Covid, Church, & Holy Communion

With Nods to Little City Hermit and Archimandrite Gregorios Estephan, Abbot of Holy Dormition of the Theotokos Monastery, Bkeftine, Lebanon…

This really says it all, and it is a most poignant, sobering and timely warning. A few excerpts:

We ask with honesty, was there no other way or a dispensational solution, taking into account all the health measures, to face this pandemic, without closing the Churches and surrendering to a collective spiritual suicide?

Going to Church during pandemics, temptations, hardships and persecutions does not mean that we are tempting God as if we are inviting something to befall us, but rather, by this, we are saying to Him that we walk with Him in Faith, revealing that what we need the most is to be with Him during these very afflictions, united with Him in His Body and Blood, in order to confront this pandemic and the dangers of disease, as well as all of the other catastrophes awaiting us. When Christians, during major persecutions and communism, risked their lives to go into the catacombs and gather around the Lord’s table, it was an expression of their loving Christ more than themselves, an expression of their knowledge that true life exists within this Eucharistic table, and not in their bodies.

Today also, if we do not stand up to this current pandemic by prayer, supplication and repentance, and more importantly, by holding Divine Liturgies, and receiving the Body and Blood of Christ which frees us from eternal death, what should we confront it with? By running away and isolating oneself?

The Church faced the consequences of sin through such firm Faith and by strengthening piety in the souls of her members. … Christians, in prisons and mines during exile, perceived in depth their great need to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, so their priests used to celebrate the Divine offering on the breasts of the faithful; the breast of the faithful became an altar for God.

We are in a time when we need the Body and Blood of Christ, more than at any other time, in order to be nourished and to receive the strength to resist every evil and disease. Although we know that, by God’s permission, we can fall sick due to this pandemic, but the faithful who becomes ill and continues his struggle in the Church and his participation in its Mysteries, is like a soldier in the battle arena resisting all evil, not by his own strength, but by the power of the salvific gift of Redemption. Does the one who partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ, knowing that it is the true food for eternal life, think of bodily death anymore? The death of such person therefore resembles the death of Martyrs.

Why is everyone silent in front of all these evils and perversions that are afflicting the Church of Christ and disorienting its mission of the salvation of mankind? Do those speaking with such an unlawful enthusiasm in support of the Church closures have such a zeal for the purity of the Orthodox Faith? Would they be as zealous in applying the Church Canons as they are to submit to the laws of the nations?

The end of the world will come, not when the antichrist becomes strong, but when the Church becomes weak (Archbishop Sergei Baranov).

If the strength of the Church exists in her Mysteries, and especially in the Mystery of the Eucharist, then her weakness, rather her death, is found in the interruption of these Liturgies.

We must also consider that since the Church has surrendered so easily because of this pandemic, even unto the closing of her doors, what is she going to do when the Antichrist comes? Do any of us ask this question?

The interruption of these Liturgies, although temporary, is nothing but a sign among the signs of the end of times. Concerning the latter days, Saint Ephraim the Syrian (of the fourth century) reveals that: “the Churches will pathetically weep for the holy services will cease to take place in them and there will no more be Eucharistic oblations”[9]. The Church of Christ which is ever strong and victorious over Satan, sin and death, and concerning which the Lord promised that the gates of Hades shall not prevail over her, is submitting that simply? Does not this reveal its weakness and the fragility of its earthly journey?

For the complete article by Archimandrite Gregorios Estephan, Abbot of Holy Dormition of the Theotokos Monastery, Bkeftine, Lebanon, go to Orthodox Ethos, a website by Father Peter Heers I wholeheartedly recommend for all its podcasts, interviews and articles

COVID-19 and Privacy…

As this is penned, the province of Alberta is essentially on lock-down. Once bustling streets are eerily and unsettlingly quiet. The few pedestrians, motorists, or cyclists visible are sometimes masked, sometimes not, but everyone is the picture of quiet sobriety. No more dining out, unless dinner is “take-out”; no more going to places of worship, so critical for some in times of upheaval or crisis. No more access to concerts, sporting events, libraries, galleries, gyms, community centres, and such like, all are closed or cancelled. Worst of all, no more getting together with friends or family. Although this is not forbidden, it is discouraged as we are all told to “stay at home.” Everywhere one goes, be it for a walk or to the latest hot-spot, the grocery store, one observes, from at least six feet away, expressions of fear, sobriety, gravity, sadness. Social order prevails, but the air is permeated with anxiety, suspicion, and fear as if a noxious fume was surely choking us all to death. In a certain sense this is precisely what is happening. The globe’s axis is sideways as the COVID-19 pandemic shakes our health, livelihoods, and economies, along with our very selves right to the core. We have every right and reason to be afraid: not only in Alberta, but all over the world, individuals, families, governments, nations, and commerce are dispensing with political posturing and talking, pondering, pacing, and thinking very seriously and deeply about the COVID-19 crisis and its immediate and long-term consequences. It has been a long time, indeed, since leadership, political and otherwise in this corner of the world, Alberta, Canada, has faced such immense pressure and enormously critical choices. What happens now will dictate much about the future, and serious thought, dialogue, and care are demanded of us all, especially our leaders.

This paper is not about the virus. We all know plenty about that already and without doubt will know plenty more by apple blossom time, considering how quickly this horror is evolving. Here we will discuss the potential loss of privacy as a result of the covid crisis. The virus is one problem, and it is very serious, but privacy is also a critical consideration as we move forward during and after corona virus.

Alberta Government Powers During the Covid Pandemic

In the interest of understanding privacy and civil liberty concerns during the COVID-19 crisis it is important to first understand the state of affairs in this fair province and what Alberta government powers are during this time of crisis. Related to this are two separate entities for which explanations are necessary: “State of Public Health Emergency” and “Provincial State of Emergency”, which is governed by The Alberta Emergency Management Act. As of this writing, the province is operating under both sets of legislation, even though there is some overlap in the parameters of each.

A “State of Public Health Emergency” was declared in the province that can be held for 30 to 90 days (Lawrence 2020); additionally, Lawrence (2020) says this gives the Alberta government the following powers:

  • acquire or use any real estate or personal property
  • authorize or require any qualified person to render aid of a type the person is qualified to provide
  • authorize the conscription of persons needed to meet an emergency
  • authorize the entry into any building or on any land, without warrant, by any person
  • provide for the distribution of essential health and medical supplies and provide, maintain and co-ordinate the delivery of health services.
  • the province’s chief medical health officer can impose or authorize the absence of any ill employees, or those who are caring for a family member ill with COVID-
  • Under the act, employers cannot fire, restrict or otherwise discriminate against employees who must miss work due to the corona virus.
  • It also enables compensation for anyone whose personal property is damaged or destroyed due to the exercise of any government powers

According to French (2020), during an epidemic, under “State of Public Health Emergency” legislation, the government can also:

  • order a hospital to provide quarantine facilities
  • order owners of other buildings (such as a hotel or a recreation centre) to provide accommodations for people in isolation or quarantine
  • order any public place to close
  • postpone a provincial or senate election for up to three months
  • order people to be immunized against the disease
  • suspend part or all of any provincial legislation that’s not in the public interest
  • For “recalcitrant patients,” a medical health officer can also order a peace officer to apprehend a person believed to be ill for testing, treatment or isolation. A        patient can appeal their detention to the Court of Queen’s Bench.
  • People can also face penalties of up to $5,000 for failing to comply with any part of the Public Health Act.

French (2020) also indicates the following powers the Alberta government can use when a “Provincial State of Emergency”, a different entity than the “State of Public Health Emergency” discussed above is declared:

  • Acquire or use any property needed to respond to the emergency.
  • Control or prohibit travel to or from any part of Alberta.
  • Require qualified people to render aid where needed.
  • Distribute essential supplies across the province where needed.
  • Order evacuation of people or livestock.
  • Authorize entry into any building.
  • Fix prices for food, clothing, fuel equipment, medical supplies or other essential
  • Conscript workers needed to respond to an emergency.
  • Those who violate the act can be fined up to $10,000, sentenced to jail for up to a year or both

As mentioned there is some overlap between the two sets of legislation, particularly around the conscription of workers able to respond and to offer aid and in the commandeering of personal property or real estate, as indicated with using hotels or community centres to isolate those who are ill. This legislation provides fairly broad powers to the Alberta government to “protect the citizenry” during this period of crisis, but it is coming at the high price of our privacy; contact tracing apps, ushered to our smart phone will tell us when it is time to go home for self-isolation- the isolation being mandatory- making our tech our jailer.  Apparently citizens are not smarter than phones and do not know when to stay home and rest! Moving forward, let us look at this application and discuss its far reaching consequences for the present COVID-19 crisis and the post- COVID future.

COVID-19 and Privacy Concerns

On April 8, 2020 a Canadian Press article, published in Huff Post Canada stated that Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, is planning on launching a smartphone application to track whether people are staying home in quarantine (Krugel, 2020). The example Kenney gave is that if someone flies into Alberta from a country with a high infection rate, we would want to be satisfied they are staying home so that they do not spread the virus. The privacy expert quoted points out that many will understand the rationale for such action, but that governments must also be transparent about who is collecting and processing the data, how it’s being used, where it will be stored, and who will have access to it, or the public will be rightfully untrusting. It is also noted that such measures should have a finite time frame (Krugel, 2020). It is not directly stated when such measures will be implemented, but it is hinted that this will occur sometime after May as social distancing is meant to be in place through that month. It is noteworthy that the article quotes Premier Kenney, “I was very clear that we intend to follow the lessons learned from successful countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea to more quickly reopen our economy” (Krugel, 2020). On the face of it, the quote innocuously reads as the remark of a responsible, concerned leader in a time of public health crisis, but there is more to it. Let us examine what Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea have implemented to help “stop the spread.”

“Stopping the Spread” in Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea

If the phrase “contact tracing” is not yet buzzing in the reader’s mind, it soon will be, and it ought to because it is the key surveillance tactic being used to “stop the spread” of COVID-19 In Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea, and it is soon to be launched here in Alberta.


In Taiwan, a kind of “electronic fence” using location-tracking makes sure people who are quarantined stay home. The system monitors phone signals, alerting authorities as soon as someone in quarantine leaves home or turns off their phone. If an alert is triggered, the police or other designated authority make a house call or otherwise makes contact within fifteen minutes. Officials also call twice a day to make sure people are not avoiding surveillance by leaving their phones at home (Lee, 2020). This is simply prison to state it baldly. Perhaps there is a case to be made for trampling on people’s freedoms in the interest of public health, and of course, one must bear in mind we are talking Taiwan, not Canada, so we must not be ethnocentric, but regardless these measures certainly seem draconian. Of course Taiwan is considered a “rogue state” by China, and is heavily influenced by China in spite of present democratic leadership (BBC News, 2019). Taiwan is one of the countries Premier Kenney holds as an example, which is rather sobering. Does Kenney think these types of draconian tactics are good for Alberta? More will be written of this further along; for now, let us consider the situation in Singapore.


In Singapore, a contact-tracing smartphone app called “TraceTogether” identifies people, via blue tooth, who are within two meters for minimum 30 minutes and infected with COVID-19.  It was developed by the Singapore Government Technology Agency (GovTech) and the Ministry of Health (MOH). Use of the app is not compulsory, but Bluetooth settings, push notifications, and location permissions must be enabled, with the app available for download from both the Apple or Google Play Stores. If a user is infected, the MOH is able to quickly learn which other app users the infected party had contact with so potential cases are nipped in the bud. Users  must provide explicit consent to participate in TraceTogether and for their mobile number and data to be used for contact tracing. When the MOH requests it, users send their TraceTogether logs to facilitate the contact tracing process. Until then the MOH and GovTech know nothing about a user’s data. Official tracers contact users when their data is needed by providing a verification code matched with the app code for authentication. Users are then supplied a PIN releasing their data logs to authorities for tracing, but failure to provide the information could result in prosecution (Baharudin & Wong, 2020).

All things considered this is perhaps not a bad option. At least people are allowed to participate or not, which is better than the Taiwanese program, and people still have freedom of movement. Since people opt in themselves, handing over data to authorities is arguably not a problem because the choice to use the app is left to individuals. There are concerns about data mining and privacy with either the Taiwanese or the Singaporean programs, but the Singaporean is certainly less authoritarian and invasive, making it friendlier to Western sensibilities generally. Moving forward now, let us examine what measures South Korea has in place.

South Korea

In the case of South Korea, two key measures are instrumental in controlling the virus: extensive testing and national tracking of infected people. Once safe testing and treatment sites were ready for action, the country began the massive testing of over 440,000 people. Those testing positive were, and are, quarantined in COVID-19 units for treatment. The testing is a critical step to understand the movement of COVID-19 because it shows hotspots and infection trends, while tracing and identifying those making contact with infected people (Ahn, 2020).

South Korea is particularly distinguished by its COVD-19 contact tracing, which works like this: South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) operates and oversees a contact tracing system using data from 28 different organizations such as the National Police Agency, the Credit Finance Association, three smartphone companies, and 22 credit card companies to trace the movement of individuals with COVID-19. The system needs only ten minutes to analyze the movement of infected individuals. For people who come in contact with an infected person, the KCDC informs the local public health center near the infected citizen’s home and the health centre sends out notification. When individuals test positive they are treated at special COVID-19 facilities. Those who are asymptomatic are to self-quarantine for 14 days (Ahn, 2020).

Perhaps the South Korean system is effective with COVID-19, but the data mining to manage the contact tracing is extensive; never the less, it is noteworthy that only epidemic investigators at KCDC can access the location information and once the COVID-19 outbreak is over, the personal information used for the contact tracing will, purportedly, be purged (Ahn, 2020). Is that truly the case? How can that possibly be correct considering the aggregate data for the tracing came from 28 different organizations? Are the organizations likely to expunge this data from their aggregates? On the contrary, would not the case be easily made to keep such data in order to maintain the contact tracing system armed and ready for the next round of corona virus or some other threat in the future? As Gandy (2012) indicates, statistical surveillance systems are able to “link names and other unique identifiers to markers or traces from individuals who would otherwise be anonymous…Statistical analysis are dramatically increasing the scope, accuracy, and reliability of these determinations” (p. 126). This means it is accurately noted, as the corona virus data mining shows, that it is oneself being seen and not another by the same name and perhaps very similar characteristics and data trail. “This identification produced by institutional others is a process generally reflecting the exercise of power. Identification or misidentification by others is immaterial, but carries material force in that it can literally change the quality and duration of a person’s life” (emphasis added)(p.126). This simple fact is applicable to all cases of contact tracing and the data mining coupled with it, no matter where in the world it is done; additionally, it is common knowledge that one’s online data trail never goes away. Why on earth would government or industry care to do away with data freely provided when it can be used to control the population, as Gandy suggests, and as actual practise during this pandemic is demonstrating?

The Obsolescence of Privacy?

Considering the sweeping power the Alberta government now wields, all in the name of public safety, and the comment of Premier Kenney in Huff Post Canada, “I was very clear that we intend to follow the lessons learned from successful countries like Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea to more quickly reopen our economy” (Krugel, 2020), Albertans better be sitting up straight and thinking very seriously about the balance between privacy and civil liberties on one hand and apparent health and safety on the other. Not that this should be an “either/or” proposition, but the concern is that apparently short term measures, invasive if not downright draconian, implemented to get Alberta through the corona virus crisis could in fact usher in a completely new world, ala Orwell, 1984, or some such facsimile. Of course, this would all be implemented for the safety of the citizenry, right? Maybe not. Edward Snowden remarked in a recent interview that the intelligence community knew it was only a matter of time before a massive pandemic crippled the U.S.A. back when he still worked for the American government at the National Security Agency (NSA) (Vibes, 2020). Snowden furthers, “There is nothing more foreseeable as a public health crisis in a world where we are just living on top of each other in crowded and polluted cities, than a pandemic. And every academic, every researcher who’s looked at this knew this was coming. And in fact, even intelligence agencies, I can tell you firsthand, because they used to read the reports planning for pandemics,” he said (Vibes, 2020), and, “Do you truly believe that when the first wave, the second wave, the 16th wave of the corona virus is a long-forgotten memory, that these capabilities will not be kept? That these datasets will not be kept? No matter how it is being used, what is being built is the architecture of oppression” (Vibes, 2020). Considering Snowden’s notoriety as the NSA whistleblower alerting the world to the extensive spying of the American NSA on its own citizenry, and the fact that he  is exiled in Russia points to the truth of his revelations in the first place, and underlines the gravity of his current remarks. Edward Snowden is no half-informed conspiracy theorist brandishing inflammatory comments to alarm a trusting citizenry. He knows his business. Albertans, especially Premier Kenney, would do well to listen.

Yes, the Obsolescence of Privacy

Of course, it might not make any difference what the Kenney government decides because Apple and Google joined forces and will release their jointly built, cross platform contact tracing app in mid-May for the surveillance of about three billion users. This contact tracing app works similarly to those used in Taiwan, Singapore, and South Korea with health authorities capable of accessing the information (Gurman, 2020). This is alarming on its own, but the more sinister part is that over the coming months, the app will be built into Apple and Google smartphone operating systems. Users will have to choose to opt-in, at least for now, but if the government maintains its emergency powers, or a second, or sixteenth wave of corona virus threatens the populous, opting in can easily be legislated “for our health and safety”, and with the flick of a pen and the flip of a phone icon, we are live, in person, surveilled everywhere, all the time, “for safety”, and there is nothing to be done about it. Apparently, Snowden is precisely on the mark because with the app built into phones, datasets will most certainly be kept, as he indicated. Also, if there is no intent to keep user datasets why does this kind of invasive surveillance capability need to be built into operating systems when it is just as simple for a user to download or delete an app at will, as needed, if desired?

Loving Tech; Disdaining Privacy

The late Marshall McLuhan, famous for his media theories said, “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the content of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as content” (p. 32). This is particularly true relative to the internet and the technological gadgetry that connects us to it because the internet contains all other media. More importantly, as McLuhan suggests, we are splintered and made numb by the wonderful technological gadgets and baubles that amuse, distract, and apparently make life easier, but there is a price to be paid as we hand ourselves over to our gadgets. “Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes, ears, and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes, and ears, and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth’s atmosphere to a company as a monopoly” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 73). In the same work McLuhan later writes, “Archimedes once said, ‘Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.’ Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said, ‘I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose.’ We have leased these ‘places to stand’ to private corporations” (p. 73). This is exactly the situation we are in with our smartphones and the contact tracing app soon coming to Alberta. If it were not so, contact tracing for COVID-19 would not be so popular with Google, Apple, and many country’s governments. Let us not forget that Google and Apple are going to make a veritable killing from the app, and later from the phones we will snatch up with the contact tracing app built in because we are afraid of getting sick and the app will seemingly protect us. We are considering giving away our health related data to keep us safe and well, but this is a step that if not very carefully considered and managed will lead us to hell. Listen to what Harari (2020) says:

As a thought experiment, consider a hypothetical government that demands that every   citizen wears a bio metric bracelet that monitors body temperature and heart-rate 24 hours a day. The resulting data is hoarded and analyzed by government algorithms. The algorithms will know that you are sick even before you know it, and they will also know   where you have been, and who you have met. The chains of infection could be drastically shortened, and even cut altogether. Such a system could arguably stop the epidemic in its tracks within days. Sounds wonderful, right? The downside is, of course, that this would give legitimacy to a terrifying new surveillance system. If you know, for example, that I clicked on a Fox News link rather than a CNN link, that can teach you something about my political views and perhaps even my personality. But if you can monitor what happens to my body temperature, blood pressure and heart-rate as I watch the video clip, you can learn what makes me laugh, what makes me cry, and what makes me really, really angry. It is crucial to remember that anger, joy, boredom and love are biological phenomena just like fever and a cough. The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs. If corporations and governments start harvesting our biometric data en masse, they can get to know us far better than we know ourselves, and they can then   not just predict our feelings but also manipulate our feelings and sell us anything they want — be it a product or a politician. Biometric monitoring would make Cambridge Analytica’s data hacking tactics look like something from the Stone Age. Imagine North Korea in 2030, when every citizen has to wear a biometric bracelet 24 hours a day. If you listen to a speech by the Great Leader and the bracelet picks up the tell-tale signs of anger, you are done for.

Sobering and frightening is it not? We are not there yet, and we do not need to visit the place Harari (2020) describes, but with the contact tracing app coming to the nearest smartphone soon, it is important to consider what the implications are of sharing such data and if we truly wish to do so. Hitler and Stalin did not commit the horrors they did by accident, it happened in small increments that the citizenry was massaged into accepting through various events. It is possible that COVID-19 is a tipping-point event in our own time; therefore, it is our collective responsibility to think and to act with great care because there is more at stake than fever and a phone app.







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The Digital Panopticon

“The Medium is the Message”, perhaps Marshall McLuhan’s most famous aphorism means that a medium or media “shape and control the scale of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed it is only too typical that the content of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 24). This is a technologically deterministic statement and it means that a medium itself, not the content of a medium, shapes the way we think, speak, act, and behave, and that the content of a medium distracts us from this fact.

In contrast to the above, in his book Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) McLuhan tells the story of General David Sarnoff who, upon receipt of an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame, made this statement: “We are too prone to make technological instruments the scapegoats for the sins of those who wield them. The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value” (p. 26). McLuhan straightway mocks such a statement, “…suppose we were to say apple pie is of itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value. Or, ‘the small pox virus is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value.’ Again, ‘Firearms are in themselves neither good nor bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value.’ That is, if the slugs reach the right people firearms are good. If the TV tube fires the right ammunition at the right people it is good….There is nothing in the Sarnoff statement that bears scrutiny, for it ignores the nature of the medium, of any and all media…” (p. 26). Later in the same chapter, McLuhan boldly states, “Our conventional response to all media, namely that it is how they are used that counts is the numb stance of the technological idiot. For the content of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as content” (p. 32).

 In the fascinating time we live in there are information and communication technologies (ICTs) in abundance: cell phones, tablets, iPods, iPads, smart watches, lap tops, desk tops, self-driving and driverless cars (Hicks & Fitzsimmons, 2019), smart appliances, even smart clothing (Sawh, 2018). The common theme in all of these technologies is that they are internet dependent. The Internet of Things (IoT), now listed in the Merriam- Webster, is defined as “the networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices (such as fixtures and kitchen appliances) using the Internet” (Merriam- Webster, n.d.). If the effect of the Internet is made stronger and more intense because of its content as a result of the IoT taking hold on society, resulting in the construction even of smart cities and the like, then how is it possible to deny the fact of a society that is technologically determined? Certainly, theoretically at least, the choice to use the technology, or not, exists, but judging from the way we gobble up any new thing that comes our way with regard to technology and the IoT, it seems any pretense at freedom of choice is a rather fatuous idea. Our society consistently makes the choice to use these technologies and gadgets in spite of the fact that personal privacy is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. Surveillance, equally as rapidly, is becoming our ordinary way of life, considering the connectivity of many of our devices and the eternal data trail in our wake in cyberspace. The right to self-determination is also on the wane because one cannot easily opt out of using these items since society is increasingly built around them, putting intense pressure on people to conform and buy the latest thing to keep up with social changes rippling into society in consequence of the technology we cheerily, even thoughtlessly, adopt. In light of these realities the argument that the way a technology is used determines its value seems little more than a child’s whistle in the dark in order to avoid serious grappling with who we are and where we are going as persons and as a society.

This paper, rather obviously, argues for technological determinism relative to the Internet, primarily through the theories of Marshall McLuhan, and as defined by Ungvarsky (2017), who states: “Technological Determinism is a theory that a society’s culture, history, and future path are caused by the knowledge its members have acquired and the machinery or equipment they have made with that knowledge. The concept implies that a society’s course is driven by this technology. Most people who support this theory believe that this power and force of technology cannot be stopped or controlled, and that once each new form of technology is put into use, it reshapes the economy, politics, social structure, and culture of the society that uses it” (para.1).

Before moving forward with McLuhan’s ideas relative to the internet, it is worth briefly noting that the truth of the above statement is utterly obvious regardless of how unfashionable, simplistic, and perhaps even banal such thinking is considered by some in academe. Whole civilizations are characterized by tools, events, or types of thinking, producing the “stone” age, “iron” age, “steam” age, or the “computer” age and such like. Nations also are characterized by technologies they developed or which become cultural symbols, so we associate Holland with windmills, the USA with cars, and Japan with electronics (Wyatt, 2008, p.167). Wyatt quotes Robert Heilbroner (1994) and David Edgerton (1999) who indicate that it is the availability of differing kinds of machinery that define what life is like in specific places and times (p. 167), and Wyatt further references Lewis Mumford (1961) who says, “the tendency to associate whole millennia or nations with material artifacts happens because the first academic disciplines treating technological change seriously were anthropology and archaeology, which often focus on nonliterate societies for which material artifacts are the sole record” (p. 167). Perhaps this is an obvious point, but how is it possible to argue against technological determinism when so much of human history is shaped by significant technological changes, such as those referenced, and many that are not, such as the Renaissance, or the Reformation, that catapulted human development forward in important ways?

The Medium is the Message and the Internet

Turning now to the present, in consideration of the Internet, let us begin with revisiting the idea that, “The medium is the message” (McLuhan, 1964, p. 24).

“‘The medium is the message’ means, in terms of the electronic age, that a totally new     environment has been created. The ‘content’ of this new environment is the old          mechanized environment of the industrial age. The new environment reprocesses the old one as radically as TV is reprocessing the film. For the ‘content’ of the TV is the movie. TV is environmental and imperceptible, like all environments. We are aware only of the  “content” or old environment. When machine production was new, it gradually created an environment whose content was the old environment of agrarian life and the arts and crafts. The older environment was elevated to an art form by the new mechanical      environment. The machine turned Nature into an art form. For the first time men began to regard Nature as a source of aesthetic and spiritual values. They began to marvel that  earlier ages had been so unaware of the world of Nature as Art. Each new technology        creates an environment that is itself regarded as corrupt and degrading. Yet the new one  turns its predecessor into an art form” (McLuhan, 1964, p. ix).

If the above was true when McLuhan penned it in 1964, how much more readily does this apply to the internet today? Indeed, the Internet is a “totally new environment” and its contents are all the old media: print, radio, and TV. Levinson (1999) says the Internet is the “medium of media”, “As we progress through the history of communication, we find that each new medium takes an older one as its content (as per McLuhan), and that, because of this, speech as the oldest medium has a presence in almost all newer media. The phonetic alphabet is a visual representation of spoken sounds. The printing press mass produces the alphabet in books, newspapers, and magazines. The telegraph sends electronic encodings of written words. The telephone and phonograph and radio obviously convey speech. “Silent” motion picture photography (which often had musical accompaniment) had visual blurbs of words (along the lines of comic books, and also the “pop-up” videos introduced in the late 1990s); and by the late 1920s, it had quite literally begun to talk. Motion pictures (along with elements of radio, including serials, news, and network structure) became the content of television. And all of the above are rapidly becoming the content of the Internet, the medium of media” (p. 42). All of the named technology supports the idea of technological determinism because the development of one technology lays groundwork for the development and implementation of the next. There was an alphabet, then there was Gutenberg, then there were books, newspapers, and other written materials. Further, application of McLuhan’s thought from Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) supports technological determinism in part because our existing society is based on an extrapolation of print culture, “We really have homogenized our schools and factories and cities and entertainment to a great extent, just because we are literate and do accept the logic of uniformity and homogeneity that is inherent in Gutenberg technology” (p. 199). McLuhan’s Wake illustrates this beautifully by showing rows of text in a book, and then rows of cookies on a factory conveyor, then neat hallways of offices, and finally, orderly downtown and residential streets, laid out in a grid like fashion, all similarly grouped together. This is given as a visual example of what McLuhan means when he says technology is an extension of ourselves (Wolf, 2016). It is also a clear demonstration of “Gutenberg technology.” This is why neat rows of printed matter lead to neat, grid-like streets where like buildings are grouped together. Our thinking and the way we order the world is shaped by our technology because our technology is an extension of ourselves: “the medium is the message.”

Smart Cities

This being the case, and a clear demonstration of technological determinism, one cannot help wondering what will happen to the organization of cities and countries as print culture wanes because of its assimilation into the Internet. Will we still have tidy of rows of buildings mirroring crisp rows of text, familiar, orderly, and comforting, or will this uniformity morph into a crazy collage of networked structures laid out in webs and circles, roughly akin to the wagon trails of old? Humour aside, the reality is that, technologically speaking, this is precisely where we are headed. The EU plan to build “Smart Cities” not only shows that “we shape our tools and our tools shape us”, as McLuhan said, it is also a clear example of technological determinism because the construction of smart cities show how we are using our technology to reconfigure economy, politics, social structure, and culture. Schaffers et al., (2011) say that smart and intelligent cities have modernization potential because rather than being an event in cyberspace they are integrated social, physical, institutional and digital spaces where digital components improve the function of socio-economic activities, the management of physical city infrastructure, and enhance the problem solving capabilities of urban communities (p.434). This is an example of the extension of the Internet medium into our world today in the way that print was extended into our world in years gone by. Further, “Smart City” solutions are expected to deal with challenges like research, innovation, and the upgrading of skills to promote a knowledge economy; active labour market policy to sustain employment; strengthen social cohesion, reduce the risk of poverty, and address important issues like sustainable development, the reduction of greenhouse gasses, and improving the energy efficiency of urban infrastructure. In addition, smart cities are to sustain the innovation economy and wealth of cities, maintain employment, and fight against poverty through employment generation, the optimization of energy and water usage and savings, and by offering safer cities. To achieve these goals, city authorities have to undertake initiatives and strategies that create the physical-digital environment of smart cities, actualizing useful applications and e-services, and assuring the long-term sustainability of smart cities through viable business models” (Schaffers et al., 2011, p. 434- 435). We shaped our Internet, and in turn, our Internet is about shaping the way we are going to live in the future. This is technological determinism at its finest.

Technological Determinism and Mass Surveillance

A grave concern about the Internet, its hardware and infrastructure, the various information and communication technologies (ICTs) available to us, and the Internet of Things (IoT) is the fact that the use of these tools, which we have shaped with our own hands, increasingly shape a surveillance society. The effect of the Internet is stronger and more intense because of its content as a result of the Internet of Things (IoT) taking hold, resulting in the construction even of smart cities, never mind a smart phone! In light of these grave concerns and consequences, brought on by our technology and its gadgetry, it is impossible to deny the fact of a technologically determined society because these serious consequences are brought upon us by the tools we ourselves have made and chosen to adopt. This is very obvious, and as McLuhan (1964) said, “the content of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind” (p. 32). This is true when it comes to our collective love affair with technology and gadgetry. The capability of our technology and the content of our gadgets distracts us from the real loss of our freedom and our right to self-determination as we slip increasingly into a surveillance society, amused and distracted with whatever blips, bleeps, flashes, or chirps on a smart phone, tablet, iPod, laptop etc. Schaffers et al., (2011) indicate that future media research and technologies offer varying solutions working in tandem with the IoT and embedded systems opening new avenues for content management (p. 436). This group also say that media Internet technologies means media being generated, consumed, shared, and experienced on the web include content and context fusion, immersive multi-sensory environments, location-based content dependent on user location and context, augmented reality applications, open and federated platforms for content storage and distribution, and provision of the ground for new e-services within the innovation ecosystems of (smart) cities (p.436).  What this really means is that we are headed into an increasingly mediated environment where more and more of our lives are lived “online”. Presently, we can close our laptop and be “offline” engaging in ordinary, unmediated life as it’s been lived since the beginning, but with the construction of smart cities and the kind of interfaces and technologies coming our way in the not too distant future, “online” realities will envelope us the way water envelopes fish.

Technological Regress?

This is one of the greatest technological leaps of humanity since the beginning, but is it really “progress”, or is it perhaps “regress”?  Since this is all driven by the technology we make and use, how can anyone ignore the very bald fact that technological determinism and the web are changing the ways we live, relate to each other, our economies, culture etc? We can tap dance and side-step all we like, as McLuhan’s (1964) General Sarnoff did that, “The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value” (p. 26), but the simple, uncomplicated fact is that this statement is hogwash because our Internet and the gadgetry accompanying it is creating a surveillance society for all. Is it not obvious that the technology and the way it is used is then of questionable value indeed since it is shackling human freedom to surveillance? This has very serious implications for the foundations of humanity and democracy, yet we keep picking up the latest Internet-friendly gadget, winding the electronic web round about us tighter and tighter.

One serious consequence, noting the ripple effect of our adoption of Internet-friendly technology in assignment 5 relative to the Edward Snowden revelations, this writer penned, “what Snowden revealed is a holocaust of nuclear proportions for personal privacy and life as many of us have known it because big data not only collects information for itself, it also cross references and aggregates the details of our lives from shopping habits to the most intimate of details discussed on a cell phone call, via text, email, remarks on websites, across all ICT platforms, all the time. Our identity and habits are recorded everywhere online, indeed even noted by our government as Snowden revealed, and it never goes away. As Lyon (2014) quotes Deleuze (1992), and Haggerty and Ericson (2000),  ‘Classically, studies of surveillance suggest that a shift in emphasis from discipline to control has been a key trend associated with the increasing use of networked electronic technologies that permit surveillance of mobile populations rather than only those confined to relatively circumscribed spaces, and depend on aggregating increasingly fragmented data. Surveillance practices have been moving steadily from targeted scrutiny of “populations” and individuals to mass monitoring in search of what Oscar Gandy (2012) calls ‘actionable intelligence’ (p.125), and Big Data surveillance exemplifies this.’” This means we can wear Google’s stylish “smart-jacket”, our preferred “smart-watch”, stash our iPhone in the “smart-jacket” pocket and trot off into work, leisure, or family time surveilled on different devices, feeling very hip and trendy, while big data, via the technology and gadgets just donned, provide the “actionable intelligence” Big Data needs to manipulate us into acting in conformity with its wishes. As pointed out by this writer in assignment 5, Gandy (2012) indicates statistical data places people into a “dynamic multidimensional matrix of identities which reflect the interests of institutional actors seeking to influence how individuals respond to options set before them. The presentation of options is designed to manage behaviour by maximizing benefits and minimizing risks associated with behaviour management”(emphasis added)(125). In other words, our behaviour is manipulated in such a way that the likelihood of doing what an institution approves is increased. Would one really wish to be corralled this way? Gandy (2012) goes on to point out that statistical surveillance systems are able to “link names and other unique identifiers to markers or traces from individuals who would otherwise be anonymous…Statistical analysis are dramatically increasing the scope, accuracy, and reliability of these determinations” (126). This means it is noted, reliably accurately, that it is oneself being seen and not another by the same name and perhaps very similar characteristics and data trail.  “This identification produced by institutional others is a process generally reflecting the exercise of power. Identification or misidentification by others is immaterial, but carries material force in that it can literally change the quality and duration of a person’s life” (emphasis added)(126). What consequence could be more serious, and how could it possibly be denied that this state of affairs is technologically determined directly or in the direct consequence of the adoption of certain Internet-friendly technologies?

Loss of Freedom and the Digital Panopticon

While many of us are distracted with ogling and opening our wallets to the latest Internet-friendly gadgets hitting our favourite stores, there is a quiet tsunami of consequences coming our way as a result of our personal and collective behaviour. The loss of privacy brought on by the surveillance our toys and gadgets subject us to will result in the loss of freedom for each one of us and for our society. This is a frightening reality to contemplate, far beyond the ability of an individual, or seemingly the interest of society, judging by the pace with which we invent new technology and then roar off to purchase it. It is easy to dismiss this loss of privacy by saying one has nothing to hide so it matters not who is watching, but the fact remains, as Greenwald (2015) points out, that even pro-surveillance advocates he himself debated after the Snowden revelations would not willingly give up the passwords to their email accounts or allow video cameras in their homes (p. 171), so it would seem privacy is an important value for all, even the pro-surveillance advocates. As Greenwald (2015) says, “The point is not the hypocrisy of those who disparage the value of privacy while intensely safeguarding their own, although that is striking. It is that the desire for privacy is shared by us all as an essential, not ancillary, part of what it means to be human. We all instinctively understand that the private realm is where we can act, speak, think, write, experiment, and choose how to be, away from the judgmental eyes of others. Privacy is a core condition of being a free person” (p. 172). “A denial of privacy operates to severely restrict one’s freedom of choice” (Greenwald, 2015, p. 173).

If our privacy, and the freedom it affords is willingly tossed into the maw of the Internet because of its surveillance of the populace, the technology orbiting it is then a first class ticket to digital imprisonment because of the loss of privacy and the freedom that goes with it. The Panopticon is a system of surveillance, invented by Jeremy Bentham that effectively allows institutions to control human behaviour. It involves the existence of a central tower allowing vision into all the rooms built around it in such a fashion that those being monitored cannot be certain if they are watched at any given time, or indeed watched at all. The idea is that the spectre of being observed never leaves the subjects and this sense of ever -presence of a guard causes the subjects to automatically conform to expectations with complete obedience because of the sense of being watched (Greenwald, 2015, p. 175). This applies to the internet and its surveillance of the citizenry because everything we do online, regardless of the technology used to do it is recorded and never goes away. As Greenwald (2015) says:

“In Discipline and Punish Foucault explained that ubiquitous surveillance not only           empowers authorities and compels compliance but also induces individuals to internalize their watchers. Those who believe they are watched will instinctively choose to do that     which is wanted of them without even realizing that they are being controlled- the   Panopticon induces ‘in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that   assures the automatic functioning of power.’ With the control internalized, the overt evidence of repression disappears because it is no longer necessary: ‘the external power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to be non-corporal; and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound, and permanent are its effects: it is a profound victory that avoids any physical confrontation, and which is always decided in advance.’ Additionally, this model of control has the great advantage of simultaneously creating the illusion of freedom. The compulsion to obedience exists in the individual’s mind. Individuals choose on their own to comply, out of fear that they are being watched. That eliminates the need for all the visible hallmarks  of compulsion, and thus enables control over people who falsely believe themselves to be free” (p. 176).

McLuhan and Technological Determinism

Marshall McLuhan is famous for his “Tetrad”, or four laws of media, and McLuhan’s Wake (Wolf, 2016) is a film offering an overview of these four laws that ask four simple questions to be applied to any media at all. The fourth of these laws answers the question, “How will this tool or technology reverse when it is pushed to its outer limit? Put another way, one could ask, “How is this technology going to become bitter rather than sweet? In the case of the Internet, the technology has reversed on itself and become bitter because of the surveillance aspect. As Greenwald (2015) says, “Only when we feel that nobody else is watching do we feel free-safe- to truly experiment, to test boundaries, to explore new ways of thinking and being, to explore what it means to be ourselves. What made the Internet so appealing was precisely that it afforded the ability to speak and act anonymously, which is so vital to individual exploration (emphasis added). For that reason it is in the realm of privacy where creativity, dissent, and challenges to orthodoxy germinate. A society in which everyone knows they can be watched by the state- where the private realm is effectively eliminated- is one in which those attributes are lost at both the societal and individual level…Regardless of how surveillance is used or abused, the limits it imposes on freedom are intrinsic to its existence” (p. 174).

The internet started as a place where people could be free, allowing people to “speak and act anonymously” but McLuhan would say the technology has reversed on itself because of the way it is actually curtailing the freedom of persons and society because of surveillance. We invented Google to search out knowledge and answers for us, and Google is likewise “googling” us! And not only is Google googling us, but as Snowden revealed, our own governments are as well (Gackenback, 2015). “We shape our tools and our tools shape us”, as McLuhan said, and therein lies the case for technological determinism and the web because it is the tools we are inventing, building, and using that create this situation.



Gackenback, J. (2015). Communication Studies 421: Being Online, unit 9 online study guide

Gandy, O (2012) Statistical surveillance: Remote sensing in the digital age. In: Ball, KS, Haggerty, K, Lyon, D (eds) Routledge Handbook of Surveillance Studies, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 125–132. Retrieved from:,+O+(2012)+Statistical+surveillance:+Remote+sensing+in+the+digital+age.+In:+Ball,+KS,+Haggerty,+K,+Lyon,+D+(eds)+Routledge+Handbook+of+Surveillance+Studies,+London+and+New+York:+Routledge,+pp.+125–132.+&ots=y-fwIfjVR4&sig=dE8tF9jxlMFlFvDrni0hqBFfmMo&redir_esc=y – v=onepage&q&f=false

Greenwald, G. (2015). No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Printed and bound in the U.S.A. Signal/McClelland & Stewart.

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Lyon, D. (2014). Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York, NY: New American Library Inc.

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Schaffers H., Komninos N., Pallot M., Trousse B., Nilsson M., Oliveira A. (2011) Smart Cities and the Future Internet: Towards Cooperation Frameworks for Open Innovation. In: Domingue J. et al. (eds) The Future Internet. FIA 2011. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, vol 6656. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

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Wyatt, S. (2008). Technological Determinism Is Dead: Long Live Technological Determinism. In Hacket, Amsterdamska, Lynch & Wajcman (Eds.), The Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, Third Edition. (pp. 165-180). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press. Retrieved from – page=181

















On Loneliness

The following is not my work. It is a lady’s named Kelly Kelsey, but this is the best treatment about loneliness I have read, ever because what is written is true; it is lived, and it goes beyond simplistic and pat ideas about “getting out there” and such. “Getting out there” has its place, but it is not the root of the issue with loneliness…

Kelley Kelsey: The Gift of Loneliness

Loneliness accepted becomes a gift leading one from a life dominated by tears to the discovery of one’s true self and finally to the heart of longing and the love of God.

Mrs. Kelsey, a resident of South Bend, Indiana, provides spiritual direction privately and at The Solitude of St. Joseph at Notre Dame. Her articles have appeared in various religious and spiritual publications.

THE structure of modern life brings us into contact with many people. We are occupied with many activities, professionally, socially, politically. And yet, perhaps never before have we experienced such loneliness, alienation, and separation. Mobility, proximity, and opportunity are no assurance of access to, or real connection with, other human beings. Surrounded by people and activities, we often find ourselves desperately alone. We are often unable to reach out to another because of our fear of rejection, or our fear of the responsibility of relationship. Intimacy terrifies us just as much as does being alone.

In his book Loneliness, Clark Moustakas speaks of two kinds of loneliness: the loneliness of the human condition (“existential loneliness”) and the loneliness that we experience as a result of our fear of loneliness (“loneliness anxiety”).(1) The loneliness and tension which are a part of the human condition can be creative; the loneliness which is a result of fear usually cripples our human potential. We might say that existential loneliness is a genuine part of the human condition over which we have no control; but loneliness anxiety is something we have chosen, albeit unconsciously, and over which we can exercise some control simply by being aware of our fear. Loneliness anxiety only encourages us to develop a life-style that supports our fear (and fosters neurosis) and that further alienates us from ourselves and from others.

The nuclear cloud which hangs over us today is another threat which adds to our fear. There is the very real possibility that at any moment we could experience the annihilation of nuclear war. The fact that we have become something of a rootless society is another disquieting phenomenon of our time. Our work often demands that we be mobile and ready to move at a moment’s notice; new opportunities and challenges are often reserved for the adventurous spirit. This new “freedom” has left us without solid grounding in, or commitment to, a place or a community. We are becoming more aware of the price of this freedom and success; we are experiencing estrangement from many old friends and much of our family. Life-styles have been changed dramatically by an age that rushes headlong into tomorrow — into the next century — leaving us breathless, anxious, suffering from future shock. Our work, our play, our contacts with others have become impersonal, often lacking the human warmth and support we found yesterday within family and primary groups. This is especially true for older people who have lived through revolutionary changes in society within this century. These changes have often served to deepen insecurities and contribute to our loneliness.

In order to overcome or escape our loneliness, we often throw ourselves compulsively and anxiously into an endless round of activity. Or our fear drives us to withdraw from human exchange. Either way, we are reacting to life out of fear and anxiety, which leaves us less open and responsive to what life offers. Our fear shapes our attitude and expectation and only serves to attract that which we wish to avoid.


If we can recognize and accept the real loneliness of the human condition — that, ultimately, we are each alone — we can then begin to free ourselves from the fear of loneliness that chews away at our human potential. “Each of us travels alone. No one else can always keep us safe.”(2) If we can accept the pain of being human, of being self-aware, then perhaps we, like Jacob, might claim a blessing from our struggle. We will not then squander precious human resources trying to evade and escape the loneliness which has in it the seed of new life. In the pain of all human experience there is the call to conversion. The grandest schemes for avoidance and escape will not make us unalone, but they will distract us from our grandest human task: cooperation with the ongoing process of conversion.

In accepting loneliness as a part of the human condition and abandoning the frenetic search for someone or something to make us unalone, we can then be open to the message within our existential pain. Patient and prayerful waiting and listening are necessary, also courage and honesty with ourselves. But it is the only way to freedom from domination by fear. The alternative is to choose to remain unaware of what life asks of us (and irresponsible), but then we shall remain unfree and our life determined by our anxiety. “There is no solution to loneliness but to accept it, face it, live with it, and let it be. All it requires is the right to emerge in genuine form.”(3) “The cure for loneliness lies in facing it and understanding it.”(4) This acceptance and understanding is necessary if we are to live creative lives, if we are to be free and open to the opportunities for further growth and development. Before we can take this step toward understanding, we have to let go the fallacious idea that pain has nothing to teach us, that life should be always comfortable and pleasurable. If we are serious about our human task, we become aware of the invitation in the pain that enters our life, an invitation that invites us to be more than we are. “Where there is no pain there is no growth.”(5) The pain of loneliness is such an invitation and opportunity.

Some of the greatest literature, art, and music that the world has known has been conceived in moments of profound loneliness, loneliness that has been accepted and allowed to speak. Such creation cannot happen through denial. And such creation is usually a lonely and solitary experience. It is like birthing — we have to go with the labor pains; no one else can do it for us. The creation that might result from our bearing the tension of our pain may bring delight to many, but the process of bringing it forth is a lonely one. Out of loneliness grows the contented aloneness that opens up to us our own creative depths. It is not in driven busyness that we find that “more” that we long for. It is in the recollection of aloneness that we discover deep within ourselves that which supports us when we have nothing or no one to take away our loneliness. It is here that we come in touch with the life that connects us with ourselves, with others, and with God.

The fear of loneliness can keep us from coming in touch with the life beyond loneliness, the life of aloneness and solitude. It is indeed easy to be seduced by the temper of our time, which is to stay constantly busy and on the move. By staying busy, by taking on more and more jobs, we can avoid the confrontation of loneliness; we look to our jobs and roles to tell us who we are and to provide us with self-validation. But the affirmation and approval of the world cannot provide us with self-validation. This comes from beyond ourselves, and yet it is located in our own depths. Our true identity is known only by the One who created us. Self-validation can come only from getting in touch with that truth which we are.

Part of our fear of loneliness is our fear of losing our self, or our sense of who we are, if we are cut off from those things which provide us with a sense of identity. This fear of loss of self is related to our fear of death, which is in truth a fear of life (see Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death). This fear has an insidious way of leaving its mark on all that we do or think. Because there is the fear of losing our sense of self if we suspend our activity, we shun the aloneness and non-activity of solitude. This only serves to strengthen our belief that we already know who we are. By our own definition we limit that self whose milieu is more one of infinitude. But this self known by the Father can be discovered only by first confronting the fears and insecurities which allow us to be less than we are. It is in solitude that we begin to see more clearly that image of ourselves that is fashioned more according to the demands of our ego; it is in solitude that we begin to glimpse a new image with possibilities beyond anything we have known. This journey from the old to the new carries us through a desert place. But this desert is the anteroom to joy. In this lonely place we are confronted by our own darkness, but we also meet there the One who knows our true name. Our triumph over loneliness will not come by refusing to be alone, avoiding solitude. “Loneliness can be conquered only by those who can bear solitude.”(6) And those who can bear solitude will discover joy. Solitude is the handmaid of the interior life. Without quiet and aloneness, it is not possible to develop an interior life. And without an interior life, and an awareness of Something beyond self which calls us into being, there is nothing to speak to us but our own emptiness and loneliness.


It is not surprising that we have a fear of loneliness; the self that most of us are with when we are alone is indeed not very good company — a self impoverished and without holy joy. The great void that confronts us when we are cut off from those things which help to shore up a flagging sense of self speaks to us of missing parts of our self, areas which we have not yet discovered and appropriated. Our loneliness speaks to us of unlived life, potential within us that we are not living out. The responsibility to become more fully the person our loneliness invites us to be is a sacred one. The pain in our loneliness is transformed when we become aware that we are invited to be partners with God in the completion of our own creation. God asks our cooperation in our own completion, and our “attentiveness to the shape of this inbuilt task”(7) is nothing short of prayer. We have no task more sacred than to consent to wait in the void of our loneliness until grace breaks through (as Simone Weil suggests). Only then can our “inbuilt task” begin to unfold. Only by accepting the loneliness of the moment as sacrament and gift can we know God’s will, which is the peace, the joy, and the love that we long for. Essential to this creative moment is our being able to see our self as the gift of God to us. Only then can we begin to relate to our self.

Kierkegaard speaks of relating to one’s own self by willing to be oneself. This is a heroic task. Can we have the courage and willingness to become who we are meant to become without a — sense of gratitude which recognizes self as gift? William M. Thompson sees our development as spiritual beings as being directly related to our capacity for gratitude.(8) But perhaps before we can recognize and accept self as gift, and say yes to the personal task of becoming, we must be able to recognize and accept the gift and opportunity in our loneliness — and even in our despair. Our willingness to cooperate in God’s work of creation that we are depends much upon our consciousness of gift. In accepting self as gift (as well as the longings of the human condition) and accepting the task of becoming that self that beckons to us beyond the loneliness, we come into relation to others, to our self, and “to the Power which constituted it.”(9)

The courage to be oneself emerges from accepting one’s fear of nonbeing. By our acceptance of the fear of nonbeing, which confronts us in our fear of loneliness, we are able to overcome our fear of becoming who we are. Implicit in the acceptance of our fear of nonbeing is our acceptance of our inability to be that person without help. Lacking the confidence to become who we are, we place our confidence in the One who calls us forth. The fear of nonbeing in our loneliness anxiety is overshadowed by the love that calls us into being, through the loneliness, to the self who dwells in God. This self can have the courage to be only when it experiences itself as known and loved by the One who both calls it and empowers it to be.

As co-creators and as carriers of a divine spark, we have a responsibility to join in the work of divinization of the world. The work begins with us. We “must build — starting with the most natural territory of our own self — a work, an opus, into which something enters from all the elements of the earth.”‘(10)Even as we build our own souls we are collaborating in the building of the earth, the completion of ourselves and the world. All that is a part of our life enters into this “work” — throughout our lives we are and have been in the process of making our souls and building the world. This work can begin in earnest with our conscious response to the personal task of transformation. Our loneliness and longing remind us that we are not yet all that we are meant to be.

Seen from this perspective, it would seem that loneliness is indeed a gift; it proffers us the opportunity to recognize our own incompleteness and the invitation to accept our part in this work of creation. Ernest Becker speaks of loneliness as an “evolutionary achievement.” In “The Spectrum of Loneliness,” he observes that loneliness is distinctive in evolution; human loneliness is unique because “it develops out of a non-physical, non-instinctive sphere.”(11) Existence poses for each individual a question that must be answered. And we cannot find the answer within ourselves wholly. “One cannot explain or justify one’s own existence.”(12) That answer can come only from “some kind of ‘beyond.’”

Becker goes on to discuss the varieties of loneliness, including the “loneliness of individuation.” He asks: “What kind of social forms can we begin to imagine, in which the loneliness of individuation could be considered a desirable developmental goal in one’s personal life — in place of the frantic driveness of cultural and national achievement . . .?”(13)


The middle years of life often usher in a deep loneliness, sometimes turning our world upside down. This pain of passage invites us to step back and examine our life, to take a look at where we have been and reflect on where we are going. The goals of outer achievement of the first half of life are no longer adequate for the new age that is dawning. The needs of the second half of life are interior ones; our goals must change with the new rhythm of life. It is the time of self-appropriation, of individuation, of becoming who We are. And it is a lonely experience. It is a time of great change. “We cannot live the afternoon of life according to the programme of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be little at evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening have become a lie.”(14)

If we have no understanding of the passages of life and what the “mid-life crisis” asks of us, there can be much misery and waste of human potential. It is a time when our focus must move from doing to being, from achievement and making a name for ourselves to becoming and building our souls. Until we have understood this and said yes to our inbuilt task, we shall continue to experience meaningless suffering. Our chief concern cannot be to escape and avoid the pain of this passage, but to say yes to the way that leads through death to wholeness and new life. If we refuse to accept the pain which is a part of growth, we can be sure that no transformation can take place. “The roots of all our neuroses lie here, in the conflict between the longing for growth and freedom and our incapacity or refusal to pay the price in suffering of the kind which challenges the supremacy of the ego’s demands.”(15)

The loneliness of mid-life and the loneliness of individuation offer us the opportunity to assent to the death of ego demands so that we might recognize the only real claim on us: to become loving people. The crisis of mid-life is the turning point which marks the end of our first journey, but it is the beginning of the “second journey.” (For a discussion of spirituality beyond mid-life, see Second Journey by Gerald O’Collins.) We are asked to let go of the old so that the new might emerge; only our willingness to allow the old to pass opens the way for the birth of the new. This is always a lonely and painful process, but it is “the truth of the universe.” There is no new life without a dying, “without repeated deaths of old attitudes, of superficial desires, and finally of every claim of the ego to dominance.”(16)

There are no short cuts to becoming whole persons; there is no growth without pain. Refusal to give our conscious assent to the process gains us not life but death, for they who would save their lives will lose them. We do not gain life by refusing the pain of spiritual becoming. “Spiritual suffering is overcome not by alleviation but by penetration.”(17) “Only when we have learned the particular lesson that our travail is here to teach us can we put away the past pain . . . .”(18) Then we can get on with what life is asking of us. When we, like Dante, find ourselves in mid-life in the middle of a dark wood, we can know that before us has been placed the choice between life and death, between blessing and curse. If we choose life, paradiso awaits beyond the hell of our death experience; if we refuse the death that leads to the resurrection experience, then we are forever trapped in the pain and darkness of our own inferno.

The movement from death into new life depends upon us. The choice is ours, to accept the genuine pain of the human condition and move on toward the new life which it promises, or to accept the paralysis and death of our fear and anxiety. Our yes opens the way to a spiritual adventure that leads more deeply into God. As we give ourselves to this new journey, we discover that our loneliness is being transformed. We are no longer held captive by our fears; we experience the freedom of being in the hands of the living God. The loneliness and the longing have led us upon a way where God is our companion. Our experience is something like that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus; our dead hearts have been set aflame with a new fire. The loneliness has changed “from a languishing into a love . . . .”(19)

Our willingness to walk alone and to accept the task of the last half of life enables us to discover the heart in our loneliness, the love that leads to God. We are no longer incapacitated by our fears but discover within ourselves a new strength, a new life. Our willingness to put our feet upon a path that leads into the unknown is “enabling and empowering.”(20) We discover that our loneliness was indeed gift. It led us from an existence dominated by fear to a life grounded in joy; it opened us to a journey into the heart of longing whose destination was Love.


  1.  Clark E. Moustakas, Loneliness (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1961).
  2.  Gail Sheehy, Passages (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1977), p. 196.
  3.  Moustakas, Loneliness, p. 48.
  4.  Eric P. Mosse, M.D., The Conquest of Loneliness (New York: Random House, 1957), p. 10.
  5.  Martin Israel, The Pain that Heals: The Place of Suffering in the Growth of the Person (New York: Crossroad, 1982), p. 148.
  6.  Paul Tillich, The Eternal Now (New York: Paul Scribner’s Sons, 1963), p. 21.
  7.  David B. Burrell, C.S.C., Exercises in Religious Understanding (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1974), p. 168.
  8.  William M. Thompson, Christ and Consciousness: Exploring Christ’s Contribution to Human Consciousness (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 1.
  9.  S. Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death (New York: Doubleday, 1954), p. 147.
  10.  Teilhard de Chardin, The Divine Milieu (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1968), pp. 60-61.
  11.  Ernest Becker, “The Spectrum of Loneliness,” Humanitas: Journal of the Institute of Man, 10 (November 1974): 237.
  12.  Ibid., p. 239.
  13.  Ibid., p. 246.
  14.  C.G. Jung, Psychological Reflections (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p.138.
  15.  Helen M. Luke, “Suffering,” Parabola: Myth and the Quest for Meaning, 8, no. 1 (Winter 1983).
  16.  Helen M. Luke, Dark Wood to White Rose (Pecos, N.M.: Dove Publications, 1975), p. 2.
  17.  Israel, Pain that Heals, p. 180.
  18.  Ibid., p. 185.
  19.  John S. Dunne, The Reasons of the Heart (New York: Macmillan, 1978), p. 7. 20 Ibid., p. 115.

On the “Tech” we Cheerily Adopt…

If we agree that the internet is a massive brain and nervous system, and that new technology obsolesces older technology, perhaps we are not obsolete yet, but is this where humans are headed?

Marshall McLuhan, in 1964, makes an arresting remark in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man which can apply to the internet, “Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit from taking a lease on our eyes, ears, and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. Leasing our eyes, and ears, and nerves to commercial interests is like handing over the common speech to a private corporation, or like giving the earth’s atmosphere to a company as a monopoly” (73).

In the same work McLuhan later writes, “Archimedes once said, ‘Give me a place to stand and I will move the world.’ Today he would have pointed to our electric media and said, ‘I will stand on your eyes, your ears, your nerves, and your brain, and the world will move in any tempo or pattern I choose.’ We have leased these ‘places to stand’ to private corporations” (73).

Is this situation not also applicable today to the internet or to most any other technology? The Bible says something similar, “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey?” (Rom. 6:16). This verse means that whatever one gives oneself to freely in a submissive way is what one serves. Do we want to give ourselves to technology, be it the internet or anything else? It makes us the servant of a machine. Rather chilling, yet many of us snap up the latest technology in a rather unquestioning way, is this wise? We do not think or ask questions; we find our technology inexpensive, convenient, and fashionable, so we grab it and love it! In some cases, it might take longer, but eventually even a laggard buys in.

Is this how we want to engage technology? If it is, then the counterbalance and consequence is the loss of our personal freedom and eventually societal freedom. Since, from this place, we have “leased” our senses, and the inner lives attached to them, to our technology, and since the consequence of this is the loss of freedom, and one of the rights of a human being is that of freedom, once that is gone, what is there really left of our humanity?

Our forefathers fought to the death to keep tyranny at bay for us, but perhaps we are embracing it in another, deeper form. Dictators, fascists, communists are all defeated, but are we ignoring the tyranny of our technology because we love it? It is easy to use, cheap, and fun, but the result of all of this technology, including the internet, is that we are compromising our freedom as surely as if it were being wrested from us by Stalin.

Perhaps we are not yet obsolete, but we are certainly on the road toward it. As Winner says, “As humans export their own vital powers, such as the ability to move, to experience, to work, and to think, into the devices of their making, they become spiritually and materially impoverished. The transference is absolute; insofar as men pour their own life into the apparatus, their own vitality is that much diminished. The transference of human energy and character leaves men empty, although they may never acknowledge the void”

Very sad and chilling.

May Christ God help us and have mercy on us. Amen.

The Gift of Christmas Past

Once upon a time in Yorkton, a little girl, lovingly bundled in winter gear waddled the familiar path from school to home through snow banks and deep-freeze temps that make Canadian prairie winters famous. It was the last week of school before Christmas break. Her days filled with rehearsals for the school Christmas concert and creating the Christmas art adorning her school’s halls until well into the New Year, all she could think about was the wonderful, happy Christmas coming. PRESENTS! MOM! COUSINS! AUNTIES! GRANDMA! all would be together in one little match-box, war-time house for three or four crazy, raucous days filled with delight and the incessant giggling and revelry of her family. She wondered if she would get a super-sized Barbie, an Easy-Bake oven, or a Baby Alive for Christmas. She wondered if Baby Jesus would show up at church again, and if Jody Doering would be Joseph to her Mary like he was at last year’s Christmas play, and if he thought she was pretty.

The quiet postcard street unrolled in front of her as she walked and thought of all the fun she would have with her cousins tobogganing, pranking the adults, ripping around outside, and watching Walt Disney! Her favourite was bedtime. All four of them, bathed and snacked, would truck upstairs to her bedroom where she and Donnie slept in one big bed and Jason and Darryl slept in the other little bed. The sock war would ensue…giggling, plotting, whispering…ambushing each other with wadded up dirty socks, she loved the cozy, warm feeling of her first and best friends near her and remained quietly smiling and wide awake as one by one each lad dropped off to sleep. She would lie awake listening to the adults muffled, intimate conversation drifting upstairs from the  living room. At last, they too would go to bed, and finally she too would drift off….

She was always the first awake Christmas morning. Skin stretched over nervous excitement, she would wait until Donnie woke up and ask him, “Do you think we can wake my mom yet?” “No, not yet. It’s too early. We have to wait….” Finally, all “us kids” awake, one would go wake an adult…silence in the little bedroom as we waited for the nod that the festivities of the Best Day of the Year could start, and then we flew down the stairs faster than crazy carpets speeding down Rosalyn Hill!

Mayhem! Presents piling! wrapping paper flying! A Christmas storm of tsunamic proportions as each unwrapped their goodies with squeals of delight and laughter heard even at the North Pole! Everyone smilingly showed off their presents with hugs, kisses, thank-yous. The adults coffeed. Us kids played and squealed with delight until the adults threw us out to go tobogganing in the afternoon, but that’s another story.

Of course, invisibly tucked between the wrapping paper, the goodies, and the wonderful family times was the love that tied it all together, silent and solid. In my mind’s eye, our little war-time house, crammed to the rafters with family and presents is itself a huge present, tied with the love, kindness, suffering, and tears of my family. And over and above this, the love of Jesus Christ, and the present He is to our lives.

The little girl grew, and family life changed and shifted, and the little war-time house in Yorkton, Saskatchewan became a park, and some of the precious, beloved ones have passed on. Not all Christmases have been happy,  but the little girl and the gift of Christmas past lives on in the woman’s heart in the love received and given and passed on and on to others.

Who would have thought such beauty and blessing could come from a little wartime house in prairie-town, Saskatchewan?

May the love, blessing, and warmth of such Christmases, and especially the love and warmth of the First Christmas be with you always…



Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

This piece is by C.S. Lewis. I shall make no comments as it speaks for itself about our state of affairs, although it is many years since its original penning.

And beyond this there lies in the ocean, turned towards the west and north, the island of Niatirb which Hecataeus indeed declares to be the same size and shape as Sicily, but it is larger, though in calling it triangular a man would not miss the mark. It is densely inhabited by men who wear clothes not very different from the other barbarians who occupy the north western parts of Europe though they do not agree with them in language. These islanders, surpassing all the men of whom we know in patience and endurance, use the following customs.

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card. But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival; guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the marketplace is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, they have been unable to sell throughout the year they now sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest, and most miserable of the citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk about the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchaser’s become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think some great public calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush.

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush, lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.

Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas, which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O stranger, for us to change the date of Chrissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.” And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket”; using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in the Rush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

The Bruised Reed & Advent

A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth. Isaiah 42:3, KJV

It’s Advent. If one has the chance to enjoy it, a season of true wonder, hope, and expectation of fantastic events beyond human imagination. Really, if one stops to consider the season, it is a miraculous wonder! Christ born among us! Absolutely staggeringly mind-boggling! But how many of us have time to ponder this mystery?

It’s Advent. Many are pondering accommodating the shopping, the parties, the special arrangements, the “Xmas Break”  at a beach or a ski resort, and credit card bills. While there certainly can be Christmas cheer aplenty going round, love and happy times warming the heart, life is not always that way, and Christmastime can be acutely painful.

The first Christmas without a loved one; the profound, anxious loneliness of a strained marriage; a beloved child, gravely ill and exhausted; a beautiful woman spending her first lonely, disorientating Christmas in the same nursing home where her dear husband died. It’s Advent, and these are some of Yours Truly’s dearly beloved bruised reeds….

Maybe you feel like a bruised reed, too?

It is Advent, after all, and amongst all the parties, the food, the drink, the Christmas music in stores, the lights, the trees, the gifts, and special times, a cold north wind blows through your heart and truth be told, you feel empty and alone.

It’s Advent. It is a time of waiting and expectation; feeling empty and alone is a time of waiting and expectation too. Just as Christ was a seed in the Virgin Mary, waiting to be born, so the pit of emptiness and aloneness is a stone in the belly and an ache in the heart. So you see, right off, you’ve got something in common with the Mother of Our Lord. She also must have had times of perplexed, anxious loneliness. I mean, let’s think about this: The Holy Virgin was a teenager, pregnant outside of wedlock, in a culture perhaps calling for her stoning or at least her total exclusion and annihilation socially from friends, family, and community. Talk about loneliness, fear, anxiety- and then to explain to others the visitation by the Archangel Gabriel, who told her the “holy spirit would over shadow her” and she would become “with child”! Surely they thought her cheese at last slid off her cracker, no? Maybe she herself thought she was losing it? Talk about tension and loneliness! If we knew this lass today, we would have her committed! The Holy Virgin, she knows your pain. She suffered.

Another kind of Advent happened in the Garden of Gethsemane where Christ was praying, frightened and horrified, knowing what was waiting for Him. That too was a time of waiting and expectation. In Mark 14:34, Jesus says He is “sorrowful unto death”, and he asks his best friends to stay and pray with him. That means he felt himself a bruised reed, broken and frightened to such a degree that he thought he would die. He felt totally and completely shattered of heart. If you feel like that too, then you have company in the Bruised Reed Christ who also felt that way before he was crucified, and He too, was alone. His friends slept while he was in His life’s greatest anguish and later abandoned him. He knows your pain. He too suffered.

Hebrews 11 mentions some of the saints who lived before Christ’s time, and they too had great sorrows- bruised reeds, every one. They were all in a season of Advent, waiting for Christ, like we are, read on to see the “north wind of the heart” they lived through:

32And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets: 33Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: 36And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38(Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

These, too, they all know your pain. They suffered.

And so, beloved bruised reed, wherever you are and whatever your experience looks like, know that the stone in your belly and the ache in your chest is ushering in new life and joy, reprieve, relief, and peace as Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is born this Christmas. The life of the Mother of God, of Christ Jesus, Our Lord, and that of the saints all show this, and if one looks, one finds this in the lives of others and our own. Take heart, dear one, take heart.



Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1, NKJV

Faith. We all live by faith. We sit on airplanes in faith they will fly, wisking us safely to our destinations. We exercise faith when we start a car, sit in a bathtub, cross the street, attend a concert, eat a steak etc. We live by faith- that is- we believe the thing we intend to do will happen as we plan. Has it ever occurred to you that this is, in fact, how we live? Have you ever pondered this faith question or wondered about it? Yes, in many ways, faith is everything, but it is only faith in what is true that sustains. I can go swimming in the Bay of Banderas, tequila in one hand, salt in the other convinced that these items will cause me to float no matter how raucous the waves and tides, but I would be wrong and will certainly sink. Faith in truth is what sustains and saves; faith in error is a disaster.

Juxtaposed to faith is unbelief. In the Bible in the book of Hebrews, chapter 3, it is noted that when the Israelites left Egypt they were led by God through the desert: God fed them with bread, called manna, that came from heaven every day; He also led them safely through the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. In spite of this and other wondrous and truly amazing things that happened, humanly speaking, many of these people did not believe in God, even though the evidence of His power and love were lived experience and clearly seen. Irretrievably stupid, no? I mean, really? How can one have lived through the release from slavery, the escape from Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, witnessed the destruction of an entire enemy army, tasted the manna, followed the pillars of cloud and fire through a desert and still not believe in God?! How dumb can one be? Yet, that is how it was, and God was disappointed in these folks and said they would never get to the land He intended for them to settle and flourish in because they were not trusting Him. In spite of all they had seen and lived, which was very considerable, they still did not believe in His ability to save them from calamity of all kinds, or in His real love for them and His desire to snatch them from slavery and give them a beautiful, bountiful life. God was upset with these folks and decreed that because they did not believe Him, they would die in the desert, without coming into what they were meant to be and to have. It was for this reason this people wandered around in circles in the desert for 40 years, waiting for the unbelieving generation to die before the Isrealites could move forward as a nation and take the land, and the life, God meant for them to have.

So much for the history lesson. Fast forward to 2019 in a bustling Canadian city and what does one find? A plain, old, ordinary Christian lass, drinking tea, sitting in her favourite chair, weeping in fear and poverty of spirit. Irretrievably stupid, no? Where is her God? Where is her faith? Why does she not believe? Like the Isrealites of old, this lass has been freed from her own slavery. She too has been led toward that which is life giving, green, growing, and beautiful in herself and in others, yet there she is, weeping, desolate and pathetic, just like the unbelieving Isrealities of old who never got where God wanted them to end up. Why?

It is unbelief: and the only way out of unbelief is to change one’s mind and to believe. It is not an emotional movement, it is a movement of will. In the same way one decides, “I will sit on this airplane”, “I will cross this street”, “I will take this bath”, “I will eat this steak”, one decides, “I will trust God.” In trusting God, one is opened to experiencing God in deeply personal, meaningful ways learning first hand Who and What God is. That is real faith, worked out, lived and learned in the messiness of Earth bound existence where many things go wrong, hurt, frighten, anger and horrify us at times.

In the midst of the pain and hurly-burly of life, Church experience teaches that the best thing to do is to look to God in the midst of desolate poverty and pathetic weeping, like that experienced by our sad-sack lass in 2019, and to thank God, however horrible circumstances may be. The idea is to thank God for the pain, the fear, the misery, whatever it is. Are you suggesting I should lick God’s boots for allowing all this pain and horror to come into my life?! 

Yes. Absolutely.

I know what you’re thinking, but here’s why we thank God: thanking God and praising Him for who He is and what He has allowed to happen in your life and all the pain that goes with it unleashes His power into your situation and into your inner life, soothing and saving you. It does not make much sense, but it does work, and if you try it, you will learn for yourself that it does work.

This is basic Christian teaching recorded in the Bible in scriptures like 1 Thessalonians 5:18, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you, and Philippians 4:6,7, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

The Church Fathers taught this, specifically St. John Chrysostom, but in 2019, one of the best treatments of this reality is by Merlin Carothers. His book Power in Praise, penned in 1972,  is a simply written little manual teaching this principle of thanksgiving and praise to God for all things and showing how it works.

If one is simple enough to try what Carothers suggests, it quickly becomes evident that praise and thanksgiving to God in all things works for our good, our healing, our peace, and joy, helping give birth to real and true faith in a real and true God, not just in ancient history, but right now, in 2019, in the difficulties and confusion we each contend with.

And then one’s eyes fly open in wide -eyed wonder because of being brought face to face with the One True God, alive and moving in one’s own circumstances, RIGHT NOW WHEN WE REALLY NEED IT!

This is where one learns Jesus Christ is real! This is the birthplace of real faith! This is where Christ looks at us, as he once did at Thomas, the disciple who doubted the resurrection, saying, Do not be faithless, but believing! And we do believe because we have seen and experienced the truth of God for ourselves.

Glory to God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, for all things! Amen.




A Note on Suffering

To be Christian is to have a vocation to suffering because we are the church, His body.  There is no rest in any created thing or circumstance; there is only rest in God.  We suffer now with the privations of many comforts in many different ways- and it is not a stamp of inferiority- but rather the stamp of identification with Christ because He too suffered grievously in the body, and since we are His body, The Church, and since we willfully joined ourselves to Him and He to us in Holy Baptism and all the sacraments, we should not be surprised, dismayed or troubled in the least when we suffer any pain or discomfort. It is not a sign of wrath; it is a sign of communion, His presence, and His friendship. Do not loving friends and family share eachother’s miseries as well as joys, bearing it gladly because of love? Is it not true that the most faithful, committed friend stays through the darkest most harrowing moments? Others will look and ignorantly remark that you are cursed of God. This is to be expected because as one of his members you shall suffer, and remember Christ was considered cursed of God, smitten, stricken, but He was pierced for our transgressions and wounded for our iniquities. God said that Christ was his beloved Son in whom He was well pleased.

The greater your suffering the more God can trust you because it indicates that He deems for you to share more deeply in His own pain. It is a sign of intimacy. If you graciously accept this pain and do not kick against the goads that pain you, which are the nails of crucifixion, then you will find love, joy, peace, etc. in the midst of your misery and your suffering will be transfigured and profitable for you and the others who can only watch, love, and pray for you.

If however you insist on thrashing and trying to avoid these goads, there is no other choice for your soul but to look for some kind of comfort in something created: a new circumstance, entertainment, food, drink, work, whatever- they are legion! The futility of this is obvious. Since we were not created nor intended to live the way we do and it is all the result of the fall. It is also natural to recoil from pain, as from a hot stove when one gets burned. It makes no difference what the suffering is, even if it our own fault, that too is profitable because it helps you to learn to take pressure off yourself by learning to expect all from Him and nothing from yourself but failure. You fail because in your pride you think you can accomplish something apart from Him; yet, he himself tells us that apart form Him we can do nothing. So relax, say, “thy will be done”, and open your heart to receive his light and blessing. Failure is no big deal. Just get up and keep walking, shuffling, stumbling your way Home toward sainthood, and remember to pray to the saints. They were sinners once, just like us, but they are our siblings as we are all members of His household. Yes, they are in heaven, and we are here, but that doesn’t matter because the Church is one, be it the pilgrim church here on Earth, or the Eternal Church/heaven that is our Home where the saints are. Regardless, all our lives are hid with Christ in God, whether here or departed. I say this because it is easy to get caught up in thinking one is alone when one lives in the marketplace of this life and is exposed to so much hurly burly. Christ Himself has said it is impossible that He should ever leave us and we have the comfort and sustaining fellowship of the saints who’ve gone before us. All know the agony of suffering.

Be quiet. Take heart. Beg God for the strength to embrace your misery, and you will learn it is only a shabby garment over the rich comfort and light of His presence…and from there….it is ALL JOY!