The Mystical Heartbeat

July 19th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

The Mystical Heartbeat
Friday, July 19, 2019

Today I share again from Carl McColman’s book Christian Mystics:

The first Christian mystics appear in the Bible, figures like John the Evangelist and Paul of Tarsus. But mysticism didn’t end when the Bible was written. Great mystics appear in every century of Christian history. [1] By the fourth and fifth centuries, when Christianity became socially acceptable in the cities of the Roman Empire, remote wilderness locations like the deserts of Egypt and Palestine or the forests of Ireland became home to many saints and mystics.

Out of the deserts came the first monasteries, intentional communities of Christians who sought to give their entire lives to God. As this movement caught on throughout the Christian world, it became a natural home for great mystics and visionaries; and, indeed, nearly all of the great mystics between the fifth and the fifteenth centuries lived as monks or nuns. But with the dawn of the modern era—and the social changes such as the Renaissance and the Reformation in particular—monasteries became less central to Catholic Christianity and were largely rejected by the Protestant churches, so in recent centuries more mystics have emerged who did not live in a cloister.

By the twentieth century, several important figures, such as Evelyn Underhill [1875–1941] and Karl Rahner [1904–1984], began to insist that mysticism was not just a special quality for the “elite” Christians found in abbeys or convents, but rather everyone is meant to be an “everyday mystic.” Indeed, Rahner, widely recognized as one of the greatest of twentieth-century theologians, famously remarked that “the Christian of the future will be a mystic or . . . will not exist at all.” [2] . . .

Carmelite friar William McNamara [writes]: “the mystic is not a special kind of person; each person is a special kind of mystic.” [3] . . . In order for Christianity to survive, all Christians need to discover the mystical heartbeat that is already alive in the center of our tradition—and our souls. Put another way, mysticism is not something we achieve; it is something we receive. . . .

How do we find out what “special kind of mystic” we are called to be? Certainly the ultimate guide to union with God can only be God. . . . But God is assisted in this task by the wisdom and writings of the great mystics throughout history.

Not all mystics are writers, of course. But the ones who made the effort to record their life stories, their insights, their wisdom, their poetry and teachings, are the ones who have left behind “lessons,” so to speak, in the school for the love of God. . . .

Our goal, therefore, is to learn . . . the curriculum of a truly spiritual life . . . grounded in love, mercy, tenderness, compassion, forgiveness, hope, trust, simplicity, silence, peace, and joy. To embody union with God is to discover these beautiful characteristics emerging from within and slowly transfiguring us. . . .

Goodness Of God

July 18th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Goodness of God
Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spiritual director and author Carl McColman explores the etymology of the word “mystic” and the difference between a saint and a mystic. Carl is a wise and holy man still among us.

The Greek root for mystic and mysticism is mueo, which means to shut or to close, as in shutting one’s mouth or closing one’s eyes. It comes from the pagan mystery religions. . . . The “shutting” or “closing” quality of mueo implied keeping the secrets or mysteries hidden, locked away in the heart or mind.

The writers of the New Testament adapted this language for Christian purposes. . . . Among Christians, the idea of mystery referred not so much to what is secret as to what is hidden. And topping the list of hidden things is God . . . : as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Truly, you are a God who hides” (Isaiah 45:15). Meanwhile, Jesus, the Son of God, represented the hidden things of God made manifest—and not only in Christ himself, but also in his followers, who were said to be part of his “body.” So, mystery in Christianity involves the hidden things of God made manifest, or revealed, in the hearts and minds and spirituality of those who love God and follow Christ.

In every generation, in every century of the Christian era, men and women have existed who have exemplified this spirituality of manifesting the presence of God, the wisdom and power of God, the love and mercy of God, in their own lives, in their hearts and minds. . . . [1]

While the idea of sainthood came to be associated with almost supernatural levels of goodness, mystics encountered and embodied the presence of God in profound and life-changing ways. And the mystics (at least the ones we know about) shared their encounters with God through poetry, confessional or autobiographical writing, philosophy, theology, and spiritual teaching. The language of the mystics is often deeply beautiful, expressing love of God, communion with God, even union with God (which sometimes got some mystics in trouble with the less spiritually inclined authorities in the Church).

Of course, many mystics have also been recognized as saints, and some authors suggest that it is impossible to be a saint without also being a mystic. But the two words have distinct meanings, at least in popular usage: a saint is someone who is good and holy, while a mystic is someone who knows God, and whose life has been transfigured by this divine presence. Put even more briefly, saints embody goodness while mystics embody love.

There’s plenty of overlap here. But this is one way to understand the distinction.

What makes someone a mystic is less about a top-down kind of approval and more about an organic, broad-based recognition on the part of the people whose lives have been touched. In other words . . . , mystics teach us how to find God, and a great mystic is someone who has been recognized as doing this particularly well. [I, Richard, would suggest that saints are supposedly perfect people, whereas mystics are visibly imperfect people who have been convicted by moments of very real divine union. If we knew the full story, most “saints” are really mystics!]

Our Response

July 17th, 2019 by Dave No comments »


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.

When you honor and accept the divine image within yourself, you cannot help but see it in everybody else, too, and you know it is just as undeserved and unmerited as it is in you. I call this the “Principle of Likeness.” From this frame you stop judging and start loving unconditionally, without asking whether someone is worthy or not. The breakthrough occurs at once, although the realization deepens and takes on greater conviction over time.

As I mentioned earlier this week, mystics are nondual people who see things in their wholeness and call forth the same unity in others, simply by being who they are. Wholeness (head, heart, and body, all present and positive) sees and calls forth wholeness in others.

Dualistic or divided people, however, live in a split and fragmented world. They cannot accept that God objectively dwells within them or others (See 1 Corinthians 3:16-17). They cannot accept or forgive certain parts of themselves. This lack of forgiveness takes the forms of a tortured mind, a closed heart, or an inability to live calmly and humbly inside their own body. The fragmented mind sees parts, not wholes, and invariably it creates antagonism, fear, and resistance.

What you see is what you get. What you seek is also what you get. We mend and renew the world by strengthening inside ourselves what we seek outside ourselves, not by demanding or forcing it on others.

Mystics are human like the rest of us, and none of us are perfect. We are inconsistent creatures with blind spots and cultural limitations. Outside of flashes of insight and unitive experience, mystics are products of their place in time. For example, they may have sexist, anti-Semitic, or other biases common for that period, as we see even in the much-idealized Desert Fathers. In spite of momentary glimpses of universal and unconditional grace, they may still be rooted in a retributive understanding of God. It takes more than a lifetime for us to grasp the Mystery that we experience during moments of deep presence and surrender. [1]

What mystics finally do, it seems to me, is heal in themselves the fragmentation that is evident in the world. Instead of hating, excluding, or dismissing it over there in others, they heal it in themselves. This healing is God’s Spirit working in us. Mystics see the whole—good, bad, ugly, and beautiful—in themselves and others, refusing to hate or ignore any of it. This allows them to have immense sympathy, empathy, and compassion and to work in service of the world’s healing. I am not sure if you can come to such empathy in any other way.

Christ is Everywhere

July 16th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Introduction to Christian Mysticism

Christ Is Everywhere
Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The twentieth-century English mystic Caryll Houselander (19011954) describes how an ordinary underground train journey in London transformed into a vision that changed her life. I share Houselander’s description of this startling experience because it poignantly demonstrates what I call the Christ Mystery, the indwelling of the Divine Presence in everyone and everything since the beginning of time as we know it:

All sorts of people jostled together, sitting and strap-hanging—workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. But I saw more than that; not only was Christ in every one of them, living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them—but because He was in them, and because they were here, the whole world was here too . . . all those people who had lived in the past, and all those yet to come.

I came out into the street and walked for a long time in the crowds. It was the same here, on every side, in every passer-by, everywhere—Christ.

I had long been haunted by the Russian conception of the humiliated Christ, the lame Christ limping through Russia, begging His bread; the Christ who, all through the ages, might return to the earth and come even to sinners to win their compassion by His need. Now, in the flash of a second, I knew that this dream is a fact . . . Christ in [humankind]. . . .

I saw too the reverence that everyone must have for a sinner; instead of condoning his [or her] sin, which is in reality [their] utmost sorrow, one must comfort Christ who is suffering in [them]. And this reverence must be paid even to those sinners whose souls seem to be dead, because it is Christ, who is the life of the soul, who is dead in them; they are His tombs, and Christ in the tomb is potentially the risen Christ. . . .

Christ is everywhere; in Him every kind of life has a meaning and has an influence on every other kind of life. . . . Realization of our oneness in Christ is the only cure for human loneliness. For me, too, it is the only ultimate meaning of life, the only thing that gives meaning and purpose to every life.

After a few days the “vision” faded. People looked the same again, there was no longer the same shock of insight for me each time I was face to face with another human being. Christ was hidden again; indeed, through the years to come I would have to seek for Him, and usually I would find Him in others—and still more in myself—only through a deliberate and blind act of faith. [1]

I (Richard) would say that my only real definition of a Christian is one who can see Christ everywhere else and even in oneself.

Experiential Knowing

July 15th, 2019 by Dave No comments »

Monday, July 15, 2019

When I use the word “mystical” I am referring to experiential knowing instead of just intellectual, textbook, or dogmatic knowing. A mystic sees things in their wholeness, connection, and union, not only their particularity. Mystics get a whole gestalt in one picture, beyond the sequential and separated way of seeing that most of us encounter in everyday life. In this, mystics tend to be closer to poets and artists than to linear thinkers. Obviously, there is a place for both, but since the European Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there has been less and less appreciation of such seeing in wholes. The mystic was indeed considered an “eccentric” (off center), but maybe mystics are the most centered of all, which leads them to emphasizing love as the center, the goal, and the motivating energy of everything.

The word mystic is not a title of superiority. It’s rather that mystics see things differently. Mystics are nondual seers. They don’t think one side is totally right and the other side is totally wrong. They can see that each side has a part of the truth. When people on either side of any contentious issue cannot love one another, it means they don’t have the big message yet.

And what is the big message, the great good news? I try to explain it in my book The Universal Christ. There is a well-hidden Mystery that’s true everywhere, and only the sincere seekers find it. People may have different names for this Mystery, but I don’t think God minds what we call God as long as it helps us focus on our radical unity while honoring our differences. Mystics—and all mature spirituality—recognize that the dignity in people and created things is inherent, equally shared, and objective. “You were chosen in Christ from the beginning before the world began” (Ephesians 1:4). This dignity is not created by moral behavior or sacraments. It’s the universally shared image of God, already present (see Genesis 1:26-27). Humans are just the lucky ones who can bring this to consciousness. Sacraments just help us do that.

The full Christian story is saying that Jesus died and Christ “arose”—yes, still as Jesus, but now also as the Corporate Personality who includes and reveals all of creation in its full purpose and goal. Or, as the “Father of Orthodoxy,” St. Athanasius (296–373), wrote when the church had a more social, historical, and revolutionary sense of itself:

God was consistent in working through one [human] to reveal [Godself] everywhere, as well as through the other parts of . . . creation, so that nothing was left devoid of . . . Divinity and [God’s] self-knowledge . . . so that “the whole universe was filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters fill the sea.” (Isaiah 11:9) [1]

The Eastern church called this process “divinization” (theosis); Christians in the West call it “incarnation” or “salvation.” The concept of divinization is founded on 2 Peter 1:4: “He has given us something very great and wonderful . . . you are able to share the divine nature!” This is Christianity’s core good news and transformative message.


Incarnational Mysticism

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Years ago, someone asked if I could sum up all my teachings in two words. My response was “incarnational mysticism.” The first word, “incarnational,” is Christianity’s specialty and should always be our essential theme. We believe God became embodied. The early Fathers of the Church professed that God, by taking on human flesh, said yes to all that was physical, material, and earthly. Unfortunately, much of Christianity lost this full understanding.

Many Christians are scared of the word “mysticism.” But a mystic is simply one who has moved from mere belief or belonging systems to actual inner experience of God. Mysticism is more represented in John’s Gospel than in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) which give us the basic story line of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. So many readers are not moved by or attracted to John’s Gospel because they were never taught the mystical mind.

In the early 1960s, Karl Rahner (1904–1984), a German Jesuit who strongly influenced the Second Vatican Council, stated that if Western Christianity does not discover its mystical foundations and roots, we might as well close the church doors. I believe he was right. Without a contemplative mind, Christianity can’t offer broad seeing, real alternative consciousness, or a new kind of humanity. Jesus was the first clear nondual mystic in the West, in my opinion. We just were not prepared for his way of knowing and loving.

Alan Watts (1915–1973), a British philosopher, put it this way: “From the beginning, institutional Christianity has hardly contemplated the possibility that the consciousness of Jesus might be the consciousness of the Christian, that the whole point of the Gospel is that everyone may experience union with God in the same way . . . as Jesus himself.” [1]

Watts also wrote: “The truth that religion, to be of any use, must be mystical has always been denied by the seemingly large number of people, including theologians, who do not know what mysticism is. . . . Its essence is the consciousness of union with God.” [2] Basically, to experience non-separateness, or nonduality from anything, particularly with God, one must move to the mystical mind. Any other mind—or heart—is utterly inadequate to the task.

Until people have had some mystical, inner spiritual experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand religious beliefs beyond the level of formula. At most, such moral ideals and doctrinal affirmations are only a source of deeper anxiety because we don’t have the power to follow any of Jesus’ major teachings about forgiveness, love of enemies, nonviolence, humble use of power, a simple lifestyle, and so on, except in and through radical union with God. Further, doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, and the significance of the Indwelling Spirit have little active power. They are just “believed” at the rational level, but never experienced.

Compassion, Not Sacrifice

July 10th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Prophets: Part Two

Compassion, Not Sacrifice
Wednesday, July 10, 2019

In his book The Great Spiritual Migration, Brian McLaren writes about the possible meaning behind Jesus’ cleansing of the temple (see John 2:13-17):

Perhaps it is not merely the cost of sacrifice that Jesus protests. Perhaps it is the whole belief system associated with sacrifice, based on the fundamental, long-held belief that God is angry and needs to be appeased with blood. Perhaps Jesus is overturning that belief right along with the cashiers’ tables, right along with the whole religious system built upon it. . . .

More than seven hundred years before Jesus, Hosea dared to say that God desired compassion, not sacrifice [see Hosea 6:6]. . . . Around the same time, Isaiah dared to say that God found sacrifices disgusting when people weren’t seeking justice for the oppressed (Isaiah 1-2). And centuries earlier, the poet-king David made the audacious claim that God takes no pleasure in sacrifice, but desires a “contrite spirit” and “truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51). In other words, . . . when [Jesus] said sacrifice wasn’t necessary . . . he was siding with the prophetic and mystical/poetic traditions within Judaism, even though that set him against the traditions of the priests and scholars. . . .

When the prophets Amos, Isaiah, and Micah come along, they don’t advocate rejecting religion and culture, even though they are highly critical of its spiritual hypocrisy and social injustice. They want their religion to expand, to evolve, to learn and grow. The same is true with Jesus. He came, he said, not to abolish or replace, but to fulfill what came before him [see Matthew 5:17]. . . . [Or “transcend and include,” as Ken Wilber would say.]

The spirit of goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness, Jesus said, is always moving. Like wind, like breath, like water, the Spirit is in motion, inviting us to enter the current and flow.

The problem is that we often stop moving. We resist the flow. We get stuck. The word institution itself means something that stands rather than moves. When our institutions lack movements to propel them forward, the Spirit, I believe, simply moves around them, like a current around a rock in a stream. But when the priestly/institutional and prophetic/movement impulses work together, institutions provide stability and continuity and movements provide direction and dynamism. Like skeleton and muscles, the two are meant to work together.

For that to happen, we need a common spirituality to infuse both our priestly/institutional- and our prophetic/movement-oriented wings. The spirituality will often be derived from the mystical/poetic/contemplative streams within our tradition. Without that shared spirituality, without that soul work that opens our deepest selves to God and grounds our souls in love, no movement will succeed and no institution will stand. . . . It’s the linking of action and contemplation, great work and deep spirituality, that keeps the goodness, rightness, beauty, and aliveness flowing.

The Edge of the Inside

July 9th, 2019 by Dave No comments »


Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Prophets, by their very nature, cannot be at the center of any social structure. Rather, they are “on the edge of the inside.” They cannot be full insiders, but they cannot throw rocks from outside either. A true prophet must be educated inside the system, knowing and living the rules, before they can critique what is non-essential or not so important. Jesus did this masterfully (see Matthew 5:17-48). This is what Martin Luther King, Jr. taught the United States, what Gandhi taught British-occupied India, and what Nelson Mandela taught apartheid South Africa.

Only with great respect for and understanding of the rules can a prophet know how to properly break those very same rules—for the sake of a greater purpose and value. A prophet critiques a system by quoting its own documents, constitutions, heroes, and Scriptures against its present practice. This is their secret: systems are best unlocked from inside, and not by negative or angry people.

Holding the tension of opposites is the necessary education of the prophet, yet Christianity has given little energy to what Paul says is the second most important charism for building the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). Prophets must be skilled in nondual thinking, but churches have primarily trained people in the simplistic choosing of one idealized alternative while denigrating the other. This has gotten us nowhere.

After Christianity became the established religion of the Empire in the fourth century, the priestly mentality pretty much took over in both East and West, and prophets almost disappeared. When the Church held so much power, prophets were too threatening to the status quo. The clergy were at the top of the hierarchy in the full company of their patrons—kings and princes—and even began to dress like them. Emperors convened and presided over the first seven Councils of the Church. What does this tell us?

For the next 1700 or so years, most of the preaching and interpretation of Scripture was from the perspective of power, from primarily European, educated, quite comfortable, and presumably celibate males. I am one myself, and we are not all bad. But we are not all—by a long shot! Where are the voices of women, people of color, LGBTQ folk, the poor, and differently abled? How would they read the Gospel? Without these voices included, even central, I see little future for Christianity.

My spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi, saw this problem in the thirteenth century and called people to live on the edge—of the Church, of the dominant economy which always protects the top, of patriarchy, of the “system”—through universal solidarity and chosen simplicity. Pope Francis is evoking the same Gospel spirit, and I pray for his success and protection. What a surprise that the ultimate establishment figure took the name of such a radical saint. It shocked the world because we do not expect prophecy from popes. There is hope!

Liberation

July 8th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Prophets: Part Two

Liberation
Monday July 8, 2019

A prophet is one who keeps God free for people and who keeps people free for God. Both of these are much needed and vital tasks. Without the educated gift of prophecy, God almost always becomes imprisoned and made inaccessible, and far too many people have been shamed and taught guilt to keep us clergy in business. We saw our job as “sin management.”  That is not just being clever. I believe we religious leaders actually thought that. Sadly, the laity fully bought into this negative story line. That is what happens when priests are not informed by prophets.

The priestly class invariably makes God less accessible instead of more so, “neither entering yourselves nor letting others enter in,” as Jesus says (Matthew 23:13). For the sake of our own job security, the priestly message is often: “You can only come to God through us, by doing the right rituals, obeying the rules, and believing the right doctrines.” This is like telling God who God is allowed to love! The clergy and religious leaders, unintentionally perhaps, teach their disciples “learned helplessness.”

The prophets spend much of their time destroying and dismissing these barriers and trying to create “a straight highway to God” (Matthew 3:3). Both John the Baptist and Jesus tried to free God for the people, and it got them killed. The other half of the prophet’s job is to keep people free for God. We get trapped in chains of guilt and legalism, focusing on our imperfect church attendance and inability to live up to the law’s standard; as if the goal of religion is “attendance” at an occasional ritual instead of constant participation in an Eternal Mystery! Prophets turn our ideas of success and belonging on their head, emphasizing God’s unconditional and unmerited love in response to our continual shortcomings. God is always breaking the approved “rules of God” by forgiving sinners, choosing the outsider or the weak, and showing up in secular places. Please check the Bible if you doubt me!

Our job is to love others the way God has loved us. In my life, I’ve experienced God’s unearned love again and again. God has persistently broken the rules to love me at the level I needed, could receive, and was able to understand throughout my life. The magnanimous nature of divine love keeps liberating me at deeper levels, and then I think that newly discovered level of love is the deepest. But it’s a journey that never stops giving. Why wouldn’t everybody want that? But many actually fight it.

Prophets: Part Two

Justice in the Scriptures
Sunday, July 7, 2019

Let me expand on our secular and limited definition of justice which for most Westerners is merely retributive justice. When people on the news say, “We want justice!” they normally mean that bad deeds should be punished or that they want vengeance. Our judicial, legal, and penal systems are almost entirely based on this idea of retributive justice. This much bad deserves this much punishment; this much good deserves this much reward. The rational, logical, tit for tat, quid pro quo system makes sense to most of us. It does appear to be holding civil society together at some level, and seems to be the best our dualistic world can do.

I certainly recognize there are many early passages in the Bible that present God as punitive and retributive, but we must stay with the text—and observe how we gradually let God “grow up.” God does not change as much as human knowledge of God evolves. A sole focus on divine retribution leads to an ego-satisfying and eventually unworkable image of God which situates us inside of a very unsafe and dangerous universe. Both Jesus and Paul observed the human tendency toward retribution and spoke strongly about the limitations of the law (see the Sermon on the Mount, Romans, and Galatians).

The biblical notion of justice, beginning in the Hebrew Scriptures with the Jewish prophets—especially Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Hosea—is quite different. If we read carefully and honestly, we will see that God’s justice is actually restorative. In each case, after the prophet chastises the Israelites for their transgressions against YHWH, the prophet continues by saying, in effect, “And here’s what YHWH will do for you: God will now love you more than ever! God will love you into wholeness. God will pour upon you a gratuitous, unbelievable, unaccountable, irrefutable love that you will finally be unable to resist.”

God “punishes us by loving us more! How else could divine love be supreme and victorious? Check out this theme for yourself: read such passages as Isaiah 29:13-24, Hosea 6:1-6, Ezekiel 16 (especially verses 59-63), and so many of the Psalms. God’s justice is fully successful when God can legitimate and validate human beings in their original and total identity! God wins by making sure we win—just as any loving human parent does. The little “time outs” and discipline along the way are simply to keep us awake and growing.

As Isaiah says of God, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). Yet I am afraid we often pull God down into “our thoughts.” We naively and erroneously think fear, anger, intimidation, threat, and punishment are going to lead people to love. Show me where that has worked. We cannot lead people to the highest level of motivation by teaching them the lowest. God always and forever models the highest—love—and our task is always to “imitate God” (Ephesians 5:1).

Consumed with Love

July 5th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Prophet: Part One

Consumed with Love
Friday, July 5, 2019

Today, Sister Joan Chittister continues exploring the relationship between prophetic witness and contemplation:

A spiritual path that does not lead to a living commitment to . . . the Kingdom of God within and around us everywhere for everyone, is no path at all. . . . It is a dead end on the way to God. . . .

Contemplation, you see, is a change in consciousness. It brings us to see the big picture. It brings us to see beyond our own boundaries, beyond our own denominations, beyond even our own doctrines and dogmas and institutional self-interest, straight into the face of a mothering God from whose womb has come all the life that is.

To claim to be aware of the oneness of life and not to regard all of it as sacred trust is a violation of the very purpose of contemplation, which is an immersion in the God of life. To talk about the oneness of life and not to know oneness with all of life . . . is not contemplation. . . . Transformed from within then, the contemplative becomes a new kind of presence in the world who signals another way of being. . . . The contemplative can never again be a complacent, non-participant in an oppressive system. . . . From contemplation comes not only the consciousness of the universal connectedness of life, but the courage to model it as well.

Those who have no flame in their hearts for justice, no consciousness of personal responsibility for the reign of God, no raging commitment to human community may, indeed, be seeking God; but make no mistake, God is still, at best, only an idea to them not a living reality. Indeed, contemplation is a very dangerous activity. It not only brings us face to face with God, it brings us, as well, face to face with the world, and then it brings us face to face with the self; and then, of course, something must be done. Something must be filled up, added to, freed from, begun again, ended at once, changed, or created or healed, because nothing stays the same once we have found the God within. . . . We become connected to everything, to everyone. We carry the whole world in our hearts, the oppression of all peoples, the suffering of our friends, the burdens of our enemies, the raping of the earth, the hunger of the starving, the joyous expectation every laughing child has a right to. Then, the zeal for justice consumes us. Then, action and prayer are one.

. . . To be contemplative, we must have zeal for the God of love in whom all things have their beginning and their end. Fortunately, you will know when that happens to you, because you will find yourselves consumed with love not only for God but for everything and everyone God has created and who lives and is shaping this world right now. There is no clearer sign of real contemplation.

Civil Rights and Obligations

July 4th, 2019 by JDVaughn No comments »

Prophets: Part One

Civil Rights and Obligations
Thursday, July 4, 2019

Sister Simone Campbell, SSS—known as “the nun on the bus”—is someone I consider a modern prophet. She is the Executive Director of NETWORK, an organization that lobbies for socially just federal policies. On this “Independence Day” (in the United States), reflect on Sr. Simone’s invitation to co-create our collective freedom.

In the last half of the twentieth century, thankfully, our society began to engage in a serious process of trying to atone for the sin of slavery, and in doing so much emphasis was placed on promoting civil rights. An unintended consequence of this important movement was a heightened focus on individuals and individual exercise of the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution. The civil rights movement came out of community, but the legal expression focused on individuals’ capacity to exercise their freedoms. Some fearful Americans—largely white men who professed a conservative version of Christianity—felt threatened, as if there were not enough rights to go around. They sought to create their own “movement.” This reaction in part fueled the rise of the tea party movement. . . .

But a democracy cannot survive if various groups and individuals only pull away in different directions. Such separation will not guarantee that all are allowed the opportunity for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” All people must be recognized for their inherent dignity and gifts regardless of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, or their place of origin. And all these gifts need to be shared in order to build up the whole.

So I have begun to wonder if the new task of the first half of the twenty-first century should be a commitment to civil obligations as a balance to the focus on civil rights.

Civil obligations call each of us to participate out of a concern and commitment for the whole. Civil obligations call us to vote, to inform ourselves about the issues of the day, to engage in serious conversation about our nation’s future and learn to listen to various perspectives. To live our civil obligations means that everyone needs to be involved and that there needs to be room for everyone to exercise this involvement. This is the other side of civil rights. We all need our civil rights so that we can all exercise our civil obligations.

The mandate to exercise our civil obligations means that we can’t be bystanders who scoff at the process of politics while taking no responsibility. We all need to be involved. Civil obligations mean that we must hold our elected officials accountable for their actions, and we must advocate for those who are struggling to exercise their obligations. The 100 percent needs the efforts of all of us to create a true community.

It is an unpatriotic lie that we as a nation are based in individualism. The Constitution underscores the fact that we are rooted and raised in a communal society and that we each have a responsibility to build up the whole. The Preamble to the Constitution could not be any clearer: “We the People” are called to “form a more perfect Union.”