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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Good Saint Andrew....


When your bones washed up on the western isles,
You as a fisherman staked your claim
To a land and people sprung up from the sea
With the warmest hearts to strengthen their breasts

 Your bones, bleached white, were laid in the earth
Like the seeds that are sown for the harvest to come
And they rose with the people when right bid them rise
To drive the invaders back into the sea
 
A fisher you were in life and in death,
And you pulled them into your brother’s barque
As the Children of Peter, the Rock of the Church
Before harsh waves washed many away
 
But there were so many, bold and brash,
Saints and soldiers, rebels and rogues,
They held fast and fought hard, as was their lot
And showed what it meant to be Scottish and free

And then there were those who built for the future
The gentleman, lawyers, inventors, and priests
They embraced a new union they saw as a blessing
And showed what it meant to be Scots and Brits
 
Remember us now, in an age of delusion,
When “freedom” is used in the cause of division
A word, bleached white, sapped of strength and spirit
As meaningless as a vulture's song

May Scotland be as she always has been
A land of proud hearts and reasoning minds
Let her do or die to defeat oppression
Even if oppression of small-mindedness
 
Let your bones rise again, Good Andrew of Old,
And bring your people together again
To fight the battles that should be fought
And find the peace found only in your Master


***

David Cameron's St. Andrew's Day Speech, November 30, 2014


Less than three months ago the people of Scotland voted to keep the UK together, and I was just one of the millions of people who were relieved, proud and delighted that Scotland decided to stay. There was one big message at the heart of our campaign: We can have a strong UK and a strong Scotland - with its own identity and achievements to celebrate. That's what St Andrew's day is all about.

 As we celebrate St Andrew's Day, we celebrate Scotland, this great nation of culture and enterprise, of pride and passion, whose countrymen and women gave the world the steam engine, the television, penicillin, James Bond, Harry Potter - even the Higgs Boson. Today, Scotland's national day, the world shows its admiration for those achievements, and the bagpipes will ring out from the islands of Argyll to the streets of New York.

Everywhere you look around the globe, people want a bit of Scotland: in Australia, where tartan is proudly worn; in the Bahamas and Canada, where haggis is eaten; and in France, where they drink more Scotch in a month than they do Cognac in a year.

This St Andrew's Day, we will be celebrating that huge global reach, flying the flag for Scotland at our UK embassies and high commissions. And when I think of the Saltire, set against the sun in Dar es Salaam, billowing in the Ottawa wind, I think of all the incredible things that we are doing, together, as a United Kingdom, whether it is our aid workers in West Africa saving people from the deadly Ebola virus, our security forces keeping us all safe from the threat of ISIL or our businesses taking on the world - and winning. The key to a successful future is working, as one, for the good of us all. That is why all of us - in every corner of our country - will be celebrating St Andrew's Day and why nowhere will the Saltire be flown more proudly than here, above 10 Downing Street.

Hey, prime minister, hire these guys as ambassadors of Scottish good-will!

 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Real, Solid, and Unbending: The Life and Legacy of Sir John Moore

   
    Sir John Moore first leapt out of the pages of British history for me when my friend, Graham, who lives not far from Moore's birthplace in Glasgow, Scotland, bid me look him up online. It turned out to be unnecessary since I had already done so months before on one of my crazy historical searches, printed out his biography, and stuffed it in a the back of a too-long-neglected folder which I finally rediscovered.

      When I had made the print out, I had no idea who Sir John was, and did not even bother to read it through at the time. The only reason I made the copy to begin with was because I took a fancy to his appearance at first sight. Now, looking back at the portrait of him in his dress uniform, with his handsome, memorable face and warm, mesmeric eyes, I remember why he first captured my imagination. I had thought I should have liked to know him very much, just by the way he stared out at me from across the centuries...   

***

    John Moore was born in Glasgow in 1761, the son of Dr. John Moore, a respected surgeon, teacher, author, and clergyman from the burgeoning middle class at the crux of the Scottish Enlightenment. He was very much the epitome of his class and age, as one of the defining elements of the Enlightenment was an emphasis on cultivating a polite society of well-rounded gentleman, proficient in the arts and the sciences, as well as philosophy, theology, and ethics. When Dr. Moore became the tutor of the Duke of Hamilton’s eldest son, Douglas, he created enduring ties with the socially elite, and often brought along his son, John Jr., as a companion for Douglas.

    By his early teens, young John was already known as a rambunctious lad, hyper-active and accident prone. One such boyhood “accident” occurred when he was play-acting a duel with his father’s pistol…without paternal permission. Assuming it was unloaded (first lesson: never assume!), he squeezed the trigger and heard a scream from a laundry maid cleaning up in the next room! To his relief, she had only been slightly wounded in the arm, and his father was able to patch her up and paid her off without any further trouble. We can only guess what he decided to do to leave a lasting…umm…impression on John!

    Now that he was in his teens and the companion of a nobleman’s son, it would be devoutly hoped that young John had learned to temper his exuberant nature and abide by his father’s insistence on learning self-control. Well, perhaps he did in parts, but he was never one to be cowed by his “betters”, and when the duke’s son Douglas became bored and challenged John to a fencing match for sport, John refused to let him win as was expected.  Douglas became so frustrated with this persistent teacher’s brat, that he struck too hard and accidently lanced him in the side. John refused to react to the pain, but merely stared defiantly up at him with his piercing hazel eyes and snorted, “Ha!”

   Seeing the blood gushing onto the floor and John turning pale, Douglas was horrified at what he had done and rushed to alert Dr. Moore who came to bandage his son’s wound. Thankfully, the incision had not penetrated too deep, but enough blood was spilt to make the young nobleman truly repentant of his bad temperament during the match, and from then on, he learned respect for his little mate and decided to drop the pretext of being his superior. As a result, they struck up a lasting friendship that remained strong until Moore’s death.

    As was customary in the upper classes, the Duke of Hamilton decided that his son should tour Europe, and Dr. Moore and John got to accompany him. As usual, John found trouble a plenty, including the time he climbed the side of lava-spewing volcano in Italy and came back covered in ash and suffering from various burns. He also had a run-in with some young noblemen in Paris, who had the impertinence to make fun of John’s simple choice of clothing and hair-style, in contrast to their feathers and frills and wildly ostentatious wigs. The mockery set his Scottish blood to a boil, and John charged into them like a whirl-wind. The French youths had been raised to believe that fighting with ones fists was uncouth, but John, having received boxing lessons in the back streets of Glasgow, had no scruples about knocking them all flat!

   Dr. Moore, who had been nearby studying some famous sculptures in a park, was soon on the scene, patching up the “victims” black eyes and bloody noses, and trying to get the stains out of their fashionable attire. Afraid the whole escapade would cause a diplomatic embarrassment, he made quite a scene of lecturing John and sending him off to spend the rest of the day in room at the local inn, grounded. But perhaps secretly, he was just a little proud of his son, and his son’s fists!

    One way or another, it is obvious from his letter back home to his wife that Dr. Moore quite pleased with his boy’s progress in learning. From Geneva, Switzerland, he wrote: ‘He really is a pretty youth! He dances, rides, and fences with unusual address; he draws tolerably, speaks and writes French admirably, and has a very good notion of geography, arithmetic, and practical geometry. He is always operating in the field, and showing me how Geneva can be taken’. One thing he did not excel so well at was hand-writing, and in later life his scribbling would be barely legible to those who needed to understand him most, in life-threatening battle situations!

    In Prussia, John met George Keith, the old Earl Marshall of Scotland, who had been exiled for Jacobitism after the 1745 rebellion. The old veteran took a liking to the energetic teenager instantly and spent hours instructing him on the ways of warfare. When it was time for them to part, Keith gave John a brace of Prussian pistols and a pocket-sized edition of Horace, both of which he would treasure for the rest of his life. The old marshal must have inspired John, because afterwards he took an increased interest in the military. Given his eagerness, he was even offered a position in the Prussian army as a mercenary, but John preferred to serve his own country, and purchased a commission as lieutenant in the British army at age 16.

    Lieutenant Moore would experience his baptism of fire during the American Revolution, where he would distinguish himself as a courageous and proactive officer. He also would demonstrate the moral character instilled in him by his father when he refused to shoot an American officer who had his back turned to him as he desperately tried to rally his breaking ranks, using his sword more as a method of direction than protection. Like another Scottish officer in the British army, Major Patrick Ferguson, who stayed his hand when he could have shot George Washington in the back, Moore ascribed to a gentleman’s code of honor which made it repugnant for him to shoot a fellow officer unless he could look him in the face.

    Over the course of the next three decades, Moore rose in the ranks due to his competence and diligence in his chosen field, and he was even knighted (a fact that he jokingly wrote to his mother about, in shock that he should ever bear a noble title!). He participated in various campaigns during the French Revolutionary Wars and Napoleonic Wars, as well as off-shoot rebellions such as those launched by the United Irishmen in Ireland and Slaves in the West Indies. It is interesting to note that Moore had some sympathies with the plight of both the Irish and the slaves, and even though it was his duty to put down the risings which endangered British security, he was not shy about imparting his opinions on reform to his government. 

    Sir John earned his men’s undying admiration for his personal courage, always leading from the front and often being wounded as a result. Once he was even shot in the face, and given up for dead. Even though he was eventually rescued and patched up by field medics, he almost did himself in during the recovery process when he deliriously mistook some ointment on his bed stand for a drink, and nearly poisoned himself. However, when he felt the severe burning reaction after swallowing, he realized what he had done and called for someone to give him a feather pen, which he immediately thrust down his throat. After throwing up the toxic blend, he used oil to soothe his scraped throat…and then took another shot at getting some restorative rest and relaxation!

    During his career years, Moore also gained fame for implementing new methods of training into the British military continued to be a mainstay after his death, and he also created the light infantry regiment which would be replicated in armies throughout the world. He was known as a strict disciplinarian, but he was not cruel or excessive in his meting out of punishment. Usually, he tried his best to avoid harsher measures such as floggings and hangings unless other milder measures had been tried and failed, making him one of the few truly humanist commanders of his time. He summed up his own position as follows: "Nothing could be more pleasing to the commander of the forces, than to show mercy to a soldier of good character, who had been led inadvertently to commit a crime; but he should consider himself neglectful of his duty, if, from ill-judged lenity, he pardoned deliberate villainy.”   

    On a personal level, Moore did learn to reign in his boyhood impulsiveness for the most part, but never lost his love of adventure and curiosity about the world around him. He was good-natured and had a quick wit, making him a desirable edition to social circles. His integrity was said to be beyond reproach, and his word was his bond. He was also an excellent judge of character. To have him for a friend was a priceless treasure, but with those whom he distrusted, he remained cold and aloof. Bunbury says: ‘Everything in Moore was real, solid, and unbending. He was penetrating and reflective. His manner was singularly agreeable to those whom he liked, but to those he did not esteem his bearing was severe’.

    Physically, he was tall and dignified, with penetrating eyes and handsome facial features. He aged well, and could still be said to have an attractive quality even after years of strain and hard fighting. However, Moore remained a bachelor, mainly because he did not want to make things hard for any family he might have should he be killed in battle.  The closest he ever came to tying the knot was when General Henry Edward Fox tried to match-make the 47-year-old Moore with his 17-year-old daughter, Caroline. She was beautiful, intelligent, and just the kind of person Moore found appealing. He was instantly smitten.

    However, it’s questionable if the attraction when both ways, because Moore decided to graciously bow out of any engagement, writing to her that he feared the age gap between them might ruin her chances for true happiness with a younger man. This act, almost more than anything else, show the depth of his consideration for others. Caroline later married the young Sir William Napier…and proved just what a smarty-pants she was by managing to crack Napoleon’s secret code that her husband had been toying with! 

   In 1808, Sir John was given command of a British army to aid a Spanish rebellion against Napoleon Bonaparte, who had invaded Spain and put his brother Joseph on the throne as a puppet king. For Moore, the mission was a thankless task, and the politicians who sent him out on it were fully prepared to make him the scapegoat if things went wrong. Unfortunately for Moore, things did go wrong.

    First of all, communication between the British and Spanish high command tended to be strained, made all the more difficult due to the language barrier and Moore’s ever horrendous hand-writing which was even more incomprehensible when he tried to write dispatches in broken Spanish! Second, and more importantly, the man-power guaranteed him by the Spanish proved to be merely a drop in the bucket, and Moore found himself woefully outnumbered by an army under the leadership of Napoleon himself. In addition, the supplies promised by the Spanish people never materialized, and the British general realized that retreat to the coast was the only chance of saving the army from complete destruction.

     Napoleon’s troops were hot on his trail, but Moore used all his skill to maneuver away from him. It was becoming increasingly evident that while the goal for Napoleon was victory, the goal for Moore was survival. But the survival rate in the British army was plummeting, as severe winter weather and lack of supplies sapped the strength from the men and their female camp followers. Many fell out of line and froze to death along the roads, while others took to looting the towns they passed through and terrorizing the less-than-welcoming inhabitants.

    Moore was furious at his subordinate officers for being unable to keep order among the ranks, and ordered severe punishments (including executions) for those who harmed civilians or damaged/stole their property. In spite of his show of good will to the Spanish populace, the majority still refused to aid Moore in any way, fearing repercussions from the French who they knew were trailing him. British morale overall was extremely low, and it got even worse when their long-awaited shipment of food was overtaken by plunderers from their own ranks and devoured.

    Then the British troops received a random boost to keep their heads above water. British soldiers managed to defeat a superior French force in a skirmish along the banks of a river, and took a distinguished-looking French officer prisoner. Taken to Moore’s tent, the captive divulged that he was none other General Count Charles Lefebvre-Desnoutte, the leader of the Imperial Cavalry Guard and nephew of the Empress Josephine. Suddenly overcome with a stress-attack, the prisoner collapsed into a nearby chair, and Sir John took pity on him and personally cleaned and bandaged the saber wound on his forehead. He also lent him one of his pairs of winter long underwear since he had fallen in the river and was soaked to the skin. For Moore, this was close to a gesture of solidarity, since he was a long underwear freak who had a dozen pairs packed in a cart on campaign!

    Moore also sent a flag of truce sent across the river to procure Lefebvre’s baggage from the French. Then he invited Lefebvre to dine with him on the verbal promise not to escape, and gave him his own saber from India to fill his empty scabbard and restore his honor. Two years later, when he was being forwarded to England as a prisoner, the French general did effect an escape, probably justifying it since Moore was dead by then and there was nothing in writing binding him to the personal oath. But that was in the future. For the present, his loss was an embarrassing blow to the French camp.

    Napoleon, with his true sense of fair play, exploded in a temper tantrum, and declared that he would face Moore himself since no other general in Europe was worth his personal attention. Nice words, but having been out-run and then harassed by second rate troops of inferior numbers, led by a rough-and-tumble son-of-a-Scottish-moderator was too much for the Emperor to stomach, and he ignobly retreated to his comfort zone, a waterproof carriage, and went back to Paris under the pretext of an emergency of state. Later, Napoleon would say of his rival: ‘His talents and firmness alone saved the British army from destruction; he was a brave soldier, an excellent officer, and a man of talent. He made a few mistakes, which were probably inseparable from the difficulties with which he was surrounded, and caused perhaps by his information having misled him.”

    Napoleon having retreated to lick his wounds, Marshall Nicholas Soult, Duke of Dalmatia (called “Duke of Damnation” by the British Soldiers) was left in command of the French advance. Like Moore, he had originally been from a middle class background, but volunteered for service in the French military and rose in the ranks through merit. Also like Moore, he was the epitome of a gentleman, always acting with courtesy and greatly admiring chivalry in others. For example, when British Major Charles Napier was wounded five times in battle, a French drummer protected him from being bayoneted by an Italian soldier. Soult ordered that drummer, to be decorated by Soult with the Legion d’Honneur, and when Napier’s mother fell ill in England, Soult and Marshall Ney allowed him to return to England on parole for one year. They did not inform the harsher Napoleon of these good deeds.

    Years later, when he was the French ambassador at Queen Victoria’s wedding, Soult met up with the Duke of Wellington and became good friends with him, chatting happily about their mutually shared experiences on opposites sides during their wars and carrying on a long written correspondence after Soult returned home. But all that was yet to come.

    Currently Soult was closing in on Moore, who finally had made his way to the fortress of Corunna in Northern Spain and met up with Spanish locals willing to aid him in their common fight against the tyranny of Napoleon. The mission now was to get the bulk of the British Army safely out of Spain via transport ships due to arrive on the coast any day from England. The Spanish partisans knew that they were risking everything by helping Moore, and that they would be left behind to face the French alone. Yet they boldly made their decision to stand with the Briton who had come to liberate them, even though he now faced nothing but retreat. These Spaniards still believed that if the British army could be saved, it would return to fight another day.

    On January 16, 1809, Soult and the French Army met the British at Elvina outside of Corunna, and a hot conflict ensued. Moore was looking his most dashing in his scarlet uniform on the back of a pale-gray warhorse, leading from the front as always and galloping back and forth across the battlefield. The soldiers were inspired by his fearless presence, especially the 42nd Highlanders to whom he called, “Highlanders, remember Egypt!” This was a reference to a campaign in which Moore had fought the French along the banks of the Nile, and the Highland regiment had been instrumental in wreaking havoc on the enemy.

   Soon after this exhortation, a soldier of the line had his leg torn off by a ball, and screamed aloud, making the other soldiers waver. “Hold to rank, soldiers!” Moore bellowed, then spoke to the injured man being carried off the field, “My good fellow, we must try to bear these things better!” Not long after, Sir John would have the opportunity to put this point into practice.

    As he was giving instructions to one of his subordinate officers, a cannon blast knocked Moore from his horse. At first, it did not appear that he was injured, but closer inspection revealed that the ball had almost completely torn off his arm from the shoulder, as well as shattering his ribs. The soldiers who saw their leader fall were stunned, seeming to believe that he was indestructible. But Moore did not make complaint, even as the Highlanders jostled their fellow-Scot onto a stretcher and carried him off the field. One saw that his sword was jabbing into his wound and tried to unbuckle it, but Moore stopped him and retorted, “’Tis better that it leaves the field with me.”

     As his stretcher approached was carried through a dark street in Corruna, Moore seemed to sense someone he knew in the crowd and called his name. It was Colonel Paul Anderson, an old friend from battlefield days gone by. Sir John reached out and seized his hand, seeming to realize his own mortality and seeking whatever comfort he could. He pleaded in a whisper, “Anderson, don’t leave me…”

    When his French valet Francois saw his master on the stretcher, and a look of horror passed over his face at the sight of the hideous wounds. But Moore, always thinking of others, comforted him in French, saying, “My friend, this is nothing.” Then he gave him a reassuring smile. A surgeon was called in, and even though Moore insisted that he should focus on those who still had a chance of surviving instead of himself, the medic proceeded to prod and dig in the wounds. True to his character, Moore did not make a sound, although his face was completely drained of color from the intense pain.

    He continued to ask how the battle was going, and he was told that the British were indeed holding the French at bay. “I hope my country shall do me justice,” he remarked, and then tried to compose a message to his mother, but was overcome by emotion at the thought of never seeing her again. “I have so much to say, but cannot get it out,” he gasped, a sob catching in his throat.

    Watching Moore suffering became increasingly painful to all those around who knew and loved him. He finally murmured, “It is a great discomfort…it is a great pain…I feel so strong, I fear I shall be a long time dying…” Then he turned to one of the officer nearby, one Major Stanhope, and murmured, “Remember me to your sister.” Evidently Moore had struck up a correspondence with Lady Hester Stanhope, and she had become his confidante and friend. Whether or not there were any romantic connotations is a mystery of history. One way or another, these would be his last words. Mercifully, he faded away quickly, without a struggle.

    Meanwhile, Moore’s second-in-command, General Baird, was on board a British ship having his arm amputated, and did not cry out through all the pain. But when he was informed of Moore’s death, he broke down and sobbed. In the aftermath of the battle, the whole army seemed to be in a state of shock over Moore’s loss, who represented the spirit of service, courage, and determination to see their cause through any difficulty. Years after the successful evacuation from Corunna, the men who had served under him would continue to proudly mark themselves as “Moore’s Men.”

    After the last British ship had sailed for the safety of England, the French took Corunna. Marshall Soult, true to form, dismissed with Napoleon’s plans for reprisals and  gave the Spanish defenders generous terms. When he found the shallow grave of his adversary, Sir John Moore, he ordered a plaque to be erected with the following inscription from Horace, the classical poet that the bold Scotsman had loved so well: 

"So it is true in the long sleep of death
Our hero lies, whilst Honour with bright faith,
Truth and Justice unashamedly weep for,
Their one incomparable son."

***

    As often happens in my historical studies, I find myself becoming personally attached to these very real figures from the past, and I can honestly say that I am truly thankful to for the life and legacy of Sir John Moore. If it had not been for his seemingly inglorious retreat across Spain, Napoleon may well have had enough time and man-power to capture Portugal. Without Portugal as a landing zone, the British army under Wellington would not have been able to return into Spain, where they defeated the French armies and spelt out the beginning of the end of Napoleonic domination on the continent.

     So I guess it’s a blessing of Providence that Sir John Moore was the right person at the right place at the right time, with the courage and skill to challenge a tyrant, no matter how daunting the operation might have seemed. But beyond that, he was a true gentleman with a sense of decency and honor that resonates in any age, and I find myself drawn to pray for his soul, and hope that perhaps we might meet someday on a better plain. As a Scot and a Brit, he was truly one of the flowers of his country and an example of heroism in an era of travail.




Moore
Sir John Moore, R.I.P.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Blessed be the Creator of the Universe...

who has put me where I am from all time and eternity. May I come to better understand Him through the beauty of His creation, our mother earth. May I hear His voice in the bird’s song and thunder cloud, see His handiwork in the delicate violet and mighty oak, smell heavenly perfume in the scent of pine and falling rain. May every breath I take honor Him, and refresh my body and soul. May I give and receive love, just as I breathe in and out. May I manage the gifts of nature and be a good steward of these gifts. Let me treat my body as a Temple of the Holy Spirit, making sure that the food that goes into my mouth, and the words that come out of it, are wholesome and pure.

May I learn the balance between venerating the old and embracing the new, seeking new opportunities to be of service to all living things, especially the least of my brothers and sisters. May I always appreciate the priceless quality of all life, especially that which is most vulnerable. May I be guided to the meaningful relationships and activities that will make me a better person. May I always be grateful for life, for human relationships, and experiences that help me learn and grow. May I be appreciative of second chances and gift of forgiveness when I make mistakes.

May I learn to let go of sinful tendencies that may hinder my spiritual growth. May I accept the graces given me, act upon what is right, and reject what is wrong. May His love fill me with a desire to teach truth and create beauty, as a sub-creator sharing in the wonder of bringing forth what is new and refreshing what is old. May I find a balance between passion and discipline as an artist and an activist. May I be inspired by all that is good, coming from the Hand of the Greatest Good.

May I never forget that I was born into the world for a purpose, and never despair that I am loved by my Creator. May I always seek His Will in my life, following His call to be a force for good in the world through a specific vocation. Though the path may be mist-laden, may I have the peace of mind to take it one step at a time, knowing that God will reveal all things in time. Through free-will, I am a co-creator in the Providential plan. Let me never violate this trust in may by straying into darkness. May His Spirit transform and inspire me to reach my full potential as His Daughter. May the artist within me create truth and beauty through words, images, and the magical weave of music.

May I be thankful for the current of Providence running through the journey of my life, and may I be filled with his unconditional Divine Love so that I may extend it to all those I encounter. Even to those who see themselves as my enemies, let me turn the other cheek and show them the love of God. May I never lose my awareness of and connection to the spiritual world, no matter how strong the pull of this earthly plain may be on me. May the Great God of Mercies heal any generational wounds that may have been caused, and help me to show mercy to every living thing. May I have clarity of objective judgments, but be wary to make subjective judgments of others, leaving that to the Searcher of All Hearts.

May I love and honor my parents more deeply, and embrace my position in my family and working harder to be a proactive member of that unit. May I appreciate their wisdom that comes with experience and the love they have shown me since my birth. May I forgive their short-comings as I forgive myself for areas where I fall short, realizing that God forgives us, the slate is wiped clean and we start over again. May my love and honor of family extend back through the generations, as I pray for their souls. My I see all of humanity as my family, since we are all Children of the same Father, whether we are here or there, in this world or in another.

May I learn to accept the things I cannot chance, but never lose vision of the way things should be, nor the passion to bring about that which I am able. Never let me lose the force of will to battle for a better world, and may an evening star ever shine ahead of me on the lonely road. May the Light of the Son ever cause the shadows to fly away, as an oil lamp dispels the darkness. May I learn from the world around me, while never losing my innocence. May I unite all my sufferings with the Crucified Redeemer and those suffering throughout the world. May I never become cynical, and learn to move on after events that wound me.

May I love my community and give of myself to better the lives of those nearby me. Let us all learn the power of unity and diversity, knowing that whether in prayer, work, or social endeavors, our unique talents and attributes better and stronger joined together. Let me help others, but also never be too proud to accept help myself. May I not seek praise and recognition in the good deeds I do, but for the joy of being of service to others, and to inspire others to do likewise. May I be guided to meaningful events to involve myself in, and friendships to forge. May I see each occurrence and situation in my life as part of a greater whole. May I never despair, knowing that, in the end, justice is inevitable in the overall scheme of things.

May I have the strength to forgive all those who have hurt me in the past. May I have peace in the midst of strife, joy in the heart of sorrow, and the power of discernment to know when I am being called upon to act. May I be given the strength to overcome evil with good, and be a peace-maker in the midst of anger. May I speak the truth with compassion and clarity, keeping channels of communication open, and never giving up on dialogue, even when difficulties occur. May I have focus on finding solutions to problems through positive and proactive responses. May I always work to restore relationships shattered by misunderstanding, and to appreciate differences while holding fast to my own beliefs.  

May I be given the Words of the Holy Spirit when I am called upon to speak, and may the flame of love burn my lips and the arrow of love pierce my heart. May I have eyes to see the beauty around me, and honor that beauty. May I focus on all that is true and noble, and banish dark thoughts. Let me see the inner beauty of myself and all people instead of by physical attributes, reaching out to them as a “soul-friend” and basing our relationships and transactions upon integrity and sincerity. May I take responsibility for my actions and not blame others. May I accept the criticism of others and work to be a better person.

May I reach out to others in friendship to everyone I meet, and act responsibly towards all living things, knowing that it is a great honor to be alive and that I am made in the image and likeness of The Creator. May I have a depth of compassionate and a yearning to aid all those in need throughout the world, whether I know them or not. May I respect all forms of life, and act in a way that attracts respect from others.

May I learn to be contented with my station in life, however simple, and appreciate the richness of life in ever act of my day. Let me keep my focus on the present moment, and aware of the large and small miracles around me. May I always appreciate the interconnected web of life and providence, and extraordinary events that make themselves manifest at just the right moment. Let me have faith in the power of Providence, that right will win out in the end, and all things unfold for a Divine purpose. May I cultivate patience, waiting on God and submitting to events beyond my control, and maintain serenity in the midst of frustration.

May I find balance in all things, and help me to discern it, finding stability in the midst of change. May I overcome the of fear death and embrace it as a door to a new life when the designated time comes. May I be prepared at that moment, and the times when I must lose loved ones through it in this world. May I always remember that those who have gone before are more real than ever, and that the Divine Life is beyond time and space. May I never forget them during our separation, and never lose hope of seeing them again.

May I find comfort in the ebony cloak of night, and the music of stillness that wraps the earth. May my heart feel peace in the silence, marveling at the sacredness of the Divine Creator, of my eternal soul, and my connection with all living things. May I appreciate the gift of sleep, another form of inner stillness to revitalize my body and soul. May my thoughts be of peace, and my dreams be of peace, and may I arise in the morning with renewed purpose to be the best I can be in this Creation of the Divine Creator.


(Note: The bulk of these reflections had their origin in a New Age meditation CD that I adapted to fit the Christian perspective. If the early missionaries like St. Patrick could take a stab at it, well, so can I!)


"Blessed be the Creator of the Universe..."
  

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The New Age Movement....

is hard to pin down into any definite set of beliefs or rules of the road. It is a montage of spiritual traditions form around the globe, plus some new interpretations made by meditative modernity. But judging from the brand most commonly found in Organic Food Magazines, there are some similarities that can be broadly grouped together under the airy-fairy title of “spiritual awareness”.

   Basically, according to Buddhist tradition, the only way of finding true fulfillment in life is by tapping into an inner divine force that each person is supposed to possess. Once it is found, people are supposed to be “at one with the universe” and have the power to drive away negativity and will positivity into being. This divine force is said to connect all living things and bind us in commitment to one another. Being a “conscious” usually also means trying to achieve both spiritual and physical health and wholeness. Yoga, Reiki, and pressure-point therapy all forms of this. Also, there is an emphasis on mind-over-matter, as seen in the arts of self-defense utilized in Kung Fu and Karate. 

    There is also a deep consideration for the natural world and a desire to “get back to nature”, eating organic foods and taking herbal remedies, plus taking an active part of preserving wildlife and endangered species. As to their perspective on duties to their fellow human beings…it varies. Some place a rather ridiculous emphasis on their own ability to obliterate negativity from the world by merely not adding to it, and therefore doing nothing to stop it. Others, as demonstrated in the series Kung Fu, actually take the idea of trying to bring truth and justice to the world very seriously.

    The New Age people realize that there is something more to reality than the mere physical, and they are willing to search out the truth about the mystery of our lives and our relationships with one another. That much I respect them for. I also respect their desire not to bring any unnecessary negativity to our planet, and as an organic eater and near-vegetarian who loves animals, I also sympathize with their dietary choices. Plus, I will confess to generally enjoying the Serius XM Channel Spa, which plays music broadly considered “spiritual”, ranging from Loreena McKennitt to LotR themes to meditative instrumentals to chants from every religion under the sun.

    But I feel that while they may have the best of intentions, the New-Agers have made a serious miscalculation: namely, who’s running the show. They say that human beings have “divinity” within them; but I would counter that it is merely a reflection of our Creator, who is truly Divine. We are made in his image and likeness, with a great capacity for virtue and an inherent attraction to truth and beauty. Indeed, being spiritually “conscious” is abiding by this inner desire for goodness and ultimately perfection. It is understanding that we must love and respect all living things, and work to heal a broken world and cultivate that which is noble.

   And yet, as wondrous as human beings are, we are still deeply flawed and perfection eludes us. We cannot just will that all suffering should cease and expect it to take place. That is not in our power. We must not turn inward and worship ourselves; we must not expect to find all the answers through mere meditation; that would be a betrayal of our own quest for perfection. Even done with the best of intentions, worshipping any part of ourselves is a dangerous perversion, settling for a reflection rather than the reality.

    So I would propose that those engaged in the New Age Movement would try to look beyond themselves in their quest for the Divine. They are on the right track when they say that there is something connecting “all the universe”. Basically, everything is made by the Creator, the ultimate source of goodness, truth, and beauty. That human beings are special among all other living things is because we have intellects and free wills in His own image, and as such we have a great responsibility to live up that by choosing good over evil. Sadly, we don’t always do it, and all sorts of “negativity” is brought into the world through our own deviation from that which is right. There’s no way of just wishing away all the evil in world – God will not even do that, since it would be a violation of our own free will.

    But that very “negativity” is still turned to good, because inevitably people will rise up to oppose evil and make sacrifices on behalf others. And as God is the Prime Mover of the Universe and Ultimate Cause of All Good, everything ultimately falls into His Providential Plan. As human beings, we are sub-creators in a fallen world, and it is our calling to become “spiritually awake” – but not to some divine force of our own, but by the Power of the Holy Spirit who enkindles in us the Fire of Love. Now, with this understood, there is certainly nothing wrong with choosing to respect all of God’s creation by “green-living”, and respecting our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit by eating organically and using herbal remedies. As far as I’m concerned, natural living is a form of growing close to God through the wonder of His creation.

    And there is certainly nothing wrong with using spiritually-evocative music for meditation, or lighting candles and incense for that matter, as long as we are worshiping God and not our “inner divinity”. But again, all this must be viewed cautiously from the perspective of a Christian, especially when it comes to certain exercises such as Yoga which were designed specifically for Eastern religious meditation. Opening certain doors that can lead to subliminal self-worship can be spiritually perilous. Nevertheless there is certainly no reason for us to be intimidated when we encounter those who ascribe to the New Age Movement. Far from it. We should do our best to dialogue about our commonalities on the spiritual journey and clearly point out our differences, encouraging the development of personal relationships and minds open to the truth.


Meditation, fine; self-worship, not so!