Nothing Is Simple – Some Thought Provoking Posts

Is it possible to simply read things that we either agree with or disagree with and just ponder them for a bit? Now that school is over, I am taking some time to actually read some blogs. Tonight I opened Rambling Follower, Καθολικός διάκονος, Women In Theology (WIT), Quantum Theology, Of Course I Could Be WrongA Seat at the Table and Sean Philpott. I read a few other things too, but there are so many good blogs and so little time.

With blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to read and react. Lock and load. I am guilty of this and have been trying not to continue in that vein. (On Thursday night as I wrote this I linked to something that was not exactly what it seemed… so that is one of many examples of my own trigger finger.)

I also feel like I have been attacked for having an opinion that is different from others. Attacked is a strong word – but it is how I have felt at times. I don’t really care, but it is an interesting place to be. One group of people seems to think me backward and another group seems to think that I lack obedience. It is an interesting place to be.

I always say that I am too far to the left for the right and too far to the right for the left. *sigh*  Last time I checked, I never told anyone what they should think or do, but boy, do I get hit hard when I say certain things. Whatever – I am not a victim, but I remain curious about why this is.

Often I am told, what do you think will happen when you write about such things? Well, I guess one thing is that I hope that people will actually read things and not just infer them from the titles or links. I also guess that since I am not some big deal blogger with a zillion commenters from all over creation, that people who actually know me in some fashion might ask questions before shooting. 

In any case, I am not trying to tell anyone to do anything; I guess I am always longing for actual conversation from people of diverse viewpoints on any number of challenging topics. Conversation in which we actually discuss in even tones why we do believe what we do and why.

Just sayin’… I know, call me a crazy dreamer.

In any case, I read many fine posts tonight, but I would like to focus on two of them. Both will have appeal and yet cause discomfort in ways that are interesting. They also remind me that nothing is as simple as it seems and that stopping to think might benefit us all.

Over at WIT, blogger Julia (all the women there are doing graduate or post-graduate work in theology) offered Reflections on Pregnancy. I’ve never been pregnant, so I have nothing to offer, but am always interested in reading about such things.

In any event, Julia writes about what she learned about pregnancy as she grew up  Catholic and then what she learned about pregnancy… as a pregnant woman. Let it suffice to say, it was not always pretty. She then quickly moves into some very profound thoughts on what is needed during pregnancy and when women have children. Here is an excerpt or two…

Now I’m actually pregnant and I realize it is not that great.  I actually really dislike being pregnant.  I felt awful for (not just the first three months, but really) the first 4.5 months.  By “awful”, I  mean specifically that I thought I was going to throw up at any moment day or night 24/7.  I often did, and when I didn’t I usually felt even worse.  I couldn’t open my refrigerator door, I couldn’t cook or prepare my own food, I couldn’t food shop.  The smells were too intense and the nausea was too debilitating.  I didn’t feel like I was having a baby, I felt like I had become the baby. 

She went on to say this…

There’s so much that could make pregnancy easier for women.  Once I start brainstorming on the topic, I quickly become overwhelmed.  There is so much that needs to change.  I’ll just offer a few thoughts here.  First, it would be a lot healthier if we adopted realistic language about pregnancy and childbirth in religious settings.  We should talk about how bearing children is really difficult and becoming frustrated with the process does not mean that one has failed to accept any potential gifts that might exist alongside of the challenges.  In churches that emphasize the role of Mary and, in particular, Mary’s role as mother of Jesus, we should be honest about the fact that Mary probably experienced a lot of pain and suffering—not only in childbirth, but also throughout the course of the pregnancy itself and into early motherhood.

Julia is weaving Jesus, Mary, nursing, receiving help, and having larger breasts and other sexual elements into an astounding post of remarkable thoughts about birth, life, community and transformation. If you’ve never thought about a woman nursing in Church, you will now. Go read it – it is seriously really well done. You can read it now by clicking here.

The other post I wanted to highlight also has to do with pregnancy, in a manner of speaking. This post *really* touched me deeply and I have run the gamut from wanting to post it right to Facebook to wanting to selfishly hide it.

The post is at Sean Philpott’s blog. Sean is a bioethicist and I met him very briefly at Siena College in the spring of 2010. He was on a panel about bioethics hosted by my friend Benita Zahn, who had invited me to watch said panel. (Albany folk and Oswego types will know Benita as a TV anchor. What many do not know is that she also has a degree in bioethics. She truly is a renaissance woman with many interests and talents.)

Sean and I have, like so many people, developed a Facebook friendship. While he, Benita and I have talked about getting together, it has yet to happen. However, I love reading his updates and like so many online friendships, one has a sense of knowing so much about a person and yet not really knowing them at all.

Today when I noticed that Sean had an update, I thought it would be about his recent trip to Georgia (the country) and Estonia. When I clicked in, I saw the title, A Bioethicist’s Education and I kind of wondered what I would be reading.  Immediately I could see that he was writing about his nephew Pedro; Sean said that he would be turning one soon. Now Pedro lives quite a distance away from Sean, so he doesn’t get to see him very often, but clearly he treasures his nephew. He said that he could not imagine a life without him.

Now comes the interesting part… Sean says that if Pedro’s parents lived in the US, he might not have ever been born. I’ll let Sean speak for himself. Remember – Sean is a bioethicist.

I can no longer imagine what my or my families’ life would be like without Pedro. Had his parents lived in the United States, however, it possible that he would have never been born.

This is because Pedro has Down syndrome, a common genetic abnormality that occurs in about 1 in 750 births. 

Some of what follows does not come as a surprise, but some of it does. I want to be clear – Sean is a bioethicist that in his own words… well let me quote him, Sean says “I am an ardent supporter of reproductive choice.” However, before he says that, he says this:

Women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome often choose to selectively terminate their pregnancy, so as not to bring a profoundly disabled child into the world. Some studies suggest that over 90% of all pregnancies with a Down syndrome diagnosis are terminated. But I wonder whether these women are making a truly informed and voluntary choice to terminate their pregnancies.

Remember – Sean supports reproductive choice, but it is also interesting that he says this. 

Here is what I think of these two posts – I think that both authors are true to who they are, but they invite us into places that are not what we might think. Each of them goes into a place that is different.

Julia does not use cheap talk to glorify pregnancy. She uses Marian imagery and yet makes a real case about just how hard it can be to be pregnant and then uses that as an invitation to live differently about it. She issues a challenge of sorts.

Sean on the other hand has no wish to become an unwitting bioethicist poster child for pro-life issues. Yet he also steps outside of typical boundaries and examines, with the heart of a loving uncle and the mind of a bioethicist, how love and personhood matter. Then he issues a challenge of sorts.

Both writers are simply asking us to stop and… think. At least I think that is what they are saying. Isn’t that why we express our opinions? What a waste it is to have all the shouting and no reflection, conversation, interaction. 

Ultimately I’d like to invite everyone to read these pieces and then think about them. Like them or hate them as you wish. But think. I know who believes in what, who hates what, who stands for what.

What I’d like to know is what happens when you go to the places beyond one’s tightly held beliefs and pokes around a little. It’s risky, you never know where you’ll come out, but hey, we all might learn something.

Nothing is simple after all, but then everything actually is pretty simple at the same time.

Why I Like Both/And Better Than Either/Or

H/T to Jan at Yearning for God, for this one. She was writing about someone I quote and write about often, Richard Rohr, OFM.

Sometimes people write to me and say that they love Richard Rohr. Sometimes people say that he is a self-serving bag of wind. I say both/and!

Today my friend Paul sent me something that I had an either/or reaction to. And he showed me, in a spirit of friendship and fidelity, the both/and of what he sent me.

Life is good that way, isn’t it?

Very both/and. And it would take a dog to help us figure that out!

The Third Eye – More Musings Helped Along by Richard Rohr and The Naked Now Book Tour

One of my ministries is a blog that I write for my parish. This piece is cross posted there. If you want to have a look, see The Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor.

If you are at all like me, you may have thought that the idea of a “third eye” is a concept of new age thinking and practice. Not exactly!

When I was listening to Richard Rohr, OFM last week, it was interesting to learn that there is also a Catholic foundation for this way of “seeing.” I should not be surprised, given the rich, full corpus of Catholic thought and learning through the centuries. (I am always greatly saddened when others, Catholics often among them, think of Catholicism as some tightly bound ideology that is narrow and harsh. I do understand why some might think that however.)


Richard Rohr, during his talk for the Naked Now book tour gave some insight into the “third eye” way of seeing. Hugo of St. Victor and Richard of St. Victor, both 12th century Franciscan mystics, expressed this way of prayer and being.

Richard of St. Victor wrote of the oculus carnis (eye of the senses), oculus rationis (eye of reason) and the oculus fidei (eye of faith). It is the eye of faith that is the “third eye.” This eye takes us beyond what we can physically see and experience, what we know through reason, to what is both beyond and within. This eye helps us to see and know God.

Beyond and within – note those words. If you read my Rohr inspired post from the other day you recall the need to leave duality at the door and enter into the ambiguity of both/and to experience God and the world at a deeper level. This reminds of a labrynth – a journey that might seem to go nowhere, yet goes everywhere.

Consider the Cross of Jesus Christ… Great suffering and great love in one nexus that changed (and continues to change) the world in ways that we could never imagine. Follow that with death followed by resurrection, which is where the Cross leads to and from. Perhaps you can see the numerous non-dualistic paths of the both/and way of seeing and how deeply Christian it is.

This is why we so desperately need the oculus fidei. The oculus carnis or the eye of the sense sees the resurrection. The oculus rationis or eye of reason denies this. It is only through the oculus fidei or eye of faith that we can begin to follow the Risen Christ.

If you give this any thought at all, it is the ultimate cognitive dissonance. And yet for many of us, it is the Truth and the Way. No wonder people think we are nuts! The only way for things to make sense at all to have them make no real sense at all. Which is of course ultimately the only thing that makes sense. Are you still with me here?

Richard Rohr, in his newest book further plumbs these depths of mystery and contemplation. During his talk, he elucidated the need to seek the place in between. It is no coincidence that Rohr runs the Center for Action and Contemplation, another place for the oculus fidei. In order to have action, we must feed it with contemplation… and vice-versa.

It must be noted that Rohr diverted from his talk to relay a story of giving an 8 day retreat at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, where Thomas Merton was a monk. Rohr kept mentioning Merton and clearly the monks seemed disinterested. Finally he asked the abbot why and he was informed that Merton had told his brother Benedictines that they were not contemplatives but rather introverts! And perhaps that is the bitter fruit of dualistic thought… One is an introvert or an activist, but where is one’s heart in the end? It seems it might be found in this place of both/and, lest we be lost in the either/or, which seems to go nowhere.

One of the points that Rohr made was that Jesus does not so much give us the answers, rather that Jesus is The Answer. He told us that in the Gospels, Jesus was asked 183 different questions…

And Jesus only answered 3 of them directly. (Three of them? How trinitarian, now that is interesting.)

Jesus is not an answer giver, as I said. He is The Answer.

Consider this, Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Hmmm – do you see how we can’t simply see with the eye of the senses or of reason? It doesn’t make sense? A God that does not rumble from on high alone, but rather becomes one of us? It is truly mind-boggling if you just sit with that that thought.

I guess that God had really been working on this, rather cooperatively at that point – we were made in God’s image after all. That clearly did not do it; we could not accept that as humans it seems. So God made the conscious, active and loving choice to not simply make us in God’s image, but rather to fully be one of us. Rohr reminded us of the “scandal of the incarnation”, to use Irenaeus’ term for it.

I can only glimpse all of this, like a flash of light at the edge of my vision or perhaps a dream that I know I had, but yet can’t fully recall. I glimpse this with my oculus fidei. This is my journey and may be yours as well, as we know without understanding and how we understand without knowing.

It is a mystery indeed and yet all very clear. Isn’t it?

(Interested in the work of Richard Rohr? Click here to read and learn more about him and The Center for Action and Contemplation, to see where he might be giving a talk or workshop or to buy his books.)