Place your bet

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician who lived in France in the 1600’s.  A child prodigy, Pascal was also an inventor, physicist, writer as well as theologian.  He’s well known for a bet of sorts, “Pascal’s Wager”, that I believe is very relevant to consider today.

The decision

The basic premise is that every person has a decision to make: do you believe in God?  You can’t NOT make this decision, it’s either a yes or a no.  No fence exists to sit on here.  As you read this now, recall what you currently believe and whether you’re a “yes” or a “no”.  Part of the challenge here is that you have to decide without certainty, facts and proof.  Some of us may have personal experiences that lend strength to why we decide what we do, but this is a decision we all have to make rather than a conclusion we can arrive at scientifically or based on any real evidence.

Note, that whatever you decide, when you die you’ll find out whether Gods’ existence is a “yes” or “no”, but until then you’re making a choice and betting on that choice with how you live your life.

Here’s how the different scenarios play out based on this decision and the potential outcomes.

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We can’t control (or know) the real “Yes” or “No” but we can decide on how we conduct our lives (Righteous or Sinful) – which is largely motivated by our decision.

How you live based on that decision

If you choose to be a “yes” you will very likely be motivated to live a righteous life.   Belief in God comes with a belief that there is an eternal reward for how we conduct ourselves, hence the righteous life.  The many Saints were happy to forego short-term enjoyment in their worldly lives on the belief that infinite enjoyment was waiting for them.

It’s a lot harder to be motivated to lead that kind of life if you choose “no”.  You may still be righteous if you have good values & ethics (most likely coming from positive influences in your childhood) but the motive for that is not near as strong as those who’ve chosen “yes”.  I would argue that the “No” betters are more inclined to lead a life focused on their own enjoyment and pleasure because of their belief that when they die it’s all over anyway.  What’s the point of making sacrifices or helping others, surely they should seek the very best for themselves (often at the cost of others) because when they die there’s nothing anyway?

What are the stakes?

Since we don’t know the real outcome of whether God exists until we die, we’re essentially placing a bet on our choice.  It becomes a matter of short term enjoyment and a risk/reward on infinite enjoyment based on the Yes/No dynamic.  Putting the Risk/Reward against each box of the above, it looks like this:

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Place your bet

Ask anyone who gambles often (or professionally) and they’ll tell you that the bet they place is rarely tied to their own allegiances or favourites but where they get the best payout based on the stakes.  I’ve seen some ridiculous bets being placed because the payout – if it happens – is huge.

Consider the payouts of the above scenarios and how that impacts your choice, and the conduct to follow.  To bet on “No” you only have a short term gain at the risk of an infinite loss.  To bet on “Yes” you have an infinite gain at the cost of a short term loss.  Even if it turns out you’re wrong and God doesn’t exist and after dying it’s just nothingness.  Your only loss was the finite enjoyment that you sacrificed on – but you won’t exist to even regret this.  Betting on “No” being wrong, however, that’s not a place I’d like to find myself after death.

So what’s your decision?

 

finding yourself

Much is made about the question “who am I?”.  Retreats are conducted, books are written, self-help programs are followed, all with the goal that we “find ourselves”.  I agree that it important to know thyself, for how else can be be aware of what we do, how we act, etc.

What I don’t agree with is that our “self” can be defined, let alone found.  Our “selves”, in my opinion, are constantly growing and changing as a result of our experiences and lessons learned.  You could only define or find a single snapshot of that self, but that’s all it will be.  Other snapshots would reveal a different self due to the growth you’ve experienced.

I find it much more important and relevant to define who you want to be rather than who you are.  Doing that gives you a goal and a target which should help direct what experiences and paths you’ll need to take to get there.  If you want to be a more peaceful and prayerful person, you know what you can do to become that.  If you want to be a more healthy and happy person, you can put a plan together to achieve that.

The beauty is that this process never ends.  Since we’re constantly growing and experiencing new things in this life, you will constantly be directing yourself in who you want to be and where you want to grow.  This requires a great deal of attention and reflection as well as checking in on your progress.  As many have said before, the success rate of hitting a goal you don’t set is always 0%.

In this New Year, take some time to reflect on who you want to be as a person, as a member of your family, as a member of society, as a child of God.  Write down or visualize who that person is and start to look at what would need to change in you (behaviors, attitudes, activities, etc.) to get closer to that goal.  As you start to feel you’re getting closer, do it again.  As time passes, you’ll be able to look back on where you’ve come from and where you are and you’ll realize that you’ve steadily climbed towards a more loving and joyful life…with full wakefulness of it too!

message from Christ

You might be familiar with Anne, the lay apostle from Direction for Our Times, but if not here’s a quick intro.  She has been receiving locutions from Jesus, Mary and the Saints for several years now (I believe).  On the first day of every month, Jesus gives Anne a new message for the all of His apostles trying to live a holy life.  If you are not familiar with any of this, check out http://www.directionforourtimes.org for more information (trust me, you will be glad you did).

I wanted to post the most recent message (from January 1, 2010) as it hit me right in the heart and was exactly what I needed to hear.  Because of how direct and straight-forward this message is, I don’t think any reflection is necessary (of mine, that is).  Read it through…then read it through again…then take it to prayer.  Here it is:

Jesus
There are many different ways to communicate love. One of the ways that I communicate love to My apostles is through My constant presence. I am in each moment, in each day, offering you My heavenly companionship. I offer you a constant stream of love which heals and reassures, which steadies and directs. When allowed, I can help an apostle to adjust his viewpoint to My viewpoint, which is very different from the viewpoint of one who has either forgotten about My presence or rejected My companionship. With this viewpoint comes calm purpose. The days flow past, one by one, and My will flows through each one of you who has accepted My presence. You do not see big changes at your hands. Perhaps you wonder if your cooperation is helpful at all. I assure you today that if you were to reject Me tomorrow, My kingdom would suffer. Without you, I would have one less home for My great love on earth. Each time I use you to love another, I feel gratitude. My gratitude is a force for change in the lives of those around you. You are gaining graces that only heaven can understand. Only heaven can see how an action of grace is stored in waiting. This grace surrounds each person you intercede for and at a moment when it is possible, meaning that heaven sees the opening, that grace is utilised to protect and advance the soul. Dear apostle, serving heaven so steadily, leave all of your difficulties to Me. Abandon yourself to My providence completely. Serve with discipline in this moment and I will care for your loved ones. I am using you for the purpose of love and I want to use you even more fully. When you become discouraged, please sit with Me and I will help you to grasp the limited nature of your vision. Concentrate on My will for your day. Concentrate on remaining in the present, connected to your service in each moment. Avoid being trapped by the past and avoid being drawn into a future on earth which may not include you. You do not know when I will come for you. But I am with you now, as you read these words, and I have work for you today. Look, together with Me, at what I am asking of you and together we will be a successful force for love. I crave love from you. When you trust Me and reject fear, I am delighted. Calm, steady service is what I require from My beloved apostles who seek to serve Me. Be at peace. I am with you.

There are many different ways to communicate love. One of the ways that I communicate love to My apostles is through My constant presence. I am in each moment, in each day, offering you My heavenly companionship. I offer you a constant stream of love which heals and reassures, which steadies and directs. When allowed, I can help an apostle to adjust his viewpoint to My viewpoint, which is very different from the viewpoint of one who has either forgotten about My presence or rejected My companionship. With this viewpoint comes calm purpose. The days flow past, one by one, and My will flows through each one of you who has accepted My presence. You do not see big changes at your hands. Perhaps you wonder if your cooperation is helpful at all. I assure you today that if you were to reject Me tomorrow, My kingdom would suffer. Without you, I would have one less home for My great love on earth. Each time I use you to love another, I feel gratitude. My gratitude is a force for change in the lives of those around you. You are gaining graces that only heaven can understand. Only heaven can see how an action of grace is stored in waiting. This grace surrounds each person you intercede for and at a moment when it is possible, meaning that heaven sees the opening, that grace is utilised to protect and advance the soul. Dear apostle, serving heaven so steadily, leave all of your difficulties to Me. Abandon yourself to My providence completely. Serve with discipline in this moment and I will care for your loved ones. I am using you for the purpose of love and I want to use you even more fully. When you become discouraged, please sit with Me and I will help you to grasp the limited nature of your vision. Concentrate on My will for your day. Concentrate on remaining in the present, connected to your service in each moment. Avoid being trapped by the past and avoid being drawn into a future on earth which may not include you. You do not know when I will come for you. But I am with you now, as you read these words, and I have work for you today. Look, together with Me, at what I am asking of you and together we will be a successful force for love. I crave love from you. When you trust Me and reject fear, I am delighted. Calm, steady service is what I require from My beloved apostles who seek to serve Me. Be at peace. I am with you.

enjoy the symphony of life

Let me start with a story:  Imagine you’re at a symphony.  The orchestra is playing the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard and you’re completely wrapped up in the moment.  Then you realize you might have left your car unlocked.  If you leave the symphony, you can’t re-enter until intermission, so you stay.  That nagging thought about your car won’t leave you alone, however, so you can no longer enjoy the music the same way nor can you resolve the issue with your car.

This is an illustration of life.  God’s creation and the love that is shared throughout our world is this symphony.  There are times where we’re completely absorbed in the present moment and we feel and experience that love and witness the beauty of His creation, His symphony.  Most of the time, however, one thing or another distracts us from enjoying life (just like the unlocked car in the above story).  Whatever pulls us from that enjoyment is an attachment and the presence of those attachments keep us from fully living our lives as God meant us to.

Look at everything Jesus tells us in scripture and you’ll see how true this is.  Take, for example, his comments about the birds and flowers not worrying about being cared for.  They don’t have any attachments and so they enjoy God’s love and creation uninhibited.  Our worries, cares and attachments prevent us from this same experience.

We’ve all heard that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich person to enter heaven.  Certainly Heaven does not look at our net worth when deciding who enters and who doesn’t (as there have been many Saints who were wealthy during their lives).  Instead, think of that “richness” as the quantity and vastness of our attachments.  It’s our own attachments that hold us back, just like our own sin that distances us from God (not the other way around).  Like with everything else, this is from our own choice, not punishment from God.  We need to detach ourselves from these “things” in order to fully receive God and His love.  In turn, that will prepare us for Heaven.  Without these attachments, we too will be able to pass through the eye of that needle.

(Note: as much as I’d like to take credit for this great story, I read it in “A Way to Love” by Fr. Anthony De Mello).

we are not our feelings

You might be thinking, that subject doesn’t quite make sense.  This is one of Father De Mello’s mantras that focuses on the concepts rather than the words and grammar.

Let me illustrate this one:  say you’re feeling depressed.  You’re likely to think (or say), “I am depressed”.  That’s not true, though.  You are not your depression.  You are much more than just that emotion.  Think of it this way, your every fiber of being and essence is not 100% depression.  In fact, it’s 0% depression.  Depression is a feeling that you happen to be experiencing at that particular time, but it does not identify who you are.  This holds true for any emotion.

You might be thinking, what does it matter?  Isn’t this just an issue of word choice?  No, it’s much more important than that.  When you identify with an emotion or feeling, particularly a negative one, you’ll hold on to it much longer than you need to because you’ve tied it to your identity, your essence.  If you detach yourself and your identify from this feeling, you can realize that this emotion is fleeting and will pass.  Just like a cloud passes through the sky (even the ones that last for days), your emotion will come and go.  Being detached will allow you to still be you while that “cloud” is present and when it passes.

Think of how this works when a positive emotion comes into play, for example: “joy”.  You might think that you are overjoyed when a great thing happens, but just like that “depression cloud” passes, so will your joy.  If you identify with that joy, you can expect quite a crash when the “joy cloud” departs as well.   If you detach yourself and your identity from this positive feeling, you can realize that this emotion can be enjoyed while it’s here but you won’t be sad or disappointed when it leaves.

Have I confused you yet?  Good!  Now you’re thinking and becoming awake!  The point of all this is to prevent the huge ups and downs that can come from our emotions.  Wouldn’t it be better if you can stay at a nice blissful, happy, state of being regardless of what gets thrown your way?  You’ll be much more prepared to take on anything in that state rather than being held at the mercy of your feelings.

the importance of language part 2

The other aspect of our language that I wanted to discuss occurs in the language we don’t often put a voice to…and that’s the language of our thoughts.  More specifically, our thoughts directed at or to ourselves.

I am one of the guilty ones here (as are many others) when it comes to being a harsh critic of myself.  At times this has helped me to improve in areas I’ve needed the criticism (and can’t get it from anyone but me), but most of the time it’s not necessary and brings me down further.

How much better would our lives be if we offered ourselves the same forgiveness we’re willing to offer to others?  If a friend or loved one makes a mistake, we will forgive them and move on without holding on to that “infraction”.  If we make a mistake or hurt a friend, they’ll do the same for us…but do we do that for ourselves?  Holding on to this guilt is a heavy burden that we don’t need once we’ve moved past that issue with those we’ve hurt.  We need to forgive ourselves, as well as truly accept forgiveness from others, and then move on!

the importance of language

I am a firm believer that the language we use (verbally or in our thoughts) greatly affects our beliefs, attitude and our character.  This certainly shows up in using profanity.  Growing up, as many teens and young adults do, I used quite a bit more profanity than I do now.  I can attest that when using that language (again, verbally or in thoughts) affected me internally and I’m sure it affected others around me as well.

Outside of profanity, though, I think the way we phrase our thoughts can affect our view of others quite significantly.  We all know that we are called to not judge others.  When we’re cut off while driving, however, and we say to ourselves “what a jerk!”, isn’t that placing a judgement on that person?  The problem with this is that we’re defining that person as a jerk.  They’re a person just like we are, but saying that “jerk” defines their being takes away their ability to be anything but that (to us).  This is all in our heads, but it affects how we view that person and probably affects the amount of forgiveness we’re willing to offer.

In that same instance, if we say to ourselves “that was rude”, we’ve judged the action and not the person.  That specific action can be judged and we’ve never been told that we can’t judge the actions of others.  In using this change in phrasing, we’ve spared this person from being judged a specific way and have left the door open for them to redeem themselves.

Jesus did not just say things to his disciples and followers without a very specific purpose that we need to pay close attention to.  In this case, by focusing on not judging that person, we can love them much more easily.  We have all heard the phrase, “Hate the sin, not the sinner”.  This is putting that into practice.

Think how much more important that language is when we’re talking directly to that person.  They’ll probably be a lot more defensive if you say that they ARE rude rather than saying an action of theirs was rude.  Put yourself in their shoes and you’ll easily see the difference.  If it’s directed at you, you’ll probably want their forgiveness for your action rather than being equally upset at them for having misjudged you, right?  We should offer the same consideration to everyone else by speaking more carefully.

We all (at least most of the time) say things without having fully thought them through beforehand.  Sure, some comments get more reflection before being blurted out than others, but most of the time we just go ahead and speak.  This is where awareness of ourselves comes into play.  We need to be aware of what we say (or are about to say) so that we can speak properly and phrase our statements in the most loving manner.  At first it will be a matter of looking back at our failings and working to get better, but before long we’ll be thinking these things through on the fly…and hurting far fewer feelings in the process!

focus on the plank

Another of my favorite passages of Jesus’ goes as follows:

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

This ties in with my comments on loving others.  If we take our focus off the faults that we see in others, it makes it much easier to love them.  As Jesus also points out, our vision/perception of those faults are greatly altered and distorted by our own faults and prejudices (the plank in our eye).

Every single person sees the world (and therefore sees others) through their own “lenses” that they’ve built up over their lives.  These lenses are based on our prejudices, opinions, judgments, preconceptions, etc.   For example, if every policeman someone has met has been the one to pull them over and give them a ticket for speeding, their view of another policeman (call him Fred) would be negative.  Alternatively, a good driver who’s never been pulled over but has been helped by the police to find their lost purse would view Fred in a very positive light.  The same policeman (Fred) was viewed by both people, but their prejudices of policemen in general affect how he’s seen quite significantly.

This is what I think Jesus was referring to when he spoke of us removing the “plank” from our eye before helping our brother with his own faults.  If our view of the world is distorted, we’re in no shape to correct someone else’s view of the world.

So instead of focusing on fixing the faults or failings of others, we should focus on our own faults and failings.  If we do that, our lives will be an example to our brother who could then remove his “speck” on his own and without having that confrontation.

It’s like St. Francis of Assisi says, “preach the gospel and, when necessary, use words.”  So much more power is in leading by example and improving our own lives than in directing and correcting others.  There are some extreme examples where we’re supposed to speak out, of course, but most of the times this isn’t the case.

For your own reflection, think about one prejudice or tainted view you might have that affects how you see certain people.  Reflect on that and expose it (in your mind) and, after some time, it will probably drop away.  Also, be constantly aware of the inclination to correct someone else.  If it’s not important enough, keep it to yourself and remind yourself of that “plank” you’re working on.  It doesn’t hurt to offer a prayer for that person, of course!

a tree and it’s fruit

In Matthew 7, Jesus spoke about knowing a tree by its’ fruit.  To paraphrase, you can recognize whether a tree is good or bad by whether its’ fruit is (or brings about) good or bad.  This is an interesting test to put against many things in life.

Take what we eat, for example.  If we’re looking at our diet, we should be able to determine whether that diet is good or bad simply by observing the results.  If we’re feeling healthy and have a steady stream of energy, clearly it was a good diet.  Getting more specific, we can use that to temper habits of ours that could go either way.  Drinking caffeine or alcohol in moderation could be recognized as “good fruit”, however doing so in excess could clearly be seen as “bad fruit” based on all the negative consequences we would see (or premeditate).  The reflection on our choices is very important for us to remain “in tune”.

This test can be applied to many other things.  I’m fond of the Medjugorje story and all that’s been happening there, so let’s look at that.  If you are to focus on the fruits of what’s been happening there, clearly these events represent a “good tree”.  Countless conversions, vocations and miraculous healings have come about over the duration of these inexplicable events, all of which are clearly “good fruit”.  Whatever is behind these events, this is a “good tree”.

Anytime we’re faced with some difficult choices, project your thoughts towards the potential outcomes of each course of action.  Do you see more good fruit coming from one side than the other (or bad fruit)?  If so, you know your path.  Looking backwards, this can help us reflect on past decisions and decide whether we did the right thing or could have acted differently.  This is an important part of our self-observation as it will allow us to constantly improve in all areas of our lives.

While this may seem like simply placing a new label on a simple concept, I think this act of meditating on the fruits of a decision/action (whether it’s in the past or upcoming) is one that will allow each of us to be better versions of ourselves.  As with everything else I’ve discussed, it comes down to awareness, observation and the desire to improve.

happiness

I saw a great Thomas Merton quote in the most unlikely of places yesterday (a credit union teller line):

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony.”

I’m curious as to what others think of the “intensity” portion and what Merton meant by that, but this relates closely with my thoughts on happiness and why we don’t “have it”.  We’ve been brainwashed by our culture and media to think that happiness comes from someplace, something or someone.  What we fail to realize is that happiness is already there, inside us.  Happiness doesn’t need to be attained (nor can it be).  Instead, we need to get rid of all the junk in our lives that prevent us from experiencing that happiness.

Think of it this way, when your life is more balanced and everything is in harmony, you’re happy right?  That is another way of saying, nothing is in the way of you being happy.  You don’t buy that balance or harmony, it’s a way of life.  Happiness is a result of dropping things (like stress, worry, fear, etc.) rather than getting things (like a new car, hairstyle or money).

To prove this further, think of a person that, when you’re with them, you feel happy with.  When you’re hanging out with this person, you’re typically happy.  You’re not happy because the person is with you, you’re happy because their presence has motivated you to either drop those worries that prevent you from being happy.  They didn’t make you happy, you did!  Happiness is a choice (most of the time made subconsciously), so choose to drop those worries, fears and stress and enjoy the harmony and balance that remain with you.