Resilience Requires Flexibility

June 18th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Resilience Requires Flexibility

In conversation with CAC Publications Manager Mark Longhurst, author Cole Arthur Riley considered this year’s Daily Meditations theme of radical resilience:  

[Radical resilience] stirs some amount of tension and some amount of encouragement…. When you think about the origins of the word resilience, it’s closer to talking about plastic, something that returns back to its original shape after you bend it. I think humans don’t really work like that. We don’t go back to the way we were before we were broken or bent….   

I’m a recovering cynic, and I used to have so much resistance to language of resilience. It’s only really in the past few years that I’ve had to confront a kind of resilience that isn’t really about returning back to the way you were before, but is much more about reclaiming whatever new shape your form has taken. A resilience that doesn’t really ask us to forget, but that carries the memory of whatever harm or whatever fire we’ve been through. A resilience that carries that memory and still is committed to one’s survival and one’s going on in the world, however that shape looks…. 

It’s a radical idea. This is another James Baldwin quotation. He’s actually reviewing The Exorcist film and it’s this beautiful review. I recommend everyone read it because he’s talking about much more than The Exorcist; he’s talking about the terrors of the world. He says, “It was very important for me not to pretend as if the terrors of that time left no mark on me. They marked me forever.” [1] I think he’s getting at a kind of resilience that still carries memory, that still says we’re marked, we’ve been through something, but that we’re committed to ultimately surviving this thing. [2] 

CAC teacher and psychotherapist James Finley shares that it’s through the wounded places in us that God’s love reaches us:  

It is in experiencing and accepting how difficult it can be to free ourselves from our hurtful attitudes and ways of treating ourselves and others that we begin to understand that the healing path is not a linear process in which we can force our way beyond our wounded and wounding ways. Rather, it is a path along which we learn to circle back again and again to cultivate within ourselves a more merciful understanding of ourselves as we learn to see, love, and respect the still-confused and wounded aspects of ourselves. Insofar as these wounded and wounding aspects of ourselves recognize that they are seen, loved, and respected in such a merciful way, they can feel safe enough to release the pain they carry into the more healed and whole aspects of ourselves.  

We are now attempting to bear witness to the sweet secret of experiential salvation in which the torn and ragged edges of our wounded and wayward hearts are experienced as… the opening through which the gentle light of God’s merciful love shines into our lives. 

An Offer of Infinite, Not Immediate, Satisfaction
Jesus said the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant who found a pearl of exceedingly high value, so he sold everything he had and purchased the pearl. If nothing else, this very short parable ought to convince us that Jesus and his kingdom are not opposed to self-interest. The merchant was clearly motivated by his desires when he sold everything to acquire the pearl. It was not an act of self-denial.Likewise, the writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus endured the humiliation of the cross because of the joy that was set before him (Hebrews 12:2). He knew that on the other side of his suffering was a satisfaction of infinite magnitude—he would be raised, given the name above all names, and his enemies put under his feet.

Despite the claims of some contemporary worship songs, Scripture reveals that Jesus did not think about “me above all.” Shockingly, he also had his own glory in mind. Yes, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (John 3:16), but the Son also knew that his self-sacrifice would result in every tongue confessing that he is Lord (Philippians 2:11). We don’t talk about it very much, but self-interest was a factor in Jesus’ death on the cross.

Somehow we’ve accepted the message that faith in Christ must be a miserable calling, and that any hint of self-interest is a betrayal of the faith and a sure sign of ungodliness. This view, however, is not found in the teachings of either Jesus or his Apostles. The problem is not having self-interested desires, but how the world tells us to fulfill them. Our consumer culture tells us satisfaction should come immediately and at no cost. Rather than patiently searching for a valuable pearl and sacrificing all he had to buy it, in our culture’s version of the parable the merchant should have purchased the pearl with a click, with $0 down, 0% financing, and free two-day shipping.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer had a name for a faith that costs nothing: cheap grace.What Jesus offers us with his kingdom is not immediate satisfaction but infinite satisfaction, and when we recognize the magnitude of the joy that is being promised to us, like the merchant in the parable, we will gladly sacrifice everything to get it.

DAILY SCRIPTURE

MATTHEW 13:44-46
HEBREWS 12:1-2
PHILIPPIANS 2:5-11


WEEKLY PRAYER From Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life, except to spend them for you, with you, and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to you. Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of your eternal Providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

June 17th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Only the Beginning 

In growing psychologically, one moves toward increasing autonomy and independence. In growing spiritually, one increasingly realizes how utterly dependent one is, on God and on the grace of God that comes through other people. —Gerald May, Will and Spirit 

Over thirty years ago, Father Richard gave a talk at the 20th anniversary of Sojourners magazine and community. He affirms the benefits of psychological growth but urges us not to become stuck in individualistic worship of the self:  

When subjectivity became the reference point for human behavior, the psychological age began; by the late 1960s it became the language of the mainstream. It was a revolution just as profound and maybe more far-reaching than political revolutions or religious reformations. All of us are deeply affected by it; it is the air we breathe.  

The Jungian psychologist James Hillman summarizes it well:  

It’s the prevailing opinion we encounter anywhere in the therapy world, the self-help world, the afternoon talk-show world. All make clear the importance of childhood, of coming out from disempowerment (“be in control”), recovering from past abuses, working through to self-acceptance (“I can be comfortable with that”), and the confessional witness of “my own journey.” [1]  

These things are good to a certain point, and have helped countless people, but are only the beginning of the journey. The subjective self in our day is sometimes treated as objective truth. It becomes the unassailable “ground of being” which often cannot be questioned or left unaffirmed.  

It seems that it has become an accepted truth that the best thing one can do is “work on oneself.” Often it’s frowned upon in some circles to repress any feelings, fears, or sexual fantasies, while it may be totally acceptable to repress the objective issues of famine, habitat destruction, access to medical care, and weapons sales. 

When psyche meets psyche there is usually insight, communion, expansion, or at least distraction. It feels alive and will always lead us to another level of revelation or confrontation. But sometimes there is no goal beyond the process itself or that elusive thing called healing. This sounds a bit hard perhaps, but the enduring philosophical traditions have never confused existence with essence as we do today. We attach enormous significance to passing feelings, hurts, and experiences, things which the great world religions have called illusion, temptation, trial, grace, opportunity, passion, or “shadow and disguise.” They are means, not ends; windows and doorways perhaps, but surely not the temple itself. 

At best, the search for understanding or sobriety or healing is seen as the early “purgative way,” but not yet the classic “illuminative” or “unitive” paths. In these, we less and less need explanations, success, or control. Healthy spirituality points us through ever-changing psyche to never-changing Spirit. The Mystery has shown itself. It’s okay. It’s enough. No one, including the self, needs be blamed, shamed, or worshiped. If that’s not the freedom of the children of God, what would it possibly be?  

A Maturing Spirituality

Richard Rohr offers his own basic overview of the stages of spiritual development, which also account for our developmentally appropriate psychological needs:  

  1. My body and self-image are who I am.  
    We focus on our own security, safety, and defense needs. 
     
  2. My external behavior is who I am.
    We need to look good from the outside and to hide any “contrary evidence” from others, and eventually from ourselves. The ego’s “shadow” begins to emerge at this time.  
     
  3. My thoughts and feelings are who I am.  
    We begin to take pride in our “better” thoughts and feelings and learn to control them, so much so that we do not even see their self-serving nature. For nearly all of us, a major defeat, shock, or humiliation must be suffered and passed through to go beyond this stage.  
     
  4. My deeper intuitions and felt knowledge in my body are who I am.  
    This is such a breakthrough and so helpful that many of us are content to stay here, but to remain at this level may lead to inner work or body work as a substitute for any real encounter with, or sacrifice for, the “other.” 
     
  5. My shadow self is who I am.
    This is the first “dark night of the senses”—when our weakness overwhelms us, and we finally face ourselves in our unvarnished and uncivilized state. Without guidance, grace, and prayer, most of us go running back to previous identities.  
     
  6. I am empty and powerless.  
    Some call this sitting in “God’s Waiting Room,” but it is more often known as “the dark night of the soul.” At this point, almost any attempt to save ourselves by any superior behavior, morality, or prayer technique will fail us. All we can do is to ask, wait, and trust. God is about to become real. The false or separate self is dying in a major way.  
     
  7.  I am much more than who I thought I was.  
    We experience the permanent waning of the false self and the ascent of the True Self as the center of our being. It feels like an absence or void, even if a wonderful void. John of the Cross calls this “luminous darkness.” We grow not by knowing or understanding, but only by loving and trusting.  
     
  8. “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
    Here, there is only God. There is nothing we need to protect, promote, or prove to anyone, especially ourselves. Our false self no longer guides the ship. We have learned to let Grace and Mystery guide us—still without full (if any) comprehension.  
     
  9. I am who I am.
    I’m “just me,” warts and all. We are now fully detached from our own self-image and living in God’s image of us—which includes and loves both the good and the bad. We experience true serenity and freedom. This is the peace the world cannot give (see John 14:27) and full resting in God.
Why We Reject God’s Kingdom
Jesus’ parables comparing the kingdom of heaven to a man who finds a treasure in a field and to a merchant who discovers a pearl of great value are meant to be understood through an economic framework. Any rational person would gladly give up something of little value to acquire something of great value. Likewise, the value of God’s kingdom is so extraordinarily high that anything sacrificed for it ought to be released without hesitation. Jesus is illustrating that his kingdom is an unbelievable bargain.If that is the case, why do so many people still struggle to accept Jesus’ invitation?

There are two possibilities. First, people are not always rational. In fact, there is strong evidence that people will act irrationally and against their own self-interests even when they know they are doing so. (For more I recommend Michael Lewis’ book, The Undoing Project, about two psychologists who won the Nobel Prize for proving the human mind is hardwired to make wrong decisions.) Our bent toward self-destructive and irrational choices confirms the Christian view that humans are universally corrupted by sin.

There is another possibility also rooted in the power of sin. Even if we are functioning rationally, we may not recognize the value of what is being offered to us because of our poor vision or general ignorance. For example, when my son was little he was addicted to sugar. But if said to him, “Would you like some creme brûlée?” he would have immediately refused. Those unfamiliar words might conjure images in his mind of vegetables or some other unappetizing adult cuisine. His response would be very different, however, if I said, “Would you like some vanilla pudding, covered in sugar, and cooked with a blowtorch?”Our blindness or ignorance prevents us from recognizing the true nature and value of what is being offered. As a result, we cling more tightly to what we have and dismiss the glories available to us in Christ.

C.S. Lewis wrote about it this way:“Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are halfhearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

”DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 13:44-46
ISAIAH 5:20-21
ISAIAH 55:1-1-2


WEEKLY PRAYERFrom Blaise Pascal (1623 – 1662)
O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health or life, except to spend them for you, with you, and in you. You alone know what is good for me; do, therefore, what seems best to you. Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to yours; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of your eternal Providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Pattern of God’s Love

June 14th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

To connect to the holy is to access the deepest, juiciest part of our spirits. Perhaps this is why we set up so many boundaries, protections, and rules around both sex and religion. Both pursuits expose such a large surface area of the self, which can then be either hurt or healed. But when the boundaries, protections, and rules become more important than the sacred things they are intended to protect, casualties ensue.  
—Nadia Bolz-Weber, Shameless 

Father Richard encourages Christians to embrace a sexual ethic that reflects a love of God, self, and others. 

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, while conservatives are determined to enforce rules and boundaries. Both groups 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.  

The wisdom the Christian tradition offers 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 us. 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.   

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John Chaffee 5 For Friday

1.
“The line between good and evil runs not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties-but right through every human heart.”

  • Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian Author and Historian
     
    One of the things that we do is assume there is a line separating “us from them.”  This particular line helps us to wrongfully believe that people on “our side” are right or good while the people on “the other side” are wrong or evil.

However, Sozhenitsyn tells us the truth here.

That line goes right through every human heart.

There is some good in the other and there is some evil within me.  Just that simple acknowledgment starts to chip away at the dualistic thinking that I and my enemy are different from one another.  A more accurate picture is that the war between good and evil is a constant thing within every one of us.

2.
“I drink beer whenever I can lay my hands on any. I love beer, and by that very act, the world.”

  • Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk and Activist
     
    There probably was a point in my life when I believed that to love God inferred a certain disapproval of “the world.”  This is in part because of passages in the NT that decry “the world.”

One of the liberating teachings that I stumbled across from Catholic activist Dorothy Day (or at least it is attributed to her) is how she calls “the world” as “the filthy rotten system.”  Meaning, that she understood Scripture to be decrying abusive, power-hungry, dehumanizing, and callous behavior toward the lowest tiers of society.

OF COURSE, a Christian is supposed to love the world, in the same manner that Christ did.

OF COURSE, we are supposed to love this material existence, the Incarnation happened into it.

OF COURSE, we are supposed to stand up against injustice, the prophets of old did it first.

And so, Thomas Merton is simply tapping into that same stream.  He is a part of that same lineage.

And we can be, too.

3.
“The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

  • Werner Heisenberg, German Theoretical Physicist
     
    Science observes the world through the five senses.

Wonder and faith are the romancing tactics of God that come to us through experiencing our finitude while observing the world through our five senses.

4.
“Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.”

  • Romans 12:19
     
    This verse is always a hard one to swallow.  I can’t speak for others but there are certainly days when I would love to see accountability happen.  Then again, it is probably best to let the One who is Love be the one who does the judging.

After all, even Nietzsche said to “distrust anyone within whom the desire to punish is strong.”

5.
“Is there a third way, a Christian way?  It is my growing conviction that in Jesus the mystical and the revolutionary ways are not opposites, but two sides of the same human mode of experiential transcendence.  I am increasingly convinced that the conversion is the individual equivalent of revolution.  Therefore every real revolutionary is challenged to be a mystic at heart, and he who walks the mystical way is called to unmask the illusory quality of human society.  Mysticism and revolution are two aspects of the same attempt to bring about radical change.  No mystic can prevent himself from becoming a social critic, since in serl-reflection he will discover the roots of a sick society.  Similarly, no revolutionary can avoid facing his own human condition, since in the midst of his struggle for a new world he will find that he is also fighting his own reactionary fears and false ambition.”

  • Henri Nouwen in The Wounded Healer
     
    Whew, that might be the longest quote I have included in a 5 on Friday yet.

What I appreciate about Henri Nouwen is his ability to name things with a clarity that makes his point seem so very obvious.

Evangelicalism holds Christian mysticism with suspicion to its own detriment because it is a failure to recognize that at its roots Christianity has always been a mystical religion.

Evangelicalism also seems to hold activism with suspicion to its own detriment because it is a failure to recognize that at its roots Christianity has always been a revolutionary critique and subversion of cultural norms.

I say these things about Evangelicalism because I, once upon a time, butted up against opposition within it because I wanted to talk about and teach about the mystical and revolutionary spirituality of Christianity and was reprimanded for it.

Nearly 15 years ago, I was encouraged to read The Wounded Healer and it has since been a book that I return to every few years.  It has helped to shape my interior landscape and personal outlook so much that The Wounded Healer feels like an undeniable side of my own spirituality.

It may not be that Christianity is in decline or rise in the West.  I believe that every generation must be taught anew, to be built up from ground zero, and to be taught the best of the tradition.  Perhaps what is actually falling apart or is in decline is a false, amystical (did I just invent a word?), and passive… thing (?) that calls itself Christianity but has shallow roots and is without any true lineage.

This is hopefully where I can fit in.  Perhaps you as well.  We are each tasked with the job and the joy of sharing the deep wisdom (sophia) of the Christ to each new generation.  We are each responsible to the tradition for the transmission of the tradition.  We are each called to be like Christ, to be mystic revolutionaries, and encourage one another to follow in those same footsteps.

Eros and Agape

June 13th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

Creation testifies to the overflowing energy of God’s presence in our world. Our own generosity, our surprising ability to forgive, and our endless desire for more life all witness to this God-given energy [this eros] within us.  
—James D. Whitehead and Evelyn Eaton Whitehead, Holy Eros 

Richard Rohr considers expressions of love that exist in our passion for one another:  

Sexuality is a much broader mystery than its physical expression. It’s an inner drive—which some call eros—toward the other and beyond the small self. A commitment to celibacy doesn’t negate this pull to give oneself to another. And at the same time someone can be sexually active and totally self-absorbed, which is not eros at all, but merely “lustful.” 

Healthy intimate relationships take away our existential anxiety. Even without touch, true intimacy overcomes our feelings of separateness and insecurity: “I’m not attractive; I’m not important; I’m not …” is our desperate and disparate state. Once someone affirms that we’re lovable and enough for them, once we begin to deeply trust ourselves, then we discover that what we also desire is agape, or divine love. Agape is much more inclusive and all-embracing than eros. Yet agape builds on eros and even deepens eros because it hugely expands our sense of True Self. Agape love includes and transcends all other genuine loves. [1] 

Womanist theologian Kelly Brown Douglas believes agape and human sexuality are connected:  

Agape is God’s love. It is an active love, the giving of oneself for the sake of justice and the building of an authentically human (loving) community. By perfectly manifesting agape, Jesus’ life and ministry … reinforce the understanding that to reflect the image of God is to do nothing less than nurture loving relationships….  

A positive embrace of human sexuality is critical to agape, and it is crucial for those who would radiate what it means to be created in the image of God. Human sexuality is what provides [us] with the capacity to enter into relationships with others. Sexuality is that dimension of humanity that urges relationship. Sexuality is a gift from God that, if properly appreciated, helps [people] to become more fully human by entering into loving relationships. [2]  

Douglas parallels God’s eros and our own: 

Human passion must be seen as more than lust or desire for sexual activity.… For me, passion … is that divine energy within human beings, the love of God, that compels them toward life-giving, life-producing, and life-affirming activity and relationships in regard to all of God’s creation. So while passion certainly encompasses the biological production of life, it means more than that. It is a powerful, creative dynamism. It is a glimpse of God’s perfect passion for life. Human passion is God’s passion bursting forth from the human being as an insatiable desire to foster life in all aspects of one’s living. Such an understanding and appreciation for human passion as a glimpse of God’s own passion demand an embrace of human sexuality. [3]

__________________________________________________________

Sarah Young Jesus Calling

I am creating something new in you: a bubbling spring of Joy that spills over into others’ lives. Do not mistake this Joy for your own or try to take credit for it in any way. Instead, watch in delight as My Spirit flows through you to bless others. Let yourself become a reservoir of the Spirit’s fruit.
     Your part is to live close to Me, open to all that I am doing in you. Don’t try to control the streaming of My Spirit through you. Just keep focusing on Me as we walk through this day together. Enjoy My Presence, which permeates you with Love, Joy, and Peace.

RELATED BIBLE VERSES:

John 3:8 (NLT)
8 “The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.”

Additional insight regarding John 3:8: Jesus explained that we cannot control the work of the Holy Spirit. He works in ways we cannot predict or understand. Just as you did not control your physical birthday, so you cannot control your spiritual birth. It is a gift from God through the Holy Spirit (mentioned in Romans 8:16; 1st Corinthians 2:10-12; 1st Thessalonians 1:5,6).

Galatians 5:22 (NLT)
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, …

Additional insight regarding Galatians 5:22-23: The fruit of the Spirit is the spontaneous work of the Holy Spirit in us. The Spirit produces these character traits that are found in the nature of Christ. They are the by-products of Christ’s control – we can’t obtain them by trying to get them without his help. If we want the fruit of the Spirit to grow in us, we must join our life to his (discussed in John 15:4-5). We must know him, love him, remember him, and imitate him. As a result, we will fulfill the intended purpose of the law – to love God and our neighbors. 

Divine Intimacy

June 12th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Richard Rohr reflects on our need for human and divine intimacy: 

The big secret is this: an infinite God actually seeks and desires intimacy with the human soul. Once we experience such intimacy, or desire for such union, only the intimate language of lovers describes what is going on: mystery, tenderness, singularity, specialness, nakedness, risk, ecstasy, incessant longing, and, of course, suffering. This is the vocabulary of the saints. Our biggest secrets and desires are only revealed to others, and even discovered by ourselves, in the presence of sorrow, failure, need, when we are very vulnerable, and when we feel entirely safe in the arms of love. When that happens, there is always a broadening of being on both sides. We are larger people afterwards. Those who never go there remain small. 

It’s only when we are in such a tender place that God can safely reveal the “innards” of God to us. Those who are self-sufficient remain outsiders to the mystery of divine love because they will always misuse it. Only the need of a beloved knows how to receive the need and gift of the lover, and only the need of a lover knows how to receive the need and gift of the beloved. 

How does this secret of intimacy become unhidden? Only when we stop hiding—from God, from ourselves, and from at least one other person. Such risky self-disclosure is what I mean by intimacy and it is the way that love is transmitted. Intimacy happens when we expose our insides—and this is always scary. We must be prepared to be rejected and the pain of rejection after self-disclosure is so great that it can sometimes take years for us to risk again. 

Richard shares what his practice of celibacy has revealed to him about intimacy: 

I wonder if we know how to be intimate with God if we have never practiced mutual self-disclosure with at least one other human being. I sincerely doubt the possibility. Sexuality creates an obvious and ideal container for true intimacy, at least now and then. Celibacy reveals that an awful lot of sex is not about intimacy at all. Healthy celibacy and healthy sexual encounters demand deep, true intimacy; unhealthy expressions often contribute to an effective avoidance of it. (I write this after almost 50 years in a celibate community of men, and after counseling lots of others in a sexualized world.) 

Intimacy is not just a well-kept secret of the soul, not just a mystery that defies logic, not just a poverty that we avoid; I believe vulnerable intimacy is the entrance into and the lynchpin between all human and divine love. It really does not matter which comes first; it is just important that we pass through this gate of fear and find what lives inside. Intimate love is the true temple that we all desire. I guess we have to want to love and to be loved—or we will never go there. 

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An Interdependent Spiritual Ecosystem
In 1958, the Chinese government began a nationwide campaign to rid China of sparrows. The birds, the government claimed, were responsible for eating seeds and grain essential for the growing Chinese population. Millions of citizens were mobilized to trap and kill the birds, destroy their nests, and crush their eggs. The campaign was brutally effective. By 1960 the birds had been virtually eradicated from China. That was also when the government realized sparrows do not only eat grain—they also eat insects. With their predators gone, insect swarms multiplied and more rice was lost to pests than before the sparrow campaign began. The ecological imbalance contributed to a famine that killed an estimated 45 million people. Eventually, China replaced its sparrows by importing 250,000 birds from the Soviet Union.

Science has taught us how seemingly unrelated parts of nature can affect each other. A small change in one part can ripple through the system and magnify to affect another. Ecosystems are complex webs of interdependence. This applies to other systems as well—economic systems, social systems, and even spiritual systems. Unfortunately, like the Chinese government, we often have a compartmentalized vision. We fail to recognize how one part of our life impacts another, and this can lead to tragic consequences, especially in our relationship with God.

We’ve been looking at Jesus’ parable about an unmerciful servant. He owed his king an astronomical debt of 100 million denarii, but the king was merciful and forgave the full amount. The twist in Jesus’ story comes when the forgiven man encountered a fellow servant who owed him just 100 denarii but refused to show him the same mercy.When word reached the king he was furious. “You wicked servant!” he blasted, “I forgave you all of your debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” The king rescinded his mercy and threw the man in jail. Jesus concluded with a sober warning: “So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

The parable is a challenge to our compartmentalized view of faith. We have been shaped by a culture of hyper-individualism that emphasizes my “personal relationship with God,” and we often see this relationship as hermetically sealed off from all others. Faith is something we engage in privately, and we assume receiving God’s forgiveness is independent from every other relationship we have. This is why a seemingly devout Christian can justify mistreating his employees, show indifference toward a suffering group he does not identify with, or support policies that exploit the poor. He assumes these parts of his life exist in distinct, isolated spheres.

Jesus, however, repeatedly emphasizes the inexorable link between our relationship with God and our relationship with others. They form a single, spiritual ecosystem in which forgiveness in one place will ripple through the entire web to affect every other part. Likewise, our refusal to show mercy toward others will impact God’s mercy, or lack of it, toward us. The story is a warning to those who would claim a life with God, but persist in cultivating anger, bitterness, and hatred toward others. As Jesus said, “The measure you use for others will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).DAILY SCRIPTUREMATTHEW 18:21-35
GALATIANS 6:7-10
MATTHEW 6:14-15
WEEKLY PRAYERFrom John Baillie (1886 – 1960)God, let me put right before interest,
Let me put others before self,
Let me put the things of the spirit before the things of the body.
Let me put the attainment of noble ends above the enjoyment of present pleasures.
Let me put principle above reputation.
Let me put you before all else.
Amen.

Mercy Ever-Present

June 11th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

As you breathe out, say “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” 
—St. Symeon the New Theologian 

James Finley describes the boundless nature of God’s mercy:  

What does it mean to ask Jesus Christ to have mercy on me? It’s to ask God to have mercy on me in the waywardness of my ways. I know by my own actions that I’m not true to the person I really am called to be. I know this in my weakness, so I ask Christ to have mercy on me. At the very heart of this prayer is the heart of Jesus because God is love, and when love touches suffering, the suffering turns love into mercy. Jesus is like a field of boundless mercy…. There’s an infinite love within us that we can in no way whatsoever increase—because it’s infinite. God is infinitely in love with us. But just as we can’t increase it, we can’t threaten it either. We’re an infinitely loved, broken person. In acceptance of the brokenness, the infinity of the love that shines through the brokenness gets brighter and brighter.  

There’s a moral imperative to do our best not to continue with things that are hurtful to ourselves and others. You have your list, and I have mine. That’s important. But grounded in us is in an inner peace that is not dependent on the ability to overcome the hurtful thing. St. Paul had a thorn in the flesh and asked God to remove it, but God said, “Leave it there” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). The thorn is the teacher, the place where it isn’t looking good, if this is all up to you. But it’s not up to you. It’s up to God giving Godself to you as infinitely lovable in your brokenness and incompleteness. This is experiential salvation. [1] 

CAC faculty emerita Cynthia Bourgeault illustrates God’s ever-present mercy:  

The story comes to mind of the little fish swimming up to its mother, all in a panic: “Mama, Mama, what’s water? I gotta find water or I’ll die!” We live immersed in this water, and the reason we miss it is not that it is so far away but, paradoxically, so close: more intimate to us than our being itself.…  

[Mercy] is the water in which we swim. Mercy is the length and breadth and height and depth of what we know of God—and the light by which we know it.…  

The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too—in the words of Psalm 103—“swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love. [2]

The Magnitude of our Debt
In response to Peter’s question about forgiveness, Jesus told another parable. The story is about a king settling his accounts with his servants. The scenario would have been familiar to Jesus’ first-century audience. Kings collected taxes from their subjects by hiring financial ministers or governors to manage the process on his behalf, who in turn hired tax collectors in towns and villages. These roles were very lucrative because only a portion of the funds collected was paid up the chain of command, and those at each level pocketed some of the revenue for themselves. Therefore, the more tax collectors you brought under your supervision, the more revenue you could take for yourself. It was the ancient world’s version of a multilevel marketing scheme.

One of the king’s tax collectors in Jesus’ story owed an astronomical amount of money—ten thousand talents. For some perspective, a first-century historian reported that the entire tax debt of Galilee, Judea, and Samaria was 600 talents, but in Jesus’ story this one man owed 10,000. A talent equaled 10,000 denarii, and one denarius was the normal pay for a single day’s work. Therefore, the servant’s debt of 100 million denarii would have required about 300,000 years to repay. Clearly, Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point.

Being unable to repay the debt, the king ordered the man, his wife, and his children to be sold as slaves, and all of his property liquidated. The servant, however, fell on his knees before the king and begged for more time to repay what he owed. This would have provoked laughter from Jesus’ audience. They knew the man’s request was ridiculous. No amount of time would ever be enough to repay 10,000 talents.Jesus’ parable was intended to show the inescapable magnitude of our sin before God; the utter hopelessness of our position. There is nothing we could possibly do to free ourselves from its grasp, and those who think they can rescue themselves from sin are as ridiculous and delusional as the servant in the story.

The parable should also make us question religious traditions that say the debt of my sin may be paid back with prayers, good works, meritorious rituals, or time spent in some kind of purgatory. Such traditions simply do not recognize the true nature of sin and the depth of our depravity. They diminish the magnitude of our debt in order to make salvation seem humanly achievable.

The unintended side effect, however, is that these traditions also diminish the magnitude of God’s mercy.Until we grasp the depth of our sin we will never recognize the true scale of God’s kindness. In the story, the king is filled with compassion for his servant, and rather than merely granting him more time to repay what he owed—a pointless gesture anyway—the king canceled his debt entirely. The emphasis is upon the king’s mercy, not the servant’s effort to repay his debt. Likewise, in the cosmic economy of God’s kingdom, we are powerless to repay our debts, but thanks be to God that he is compassionate to everyone who confesses their sins and cries out for mercy.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 18:21-35
MICAH 7:18-19
COLOSSIANS 3:12-13


WEEKLY PRAYER
From Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971)
Lord, we pray this day mindful of the sorry confusion of our world. Look with mercy upon this generation of your children so steeped in misery of their own contriving, so far strayed from your ways and so blinded by passions. We pray for the victims of tyranny, that they may resist oppression with courage. We pray for wicked and cruel men, whose arrogance reveals to us what the sin of our own hearts is like when it has conceived and brought forth its final fruit.We pray for ourselves who live in peace and quietness, that we may not regard our good fortune as proof of our virtue, or rest content to have our ease at the price of other men’s sorrow and tribulation.We pray for all who have some vision of your will, despite the confusions and betrayals of human sin, that they may humbly and resolutely plan for and fashion the foundations of a just peace between men, even while they seek to preserve what is fair and just among us against the threat of malignant powers.Amen.

An Authentic Exchange

June 9th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

Richard Rohr honors the divine dimension of embodied love:  

Authentic love is about giving a bit of myself to another—and, in this surrender, something new is created. The flow of love is a divine experience mirroring the relationship within the Trinity. It is possible to connect our varied experiences of embodiment—through gender, sexuality, and physicality—with the very life of God flowing through us. We are co-creators with God, not just passive observers, in a world that is continually evolving and unfolding.  

In the midst of authentic lovemaking (physical and/or emotional), we realize there is a third element that is beyond us or our beloved. In the Trinitarian view, we call this third energy the Holy Spirit. Unconditional, unselfish love takes place when I love and care for the other for their own sake. I seek their pleasure more than my own, even to the point of suffering for their good. Such love brings us beyond separation to a place where we are one even if we are far apart physically or in time. 

I’ve witnessed this eternal, unbreakable intimacy in people whose partner has passed away. More than one bereaved spouse has said to me, “He’s actually more real, more present to me now than when his body was alive.” This means they fully experienced the “bridal chamber” or the divine espousals, to use Teresa of Ávila’s mystical language. [1] We are part of the divine lovemaking in which we are both making love and being made love to in the same action (See Song of Songs 1). This is experienced as an energy and life that is larger than our own. We are merely along for the ride! 

Of course, the greater the light there is in something, the greater the shadow it casts. Sexuality and false intimacy also have the power to destroy and wound. No wonder there are so many taboos around sexuality. It has been said, “Where nothing is forbidden, nothing is required.” There’s something so significant required of the soul to make and to commit to love that I’m not surprised so many cultures and religions have created so many moralistic guidelines—even if a lot of them were not very helpful or healing. Impulse control is certainly a valuable skill for an adolescent to learn, but too often the church’s teaching just led to shame or pre-emptive repression rather than healthy sexuality. (This is not to say that all free expression is wonderful, moral, or even helpful!) 

What is so important and essential here? I believe it’s simply this: We are each a sacred image of the Divine. We are co-creators with God, so we must respect our own embodiment, and the sacred embodiment of the other. Let Paul speak his truth here: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?… The temple of God, which you are, is holy” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

Allowing Ourselves to Unfold

Author and filmmaker Cassidy Hall describes coming to embrace her queerness as a path to intimacy with her true self.  

Queerness formed a kind of centerpoint for my ever-evolving true self. Queerness is a place of my own unlimited becoming, and its innate connection to the Divine, nature, and my fellow humans.… 

Everyone carries their own true self in their own way, in their own words, and in their own time. And that is also beautifully queer. My true self is the queer way I rest my ear to the chest of a tree, listening for its heartbeat. My true self is the part of me that shows up at the Indiana statehouse when anti-trans bills are brought to the table, knowing the privilege of my own position as a cis queer white woman and the roles I am called to in communal care. My true self is the part of me that keeps asking questions, stays curious about my own blossoming, and holds myself—and the world—with open hands…. As we unclench our fists, shedding internalized norms and expectations, we step toward everything alive, toward everything wild, toward the truth of who we are. 

Hall describes the healing that took place as she learned to accept her body and identity: 

As the years passed, I began stripping away my beliefs about myself from these broken expectations and witnessed a significant change. My body, my existence, my identity began to feel more magical, alive, and queer. I continued to release ideas of myself related to society’s expectations, and I began caring far more about what feels like me—what resonates and reverberates with the ground of my being, what rhythms are in sync with my body…. I frequently hiked in silence, which helped me love my body’s capacity for endurance and appreciate my mystical and often sensual relationship with nature. Going to the nearby Temescal Canyon, I’d quietly climb to the ocean overlook to feel the elements around and within me. I was refilled with my natural rhythms, recognizing the gift of my body and embracing the erotic energy I carry.  

It was on that same trail where I experienced an intimate entanglement with my true self and an interconnectivity to everything alive. As I hiked toward the peak one morning, I unknowingly grabbed my own hand, holding it ever so tenderly. As I realized the affection and love of the moment, I stopped, closed my eyes, and began to weep. While embracing this moment of love between myself, my body, and the beauty surrounding me, I gathered myself and kept walking. I continued holding my own hand, embracing the moment of deep connection between my true self and the world around me. The true self exists in the vessel of our body. And to be in touch with our true self is to be in touch with the erotic, to be in touch with everything alive.

___________________________________________________________

Skye Jethani

At the start of the Covid-19 quarantine, it was difficult to keep our household functioning smoothly. Without the usual school and work schedules, order quickly broke down. Teenagers were sleeping past noon, unfolded laundry piled up, and regular chores were neglected. Even the dog seemed confused by the situation. Finally, some order was reestablished when a “Quarantine Routine” was posted in the kitchen outlining the minimum expectations for every family member every day. Admittedly, the bar was not set very high but at least we set one, and the kids proceeded to do the least amount of work necessary to clear it.

Some religious people approach faith the same way. They view it as a bar to clear. They think of religion the same way they view taxes—all they want to know is the minimum amount required of them, what loopholes apply, and how to avoid closer scrutiny. Their goal is to do, give, or pray just enough to appease God’s expectations but not an ounce more. Many who questioned Jesus carried this minimum-standard mindset, including Peter.

“Lord, if my brother sins against me, how many times should I forgive him? As many as seven times?” he asked. To be fair to Peter, there was a popular rabbinical teaching at the time that forgiveness was required three times. Peter must have known that Jesus often called for mercy that far exceeded that of his culture, so Peter more than doubles the forgiveness quota to seven times in his question. Whether three or seven, however, Peter was still looking for the lowest number necessary to clear God’s forgiveness bar.

Jesus’ response must have shocked Peter and everyone else. “Not seven times, but seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22). Reading Jesus literally would mean forgiving 490 times, but that would miss his point. The number is meant to communicate that forgiveness is to be limitless. Jesus was setting the bar infinitely higher than anyone could have expected. With his answer, the disciples would have heard an echo of Genesis 4 where Cain’s revenge was said to be sevenfold and Lamech’s revenge was seventy-sevenfold. Instead of multiplying vengeance, however, Jesus was calling his disciples to multiply their mercy.

Beyond a jaw-dropping call to unlimited forgiveness, Jesus’ answer was also a rebuke of our search for God’s minimum requirements. Our focus should not be the least we must do to obey a law, but rather how far we will go to emulate God’s love. Be careful of religious people wanting to know the least amount of love required of them. They are still more focused on passing a test rather than possessing Christ.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 18:21-22
LUKE 17:1-4
EPHESIANS 4:29-32
WEEKLY PRAYER
From Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971)
Lord, we pray this day mindful of the sorry confusion of our world. Look with mercy upon this generation of your children so steeped in misery of their own contriving, so far strayed from your ways and so blinded by passions. We pray for the victims of tyranny, that they may resist oppression with courage. We pray for wicked and cruel men, whose arrogance reveals to us what the sin of our own hearts is like when it has conceived and brought forth its final fruit.

We pray for ourselves who live in peace and quietness, that we may not regard our good fortune as proof of our virtue, or rest content to have our ease at the price of other men’s sorrow and tribulation.

We pray for all who have some vision of your will, despite the confusions and betrayals of human sin, that they may humbly and resolutely plan for and fashion the foundations of a just peace between men, even while they seek to preserve what is fair and just among us against the threat of malignant powers.

Amen.

Mercy Ever-Present 

June 7th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

As you breathe out, say “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” 
—St. Symeon the New Theologian 

James Finley describes the boundless nature of God’s mercy:  

What does it mean to ask Jesus Christ to have mercy on me? It’s to ask God to have mercy on me in the waywardness of my ways. I know by my own actions that I’m not true to the person I really am called to be. I know this in my weakness, so I ask Christ to have mercy on me. At the very heart of this prayer is the heart of Jesus because God is love, and when love touches suffering, the suffering turns love into mercy. Jesus is like a field of boundless mercy…. There’s an infinite love within us that we can in no way whatsoever increase—because it’s infinite. God is infinitely in love with us. But just as we can’t increase it, we can’t threaten it either. We’re an infinitely loved, broken person. In acceptance of the brokenness, the infinity of the love that shines through the brokenness gets brighter and brighter.  

There’s a moral imperative to do our best not to continue with things that are hurtful to ourselves and others. You have your list, and I have mine. That’s important. But grounded in us is in an inner peace that is not dependent on the ability to overcome the hurtful thing. St. Paul had a thorn in the flesh and asked God to remove it, but God said, “Leave it there” (2 Corinthians 12:7–10). The thorn is the teacher, the place where it isn’t looking good, if this is all up to you. But it’s not up to you. It’s up to God giving Godself to you as infinitely lovable in your brokenness and incompleteness. This is experiential salvation. [1] 

CAC faculty emerita Cynthia Bourgeault illustrates God’s ever-present mercy:  

The story comes to mind of the little fish swimming up to its mother, all in a panic: “Mama, Mama, what’s water? I gotta find water or I’ll die!” We live immersed in this water, and the reason we miss it is not that it is so far away but, paradoxically, so close: more intimate to us than our being itself.…  

[Mercy] is the water in which we swim. Mercy is the length and breadth and height and depth of what we know of God—and the light by which we know it.…  

The mercy of God does not come and go, granted to some and refused to others. Why? Because it is unconditional—always there, underlying everything. It is literally the force that holds everything in existence, the gravitational field in which we live and move and have our being. Just like that little fish swimming desperately in search of water, we, too—in the words of Psalm 103—“swim in mercy as in an endless sea.” Mercy is God’s innermost being turned outward to sustain the visible and created world in unbreakable love. [2]  

________________________________________________________

5 For Friday John Chaffee

1.
“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone.”

  • Thomas Merton, Trappist Monk and Activist
     
    This is an important thing to remember as someone who leans toward introversion.

Starting in college, I tried my hardest to be extraverted…  So much so that I ended up winning Homecoming King my senior year.  Goodness, that is wild to think about.  The problem was that it was not fully or truthfully who I was… but I didn’t know it then.

Following college was 20 years of working in church jobs that demanded a kind of extraversion or social mode of being.  I would leave events and feel utterly exhausted, oftentimes taking naps before waking up to get myself a dinner.

It was somewhere in the last 8 years when I realized that all of it was to teach me to have a healthy rhythm and balance between solitude and community.  When one is overdone to the exclusion of the other, we can get rather bent out of shape.

In some respects, I had to learn that my need for solitude was not a result of anti-social behavior while also learning that just being in front of crowds did not mean I necessarily had community.

If love is our true identity, then it can only be found after solitude shows me my true self, and that true self is seen and celebrated by a community (not a crowd) of other true selves who also wish to be seen and celebrated.

2.
“To be spiritual is to be a breathing being…the opposite of spiritual is not secular…it’s suffocation.”

  • Padraig o Tauma, Irish Poet-Theologian
     
    I had the good fortune of meeting Padraig a few years ago at St. Joseph’s University near Philly.  He was stateside doing poetry readings and it was delightful.

There is something about the arts that does a better job, in my opinion, than theo-logic at describing God/faith/the spiritual life/death/etc.  Poetry just seems to unlock something within me in a way that other disciplines do not.

3.
“By learning you will teach, by teaching you will understand.”

  • Latin Proverb
     
    Let’s be honest, many of us do not fully understand something until we accidentally find ourselves having to teach it.

Then,

The teaching itself unlocks different aspects of what we thought we learned and we come to understand it on a completely new level.

Now, I can say that I thought I understood Christianity but that is not the full picture.

However, after living enough of life and having to teach it in a classroom setting where students can push back, debate, or dialogue about it, I admit to have learned so very much by being a teacher of it.  Sure, giving sermons is good and fine but that is still in a monological mode of delivery (at least in white churches).

And, I do not doubt that there is still an infinite amount more for me to learn by teaching.  If anything, teaching has helped me in my own formation more than I can probably comprehend.

4.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”

  • Mark 2:5
     
    This story has shown itself to me a few times over the past two weeks and I do not know why.

There must be some alchemy, some teaching, some wisdom about it that is beckoning to be learned/integrated by some deeper level within myself.  After all, the stories that grip us, grip us for a reason.

The setting here in Mark 2 is that there is a paralytic who wants to be healed by Jesus, but there is a large crowd that is obscuring or blocking the way.  There is no statement that the paralytic man has faith at all, only that his friends have faith.  The friends then conspire to bust a hole in the ceiling and lower their friend down into the crowded room to where Jesus is.

In essence, someone who cannot help themselves is helped by those around him and Christ allows the one without faith to be the beneficiary of the others who do.

Honestly, this story walks all over the lines we commonly draw.

Perhaps that is why we chose to record this story for future generations after it happened.

5.
“The church of Christ ecumenically embraces the whole inhabited earth. She is not a tribal religion, nor a Western religion, nor a white religion, but the church of all humanity.”

  • Jurgen Moltmann, German Theologian
     
    Jurgen Moltmann passed away this week on June 3rd at 98 years old.  He is considered an important voice in the world of Christian theology.  Why?  Because he was one of the first theologians to seriously engage theology in the aftermath of WWII.

As a 16-year-old German, he was forcefully drafted into the German army in 1943 and became disillusioned with nationalism, violence, and war.  Then, he was kept as a POW for several years after the war during which he was gifted a copy of the New Testament.  This eventually paved the way for him to study Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and others.

Jurgen Moltmann’s book The Crucified God shook me.  It takes up the topic of God in a way that continues to inspire me.  Moltmann’s thesis in that book was that God is not Aristotelian (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent) in the way that we conventionally think.  No, that understanding of God is incompatible with Jesus, who suffered and was able to be affected by the world around him.

Rather than standing at an impassible and unchanging distance, the Christian God enters into pain, suffering, and death with the Creation.

In light of the concentration camps, brutalities of war, and the death toll of the Holocaust, Moltmann’s contribution to the world of theology was like a fresh breath of co-suffering love and hope.

This past week on the internet I have seen nothing but positive statements about this pastor-theologian, who seems to have been as quality of a person as was his contributions to theology.

A Prayer of Healing

June 6th, 2024 by JDVaughn No comments »

In a teaching for the CAC’s forthcoming Living School: Essentials of Engaged Contemplation program, guest teacher Carmen Acevedo Butcher shares how she came to know and be transformed by the Jesus Prayer: 

It was the coldest winter of my entire life thus far. I was 22 and I was a student at Heidelberg University. I was lonesome and homesick, and I was also suffering and recovering from an eating disorder. Into that mix came a 79-year-old woman named Frau Sophie Buschbeck. No one was better named, since her name was Sophie, which means wisdom. Sophie was a refugee in World War II, and her husband spent five years in a Russian prison camp. He was a Lutheran minister and contemporary of the theologian and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Sophie’s husband was writing her letters in Germany, while she was moving around the country with eight children fleeing the incoming Russian soldiers. One of my college professors and his wife sent clothing and shoes to Sophie and her eight children while they were refugees, and thus our friendship began.  

Acevedo Butcher wanted to learn German and was offered a scholarship to attend the University of Heidelberg.  

I had suffered a traumatic childhood. The abuse in my family was ongoing, and by the time I landed in Germany, I felt that I was hemorrhaging inside. I was wondering, how am I going to make this?…  

I was very tired of Christianity at that point. I could hardly read the Bible, and I certainly could not read it in English. Sophie Buschbeck at that time was a widow living alone…. She asked me to read the Bible to her in German. She didn’t know my backstory, so I read the Bible to her. I was just suffering, and she must have seen it. She took me under her wing…. One day, right before Christmas, she gave me a gift and the gift was a book entitled Das Jesusgebet (The Jesus Prayer). I still have the book. She said, “I think you would like this book,” and that’s when my love for the Jesus Prayer started. 

I was walking all over Heidelberg during that very cold winter. I came over from Georgia in the U.S. with only polyester sweaters which just would not cut it, and Sophie had to give me a wool sweater. I began to pray, “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner,” and variations of the Jesus Prayer. I said it over and over and over all day long. At the end of that time, when I went back home, all my problems were still there. I still had my own internal struggles, and I was trying to navigate my ongoing breakdown. [But] the Jesus Prayer—this constant returning to the present awareness of love—had begun to heal me. I will always be grateful for Sophie, for giving me that nudge and for being able to repeat this prayer until I could feel my soul being knit together again.   

________________________________________________________

Sarah Young Jesus Calling

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.

RELATED BIBLE SCRIPTURES:

Isaiah 12:2 NLT
“See, God has come to save me.
    I will trust in him and not be afraid.
The Lord God is my strength and my song;
    he has given me victory.”

Additional insight: This chapter of Isaiah is a hymn of praise – another graphic description of the people’s joy when Jesus Christ comes to reign over the earth. Even now we need to express our gratitude to God, thanking him, praising him, and telling others about him. From the depths of our gratitude, we must praise him. And we should share the Good News with others.
Romans 8:6 NLT
6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

Additional insight regarding Romans 8:6: Once we have said yes to Jesus, we will want to continue following him, because his way brings life and peace. Daily we must consciously choose to center our life on God. Use the Bible to discover God’s guidelines, and then follow them. In every perplexing situation, ask yourself – What would Jesus want me to do? When the Holy Spirit points out what is right, do it eagerly. For more on sinful nature versus our new life in Christ, see Romans 6:6-8, Ephesians 4:22-24, and Colossians 3:3-15.

From Head to Heart

June 5th, 2024 by Dave No comments »

From Head to Heart

Lower your head, shut your eyes, breathe out gently and imagine yourself looking into your own heart. Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart.  
—St. Symeon the New Theologian 

CAC teacher James Finley continues to reflect on St. Symeon’s instructions for praying the Jesus Prayer:  

St. Symeon instructs us to “shut your eyes” when praying the Jesus Prayer. What if we could all close our eyes right now and be interiorly awakened? And what if, when we open our eyes, we would see through our own awakened eyes what Jesus saw in all that he saw? What would we see? We’d see God! Because Jesus saw God in all that he saw.  

What’s wonderful about this is that it didn’t matter whether Jesus saw his own mother or a prostitute, the joy of those gathered at a wedding or the sorrow of those gathered at the burial of a loved one. It didn’t matter whether he saw his disciples or his executioners, or a bird or a tree—Jesus saw God in all that he saw. Jesus tells us, “You have eyes to see but you do not see” (Mark 8:18). You have not learned to awaken to your God-given capacity to see the God-given, godly nature of yourselves, others, and all things. This is the source of all your sorrow and confusion. Our prayer then becomes, “Lord, that I might see your presence presencing itself and giving itself away as the intimate immediacy of the grace and miracle of our very presence and of all things in our communal nothingness without you. Help us to understand that the generosity of the Infinite is infinite and that we are the generosity of God. We are the song you sing.”  

St. Symeon tells us, “Imagine yourself looking into your own heart.” We’re looking into our own hearts not only as the center of emotions, but as the very place where the ongoing, self-donating presence of God, and us in our nothingness without God, are pouring out and touching each other. In our heart there is this oneness….  

Next, “Carry your mind, that is, your thoughts, from your head to your heart.” We learn to settle into the transformative energies of the prayer by being quietly absorbed in the deepening communion with God by doing our best not to be carried off by the thoughts that arise and fall around the edges of our minds. Each time we realize we have been carried off into thinking, we return to the words of the prayer as a way of renewing our trust in God’s merciful love…. In this way, we make our descent into the realm of the heart where our own presence is realized to be eternally one with the mercy of God revealed to us in Christ. Little by little, we begin to realize that our deepening experience of learning to rest in the realm of heart … is beginning to show up in all sorts of unexpected ways, in each passing moment of our lives, up to and including the moment of our death and beyond.

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Acknowledging the Problem of Evil
One of the most persistent challenges to faith is what philosophers call the Problem of Evil. The problem is easy to understand, but much hard to answer. It says: If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there so much evil in the world? This sets up three possible answers: 1) God is good but not all-powerful and therefore unable to stop evil. 2) God is all-powerful and could stop evil but chooses not to and is therefore not all-good. Or, 3) God does not exist.

Some skeptics engage this problem by observing the world around them. Stephen Fry, for example, is a famous comedian and atheist in the U.K. When asked what he would say to God if he discovered he existed after death, Fry responded: “How dare you create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault? It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-spirited, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” Fry went on to talk about bone cancer in children and parasites in people’s eyes—all manner of inexplicably terrible things.

For others, the Problem of Evil is deeply personal. Russell Baker was a well-known columnist for The New York Times and wrote frequently about his childhood. His father died when he was a boy, and Baker said, “After this, I never cried again with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone’s God except indifference.”

Every worldview, including the non-religious ones, must address our universal experience of evil. Some do this by ignoring God, like Russell Baker. Others address evil by denying God’s existence altogether, like Stephen Fry. But in their attempt to solve the Problem of Evil, these answers actually create another problem. As celebrity atheists Richard Dawkins admits, without God there is “no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” In other words, by solving the Problem of Evil you create the Problem of Good. How does one explain the existence of goodness, justice, and hope in a world without God?

Other philosophies solve the Problem of Evil by denying the reality of evil preferring to redefine it as merely the absence of good the way darkness is the absence of light, but not a thing itself. Some Eastern philosophies go farther by dismissing suffering as merely an illusion one must transcend.

Christian faith is different. While affirming an all-powerful, all-loving Creator, it also acknowledges the very real presence of evil in the world. This seemingly paradoxical vision is what Jesus’ parable of the Wheat and the Weeds illustrates. Good and evil are real and exist in this age side-by-side; a truth that is self-evident. The parable, however, does not explain why evil exists but instead draws our attention to the coming harvest when evil will be extracted from the world and destroyed forever. For me, this is one of the more appealing aspects of Jesus’ teaching. Unlike others, he fully acknowledges and sympathizes with our experience of evil while also offering us hope for the day when it will be overcome by good.

DAILY SCRIPTURE
MATTHEW 13:24-30
MATTHEW 13:36-43
REVELATION 21:1-4


WEEKLY PRAYER
C. Eric Lincoln (1924 – 2000)

Lord, let me love, though love may be the losing of every earthly treasure I possess.
Lord, make your love the pattern of my choosing. And let your will dictate my happiness.
I have no wish to wield the sword of power, and I want no man to leap at my command; nor let my critics feel constrained to cower for fear of some reprisal at my hand.
Lord, let me love the lowly and the humble, forgetting not the mighty and the strong; and give me grace to love those who may stumble, nor let me seek to judge of right or wrong.
Lord, let my parish be the world unbounded, let love of race and clan be at an end. Let every hateful doctrine be confounded that interdicts the love of friend for friend.
Amen.