How to Make The Most Out of Lent

Lent is upon us and many of us are still praying and thinking about what Lenten sacrifice or practice we should implement over the next forty days. Sometimes it can be difficult to know what we should do for Lent. Of course there are the popular ideas of giving up social media or giving up chocolate, and while these can absolutely be helpful to our personal growth and relationship with God, these and other popular Lenten ideas can often be chosen with no particular personal meaning behind them. 

Lent is not simply a time where we deprive ourselves of joy for a few weeks—just because. It is a time where we are supposed to focus on our own personal relationship with God, developing our mental, personal, and spiritual health—so that we can make more room for God in our every day lives. As Christopher West describes, Lent and fasting is “never an end in itself, it’s a means to the joy of the feast.” Lenten practices are meant to reveal to us the full and true joy of the Easter Season and God’s love for us every day of our lives. 

So what are some ways for us to achieve the fullness of Lent and the gain the most out of our Lenten practices? Here are a few ideas…

Give up trying to do everything by yourself – Self-sufficiency and independence can be great qualities to have, but there is true beauty and humility in acknowledging when we need help from others. Asking others for help can foster fruit in a variety of areas. We can develop our relationships with others when we let them into our lives in ways that allow them to take care of us in some way. Likewise, when we are always trying to do everything by ourselves, and we’re constantly taking care of others without letting them take care of us, resentment often grows without us even realizing. This resentment can creep up on us and damage our relationships with others and with God. So this Lent, take a step back, give up stubbornness, embrace humility, and reach out to others when help is needed. Or simply allow others to help if and when they offer. 

Give up overthinking and jumping to conclusions – This can be a hard one, but wow it makes a huge impact. When something small occurs, it can be all too easy—even automatic—to ruminate on the situation, overthink, and come to negative and often unrealistic conclusions. Not only can this ruin our day in about five seconds, it can also heavily impact our relationships. We may treat others differently because of a conclusion that we developed in our heads, and the other person will have no idea why we are acting the way we are acting. But how do we stop this habit of overthinking? First, take interactions and situations at face value. Don’t add ideas, put words in others’ mouths, or create outcomes that aren’t based in facts. Second, when these negative thoughts or overthinking spirals begin, instead of thinking of the most negative conclusion, intentionally think of the best possible outcome. At this point, we often begin to question, “What’s the point of thinking of the best possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Now, when this question arises, ask the same question about the negative outcome. “What’s the point of thinking of the worst possible outcome? It probably won’t happen.” Exactly. The difference, however, is that thinking of the best possible outcome gives us hope, while thinking of the worst outcome makes us want to give up. Hope gives us joy and helps us grow closer to God. Because of this, thinking of the positive scenarios is the more Godly practice. 

Give up over-scheduling and overworking – We live in a society that is extremely focused on achievement. Especially because of social media, we constantly feel the need to be doing something and to be able to say, “I’m so busy!” Sometimes it almost becomes a competition to see who has the busiest schedule. Being this busy leaves very little time for fun, for enjoyment, for relaxation. We lose touch with who we are as individuals, as a couple, or as a family because we are so focused on getting to the next activity or working on the next project. Give up this over-scheduling and overworking habit this Lent by setting aside time to do something that gives you joy. Make time to relax and spend time together as a family. Instead of scheduling an event or a project for work, schedule time for a date night. Whether you just hang out at home and enjoy the peace and quiet or you take a day trip to one of your favorite spots, regularly make time this Lent to step back, relax, and prioritize time to do something that brings you—or you and your family—joy.

These are just a few ideas to bring us closer to God this Lent. We don’t have to choose one of these ideas, and we certainly don’t have to practice them all. Maybe choose just one thing to work on this Lent. But as we decide what it is we will practice, let us start by asking God, “What barriers need to be removed in my life for me to be able to love You and love others the way You want me to?”  

For more on developing a deeper relationship with God, tune in to More2Life—weekdays at 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130 and find more resources by visiting us online at CatholicCounselors.com! 

Prayer Power – A New Study Reveals The True Meaning Of “The family That Prays Together, Stays Together.”

We’ve often heard the phrase “The family that prays together, stays together.” While this adage—originally coined by the Venerable Fr. Patrick Peyton—has rapidly grown in popularity, the Journal of Family Psychology recently conducted a study to evaluate the true effects of couple and family prayer.

The researchers conducted a national study evaluating 198 diverse families in a manner which viewed family prayer as a ritual within religious families. The results of this study demonstrated seven related themes between couple and family prayer and the connectedness of the individuals.

These themes indicated that couple/family prayer serves as a time of family interaction and togetherness, an opportunity for social support, and a means for passing religious practices among intergenerational family members. Moreover, as couple/family prayer included issues of concern for the individuals, couple/family prayer proved to help reduce relational tension between those praying together, and provided feelings of connectedness, bonding, and unity between the couple and/or family. Lastly, couples and families reported that when they felt disunity within their family, they found it more difficult to pray together.

When families experience this feeling of disunity and difficulty praying together, the results of this study suggested that couples and families increase their practice of rituals such as family meals. The participant results showed that “the place of prayer in family life was interwoven in the context of other naturally occurring rituals,” further stating that, “Perhaps, families may begin by considering family prayer as a family ritual that can become as naturally embedded in family life as are these other rituals. Instead of exclusively focusing on praying together, they may consider improving other family rituals and then extend the family’s ability to come together to naturally participate in family prayer.”

Overall, the results of this study demonstrated that couple and family prayer provided opportunities for togetherness, social support, interaction, and connectedness. As stated by the authors, couple and family prayer provides a ritual that is a “potentially unique pathway to family cohesion.”

For more on how to pray as a couple, check out Praying For (& With) Your Spouse: The Way To Deeper Love and tune in to More2Life—Monday through Friday, 10am E/9am C on EWTN, SiriusXM 130!

A Crisis of Authority: Humanae Vitae 50 Years Later

Guest post by Dave McClow, Pastoral Solutions Institute.

In the spring of 1968, almost three years after the Second Vatican Council closed, hope was still high that artificial contraception would no longer be considered a mortal sin.  Rumors circulated that the committee studying the matter would advise the Pope to lift the prohibition.  Reputable moral theologians were also purporting a lifting of the ban.  Certainly some confessors were advising couples based on these expectations, influencing some to contracept.  Then on July 29, 1968, a veritable bombshell was dropped from the Vatican:  in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI had retained the prohibition against artificial contraception.

The following day, Catholic theologians, in a political act, publicly rejected the encyclical, running an unprecedented advertisement in the New York Times.  The ad proposed at least three things, according to Ralph McInery’s What Went Wrong With Vatican II: The Catholic Crisis Explained: 1) Pope Paul VI had “flunked theology”;  2) the Pope had no right to “dissent” from his own commission or their opinions and that his function was to go with the vote—the “witnesses”; and 3) for the encyclical to be infallible, it must be specifically declared as infallible.

Crisis of Authority

Since the Council and Humanae Vitae, there has been a mass exodus of priests, religious, and laity from the Church, continuing today with 76% of baptized Catholics not attending Sunday Mass regularly.  The Council was supposed to spur the greatest renewal the Church has ever seen—so McInerny rightly asks, “What went wrong?” (p. 13). He answers that in telling “the faithful that, according to Vatican II, they may safely ignore the Pope as moral teacher and may follow their own consciences, formed according to advice the dissenters are giving…the dissenting theologians have… whipsawed ordinary Catholics between competing authorities and have done untold damage to the Church.” (pp. 145-6)

In short, the dissenting theologians have set up the laity to believe they are choosing between arguments, when in fact they are choosing between authorities.

Over 200 theologians signed the advertisement, setting up a highly successful model of an alternate magisterium that still creates confusion amongst Catholic laity on many matters of faith.  In a 1999 Time/CNN poll, 86% of Catholics “found it possible to disagree with the Pope on an article of faith and still be a good Catholic¼.” According to a Pew Research poll from 2013, a majority of Catholics think the Church should change its teachings on birth control (76%), priests should be allowed to marry (64%), and women should be allowed to be priests (59%).  The dissenters come from both the conservative and liberal factions of the Church.

Did Anyone Read The Documents of Vatican II?

It becomes apparent, however, that liberal dissenters advocating the “spirit of Vatican II” could not read!  What the bishops finally voted on and the Pope promulgated did not, in fact, set up a democratic Church!  Even if they could, church democracies don’t work, as the exponentially fragmenting Protestant churches display.  Yes, the Bible is infallible, but interpretations are not!

The Vatican II documents are clear on the issue of papal authority:  “The college or body of bishops has for all that no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff….For the Roman Pontiff,…has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered” (Lumen Gentium, no. 22).

 

Further, the dissenting assertion that Catholics can ignore the Church’s teaching unless the Pope speaks ex cathedra (infallibly) is also clearly refuted by Lumen Gentium (25): the submission of our intellects and wills [as an exercise of our free will], must be given to the bishops and especially the pope “even when he does not speak ex cathedra.”

It is clear the dissenting theologians have either not read the actual passages from Vatican II, or they are willfully opposing Church teaching.  In the end, the laity suffers the most.

The Vatican’s Response to the Dissent

The dissent has become institutionalized, infecting the entire Catholic educational system.  Almost every Papal document since 1968 has been judged, criticized, and marginalized.  And though the Vatican has responded patiently and clearly, all its efforts have been dismissed.

Conclusion

“Since Catholicism is something we receive rather than invent, authority is absolutely essential to it.”  (p. 147)  It is inconsistent for Catholics to reject the Pope’s/Church’s teaching yet consider themselves Catholic.  The Catholic Church is not a democracy.  In my opinion, the authority of the Pope and the Magisterium function as the immune system of the Body of Christ—and a healthy immune system must reject what threatens the body.

In the name of the “spirit of Vatican II,” the apparently illiterate dissenting theologians have set themselves up as an alternate authority/immune system.  But confusion has reigned long enough! Don’t be illiterate!  Men, read McInery’s What Went Wrong with Vatican II, or better, Humanae Vitae and the Documents of the Second Vatican Council.  Freely submit your intellect and will to the Church’s 2000-year-old-Christ-instituted authority!

 

Virtue-Focused People Better Decision Makers, Study Says

Angel

It’s common knowledge that people tend to be better at solving other people’s problems than they are at addressing their own.  But a new study  finds that people who think, not in terms of what they personally feel or think they should do about their problems, but in terms of what attempting to live up to a particular set of virtues would have them do in response to a problem, are just as good at solving their own problems as they are helping others.

The study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that people with a more virtue-oriented focus tend to think more objectively and take a more long-term view in the face of their struggles and so are less impulsive and reactive than those who aren’t as virtue-focused

This research supports a technique we use with our clients in the Pastoral Solutions Institute.  When a client is struggling with a challenging situation.  One of the things we will have them do is reflect on the following questions:

  1. What your automatic response tends to be in that stressful situation? What, specifically,  you didn’t like about the response?
  2. What virtues were missing from your default response?  What qualities would have been helpful to be able to access in that situation?
  3. Identify different times you have been able to display those qualities in different situations when you were under pressure.
  4. How you could adapt those more virtuous/productive responses to this different, frustrating situation?
  5. What structures of support you will create (phone reminders, notes, daily reflection time, an accountability partner, etc.) to help you remember to use this  new, more virtuous response next time.

This technique is tremendously helpful for escaping the tendency to fall into reactive, emotionally-driven responses to frustrating situations and identifying healthier and more productive alternative responses.  Eventually, the more the client uses this exercise, it actually rewires the way they think about problems allowing them to adopt the more virtue-based, goal-oriented, objective approach to problem solving that enables them to be as effective in helping themselves as they are in helping others.

To learn more about how the Pastoral Solutions Institutes Tele-Counseling practice can help you face challenges in a more productive manner, visit www.CatholicCounselors.com or call 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.

 

When Every Child is Left Behind: Teaching “Stupid Faith”

My latest for OSV (online now and in the 10/16 print edition)

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

Catholic children as young as 10 years old are renouncing God and quitting Church, claims a new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown. 

According to lead researcher Mark Gray, children are finding that faith is “incompatible” with what they are learning in school, and the older the child becomes, the more this is the case. According to Gray, “this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”

This is disturbing news. Our children are besieged with the message that atheism is “smart” and faith is “dumb.” But there is a more provocative challenge presented by this dilemma. Namely; how long will we keep teaching our kids to have a “stupid” faith?

‘Stupid’ faith?

By “stupid” faith I mean one that doesn’t make experiential sense. Faith is only “stupid” — and, therefore, susceptible to allegedly “smart” atheism — when a person has not experienced Jesus Christ in a real and personal way. An experience of Christ is even more essential than good catechesis. If I’ve experienced Christ personally, I know he exists. If Stephen Hawking wrote a book denying the existence of my mother, I wouldn’t have to be an expert in quantum physics to know he was writing nonsense.  READ THE REST

Only the Godless Die Young

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With apologies to Billy Joel, new research from Harvard shows that, irrespective of the state of their general health, only the godless die young.

Over the last 20 years, research has gradually accumulated suggesting that religious service attendance is associated with better physical and mental health. For example, research articles have indicated that regular religious service attendance is associated with a 30 per cent reduction in depression, a five-fold reduction in the likelihood of suicide, and a 30 per cent reduction in mortality, over 16 years of follow-up.

There have been a number of prior studies on religious service attendance and longevity. Many of these had been criticised for poor methodology, for instance allowing the possibility of reverse causation — ie, that only those who are healthy can attend services, so that attendance isn’t necessarily influencing health. 

Papers recently published out of Harvard University have tried to address this concern by using repeated measurements of service attendance and health over time to control for whether changes in health preceded changes in service attendance. The associations between religious service attendance and longevity, suicide and depression were all robust. Results indicated that compared with women who never attended religious services, women who attended more than once a week had a 33 per cent lower mortality risk during the study period. Those who attended weekly had a 26 per cent lower risk and those who attended less than once a week had a 13 per cent lower risk. (The data comes from women who worked as nurses in the US, most of whom identified as Catholic or Protestant, so most of the religious services would be at churches. However, the definition encompassed a range of different places of worship.)

NOT Just Social Benefits

Although historically researchers have suggested that the positive health benefits of religious involvement could be largely attributed to the social aspects of church attendance–socialization being an established contributor to well-being–more sophisticated statistical analysis shows that the social dimensions of faith account for only about 20% of the life-extending benefits of religion.  According to researchers…

Other mechanisms might also be operative. The development of self-discipline and a sense of meaning and purpose in life have been proposed in the literature as potential factors. The association between service attendance and health seems not to be explainable by just one mechanism alone. Rather, there appear to be many pathways from religion to health. Religious service attendance affects many aspects of a person’s life and the cumulative effect of all of these seems to have a substantial influence on health.

Of course, studies can’t statistically account for, y’know, that grace thingy.

“Spiritual Not Religious” Dying Sooner As Well.

The research also had some bad news for all the “spiritual but not religious” folks out there…

it appears to be religious service attendance, rather than self-assessed religiosity or spirituality or private practices, that most powerfully predicts health. 

You can read the rest here.  For more on how you and your kids live longer more faithful lives, check out Discovering God Together: The Catholic Guide to Raising Faithful Kids.

New Study Finds, “More Church = Less Porn”

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

From PsychCentral.

A new study finds that attendance of religious services by young people is associated with a reduction in viewing pornography over time.

The study findings appear in the Journal of Adolescence.

“We were able to determine that there is a barrier effect at play wherein religious social control encourages adolescents to view less pornography over time,” said Kyler Rasmussen, lead author of the study and a Ph.D. student in the University of Calgary’s Department of Psychology.

“This increase in pornography consumption as adolescents get older isn’t as drastic among those who attend religious services. We can see that religious attendance is a factor in shaping the trajectories of pornography viewing in adolescents.”

Rasmussen added, “Some might see it as a vindication of the role of religion, in that it can shape the behavior of young adolescents in a positive way.”

…So what is it about attending religious services that would help steer adolescents away from viewing pornography? “People in religious communities learn that there are expected patterns of behavior,” says Bierman.

“It may be the notion of a divine significant other who watches over them and there may also be a social support component. When you become integrated within a moral community where pornography is used less often and is, in fact, discouraged, this may shape and deter pornography usage. There’s a kind of social control function at play.”  Read the full article here.

To discover more faithful ideas for raising loving, moral, godly, porn-resistant kids, check out Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.

Challenging the Atheist Narrative: Study Says Religious Faith Prevents Violence

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For the study, 555 Palestinian adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 were presented with a classic “trolley dilemma” that involved a Palestinian man being killed to save the lives of five children who were either Jewish-Israeli or Muslim-Palestinian. The participants responded from their own perspective and then again from Allah’s perspective. 

The results showed that although Muslim-Palestinian participants valued their own group’s lives over Jewish-Israeli lives, they believed that Allah preferred them to value the lives of members of both groups more equally. In fact, thinking from Allah’s perspective decreased the bias toward their own group by almost 30 percent.

“Our findings are important because one precursor to violence is when people believe that the lives of members of their group are more important than the lives of members of another group,” said Dr. Jeremy Ginges, associate professor of psychology at the New School for Social Research.

“Here, we show that religious belief — even amidst a conflict centered on religious differences — can lead people to apply universal moral principles similarly to believers and non-believers alike.”

“Beliefs about God seem to encourage an application of universal moral rules to believers and non-believers alike, even in a conflict zone,” added Nichole Argo, a research scientist in engineering and public policy and social and decision sciences at Carnegie Mellon University. “Thus, it does not seem to be beliefs about God that lead to outgroup aggression.”  READ MORE

The Divine Human: New Age Blasphemy or Christian Destiny?

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

Image via Shutterstock. Used with permission.

(The following is excerpted from my forthcoming book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart (available in stores June 2, 2015).  Pre-Order your copy TODAY!)

There is an ancient, yet still surprising and little known Christian doctrine that asserts God’s intention to make each of us a god; perfect, immortal, and partaking in his very own divinity for all of eternity.  This teaching, known by theologians as the doctrine of theosis or divinization is the ultimate destiny for the Christian.  That’s right.  As Christians, we are not merely called to become the best version of ourselves.  It is not enough for us to be merely “good.”  Instead, our true destiny is, ultimately, to be transformed into gods through God’s grace.  As St Thomas Aquinas put it, “The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods.”  (For more supporting evidence of this claim, see my previous post on this topic here).

Divinization is a gift that we receive as we run with abandon into the loving arms of the God who made us and who longs to complete his miraculous work in us.  But how is this different from the common claim by the New Age/Neopagan movement that all humans are divine?  There are three important points that popular theologian, Peter Kreeft, says separate the Christian view of divinization from the New Age pretense of a quasi-divine humanity;  piety, objective morality, & worship (1988).

Piety

Piety compels the Christian to proclaim that there is something greater than us.  For the most part, New Agers and neopagans believe that humans are divine on our own merits (Zeller, 2014).   But the Christian view of divinization recognizes that we do not claim divinity as an essential dimension of humanity.  “If you, Lord, keep account of sins, then who could stand” (Ps 130:3)?  Christians recognize that especially in light of the Fall,  humanity is deserving of anything but deification.  It is only through Jesus Christ, Our Savior, that we are able to achieve the greatest of heights, daring to look God in the eye and see him, not as our Master, but as our “friend” (Jn 15:15) with whom we can rightfully expect to enter into a total union through his infinite,  divine mercy.

Objective Morality

Second, Christians acknowledge an objective morality.   The New Ager believes in many moralities and a multiplicity of truths.  The moral reasoning of the modern neopagan represents a polytheism of “many gods, many goods, many moralities” (Kreeft,1988).   In the New Age model of human divinity (or divine humanity) I am the author of my own truth, not God.  It is my self-anointed right to pretend that I am capable of making reality whatever I say it is simply by closing my eyes and wishing on myself.

By contrast, the Christian acknowledges that there is a natural, objective order to the world, which was ordained by God, and to which his children are obliged to adhere, not out of a sense of slavish devotion to alien rules, but so that we might fulfill our incredible destiny to become gods through God’s grace.  Our ability to accomplish this awesome task depends in large part in our active participation in this divinely created moral order because “nothing unclean can enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Rev 27:21).

Worship

The third point that distinguishes the Christian notion of deification from the New Age notion is that the modern neopagan, fails to worship anyone, ultimately, besides himself.  He takes his de facto divinity for granted and demands that you acknowledge it too despite all appearances to the contrary.   He believes he can do what he will–even if it hurts you–because he is divine, the master of his own destiny and responsible only to his own personal sense of self-fulfillment.

In contrast, the Christian approaches the notion that he is destined to become a god with a sense of wonder, awe, amazement, gratitude, and not a little bit of fear born from the recognition that there are serious forces at play within this promise.   And yet, even that understandable fear is cast out by the perfect love (c.f., 1 John 4:18) that flows from the heart of the God who calls to us, runs to meet us on the road and wraps his finest cloak–his divinity–around us (c.f. Lk 15:22).

The Christian call for each person to participate in God’s plan to make men gods is not an exercise in narcissism, or wish fulfillment.  It does not serves as a get-out-of-morality free card.  It is an invitation, rooted in the love of our Heavenly Father for each one of us and extended to all of humanity through the saving work of Jesus Christ.   To discover how you can more effectively cooperate with God’s grace to fulfill your ultimate destiny in Christ, check out my latest book, Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart. (Pre-order today.  In stores June 2, 2015)

Kreeft, P. (1988).  Comparing christianity and the new paganism.  Fundamentals of the Faith: Essays in Christian apologetics.  Ignatius Press.

Zeller, B.  (2014).  Ultimate reality and divine beings.  Patheos Religion Library:  New Age.  Retrieved 5/24/14 at http://www.patheos.com/Library/New-Age/Beliefs/Ultimate-Reality-and-Divine-Beings.html

Time Magazine, “The Hell You Say?”

Time Magazine recently reprinted an article from Patheos Progressive Christian Channel blogger, John Shore, titled What Christianity without Hell Looks Like.shutterstock_216792595

Here’s the money quote from the article, “A Christianity without Hell would have nothing to recommend it but the constant and unending love of God.”   

I don’t know what the author of the quote thinks Hell is, but unwittingly, in that one line,  Shore actually describes the classic Christian vision of Hell.

St Augustine was once asked, “What does God do to the souls in Hell?”  His response? “He loves them.”   The truth is, the flames of Hell are nothing more than the fires of God’s “constant and unending love” licking at the hearts of those who refuse to melt.

Each of us is utterly dependent upon God for our life.  Nothing can exist outside of him.  United with our body in this life, we often suffer under the delusion that we live under our own power.  But when we die there will be no way to pretend that anything besides our complete dependence upon God’s love stands between us and total annihilation.  For those who have spent their lives learning about the constant and unending love of God first hand, and moreover, learning to depend upon it utterly, that experience will be one of tremendous joy, gratitude, and rejoicing.  How giddy we will feel standing on the razor’s edge of nothingness knowing that it is God’s constant and unending love that has, in fact, made us indestructible!  How amazing to suddenly be able to fly…without wings!

But for those who have spent their lives in perpetual, spiritual, “do-by-self!” toddlerhood, refusing to depend on anything or anyone besides themselves, having to suddenly depend entirely on some completely unfamiliar, unknown being,  sustained solely by some unknown, unfamiliar power,  will be nothing short of terrifying.  How could such an experience be anything less than an eternal torture of doubt, fear, and existential nausea as they gaze into the abyss, so eternally in touch with their own powerlessness that they can never accept that God has always been there, will always be there, and in fact, is there still, sustaining them in spite of themselves.

God is present.  He is constant.  He is unending love.  But whether we experience that reality as Heaven or Hell is not up to God.  It’s up to us. The fires of God’s love burn bright and hot and without discrimination–constant and unending.  It is up to us whether we learn to melt…or not.

In fact, Mr. Shore, the only way that Hell cannot exist is for God’s love to cease to be constant and unending.  But those who who have been blessed to experience God’s constant and unending love have also been given the power to imagine the tragedy of living outside of it.