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Reality Is Out There

James O'Brien

Last week we spoke to Chuck Lofy, the local 74-year-old former Jesuit, about "the incomprehensibility of god" and the spiritual blindness of so much contemporary religious debate. In this conversation, Lofy talks about the value of doing and being, and of emptiness.

City Pages: We were talking about society, and the polarization of everything, and what needs to happen at a very basic level to bridge the divides.

Chuck Lofy: Scott Peck is another hero of mine. He wrote the book The Road Less Traveled and he also wrote A Different Drum. He said that a lot of relationships start at what he calls the "pseudo-beginning level." We're polite and we talk about social things. He calls this "pseudo community," where you emphasize similarities. But he says if you're ever going to get anywhere, you have to understand differences. When you're always trying to convert the other person to your way of thinking, or just being nice and talking about the weather, both of these become so painful that neither works.

So what does work? Scott comes up with the idea of emptiness, and I drove 350 miles to Milwaukee to thank him for that, because it changed my life. The emptiness is that I empty myself of the need to convert you to a way of thinking. And when you empty yourself, you become open to where the other person is: "Why do you think the way you do, and what is your experience?" And then you find out that, if I was in your shoes having your experience, I'd think the same way you think. And that is love--the capacity to differentiate. But uniformity as opposed to unity feels much safer.

So what I'm finding is that there is a huge hunger. People say, "Is this really what you're talking about? This isn't theology or psycho-babble?" No. This is about love, which is about awe, and the wisdom that's in nature. It's about reverence towards the sacred. It's about beauty and about how beauty is the highest form of consciousness.

CP: We're talking about quiet and meditation--either in practice or just breathing. More and more these days, I find myself drawn to complete silence, or listening to the rain, or traffic, or birds. It's a way to be alone, but with everything, at the same time.

Lofy: I've been walking the lakes for the past 10 months, listening to the birds. And music, too. It's hard, because when I start talking to people about what I want to do with this [seminar next month], I say, "This is not a workshop. This is not yoga. This is not 12 steps." What it is is, I'm throwing out some experiences of my own, just to get things started.

I'm just going to tell people to go off and be with themselves, be quiet, and then come back and we'll talk about what they thought about, or experienced. There's no curriculum, and it's pretty crazy because I just think, "Holy cats, do I really have to structure something like this?" Something where people feel like they can just "be"?

CP: You need T-shirts. Fridge magnets. Franchises.

Lofy: It's all about "to do" rather than "to be." Sometimes I think I have nothing to teach people--except that I think it's a real good thing to listen to your own experience.

When I was first in the Jesuit [order], I was sitting on my bed reading Time magazine--an interview with Rollo May [about] the existence of the unconscious. I mean, here I was, having grown up in Catholic school, and I thought I knew about life and god. And he talked about the fact that in us we have basic fears: a fear of death, a fear of guilt, a fear of loneliness, and a fear of a life without meaning. So what we do is stay busy.

I read it, and I thought, "My god, that's just what my mother did." My mother always said, "Stay busy." Staying busy was the answer to everything. And the nuns at the school, if you had a question, it was, "Don't ask because the more you doubt the greater is your faith and the greater will be your reward in heaven." I sat there on that bed and I said, "I'll never be the same."

You know, the Greeks say that all understanding is based on memory, that the muses are the daughters of memory. And I fully understand that, because there was something in that magazine that connected to my experience, and I was on fire. I went down the hall to a Cuban Jesuit, who happened to be a psychologist, and I said, "Where do I learn about this?" He connected me with someone, who connected me with an existential psychologist who had worked with children. And the first thing he said to me is, "Now, I don't want you to read a book."

CP: The knowledge and the inquiries were already there, but you had to deprogram.

Lofy: That's a good word. I think these people out there have to deprogram. Not long after I read Rollo May, I was sitting in a lecture hall one day when I realized that the Holy Trinity is not out there. I realized that the spirit is in here, and that the spirit has a dynamic to push itself out. So if we get angry, we want to express it. If we get horny, we want to express that. The inner world has this powerful urge to express itself.

And at that time, for me, God the Father disappeared and I saw reality. Reality is out there, and the spirit encounters reality, and in the embodiment of the spirit, you have Christ. Everything changed. Everything changed.

So all of my thinking now, in theological terms, is in the sacrament. [Karl] Rahner's whole thing is "spirit into the world," and all of my thinking can be summed up by that: spirit and form. We have this passion for form, and when the forms are working, we know joy. And when they're not, we know disease. When you get a separation of the spirit and the form, and you do the form for its own sake, then you've got what we have now. It's "by god, we're gonna have this war now."

We lose the questions; we have all the answers.

Chuck Lofy can be reached at [email protected] or 612.922.7588.

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