.” The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “I was a stranger and you took me in.” These and other parts of scripture were conveniently  ignored by Mr. Sessions.

In a letter I recently wrote to the New York Times I suggested a constitutional amendment to prevent politicians from quoting the Bible, Torah, Quran or any other sacred writings. These issues before us are complicated and while we need to respond in a manner consistent with any holy scripture, the dialogue is not advanced by politicians quoting such scripture.

I am all for persons of power governing from a spiritual perspective. Lord knows they need the help of God, Yahweh, Allah and any other spiritual beings to govern with wisdom and not get caught up in the Dark Side of power. I just don’t trust that they will quote scripture to further the dialogue. As Shakespeare said, “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”

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On Heroes: Red Schoendienst

I wanted to repost this in memory of Red who crossed over at age 95.

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

Red SchoendienstWhen we are young, we often find heroes and heroines — people of some note who in some way manifest qualities we hope to acquire. For males of my generation, many of those heroes were either cowboys or athletes or both. As such, some of my boyhood heroes included Jimmy Piersall, Shane, and Hopalong Cassidy. And Red Schoendienst.

Red played a significant role in my life. He provided an early example of courage in the face of hardship. Later he provided a connection with my mother.

Red had a Hall-of-Fame career as a second baseman and then as a coach and manager. At the time he became a hero, he was playing for the Milwaukee Braves. His career, however, came to a halt because of a bout of tuberculosis. But he came back.

I remember seeing the game in  which he returned from his illness and came to bat as…

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On Memorial Day

I am not a combat veteran, a fact that I communicate to the many combat veterans I see through my work. However, as one vet reminded me before giving me a hug, I am a veteran and so I am a brother.

For many veterans, this is a very difficult weekend where memories they don’t like to recall crowd in. Friends killed before their eyes. Dying children. Word of another vet committing suicide.

My many hours with these heroic men and women have convinced me of the evils of war. There has got to be a better way to settle our differences yet I fear that Plato was right when he wrote “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

I deal with men and women whose minds and spirits have been battered by war. I have dealt with some who considered ending their lives or even attempted it. Without exception, all considered this step only because they were weary from the pain. Images of body parts of buddies. Smells of explosives and blood. Sounds of taps heard too many times. A loss of faith.

Did you know that the statistic for veterans who commit suicide remains at over 20 EACH DAY?? Yet wars go on, VA mental health clinics are overwhelmed, and too many cries for help go unheard. I do indeed honor our heroes who sacrificed their lives in combat. But I also honor the many men and women who ended their own lives, having grown tired from the weight of war.

So if you know a troubled vet, reach out to him or her. Listen. Many combat vets simply want to tell their stories without facing judgment, especially the Viet Nam veterans wounded not just by war but by spit and shouts of “Baby killer!” upon their returns to home. Don’t simply tell a vet “Thank you for your service.” Ask him or her “How are you doing?” with interest and attention.

I hate war and what it has done to too many beautiful people. But I am also a brother who salutes his fellow brothers and sisters and who honors the memory of other brothers and sisters whose lives ended because of war.

I share this great Trace Adkins song in their memory.

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On a Mother’s Faith

For those of us who have lost our Moms, every Mothers’ Day is hard. I thought I’d post this again as a loving tribute to Genevieve McDonald Patterson.

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

Over the years and in various writings, I have alluded to my mother’s faith as a source of inspiration for me. On this eve of Mothers’ Day, she is on my mind and so I thought there might be some value in elaborating on the simple yet profound faith she lived.

The cornerstone of my mother’s faith had to do with facing tragedy. When my mother was 6 years old, her own mother died in the flu epidemic of 1918-19. My grandfather never remarried and so my mother, the second youngest of 7 children, suffered a grievous loss. It would not be the first.

My mother had hoped for a big family. She had my brother and then looked forward to the birth of her second child. This girl was born with spina bifida, a disease that at that time was fatal. Patricia lived only a few days. After me…

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Spiritual Life According to Georges Seurat

At the conclusion of the first act of the musical production Sunday in the Park with George, we watch the visual representation of the creative process of the artist Georges Seurat that results in the magnificent painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”, pictured here.

As Seurat (played by Mandy Patinkin), undertakes the painting, he verbalizes the principles that guide his creative process. It occurs to me that, given that spirituality is greatly connected to creativity, these principles might point toward an understanding of spiritual growth. Here then is spirituality according to Georges Seurat:

  1. Order. I greatly lack self-discipline. Always have. Yet it has become clear to me that my spiritual path requires some order by which I mean consistency. I cannot simply “be spiritual” whenever I feel like it. My spiritual path requires discipline and consistency if it is to bear benefit. I need a spiritual practice, be it reading scripture, meditating or praying,  charitable work, or other manifestations of the journey. and I need to perform these and other spiritual acts on a regular basis. Much like physical exercise, the spiritual path requires regular work-outs.
  2. Design. Here I must address how much structure my spiritual practice requires to include the role of organized religion. For some, organized religion is at the center of their journey. For others, it is peripheral if present at all. Further, some work with structured prayers and readings while others rely on meditation. Finally, I must also decide what if any room I make for thoughts from other religions and philosophies.
  3. Tension. Life is sufficiently confusing that, if I am not struggling in some spiritual way, I have adopted a soft safe spiritual path. If I am truly living out a spiritual life, I should be struggling with questions such as the reality of suffering or my purpose for being here. A spiritual path without tension is in danger of becoming stagnant. As a Jewish theologian said, if I am not arguing with God about something, there is a problem with my spirituality
  4. Balance. Many religions and philosophies espouse the importance of balance. For me, this is reflected in the challenge found in many religions to love my neighbor as myself.  Love of self is not narcissism. It involves not only celebration of my gifts but a hard honest inventory of my failings. In other words, it involves seeing myself as bot Saint and Sinner.
  5. Harmony. This quality ensures that my spirituality is truly interpersonal. As an introvert, I am drawn to solitary practice. But the principle of harmony reminds me that, if my practice does not bring me back into the world as a practitioner of peace and compassion, then my practice is mere narcissism.

I invite you, then, to reflect on how you are doing spiritually following Seurat’s guidelines for creativity. The results may not be as grand as Seurat’s magnificent painting but can hopefully bring you peace, satisfaction, and a bit of the kind of joy I feel when watching this beautiful scene.

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Gander, Newfoundland

Until recently, I’d never heard of Gander,  a Newfoundland town. Then I heard about a broadway musical called Come From Away. That in turn pointed me toward a book titled The Day the World Came to Town; 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland.

On that terrible day in 2001, airspace over the United States was closed and planes were directed to land immediately. One of the challenges was for planes flying to the States from Europe. Many were directed to Canada. 38 were directed to the airport in Gander, a town of some ten thousand people. Within a matter of hours, their population was increased by over six thousand. No one knew how long these visitors would be on the ground but, as the day progressed, it became clear that the passengers weren’t leaving anytime soon.

The story of how the people of Gander rose to the challenge of providing food and shelter for the passengers is one of the great stories of our time. Among other things, I realized how much I take for granted — taking a shower, having my medications available, having a bed and a blanket, being able to call a loved one. The story of those five days includes things I never would have thought of. As an ex-smoker, for example, I know how uncomfortable nicotine withdrawal can be!

The responsiveness and resourcefulness of the people of Gander is truly impressive. Pharmacists came together to get passengers their prescriptions (one thousand were filled the first day!) Veterinarians came together to tend to pets in the baggage section.  They even found a way to provide Orthodox Jewish passengers with kosher food.

The passengers’ time in Gander is filled with profound personal moments. Villagers responding with compassion to a couple with a firefighter son gone missing after the Towers collapsed.  Two couples trying to console children they’d adopted in Russia. A rabbi making himself available to speak with a villager who had hid his Jewish background.

I am drawn to this story because it offers hope. I and you have been in situations of powerlessness and fear only to have an angel intervene with a tangible offer of help. In Gander, the entire town responded. It is reassuring to know that, during a time that is otherwise typified by senseless violence and self-centered politics, there are some good people in the world. Not saints but simple down-to-earth folks who, on a dark day, responded with true lovingkindness. Mister Rogers once encouraged us to look for “the helpers” during bad times. He would be pleased to know of the people of Gander.

Reflection: What has your experience been with helpers during dark days?

For your enjoyment: Here is a scene from Come From Away. Enjoy. And yes the passengers did establish a scholarship fund for Gander!

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On St. Dismas

Still my favorite saint. Moreso now then ever. For Good Friday.

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

We Catholics are big on saints. We are named after saints. We create artwork about saints. For me, saints are extraordinary people whose journeys inspire. From St. Thomas the Doubter to St. Damien among the Lepers, saints have helped me along the way. But my favorite saint is Dismas.

Dismas is better known as the Good Thief. His story appears only in the Gospel of Luke. He was one of the hoodlums crucified with Jesus. According to the Luke, as Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, one began to berate Jesus, essentially saying “Do something!” The other thief, Dismas, told the first one to knock it off. “We deserve what we’re getting. He doesn’t”, says Dismas (Bear with my non-Lukian interpretation of Dismas’ words!) Here is Dismas, broken and humiliated yet feeling he deserves the cruel treatment he is receiving. Have you ever felt that way? That whatever is…

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What It’s Like Inside My Head

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I was watching a TV program recently in which one of the characters said “No one knows what it’s like inside my head!” Interesting. It occurs to me that, like a lot of other bloggers, this blog may be an attempt to articulate some of what it’s like inside my head. That, however, would not be accurate since the majority of my writing has been around heavy intellectual themes. But then I walked into Johnson’s!

Johnson’s Art Gallery is found in Madrid, New Mexico along the Turquoise Trail. On a recent trip, my wife and I stopped in. If you look closely at the picture above, you will get a hint. Some beautiful painting left unguarded. A random pot. Cactus here, sagebrush there. Then we went inside!

We were met with random boxes of unfiled business papers, piles of books and photographs, all completely unorganized. For people who like organization, it is stressful. For me, I felt at home.

One of the owners commented “We’re trying to get organized but then we’ve been trying to get organized for ten years”. I came upon some beautiful photography of the Southwest, some wonderful paintings, even some old books and toys. But keep in mind that this was all quite random. In the midst of my wanderings, I chatted with one of the store clerks (or was he the owner?) about the Redsox.

When I went to make my purchases, one of the store people pointed to an elderly lady walking in with a cane and was told “She’ll take care of you.” This was Ms. Johnson herself. She had to poke around amidst a pile of papers to find her sales book. Next she had to search to find a pen. Next she was unsure of the cost. Then together we processed my payment through her credit processor. She thanked me for helping as we commiserated about modern technology. Then she again had to poke around to find a bag.

As I left, I thanked them all and said “This place has character! Don’t ever change!”

Then I had an epiphany. “That’s exactly how it is inside my head!” Chaos. Disorganization. Definitely not a business sense. And yet the unexpected treasure found in a corner. Interesting ideas floating amidst random busywork. Interesting bits of information having nothing to do with anything in particular yet exciting to discover. Poor attention to detail. Very random yet very creative. Down to earth. Prone to oversights and other types of mistakes. (For example, later that day we could not stay at our favorite hot springs spa because I had booked the wrong date!)

Somehow it was very comforting to have a metaphor for my own consciousness and it was reassuring that, on balance, that metaphor was a pleasant place to be.

Reflection: Do you have a metaphor for what it’s like inside your head?

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