Saturday, December 15, 2018

The Gift

Last December I first published this Christmas story here.  I believe it is my favorite of all my short stories.  It was well received then, so I repeat it for Christmas 2018.

The Gift

            In the time before the star shone over Bethlehem, there lived a shepherd and his wife who had six sons.The husband was very proud to have such a family of sons, but the wife longed for a daughter.   After the fourth boy, she had expressed that wish to her husband.  He scolded her, saying it was sons, not daughters that every good Hebrew should pray for.   Although she dearly loved and cared for each son, she never stopped yearning for a daughter. After the birth of her sixth boy her heart became heavy, realizing she was passing out of her childbearing years and was not to realize her hope.  But to their surprise, she conceived again, and a year later, she gave birth to a girl! She immediately declared the child to be God’s blessing, and requested of her husband that the baby be named Johanna, Hebrew for ‘gift of God’.  They so named her.
            The baby was very beautiful, strong and healthy—except for a twisted foot.  Faithfully during the child’s infancy, her mother massaged and molded the foot, which improved from the care, but it was never to be fully cured.  Throughout her life, Johanna was to walk with a limp.  
            The husband—being a good Jew—went frequently to the temple.  As his fellow worshipers became aware of the child’s deformity, some would shake their heads and say this was punishment for his sins.  When he repeated this to his wife—who usually made no retort to his chidings—she scolded him: “Do not question God!  His ways are not our ways . . . this child is a gift; God has plans for her.”  The husband just shook his head and walked away.
            Johanna had a loving nature and sweet disposition, but she did not speak.  At first they thought nothing of it—with six lively and boisterous brothers, there was always commotion to which she was alert, so they simply thought her quiet.  One day a physician said her tongue cleaved to her jaw and she would never speak.  
              “—A curse of God for sure!” said the people.
            As she grew, the girl learned household tasks as befits a Hebrew woman, but she also had a great love of the sheep of her father’s flock and took delight in shepherding them in nearby fields that were not hard to walk to.  Later, as she matured, Johanna took on the task of bedding them at night when they were stabled . . . and she gently soothed the delivering ewes at lambing time.  Several times she saved both ewe and lamb in a difficult labor.  Always she was kind and gentle.  The knowledge of her skill spread through the village and at lambing time all welcomed her.
            As the years went on, each of the brothers in turn took wives . . . but no marriage could be arranged for Johanna.  Only the mean or stupid would accept so flawed a woman for wife, and her parents would not agree to such a match. 
            As her parents grew old, the daughter cared first for her father, then later her mother thru their aged infirmities, always with kindness and a loving disposition.  Her mother never ceased saying Johanna was God’s gift and blessing.
            After the deaths of her parents, Johanna went to live with and assist the elderly devout long-widowed Anna of the tribe of Asher, who spent much time in the temple praying. In addition to the duties of Anna’s house, Johanna continued to watch over the stables and tend the lambing of the village.
            One December evening, on her rounds of the stables, Johanna came upon a man sitting dejectedly with his head in his hands—at her approach the man leapt to his feet saying, “You are the answer to my prayers . . . Can you help me? I am Joseph; my wife Mary is about to give birth . . .” Johanna gave no response. “I am a carpenter and do not have knowledge of such things.  We came for the census.  I could find no lodgings or midwife for her, but we were given shelter in this stable . . . her time has come.  Now she is napping between her labor pains—and I feel so helpless.  I called upon the Lord God to send help . . . and here you are.  Will you help us?”
            Johanna nodded. Joseph soon realized she could not speak, but he did not question God.  He thanked God for sending this kind young woman as he handed her the supplies they had carried with them for this need.  She moved with self-assurance and, though not a midwife, all the years of tending the ewes gave her the needed inner confidence.  Her kindness, warmth and gentleness soothed both the travelers.
            At the moment of birth, gently she received the newborn into her hands, cleared the mucus, patted his back to encourage his first breaths of air, wiped him with the linens, and tucked him into Mary’s arms.
            With gratefulness, Mary received the baby and said, “He is to be called, Jesus.”  At that moment the infant’s tiny fingers curled around Johanna’s index finger—she opened her lips and whispered “Welcome, Jesus” . . . 


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Manifested Consciousness

Who is God and what is God? I can’t possibly know.  I believe religions help us to focus on the concept of God, which is needed by humanity in order to not self-destruct, but religions are man’s creation.  Humans are flawed so errors are made in religion’s attempts to reach for God.

Science—because it can’t prove God exists—denies the possibility of God and credits randomness for creating the human species, our world, and the universe. Now that takes more ‘faith’ than I can muster.  As I study all that is ordered I see a requirement for consciousness to plan a process of selecting, sequencing and executing to achieve the desired result.

Slabs of metal, nuts and bolts, pieces of glass and rolls of leather will never randomly assemble themselves into a car no matter how much time is given; flour, sugar, eggs and chocolate pieces will never randomly assemble into cookies under any circumstances.

The human species, our world and the universe are the most carefully ordered sequences that can be imagined.

I have no faith that randomness yields complex order—it requires intentionality. 

I don’t know who or what God is, but I believe the order that brought us and all that is into existence has been the manifestation of a consciousness capable of bringing order. I’m content to call that God.

Friday, November 23, 2018

About Competition

For Christmas last year, my grandson gave me a unique gift.  It’s called Storyworth and each week for 52 weeks my computer is sent one question about my life or my thoughts that I am to answer that week.  Knowing a new question will appear the next week whether or not I answered the previous one has kept me on track and I’ve not missed any.  At the end of the year it will be compiled into a book.  I’m looking forward to the finished product in a few short weeks.  

Last week’s question was about competition and this was my response:

‘Over the years I have formed a negative opinion toward competition, mainly because it has been overemphasized in our society—in marketing, politics, education, sports . . . etc.

The usual place where kids are introduced to competition is in sports.  Fundamental to sport, teamwork and good sportsmanship were woven in so that life lessons could be gained - but it seems now that the competition itself has become the focus and winning is all-important—even in little league competition, fights break out (largely among parents).  Even the Olympic games—a tradition that has gone on for thousands of years—has been tainted by a ‘winning at all costs attitude’ that promoted the use of enhancing drugs by many athletes.  Winning was all-important, so if cheating was the way to win, that’s how it was done.

Competition and cooperation are opposite approaches as solutions to conflict.  Each has validity but requires mediation and rules of engagement. Sports are designed for competition, which is not inherently bad, but when ethics are separated from engagement and ‘winning’ becomes the only objective, the competition is corrupted. In our world today, so often winning takes precedence above all else.  When Trump was criticized for the unethical way he attacked his opponents he said with a grin, “But I won didn’t I?”

More and more we are becoming a polarized society with an attitude of ‘us’ and ‘them’.  The polarizations divide everything into ‘win’ and ‘lose’ camps; you must be for or against . . . it is called a zero sum game: one person’s gain is at the cost of the other’s loss.  We seem to be losing our ability to cooperate to seek solutions by compromise—the very way diplomacy keeps the peace.  When there are intense disagreements, compromise is necessary. Each side must be prepared to do some yielding, the unwillingness to yield results in some form of war—at which point everyone loses.

So from my position as an observer of competition, I say I’m not a fan: competition has been overemphasized in our world and there is a need to work harder on learning to cooperate.’

Monday, October 22, 2018

A Work in Progress

For a while I’ve been having a problem with writer’s block, yet I wanted to write here this month. Searching my journals for inspiration I found this from 1986:

What I know to be absolutely true:                                                     

            One cannot know who or what God is.

            But that which is known as ‘God’s Kingdom” is the ONLY thing that is worth living/dying for.

            The soulless institutions we build destroy meaning, and life without meaning cannot be endured by creatures whose central quality is reflective awareness.

            We must live out our existence with ‘human nature’, which is attracted to evil as well as good.  We aren’t going to be transformed into another kind of being.

            We can train ourselves to develop and utilize the capacity for reflective awareness, which has sat mostly idle within the species (actualized in only a few).

            And thus as mankind becomes a choice-making creature guided by the wisdom in our sacred scriptures . . . that is none other than a blueprint of how humankind can co-exist in life’s diversity and find joy.

            There are only two options left: either we finally build the Kingdom of God, or we destroy ourselves and this planet—there is no other option available.                     
                                                               _ _ _

I remembered that after having read Teilhard’s book ‘How I Believe’, it haunted me for some time. I liked that he had distilled the genius of his mind to make a simple statement of belief.

I believe the universe is an evolution.
I believe that evolution proceeds toward spirit.
I believe that in man, spirit is fully realized in person.
I believe that the supremely personal is the Universal Christ.
                                                                                Teilhard de Chardin
                                         _ _ _

I wanted to do something similar and write a brief statement of belief.  It wasn’t brief and resulted in the above ‘What I Know’.   It took a surprising amount of time but I finally wrote what, after some 20 years, still reads as true.  I read and reread it and made a few changes.  It now reads:

            One cannot know who or what God is.

            But that which is known as ‘God’s kingdom’ is the only thing that is worth living and dying for.

            We must live out our existence with human nature that is attracted to evil as well as good; but with consciousness, we can learn to choose the good.

            We pray, “Thy kingdom come”.  What does that mean?  It will be our One peaceful global world with people choosing compassion, forgiveness and love.

            We, mankind, must evolve to become choice-making creatures with long-term vision guided by the Wisdom from all of our sacred scriptures.

            There are only two options: either we finally build the kingdom of God, or we destroy this planet and ourselves.
                                                               _ _ _

It is not yet concise enough; I will continue to search my soul and return to it another time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Mystical Fiction

Since my last entry (5thAnniversary  8/19/18) I’ve been doing some looking back.  I know I’ve mentioned my book The Stations a few times, but I haven’t outlined the story. A year ago on August 25th2017 my entry was ‘of The Stations’ but that was more background on the influence of Teilhard de Chardin on my thinking.  It also mentions the book is ‘spiritual fiction’ but I have some misgivings about what is suggested by that.  The Stations isn’t an apology for any one religion, its setting is Catholicism but at its heart it is of the search for meaning.  It would more appropriately be called ‘mystical fiction’—but who would understand that?  

A mystical perspective differs from a religious one although they both focus on God.  Each religion seeks to establish an exclusive way to approach God using a restrictive set of rules and guidelines—either implied or overtly expressed.  Religion is advantageous and important for social order and it can provide security and comfort, but for the most part it is a closed system.  In the God search, religion is a good starting point but there is little room for growth or exploration because the rules are already established and innovation is seen as a threat.

Mysticism on the other hand is a deeper search for meaning—seeking the ‘why’ of the phenomenon of human existence. It begins by assuming the presence of a Supreme Being but doesn’t make absolute claims about the nature of that Being because there is a realization that it is mystery beyond the human capacity to grasp; yet the seeking can bring a bit more light of understanding. 

In my book the artist is a contemporary mystic, as was Teilhard, striving to help people ‘see’ more deeply into life’s mystery.  The Stations by B. Sabonis-Chafee is available on Amazon books.  This is its description.   

The Stations is a deep and probing story of the doubt-faith conflict of artist John Stanley Thomas’s search for meaning in our contemporary secular world.  It is both timely and universal.  In this story—as in the world at large—there are growing concerns about ‘moral bankruptcy’ with calls for a refocus upon universal values rather than those that are religion-specific.  The setting is Roman Catholic, but it is neither pro nor anti-Church—it is the spiritual struggle of an artist who plunges inward to discover the dimensions of his vision and then stay true to it in the face of institutional opposition.

The following is a five-point outline of the story:
-- A fortune is left in the hands of the Church for an artistic expression of the Stations of the Cross.
-- The initial protagonist, Archbishop Kaslandis, is deeply spiritual.  He engages in a seven-year search for the ‘right’ artist.  About a year after the artist is commissioned the Archbishop dies; his successor is an efficient bureaucrat. 
-- Once the sculpting begins the artist experiences a ‘dark night’; a creative block which, after months, gives way to a new vision to imbue the stations with contemporary socially relevant meaning which shocks the ultra-conservative clergy who see heresy and blasphemy. 
-- As he is threatened with the commission’s withdrawal, he seeks the wise counsel of a psychologist-nun, Mother Abara, with whom he has deep discussions.
-- Following the death of Mother Abara, perhaps out of loneliness, he becomes entangled in a miss-matched fiery relationship.
-- He loses the commission but continues to work on the stations as we watch his life unfold over a 20-year period. There is employment as a Community College art teacher, relationships, and the aloneness this struggle requires.  Woven throughout, the reader witnesses the artist’s creative process as he gives expression to each of the fourteen stations.

I would be most interested in any comments from readers of The Stations.  I can be reached by email:

Sunday, August 19, 2018

5th Anniversary

Five years ago today I began my blog 'ofseriousthoughts' with this poem.  I repeat it today on this anniversary.  It speaks to my main concerns.
I have maintained the goal of two entrys a month.  Because of other writing projects I will reduce that to once a month.  I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy this project, just less frequently.  I only wish I had more comments from my readers.

Un-named God

You are the un-named God
      the soul-giver

Who or what you are
      is a mystery requiring humble acceptance,
      not a problem demanding arrogant solutions.

You gifted man with consciousness--
      the invitation to participate in the mystery!

We responded with arrogance--
      imposing solutions upon a perceived problem.

We’ve misinterpreted what and who you are.
We’ve misconcluded who and what we are!


How wise the admonition 
      to not utter God’s name!

We ignored it to our peril--
      we named you and contained you;

We locked you within dogmas,
      confined you to denominations;

We borrowed your power to levy control,
      stole from you your glory to praise our creations;

We molded and made you into our image,
      chose and selected what pleased our design.


Foolishly, men of power became God-namers
      and for a time...

The God-namers ruled
      presuming to control both God and men

The God-namers ruled
      luxuriating in glamour and arrogance

The God-namers ruled
      dividing humanity into controllers and controlled

The God-namers ruled
      losing the quest for the Holy Grail.


And so history unfolded...

Till finally the controlled awakened,
      forever beyond blind obedience.
They looked and saw the illusion--
     God wasn’t as they’d been told!

They saw empty dogma and warring denominations,
They saw corrupted power and tainted glory,
They saw false idols and self-serving gestures.

Ordinary men turned, first on the God-namers,
                          --then on God!

Yet foolishly they accepted the divisions of 
                          controllers and controlled

And everyone raced to be in charge
          while denying responsibility for control.

The 20th Century ‘common man’
     accepted the proclamation 
               of God’s death
And in so doing, brought about
                ...his own



The structure of civilization
     has been built upon domination and control.

The hope for its continuation
     hangs upon humankind embracing true Wisdom

               The formula is there for us to discover
                     Beyond dogmas
                     Beyond controllers:

               “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life”
                     “Love one another”
                        “Go and sin no more”
                     “Forgive your enemies


Is it that God IS NOT?
Is it that God is beyond our containing?
                     --our naming?

God is Unity, Totality, Infinity
God is Love, Justice, Truth
God is Benevolent Transcendent Power


Without God upon whom to center
                     my life,
My Life becomes the center of 
                     my universe.

          Exit warmth and compassion
               honor and integrity:

          “Take care of #1”
          “If it feels good, do it
          “The one who dies with the most toys wins”


But we’re made to seek God
It’s programmed into our being
     so imitations fill the vacuum:
          sex replaces Love
          legalisms replace Justice
          data replaces Truth
     and the almighty dollar replaces Benevolent

     We’ve become the hollow men!


Louder, Faster!
Louder, Faster!!  Hide the hollowness!

But no matter how loud and how fast
          there are moments of 
          self alone with self
     and the hollow places echo
     the absence of the soul
                          ...another suicide
                             one more senseless killing.

Here and there, a tear is shed, a cry is heard
     another tear, another cry
          and another and another
     till the Louder and Faster 
          aren’t loud enough or fast enough
               and we finally realize...

There’s a cry echoing across the land

The cry of a hollow generation
          wailing for its lost soul!


With our own hand, we fashioned hell!
We refused to see we did it to ourselves--
We not only named God, but dictated the spelling!


But You are the unnamed God
     The soul-giver

I know you by your absence.

When we turn from You
     we dispossess our soul--
          soon to discover
               we are the hollow men.

Without You we cannot save ourselves
                       from ourselves.

Only in Your presence do we partake of the mystery--
Only in Your presence do we reach beyond ourselves--
Only in Your presence do we find fulfillment.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

To Build A Better World

Series:  Long-Term Vision   #7   final 

I want to bring together the various themes of my writing.  This blog began 5 years ago with an all-encompassing poem; then I wrote about observations from the world of our times and humanity’s search for God. Throughout I’ve made references to Teilhard de Chardin, a scientist and theologian.  In 2015 herein I wrote a 7 part series outlining some of his concepts. Although he is well known among theologian, the revolutionary nature and complexity of his writing makes him little known to the average person so I strive to make his ideas more understandable because he is the key to the integration of science and religion—which are NOT incompatible but rather two sides of the coin of knowledge.  Science seeks the when, where and how of the world while religion seeks the who and why of existence.

 The revolutionary concept of our time is the realization of the interconnectedness of all life.  We are moving toward unifying our world, not into sameness but with respect for our diversities.  Peaceful co-existence is the goal.  That understanding begins with evolution and consciousness—both new concepts to the 20thand 21stcenturies.  Evolution is the underlying principle of all that is.  Consciousness is the unique human quality that allows for our freedom and the ability to shape our world.  Darwin gave us the mechanistic understanding that life evolved from simple forms to more complex ones (complexity).  Teilhard gave us the understanding of the non-material dimension of life (consciousness) whereby, over long spans of time, rudimentary awareness in lower creatures increased to become reflective awareness in humans. He identified ‘the law of complexity-consciousness’.  Our human consciousness continues to expand to ever see greater order and 'rightness'.

All that exists follows an ordered pattern of development.  The coming-to-be of materiality resulted not from random happenings (though randomness is involved) but in a discernable order.  We can see a relentless directionality from lower to higher order.  Telescopes show us the order of the universe, we have discovered the order in our solar system, science tell us of the order and delicate balance of the elements that make up our world, we know of the order to new life coming into existence, and we have all lived through the ordered pattern of growth and development from childhood to adulthood.  We will collectively come to see a higher order in recognizing the interdependence of all of life and act accordingly; harm to any part affects the whole. 

A dictionary definition of order: 1) a condition of logical or comprehensible arrangement among separate elements of a group; 2) prescribed arrangements among component parts such that proper functioning or appearance is achieved. Note the words logical, comprehensible, prescribed, and functional.  Order is a product of conscious intent.The overwhelming presence of order in life and the universe points to ‘something’ consciously guiding the process, because order follows intent.  

I choose to call the ‘something’ Mystery God.  Others can choose other names or no name—but what I see is an ordered universe and beings with consciousness capable of long-term vision, people that can formulate and reach for goals.  And I see in those beings of every race and culture a shared desire for a sustainable world at Peace.  Not all, and not soon, surely not in my lifetime or my children or grandchildren’s, but it is enough to join the flow of life striving for unity that will one day realize all life’s interconnectedness.

Some would consider that ‘seeking God’ (source of love, truth, goodness, hope . . .).   Or others may prefer to consider it as seeking ‘indestructible rightness’, by whatever the name; our goal is to build a better world.