Dept. of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling News
Antiochian author, psychologist, chaplain and priest Fr. George Morelli has recently released Healing Vol.2: Reflections for Clergy, Chaplains and Counselors. This new collection of writings anthologies many of Fr. Morelli's Chaplain's Corner columns, as well as several articles concerning anxiety, despression, suicide and end-of-life ministry. Healing Vol. 2 is available to order from the Eastern Christian Publications website.
From the preface:
For the past several years I have been writing a monthly column, Chaplain's Corner, that has appeared in The Beachcomber, the newsletter of the V.A. Healthcare Hospital of La Jolla, California, and was then edited for the general reader for publication in The North County Times, a San Diego newspaper. These columns comprise the Chapters in Part I of this book. All have in common that they deal with issues that are important in the lives of contemporary mankind in the 21st century, especially military personnel, veterans and their families.
Cognitive psychologists call it mental filter or selective focusing. (Beck, 1995). Basically, this thinking distortion and, most importantly, spiritual error is that one pays attention to one detail in a situation (usually an inauspicious factor) and fails to focus on all the details, especially factors that may be favorable. One contemporary elder of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, (Angeloglou, 1998) describes it this way. People can be divided into two categories. "The first resembles the fly. . . it is attracted by dirt." He goes on to whimsically note that if the fly that was in a garden could talk it might say: "I don't even know what a rose looks like." People who resemble
the fly "always look for the bad things in life, ignoring and refusing the presence of the good." Other people are like the bee that can be found in a garden "always looking for something sweet and nice to sit on."
A brief psychological self-test may help us to see what kind of outlook we take. In uncertain times, do I expect the worst or the best? Will something go wrong for me if it could go wrong? Do I see the future as bleak or bright? Do I think that good things happening to me are rare or common?
Prayer makes up a significant part in every major religious tradition. Thus, if a cross-section of Chaplain Corner readers were asked, “What is prayer,” a variety of definitions would likely emerge. Many would possibly resemble the one I remember from my childhood catechism: “Prayer is the lifting of our minds and hearts to God.” Prayer can be active or passive, individual or communal. Many of the different forms of prayer may contain aspects of worship, petition and thanksgiving. Our Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: "There are many different methods of prayer. . . . No method is harmful. . . .” (Philokalia I). St. Dorotheos of Gaza (Wheeler, 1977) reflects the common teaching of the Eastern Fathers that for prayer to be effective it has to be done with a pure heart.
The Saint George Orthodox Military Association (SGOMA) has announced the inauguration of the Saint George Catechetical Program. Interested individuals can now support the troops and sailors of the Armed Forces with the gift of carefully selected Orthodox books. Notes the SGOMA website, "It has been a slow and long process but SGOMA has been developing a Catechetical Program for our military to teach our Orthodox Christians the Holy Faith in more detail...this is also a program for inquirers to use to learn the Holy Faith."
In coordination with Light & Life Publishing, SGOMA has assembled two small "libraries"of books which can be donated through the Catechetical Program. The soldiers' and sailors' names have been compiled and approved by Saint George Orthodox Military Association, and SGOMA will be match each "library" to an appropriate recipient. Light & Life will then ship the books to wherever the military member may be serving, either in the United States or overseas.
The 19th Century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli was quoted as saying: "Moderation is the center wherein all philosophies, both human and divine, meet."i Certainly, in the Hebrew and Christian tradition we see moderation lauded. In the Proverbs of Solomon (25:27) we read: "As it is not good for a man to eat much honey, so he that is a searcher of majesty, shall be overwhelmed by glory." Other religious traditions also praise moderation. Buddha, for example, describes the middle way as a path of moderation between the poles of extreme indulgence and deprivation.ii To accomplish this one would also have to follow the path of wisdom.iii
Cognitive psychotherapist Albert Ellis (1962) notes that "there is something about the nature of human beings more than others . . .which makes it horribly difficult for them to take the middle ground . . .instead of having moderating behavior." The beneficent effects of moderation in the areas of health, such as eating, drinking, exercise and various psychological domains are well known. In dieting, for example, "the goal is to obtain balance, variety, and moderation. People sometimes do not realize that they can eat the foods they enjoy, but the intent is to do it in moderation."iv
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975) puts forth the idea that religion can be defined "as man's search for ultimate meaning." This implies a spiritual vision of the universe. A science without God would posit that the cosmos is nothing but something that exists in space or space-time. However, as Eastern Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (2001) notes, such a position "offers no constructive explanation to deal with existence." To put it another way, it begins and ends with the question: Is this all there is?
Spiritual perception, however, would begin the search for meaning by looking at the universe and seeing that the meaning of life permeates, from within, the cosmos that we inhabit. In the words of the Psalmist: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." (Ps 18: 2). But there is another way of knowing God that is beyond any glory possible to be conceived by man, because God is so much greater than the limits of man's perception. The other path for intuiting God is the path of negation. Unknowingly, this is the path many who deny God have stumbled upon. For those with spiritual perception, such knowledge could be described as a mystical path, an antinomy that is knowledge-beyond-knowledge. The Hebrews had a sense that no word can capture God. They referred to Him as Adonai (Lord) rather than a word they would not speak, YHWH (Yahweh). St. Gregory of Nyssa (1978), describing Moses, said that when "he grew in knowledge, he declared that he had seen God in the darkness, that is, . . . he had come to know that what is Divine is beyond all knowledge and comprehension." The Book of Exodus (20: 21) tells us, "But Moses went to the dark cloud wherein God was." And David the King and Prophet writes of God: "He made darkness His hiding place; as His canopy around Him." (Ps 17: 12).
In the mid 1960’s there was a popular folk song that played the airwaves: The Sounds of Silence. It was originally written in the wave of national grief that followed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However, this song actually reaches far beyond the historical event and touches a fountain of great spiritual depth. Consider a couple lines from the song: "Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again . . .The words of the prophets are written. . .And whispered in the sounds of silence." A very appropriate reflection for the start of Spring comes from the saintly Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature - trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. . . .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The value of silence cuts across so many religious traditions. The prophet Habakkuk (2: 20) instructed the Jews: "But the Lord is in his holy temple: let all the earth keep silence before him." Buddhists find in silence the meaning of the universe: "When a man knows the solitude of silence, and feels the joy of quietness, he is then free from fear and he feels the joy of the dharma [basic principles of the cosmos].i In the Islamic tradition Rumi notes: "I implored the sage in earnest last night to unveil the mysteries of the universe. He whispered softly in my ear, "Silence! It is something to perceive but never to say."ii
One of the most revered contemporary Spiritual Fathers of the Eastern Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (1924-1994), gives an insight that can be applied to a tragic event that is fresh in the minds of many around world today. The Elder counseled us to have well-disposed thinking toward those around us. He told his spiritual disciples to see the "good things" around them and not focus on the evil people do.
In the spirit of the counsel of Elder Paisios I want to focus on the report of the good done by one of the Chaplains on board the severely damaged cruise-liner that went aground and partially sank off the coast of Italian Tuscan island of Giglio, Italy in January 2012. The horror of the plight of those passengers who were trapped was well documented by the media in text and video. As the ship was sinking the Chaplain radioed his headquarters, the Apostleship of the Sea, whose function in part is “to promote the spiritual, moral and social development" to those at sea, that it was his intention to "stay close to the crew and the passengers to comfort them at this moment of great confusion." The Chaplain also shared his thoughts at the very beginning of the disaster "There were so many children, I took a little girl in my arms. I asked that she be sent first with her mother and her evacuation took precedence." [http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/chaplain-costa-concordia-crew-showed-personal-sacrifice/]
In mid-September 2011, various news outlets reported a ban on relatives and friends of wounded service personnel bringing bibles and other religious reading materials into Water Reed military hospital. The offensive statement reads: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” [i] Due to an outcry from various religious groups, this egregious policy was rescinded by December 2011. Thank God for that! But the fact that such a policy was even thought of, let alone promulgated, is an affront to God and Country.
Religious freedom is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States itself. The first amendment of the Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The operative term in the amendment regarding religion is making no law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In thinking up and initiating the now rescinded hospital policy, someone took it upon themselves to unilaterally interpret the words of the Constitution to impose on all 'freedom from religion' - which actually amounts to a prohibition of religion. An affront to our country and its religious tradition.
My January Chaplain's Corner article last year called New Year resolutions a “useless waste of mental and spiritual energy." More than ever, I want to make the same point. However, I want to substitute a more functional alternative: making a commitment. The word ‘commitment’ brings up notions such as a ‘binding’ course of action, allegiance, dedication and loyalty. What better way to start the new year than by re-committing ourselves to respecting the personhood of others by overcoming any ways we have slipped into unthinking habits of rudeness. The word respect derives from the Latin word rēspicere, which means, “to look back, pay attention to.” In this case, to pay attention in a Godly way to the person with whom you are interacting.
The highest value of what it means to be a person is told to us in Sacred Scripture in the Book of Genesis (1: 26), a book that is sacred to Christians, Hebrews and Moslems alike. We read, "Then God said, "Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness."" The person, therefore, is an icon of God, a consequence of His creative act in making us a finite mirror of His Divinity. Our Eastern Church Fathers would consider the meaning of personhood to be in our relationship with both God and mankind. To make this practical, the more we become committed to respecting others, to really paying attention to them as persons, the more we become like God.
One of the benefits of the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that this could be the most “wonderful time of the year." Well, it could be, that is, if we were to adopt a Godly attitude and acquire a Godly spirit that would enliven the season, and hopefully that would last the whole year. This would mean re-orienting ourselves from self-centeredness, consumerism and celebration and instead placing our focus outside of ourselves: that is to say, toward God and the welfare of others.
The spiritual traditions of our country give ample witness to the ability do this. In previous columns I have called Thanksgiving our only real national “holyday;" a day on which we can give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and share the food gifts we have been given with others, be they family, friends and or acquaintances. For Jewish people, the Hanukkah-Festival of Lights occurs within this season. It is celebrated, not in a raucous merriment, but with a Godly joy. For devout Jews, Hanukkah is both a family and communal affair in which God is thanked for His “mighty deeds and saving acts.” Among Black African-Americans Kwanzaa has been celebrated in recent years. Among its principles are unity, cooperation and dedication, and it can be observed along with Christmas.
As we go on in life unfortunate things happen to us. Psychologist Albert Ellis (1962) described our reaction to such events this way: "we think. . . it is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be." Frequently individuals blame themselves for these damaging setbacks and outcomes of life and they become bitter in the process. When untoward events occur, when individuals have done something that has produced an adverse effect, we should first determine if the circumstance can or cannot be changed. If it can be changed, then we can strive to improve, change or eradicate it. If it cannot be changed ,one should, in Ellis's terms, "philosophically accept or resign himself to their existence." Individuals suffering from bitterness could also focus on aspirations and goals that are attainable, and that would provide greater chance of success.
The display of anger is so common that it frequently goes unnoticed. Rather, it has become the expected response to any slight, no matter how trivial or harsh, given to someone by someone else in society. Some "getting back at" or "vengeance" is the norm. No one is exempt, parents, coaches, athletes, referees, police officers, teachers or those acquitted of a criminal offense. Interestingly, a recent news report noted that displaying anger at subordinates, especially combined with the use of scatological words, has also become the required norm to be an effective leader. [http://www.blogging4jobs.com/business/swearing-makes-you-a-better-leader/]
Psychologically, anger occurs because we perceive ourselves to be "intruded on" to the extent that it justifies aggression, vengeance, and retaliation. To display this level of anger we have to have to see ourselves as very 'important.' St. Basil tells us "Anger nurses a grievance. The soul, itching for vengeance, constantly tempts us to repay those who have offended" [St Basil the Great, Homily 10]. I am so important, so above others that I have the "right" to act uncharitably toward others. Note that I am making an important distinction between annoyance, which in fact could motivate a useful adaptive response such as being more focused or trying harder, with real anger.
There may be some who would perceive angry individuals as effective leaders, but, in general, psychologists have found damaging boomerang effects for anger displays: relationships are fermented, people will tend to retaliate; it cognitively distracts from solving problems, and even if what I am angry about has some truth to it, my over-reaction lessens my credibility.
Years ago there was a song, first broadcast and published in 1956 and subsequently republished by different artists right up to the present time. The song title was: "Que Sera, Sera." The second stanza gives the message of the songwriter:
"Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see,
Que Sera, Sera,
What will be, will be."
Unfortunately, the message underlying this song is not at all consistent with the spiritual message underlying the teachings of Christ. Nor with many of the other world religions.
Blessed Augustine writes: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” **i** Some see a hypocritical contradiction in the adage. If we really had trust in God, we would sit back and let God do all. Conversely, if we see ourselves as masters of our own ships, so to speak, we would just do all we can and attribute any accomplishment to our own efforts. However, mankind does not work in either/or dimensions. Some years ago, psychologist Hannah Levenson (1981) found our actions are simultaneously influenced by what she termed "multidimensional factors:" a generalized expectancy to perceive outcomes dependent on one's own behavior, along with the influence of chance, fate and powerful others [God-my emphasis].
A news-media organization recently reported that a man labeling himself as a Christian said that praying for Osama bin Laden, after his death, was "unconscionable" and "sacrilegious." The account goes on to quote him as saying: “Let’s pray for our soldiers that are over there, not for somebody that caused our soldiers to go over there.” (http://www.christianpost....). Actually, according to Christian teaching, our soldiers should be prayed for. But what is actually unconscionable and sacrilegious is not praying for such as Osama bin Laden. It is easy to pray for those we love; it is so much harder to pray for those who have done us wrong.
St. Matthew (5:44) records the words of Jesus: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . ." While on the cross and looking down on those who crucified Him, Jesus said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Lk 23: 34). Thus , not praying for our enemy - yes, this includes Osama bin Laden - clearly contravenes Christ's words. While Christianity certainly emphasizes prayer for enemies, such prayer is not unknown in other traditions, for example, in Hebrew teaching. One Jewish scholar commenting on halachah (Torah law) says "one should not pray for others to be punished, rather we should pray that they repent and do teshuvah." (http://www.chabad.org/lib... by Yehuda Shurpin)
Many people hold the common belief held that life should not include hardship and suffering and that events that occur, and the way people act should be the way we want them to be. Psychologists have picked up on this attitude system as a major source of emotional disorders. Karen Horney (1950) called it the “tyranny of the shoulds.” Albert Ellis (1962), talked about - demanding expectations - that people and events should always follow our preconceived ideas. Psychologists have attempted to find the meaning of illness, suffering, and death. Just the titles of some books by one well-known psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, illustrate such attempts: Man's Search for Meaning (1959); The Will to Meaning (1969); The Unheard Cry for Meaning (1978).
Different religious traditions have attempted to understand suffering. Hindu tradition considers suffering a consequence of inappropriate living. Buddhism considers suffering a form of craving, not dissimilar to the shoulds and demanding expectations discussed by Horney and Ellis. Buddha teaches: "No sufferings befall the man who is not attached to name and form, and who calls nothing his own." (Dhammapada 17: 221). The Koran, in Islamic tradition, points out: "If ye are suffering hardships ... but ye have Hope from God, while they have none. And God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [4:104]. In Judeo-Christian Sacred Scripture, the Book of Job presents the quintessential spiritual perception. From a human perspective, although Job's sufferings are unjust and inexplicable, nevertheless, he retains his commitment and trust in God.
I wonder how many in our country, as well as around the world, make the connection between one of the seven capital passions or sins, greed, also known as avarice, and many of the economic and social problems we see around us? As I mentioned in last month's column, there is a vice that precedes and nourishes greed. Spiritually, it is called pride; psychologically, it may be identified as narcissism, which is inordinate self-love. One of the first and major effects of pride is greed, or avarice. Some may consider themselves so important that they can entertain an unreasonable and unfair desire to acquire or possess more money or material goods than they need. Unfortunately, the consequences of such an attitude can be devastating to those around them.
In March of this year, a popular Sunday evening news program profiled the economic state of families in which the former breadwinner was unemployed. Many had had their homes foreclosed despite great motivation and desire on the part of the breadwinner to work, but who now had no prospect of finding gainful employment. The real tragedy was brought home by scenes of a school bus dropping off children at a sleazy motel wherein whole families slept in one room. One would have to have almost frozen blood in their veins not to weep for the children of these unfortunate families who desperately want just a chance to provide and care for themselves.
There is no doubt that most readers have heard the aphorism: 'money is the root of all evils.’ This apothegm is actually a popularization of St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy (1Tim 6: 10): “For the love of money is a root of all of evils. . . .” Of course, there is much wisdom in this teaching. However, we must consider that there is a vice that precedes and nourishes this 'root' of money, and all the other vices as well. St. Hesychios the Priest writes: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God." Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High."
There is agreement among world religions on the deleterious nature of pride. The Hindu scripture states: "Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit (Bhagavad-Gita 13:7)." In the Koran it is written (Surah 96: 6-8): "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." In the Buddhist tradition we read: "Free from . . . overbearing pride, principled, trained, a 'last-body': he's what I call a Brahmin [the elite]. (Dhammapada, 26).”
A common human experience is that when one is absorbed in work or activity that one deems worthwhile, time seems to fly; one is often so deep in concentrated focus as to 'forget about self;' the opposite of this is the experience of listlessness. On a purely human level we could consider the words of Hindu teacher Gandhi regarding such absorbing work: ".. . finding satisfaction in work is our best hope for happiness in life."i However, there is a higher matter to be considered, a Divine element to 'worthy work.' King David links the work we do to our purpose in life: "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; thy steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of thy hands." (Ps 137: 8). So, what is ultimately meaningful will be that which we do that carries out our purpose in life; and at the same time it will be a Godly act. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 3: 9,13-14) St. Paul tells us: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building … each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
The title of this Chaplain's Corner is a verse from one of the last prayers said during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the Mass) in the Eastern Church. Many will recognize it is an almost verbatim quote from St. James’ Epistle (1:17). Among these “good and perfect” gifts is heroism. This brings up the issue of who is a true hero. Few in the United States, as well as the wider world, are not aware of the shooting which took place at the School Board Meeting in Panama City, Florida on 14 December, 2010. While not as dramatic as the crash water landing of a disabled A320 Airbus in the Hudson River,i nevertheless the actions by some that day were heroic in their own way. A reportedly mentally ill individual, whose wife had been fired from her position as a teacher, entered the school board meeting room with a loaded gun, and painted a large letter V on the wall (for Vengeance). He then let the female school board members go and started shooting at the male members.
The board Superintendent, Bill Husfelt, called out to the shooter and said “Take me.” [The firing] had been his decision, and he had had to sign the termination papers. He even started to rise from behind the Board desk to make himself a target, hoping the others would be let go. At one point, one of the female board members re-entered the room and tried to hit the shooter from behind with her over-size pocketbook. In the meantime, a retired police officer and Chief of Security for the School District, Mike Jones, entered the meeting room, crouched below the rear spectator seats, but still in the line of fire, and, in order to try to save the life of the school board members still in the room, opened fire on the perpetrator, hitting him several times.
The Eastern Church considers "passions" as dispositions to sin. In the Western Church they commonly number seven and are called the deadly sins. One of these passions, envy, is many times hidden or concealed behind a facade of false joy for the good others have come upon, but at the same time there is great inner pain and resentment in the hearts of the envious towards those they begrudge. Envy is actually the last listed of the10 Commandments, but near first on the list of its evil consequences. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." (Ex 20: 17). The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon tells us of the primal importance of envy. It led to the first ancestral temptation, sin and its consequences: ". . . but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it." (WSol 2:24).
The Western Church Father Blessed Augustine described envy as a "diabolical sin."[i] Our Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom considered that "envy arms us against one another. . . . "[ii] St. Gregory the Great tells us that envy engenders conflict: "From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity."[iii] Envy is a refusal of charity, which is to say, of love, and is itself is rooted in pride. The pious followers of Islam see envy as an evil and will seek out Allah to be protected ". . . from the evils of the envious when they envy." (Sura 113:5).
It is no secret that God and religion are being marginalized, that is to say considered irrelevant in modern secular society. Many work hard to remove all reference to God in our culture and nation. Consider Christmas, although a legal holiday by Act of Congress (signed 1870, June 28, by President Ulysses S. Grant) the religious significance is being systematically eradicated. For example, the secular “language police” have made sure a Christmas Tree is now a Holiday Bush and the proper greeting is no longer “Merry Christmas!” but “Happy Holidays!”” Here in San Diego a popular community celebration, for years called “Christmas On the Prado” and held in beautiful historic Balboa Park, was renamed a couple of years ago as December Nights in order to mollify the secular language police. The list goes on and on.
Priest and clinical psychologist Fr. George Morelli has published a treasure trove of informative, insightful articles readily available on this website. In his Chaplain's Corner, Father addresses pastoral concerns with a frank and practical approach. His "Good Marriage" articles blend the best of current psychological insight with the writings of the Fathers, and in-depth reflections such as "Beauty-the Divine Connection," draw extensively from both his clinical experience and his knowledge of Scripture and Holy Tradition. In his recent treatise, The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis (published in six parts), Fr. George examines in depth the singular Orthodox approach to catechism, and how parents, teachers and pastors can integrate a truly Orthodox ethos in their teaching ministries.
Although Christmas is a national holiday by act of Congress (5 U.S.C. 6103),all in Western countries know Christmas is under attack and that any religious significance is being marginalized from its celebration. Unfortunately, many Americans, and others throughout the world, hold to the value system summarized by the well-known adage: 'money talks but everything else walks.' Our only hope for retaining some sense of a transcendent God, and the recognition due Him for the blessings we receive throughout the year, may be Thanksgiving Day. In 1863, following the irregular local, regional and national recognition of this feast since its first celebration by the Puritan-Protestant Pilgrims and indigenous Native Americans in 1621, President Abraham Lincoln made an official proclamation: "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."