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October 2013

Altering the Course of History

"Overthrow the order of ignorance and injustice in the world."
       - Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
 
 
It doesn't have to be new.  Or better.  Just different.  An interesting retelling of something useful, to an audience that maybe hasn't heard it before.
 
Maybe they have heard it before, but not in a way that reached them.  I'd like to take a stab at overthrowing the order of ignorance surrounding Bishops of Rome (known to the world as "Popes") and what they did before they became Pope.  I'll pick one for starters, the one about whom I've read the most. 
 
Pope John Paul II saw the worst of humanity, the fascist Nazis and the Communist Soviets, clamping down on his homeland, his beloved Poland.  Poland has a tremendous Catholic history.  It is one of the most concentrated Catholic nations on earth, while being sandwiched between Protestant Germany and Russia (mostly Russian Orthodox and atheist).
 
He had an interesting early life, he was athletic, charismatic, loved the stage, very intelligent.  He had options that he could pursue (although the Nazi occupation forced him into hard labor for a few years even though he was never imprisoned).  Being very devout like his widower father who raised him, he spent a lot of time in prayer at home.  Then God chose him for the priesthood, and he accepted.  That's all there was to it.  And the next 60 years, as they say, was history.  THAT is what can happen when you allow God to lead you, when you ask and listen, when you follow the path he lays out, when you accept his invitation.
 
What did the young Pole leave behind, what did he leave on the table?  Nothing, because those lives, those existences did not, do not, exist.  All that exists is reality, the road taken, NOT the roads left unexplored.
 
If God told you to do something, you would like to believe that you would oblige his request.  The problem is that we don't know if or what God tells us to do.  There is only one way to know, and that is through prayer.  That is where we could all use some help, with knowing how to pray, then doing it.
 
Did Karol Wojtyla (the future Pope John Paul II) pray? What about St. Francis?  Mother Teresa?  How about Jesus himself?  These are all people (along with many many others) who, seemingly, were personally instructed by God on the life they were to lead, the path they were to follow.  But it wasn't as simple as that.  They had to pray to be shown the way, then had to recognize and accept the answer.  Theirs were not lives of comfort, of ease, of carefree joy.  Theirs were lives of hardship, suffering, and daily struggle.  But each of them knew what was the thing that they needed to be doing, on direct orders from God.  And none could have ever imagined a life not completely dedicated to the mission that they were given.  So, actually, maybe it WAS as simple as that.

Not Settling for Chaos

"You are what you settle for" was a sentiment expressed by Janis Joplin during her final interview.  She died of a drug overdose at age 27.  By all accounts, she held nothing back during the life she led.  Make no mistake, she led her life, unlike many people who let their lives lead them.
 
Surrendering control of your existence to a substance, even temporarily, be it heroin or alcohol or anything else, is never the right or good thing to do.  Ever.  The longing for ultimate freedom that is seemingly realized while under the influence of drugs such as these is, paradoxically, the very opposite of freedom.  It is enslavement to the whims of action without conscience.  Like being in a rowboat without an oar in a storm-tossed sea, you have no choice but to go where it takes you, hopefully staying afloat and alive in the process.  That's not freedom at all, nor is it enjoyable.
 
If, on the other hand, you came across a giant rock jutting out of the waves and were able to tether your boat and yourself to it until the storm passed and the waters calmed, you could actually have an exhilirating experience as you rode out the tempest protected by the rock.
 
Which brings us full circle to another profound expression by a musician, this one closer to home.  It's a lyric from a Mumford & Sons song titled I Will Wait: "a tethered mind freed from the lies."  When we lash ourselves to the Truth of God, we are no longer as susceptible to the deceptions and tempations that constantly surround us.
 
There is freedom in that.  And there is freedom in leading our lives intentionally, purposefully, as opposed to being led by them.