Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace

October 20th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

The Sound of Silence
Tuesday,  October 20, 2020

The silence of the Creator is thunderous,

Drowning out everything else,

And hiding in endless creativity.

—Thomas Keating, “Out of a Stone”

One of Thomas Keating’s greatest legacies will surely be his development and teaching of Centering Prayer, a Christian form of silent meditation. It has been my (Richard’s) preferred method of prayer for decades and I recommend it to anyone seeking to enter more deeply into the mystery of God. In today’s meditation, Cynthia Bourgeault explores a profound teaching on silence found within Keating’s poem “Out of a Stone,” excerpted above.

A theme that continues in all the poems contained in The Secret Embrace is that silence is not absence, but presence. It is a “something,” not a nothing. It has substantiality, heft, force. You can lean into it, and it leans back. It meets you; it holds you up.

That’s hardly how it’s understood in our culture at large, of course, where silence is typically seen as “vacant space,” waiting to be filled up with content. We try to cram every “empty” moment full. Even when we begin a meditation practice, this preference for content remains, and we will often approach silence as a kind of inner desert, a place of inner uncovering, which we enter to hear “messages from God.” It’s the messages that most grab us at the start; we’re all ears for whatever new insight emerges out of the silence.

Gradually, as we progress in Centering Prayer—or in any meditation practice, for that matter—we begin to reorient. Centering Prayer’s instructions to let go of all thoughts, regardless of content, directs us back to the silence itself, and we gradually learn the shape of the new terrain. As we stop grabbing for content, we gradually discover that silence does indeed have depth, presence, shape, even sound. As we mature in Centering Prayer, the perception that the emptiness is in fact the presence becomes more and more palpable. Thomas Keating encourages us that this “sound of silence” keeps right on growing. By his own later stage in the journey, it has become “thunderous.”

In fact—says Thomas—this “thunderous” silence is actually the most intense, concentrated “dosage” of divine presence we can bear face-to-face. In a paradoxical way, the dance of creation, beautiful and enchanting as it is, is like a veil over the face of the naked presence of God—like the veil that hides the Holy of Holies in the temple. These two faces of God—veiled and unveiled—live in symbiotic unity, and out of that unity everything pours into existence in a cascade of sheer delight.

For Thomas, creativity is “the diffuse shining of God” (to borrow a striking image from that other celebrated contemporary Thomas, Thomas Merton). [1] It’s what allows us to know our Creator not only in the “thunderous” silence of [God’s] direct presence, but in the dance of life itself. Either or both ways are fine, for they spill unceasingly into one another. From this “veiled embrace” between pure silence and joyful creativity at the very heart of all creation, flows life in all its beauty, goodness, fluidity, and magical wonder.

A Poetic Legacy

October 19th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace
Part One

A Poetic Legacy
Monday,  October 19, 2020

Can the Creator of all lure poetry out of a stone?

Or cause a stirring of Divine Love in a human heart?

All is possible for the Creator of all,

Who loves to manifest the impossible

In endless configurations.

—Thomas Keating, “Out of a Stone”

Cynthia Bourgeault was a close friend and colleague of Father Thomas Keating. Over the past year, she has devoted much time to studying and praying with the eight poems offered in The Secret Embrace. She calls this volume of poetry written in the last months of his life “his final gift to the world.” Today Cynthia describes why she believes the poems are so important:

First, these poems offer an intimate window into the last stage of Thomas’ own spiritual journey, as he emerged fully into what he liked to call “unity consciousness.” Others might call it “non-dual realization,” “the unitive state,” or oneness. Basically, it means seeing the world as whole, seamlessly interwoven, dynamic, coherent, radiant, precious, creative, and compassionate; knowing yourself as belonging to and suffused in this oneness. This state is well known in all the great spiritual traditions, and he stands on the shoulders of John of the Cross, Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Genoa, and others. Thomas’ version gives us a beautiful glimpse of non-dual realization shimmering through a contemporary Western lens.

Second, and more movingly, he allows us to glimpse the costly road that must be travelled in order to arrive at this state. It does not fall like a ripe fruit from a tree or open itself like a lotus blossom. It comes at the end of a fierce struggle, a journey of deepening self-knowledge brought through deepening dying to self. In Christian teaching, this final passage has traditionally been known as “the Dark Night of the Spirit,” and it is a wilderness journey indeed, overturning not only most of our familiar reference points, but even the structures of consciousness through which they are maintained. “Dying to self” proves itself to be something like an onion skin, peeled back to reveal still further layers of dying—until finally there is nothing left except the All.

Many of us on the Centering Prayer path know a fair bit about that first layer of peeling back the onion—the dying to false self, perhaps courtesy of Thomas himself. His early and most influential teaching was all about “dismantling the false self.” But what is the false self? As Thomas voyaged bravely through his last three decades of life, his answer to this riddle shifted steadily toward the non-dual.

Third and finally, Thomas draws on the metaphor of journeying into the unknown, which has pressing relevance for our own world just now. In this season of planetary upheaval, Thomas’ courageous spiritual work has deep wisdom to offer us as we begin to wrap our collective hearts around what is required next. However far any one of us is destined to travel on this wilderness journey, learning to lean into the diminishment, to live with paradox and unknowing, and to celebrate the creativity without dissociating from the pain are all vital survival skills as we humans collectively feel our way into the new beginning.

Thomas Keating: The Secret Embrace
Part One

A Christian Contemplative
Sunday,  October 18, 2020

I first met Father Thomas Keating (1923–2018) in 2002 when he came to Albuquerque to speak at a conference on Centering Prayer [1] with me. I knew of his work and of Contemplative Outreach, the organization he had founded, but our paths had never crossed. As a Trappist monk, Keating had a life more circumscribed than my own as a friar. While Franciscans are called to be “in the world,” the Benedictines, Trappists, and other cloistered orders have vowed to be “not of it.” Our emphases balanced one another; Thomas was more inclined to “contemplation” while I gravitate, by temperament, more toward “action.” As the name of the Center for Action and Contemplation implies, both of our vocations are integral parts of the Christian contemplative tradition.

I had the pleasure of going to St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado for retreat a few times, even in the last years of Thomas’ life. Each time I was impressed with his deep spirituality and his commitment to living “on the edge of the inside” of his own tradition within the Catholic Church. His passion for sharing the practice of contemplative prayer with a wider audience of Christians was truly admirable. He knew what was his to do and he did it, despite the criticism that he must have received from many of his peers who were more used to their quiet, secluded existence.

Thomas Keating made his religious vows well before Vatican II, a full generation before I did. I believe he showed great courage in heeding the call of the Second Vatican Council, “opening the windows” of the monastery, and offering Centering Prayer to the world. Prior to that, contemplative prayer was the exclusive “gift” of the monastic orders, and some may have preferred to keep it that way. He made the ancient practice of contemplation an accessible, relevant, and transformative method of prayer for thousands of Christians by using everyday language and his own brand of humor. At the same time, he also validated the practice with modern believers by integrating modern psychology and the teachings of the 12-Step Programs.

For the next two weeks, guided by the wise mind and open heart of CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault, the Daily Meditations will focus on Father Thomas Keating’s final publication, The Secret Embrace, a short collection of poems written and gathered almost entirely in the last few months of his life. Thomas was a longtime teacher, colleague, and friend to Cynthia; her insights and skill will help us understand the deeply spiritual and deeply human themes of these poems and the contemplative journey itself.

Corporate Evil and Corporate Good

October 16th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

What Do We Do with Evil?

Corporate Evil and Corporate Good
Friday,  October 16, 2020

Both Jesus and Paul radically reframe the human situation and invite us to live a vulnerable human life in communal solidarity with both sin and salvation.

  • Neither sin nor salvation could ever be exclusively mine, but both of them are collectively ours!
  • Universal solidarity is the important lesson, not private salvation.
  • We all hold responsibility for all instead of blaming one or the other.
  • Human solidarity is the goal, not “my” moral superiority or perfection.

I know that does not, at first, feel like a strategy for successful living, and it is certainly not one that will ever appeal to the upwardly mobile or the pure idealists. It first feels like capitulation, but that is not Jesus’ or Paul’s intention at all—quite the opposite. Paul believes he has found a new kind of victory and freedom. He himself calls it “folly” or “foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:21, 25, 27; 4:10), as it is for most people to this day. He often calls it a “hidden mystery” that only the wise discover. Paul believes there is a hidden, cruciform shape to reality, even revealed in the geometry of the cross (see Ephesians 2:13–22). The world is filled with contradictions, false alternatives, zero-sum games, paradoxes, and unresolvable evils. It is foundationally unjust, yet we must work for justice in order to find our own freedom and create it for others.

Paul is an utter realist about life on this planet. We must fully recognize and surrender to this foundational reality before we try to think we can repair the world (tikkun olam in Hebrew) with freedom and love. For Paul, his insight is symbolized in the scandalous image of a man on the cross, the Crucified God who fully accepts and transforms this tragic human situation through love. If this is the reality to which even God must submit, then surely we must and can do the same.

By giving ourselves to this primary human absurdity, which shows itself in patience, love, and forgiveness toward all things, we find a positive and faith-filled way through “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” This is not by really resolving it or thinking we can ever fully change it, but by recognizing that we are all complicit in this mixed moral universe. This is perhaps the humility that Christians need in their campaigns for social reform. This is “carrying the cross” with Jesus.

Humans often end up doing evil by thinking they can and must eliminate all evil, instead of holding it, suffering it themselves, and learning from it, as Jesus does on the cross. This ironically gives us the active compassion we need to work for social change. My acceptance of a cruciform world mirrors my ability to accept a cruciform me.

God has created a world where there is no technique or magical method for purity or perfection. Forgiving love is the only way out and the only final answer is God’s infinite Love and our ability to endlessly draw upon it.

What Do We Do with Evil?

October 15th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

Jesus’ Social Program
Thursday,  October 15, 2020

Jesus does not directly attack the religious and institutional sin systems of his time until his final action against the money changers in the temple (see Matthew 21:12–13; Mark 11:15–17; Luke 19:45–46). Because of this, Jesus’ primary social justice critique and action are often a disappointment to most radicals and social activists. Jesus’ social program, as far as I can see, is a quiet refusal to participate in almost all external power structures or domination systems. His primary action is a very simple lifestyle, which kept him from being constantly co-opted by those very structures, which I (and Paul) would call the “sin system.”

Jesus seems to have avoided the monetary system as much as possible by using “a common purse” (John 12:6; 13:29). His three-year ministry, in effect, offers free healing and healthcare for any who want them. He consistently treats women with a dignity and equality that is almost unknown in an entirely patriarchal culture. At the end of his life, he surrenders to the punitive systems of both empire and religion by letting them judge, torture, and murder him. He is finally a full victim of the systems that he refused to worship.

Jesus knew the destructive power of what Walter Wink wisely called the “domination system.” [2] These systems usually wield power over the poor, the defenseless, and the outsider in every culture. When he does take on the temple system directly (Mark 11:15–18), Jesus is killed within a week. Contrary to history’s interpretation of Jesus’ practice, he did not concentrate on personal, “flesh” sins nearly as much as the sins of “the world” and “the devil,” but few of us were taught to see him that way.

In fact, Jesus is always forgiving individual sinners, which was a problem for the righteous from the beginning (Luke 7:34). In contrast, I do not once see him “forgiving” the sins of systems and empires. Instead, he just makes them show themselves (Mark 5:8) and name themselves (Mark 5:9)—as did Desmond Tutu in South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr. in America.

Significantly, Jesus says “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida!” (Matthew 11:21) and “Alas for you [cultures of the] lawyers, scribes, and Pharisees” (most of Matthew 23 and Luke 11:37‒54). He didn’t warn Bill from Bethsaida, Cathy from Chorazin, or Simon the Pharisee, with whom he engages and eats (Luke 7:36–47). He laments over “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” (Luke 13:34‒35) instead of attacking Jerry from Jerusalem. Today we would call that making an “unfair generalization”; but if what I am saying here has any truth to it, maybe it is a much more truthful and fair diagnosis of the problem. It is Bethsaida and Jerusalem that should fear judgment more than Bill and Jerry! It is “Capernaum” that is to be cast into hell (Matthew 11:23), not necessarily Corey from Capernaum. How did we miss that? It is crucial in our understanding of evil as being, first of all, a social agreement.

What Do We Do with Evil?

October 13th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

An Agreed-upon Delusion
Tuesday,  October 13, 2020

The world (or “system” as we use the word now) is a hiding place for unconsciousness or “deadness” in the words of Paul. Both Thomas Aquinas and C. S. Lewis taught that the triumph of evil depends entirely on disguise. [1] [2] Our egos must see it as some form of goodness and virtue so that we can buy into it.

If evil depends on a “good” disguise, cultural virtue and religion are the very best covers of all. The leaders of both religion and empire colluded in the killing of Jesus (Matthew 27:1–2). In Luke’s Gospel, Herod and Pilate just passed him back and forth and affirmed whatever the other one said (Luke 23:12). Christians were forewarned that the highest levels of power can and probably will be co-opted by evil.

Is there a culture in this world that does not operate out of this recipe for delusion? This is what Paul means when he names “the world,” or what I call “the system,” as one of the sources of evil. What Paul already recognized, at least intuitively, is that it is almost impossible for any social grouping to be corporately or consistently selfless. It has to maintain and promote itself first at virtually any cost—sacrificing even its own stated ethics and morality. If we cannot see this, it might reveal the depth of the disguise of institutionalized evil.

Consider the religious rationale for the “Doctrine of Discovery,” which justified the conquest of the Americas and the African slave-trade. Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah write:

The doctrine [of Discovery] emerged from a series of fifteenth-century papal bulls, which are official decrees by the pope that carry the full weight of his ecclesial office. . . . On May 4, 1493, the year after Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Pope Alexander VI issued the papal bull Inter Caetera . . . and offered a spiritual validation for European conquest, “that in our times especially the Catholic faith and the Christian religion be exalted and be everywhere increased and spread. . . .” It gave theological permission for the European body and mind to view themselves as superior to the non-European bodies and minds. The doctrine created . . . an identity for African bodies as inferior and only worthy of subjugation; it also relegated the identity of the original inhabitants of the land “discovered” to become outsiders, now unwelcome in their own land. [3]

Evil finds its almost perfect camouflage in the silent agreements of the group when it appears personally advantageous. Such unconscious “deadness,” will continue to show itself in every age, I believe. This is why I can’t throw the word “sin” out entirely. If we do not see the true shape of evil or recognize how we are fully complicit in it, it will fully control us, while not looking the least like sin. Would “agreed-upon delusion” be a better description? We cannot recognize it or overcome it as isolated individuals, mostly because it is held together by the group consensus.

Story from Our Community:
As Covid continued to shut everything down this Spring, I became increasingly closed off from my “normal” spiritual practices. . . These daily meditations have been a life-line for me during this period where a conflagration of world and national events have left many of us struggling. My morning practice [now] involves lighting incense, reading Richard Rohr’s words of wisdom, praying with him and then heading to my Zabutan [cushion] for a brief meditation-session. —Maia B.

A Negative Matrix

October 12th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

What Do We Do with Evil?

A Negative Matrix
Monday,  October 12, 2020

One reason we lost interest in the concept of sin is because we usually heard it being used to judge, shame, exclude, or control others or ourselves. Seldom was the concept of sin used to bring discernment or deeper understanding, much less compassion or forgiveness, to the human situation. My conviction is that sin became a less useful idea for many of us because we needed to move around in a different field to regain our notion of the deadly nature of true evil. If we are honest and perceptive, we surely see that actual evil often seems to “dominate the very air” and is much more the norm than the exception.

I’m convinced the apostle Paul’s teaching about the nature of sin reveals his spiritual genius. For him, sin is not primarily individual fault, but the negative matrix out of which both evil and enlightenment arise. Paul (or the school of Paul) wrote in Ephesians: “You were dead through the crimes and sins that used to make up your way of life, when you were living by the principles of this world, thus obeying the ruler who dominates the very air” (2:1‒2). This compact sentence seems to be pointing to at least three sources of evil, which would eventually be called the flesh, the world, and the devil in early Catholic moral theology:

1) The Flesh: “the crimes and sins that used to make up your way of life” (our personal participation in an already criminal and sinful culture);

2) The World: “living by the principles of this world” (since most cultures are based on false or superficial agreements about value, dignity, and success). By world, Paul is not referring to creation or nature, but rather what we might call the system;

3) The Devil: “the ruler who dominates the very air” (the illusions and deceits which so totally control the field of consciousness that most of us cannot see them; it is the very air we breathe).

Up to now, most Christians have placed almost all of our attention on the level of the “flesh,” policing sexuality and various “unclean” acts rather than addressing the more serious and pervasive forms of corporate injustice and evil. We have had almost no education in or recognition of what Paul meant by “the principles of the world” and even less on what he meant by “the ruler who dominates the very air.” When we imagine the devil as a caricature of a red, horned figure, we are not taking evil seriously. The implications have been massive, blinding, and hugely destructive, both for the individual and for society.

What Do We Do with Evil?

The Nature of Evil
Sunday,  October 11, 2020

Over the years, it has become increasingly clear to me that we are confused about the nature of evil. We don’t seem to understand what evil is, how it operates, or what we can do, personally or collectively, to reduce its power over us and its impact on our world. We really must face these questions, even if they are difficult and unpleasant to think about. Our planet’s life-sustaining systems are disintegrating. Authoritarianism is emerging all over the world. Since the pandemic began, the physical and mental health of millions has been deteriorating. Evil is clearly at work in our world, but what can we do about it? 

I do not pretend to have the answers to such a big question, but what I can offer is the wisdom of the Christian tradition. For the first thousand years of Catholic Christianity, it was assumed that there were three sources of evil: the world, the flesh, and the devil. I will unpack the meaning of these three sources of evil this week.

Over centuries, we became very used to equating evil with individual “sins” and we lost a sense of its collective nature. The word “sin” often serves as a label applied to various cultural taboos and expectations, frequently having to do with purity codes. That seems very different from the real evils destroying the world! Of course, moral development and impulse control are important individual disciplines, but the conflation of personal sin with the source of evil is a terrible misunderstanding which has led to tragic consequences. Perhaps so many of us stopped using the word “sin” because we located it inside of our own small, cultural categories, with little awareness of the true subtlety, depth, and importance of the much more devious concept.

When small, easily forgivable transgressions are labeled “sins” and equated with evil, we trivialize the very real notion of evil and divert our attention from the real thing. Before it becomes personal and shameable, evil is often culturally agreed-upon, admired, and deemed necessary. The apostle Paul already had the prescient genius to recognize this, and I believe he taught that both sin and salvation are, first of all, corporate and social realities. In fact, this recognition could and should be acknowledged as one of his major contributions to history. I believe it still will be. 

We largely missed that essential point, and thus found ourselves in the tight grip of monstrous social evils in Christian nations, all the way down to the modern era. Thus we also lost out on the benefit of a corporate notion of salvation that far exceeded anyone’s individual worthiness or unworthiness.

We are all guilty with one another’s sin and not just our own.

We are all good with one another’s goodness and not just our own.

My life is not just about “me.”

The Soft Prophecy of Francis

October 9th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

St. Francis:
A Message for Our Times

The Soft Prophecy of Francis
Friday, October 9, 2020

At its core, Franciscan prophecy is “soft prophecy”—which is often the hardest of all! It is a way of life that is counter to the ways of the world. I personally have found that few of us can offer “hard prophecy”—direct and challenging words—from a truly clean heart and humble spirit. “Hard prophecy” often has more to do with our own self-image as strong, smart, zealous, or committed than with actual service or caring for others. The present culture of angry partisan politics that exists on both the Left and the Right is far more effective at making us feel morally superior than it is at changing anyone’s mind. We should first seek to “clean the inside of our own dish,” as Matthew puts it (23:26), before we try to clean other people’s dishes, but that is less visible or heroic and, therefore, less common.

The Franciscan teaching of soft prophecy became a primary reason why we founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in 1987. The teaching and seeking of the nondual mind through solid contemplative practice seems to be the only effective way to integrate the inner with the outer journey. The result is summed up in one of our eight core principles: “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” [1] This approach guards against the most common criticisms of religion in general and social-justice work in particular, which, frankly, has tended to produce many negative, oppositional, and judgmental people. It has given Christianity a very bad name in much of the world, and seldom looks or feels like love. Integral Theory calls such people on the Left “mean greens”!

Soft prophecy, a change in lifestyle, moves all religion from any kind of elitism to the most egalitarian worldview of all. The broadest and biggest viewpoint possible is the harmony of goodness itself, where goodness is its own inherent reward. This is always beautiful in people and yet also demands a basic change in attitude. For some reason, “doing charity” to get a reward later became much more common among Christians. Such service and “good works,” however, are often not so beautiful or healing for those who receive it.

We lost our unique and prophetic way when we turned Brother Francis into “Saint Francis.” It was no longer considered “foolish” to say that we followed either Jesus or Francis and were living on the “edge of the inside.” In fact, it became fashionable, tame, sweet, and safe to do so. A truly prophetic lifestyle is never fashionable or safe.

That is why we must move to the laboratory where all such radical change can occur—inside of our very mind, heart, and the cells of our body. I call it the laboratory of contemplative practice, which rewires our inner life and actually confirms in the soul a kind of “emotional sobriety.” [2] It gives us an inner sense of divine union so we can do the needed works of justice with peace, enduring passion, and insofar as possible, personal invisibility.

St. Francis: A Message for Our Times

October 8th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

The Gifts of a Simple Life
Thursday, October 8, 2020

My brothers! My brothers! God has called me by the way of [humility], and showed me the way of simplicity. . . . The Lord told me what He wanted: He wanted me to be a new fool in the world. God did not wish to lead us by any way other than this knowledge. —Francis of Assisi

We can summarize the transformative gifts of a truly Franciscan simple life in these ways:

When we agree to live simply, we put ourselves outside of others’ ability to buy us off, reward us falsely, or control us by money, status, salary, punishment, and loss or gain of anything. This is the most radical level of freedom, but, of course, it is not easy to come by. It might be called foundational restorative justice, or primal solidarity with the mass of humanity and the earth. Francis and Clare created a life in which they had little to lose, no desire for gain, no loans or debts to pay off, and no luxuries that they needed or wanted.

When we agree to live simply, we have little to protect and no desire for acquisition, even for acquisition of any “moral capital.” When we imagine that we are better, holier, higher, more important to God than others, it is a very short step to “justified” arrogance or violence toward those others. It is almost inevitable, in fact, and we are witnessing today how it manifests itself at every level of our societies. If we could eliminate such manufactured and desired superiority, religion might finally become nonviolent in thought, word, and deed. Francis and Clare were experts at it, and so nonviolence came quite naturally to them and to the early movement they inspired.

When we agree to live simply we can understand what Francis meant when he said that “a man had not yet given up everything for God as long as he held on to the moneybag of his own opinions.” [1] Most of us find out that this purse is far more dangerous and disguised than any wallet and we seldom let go of it.

When we agree to live simply, we no longer consider immigrants, refugees, people in poverty, or anyone else on the margins of society as a threat. When we choose to relinquish our privileges, whatever they are, we have freely and consciously chosen to become “visitors and pilgrims” in this world, as Francis puts it (quoting 1 Peter 2:11). A simple lifestyle is quite simply an act of solidarity with the way most people have had to live since the beginnings of humanity.

When we agree to live simply, we have time for spiritual and corporal works of mercy, like prayer, service, and justice work, because we have renegotiated in our minds and hearts our understanding of time and its purposes. Time is not money anymore, despite the common aphorism! Time is life itself and we want to give our lives away freely as Jesus, Francis, and Clare did.

When we agree to live simply, we have little energy to defend or protect our group, our ethnicity, our country, our money, and our religion. Our circle is no longer defined by these external and accidental qualities, because we now find the joy and beauty of the real essentials and the actual center which is God.

Taking a Step Towards Simplicity

October 7th, 2020 by JDVaughn No comments »

St. Francis:
A Message for Our Times

Taking a Step Towards Simplicity
Wednesday, October 7, 2020

As you announce peace with your mouth, make sure that greater peace is in your hearts. . . . For we have been called to heal wounds, to bind up the broken, and to call home any who have lost their way. —Francis of Assisi  

I am convinced that the world and the Church need the message of St. Francis today!  The true Gospel always leaves us both fragile and vulnerable, or as Jesus said, “as sheep among wolves” (Matthew 10:16). Yet this is exactly what the world wants and expects from Franciscans, and for what Jesus freed us, so we cannot lose heart. I find that people today are quite ready to hear Franciscans give messages of simplicity, nonviolence, humility, love of animals and “enemies,” and care of the earth. In fact, they are deeply disappointed when we are merely priests in brown robes who reflect current cultural values, upward mobility, and church more than Gospel.

I was once told that two Christian groups carry the least negative baggage in Western civilization: Franciscans and Quakers! It seems to me that if Franciscans go back to the simplicity of our contemplative and peace-making foundations, we might again look like the Catholic version of the Quakers and the Amish, who often initially resembled us. The world expects and longs for a truly unique, positive, and inviting message from the followers of St. Francis. True Franciscan evangelization is not preaching at or to people, but just making the truth beautiful, attractive, and also challenging.

Truth be told, both Jesus and Francis were revolutionary and radical. Those are not bad words. Radical comes from radix, which means the root. Both Jesus and Francis were prophets; and like the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures and John the Baptist, they struck at the roots of evil (Matthew 3:10). These are the very systems of the world that have lost their way, robbing us of the “straight path and open highway” (Matthew 3:3) to God.

Francis and Clare were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. The “dirty rotten system” that Dorothy Day critiqued is the very one that Francis and Clare avoided. When Francis said, “I left the world, [1] after being among lepers, he was saying that he was giving up on the usual payoffs, constraints, and rewards of business-as-usual and was choosing to live in the largest Kingdom of all. To pray and actually mean “Thy Kingdom come,” we must also be able to say “my kingdoms go.”

St. Francis: A Message for Our Times

October 6th, 2020 by Dave No comments »

A Cosmic Mutuality
Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Jesus saw God in all that he saw. —James Finley

Let us place our first step in the ascent at the bottom, presenting to ourselves the whole material world as a mirror through which we may pass over to God, the supreme [Artisan]. —Bonaventure (1221–1274)

In stories of his life, Francis is quoted as talking to animals and natural elements. He does not speak to them just as birds or wolves, but as mutual spiritual beings who are worthy of being addressed. He was always telling them who they are, why they should be happy, and why they make him happy. He said they give glory to God just by being who they are! One of his early biographers wrote, “We who were with him saw him always in such joy, inwardly and outwardly, over all creatures, touching and looking at them, so that it seemed that his spirit was no longer on earth but in heaven.” [1] That may sound sentimental to our modern ears, but perhaps that is what a saint looks like—completely attuned to God’s presence everywhere and at all times.

Francis talked to larks, lambs, rabbits, pheasants, falcons, cicadas, waterfowl, bees, the famous wolf of Gubbio, pigs, and hooked fish that he threw back into the water whenever possible. He addresses inanimate creation too, as if it were indeed ensouled, which we know because his Canticle of the Creatures includes fire, wind, water, Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and, of course, “our Sister Mother Earth” herself. [2]

So-called “nature mysticism” was in fact a worthy first path for Francis, and also for Bonaventure, the scholar who brought the vision of Francis and Clare to the level of a total theology, philosophy, and worldview. Bonaventure saw all things as likenesses of God (vestigia Dei , fingerprints and footprints that reveal the divine DNA underlying all the links in the Great Chain of Being. Both Francis and Bonaventure laid the foundation for what John Duns Scotus (1266–1308) would later identify as the univocity (one voice) of all being, and what Dawn Nothwehr, a Franciscan sister, calls “cosmic mutuality.” [3]

Creation itself—not ritual or spaces constructed by human hands—was Francis’ primary cathedral. His love for creation drove him back into the needs of the city, a pattern very similar to Jesus’ own movement between desert solitude (contemplation) and small-town healing ministry (action). The Gospel transforms us by putting us in touch with that which is much more constant and satisfying, literally the “ground of our being,” which has much more “reality” to it, rather than theological concepts or ritualization of reality. Daily cosmic events in the sky and on the earth are the Reality above our heads and beneath our feet every minute of our lives: a continuous sacrament, signs of God’s universal presence in all things.Gateway to Action & Contemplation:

LStory from Our Community:
I live in Tasmania, the magic isle in the south of Australia. It is filled with unique birds and animals, ancient forests, awe inspiring wilderness and truly amazing life forms in the surrounding ocean. I also live very close to a forest reserve . . . and my dog takes me for a walk there every day. One day, it dawned on me that this creation, all of it, was the inevitable, the fantastic, and visible life of God. God’s beauty, love and life had to burst out, not just throughout the universe, but also on this little blue planet. Nothing could stop God, who is love and beauty flowing through the universe. —Ginni M.