Saturday, September 5, 2015

Kings under the King

Airplane Rock
While hiking with my brother between Old Man's Cave and Cedar Falls I pointed to some high, sandstone cliffs above and to our left. I mentioned that when I see those and other similar rocky places I have this almost uncontrollable urge to climb up there. I have this urge to jump the trail and explore. The trail we are on is great, the sites are aweso
me, but there is something inside that says, "what's up there, what's off the trail, what can you discover?"

Men are born with that sense of adventure built in. Where would we be without it? We certainly wouldn't be on the International Space Station. We probably wouldn't be in North America. I'd venture to say that we, as a race, may not even be in existence if it weren't for that adventurous spirit that says, "I wonder, I'll bet, let's try" and so on.

Behind our house to the southwest is a small patch of woods that my boys are always begging to go explore no matter the season. To them, it's like going on a jungle adventure. They look for all sorts of treasures: turtles, sticks, skulls, and rocks. Even a pocket full of hickory nuts is booty to bring back to the castle. They follow the trails paved by the whitetail deer and the small stream might as well be a raging river. On another part of the property there is a sandstone ledge that is about 5 feet high that they love to visit. They climb up the face grabbing crevice and roots and slide back down the dirt bank on wet leaves. The adventurous spirit is built in.

What if we could use that God-given spirit for the Good, the True, and the Beautiful? What if we could raise up wild, adventurous, bold, brave, chivalrous, Godly men or become one ourselves? Would you try? Even if it meant unspeakable pain? Even if it meant struggle, failure, hardship, and testing like you have never experienced before?

If you are not willing, ask yourself why? Are you afraid? Christ says, "fear is useless." Are you weak? St. Paul says, "it is when I am weak that I am strong." My advice to you, "trust God." He can be trusted. He made you for this and He would never put you through anything above and beyond what you can handle, with His grace.

If you are willing, let's go. Let's start the adventure together. I'm no expert but I know the voice of God is calling us. He is calling men to reclaim their rightful heritage as kings under the King of Kings. There's a term to look at - King of Kings. There aren't too many kings left today so what is this title referring to other than the fact that we are those kings or at least we are destined to be, when we are ready. That is what Adam should have been.

The Catechism tells us that, "The anointing with sacred chrism, perfumed oil consecrated by the bishop, signifies the gift of the Holy Spirit to the newly baptized, who has become a Christian, that is, one "anointed" by the Holy Spirit, incorporated into Christ who is anointed priest, prophet, and king." (CCC 1242) He is the King of Kings. He is the King, we the kings. We are incorporated into Him and therefore we share in His priesthood, His prophetic office, and His kingship.
Our adventure, for the purpose of this blog, will begin with three things.

First, prayer. I would challenge you in some way to increase your prayer life. Go to Mass during the week, pray the rosary on Sunday with your family (if you have one) or alone, pray the Liturgy of the Hours (the official prayer of the Church.) In your prayer, talk to God as you talk to your very best friend in plain language and then listen, repeat, rinse (just making sure you're paying attention).

Second, get out. Go for a walk, work out, bike or something that gets the heart pumping a little bit. God never meant for us to sit and stare at this screen all day. We are a total package - body, mind and soul. The soul needs the prayers as much as the body needs the exercise and the other way round too. The mind comes next...

Third, read. As stated in the "about this blog" section, I'll be following both Wild at Heart
and The Way of the Wild Heart by John Eldredge as well as the companion journals. The other two essential books for this adventure are The Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The old adage is so true - garbage in, garbage out. If all we are reading is the newspaper, magazines, and the like our brains will turn to mush, or worse. Saint Paul says, "Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." (Romans 12:2) We must be transformed. Rather, we must accept that this adventure will transform us and we must let it. The transformation will take place in the three areas listed above and in that transforming adventure we will learn to "discern what is the will of God". We will learn through prayer, physical transformation, and study how God wants us to rule our (His) kingdom.

I hope you stick with me, no, let's stick together for we cannot do this alone. We need each other and Him. Pray for me, I'll pray for you.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Peak Inside the Devil's Playbook

He is relentless

This past Sunday I was able to attend my second Holy League meeting for our deanery.  I've only attended twice but have experienced powerful consolation, healing, and insight into my own spiritual life.  I know it must be a great thing for me because I never want to go!

That's how the devil likes to work in my life.  I believe he knows that certain things will bump me back onto the right path and so he likes to steer me in other directions.

Going in to this particular meeting I was feeling deep depression and despair about my life.  I've been struggling with meaningful work for myself, the possibility of my wife needing to go back to work to support us, etc., which is really depressing for me.  We have this system or way of life that we enjoy and it appears that things are going to change dramatically.  So, all of this and other things have been making me feel like less than a man.  Queue devil pounce....

In the days leading up to the Holy League event I felt more and more pressure to abandon the idea of attending. Should I really be taking time away from the family?  Couldn't you be working on the deck which needs stained?  How about not wasting 2-3 hours and instead looking for a job?  You know, you could spend this time writing your next book?

I knew in my heart that this was happening to me.  It wasn't something of my own thoughts and emotions.  I decided to commit.  I told my wife I was going.  She wants me to go to such events and so now I would have to come up with a really good excuse not to go!

The event, as I mentioned, was incredible.  We start with 30 minutes of discussion about problems facing masculine spirituality.  Then, we move to the church for a Holy Hour and Confession.  It is here that the "fog of war" begins to lift.  It was here that I began to see what was happening to me with my cooperation.

Modus Operandi

Since the garden, the modus operandi of Satan hasn't changed - doubt, sin, despair (rinse and repeat).  At any given moment things can not go as I planned and the Evil One is there by my side in an instant.  Really, you still think God loves you after this?  How's that daily rosary working for you when this happens?  Prayer life?  Seems more like you are talking to God and He's playing on His iPhone.  Has God really answered any of your prayers, you know, the really important ones, like ones not even for yourself but for the good of others?  and on and on....

Once that seed of doubt is firmly planted my natural sinful response is to comfort myself with some sin, big or small.  I think, if God isn't there or doesn't care and I need to feel loved, I'll comfort myself with 1) Indulging in surfing the internet, 2) Drinking to drunkenness, 3) Looking at pornography, 4) Gambling, 5) Eating to excess, 6) Playing video games, 7) Hiding from my family and obligations in my man cave, 8) _____________________ (insert favorite personal sin here).

It is at this point that The Tempter transforms into The Accuser and despair enters.  Too often the despair is a catalyst for more comfort sin and the cycle continues to spiral downward.

I've learned that this is always the game plan.  However, I almost never see it coming.  Knowing that I'm often like a spiritual Bill Murry in Groundhog day, I wrote it all down here for you and for me to come back to again and again, day after day.

3 Fold Solution to a 3 Fold Problem

The solution is simple, almost too simple.  It's so simple that Satan will be at your side in an instant and say that it can't really be the answer or won't really help (DOUBT!!!).  Here's the antidote for his MO.

1. Doubt - Trust: Trust that God loves you.  You can build this trust by having a daily prayer life.  Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, Read Scripture, just do something that puts you in daily communication with God.  It will strengthen you against doubt.

2. Sin - Hedge: Build a hedge around your favorite sin.  In other words, make "avoiding the near occasions of sin" easier.  If your favorite sin is drinking, give your wife a key to the cabinet. If your favorite sin is porn, install filters, make your wife your accountability partner or a close friend.  Ultimately, you want to make your sin hard to get to so when you do doubt, you'll have time to pause and reflect on why you are reaching for the sin.

3. Despair - Confess: Confession is the field hospital of the spiritual life.  But trust me, the devil doesn't want you to make it to triage.  He doesn't want you dead.  He wants P.O.W.'s!!  Period.  If you find yourself resisting Confession, that ain't Jesus doing that brother!  Remember how you were healed the last time you went to Confession and nearly bumped your head on the ceiling of the church?  God wants to give you that again.  (Caution - it is at this poi
nt that doubt, sin, and despair will be strongest, be ready)

His plan is simple, the remedy is simple but none of it is easy.  Come back to this post as often as you need because I know I will, probably in the next day or so...

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Learning patience from hunting.

I never realized how patient God is until I took my sons and nephews deer hunting this past weekend.  In Ohio, the weekend before Thanksgiving, there is a special youth deer hunting season.  I invited my brother-in-law and his two oldest boys to join me and my three oldest.

The Friday night before the hunt was filled with stories and excitement as we discussed technique, strategy, location, timing and more.  The boys could barely sleep and to be honest neither could I.  I wanted them to get a deer or at least a shot far more than they probably did.

Over the course of the weekend we sat on hillsides and in hunting blinds.  We hunted on the ground and from the trees.  We watched squirrels, turkeys, and deer come and go but nothing within range.

The boys divided up among me, my brother-in-law, my uncle, and my father.  The stories among the adults were mostly the same.  The boys couldn't sit still for very long, they crunched leaves out of boredom, they wanted to run here and there rather than sit patiently and wait for the deer.

I was tempted to be upset with the boys and reprimand them but I didn't want this to be a bad experience for them.  While sitting in one of the blinds with one of my nephews, who was literally dancing in the blind with excitement, a revelation came to me.  I realized that what I was experiencing must be similar to what God experiences with all of us.

Whereas I wanted so much for the boys to get a deer, God wants so much for me to have faith.  Whereas I did all that I could to set them up for the best chance to see and possibly shoot a deer, God causes events to happen in my life that could very much strengthen my faith.  And...whereas the boys were just to wound-up to see a deer or even let it get close, I too am too pre-occupied with the unimportant things to ever get a chance at growing in my faith.

Scripture says, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:11).  It's much easier said than done.  I know that as our hunting tradition continues through the years, the boys will mature and be able to be still, rest, and hunt with patience.  I pray that I too will learn patience and be able to be still and wait for the Lord.  I only hope that chuckles to Himself now as he sees me fidget on this expedition we call life.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Mountain of the Lord

Re-post from my other blog.

The Psalmist asks, "How can I repay the Lord for all the good done for me?"  I echo that question.  How indeed?  This year I had the opportunity to once again travel to the American West with Wilderness Outreach on an expedition to build and repair hiking trails.

Mt. Shinn & Lake Florence
The trip this year took me to the High Sierra Mountain Range in California.  It was one of the most demanding and physically difficult things I have ever done in my life.  With a 7+ mile hike in and a climb of nearly 3000' in elevation, the work seemed easy in comparison to the hike.

This trip was also one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  I went on the trip looking for God, asking Him to reveal Himself to me.  In the end, I realized that it was He calling me to this far away place so that He might reveal me to myself.  As the Second Vatican Council put it, "Christ..., fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear." (Gaudium et Spes 22)  I learned that the problem is not that I don't understand or know God very well but rather that I don't know myself well enough.  He brought me to the mountains to reveal to me my weaknesses, my faults, my sins, and how He wants to heal them.

It was through this trip, this work, these hikes, this physical adventure that God taught me about my spiritual life.  I learned that the spiritual life is like life on the trail.  As the trail has steep, difficult terrain, so does the spiritual life.  It is during times of suffering and struggle that I am ascending toward God, toward the heights of Heaven.  It is often during times of laziness, and seeking an easy way out that I am descending away from God, away from the heights of sanctity.  I learned that just as the views on the trail (pictures below) are not given but must be earned.  Ascending to the God is not given, it must be earned.  

John Bradford of Wilderness Outreach 
Now, please don't misunderstand.  All that God gives is a free gift.  Grace is a free gift just as the mountains are a free gift.  Both are there for me but there is no easy shortcut.  I cannot parachute onto the top of a mountain and feel as though I belong there.  I cannot say a simple prayer and feel as though I deserve eternity with God.  God is a loving father and as such He demands that I grow, mature, struggle, fight, and become strong. The Psalmist points this out in many places, "LORD, who may abide in your tent?  Who may dwell on your holy mountain?  Whoever walks without blame, doing what is right, speaking truth from the heart; Who does not slander with his tongue, does no harm to a friend, never defames a neighbor; Who disdains the wicked, but honors those who fear the LORD; Who keeps an oath despite the cost, lends no money at interest, accepts no bribe against the innocent" (Psalm 15)  The mountain of the Lord in the Psalm is a free gift, but only those who meet the requirements can accept that gift.

Another thing I learned on the trail is that God wants me to accept that He allows those struggles to come my way.  In the book, Abandonment to Divine Providence, Fr. Caussade mentions a phrase that stuck with me during my trip, "Living the sacrament of the moment."  This helped me realize that God's grace is pouring on me like a constant rain every moment of my life.  Sometimes the rain makes me miserable, sometimes it fills me with joy.  So it is with God's grace.  His providence may, at times, make me miserable, like when I am suffering.  Living the sacrament of the moment helps me realize that though I may be suffering, it wouldn't be happening if God didn't will it for my salvation.  As Fr. Caussade says elsewhere, "What God arranges for us to experience at each moment is the best and holiest thing that could ever happen to us."
I could go on about the lessons learned on the trail but I will save those for another time.  For now, I'll share the beauty that God gave to us during that week.  How shall I repay the Lord?  I really don't know.  I guess I can start by reminding myself daily of the difficult but worthwhile lessons learned so that I don't slide back down the mountain.

Me at 10,000'
Sally Keyes Lakes

Marie Lakes looking north from Selden Pass

Daily Mass on the mountain.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Rabbit Hunting

 My dad and I took the two oldest boys out rabbit hunting on Saturday for a little while.  We only kicked up one rabbit and Tony (the beagle) ran it for a while.  He brought it right by A but he couldn't get his gun cocked fast enough.  We'll have to work on that I think.  Anyway, here are some pictures from the outing.  If you are rabbit hunter, or any hunter for that matter, I highly recommend The Everlasting Stream.  It is a great book.
Dad and the boys.

The north side of the hill.

C looking tough.

Dad and the boys heading to the top.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Controlled Power

One of my favorite activities is wrestling with my boys.  In fact, I often write it on my calender to make sure I don't leave it out during the week.

Our wrestling takes one of three forms.  First there is the horse / bull ride where the boys hop on my back and hold on for dear life.  This always gets the most laughs but trust me, the laughs are not coming from my knees.  Second, there is the one-on-one match where I let each boy in turn push me around and then I fling them around.  This give and take goes on for some time until I allow them to pin me to the floor.  When I sit up after a match, I have to be ready because the next boy is ready to pounce.  After wrestling each of the four boys twice, this old man is ready for bed.  Third, there is the everyone-against-dad match.  I usually prompt this match with a promise of dessert or candy if they can get me down.  It's all fun and games and I keep the upper hand, that is, until they decide to work together.  It is then that the real struggle begins.

Last week the boys asked if they could wrestle each other.  They are too young to pull dirty tricks so the only rule that I made was that they had to start from their knees.  I came up with this rule because I know how they can start swinging each other around and I could easily see someone being thrown through a French Door.

The two oldest wrestled first and the younger pinned the older after about 5 minutes of wrestling on the floor. Next the younger two wrestled and the younger one again pinned the older.  They all wanted to wrestle one more time and I agreed.  This second match with the older two went on for an eternity until finally the younger one once again pinned his older brother.  This was more than the older one could take and he exploded all over me with shouts of injustice.  "I wasn't down.  You weren't watching when I had him down two minutes ago.  I'm never doing this again," and on and on.  I sent him into the mud room to cool down.  After a few minutes I had a good talk with him about controlling himself.  That is, after all, why we are wrestling in the first place.

I wrestle with my boys to show them that they have incredible strength and that they must learn to control that strength.  I help them to realize that I could easily pummel each and every one of them but I don't.  I am in control, at all times, even when they get a shot in that fattens my lip, knocks my glasses off, or draws blood.  I control my strength, my body, my temper, my mind, my heart.  I have the control.  I hope that through wrestling and other activities they will realize that they too have great power, explosive power, but it must be controlled.  I hope to teach them that there are times to unleash that power and there are times to suppress that power but each and every time it must be controlled by them.  God has given them this gift and it is my job to teach them the proper use of the gift.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

River of Doubt

Lately I have become a huge fan of Theodore Roosevelt.  I can't imagine any of our modern presidents being like him but I think it would do a world of good for the country if they had some of his qualities.

Through my reading I have, in an unplanned way, followed a great deal of his life.  Much of what I have read has overlapped but each author gives his or her own view and helps fill in the gaps.  The first book that I read, Mornings on Horseback, by one of my favorite authors, David McCullough, chronicles the early life of Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.  Though a weak and sickly child, he transformed his mind and body, at the inspiration of his father, into a strong, rugged man physically and intellectually.  Today, in a world where excuses abound this is a refreshing story of what man can do when he puts his mind, and body, to it.

Last month I began reading The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America.  I began reading this book primarily to become familiar with the United States Forest Service and the men who created it.  I was very much surprised to learn of the pivotal role that President Roosevelt played in forming and building the Service.  This book showed me that TR wasn't loved by everyone.  I was shocked to learn that in the early 1900's conservation was frowned upon by most of the country.  I found it ironic that the conservation movement was begun by this Republican President.

Recently I finished what so far has been the most gripping, heartbreaking, and spellbinding story of Theodore Roosevelt.  The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey chronicles his journey and quest for adventure on an, up to then, unchartered river deep in the Amazon Jungle.  The River of Doubt begins with Roosevelt's failed bid for a third term as President.  Even though he was loved by most of the country, he was rejected by his own party in this bid for re-election.  He soon became the leader of a third party, The Progressive Party, or Bull-Moose Party as it was commonly known.

Reeling from this loss and betrayal, he decided to challenge himself, as he often did, to conquer not only something unknown, but also his own depression that resulted from the loss.  The River of Doubt follows Roosevelt from a speaking tour in Brazil to the headwaters of the Rio da Dúvida (River of Doubt) to its end in the Amazon River.  Along the way, Roosevelt, his son Kermit, Candido Rondon, the famed Brazilian explorer and officer, and many other men faced the perils of the river, the forest, and the frailty of humanity.  

What began as a scientific exploration to map and chronicle a never before navigated river quickly became a 2 month fight for survival.  The men faced bone, and canoe, crushing rapids in the river along with flesh eating fish and dangerous parasitic organisms.  The jungle on either side of the river didn't offer much help either.  Camouflaged in the lush green of the jungle were poisonous snakes and frogs, wild animals, and disease carrying mosquitoes.  To add to the danger, the expedition is followed through much of their journey by a tribe of native Indians, armed with poison arrows and concealed by the jungle, ready to end the journey down the river.  What began as a journey to explore the unknown and perhaps assuage the President's pride became the fight of his life and surly his darkest journey.

This book is not only an excellent story of the expedition but the author also weaves in a great deal of background information as well as scientific information that makes for an informative as well as entertaining read.  I highly recommend The River of Doubt!