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Points of light: From the Kiki Smith installation at the DeYoung Museum, San Francisco

If you don’t look at things through your concepts, you’ll never be bored. Every single thing is unique. Every sparrow is unlike every other sparrow despite the similarities. It’s a great help to have similarities, so we can abstract, so that we can have a concept. It’s a great help, from the point of view of communication, education, science. But it’s also very misleading and a great hindrance to seeing this concrete individual. If all you experience is your concept, you’re not experiencing reality, because reality is concrete. The concept is a help, to lead you to reality, but when you get there, you’ve got to intuit or experience it directly.

–Anthony de Mello

De Mello was a priest and a psychotherapist whose wide angle mind caused him to be seen as, well, a troublemaker. In 1998 a certain Cardinal (who later became Pope Benedict XVI) declared that de Mello’s positions were “incompatible with the Catholic faith and can cause grave harm.” (Harm? I’m having a hard time imagining what he had in mind.) And some editions of his books include this caveat: “The books of Father Anthony de Mello were written in a multi-religious context to help the followers of other religions, agnostics and atheists in their spiritual search, and they were not intended by the author as manuals of instruction of the Catholic faithful in Christian doctrine or dogma.”

Here is a bit more from the backgrounder posted on

Until his sudden death on June 2, 1987, Fr. Tony de Mello was the director of the Sadhana Institute of Pastoral Counseling near Poona, India. Author of five best selling books, renowned worldwide for his workshops, retreats, and prayer courses, he aimed simply to teach people

Most people, he maintained, are asleep. They need to wake up, open up their eyes, see what is real, both inside and outside of themselves. The greatest human gift is to be aware, to be in touch with oneself, one’s body, mind, feelings, thoughts, sensations.

Here are some of his typical challenges:
Come home to yourself!
Come back to your senses! Do you hear that bird sing?
How can you hear the song and not hear the singer?
How can you see the wave and not see the ocean?
How can you see the dance and not see the dancer?”

Sounds like he was my kind of religious transgressive.

Thank you Whiskey River for the quote at the top.