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Tag Archives: Barbara Brown Taylor

Your Vision Is Your Home

John O’Donohue (as you can tell, O’Donohue has joined my array of spiritual writers such as Thomas Merton, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Douglas Steere, Henri Nouwen, Andrew Murray, Macrina Wiederkehr, Anne Lamott, C. S. Lewis, Barbara Brown Taylor – the list goes on . . . so many good good writers who share spiritual wisdom and  inspire me – who make me want to be a better person).

. . . back to my original thought: John O’Donohue writes about thought in Eternal Echoes.  A short excerpt from the book:

Thought is one of the most powerful forces in the universe.  The way you see things makes them what they are.  We never meet life innocently.  We always take in life through the grid of thought we use.  Our thoughts filter experience all the time.  The beauty of philosophy is the way it shows us the nature of the layers of thought which always stand invisibly between us and everything we see.  Even your meetings with yourself happen in and by means of thinking. The study of philosophy helps you to see how you think.  Philosophy has no doctrines; it is an activity of disclosure and illumination.  One of the great tasks in life is to find a way of thinking which is honest and original and yet right for your style of individuality.  The shape of each soul is different.  It takes a lifetime of slow work to find a rhythm of thinking which reflects and articulates the uniqueness of your soul.

More often than not, we have picked up the habits of thinking of those around us.  These thought-habits are not yours; they can damage the way you see the world and make you doubt your own instinct and sense of life.  When you become aware that your thinking has a life of its own, you will never make a prison of your own perception.  Your vision is your home.  A closed vision always wants to make a small room out of whatever it sees.  Thinking that limits you denies you life.  In order to deconstruct the inner prison, the first step is learning to see that it is a prison.  You can move in the direction of this discovery by reflecting on the places where your life feels limited and tight.  To recognize the crippling feeling of being limited is already to have begun moving beyond it.  Heidegger said, “To recognize a frontier is already to have gone beyond it.”  Life continues to remain faithful to us.  If we move even the smallest step out of our limitation, life comes to embrace us and lead us out into the pastures of possibility.

. . . To think is to go beyond.  Thinking that deserves the name never attempts to make a cage for mystery.  Reverential thought breaks down the thought-cages that domesticate mystery.  This thinking is disturbing but liberating.  This is the kind of thinking at the heart of prayer, namely, the liberation of the Divine from the small prisons of our fear and control.  To liberate the Divine is to liberate oneself.  Each person is so vulnerable in the way he or she sees things.  You are so close to your own way of thinking that you are probably unaware of its power and control over how you experience everything, including yourself.  This is the importance of drama as a literary form; it provides you with the opportunity to know yourself at one remove, so to speak, without threatening you with self-annihilation.  Your thinking can be damaged.  You may sense this but put it down to how life is.  You remain unaware of your freedom to change how you think.  When your thinking is locked in false certainty or negativity, it puts so many interesting and vital areas of life out of your reach.  You live impoverished and hungry in the midst of your own abundance.

“The Practice of Encountering Others”

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What we have most in common is not religion but humanity. I learned this from my religion, which also teaches us that encountering another human being is as close to God as I may ever get — in the eye-to-eye thing, the person-to-person thing — which is where God’s Beloved has promised to show up. Paradoxically, the point is not to see him. The point is to see the person standing right in front of me, who has no substitute, who can never be replaced, whose heart holds things for which there is no language, whose life is an unsolved mystery. The moment I turn that person into a character in my own story, the encounter is over. I have stopped being a human being and have become a fiction writer instead.

~ Barbara Brown Taylor [An Altar in the World]


Practicing Catholics perceived electrical shocks while viewing an image of the Virgin Mary (above right) as less painful than shocks delivered while looking at a non-religious picture (above left). In contrast, professed atheists and agnostics derived no pain relief from viewing the same religious image while getting uncomfortably zapped on the hand.

The research was done by Katja Wiech of the University of Oxford in England. Bruce Bower wrote an article describing the research in the October 11th issue of Science News.

Pain and Religion

Of course, being human, we all suffer from pain during our lifetimes – different degrees of pain.  Some pain can be alleviated; some pain has no cure.

Barbara Brown Taylor provided some insights about pain:

“If you flee from pain and failure, then you run into them everywhere you go.  If you can find some way to open to them instead, then they may bring their hands from behind their backs and lay flowers on your bed.”

“Job is one of pain’s most eloquent poets.”

“At its worst, [pain] can erase most of what you knew about yourself.  People who live with chronic pain usually know more about this than those who may reasonably look forward to feeling better soon.  To live with pain on a daily basis is to be involved in a high-maintenance relationship.  To make peace with the pain can require as much energy as fighting it.  Things you once did without thinking—rising, dressing, eating, walking—now take concerted effort, if not paid help.  Who is this person who cannot do such simple things?  Who is this person who cannot help anyone, even herself?”

“Whatever else it does, pain offers an experience of being human that is as elemental as birth, orgasm, love and death.  Because it is so real, pain is an available antidote to unreality—not the medicine you would have chosen, perhaps, but an effective one all the same.”

“Plato once said that pain restores order to the soul.”

A dear friend has an incurable disease and will be experiencing more and more pain as her disease progresses.  This journey, one which she would have never chosen, has plumbed the depths of her optimism, her rationality, and her spirituality – and she retains this optimism, rationality and spirituality.  She is providing words of wisdom and comfort and insights to her friends as she continues on this road – a journey with a certain conclusion.  Lou Gehrig’s Disease will eventually ravage her body and yet her brilliant mind remains insightful, creative, curious, and compassionate (she has always and will always have these qualities).

It is difficult for me to imagine my vibrant friend not able to do the physical things one takes for granted.  It is NOT difficult to realize she will still be the intelligent, lovely person I have always known – albeit with a body unable to accept commands.  This is a horrible disease.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, is an incurable fatal neuromuscular disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness, resulting in paralysis. The disease attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Motor neurons, which control the movement of voluntary muscles, deteriorate and eventually die. When the motor neurons die, the brain can no longer initiate and control muscle movement. Because muscles no longer receive the messages they need in order to function, they gradually weaken and deteriorate.

Approximately 14 cases of ALS are diagnosed each day nationwide. Most of those who develop the disease are between 40 and 70 years of age. The average expected survival time for those suffering from ALS is three to five years. At any given time, approximately 30,000 people in the United States are living with the disease.

The cause of ALS remains unclear, and no cure exists. While there is no drug to prevent or cure the disease, recent breakthroughs have resulted in Rilutek, a drug that modestly slows the progression of ALS.

Praying daily for my friend.