The Path Passed
This story begins winter 1998. I began writing an annual Christmas message to create a personal tradition. It is joyful to hear it has become a part of others as well. The first message went to about forty people. This year, well I stopped counting at year four. Traditions are information from the past brought forward to have relevance in the present context. They are practices meant to give meaning. This message has become a collection of meanings. This message has become a documentation of the innards of my life. This message has become an affirmation of and a connection to the truth that exists in my being.
Ten years on, I find the words even more so a reflection of the movements of my life, perhaps more than my ego had originally intended. As I reread the previous nine I can feel: my ever present pain and fleeting joys, my frustration and my excitement, my disillusionment and my curiosity. More than anything, I see my hope in life, my desire to bloom, my yearning to discover a sense of self. This tenth anniversary edition comes out of rediscovering the themes that have been the cornerstone of each message, and therefore the driving forces of my life. Join me on a journey through ten years.
Two journeys consume my life: the path to personhood and the path to priesthood. These journeys take an inner and outer path. The two paths are unique but follow the same process, slowly converging. Over time, both are an internal and an external discovering of the inner and outer worlds of being. They nurture each other and yet struggle to find the meaning in each other.
This year I have focused a little less on trying to find a meaning to life but a little more on discovering life. It is hoped that this leads to a path of authenticity. When I live authentically all paths to journey are paths to peace.
The Path to Personhood
That story begins spring 1989. It has been almost twenty years since I left St John’s, Newfoundland to become a Roman Catholic priest. When I left studies at the age of 28, I felt like a failure. Grappling with things not having reached preconceived expectations is a theme in this life.
There are two lessons I have learned to help me come a little closer to my peace. First, pay kind attention to life but be willing to let things go. Second, just because something ends does not mean it is a failure. It is only a failure if you cannot take any lesson from it. Things end, we move on – hopefully we grow. Life is a series of little births and deaths, and a lot of living in between each.
That “between” part is where everything happens: the mundane and the exhilarating. I am beginning to understand this implies continuous process and practice. Doing the piled laundry is not separate from wearing the handsome clothes. Washing the piled dishes is not separate from eating the delicious meal. When I do not see the connectedness I do not appreciate the importance of the moments of life.
There is no past, no future. There is only this moment and being present to it as completely and creatively as possible. This does not mean we should not remember or plan. It means we should not be slaves to either. When we live fully in the "now" we know that by caring for the "now" of those around us, our own "now" becomes richer; back and forth the energy flows and grows.
What keeps me out of the present moment is clinging to past pain. Past pain tethers us to the negative energy and darkness of life. When so bound, it is not possible to accept myself as a person on a journey of discovery. Instead of seeing life as unfolding it is something to be controlled.
Now I am beginning to see and believe that anything is possible if I am willing to stop trying to control everything. In reality, I can control very little in this made up world and by trying to do so, it has a disastrous affect/effect on my psyche. If I continuously try to force every reality then all will fail.
By not forcing or controlling life I can simply pay attention to the lessons it has to teach. I cannot teach life anything. I am forever the student in life. Even as a teacher I can only agree with Socrates: “I cannot teach anybody anything, I can only make them think.”
By accepting I am first a student, everything becomes a mutual sharing of individual discovery. We all have something to share. We are all teachers and students.
The Path to Priesthood
That story begins spring 1989. It has been almost twenty years since I left St John’s, Newfoundland to become a Roman Catholic priest. When I left studies at the age of 28, I felt like a failure. Failure because I thought I had dedicated my life to a noble goal, a higher purpose rather than simply consuming more and more. I had left the world of commercialism. And here I was returning to it.
Commercialism is another word for selfishness because it keeps us in a pattern of constantly consuming where everything is focused on tomorrow’s meal as opposed to seeing the rich banquet that already lies before us.
As I travel along the road of yoga and Buddhism I am discovering the personal priesthood that the Protestant Luther believed we all are asked to undertake. Call it what you wish: teacher, truck driver, parent, monk, bodhisattva, guru, mechanic or whatever noun personifies it for you. We are called to care. We are called to peace. We are called to love. This call is found and defined throughout all religions and belief systems – the call to see all life as holy.
Regardless of cultures and creeds, lifestyles and choices, loves and conflicts, we [are called to] look at each other and see the divine that exist in all and show it the reverence it deserves.
The Path to Authenticity
That story begins spring 1989. It has been almost twenty years since I left St John’s, Newfoundland to become a Roman Catholic priest. Twenty years on I find myself still on that spiritual path of learning to become myself.
My self comes in two versions; there are two Joshuas. Joshua one is the smart, intelligent, and confident person acting with noble ideals. He is the perfect teacher and student. He is the one I aspire to be. Joshua two is the one who struggles with life and falls short of his ideals. He can feel lost and scared. He is the one I cringe to be.
This year I learned a great lesson. Both Joshuas are the one. My teaching to be authentic must arise out of my journey, be it fraught with difficulties or filled with pleasures. The truth and intelligence of my teaching has to arise from my own struggles to practice what I preach. This is not an easy task as there are some real challenges.
I am bipolar. And probably will be forever. I am hot and cold. I can be very logical yet I can have a short fuse. I care deeply and profoundly but can be extremely nonchalant. I love many people yet I can be cruel and mean to those same people. I can cry and that is a very good thing. I will always have a deep sadness in my heart for not having a strong nuclear family.
Instead of seeing all that as a burden and stain to hide, bury, or extricate from the fabric of my life, I have come to see it simply as my life. Any truth I know or will discover lies in the messy reality of my existence. Therein lays the authenticity of any teaching.
The Path to Journey
This story begins. As I have chronicled my messy existence I have noticed that a quest for personal peace and societal peace is overarching. The mystics were right; the individual heart living in peace creates a harmony of peace throughout the world. My responsibility is to nurture peace in my personal life and to nurture peace in our world. As I gain more and more personal peace I find a growing urge that cannot be ignored. I am called to be a part of bringing peace to our planet, our home. We are sharing the same experience.
At the core of human experience is the reality that we are physical beings who must acknowledge that without respect for our planet and our selves we cannot have any spiritual connections. Without peace we are all living in darkness.
Regardless of personal or global traditions we can all buy into the Christmas story of peace. Behind that story is a belief that darkness will never overtake the light. By not being afraid of the darkness we see in ourselves and each other, we are able to see the light that resides there, the light that moves us to love. The Jew, the Christian, the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist and the Humanist all believe in peace and that we are responsible to and for each other.
These words though easy to type are challenging to live when things get messy. The last week of classes before Christmas, we had a week-long book club activity of don Miguel Ruiz’s Toltec divined The Four Agreements. It had been three years since I last worked with it. Post yoga and Buddhism introduction, it was a wonderful rediscovery, a reconfirming of cosmic truths. I still use it as a guide to personal peace. Though tough to live, they are wonderful tools for mindfulness worth re-sharing.
“Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
Don't Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
Don't Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.”
Yet again these words are so easy to type in a message once a year but so hard to live.
As I look back at the last ten years of Christmas messages I am filled with a great sense of hope for the next ten, a patient hope learning to appreciate the unfolding of each step on the path. There is great love here. I have a joy-filled vocation, wonderful family and friends, and a beautiful partner – I adore all.
Christmas is a holiday with heightened everything. We seem to be a little more finely in tune with the life that we see, want, or do not have. But hopefully we are blessed knowing that there is a richness of colour, love, and light enfolding us despite the darkness. There will always be some emptiness we will be trying to fill. I think that is one of the uniquely human qualities we possess. But if we take the time to evaluate our lives we will find we are doing well. We have many reasons to have a Merry Christmas.
(December 24, 2008)