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Father Paul Keenan

Peculiar Crossroads
by Father Paul A. Keenan

"The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location." These words of Flannery OíConnor are a more optimistic rendering of the circumstance of being at a crossroads than we are normally used to seeing. In our ordinary experience, crossroads seem anything but upbeat and positive. They are frustrating, often debilitating, and come under the category of what we ordinarily call a crisis.

Heart Storming by Father Paul Keenan

Crossroads situations come in many shapes and sizes. At the end of a church service last Sunday, an older gentleman came up to me and told me, "You know, I was married fifty-four years ago in this very church." Assuming this was happy news, I smiled and said, "Oh, how nice!" My friend continued, "I lost my wife last month. I donít know what to do." It wasnít happy news at all: this gentleman had returned to this church in the hopes of keeping something of his deceased wife alive. I thought of my own father who lost my mother all too soon after forty years of marriage. Dad certainly went on to make a life for himself for three years after my motherís painful death to cancer. But it wasnít the same, and each day he confronted feelings of not knowing quite what to do. The loss of a loved one is a heartrending crossroads, indeed.

If death provides a crossroads, so does long-term illness. Marianne, a corporate executive in her mid-forties, was at the top of her game when she was stricken with the illness known as Lyme Disease. Increasingly, she found herself torn between the heavy demands of a fast-paced job and her need to take care of her debilitation and fatigue. Should she give up the job and go out on disability, she wondered? Would she even get permanent disability? Would she just lie around all day for the rest of her life in an uphill battle to feel better? Would that be her life after she had worked so hard for so long to get to her level on the corporate ladder?

The process of aging can do it, too. You wake up one morning with the vague feeling that you donít quite have the drive anymore that you used to. You begin to notice graying hairs, or a receding hairline. Someone at work teases you about being fifty or fifty-five or sixty, and you find that you are miffed. Itís scary, because you donít recall ever getting old, and up to now you havenít thought of yourself as old. For many, the realization can be a depressing one.

These are crossroads: times in life when one thing is drawing to a close and another is beginning. The problem is, we werenít prepared for the former to end, and we havenít a clue what the latter looks like. When confronted with a crossroads in life, our usual reaction is to feel helpless, perhaps to panic. We often feel as though we donít know what to do. We get scared and start to think there is something the matter with us.

A good relaxed look at the phenomenon of crossroads will help us to learn four important things:

  1. Crossroads are normal.
  2. Crossroads show us the difference between illusion and reality.
  3. Crossroads reveal to us the importance of intention.
  4. When we realize the importance of intention, we can look back and see that the crossroads were really a mirage.

1. Crossroads are normal. Many people at a crossroads feel that they are crazy or are going crazy. Most of the time, this is not the case. Crossroads are a normal, natural part of life. For that matter, change is a normal part of life; and crossroads are nothing more than an invitation to change. The feeling of going crazy has to do with the loss of the familiar. It would be nice if changes came one at a time, but often that is not the case. Thereís an old saying that deaths come in threes. Thereís no absolute rule about that, and itís a very good idea not to get that notion into your head lest it become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But it relays the notion that often when something shifts in one area of life, something else in another area shifts as well. Taken together, both can trigger other changes. Before too long, you get the feeling that there is no solid ground for you to walk on.

"I never experienced anything quite like it," Bob told me, shaking his head. "One day I was living the nice quiet life I had been living for twenty-five years. The next day, it all came apart. I was at work, and the boss called me into his office for what I assumed was going to be a planning session. He closed the door, told me that they had decided to eliminate my position as part of a cost-cutting campaign, and that I was to be gone in two weeks. I never saw it coming. They offered me severance, but I knew it wouldnít last long and that I would soon need to find another job. I got my resume together and sent it out, but nothing materialized. I used to be an expert in my field, but suddenly nobody was interested in a fifty-year-old guy with experience. My wife and I had kids in school, and we were watching our savings dwindle. Then I got sick. The more the pressure built, the more my wife and I seemed to argue. Worry and stress seemed to be the order of the day."

Bobís experience is not unusual. In fact, itís all too normal. One thing leads to another, and thereís a very good reason for that. As much as we try to portray ourselves as individuals who are terribly independent of one another, the fact of the matter is that we are all citizens of the universe. The very smallest and finest levels of our being are interrelated to each other and interact with each other even when we are not consciously aware of their interaction. Send an e-mail and you can affect someone on the other side of the planet. Turn on television or surf the internet and you can find yourself interacting with the planet Mars. We speak of coincidences, and yet there is no such thing: the strange and at times bizarre concurrences of people and events happen by interaction, not by chance. Whatever affects us at one point in our lives affects us at every other point as well. Though it can be frustrating at times, itís not surprising that when we experience change in one area of life, changes come in other areas as well. Thatís what Bob was going through and it was driving him crazy. Or at least he thought it was. Actually, it wasnít, and it became necessary to sit Bob down and help him to see that what he thought was craziness was really entirely normal. He was not losing his marbles or witnessing the ruination of his life.

2. Crossroads show us the difference between illusion and reality. Bob knew that he was at a crossroads, and that he had to do something. But what to do? Most of us when we face situations like Bobís have one of two reactions. Either we curl up into a little ball of fear or we scatter ourselves all over the place in a fruitless effort to piece things together. Fortunately, thereís another option. Instead of succumbing either to paralysis or to frenzy, we can quiet ourselves and turn within for divine guidance. Iím not going to enter into a discussion here of the various forms of meditation. There are many fine resources on the practice of meditation, including the archives of SoulfulLiving.com where each of us can find references, help and various examples of the meditative process. The point here, though, is to quiet ourselves. We canít think properly or choose properly when we are fearful or panicked. When we take time to calm ourselves and look within, we may well get the impression that rather than thinking, we are being thought through. When I was a boy of about eight or nine, two very puzzling questions occurred to me at about the same time. The first was, "How come I can see everyone elseís face, but not my own?" The second was, "How come everyone talks about thinking, while I donít feel like Iím thinking, but rather that someone is thinking through me?" I didnít know it at the time, but I later learned that what I was doing in those questions was confronting the deepest mystery of my being. It was rather an awesome thing for a boy of eight or nine to be doing, but there it was, nonetheless. As regards the latter question, it seemed to me that my thoughts were not generated by me, but instead were occurring to me. I was not their source, but I was being led or drawn to them or they to me. Thatís generally the experience we have during meditation. We often come to meditation with our heads jammed full of thoughts Ė thatís how we got the to crossroads in the first place Ė but once we meditate, it is as though a whole other source of thoughts and ideas has bubbled up. Itís like the old Zen saying, "Muddy water, let stand, becomes clear." Through meditation, we go beneath our muddied thinking and wait for something new.

As we practice meditation, we become aware of a difference between our new thoughts and our old ones. In the New Testament story of changing water into wine for the wedding feast at Cana, the head steward marvels to the bridegroom, "You have saved the best wine for last." This is how it seems when we begin to experience the fresh new thoughts that rise up from within us as we meditate. They are inspiring, full of hope, giving a sense of purpose and direction. They move us past the crossroads by moving us above them. During a recent snowstorm that kept most of us in the Northeastern United States homebound, a snowbound colleague of mine joked that if she could fly a helicopter, sheíd be at the office in eleven minutes. Thatís the sense of the higher thoughts we get from meditation. They well up from inside us, and as they do, they expand our vision. Our limits, so cripplingly important just moments ago, now seem old-fashioned and irrelevant. Notice, though, that at this stage, the ideas may not yet yield us concrete solutions to our dilemma. What they do, rather, is show us a new level of thought, and give us the hope that there is more available to us than we formerly thought or perceived. At this stage of meditation, Bob may not be guided to the perfect job or given the address and phone number at which it is to be found. But he will be given the sense that, to quote Shakespeare, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Heíll begin to see reality beyond his limits, and that is an excellent start.

At that new level of thought, Bob will come to realize the difference between reality and appearances. When he started out with us, Bob was 100% certain that he was experiencing reality. He had lost his job, his income was dwindling, he was having trouble finding another one, his health had deteriorated and so had his marriage. That was reality to him, a hard and somber truth, and there was no way around it. He was in big trouble.

Now that he knows that there is a higher level of reality and of thought, Bob is in a position to re-evaluate the things he took to be true before. He is learning that, though they may be true at the level of his everyday experience, they do not tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as he had previously thought. At the new level, he experiences himself and his reality as full, flowing and bountiful, whereas his old level revealed himself and his reality to be empty, at a standstill and deficient. At the new level, he realizes that he is one with the abundant flow of everything that is "up" there (or "in" there). At the old level, he felt cut off from everything, picked upon, ganged up on; life had it in for him. He can learn to see that it makes quite a difference which story of reality one pays attention to.

Stages of the Soul by Father Paul Keenan

3. Crossroads reveal to us the importance of intention. Once he has seen that there are resources beyond the limitations of his old way of thinking, Bob must form the intention to pursue those resources and to truly want what they offer. Without intention, nothing really can happen. Itís like playing pool. Itís one thing to have the billiard balls scattered all over the table. Itís quite another thing to have them all arranged and ready to hit with the cue. In the first instance, there can be no game. In the second instance, there can. Intention takes the fresh ideas Bob has found in his inner world and focuses their energy, making it possible for them to do their work. If he is to get beyond his crossroads, Bob must intend to let the truth of those new ideas take precedence over his old ones. He must go so far as to declare his old ideas false and renounce the power they used to hold over him. Intention is the power to step beyond the crossroads by rising above them. He must deny the "truth" that his life is falling apart. He must deny the "truth" that he cannot find work. He must deny the "truth" that he must yield to sickness and misery. He must deny the "truth" that there is nothing out there for him. He must deny the "truth" that his marriage can no longer be successful.

At this point, let me say a word about denial, because I can already hear you thinking, "This guy is encouraging people to be in denial." Hereís where the force of intention comes in. There are two kinds of denial: one without intention and one with intention. The first is what we call "being in denial." It is only in the second kind of denial -- denial plus intention -- that we are able to get beyond our fork in the road. If someone suffers from an addiction, sees the signs and refuses to accept the seriousness of the problem, that is denial, but it is not the kind of "higher denial" that I am talking about. The kind of denial they need to make is to deny that they must necessarily be forever held hostage to the circumstances that they see or the past they have had or the narrow future they envision. Thatís the kind of denial I am talking about. Itís very different, because it requires looking directly at the phenomena you are trying to overcome, not turning a blind eye to them.

So, then, we want Bob to set an intention in order to move past his crossroads. And the precise intention we want him to set is this: "I intend to accept the view of reality gleaned from my inner wisdom as true, and I intend to find the view of reality gleaned from my previous outer experience as false." He is saying yes to abundance, limitlessness, freedom, and the realm of all possibilities. He is saying no to lack, limitation, fatalism and obstacles.

To do this is to cross a Rubicon. I am reminded of places in the New Testament where Jesus reminded disciples and would-be disciples that in order to follow him, they had to leave father, mother, homes and riches, anything that would tie them to conventional ways of thought. That is why, before healing people, Jesus would take them off to be alone with himself. He knew that the conventional and often negative thinking of those around the one to be healed could prevent the healing from taking place. By the same token, Jesus promised those who could accept this challenge that they would have the things they had left behind in abundance, plus eternal life. Thatís why we refer to this spiritual thinking as "higher" thought. It requires a release from the lower, but far from destroying the lower (though it appears to), it transforms the lower by revealing possibilities heretofore unseen in it.

4. When we realize the importance of intention, we can look back and see that the crossroads were really a mirage. Once we have grasped the importance of intention, we have the ability to get past our crossroads. Once the ideas of the spiritual realm are accepted as true and the ideas of the realm of everyday experience are accepted as false, the ideas of the spiritual realm are empowered and enabled to exert their influence upon us. At this point, there is very little we need to do except sustain our intention and watch. What will begin to happen is that occurrences will begin to unfold along the lines of our intention far more readily than if we had tried to jump in and make them happen. Literally, we will find ourselves receiving guidance from the things that happen to us every day. With our old vision, we would have said that these were unrelated and accidental; and we probably would have given them no notice. But now with our new vision, we are allowing being to unfold according to its own lines, its best lines; and we allow it to teach and guide us. In our everyday world, we are often praised for being the captain of our ship; in actual point of fact it is much more interesting to be disciples of being, watching, learning as we go, finding the right information and opportunities opening up before us just as we need them. Rumi, the Sufi poet and mystic of the thirteenth century, said it well: "We fritter away all of our energy devising and executing schemes to become that which we already are." In truth, we donít have to go out and build reality from scratch; all we have to do, really, is to intend to let it happen around us. It will.

Good News for Bad Days: Living a Soulful Life by Father Paul Keenan

If my friend Bob were to ask me what to do about his crossroads, I might share with him the story of how I got my present job as radio co-host of "Religion on the Line" and Director of Radio Ministry for the Archdiocese of New York. Back in 1988, I was an associate pastor at St. James Church on the Lower East Side of New York City. I was floundering a bit, having just recovered from a near-fatal illness and an unfortunate misunderstanding with my colleagues at my previous parish (see my Good News for Bad Days: Living a Soulful Life, Warner Books, 1998 for details on both). I had always been a great lover of radio, and long had had the dream of becoming a broadcaster, though I never dreamed it would be possible for me as a priest. One Sunday morning, I went down to the rectory kitchen to make breakfast. I turned on the radio, adjusted the dial and heard a program where three men were having a conversation. It turned out that one was a rabbi, one a minister and one a priest; and it was fascinating. Listening further, I learned that the show was called "Religion on the Line," and that it was on WABC every Sunday morning. I remember thinking to myself, "Wow, Iíd really like to be on that show." That was about the long and short of that thought. It didnít occur to me to do anything about it, and I more or less went about my business in the parish.

A few months later, my pastor, Monsignor Kevin OíBrien, encouraged me to take a course in broadcasting at New York University. He knew of my love for radio, and thought I should consider putting it to use. It turned out to be a very positive experience, and whetted my whistle as far as radio was concerned. Among my parochial duties at the time was my tenure as Chairman of the Board of the Lower East Side Catholic Area Conference. At the time, we were looking to develop our ministry to Chinese Catholics (Chinatown is part of the Lower East Side), and we were planning a day-long retreat for our Chinese Catholics in one of our churches. At a meeting, someone suggested that the radio program "Religion on the Line" would be a good publicity vehicle for the retreat. I called the Catholic priest on the program, and he generously invited a group of Chinese Catholics and me to be guests on the show. As I was leaving the studio after the interview, I mentioned to the priest that I was interested in doing radio, and that if he ever needed a substitute on a Sunday, Iíd like him to think of me.

Months went by, and I had just arrived at a new assignment when I received a call from Joseph Zwilling, the Director of the Office of Communications at the Archdiocese of New York. Joe and I had never met, but he wanted me to know that the priest who was hosting "Religion on the Line" had to be away for the summer, and had recommended me as a possible substitute. Was I interested? The answer was obvious.

As a result of that summerís trial by fire, which I loved, I decided to start a program of my own, which would be called "As You Think." I went to Joe Zwillingís office to meet him and to let the Archdiocese know what I was thinking of doing. As I walked into his office, it hit me: "I would really like to work here." My next phone call from Joe Zwilling, a few weeks later, was to offer me the use of a spare office in his department to work on publicity and fundraising for "As You Think." As time went on, I joined the office on a part time basis, then full-time as an Assistant Director, and later still received the title of Director of Radio Ministry. Somewhere along the way, I became full-time co-host of "Religion on the Line," which position I have thoroughly enjoyed for eleven years now.

Was I lucky? Yes and no. From one point of view, I was and am very fortunate, indeed. But it was not "dumb luck." Along the way, I kept being guided to new intentions that, without any doing on my part, arranged meetings, situations and events for the highest good of all, including mine. Behind those intentions was my overall intention to do the work God gave me to do. That intention opened up the doorway to God and all of the other doors that opened thereafter.

Whatís the message here? Letís go back to Flannery OíConnor: "The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His {or her} problem is to find that location." The crossroads that right now may seem to you to be impassable and impossible, seen from another point of view are the meeting of time and place and eternity. Your meeting. Relax, realize that youíre not getting the whole truth from what you see. Open your mind and heart to the possibility of a higher truth, a truth that replaces limitation with opportunity, impossibility with infinite possibilities, and despair with pulsating hope. Deny the truths you have been living by. Affirm the intention that your higher vision is the truth. Go back to your life, and let yourself be guided.

© Copyright 2004 Father Paul A. Keenan.  All Rights Reserved.

Father Paul Keenan
Father Paul A. Keenan: Popular speaker, author and radio co-host of WABC Radioís "Religion on the Line," Father Paul Keenan likes to talk and write about the issues that matter to people. Widely experienced as a national and local television and radio news commentator, he is the author of Good News for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and Heartstorming. As Director of Radio Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, he supervises, produces and writes for various radio and television programs. In addition, he serves as a parish priest in New York City.

Father Paul Keenan, came to his now-ten-year-old career in New York broadcasting after having been a college teacher and administrator and a parish priest for many years. He hails from Kansas City, where he graduated from Rockhurst University and completed an M.A. in Moral and Pastoral Theology at Saint Louis University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and went on to complete an M.A. in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Father Paul is also known for his work on the Web. He hosts his own website (www.fatherpaul.com) and contributes regular articles to various other sites. He is a regular columnist for the monthly newspaper, "Catholic New York." His other talents and interests include reading, cooking and being humble servant to his three cats, Teddy, Lionel and Midnight.





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