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Imagine the terror of a ten-year-old boy suddenly facing the nozzle of a submachine gun held by an SS soldier, after having been slammed against the courtyard wall with its butt. It was Jo Joffo, waiting for his older brother on the Rue de Russie in Nazi-occupied Nice, France. It was summer, 1942. For over a month nasty inspectors interrogated him and his brother at the Excelsior Hotel until they were finally released. This experience ripped Jo Joffo from his childhood with its games of marbles and jacks, with ringing doorbells and other pranks.

This boy would later become a French author whose 1974 memoir A Bag of Marbles narrates this gripping flight to freedom, a hair-breath away from the enemy. So deep was the memoir’s appeal that it was translated into eighteen languages.

Such stories of survival still speak. From a safe distance, we observe and learn from others who have suffered heart-wrenching losses and survived murderous occupations of their countries. Yet, our times are not that different. Subtle forms of “occupation” still abound: social media, fake news, and addictive substances that manipulate attitudes, thoughts, and choices and keep spirits in bondage to Evil. Indeed, Jesus cautions us whenever we step outside our homes: “Be like sheep among wolves, cunning as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt. 10:16)

The Plaza Frontenac Theater in St. Louis, Missouri, is currently showing the second film adaption of this memoir A Bag of Marbles; Christian Duguy directed it with English sub-titles.

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It was evening, the auditorium in Knight Hall located on the Washington University of St. Louis campus. The introduction was made. All was ready.

Petite in stature, her wavy hair framing her oval face, Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels shared her research on a millenials-old story—“war literature,” she called it, referring to the Book of Revelation (91 CE). Urgency, tinged with joy, enhanced her speech, evidence of her having been in the fire with the Sacred.

Upon the floor-to-ceiling-wall, behind her, flashed art works from medieval illuminated manuscripts, from woodcuts, from paintings, from sculptures that further enhanced the cataclysmic clash between Michael the Light Bearer and Lucifer the Prince of Darkness and their minions. For continuing evidence of this clash, we only have to look within our psyches and the world around us. Thus, the continuing attraction of this book that so engaged her listeners.

 

 

My take-away only surfaced later… War still exists in my body: fifty-seven years of living with rheumatoid arthritis have throttled my spirit, blunted psychic growth, and enervated relationships. Drugs, knee joint surgeries, and fatigue almost devoured me until I took responsibility for my health. Only devotion to the Crucified with bleeding knees has and still sustains me.

 

It’s about being faithful. There will be a resolution—entrance into the New Jerusalem as narrated in the Book of Revelation.

From the beginnings of recorded history, murderous invasions have crazed the global community from which relatively few have emerged unscathed. Yet from such mayhem, some, through meditation, have forged fresh paradigms of leadership.

Such has been the case in our time. Two stand apart: Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama, and Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, South Africa. The 1959 Chinese invasion of Tibet and the decades-long apartheid in South Africa scored these men with indescribable angst but did not vanquish them. With wisdom and compassion, both still shepherded their people: one toward the relocation of Tibetan Buddhism in India’s upper reaches of the Kangra Valley and the other toward the elimination of apartheid with the 1994 election of Nelson Mandela’s government.

In 2015, Desmond Tutu chose to honor the Dalai Lama’s eightieth birthday by visiting him in exile. In his company was Douglas Abrams, his literary agent. For five days, the octogenarians shared, their faces crinkled with mirth as they quipped, held hands, and opened their hearts to each other.

Fortunately for us, their dialogue fills the pages of The Book of Joy – Lasting Happiness in a Changing World (2016), a book to be savored, not read. Their lifelong practice of daily meditation, though coming from differing spiritual traditions, fills them with abounding joy. A final chapter includes such practices—A tonic for whatever troubles us.

Surrendering to the Stillness within empowers us to listen for direction and take action, thereby becoming spiritual warriors in a world sorely in need of truth.

 

 

Available on Amazon

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