There is nothing we can change except ourselves
POST BY GClapson
Monday, November 17, 2014 - 11:15
In his final months, Fr Gerard W Hughes SJ (who died on 4 November 2014) wrote a series of blog posts on Peace, Justice and the Integrity of Creation. Here we publish extracts from them - his final thoughts in his own words.
For whom these words addressed: To anyone who is actively involved in working for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, irrespective of their religious affiliations or lack of them.
Why are you doing this? Because I believe that what I have experienced and am now experiencing is something accessible to every human being. The news is so good that I want to share it. It is the passion of my life, worth living for and worth dying for. This gift is already available to every human being. It lies in all our human experience. No one is excluded.
I am now 90 years old. I have been told I have pancreatic cancer, inoperable at my age. The medical authorities are unable to tell me how long I am likely to live with any accuracy. It could be weeks, or months, possibly years, although years is very unlikely.
This news does not disturb me. All of us, irrespective of our age, state of health etc. are faced with the same truth. The result for me is something shared with all humankind, but the awareness of it helps concentrate the mind on some very good news for everyone!
The news I want to communicate is this:
What I want to share is very simple, open to everyone, yet resisted by all. It is the truth that all of us long for change, but it is also the truth that there is nothing any of us can change apart from ourselves. This truth we resist with all our being because we have been conditioned, not only in our own lifetime but also in the tradition handed down to us, that it is other people who have to change. The truth we resist is that the only thing any one of us can change lies within ourselves, the way we think, the way we see things. Just ponder this statement ... No need to argue, just listen.
I promised a brief health report with each blog. I am pain free, sleeping reasonably well, I have a good appetite and have been encouraged to eat more salmon and steak! What an affliction a pancreatic condition can be! Ponder! And best wishes and prayers for you all!
If any of you found the question too big to handle, baffling, impossible to put into words, that is a sign that you are a healthy human being, that you are on the track of something which is leading you out beyond yourself. This discovery may feel to you like failure. The Greeks of 2,500 years ago had a word with which they described this state, a word we still use today, but we are no longer in touch with its meaning. The word is -
ECSTASY: It means, literally, being outside your surroundings, being in an entirely new place. It does not mean that geographically you are in a new place, nothing has changed geographically, but the way you perceive your surroundings is beginning to change. Things that were boring for you, without beauty, without any attractive characteristic begin to become interesting. When you notice this is happening in you, then know that you are beginning on a journey into mystery which will never leave you.
I shall constantly be giving examples to ensure that both of us, the reader or hearer and myself, remain in touch with the real world and avoid losing ourselves in fine-sounding words which have no relationship with everyday life.
Here is a very simple example drawn from my own experience. I have a nephew, also called Gerard Hughes, but his second name is Stephen, so I shall always distinguish the two of us as Gerard S. Hughes, my nephew and Gerard W. Hughes, who is writing this blog. I am using our names in order to show the mistakes we can make when we face questions which we dismiss as a waste of time, or unanswerable.
When Gerard S. was very young, he was diagnosed as deaf, and to hearing people his behaviour and responses seemed to indicate profound mental problems. At the age of 13, after eight years education in a school for the deaf, he was still incapable of speaking, reading or writing. I am going up to Glasgow University to attend Gerard S. Hughes’ award of Doctor of Literature in recognition of his services to education and the rights of disabled people. That is one example of the truth that the way we understand things changes dramatically the way we behave towards ourselves and to others.
I have no dramatic news on my health. I am pain free, easily drained of energy, but basically at peace and glad to be where I am, in the hands of this God who identifies Godself with each and every one of us. St John prays in Chapter 17 of his gospel, ‘May they all be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you.’
Pain, Hope and Peace
Tomorrow I travel to Glasgow to attend my deaf nephew’s award of an Honorary Doctorate of Literature at Glasgow University awarded, according to the citation, “for his services to education and the rights of disabled people”.
This is very good news for Gerry S.M. Hughes, his family and friends.
In what sense can it be said that this is good news for every human being, including those who are presently suffering acute forms of deprivation, and there are millions of them?
I look at the case of Gerry S.M. Hughes (photo below) because his story shows that there is hope for every human being, no matter how impossible and beyond any hope of cure their circumstances may be.
How can I prove the truth of this statement? I cannot and do not try to do so.
But I can recommend a very simple exercise which I know from experience can transform our lives from pain and frustration, to lives of ecstasy.
The simple exercise is this: Ask yourself every day “Has any event today surprised or delighted me?” More simply expressed, have I enjoyed anything today? Then focus your attention on what you enjoyed, relish it and suck all the enjoyment out of it that you can.
It is only by doing this that you will begin to understand the wonder that is already in your life.
So your task now and for everyday is to make time for yourself to enjoy and relish the moments you have enjoyed.
This simple step – relishing the good moments of each day – is the beginning of a journey into the wonder of your being, a being which is inclusive of every other being. You are moving into ecstasy!
Health report. I am daily reminded of the ageing process, less energetic, less mobile, more forgetful, but I feel “at home”, sustained by a power which pervades every particle of matter, a power of compassion, which is more precious of life-giving than anything I can desire.
Fr Gerry's last book, Cry of Wonder, published by Bloomsbury is available on Amazon