June 17th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Learning in the Shadows

Usually sometime around midlife, we come to a point where we’ve seen enough of our own tricks and we come to feel that my shadow self is who I am. We face ourselves in our raw, unvarnished, and uncivilized stateThis is the shadowland where we are led by our own stupidity, our own sin, our own selfishness, by living out of our false self. We have to work our way through this with brutal honesty, confessions and surrenders, some forgiveness, and often by some necessary restitution or apology. The old language would have called it repentance, penance, or stripping.

In a teaching I recorded with Sounds True about a decade ago, I shared that it wasn’t until I was in middle age, fully embarked on my vocation—a formally celibate priest evangelizing a gospel of love—when I had the courage to ask,

Richard, have you ever really loved anybody more than yourself? [Is there] anybody in particular you would die for?. . . I realized I did not have to do that, that my so-called celibacy which told me that if I did not love anybody particularly, I would automatically love God was not necessarily true. I worried that all I did was love myself in a very well-disguised form.

Much of my forties and my fifties was shadowboxing, seeing my own mixed motives, seeing my own inability to believe and to practice these very things I teach to others. I had become known as a spiritual teacher; and then I would see that very often I had dark thoughts, violent thoughts, lustful thoughts, and then would get up and talk to other people in more mature stages of spiritual development and I was not really there myself. I could point toward those further stages, but I was not really living them. [1]

I believe the darkness in which we find ourselves when facing our shadow can also become the shadowland of Godor what the saints call “the dark night”—if we can see God in it. Maybe this is even the most common pattern. The wound can become the sacred wound, or it can just remain a bleeding, useless wound with a scab that never heals. As I teach in The Art of Letting Go, 

The work of the shadowland can go on for quite a long time and if you do not have someone loving you during that period, believing in you, holding on to you, if you do not meet the unconditional love of God, if you do not encounter radical grace, being loved in your unworthiness, the spiritual journey will not continue. You have to discover God as unearned favor, unearned gratuity, or you will regress, you will go backwards. But in the shadowlands, you learn to live with contradiction, with ambiguity. This is true self-critical thinking. [2]

June 15th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Living with Shadow

All God appears to want from us is honesty and humility. There is no other way to read Jesus’ stories of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32) or the tax collector and the Pharisee (Luke 18:9–14). In each story, the one who did wrong ends up being right—simply because he is honest and humble about it. The one who is formally right ends up being terribly wrong because he is proud about his own performance. How have we been able to miss that important point? I suspect it is because the ego wants to think well of itself and deny any shadow material. Only the soul knows we grow best in the shadowlands.

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side. We did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery—with its suffering, death, and resurrection—within ourselves, and it is now coming back to haunt us. Christians have little ability to carry the shadow side of themselves, of the church, of history, or of reality itself. It is much easier to see things as all-good or all-bad, rather than both crucified and resurrected at the same time, as Christ is.

In many ways, it’s been a constant dilemma of the church. It seems to want to live in perfect light. It does not like the shadowland called Earth. We see in Christian history the Roman Church unable and unwilling to see its own huge shadow, Martin Luther’s abhorrence of his own shadow, the Swiss Reformers trying to outlaw darkness, the Puritans trying to repress shadow, typical believers afraid of their shadow, and fundamentalists preoccupied with Satan “out there.” All of us, it seems, are trying to avoid the mystery in human life, instead of learning how to carry it patiently, as Jesus did.

There are no perfect structures or perfect people. There is only the struggle to get there. It is Christ’s passion (patior in Latin, or the “suffering of reality”) that will save the world, when we are willing to join him in the pattern. “Your patient endurance will win you your lives,” writes Luke (21:19). Redemptive suffering instead of redemptive violence is the Jesus way. Patience comes from our attempts to hold together an always-mixed reality, not from expecting or demanding a perfect reality. That only makes us resentful and judgmental, which is what has characterized much of Christian history. Grateful people emerge in a world rightly defined, where even shadows are no surprise, but, in fact, opportunity for compassion and forgiveness. 

The more attached we are to any persona whatsoever, bad or good, the more shadow self we will have. So we need conflicts, relationship difficulties, moral failures, defeats to our grandiosity, even seeming enemies, or we will have no way to ever spot or track our shadow self. They are our necessary mirrors, and even then, we usually catch it out of the corner of our eye—in a graced insight and those gifted moments of inner freedom. Or in the Rear View Mirror

Embracing Shadow and Light

June 14th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »
We all identify with our persona/mask so strongly when we are young that we become masters of denial and learn to eliminate or hide anything that doesn’t support it. Neither our persona nor our shadow is evil in itself; they just allow us to do evil and not recognize it as such. Our shadowself makes us all into hypocrites on some level. Hypocrite is a Greek word that simply means“actor,” someone playing a role rather than being “real.” We are all in onekind of closet or another and are even encouraged by society to play such roles. Usually everybody else can see our shadow, so it is crucial that we learn what everybody else knows about us—except us! Holy or whole individuals, the ones we call “saints,” are precisely the ones who have no “I” to protect or project. Their “I” is in conscious union with the “I AM” of God, and that is more than enough.  Divine union overrides any need for self-hatred or self-adoration. Such people do not need to be perfectly right, and they know they cannot be anyway, so they just try to be in right relationship. In other words, they try to be loving—above all else.  Love holds us tightly and safely and always. Such people have met the enemy and know that the major enemy is “me” (to borrow from the comic strip character Pogo). But they do not hate the “me” either, they just see through and beyond “me.” Shadow work literally “saves us from ourselves” (our false selves), which is the foundational meaning of salvation to begin with. I am afraid that the closer we get to the Light, the more of our shadow we see. Thus, truly holy people are always humble people. Christians would have been done a great service if the shadow had been distinguished from sin. Sin and shadow are not the same. We were so encouraged to avoid sin that many of us instead avoided facing our shadow, and then we ended up “sinning” even worse—while unaware besides! As Paul taught, “The angels of darkness must disguise themselves as angels of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). The persona does not choose to see evil in itself, so it always disguises it as good. The shadow self invariably presents itself as something like prudence, common sense, and justice. It says, “I am doing this for your good,” when it is actually manifesting fear, control, manipulation, or even vengeance. Isn’t it fascinating that the name Lucifer literally means “light bearer”? The evil one always makes darkness look like light—and makes light look like darkness. The gift of shadowboxing is in the seeing of the shadow and its games in ourselves, which takes away most of the shadow’s hidden power. No wonder that Teresa of Ávila (1515–1582) said that the mansion of true self-knowledge was the necessary first mansion on the spiritual journey. Socrates said the same thing, “Know yourself!” Unveiling the Shadow This week’s meditations focus on unveiling the shadow self, an essential concept in my work that comes from Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). It always needs initial clarification and definition. Let’s begin with the personal shadow. During the first half of our lives (and for many, into the chronological second half of life), we are building up our separate or false self. For the first months of life, human infants feel they are one with their caretaker, usually their mother. But soon the child grows into a sense of separateness, a split between my self and your self that understands “I’m here and you’re over there.” We call this dualistic consciousness.To put it very simply, as children we learn which behaviors cause approval and disapproval from our family, teachers, and friends. If we want to have some sort of control over our lives and create pleasant outcomes, we tend to develop those things which are acceptable and repress those things which are not. Those things we repress or deny about ourselves become our shadow. The qualities we “place” in our shadow aren’t necessarily or only bad; they simply are the ones that are not rewarded by our family system or culture. The more we have cultivated and protected a chosen persona, the more shadow work we will need to do. Therefore, we need to be especially careful of clinging to any idealized role or self-image, like that of minister, mother, doctor, nice person, professor, moral believer, or president of this or that. These are huge personas to live up to, and they trap many people in lifelong delusion that the role is who they are or who they are only allowed to be. The more we are attached to and unaware of such a protected self-image, the more shadow self we will likely have. This is especially dangerous for a “spiritual leader” or “professional religious person” because it involves such an ego-inflating self-image. Whenever ministers, or any true believers, are too anti anything, we can be pretty sure there is some shadow material lurking somewhere nearby. Zealotry is a good revelation of one’s overly repressed shadow. Our self-image is not substantial or lasting; it is simply created out of our own mind, desire, and choice—and everybody else’s preferences for us! It is not objective at all but entirely subjective (which does not mean that it does not have real influence). The movement to second-half-of-life wisdom has much to do with necessary shadow work and the emergence of healthy self-critical thinking, which alone allows us to see beyond our own shadow and disguise and to find who we are, “hidden with Christ in God,” as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:3). The Zen masters call it “the face we had before we were born.” This self cannot die, lives forever and is our True Self. Religion is always in some way about discovering our True Self, which is also to discover God, who is our deepest truth. ________________________________________________________ IHAVE LOVED YOU with an everlasting Love. Before time began, I knew you. For years you swam around in a sea of meaninglessness, searching for Love, hoping for hope. All that time I was pursuing you, aching to embrace you in My compassionate arms. When time was right, I revealed Myself to you. I lifted you out of that sea of despair and set you down on a firm foundation. Sometimes you felt naked—exposed to the revealing Light of My Presence. I wrapped an ermine robe around you: My robe of righteousness. I sang you a Love song, whose beginning and end are veiled in eternity. I infused meaning into your mind and harmony into your heart. Join Me in singing My song. Together we will draw others out of darkness into My marvelous Light. JEREMIAH 31:3; The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. ISAIAH 61:10; I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices. ( A) in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation. and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, ( B) as a bridegroom adorns his head 1 PETER 2:9 NKJV; 9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous … Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 342). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

The Goal Is Union

June 11th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

The goal of our sexual longing is universal love, which is to say union with God, ourselves, and What Is. We came from union and all of our longing is a movement back toward union. The experiences of sexuality can help us glimpse and taste this unity and bring us to what I call the “Gate of the Temple,” but they do not by themselves carry us through the doors. The late gay contemplative writer Michael Bernard Kelly (1924‒2020) understood that our incarnate, finite loves find their source in Infinite Love:

In every era and in every part of life there is a tendency for us to focus on ‘experiences,’ ecstatic ‘thrills’. . . . This tendency is especially marked in sexuality and spirituality, where the tastes are so intoxicating, fleeting and profound. These tastes are essential; they are seeds, glimpses of that fullness to which we are called. However, they are not the Journey itself, not transformation, not mystical union, not enlightenment. They set us on the road—perhaps they are even glimpses of the destination—but we have not yet arrived. Indeed we have hardly set out! If we become addicted to simply seeking more and more ‘experiences,’ whether sexual or spiritual, we never will arrive. We all know this tendency in sexuality, but the seduction in spirituality can be more subtle, more compelling and more soul destroying.

So what is happening? Firstly, some element of this ‘addiction’ is probably inevitable in our yearning and longing, for the taste of ecstasy, however it comes, is so delicious, so overwhelming. Of course we seek it again and again!

‘You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet perfume. I tasted you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I am inflamed with love of your peace,’ says Saint Augustine [1], and in our different ways we know what he means. However, we must allow the withdrawing to take place. It is the withdrawing that will draw us towards the transformation, to the abiding fulfilment of that which we taste so briefly in our ecstasies. How does this happen?

When we taste the Mystery we long to drink deeply of it, to take it into ourselves, to be possessed by it, to surrender to it, to become it in an abiding way, ‘forever and ever.’ To become that which we taste. . . . This is mirrored very powerfully in the images of spiritual communion, where we eat and drink ‘the body and blood of the Lord,’ our very bodies merging and becoming transformed into the One who is the Beloved of our souls.

This is the heart of our yearning: to become that which we taste and hunger for, not briefly, but fully, totally, permanently, being utterly transformed into that which we desire so deeply. Union. Ecstasy. The ‘Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover,’ [2] the seeker transformed into that which she seeks.


TRUST ME and don’t be afraid, for I am your Strength and Song. Do not let fear dissipate your energy. Instead, invest your energy in trusting Me and singing My Song. The battle for control of your mind is fierce, and years of worry have made you vulnerable to the enemy. Therefore, you need to be vigilant in guarding your thoughts. Do not despise this weakness in yourself since I am using it to draw you closer to Me. Your constant need for Me creates an intimacy that is well worth all the effort. You are not alone in this struggle for your mind. My Spirit living within you is ever ready to help in this striving. Ask Him to control your mind; He will bless you with Life and Peace.

ISAIAH 12:2; Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. For the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and He also has become my salvation.” Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” See, God has come to save me.

ROMANS 8:9; You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.

ROMANS 8:6; The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 336). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

June 9th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Incarnational, Queer Love

Presbyterian minister Mihee Kim-Kort came to identify as queer [1] after she was ordained, married, and a mother. Once considered a pejorative, “queer” has been reclaimed by some LGBTQ people to describe themselves—and it reflects many attributes of a Christian incarnational view of the world!Although challenged by many of her preconceived ideas of what was acceptable to church and society, she has chosen to live and minister authentically as a queer Christian. In this passage describing queerness, she captures the heart of an embodied faith that celebrates love and sexuality. 

Christian history is full of stories of love and passion for God. . . .

This kind of passion . . .  is what fuels love and action, where “desire carries that life.” [2] Desire coaxes and draws out, leads and pushes, pulls and compels us to live and love out loud. The cliché slogan Make Love, Not War makes sense. There is something profoundly revolutionary about lovemaking as a way to reject making death. It’s resisting the darkness and destruction of life, of light and love. And while it’s protesting, resisting, and surviving, it’s also creating and making life in response to forces that would take away life. It’s more than surviving; it’s creating, thriving, flourishing.

What I realize I need and want to be a part of is a kind of work that cultivates the expansiveness of love. I dream often of the kind of world we could have for us, for our children, if we weren’t so concerned with regulating, disciplining, and closeting love all the time. If anything, it’s absolutely clear that this world needs more love. Rather than focusing so much energy on categorizing and classifying sexuality and making it conform to narrow representations, I long for our world to encourage lovemaking, to spark in those around me a desire to love ourselves and love each other into more life and love. [Richard here: This is the true sense of the Greek word eros, which describes any movement toward life. Eroticism then is to connect, to make contact, to desire; it’s when there’s that capacity to somehow get out of the self, to give yourself to another, and to receive them.] Because if there’s anything I’ve learned about love, whether experienced among family, friends, or my children, it is that it is contagious and expands exponentially. It overflows the cup. Once released and liberated, it changes everything. . . .

Queerness . . . always tends toward a dynamic generosity, a grace that allows for mistakes and failures, because our lives are richer when we hold all of what is human. . . . A queer spirituality transgresses the boundaries of how we live, move, and breathe through this world. It is truly embodied, and rooted in flesh-and-blood bodies, bodies that are surprising and show up as icons and words. It is also rooted in the body of Christ, in God-with-Us, in the continuous blurring of transcendence and immanence.

Story From Our Community

My sexuality has always been a great grief to me. The teachings in the Daily Meditations that we are “healed by our wounds” and that the way forward is not power and confrontation, but re-identification with our True Self is bringing about peace and healing. Thank you for these insights, which I wish I had had 40 years ago. 
—Andrew W.

June 8th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Biblical Erotic Poetry

Early Jewish scholars and Christian church fathers each debated whether the Song of Songs should be included in the Scriptures. We can understand why, because by any definition, it’s erotic poetry from beginning to end, while also surely a metaphor for God’s passionate delight in us and pursuit of us. Scholar and author Stephanie Paulsell speaks of the boldly and bodily affirming message (good news!) this biblical book offers us:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” So opens the most erotic book of the Bible, the Song of Solomon, or, as it is sometimes called, the Canticle of Canticles, the Song of Songs. In this long poem lying at the heart of scripture between the pragmatic Ecclesiastes and the sublime Isaiah, a woman, “black and beautiful,” and a man, “radiant and ruddy,” speak the language of desire, cataloguing every inch of each other’s body, every smell and taste. “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine,” he says to her (7:2). “His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh,” she tells her friends (5:13). . . .

From the pages of scripture sacred to Jews and Christians alike, the Song of Songs remains a testimony to mutuality in love, to the beauty of the human body, to the goodness of sexual desire, and the power of love: “Love is as strong as death,” the Song proclaims, “passion fierce as the grave.”

Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If one offered for love all the wealth of his house,
it would be utterly scorned (8:6–7).

In the Song of Songs we find no anxiety about desire’s power to deny us the freedom to be who God intends us to be. In the Song of Songs, desire is portrayed as Mark Doty describes it in his meditation on the death of his lover, Wally Roberts: “the ineradicable force that binds us to the world.” [1] The relationship described in the Song is one of mutuality; the lovers are evenly matched in the force of their desire. They are equally vulnerable in their desire to be desired by the other; they are equally determined to give and receive pleasure. . . .

Through desire, Doty writes, “we are implicated in another being, which is always the beginning of wisdom, isn’t it . . . ?” [2] What a wonderful way to account for why the Song of Solomon appears in the wisdom literature of the Bible and why it ought to matter to us as we construct a Christian practice of honoring the body. Because it shows us a path, through desire, outside the boundaries of our individual selves. Because it offers a way of receiving the world that is motivated by love and speaks of God’s own passionate creativity. Because it teaches that in seeking the pleasure of another we may find our own deepest pleasure and in the commitment to another we may come to know ecstasy.

A Sexual Morality Based on Love

June 7th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »
In the area of sexuality, we all seem to have our sacrosanct areas that cannot be touched. Liberals will find some way to say that it is always good, and conservatives are determined to enforce rules and regulations. Both seem to be nervous about nuance. Idols with clear shapes and explanations seem to be easier to live with. Our job is to keep working to enjoy, to respect, to reverence, to honor, to love, and to listen to our bodies—before we start controlling or judging our sexuality. We must not picture God sitting up in heaven with a list: “These kinds of things I get really happy about; these kinds of things I get upset about. Uh-oh—you touched that! I’m upset with you now.” The wisdom from the Christian tradition is that whatever God is doing, it is certainly beyond cultural fears, fads, and social taboos. Open and prayerful people will likely discover a very intuitive and almost common-sense wisdom about what is real and what is unreal in regard to our sexual relatedness and the many ways it allows us to move and discover our true bodily and spiritual selves. The Catholic Theological Society summarized it well when it stated that our sexual actions must aim to be “self-liberating, other-enriching, honest, faithful, socially responsible, life-serving, and joyous.” [1] That is certainly the task and journey of a lifetime, but it is no more or no less than what Jesus said when he taught the greatest commandment of love of God and love of neighbor. The two loves “resemble one another” (see Matthew 22:37–39). They are each the school of the other. We will learn how to be properly sexual as we understand the properly passionate relationship that God has with us. And we learn how to be properly spiritual as we come to understand the true character of human longing and affection. Finally, the only biblical mandate that matters is to copy and allow the pattern of God’s love in you. If this sounds too soft, perhaps it means that we have never loved “all the way.” We have never let it carry us through all its stages, all of its internal ecstasies, loneliness, and purifications. To attain a whole and truly passionate sexuality is hard and holy work. God’s way of loving is the only licensed teacher of human sexuality. God’s passion created ours. Our deep desiring is a relentless returning to that place where all things are one. If we are afraid of our sexuality, we are afraid of God. Nor should we equate sexuality with unadulterated lust, which is far too egocentric to care about anybody else. My desire in this week’s meditations is to initiate a healthy and holy dialogue within your own spirit and perhaps between lovers and would-be lovers. In such an interchange, I hope that you will catch sight of that one Holy Spirit, who enlightens and assures us that it is from our flesh that we shall look on God (Job 19:26). Overcoming the Gap Incarnation is the overcoming of the gap between God and everything visible and concrete. It is the synthesis of matter and spirit. Without incarnation, God remains separate from us and from creation. Because of incarnation, we can say, “God is with us!” In fact, God is in us, and in everything else that God created. We all have the divine DNA. Everything bears the divine fingerprint including, of course, the mystery of embodiment. The belief that God is “out there” is the basic dualism that is tearing us all apart. Our view of God as separate and distant has harmed our relationship to food, possessions, and money, to animals, nature, and our own bodies. This loss is foundational to why we live such distraught and divided lives, particularly when it comes to sexuality, the subject of this week’s meditations. Jesus came precisely to put it all together for us and in us. He was saying, in effect, “The material and the physical can be trusted and enjoyed. This world and even this body are the hiding place and the revelation place of God! To be human, to have a body, to be sexual is good!” The whole movement of Christianity is found in the Incarnation. Jesus was not satisfied to remain Word, he became flesh. Already in the first century, the New Testament speaks of the resurrection and redemption of the body. God did not play a trick on us humans, saying “I’m going to give you sexual desire, but don’t you dare really think, feel, or act sexually!” But that’s what happens with dualism and when we view God as separate. The word sex itself comes from the Latin sectare (to cut), so the original root meaning suggests that reality is cut or divided. We split matter and spirit into two and we are searching for union or our other half. As the writer and Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber puts it, “When two loving individuals, two bearers of God’s image, are unified in an erotic embrace, there is space for something holy. What was separate has come together. Two spirits, two bodies, two stories are drawn so close that they are something together that they cannot be alone. There is unity.” [1] Jesus is the great synthesis for us, the icon of the whole mystery—all at once. “In his body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you too find your fulfillment” (Colossians 2:9–10). We are clearly not very at home in our bodies, and Jesus came to show us that it is our human and this-world experience that we must and can trust. It is our necessary and good beginning point. After the Incarnation, we hopefully realize that the material world has always been the privileged place for divine encounter. What a surprise for most people! Most of us are hooting for the stars instead. We are looking for “higher states of consciousness” and moral perfectionism, while Jesus quite simply comes and “lives among us.” _________________________________________________________ Sarah Young Jesus Calling… IAM ALL AROUND YOU, like a cocoon of Light. My Presence with you is a promise, independent of your awareness of Me. Many things can block this awareness, but the major culprit is worry. My children tend to accept worry as an inescapable fact of life. However, worry is a form of unbelief; it is anathema to Me. Who is in charge of your life? If it is you, then you have good reason to worry. But since I am in charge, worry is both unnecessary and counterproductive. When you start to feel anxious about something, relinquish the situation to Me. Back off a bit, redirecting your focus to Me. I will either take care of the problem Myself or show you how to handle it. In this world you will have problems, but you need not lose sight of Me. LUKE 12:22–31; 22 He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! 25 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?[a] 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin;[b] yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying. 30 For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, strive for his[c] kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. JOHN 16:33; I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

June 3rd, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Letting Go of What Used to Be

God is doing new things, Jesus proclaimed, but only those with new minds and hearts can see a new world breaking through the cracks of the old.

—Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe

If evolution is the language of growth and change, then an evolving faith is one that accepts and even embraces change. While the word change normally refers to new beginnings, real transformation happens more often when something falls apart. The pain of something old cracking apart or unraveling invites us to evolve instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Episcopal priest Stephanie Spellers is a leading thinker on change and growth in the church, and sees the current challenges of church and society as way of God “cracking open” people for greater possibility:

Institutions and cultures are durable partly because they obey the law of inertia. [1] Even if you think you’ve exerted a strong external push and knocked a moving object or an entire institution off its set course, wait. Just wait. With barely a nudge, the object will drift right back to its original path.

Think of your own experience. When you see a crack, what’s your first instinct? Push the pieces back together and patch it over. Eventually a contractor comes with the bad news: there is deep damage here, and if you don’t address it, before long the whole structure will be fundamentally compromised. You sigh and negotiate. I don’t know about you, but I have a surprising capacity to delude myself about how broken the structure is. With enough duct tape and rope, I will get back to normal. [I call this “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic!”]

So it is for a nation and a church. In the midst of displacement, destabilization, and decentering, Americans and church folks have been tempted to replace, restabilize, and recenter. Let’s return to the building. Let’s encourage the protesters to come off the streets. . . . Let’s move past division. Let’s reestablish majority American Christianity in its former, privileged cultural post.

Or we could acknowledge the unraveling, breaking, and cracking [Richard: what we are calling “unveiling” in this year’s meditations] as a bearer of truth and even a gift. Perhaps, as [Alan] Roxburgh suggested, the Holy Spirit has been nudging and calling Christians “to embrace a new imagination, but the other one had to unravel for us to see it for what it was. In this sense the malaise of our churches has been the work of God.” [2] . . . A church that has been humbled by disruption and decline may be a less arrogant and presumptuous church. It may have fewer illusions about its own power and centrality. It may become curious. It may be less willing to ally with the empires and powers that have long defined it. It may finally admit how much it needs the true power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit. That’s a church God can work with.

An Evolving Faith Includes Doubt

June 2nd, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

In my mind, one of the markers of an evolving faith is an ability to integrate doubt—to hold the tension between what we’ve been taught and what we’ve come to know as true. When grounded in an experience of Love, doubt does not represent a step backwards, but is a necessary condition for any movement forward. CAC teacher Brian McLaren speaks of his personal journey with doubt as the essential ingredient in the evolution of his faith from “orthodoxy” or right belief to “orthopraxy” or right way of life.

Before doubt, I thought that faith was a matter of correct beliefs. My religious teachers taught me so: that if I didn’t hold the right beliefs, or at least say that I held them, I would be excommunicated from my community, and perhaps, after death, from God’s presence. They taught me this not to be cruel but because they themselves had been taught the same thing, and they were working hard, sometimes desperately, to be faithful to the rules as they understood them. I tried to do the same, and I would still be doing so today if not for doubt.

Doubt chipped away at those beliefs, one agonizing blow at a time, revealing that what actually mattered wasn’t the point of beliefs but the clear window of faith, faith as a life orientation, faith as a framework of values and spirituality, faith as a commitment to live into a deep vision of what life can be, faith as a way of life, faith expressing itself in love.

For all those years, when I said, “I believe,” I thought I understood what I was doing. But more was going on, so much more. . . .

Looking back, I now see that underneath arguments about what I believed to be true factually, something deeper and truer was happening actually.

For example, whether or not the creation story happened factually as described in Genesis, I was committing myself to live in the world as if it actually were a precious, beautiful, meaningful creation, and as if I were too. . . .

What mattered most was not that I believed the stories in a factual sense, but that I believed in the meaning they carried so I could act upon that meaning and embody it in my life, to let that meaning breathe in me, animate me, fill me. . . . Whether I considered the stories factually accurate was never the point; what actually mattered all along was whether I lived a life pregnant with the meaning those stories contained. To my surprise, when I was given permission to doubt the factuality of my beliefs, I discovered their actual life-giving purpose. . . .

Doubt need not be the death of faith. It can be, instead, the birth of a new kind of faith, a faith beyond beliefs, a faith that expresses itself in love, a deepening and expanding faith that can save your life and save the world.


Sarah Young; Jesus Calling

RELAX IN MY HEALING, holy Presence. Be still while I transform your heart and mind. Let go of cares and worries so that you can receive My Peace. Cease striving, and know that I am God. Do not be like Pharisees who multiplied regulations, creating their own form of “godliness.” They got so wrapped up in their own rules that they lost sight of Me. Even today, man-made rules about how to live the Christian life enslave many people. Their focus is on their performance, rather than on Me. It is through knowing Me intimately that you become like Me. This requires spending time alone with Me. Let go, relax, be still, and know that I am God.

“Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

MATTHEW 23:13;
13“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

1 JOHN 3:2;
Beloved, we are now children of God, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that when Christ appears, we will be like Him, for we will see Him as He is. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.

June 1st, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Four Shapes of Transformation

An evolutionary faith understands that nothing is static. The universe unfolds, our understanding of God evolves and deepens, and our moral development surely evolves as well. We simply cannot, as adults, live by the same overly simplistic rules that governed our morality as children. St. Paul seems to be intuiting the same wisdom—as we love more deeply, we will behave differently (see 1 Corinthians 13:11–13). I have built upon the very helpful and clarifying language of Ken Wilber in describing the evolution of moral and spiritual development. He offers four major stages: Cleaning Up, Growing Up, Waking Up, and Showing Up.

We ministers talked, wrote, and preached about Cleaning Up the most, but actually did this very poorly. We largely reflected the moral preoccupations of the dominant culture in every age and every denomination. Our mostly external understanding of morality was very superficial and reflected our not-so-grown-up culture’s values of various “purity codes.” These were bound to our time in history and seldom driven by the brilliance of Jesus’ moral ideals, which have to do, first of all, with our inner attitudes (see Matthew 6–7). In other words, Jesus teaches and embodies a change in consciousness itself. Mature morality is largely a series of religious encounters leading to a deep transformation of consciousness. Any preoccupation with our private moral perfection keeps our eyes on ourselves and not on God or grace or love. Cleaning up is mostly about the need for early impulse control and creating necessary ego boundaries—so you can actually show up in the real and much bigger world.

Growing up refers to the process of psychological and emotional maturity that persons commonly undergo, both personally and culturally. We all grow up, even if inside our own bubbles. The social structures that surround us highly color, strengthen, and also limit how much we can grow up and how much of our own shadow self we will be able to face and integrate. 

Waking Up refers to any spiritual experience which overcomes our experience of the self as separate from Being in general. It should be the goal of all spiritual work, including prayer, sacraments, Bible study, and religious services of any type. The purpose of waking up is not personal or private perfection, but surrender, love, and union with God. This is the Christian meaning of salvation or enlightenment.

For me, Showing Up means bringing our heart and mind into the actual suffering and problems of the world. It means engagement, social presence, and a sincere concern for justice and peace for others beyond ourselves. If we do not have a lot of people showing up in the suffering trenches of the world, it is probably because those of us in the world of religion have merely focused on either cleaning up, growing up, or waking up. Showing up is the full and final result of the prior three stages—God’s fully transformed “work of art” (see Ephesians 2:10).