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A man went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation and talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the customer.

“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The customer thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the customer left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt. The customer turned back and entered the barber shop again and he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”

“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber.

“I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!”

“No!” the customer exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! That’s what happens when people do not come to me.”

“Exactly!” affirmed the customer. “That’s the point! God, too, DOES exist! Because people do not look to God for help is why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”

 

To my dearest family, some things I’d like to say, But first of all to let you know that I arrived okay.

I’m writing this from Heaven, where I dwell with God above, Where there are no tears or sadness, there is just eternal Love.

Please do not be unhappy, just because I’m out of sight, Remember that I’m with you, every morning, noon and night.

That day I had to leave you, when my life on earth was through, God picked me up and hugged me, and said, ” I welcome you”.

“It’s good to have you back again.

You were missed while you were gone.

As for your dearest family, they’ll be here later on.

I need you here so badly as part of my big plan. There’s so much that we have to do, to help our mortal man”.

Then God gave me a list of things he wished for me to do. And foremost on that list of mine, is to watch and care for you.

I will be beside you, every day of the week and year, And when you’re sad I’m standing there, to wipe away the tear.

And when you lie in bed at night, the day’s chores put to flight, God and I are closest to you in the middle of the night.

When you think of my life on Earth, and all those loving years, Because you’re only human, there’s bound to be some tears.

One thing is for certain, though my life on Earth is over, I am closer to you now than I ever was before.

And to my many friends, trust God knows what is best. I am not far away from you, I’m just beyond the crest.

There are rocky roads ahead for you and many hills to climb, Together we can do it, taking one day at a time.

It was my philosophy and please I’d like for you, To give unto the world, so the world will give to you.

If you can help someone who’s in sorrow or in pain, Then you can say to God at night, my day was not in vain.

And now I am contented that my life it was worthwhile, Knowing as I passed along the way, I made somebody smile.

When you’re walking down the street and I am on your mind, I’m walking in your footsteps, only half a step behind.

And when you feel a gentle breeze of wind upon your face, That’s me giving you a great big hug, or just a s oft embrace.

When it’s time for you to go from that body to be free, Remember you are not going, you are coming home to me.

I will always love you, from that place way up above, I will be in touch again soon.

P.S. God sends his love.

~ Unknown

Harried Prayer

When confronted by some minor emergency, we would not expect to quietly reflect on our situation and then calmly request assistance of someone. Nor, with emotions high and adrenaline rushing in our systems while we face some perceived crisis, would we expect to serenely commend our concerns to God. While we might be able to think clearly and make good decisions under pressure, we communicate differently with one another, and with God, according to the intensity of our experiences.

We cannot always be as calm as we would like, since we are subject to thoughts and feelings associated with turmoil as well as those of peacefulness. Therefore, we can expect to pray in ways that are appropriate when we are agitated, stressed or anxious as well as when we can pause for quiet reflection.

During times of stress, some of us grow quite composed externally, but with much turbulence within. In speaking with others, we would likely control the level of our voices, use few words, and speak only whatever seems necessary rather than give expression to our feelings. If we pray at such a time, we are not likely to express our concerns at great length or to carefully choose what we say, but rather, we would relate with God spontaneously and directly, more from our hearts than from our minds.

If we tend to think that prayer is only possible when we are physically and emotionally in a settled condition, as is appropriate for meditation or contemplation, we would leave out of our relationship with God the majority of our life-experiences. God loves us in all the moments of our lives, not only the occasions when we feel especially consoled. We might prefer and more deeply treasure some of our more significant interactions with family members or friends, but we value too, especially when we reflect a bit, the laughs, surprises, tensions and difficulties that we have shared over time. God accompanies us by choice, not obligation, at every moment of every day, and is absolutely attentive to all our thoughts, feelings and decisions.

We readily share the highs and the lows of our lives with those we trust. We find it fitting to share weaknesses, doubts and even some failures with those we trust most deeply. With God, it is wholly fitting to communicate everything that is of real concern to us – by words when they help, but more often by intention or inner direction.

We might, as we do with others, find ourselves “censoring” thoughts and feelings prior to consciously admitting them to God. Trusting is always a choice, and for us it often seems to imply the risk of being misunderstood, or worse, receiving disapproval. We could tell ourselves that “God already knows” as an excuse for not sharing our condition or our responses to events. But even our friends and all those who are somewhat perceptive often know when we are confused or enlightened, in pain or at peace. When we recognize that our present general state is known, we are often more prone to entrusting others with the particulars of our experiences than if we believed that our feelings and thoughts were totally opaque. God certainly knows all that takes place within us and around us, but only becomes one with us in our experiences when we freely disclose them.

Harried Prayer, as honest communication with God, is likely our most realistic kind of prayer when we are under stress.

Look Again

A Jesuit, who is very knowledgeable in many languages, showed me that the word “repent,” is best understood as “take another look.” When we look again at a sunset or a work of art, we are liable to receive more than the initial experience we had, which might have been primarily visual. And when we reflect on a first opinion or judgment, we might very well come to recognize a better way to proceed than if we had not looked again within ourselves.

“Repent” usually means to turn back from some form of negative or inappropriate thought or behavior, whereas “look again” does not pre-judge behavior, but encourages our use of the beneficial human power of reflection. By taking another look at almost anything we have in mind, we often gain new or deeper insight into either the subject we are considering, or ourselves, or perhaps both. After one look, we can turn away from a beautiful sight and perhaps be satisfied with what we received. But even if we do not literally look again at what our eyes had beheld at first, we still might “look again” within ourselves as to the meaning we receive, the joy we notice, or the depth of our feelings.

To look again is a relatively easy practice. But, like many good and helpful options that are available to us all, reflection becomes habitual only after we consciously choose to engage in looking again regularly, and when we begin to subsequently experience some recognizable benefits. Many of us have experimented with taking a few moments at a particular time of day to look again at some of the previous events of our day in order to appreciate or learn from them. Others have trained themselves to pause before any kind of meeting so as to consider at that moment the purpose they had in mind when they first decided to become involved.

Busy persons are continually moving from one moment to the next, fully occupied with the events before us, desiring to accomplish as much as we can in the time we have available. If we do not have a practice of reflection in the midst of, or in company with, our ongoing activities and decision-making, we might be missing much of the value and even the efficacy of our efforts. We do not always have to stop what we are doing in order to look again, as if we were vehicles moving in traffic with signal lights to guide our movements. We are amazingly, wondrously equipped to change the focus of our attention to an interior check on the value of our behavior even while our bodies give no outward signs that we are doing so.

Most of us have had the experience of walking determinedly towards a door while also considering whether or not we are well-prepared for whatever situation awaits on the other side. We can recognize that this ability is a gift of God and consciously apply the practice of reflection to much of what we do and observe.

When we become aware that something has caught our attention, it is likely an invitation to look again.

Titles

At times we use titles when we refer to people, such as: dad, daughter, doctor, professor, nurse, etc. At other times we use formal names that include a title, such as “Mrs. Orfington,” or “Senator Szcyx.” Our reasons vary for using titles, but some more common ones are: respect for the position that the person holds in relation to us, courtesy to an individual in a public situation or lack of familiarity with someone. We also have habits that are stronger or weaker among us, as one daughter might call her mother by her first name, and another son can only refer to his father as “dad;” one person addresses most professionals by their first names, others almost always use titles.

When we relate with God, in public or in private, we likely make use of a variety of titles according to our understanding and sensitivities in different situations. As with all our other relationships, cultural and societal customs and traditions have an influence on which titles we select at any particular time and on our decisions about when not to use a title at all. Whether we have many rules or few in how we address God, our choices all have to do with our immediate sense for what is appropriate in each particular moment.

When we consider who God is and who we are we might feel the distance between us and therefore choose titles that express reverence. At other times when we are not consciously thinking about God, or attempting any form of prayer, we might become aware that God is present, and be literally speechless, with no need to use titles of any kind. In public worship, no matter what feelings of God’s closeness we might or might not experience, we make use of different titles according to the songs and spoken prayers that are chosen, all of which are intended to match sentiments that we could have, that would be in keeping with some of our personal thoughts and feelings. In public situations we use titles for God according to common agreement, often determined by rituals that support our human-divine contact. In private, we decide, based on our present experience of God.

Praying with any of the many titles for God available to us enhances our experience of relating with an unseen person. At one time, calling upon God as “Dear Lord” might, for example, help us begin to relate from a sense of deep need. Most of us have favorite titles that seem appropriate for us when we are expressing personal concerns for ourselves or on behalf of others. Titles are not the same as names, though “Jesus” might express familiarity on one occasion, and at another, help us to relate with the Son of God.

Just as we might enquire of someone whether he or she is comfortable with our using a first name or prefers to be addressed by a title, so we can ask God. The answers we receive will not be direct, that God feels more comfortable being called by some title or another, but rather we will find within ourselves quiet inspiration for recognizing what best expresses our feelings of closeness, reverence, trust or love.

In choosing which titles, or none, that we use with God or with others, we manifest our own sense of each relationship at that moment in time.

Friends

No two friendships are the same; each is a unique personal relationship. We may have some long-term friends, and some whom we have met only recently; we might share almost anything of our thoughts and feelings with a small number of close friends, and also experience the benefits of a variety of interactions with others. When we reflect on our friendships, we might be able to recall how one or other person became a trusted friend, but we attach greater importance to the value of our friendships than to their origins.

Good friends grow closer to us when we are in need, just as we find ourselves more closely bound to friends when we accompany them in times that are challenging. We can readily appreciate that a trusted friend is a treasure that money cannot buy. Our lives would be much poorer if it were not for one of more of the friendships we have in which our concerns for each other are sincere, and in which we discover a capacity for giving active caring assistance that we might not have otherwise known was within us.

No friendship is ever founded upon equality, since no two individuals give and receive exactly the same to and from each other. We might be in particular need of receiving support at one time, and later be able to help that same friend who then requires our help. But with friends, we do not count what we give, looking for it to be equaled, but rather we find in our hearts that we want to give as much as we are able. We appreciate reciprocity of affection, but without an expectation that it will be expressed in the same ways as our own.

If we consider the many levels and kinds of friendship we have in our lives, we might find the exercise of reflection about them to be encouraging and consoling, especially if we are willing to include our relationship with God as also having many qualities of friendship.

God has cared for us as a friend in many ways, even though we are so very far from being equals. We can ponder how God cares for us as we are, as do our friends, and that we can also depend upon God to be present with us no matter what is happening within us or around us. As friend, God wants what is best for us, but does not manipulate us or bend us to his will. We might hesitate at first to accept that we have something to give to God that only we can offer. What really makes a friendship – the things we do, or the persons? Of course we have to manifest our care in words and actions, trying to please the other in the ways that we creatively devise. But the miracle of friendship depends upon the spiritual gift of love that each of us offers to others as we choose, and which satisfies us so deeply.

God made us for friendships.

Jesus said that he wanted his joy to be in others. (John 15.11) Can we “give” experiences of joy to people, or, can anyone cause another to become joyful? While we might not literally be able to take our joy and directly initiate the same response in someone else, true joy is positively infectious. That is, when we spontaneously manifest an experience of joy in the presence of people who are aware of the circumstances to which we are responding, they are quite liable to become joyful themselves.

When we desire to share joy, not as a projection of control, we certainly cannot cause harm, whether or not anyone actually resonates with the positive energy that moves within and beyond us. Joy is an honest and whole-hearted response to external and internal perceptions of reality. Joy is of God. We cannot directly cause it even for ourselves, but our attitude of openness, and even our expectation of God’s goodness to us, has much to do with how often and to what degree we experience joy. And if we are joyful persons, we want others to share in the goodness that is not under our control to either receive or to give.

God not only made us capable of experiencing joy, but also arranged that our bodies, minds and spirits would, unless we deliberately restrain ourselves, give witness to the movement of grace within us that we call joy. The flow of the living water from the gift we have received readily irrigates nearby hearts that are receptive. We do not have make a special effort to inform people that our joy overflows, though we surely might give voice to our experience, and freely express it in some of the many ways that we communicate with one another.

When Jesus remarked that he wanted to share his joy, what might that mean for us? Clearly, he must be experiencing joy, much joy, if he desires that we have the same gracious movement of the Spirit within us. We could imagine that one source of continuing joy would be his relationship with “Abba” as he called God the Father, in which the ongoing communion is so personal as to be identified as the Holy Spirit. We cannot exactly share in that particular joy, since we are not God. But Jesus also takes great joy in every least bit of trust and love that we have for him and for one another. To share his joy would be for us to consciously engage in thoughts, words and actions of trust and love.

If we cannot create joy directly, we certainly can make decisions that are within our present capabilities of trusting God’s love for us. We can reflect on the daily small and occasionally great gifts of God’s love at work in us, and open ourselves to the “ordinary mysticism” of inspirations that move us in creative love for others.

The words of Jesus about sharing his joy become real and effective in us the more we accept the reality of his love directed towards as if we were dearly important to him – which we are.

Inside and Outside

Occurrences of grace and inspiration take place within us, but quite often the occasion for these experiences is from without. A word or a glance from someone, the way light strikes a familiar object in a new way, and any number of incidents that we contact through our physical senses are frequently the direct links that open for us graced insights, inspired thoughts and other spiritual interior movements.

Experiences of grace and inspiration are not necessarily accompanied by intense feelings, but they are as important for our well-being as commonplace drinking water and meals. We can take them for granted, but life is much better for us when we notice, reflect and even give thanks for at least some of the frequent helpful connections that take place between the movements inside ourselves and all that is outside. Much of our joy, and many of the causes for gratitude in our lives, originates from our ordinary interactions with the people and events that we encounter every day.

God made us whole persons, beautiful in the complementary interaction of our spiritual selves and our physical bodies. If we give almost exclusive attention to the inner workings of our minds and hearts as if that were somehow the only worthy and valuable part of ourselves, we become separated from the gracious entirety of God’s creation and we become less able to resonate in our spirits with the music of God’s presence that is outside us. Alternatively, if we focus almost all our awareness on the actions and beauty of the world about us, the effects are deadening to our spirits, similar to an extravagant but superficial party in which everything is about appearances and nothing about relationships among those who participate. God composed us of both spirit and body, in a beautiful unity that functions best when we think and act from a conscious acceptance and love for the kind of beings we are.

Even though our bodies will certainly die, we will continue to exist as unique persons of spirit who have an appointed destiny for resurrection of the body. We will not metamorphose into angels or other disembodied spirits when we die. We are a unique form of creation, beautiful as God makes us: spirits enclosed with flesh. God, in Jesus, is fully human, and, having gone through human death, lives with a human body, but one that befits resurrection. His present state is the model for how we are intended to be. The continuation of our “inside and outside” aspects after death is a mystery that is far greater, and of much more significance to us, than all the still unknown workings of the universe. “The resurrection of the body and the life everlasting” resonate deeply within us, whether or not we use those exact words to explain the natural affinity we have for such a truth.

We can reflect upon and appreciate the beauty of how inside and outside are for us complementary rather than being somehow in opposition to our well-being. Though we cannot fully understand the mystery of the unity of body and spirit that defines us as humans, we can still be grateful that we are indeed “wonderfully made.” (Psalm 139:14)

We usually distinguish “work” from “play,” with the former being considered as more meaningful and significant, and the latter being thought of as a leisure activity. Without work, it seems that nothing will be accomplished. But play is also essential for adults. The Bible describes God as doing work in creating the world, and resting afterwards. But God also plays. And might some of what we call work, also be play?

For us, even when we thoroughly enjoy being creative, whatever we do requires some effort, and we generally call that “work.” For example, when we speak about paintings and sculptures, we refer to them as “works of art” rather than “results of play.” But when our work is quite rewarding, we give no thought to the efforts required, and when we play, we might become exhausted, but consider our tiredness a mark of enjoyment. Perhaps work and play are not opposites as we use them, but are instead descriptive categories that reflect our viewpoints at the time we use them.

The specific event of Creation appears to us as a huge project. But for God, just to want the universe and all it contains to exist is enough for its creation. No effort required; no blueprints, plans, or time to completion. From God’s perspective the act of creation might be play. And yet, helping us to fulfill the purpose of our existence as creatures, looks like the most extreme kind of work: Jesus enters fully into our human experience of limited time and energy, and labors on our behalf even through suffering and death. It does not look like play to us. But whether we call what God does either work or play, it seems that God’s concern is only to love, and so both categories and neither suffice to describe the beautiful mystery of love that encompasses all of creation in general and each of us in particular.

When we relate with God in personal prayer, is it work or is it play? In English, “pray” sounds very much like “play.” Sometimes we might even have said “play” when we meant “pray.” There is more to the similarity of the words than sound and spelling. When we pray, it often requires effort on our part just to be present. Yet, when a word of Scripture, a beautiful scene or a moment of deep peace lifts our hearts, we are wholly unaware of any work on our part. In such moments, all seems like play, as God moves in our spirits with perceptible affection. And is that “work” for God, or is it more like creation, God playing with us, quite personally and lovingly? Prayer, relating with God person to person, connects us with the saving work of Jesus. But that “work” has been completed.

Both work and play are meaningful concepts in our lives. But when we pray, we participate in God’s love, where both work and play merge into one and the same experience.

We can understand what people mean if they say that God did not answer their prayers, because we have all asked for things that we did not receive. If we kept a list of everything that we have prayed for in a single day, we might check off very few as having been answered according to the requests we made. All those prayers for healing of sick friends or for peace in a particular part of the world, or for so many other things of importance to us: no changes that we could perceive.

And yet, we know that there is much more to our prayers than crafting specific petitions. We are not making the equivalent of long-distance phone calls to a world-wide business, and we are not limited to words, whether our own or those that are already composed. In our better moments, we are able to recognize that prayer is any and all personal contact with God that has more to do with the trust and love within us than the immediate subject of our concerns. Answers to requests cannot be judged by whether or not we receive favorable immediate outcomes.

From the perspective of a trusting relationship with God who loves us, the only prayers that are not really answered are those that are directed not to God, but to a false image of God that we might sometimes allow in practice if not in conscious acknowledgment. And if our prayers are limited to strict habitual formulas of words, they might omit the essence of presenting our concerns to God, and follow more closely the model of telling God how things are to be done. Bringing an attitude of trust to prayer is of great importance, since we are addressing the One who knows us better than we know ourselves and how each of us can best fulfill our reason for being.

While we can ask for anything, and in any manner that seems appropriate, we do well to recall that “no” can be a loving answer. We know how to say no to people when it would be wrong for us to accede to a request or to a demand. For example, we might have previous experience that we cannot explain, or knowledge that a requestor is incapable of understanding. And so our response, given out of love and in respect, is a clear and direct answer: “no.” We do not want to forbid requests or statements that might require of us non-agreement, and neither does God. We would like our answers to be respected as coming from our own sense of what is best. That is the kind of trust that befits our relationship with God.

To receive the kind of responses to prayer that will satisfy us, we can observe the associated energy within us as we begin to pray, and make some helpful adjustments. If we find strong elements of desire to control, together with tightness in our heads and even our hearts, we have all the signs we need that direct us back to our need for trust. When our anxious energy subsides to a more peaceful state, we will find the words or sentiments that best represent us, and that authenticate our prayer.

The surest, most consistent and predictable answer to any and all prayer is the experience of peace within us, the sign that our prayer is gently but really inspired, a sharing in the activity of the Spirit of God.

A statement about “keeping an open mind” is itself open to a wry comment that any kind of thought could enter, helpful or destructive, wise or unwise. We want to be selectively open to improvement, inspiration and creativity, not to whatever might inhibit our continuing growth and development. Thoughts come and go, some that are clearly a helpful part of our mental processes, while others have no positive relationship with our affairs. Selecting which thoughts to “own” and which to dismiss or ignore is a personal responsibility that cannot be delegated.

No matter how unrelated to reality some thoughts might be, they can also be quite attractive and entertaining. They can also provide all-too-easy distractions from our intended occupations. Deciding which thoughts to continue and which to stop is not always easy. Email messages might pop up while we are trying to focus our thoughts on a task to which we have committed ourselves. Cell-phones might notify us of a call or message while we are already in a conversation. Selective openness is not an attitude that we can fully set in place by a single act, but one that we can consciously develop over the whole course of our lives. Every day we have opportunities to practice selective openness in both familiar and unusual inner workings of our minds.

All the thoughts to which we give even partial attention have immediate consequences in our hearts. Fantasizing about a dinner menu while at the same time listening to someone describing their needs, is usually a somewhat conflictual interior movement which, upon reflection, can be recognized as a less than satisfying use of our mental capacities. Thoughts that we choose to allow in our minds have feelings attached to them, of resonance or dissonance, providing us with essential information as to whether or not our openness to the ideas is appropriate in our present circumstances.

Though what goes on in our minds might seem completely and solely our own business, the choices we make, even with regard to thoughts, affects not only our own well-being, but also that of others. If we take seriously our responsibilities towards ourselves and others, we do well to consider that we are never totally alone, even in the matter of selective openness. God is always personally present within our hearts, where we make choices about the ideas that move within us.

When we are negotiating the tension between thoughts of immediate gratification and of real love or between imagined control and realistic acceptance of reality, we will manage these affairs of our constant mental activity with much greater success by seeking grace, inspiration and assistance. We might have learned by reflecting on some of our life-long experience with both positive and negative patterns of thinking that choosing the direction of our thoughts is much easier when we seek the help of God and the support of those who are now with God and whose love for us we continue to trust.

God is very much at home within us, and is not surprised by anything that comes into our minds. But God is also more than happy to assist in the selections we make when we are “keeping an open mind.”

If we pray a blessing before eating a meal, bread might or might not be part of the food we are about to take. But, whether we have bread or not at any particular mealtime, the image of “Give us this day our daily bread” (The Lord’s Prayer) has many possible resonances for us whenever we take a moment to reflect. If we have food available to us almost all the time we might take it for granted, and thereby miss some occasions for experiencing sincere gratitude.

During a typical day, we probably have many occasions for saying “thank you” to people, for any and all the services, kindnesses and ordinary interactions we have experienced. We have developed habits of expressing gratitude that serve us and others well. Life flows more humanely when we acknowledge one another with thankfulness, no matter how small the words or actions that elicit our appreciation.

Our interchanges with one another are usually visible, audible and tangible. But most of us do not see, hear or touch God in the same way as we do one another, and our “daily bread” comes from God in so many forms that we cannot possibly give thanks for them all. But gratitude is, as some would say, an attitude, and not some kind of overlay that would all but eliminate spontaneity. Rather, giving thanks to God often follows upon particular moments of joy that arise when we suddenly recognize that we have received a gift, and the person responsible is God.

Even if bread is not a staple in our diet, especially for those of us with specific allergies to certain grains, we all have memories of having been hungry that can remind us of how important food is, every day. A short time of not having food, whether deliberate on our part or forced by circumstances, enables us to revalue, if we had become somewhat unaware, of the significance of “daily bread” as signifying whatever we eat, as well as other daily necessities.

Few of us would think of consuming even a small loaf of bread, or anything like it in size, all by ourselves at one sitting. A loaf of bread, whether sliced or not, is normally shared by a number of persons at one meal, or kept for successive meals by a single person. “Daily bread” is of course a necessity for each one of us, but also for us as related to others. Few people want to live on bread alone as their diet, and hardly any of us want to take all our meals privately, alone. The Lord’s Prayer has it: “Give us,” not “me,” which matches well the blessed reality of our mutual interdependence. We need one another not just for food, clothing, and shelter, but for all the small and extensive ways we care for one another.

When we pray a blessing at a meal, we can express gratitude for the food, of course, but we can also include in our minds and hearts, if not in words, those with whom we might be sharing it, and all those members of the civilization in which the food was grown, transported to us and prepared.

A highly recommended prayer that leads us readily to gratitude: “Give us this day our daily bread.”

When we rely on others to repair or to service an appliance or a vehicle, we trust them to provide assistance with matters that we cannot ordinarily take care of ourselves. We are disappointed if the repairs or services are faulty or incomplete. But if we do not trust others, we have to try to accomplish everything ourselves, including tasks for which we might have little or no expertise. Reliance upon others is open to disappointment as well as fulfillment, whereas reliance upon God always has positive results.

Though we might not hold it as a consistent belief, we might sometimes act as though we could manage our lives with reliance upon no one, even God. Perhaps we become so intently focused on completing the careful plans we have made that we forget that there are variables in life that no amount of planning can take into account. Or, we could lose sight or our many past experiences demonstrating how well things work out when we rely on God for inspiration, creativity, courage and other qualities of mind and heart that enable us to do our part of both acting upon others and receiving from them. Finally, we might not recall how frequently, when we raise our concerns to God, the right persons come into our lives, some of whom we consciously seek for their help, and others whose gracious assistance we could never have imagined would appear.

There are specific situations where we have the knowledge and experience that are required, and where we do not need someone else to act on our behalf. But we are always interdependent upon others in order to fulfill our purpose in life. Nothing we do, on our own or in conscious active conjunction with others, is even worth completing unless it is in some way relational, somehow part of a whole that includes others. We are created for, and made capable of, love. And, much as we are to properly love ourselves, we cannot even do that without reference to those who have been and are now, part of our lives, including our Creator.

We teach children to tie their own shoes, eat food on their own, and eventually make their own way in life to the extent that they are able. But they, and we who once were children, participate fully in life by motivation and spirit not just words and deeds. We are always growing in both giving and receiving guidance and inspiration as to how and why we speak and act, as well as for what we do. This ongoing life of relationships that is ours is a consequence of being created by God who is relational. Everything in our lives can add to or subtract from the quality of our relationships and the fulfillment of our purpose in life.

When our practical reliance upon God’s love for us includes even the briefest of consultations in making decisions about others upon whom to rely in specific instances, all things work for the best.

A statement about “keeping an open mind” is itself open to a wry comment that any kind of thought could enter, helpful or destructive, wise or unwise. We want to be selectively open to improvement, inspiration and creativity, not to whatever might inhibit our continuing growth and development. Thoughts come and go, some that are clearly a helpful part of our mental processes, while others have no positive relationship with our affairs. Selecting which thoughts to “own” and which to dismiss or ignore is a personal responsibility that cannot be delegated.

No matter how unrelated to reality some thoughts might be, they can also be quite attractive and entertaining. They can also provide all-too-easy distractions from our intended occupations. Deciding which thoughts to continue and which to stop is not always easy. Email messages might pop up while we are trying to focus our thoughts on a task to which we have committed ourselves. Cell-phones might notify us of a call or message while we are already in a conversation. Selective openness is not an attitude that we can fully set in place by a single act, but one that we can consciously develop over the whole course of our lives. Every day we have opportunities to practice selective openness in both familiar and unusual inner workings of our minds.

All the thoughts to which we give even partial attention have immediate consequences in our hearts. Fantasizing about a dinner menu while at the same time listening to someone describing their needs, is usually a somewhat conflictual interior movement which, upon reflection, can be recognized as a less than satisfying use of our mental capacities. Thoughts that we choose to allow in our minds have feelings attached to them, of resonance or dissonance, providing us with essential information as to whether or not our openness to the ideas is appropriate in our present circumstances.

Though what goes on in our minds might seem completely and solely our own business, the choices we make, even with regard to thoughts, affects not only our own well-being, but also that of others. If we take seriously our responsibilities towards ourselves and others, we do well to consider that we are never totally alone, even in the matter of selective openness. God is always personally present within our hearts, where we make choices about the ideas that move within us.

When we are negotiating the tension between thoughts of immediate gratification and of real love or between imagined control and realistic acceptance of reality, we will manage these affairs of our constant mental activity with much greater success by seeking grace, inspiration and assistance. We might have learned by reflecting on some of our life-long experience with both positive and negative patterns of thinking that choosing the direction of our thoughts is much easier when we seek the help of God and the support of those who are now with God and whose love for us we continue to trust.

God is very much at home within us, and is not surprised by anything that comes into our minds. But God is also more than happy to assist in the selections we make when we are “keeping an open mind.”

It is said that one of the first yogic sadhnas that Aurobindo Ghosh did under his guru Lele was to understand the nature of thought packets. By stilling his mind or emptying it of thought waves he could see the thought packets coming from external sources and by actively intervening as they came he could get rid of their effects on his mind. It was as if he created a filter system similar to that used by the present e-mail programs to get rid of spam mails. Similar process was described by Swami Vivekanand who said that when he concentrated on a person or an object, he could see the thought packets connected with them as writings on the blackboard or sky.

Brain is not only a receiver but also transmitter of thought packets. With practice of Sanyam or Yoga we can tune our brains to receive knowledge and thought packets at will and to send them to others. This sending and receiving of thought packets is governed by the strength of concentration. A deep thought, which is a product of Sanyam, can go to great distances via higher dimensions. For mundane thoughts the distance traveled by them is much less. Similarly Sanyam also allows us to get universal knowledge.

How can we perceive thought packets actively? Patanjali says that once the mind is completely calmed i.e. devoid of any thought waves then it becomes like a pure crystal, which takes up the color from the object, which is nearest to it. Probably this is what Aurobindo Ghosh did.

However this calming of the mind by removal or suppression of thought waves should be done carefully under the guidance of an expert guru because in the absence of strong will power and vivek or wisdom, the empty mind can be controlled by the dangerous beings or thoughts which may be nearest to it. The old saying, “An empty brain is a devil’s workshop”, is very apt.

Human emotions are a product of both internal working of our brain and external stimulus. Thought packets are a major external input and can make the mind work in a certain manner. Thus when we think about a certain event or a person the internal memory is reinforced by external thought packets. In quite a number of cases our thinking about somebody or an event may be triggered by external thought packets received. It stirs up memories which sometimes makes us act in a certain manner.

In order that we should not be unduly perturbed by external thoughts we should develop a mechanism to stop them. Though all of us to a lesser or greater degree have the ability to receive thought packets, however only evolved people like Yogis and highly sensitive people can perceive their source to stop them. This active perception of the sources of thought is called the ability to read somebody’s mind.

A simpler process for ordinary people to keep such thoughts at bay is to think deeply about certain things. Thinking deeply helps in occupying the brain and is like creating a shield for the mind so that it is not affected by external thoughts. This is also the genesis of Karma Yoga where one keeps on doing work without any desire for a reward. This helps the mind to focus fully on the work and there is little opportunity for it to be perturbed by any other external influence including thought packets.

Active reception of thought packets is a double-edged sword. It allows us to plan ahead since one can know what the other person is thinking. However it also informs us sometimes of the unsavory things that somebody might be thinking about us. This does not help in interpersonal relationships and hence sometimes ignorance is bliss.

This externality of thought is the genesis of human bond. Thus the people with whom we have close emotional bonds send their thought packets more frequently. Somehow our brain develops neural pathways which are more conducive to getting these thought packets easily. It develops a mechanism by which it immediately recognizes their thought signatures. These packets then make us act in a certain way and are the cause of karma or human web of love.

Whenever we give a thought to our mothers, we implicitly acknowledge truths about our humanity, especially our initial total dependence upon another person for our very existence. Besides the many and varied emotional associations, our thoughts can lead us to gratitude if we take a bit of time for reflection, and for considering who we are as unique individuals who began life within our mothers’ bodies.

Those who think of themselves as self-made individuals are usually taking into account only their years of conscious activity. We can be grateful for all that we have accomplished thus far in our lives, but our hearts expand with a deeper form of gratefulness when we consider the time in our lives before we can consciously remember, and reflect on the earliest nurturing and formation we surely received. We were cared for, no matter how we might now estimate the degree to which we were loved. When we were born, we were like computers without software or cell phones without batteries. Much that was essential was given to us, preparing us to take our own initiatives once we passed from infancy to childhood and beyond.

Thinking about mothers might bring us to a bit of genuine humility, in that we did not set ourselves into this world, nor did we arrange any of our earliest experiences. Rather than an admission of some weakness to be outgrown, our former total dependence offers a necessary insight for us to have an honest and fulfilling relationship with God. Just as it would make no sense to think or to say that our mothers had no effects upon us that are still relevant to our present lives, so also it would do us no good at all to imagine that God saw to it that we were born, and then had no part in our development.

The good news of dependence, of reflecting upon one aspect of “mother,” is that the responsibilities we have for our own lives is not absolute. None of us was or is a completely isolated individual. God does not meet up with us at some point in our lives, and perhaps come to know us and even to love us. Rather, God loved us into being, and has been, and is, part of every movement of human love ever directed towards us even from before we were born, and is the initiator of the very desire within us to grow, to know and to love.

Reflecting on the “together” aspect of our lives does not diminish either our freedom to choose or the significance of our decisions, but helps us to appreciate (which is a form of gratitude) the deepest value and most significant capacity of humans: to love and to be loved. We are most ourselves not only, and certainly not exclusively, when we act out of love in service to others, but also when we accept the great variety of ways in which we are loved. God is love: a community of interactive love, as Trinity. We are created in and for love for one another.

That we might more readily experience God’s love for us, God became human in Jesus Christ. How human? He has a mother, Mary.

Compassion is not a word that shows up very often in politics or world affairs. Yet, we certainly want all those who exercise authority over us to be understanding of our perspectives and to respect our feelings. We do not appreciate being confronted with an explicit or implicit attitude that someone else’s way is “the only way.” Though we cannot change how others think or behave, we can develop our own understanding and exercise of compassion through reflection upon our experiences.

We are busy persons, even if our present occupations do not have specific job-descriptions or titles. We cannot carefully monitor all the interactions with people that take place in our conversations as well as in our thoughts.  But we can think about them afterwards, and note the effects upon us of at least the more significant events that have occurred recently, especially the manner in which we related with others. Most likely, we have not been consciously observing ourselves at each and every moment, but the feelings we had about our participation remain with us and can be accessed, at least in part, if we pause and reflect for even a short period of time.

Because compassion comes from the heart, what we realize through our considerations leads us to appreciate our spirituality as it is made manifest. We can observe, for example, the effects upon us when we have thought or acted compassionately and also when we did not. Though we can be held accountable in human society for being courteous, no one can require that we feel with them, or otherwise enter into solidarity with them, accepting them as they are. Whenever we are compassionate, we participate freely in a spiritual movement that fosters unity among people rather than division.

We find in our experience a positive complementarity, whereby compassion for someone else follows naturally when we have come to the point of acknowledging and accepting our own limitations. Becoming more compassionate persons is desirable and appropriate; as we grow in this quality of relating with others, we not only benefit others by our caring attitude, but we gain something for ourselves as well. Treating others as we ourselves want to be treated deeply satisfies us.

If we reflect on God’s compassion for us as we confront our mortality, incompleteness, and less-than-perfect manner of relating with a world we cannot control, we find it easier to relate well with others who are different in many particulars, but who are just like us in our lack of absolute mastery over the circumstances of our lives. When we are aware of how we struggle with our own limitations, we are capable of accepting the same in others.

God was under no obligation to think and feel as we do, but in the person of Jesus Christ, God chose definitively to treat each of us with personal, abiding compassion. Becoming more compassionate with others is a fitting response to the way God treats us: pleasing to God and at the same time humanizing for us. Our humanity is, after all, made in the image and likeness of God.

One of the most common artistic images of Christmas portrays the child Jesus with his mother. Most of such scenes are beautiful, conveying the joy and peace of a mother lovingly caring for her child. That the child is also the Creator of all that exists, including his mother, does not change the human associations and feelings that accompany the depictions we view. If we let our imaginations accompany our reflection on what we see, we enter a mystery that connects us in our immediate present with the events that occurred more than two thousand years ago.

All of our experiences of family life are unique to us, whether our own or with those of friends, associates or even people we see but do not personally know. We constantly grow and change through interactions with one another and the world about us. Mothers and fathers live moment-to-moment with newborn children, requiring great amounts of support from others, constant adjustments to the needs of their sons or daughters, and continual inner struggles to balance their many responsibilities in life. A picture is static, but life is ever-changing.

Any Christmas image, for those who are interested and willing to do more than glance at a card, a crèche or their own favorite depiction, can serve as the beginning of an interactive, highly personalized experience that has real effects in the present. Familiar events in our lives become intertwined with those of Jesus and his historical contemporaries in a manner that is quite ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. The difference between this common “spiritual exercise” and spending time with parents and children we can see and hear is not that between fantasy and reality, but that between reality enhanced by faith and reality that is not.

When we relate with any person, whether infant or adult, we are changed, according to how we interact with varying degrees of attention and care. We are never quite the same person after having either given or reserved the fullness of our participation in any personal encounter. If we willingly and consciously engage in an imagined visit with the mother and child of the Christmas Season, we are not limited to a specific scene, but to any living and active part of the ongoing events, including words, gestures and actions, together with our thoughts, feelings and memories. We come as we are with all our life experiences to whatever is happening with Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and anyone else whom we might include.

With the help of both memory and imagination we can recall a recent meal that we have shared with someone, probably not in every detail, but in any of the aspects that are now of interest to us, even if we had not been aware of their significance at the time. In like manner, we can recall in the present, any possible human interchange of mother and child and the people and events in the environment of Bethlehem of Judea. In our minds and hearts, assisted by inspired use of our memory and imagination, we bring together the historical core reality of the events and the familiar details of our own lives, to a soul-satisfying unity.

Any time we wish, we can visit with mother and child or any other scene of God’s loving presence among us.