The Resurrection delivers men from the fear of death,” writes John Meyendorff, “and, therefore, also from the necessity of struggling for existence.” Such a struggle for existence is spiritually deadening precisely inasmuch as it inevitably becomes a struggle against others for preeminence, material advantage, power, or survival. To the extent that it has been sacramentally instantiated in the life of the believer, the Resurrection of Christ provides the wherewithal required to live responsibly and nobly. Thus it is that the Resurrection has opened up history in a way never before known.
As Raymund Schwager observed: Through the resurrection of Christ . . . it became possible . . . to see conflicts, persecutions, and defeats in a different way. No longer did immediate this-worldly success have to be decisive. History as the history of victors was, at least in principle, overcome. . . . Truth and immediate this-worldly success were separated.
Though the responsibility for proclaiming the truth and struggling for its triumph in this world is in no way diminished, the Resurrection relieves those on whom the Easter Sun has shone of the desperate project of trying to achieve in history what can be fulfilled only eschatologically—a fool’s errand that has turned the late-modern period into a crematoria like no other in history.
The commandment to “honour thy father and thy mother” is one that, one would like to hope, is usually relatively straightforward. Many of us (most of us?) can fairly easily point to evidence our parents are or were nurturing, supportive and loving … but one must always acknowledge those who cannot. Indeed, examples of not merely inadvertent but deliberate harm done by parents are not hard to come by in the headlines.
When I was thinking about what to talk about this evening, a friend mentioned to me that he had a question that someone had asked him about how one honors parents who don’t seem to deserve honor. Then later in the day another friend asked me the same question, completely unrelated. So I guess that’s a sign that that’s the topic that should be addressed. I know it’s a very painful one, but at the same time a very relevant one to many people.
It made me think about the discussion we had last week with Mr. Dubner, about the issue of imperfect parents. Parents really do get a real bad rap, especially in our generation with everyone baring their souls in confessionals and the healing and recovery movement, but there’s a very good reason for it: parents definitely do shape their children.
At the same time, if you look into the Torah, for Jews particularly (yesterday was the Torah reading that included the Ten Commandments), the fifth of the Ten Commandments is “Honor Your Parents, i.e., honor your father and mother.” The Torah goes even further and promises that in the merit of doing that, you will have a long life. As a matter of fact, when the Ten Commandments are repeated a second time, in the final book (Deuteronomy), it even adds another element there: that you will not just have a long life, but you will also live in peace, and have a good life.
So tonight we’re going to address this issue of honoring parents. Every one of us has been a child, continues to be a child (hopefully our parents are alive), so it’s a very relevant topic and I welcome calls on all issues related to this topic (1-212-244-2050). I must say that many of us are very angry about this issue, so anger also relates to it because people have a lot of anger against their parents, against their childhood, the way they were hurt when they were still vulnerable and impressionable.
So what exactly are our obligations to our parents and what is this whole concept of honoring them anyway—particularly in a situation where on one end of the spectrum you don’t really feel that they deserve it, and on the other end there was even severe abuse; parents who have hurt their children in very profound ways. Issues that children have with parents who continue to haunt them, the scars that we pick up on different levels of abuse, whether it’s overt or subtle. How do we address that and what exactly is this fifth of the Ten Commandments of honoring parents?
I especially would like to hear from people who are very angry with their parents and also of course people who are very loving toward their parents. It will be interesting to hear from you the different dynamics in our relationship with our parents.
Last week I asked Mr. Dubner the following question, which we all have to ask ourselves: On the one hand, you look to your parents as your source of nurturing, a source of comfort, which even unhealthy parents definitely provide somewhat (I’m not talking about extreme cases of course) and at the same time, how do you separate the two feelings of love and hurt? The same parents who love you, have, on the other hand also hurt you?
For a child, even for an adult, it’s very confusing, and it becomes a very snowball type of combination of the good and the bad. As adults, we have the intelligence, the discretion to be able to distinguish.
But as children, that distinction isn’t that obvious and that’s a big quandary, because if you got from your parents healthy nurturing, and on the other hand they may have given you certain values that you really can’t embrace, or values that you see real faults in (you know, “the lies my father told me”), it’s the first time you realize that your parents aren’t perfect.
This is a serious issue. I’d like to begin by giving some perspective here, namely, the anatomy of what exactly the commandment “honor your parent” means.
Now, the real question that’s asked in Jewish thought, in Jewish philosophy, is a more fundamental one. Judaism does not believe in any intermediaries. In other words, we have a direct relationship with G-d. There are no partnerships, no intermediaries, no hired guns; each of us prays to G-d. G-d gave us a soul and empowered us with the ability to overcome our challenges in life. We have a mission. As I very often say on this show (Toward a Meaningful Life), “meaningful life” implies a direct mission that we have, a meaning and purpose in our lives. And that is a direct relationship with G-d.
So the question is asked, “Where is there any room for honoring anyone besides G-d?” It’s true, parents may have provided for us. Of course, if they were healthy they gave us nurturing. Many parents are selfless in their love and in their dedication to their children. But honoring your parents seems in some way to imply that parents have some type of partnership with G-d…but we should be honoring G-d alone who gives us life.
The Talmud does say that there are three partners in the birth of a child: the mother, father and G-d. The parents provide, so to speak, the stuff of which the body is made. G-d provides the soul. That’s why you can have a relationship between a man and a woman, a potential father and mother, husband and wife, and it doesn’t bear a child. So G-d is the third partner — the Creator of life.
So seemingly, birth should be honoring G-d, not the parents. We don’t recognize any form of “partnership” with G-d in creation. And one of the fascinating answers to this is that when we honor our parents, even healthy parents, we’re not honoring our parents, we’re honoring G-d who gave us life through our parents.
So, in essence, it’s really a recognition of G-d. For instance, there is a distinct law in Judaism that if parents tell a child to do something that transgresses G-d’s law, meaning the ethical laws of how we behave with each or other or any type of Divine law, any law that G-d dictates, the child does not have to comply with that request of the parents, even though there’s a commandment to honor your parents. But the commandment to honor your parents does not supercede the commandment of G-d because you honor your parents not because they have power or because they think they’re important, or because they provided for us, you honor them because G-d gave life to us through them.
And that’s a major distinction. That’s why if one has to choose between following a parent’s request and following G-d’s law, we defer to G-d. Honoring your parents is not an end in itself: there’s a meaning there, a significance, a spirit behind it — it is a means to honor G-d.
Now the interesting distinction that I’d like to make as well is that the commandment says, “honor your parents”; it doesn’t say “love your parents.” The Torah doesn’t tell us to love our parents. That means the commandment doesn’t include that. Honor can include that, but that’s an optional thing. There is a commandment to love G-d. There is a commandment to love your fellow. Why isn’t there a commandment to love our parents? Because they don’t always deserve our love. But if we dishonor the life that G-d gave us through our parents, then it’s not that we’re dishonoring our parents, we’re dishonoring ourselves, we’re dishonoring our own personal life.
In the months before Ecuador I was all about The Uses of Freedom–or Der Gebrauch der Freiheit if you’re German. Late at night I would look at the words of this very deathocentric book, and on that Saturday night with Vaneetha (which had so far failed to distinguish itself from many of the Saturday nights preceding it) I was looking again at the words, with one eye open and the other shut since I’d taken out my contacts and otherwise couldn’t focus on the lines. “Procrastination is our substitute for immortality,” went the first half of the sentence I was rereading; “we behave as if we have no shortage of time.” I read the book at maybe two pages an hour.
Yet I felt more slow than stupid, and suspected it had always been thus with me. Maybe my slow temporal metabolism wasn’t equipped for the efficient digestion of modern–or postmodern–life, as it had apparently already been for some time. Sometimes I felt like I’d never catch up with even the little that had happened to me. There had already been too many people and places, and the creaking stagecoach journey or straggling canoe ride by which one location might observe, in olden times, how it became the next (and one Dwight, the next, uncannily similar Dwight) had been supplanted by the sleight of hand of subways and airplanes, always popping you out in unexpected places.
At least at night the phone didn’t ring. My feeling was, the soul is startled by the telephone and never at ease in its presence. Often on a midtown street someone’s cell would ring and half a dozen people would check their pockets to see if it was them being called, and I’d glimpse a flash of panic in one or another guy’s eyes. Myself, I kind of felt like I needed my news delivered by hand–to look out the window as some courier appeared in the field, coming from a distance so my feelings had time to discover themselves. But instead people were always calling and asking me to do things, and since only pretty rarely was I really sure I wanted to, my system was to flip a coin. “Hold on let me check my . . . yeah sounds cool but hold on . . .” I would say in the Chambers St. kitchen or if someone called at work. But I didn’t have a date book and was actually consulting one of the special coins. Heads, I’d accept–whereas tails, I’d claim to have other plans. I was proud of this system. Statistically fair, it also kept my whole easy nature from forcing me to do everyone’s bidding; it ensured a certain scarcity of Dwightness on the market; it contributed the prestige of the inscrutable to my otherwise transparent persona; and above all it allowed me to find out in my own good time whether I would actually have liked to do the thing in question. By then it was invariably too late–but everyone agrees that knowledge is its own reward, and so do I.
This plaque is on display in the main square of Cahir, Co Tipperary:
This article outlines the story of Crimean Bob and other Irish animals of the Crimean War. A little disappointingly , the Cahir plaque is a replica and the original is in the museum of the Royal Hussars.
The first time I saw Brother Lawrence was upon the third of August, in the year 1666. He told me God had done him a great favour in his conversion at the age of eighteen. That winter, he saw a tree stripped of its leaves and that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and soon the flowers and fruit would appear again. Brother Lawrence received such an impression of the providence of God from this image, that his soul never forgot. This vision set him loose from the world so perfectly, and kindled in him such a love for God, that he could not tell whether it had increased at all in the forty years since.
Previously Brother Lawrence had been footman to Mr. Fieubert, the treasurer. While working for Mr. Fieubert, Brother Lawrence considered himself a great awkward fellow who broke everything. So Brother Lawrence desired to be received into a monastery, thinking that there he would be made to suffer for his awkwardness and the faults he should commit.
He concluded he should sacrifice his life to God, along with its pleasures. But God disappointed this wish to give up pleasure, for Brother Lawrence soon found nothing but satisfaction in this state. According to Brother Lawrence, we should establish ourselves in a sense of God’s Presence by continually speaking with Him. It was a shameful thing to quit His conversation, and to think of trifles and fooleries. Instead, we should feed and nourish our souls with high notions of God, which yield us great joy.
We ought to quicken and enliven our faith. It is sad that we have so little faith. Instead of taking faith for the rule of conduct, we amuse ourselves with trivial devotions which change daily. The way of faith is the spirit of the Church, and it is sufficient to bring us to a high degree of perfection. We ought to give ourselves up to God, with regard both to things temporal and spiritual. We ought to seek our satisfaction only in the fulfilling of His will, whether He leads us by suffering or by peace, for these are no different to a soul truly following Him.
We must be faithful in times of dryness or insensibility or irksomenesses in prayer, by which God tries our love of Him. Then is the time for us to make good acts of our trust in Him, whereby often a single one alone would promote our spiritual advancement.
As for the miseries and sins heard of in the world, Brother Lawrence was so far from being surprised at them, that on the contrary, he wondered why there were not more, considering the darkness sinners were capable of. For his part, he prayed for them. And knowing that God could remedy the sins committed when He pleased, he gave himself no further trouble.
To arrive at the abandon that God requires, we should watch attentively over all the passions which mingle in spiritual things. God will give light concerning those passions to those who truly desire to serve Him.
Brother Lawrence welcomed me saying that if it was my sincere intention to serve God, I might come to visit with him as often as I pleased, without any fear of troubling him. But if not, I ought to visit him no more.
– from Riven Press edition, translated Ryan Moore and Josh Jeter.
The other day I spied this scrawled on a wall in Clonmel:
Impressively erudite, and with correct use of apostrophes. Although I did find the need to specify that these are the words of “writer Muriel Spark” mildly dissipated the effect.
Alas, it is something of a misquote:
Now, it is my advice to anyone getting married, that they should first see the other partner when drunk. Especially a man. Drink can mellow, it can sweeten. Too much can make a person silly. Or it can make them a savage
(from A Far Cry From Kensington)
The same author (I presume by the penmanship, or rather markermanship, [and indeed possible markerwomanship]) wrote this
I do wonder if these graffiti are the work of two persons; a close up of a section will show what I mean.
Finally here is the graffiti in some kind of context. This is a derelict site with no sign now of livestock or of a “Guard Do”
From the blog “Dispatches from the Undergrowth”, here is a fascinating post about conservation, and the ingenuity, hard work, and patience required to keep a threatened species going. As the author writes, “not many people would miss the marsh fritillary … for me it would mean one more spark going out in the firmament and another small step towards the darkness”T/%
I have posted a wee comment, also….
Conservationists constantly worry about how to ‘keep things going’ – be it a bird, butterfly, or some other organism teetering on the brink. It is a pretty sad state of affairs, but that’s the deal by now. It takes a lot of dedication by a few, in the face of indifference by the many, to stand against the flow of wildlife disappearing down the plughole. Last summer I came across a vivid example of what it takes to keep things going.
Not far from where I live is a scruffy looking, overgrown meadow in a nowhere-in-particular sort of place. The rushes and grasses are knee high and tussocky, birch saplings and sallow bushes threaten to overrun it. Although it doesn’t look much it is in fact carefully cared for. On a sunny day in June I went there with my friends…
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