The Shadowlands of Domination

October 19th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Facing Christianity’s entanglement with empire building means learning how to incorporate the “shadow side” of reality. This is necessary and yet exceedingly difficult to do, which is why Richard returns to the subject of the shadow so often:

Western civilization has failed to learn how to carry the shadow side of all things. Our success-driven culture scorns all failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Instead, we developed a system involving winners and losers, which is not Jesus, who identified with the losers without hating the winners. What a recipe for transformation of culture! We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and to others.

Because we did not teach our people how to carry the paschal mystery (the universal entanglement of life and death) that Jesus embodied, it is now coming back to haunt us. Many of us have little ability to carry our own shadow side, much less the shadow side of our church, group, nation, or period of history. But shadowlands are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, fled, or explained away. They are not even to be forgiven too quickly. First, like Ezekiel the prophet, we must eat the scroll that is “lamentation, wailing, and moaning” (2:10) in our belly.

American Indian scholar George Tinker offers a clear view of the shadow side of the Western conquest of the Americas, particularly in the United States.

American Indians continue to suffer from the effects of conquest by European immigrants over the past five centuries—an ongoing and pervasive sense of community-wide post-traumatic stress disorder. We live with the ongoing stigma of defeated peoples who have endured genocide, the intentional dismantling of cultural values, forced confinement on less desirable lands called “reservations,” intentionally nurtured dependency on the federal government, and conversion by missionaries who imposed a new culture on us as readily as they preached the gospel. . . .

[Indian peoples] suspect that the greed that motivated the displacement of all indigenous peoples from their lands of spiritual rootedness is the same greed that threatens the destruction of the earth and the continued oppression of so many peoples and ultimately the destruction of our White relatives. Whether it is the stories the settlers tell or the theologies they develop to interpret those stories, something seems wrong to Indian people. But not only do Indians continue to tell the stories, sing the songs, speak the prayers, and perform the ceremonies that root themselves deeply in Mother Earth; they are actually audacious enough to think that their stories and their ways of reverencing creation will someday win over our White settler relatives and transform them. Optimism and enduring patience seem to run in the life blood of Native American peoples.

May justice, followed by genuine peace, flow out of our concern for one another and all creation. [1]

Sarah Young……

COME TO ME with your defenses down, ready to be blessed and filled with My Presence. Relax and feel the relief of being totally open and authentic with Me. You have nothing to hide and nothing to disclose because I know everything about you already. You can have no other relationship like this one. Take time to savor its richness, basking in My golden Light. One of the worst consequences of the Fall is the elaborate barriers people erect between themselves and others. Facades abound in the world, even in My body, the church. Sometimes, church is the last place where people feel free to be themselves. They cover up with Sunday clothes and Sunday smiles. They feel relief when they leave because of the strain of false fellowship. The best antidote to this artificial atmosphere is practicing My Presence at church. Let your primary focus be communing with Me, worshiping Me, glorifying Me. Then you will be able to smile at others with My Joy and love them with My Love.

1 JOHN 1:5–7; ⁵This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. ⁶If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. ⁷But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

EXODUS 33:14; The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

PHILIPPIANS 4:8; ⁸Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 604). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 18th, 2021 by Dave No comments »
Image Credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 13 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

Week Forty-Two: Christianity and Empire

Jesus as Central Reference Point

The first of the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Eight Core Principles is that “The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point.” Affirming Jesus as central provides Fr. Richard and all of us with a confidence that comes from the Gospel. Richard writes: 

Without the assurance of Jesus’ teaching and example, I would not have the courage or the confidence to say what I say. How can I trust that things like nonviolence, the path of descent, simplicity of life, forgiveness and healing, the preference for the poor, and radical grace itself are as important as they are, unless Jesus also said so? This discernment is made even harder, however, by the fact that the actual Jesus agenda is so rarely emphasized in most Christian churches.

In her autobiography, Dorothy Day (1897–1980) paraphrased theologian Romano Guardini by lamenting, “the Church is the Cross on which Christ was crucified. . . .” [1] Doesn’t that hurt? And yet, maybe it’s true. In many ways, the institutional church does not seem to believe its own Gospel.

It wasn’t always this way, but starting in 313 CE, Christianity gradually became the imperial religion of the Roman Empire. It was mostly top-down and hierarchical for the next 1700 years. As the “imperial mind” took over, religion had less to do with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness, and simplicity, and instead became fully complicit in the world of domination, power, war, and greed itself.

Lay theologian and educator Verna Dozier (1917–2006) highlights some of the significant shifts that took place when Christianity became an imperial religion: 

It is hard for us to understand what happened to the people of God under Constantine. Surely the church got a breathing space from persecution. . . . Constantine dreamed of restoring the ancient glory of the empire, and he believed that could be best achieved through Christianity. Constantine himself was not changed; the church was. It became the imperial church. Christian worship began to be influenced by imperial protocol. Incense, the sign of respect for the emperor, began to appear in Christian churches. Ministers began dressing in more luxurious garments, processions and choirs developed, and eventually the congregation came to have a less active role in the worship.

More important than any of this, however, was the kind of theology that developed. The gospel of good news to the poor now saw riches and pomp as signs of divine favor. The coming kingdom of God was no longer a fundamental theme. In the view of Eusebius [c. 260–c. 340], the father of church history, the plan of God had been fulfilled in Constantine and his successors. Beyond the present political order, all that Christians can hope for is their own personal transference into the heavenly kingdom. [2] [DM Team: CAC teacher Brian McLaren calls this version of Christianity an “evacuation plan for the next world.”]

This week’s meditations highlight how we lost the essence of Jesus’ message when the church aligned with empire—and the painful results that followed. 

Jesus and the Empire

On his podcast “Another Name for Every Thing,” Fr. Richard discussed with co-hosts Paul Swanson and Brie Stoner what he sees as the “trajectory” of the Jesus movement and how Jesus lived a simple life of non-cooperation with the empire of his day. 

Paul: Richard, can you help us understand how the original spirit of the Jesus movement kind of lost its momentum as it got institutionalized [and the church colluded with the empire]? How did we lose that ability to speak truth to power and to empire in such a way?

Richard: It’s possible to trace the movement of Christianity from its earliest days until now. In Israel, Jesus and the early “church” offered people an experience; it moved to Greece, and it became a philosophy. When it moved to Rome and Constantinople, it became organized religion. Then it spread to Europe, and it became a culture. Finally, it moved to North America and became a business. This isn’t much of an exaggeration, if it’s an exaggeration at all. The original desire or need for a “Jesus” experience was lost, and not even possible for most people. Experience, philosophy, organized religion, culture, business—in each of those permutations and iterations, Christianity was seen as above criticism. It simply was the religion, the philosophy, the culture.

Those are the big historical reasons that we look to different places for our authority. We gave it to emperors and kings and presidents instead of the Gospel, pretending Jesus was Lord but we didn’t really mean it. Now, I know it’s easy to be cynical, to look at the disastrous effects of Christianity’s complicity with empire and want to give up on the whole endeavor, but I also want to proclaim that the flow of grace is a truly wonderful thing. Even inside of each of those iterations, misguided as they were—and we still are today—humble, loving people emerged—in every one of them.

Brie: At the end of the day, I think we’re all longing to really live this out. And there’s a cost to wanting to live into this type of prophetic imagination that Jesus is showing us.

Richard: I think if we try to communicate what Jesus’ social justice teaching is, we won’t find a highly rarefied explanation of justice theories, and so forth. The way to do justice is to live simply, to not cooperate with consumerism, with militarism, with all the games that have us trapped. Jesus just does it differently, ignoring unjust systems and building up a better system by his teaching to his disciples. His name for the better system was the kingdom of God or the reign of God. The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. He’s showing us “We’re just going to do it better. Let’s not be anti-anything. Let’s be for something: for life, and for universal love.”

Reverencing Creation and the Creator

October 15th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

For Fr. Richard and the Franciscan tradition, the incarnation is at the heart of a creation-affirming spirituality. We meet God in creation because we meet God everywhere! Instead of a barrier to the spiritual life, creation is a doorway. People who live in deep and harmonious relationship with nature have always known this. Sarah Augustine, a Tewa woman from New Mexico, writes:

Conversation with [Indigenous elders] has helped me to glimpse existence from an Indigenous cosmology and provided me a perspective about the nature of reality, which really begins with insight on the nature of the Creator.

Romans 1 states:

This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. (Verses 19–20, Common English Bible)

This Scripture is consistent with an Indigenous worldview—that the nature of the Creator is evident in the creation. What does creation tell us about God’s divine nature?

Indigenous Peoples have been accused of animism—that is, worshipping the creation rather than the Creator. But really, the basis of Indigenous spirituality is reverence. The Diné (Navajo), my relatives from New Mexico and Arizona, “do not worship the Sun, or the sun bearer, as supposed,” Steve Darden, my Diné mentor, instructed me. Rather, they express reverence for the Spirit of Life, the Creator, by finding elements of the Creator’s nature in the Sun—faithful, unfailing. Giver of Light. Giver of life. . . .

Reverence is deep respect. The Creator is evident in creation, which surrounds me. I can see it and experience it with my senses. I am part of it. Humility is acknowledging that I am not separate from creation; I am a part of a web of life. I have been taught that this mutual dependence is a gift. Life is a gift. [1]

For Franciscan sister Ilia Delio, the universe is an overflowing expression of divine love and creativity. She seeks to help us to recover a sense of the sacredness of creation. In a recent book, she wrote this poem/prayer, which reflects a deep reverence and respect for creation: 

Creation flows from the fountain fullness
of creative energy,
Springing from a creative and dynamic Source of Love.
Relational, personal, generative, communicative
Spilling over on the canvas of space-time;
Creation is like a song
That flows in the most beautiful of harmonies.

What could possibly account for such
Creative beauty bubbling up
Into life?
Could it be
The Beauty of Life itself,
A Divine community of Love? . . . [2]

Sarah Young…..

TRY TO STAY CONSCIOUS OF ME as you go step by step through this day. My Presence with you is both a promise and a protection. My final statement just before I ascended into heaven was: Surely I am with you always. That promise was for all of My followers, without exception. The promise of My Presence is a powerful protection. As you journey through your life, there are numerous pitfalls along the way. Many voices clamor for your attention, enticing you to go their way. A few steps away from your true path are pits of self-pity and despair, plateaus of pride and self-will. If you take your eyes off Me and follow another’s way, you are in grave danger. Even well-meaning friends can lead you astray if you let them usurp My place in your life. The way to stay on the path of Life is to keep your focus on Me. Awareness of My Presence is your best protection.

MATTHEW 28:20; and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

HEBREWS 12:1–2; Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus,

Creation-Centered Prayer

October 14th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

In a conference on Franciscan mysticism, Fr. Richard talked about the “Four Splits” that keep us from recognizing and accessing the presence of God at all times and in all things. As he reminded the audience: 

The spiritual nature of reality, and the material, the physical, have been one ever since the Big Bang. The incarnation did not just happen 2,000 years ago; rather, matter and spirit have been one since God decided to manifest himself/herself. . . .

Christ is everywhere. The entire planet is anointed and messianic, if you will. All bears the Christ mystery. The whole point of going to communion in church is to sacramentalize the universe. We’re not only in communion when we go to communion. We’re always in communion when we learn this. We’re in communion driving to church. We’re in communion walking up the steps of the church. We’re in communion at the bathroom break. We’re in communion when we’re in nature.

Franciscan sister José Hobday (1929–2009), a personal friend of Richard’s and a beloved presence in the early years of the CAC, was a Seneca elder, an author, and a storyteller. She writes of how she learned to “pray always” from the Native American spirituality of her mother, which honored this sense of being in constant communion and harmony with God in all things.  

My mother prayed as a Native American. That meant she saw living as praying and praying as living. She tried to pray her life. She expressed her prayer of gratitude, for example, in the way she did things. She told me many times, “When you stir oatmeal, stir it slowly so you don’t forget that oatmeal is a gift and that you don’t take it for granted.”

She made a prayer out of the way she stirred oatmeal. Doing things prayerfully. That reflected her approach to prayer. She always did that. She even did it in the way she walked. She taught me and my brothers to walk with our hearts high and to walk softly on the earth because the earth is our mother. . . . As we walked, she said, we should be ready to enter into every movement of beauty we encountered. . . .

So, what things have I learned from Native American spirituality? First, to make my prayer creation-centered. Indians pray as relatives of the earth. They consider the sky their father, the earth their mother. The sun can be a brother or a sister. This makes you a creature with a relationship to creation, not someone above it or better than it. . . .

In our prayer, we might very well reflect on . . . creatures, and their relationship with creation. That is what Native Americans have done. It has not only kept them in touch with creation, but with the Creator as well. [1]

Sarah Young

BE PREPARED TO SUFFER FOR ME, in My Name. All suffering has meaning in My kingdom. Pain and problems are opportunities to demonstrate your trust in Me. Bearing your circumstances bravely—even thanking Me for them—is one of the highest forms of praise. This sacrifice of thanksgiving rings golden-toned bells of Joy throughout heavenly realms. On earth also, your patient suffering sends out ripples of good tidings in ever-widening circles. When suffering strikes, remember that I am sovereign and that I can bring good out of everything. Do not try to run from pain or hide from problems. Instead, accept adversity in My Name, offering it up to Me for My purposes. Thus your suffering gains meaning and draws you closer to Me. Joy emerges from the ashes of adversity through your trust and thankfulness.

JAMES 1:2–4; My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. 4 But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

PSALM 107:21–22; 21; Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind. ²²Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of his works with songs of joy.

PSALM 33:21; For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy Name.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 594). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 13th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Sacred Circles

God is an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere. —Alain of Lille, The Rules of Theology

Father Richard views the Trinity as a mutual “circle dance” of love and communion. Many mystics understood the circle as a more appropriate geometric shape than a pyramid to describe the shape of God and reality. In the conference “The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity,” Richard said:

Those of us who grew up with the common Trinitarian notion of God probably saw reality, consciously or unconsciously, as a pyramid-shaped universe, with God at the top of the triangle and all else beneath. We like the pyramid. Knowing the line of authority or the pecking order can take away our anxiety. But this is exactly what the Trinity is not—the early fathers of the church said that the closest metaphor we can get for God is a circle dance of communion. It’s not hierarchical, monarchical, or a pyramid. [1]

The following passage from Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley, a theologian and Cherokee descendant, describes the power of understanding life through the symbol of the circle:

One model of understanding our relationship to everything is a simple symbol used among Native Americans: the circle. The harmony way of living is often referred to symbolically as a circle or a hoop. . . . Perhaps you remember when you were a child and an adult said something like, “OK, kids, gather around” or “Let’s get in a circle,” or simply, “Circle up.” Circles are found in nature; perhaps that’s why we are so comfortable imitating the pattern. . . .

The circle has no beginning and no end, so one can enter at any place or stage. The circle can explain stages of life, values, and different people groups. Circles can explain the seasons, how they all continue on to create harmony and balance.

Life is a sacred circle. When we gather in a circle, the praying has already begun. When we gather in a circle, we communicate with each other and with Great Mystery, even without a word being spoken. [2]

In a previous book, Randy Woodley further described the symbolism of the circle for Native peoples and the earth itself: 

The circle or hoop as a symbol of life is found in nearly all Native North American tribes. The symbol is a powerful representation of the earth, life, seasons, cycles of maturity, etcetera. The symbolism of the circle is one of the oldest in North America, having been found in various parts of the country in ancient petroglyphs. It is included in Native American traditions. Many of the ceremonies, such as Sundance, Powwow, Native American Church, and Ghost Dance, are fashioned intentionally in a circle. In observing the outdoors, you will find that a circle is a common and natural shape. Trees, rocks, whirlpools, tornadoes, flowers, etcetera all bear a common resemblance to circular objects rather than triangles or squares. In general, right angles do not naturally occur in nature without assistance from human beings. [3]

Sensing Nature

October 12th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Fr. Richard explores how a creation-centered spirituality offers a natural openness to the type of sensing that comes from contemplation:

Creation spirituality reveals our human arrogance, and maybe that’s why we are afraid of it. Maybe that’s why we’re afraid to believe that God has spoken to us primarily in what is. Francis of Assisi was basically a hermit. He lived in the middle of nature. And if we want nature to come to life for us, we have to live in the middle of it for a while. When we get away from the voices of human beings, then we really start hearing the voices of animals and trees. They start talking to us, as it were. And we start talking back. Foundational faith, I would call it, the grounding for personal and biblical faith.

I have been blessed to spend several Lents living as a hermit in nature. When we get rid of our watches and all the usual reference points, it is amazing how real and compelling light and darkness become. It’s amazing how real animals become. And it’s amazing how much we notice about what’s happening in a tree each day. It’s almost as if we weren’t seeing it all before, and we wonder if we have ever seen at all. I don’t think that Western civilization realizes what a high price we pay for separating ourselves from the natural world. One of the prices is certainly a lack of a sort of natural contemplation, a natural seeing. My times in the hermitage re-situated me in God’s universe, in God’s providence and plan. I had a feeling of being realigned with what is. I belonged and was thereby saved! Think about it.

So, creation spirituality is, first of all, the natural spirituality of people who have learned how to see. I am beginning to think that much of institutional religion is rather useless if it is not grounded in natural seeing and nature religion.

We probably don’t communicate with something unless we have already experienced its communications to us. I know by the third week I was talking to lizards on my porch at the hermitage, and I have no doubt that somehow some communion was happening. I don’t know how to explain it beyond that. I was reattached, and they were reattached.

When we are at peace, when we are not fighting it, when we are not fixing and controlling this world, when we are not filled with anger, all we can do is start loving and forgiving. Nothing else makes sense when we are alone with God. All we can do is let go; there’s nothing worth holding on to, because there is nothing else we need. It is in that free space, I think, that realignment happens. Francis lived out of such realignment. And I think it is the realignment that he announced to the world in the form of worship and adoration.

Sarah Young ………

BEWARE OF SEEING YOURSELF through other people’s eyes. There are several dangers to this practice. First of all, it is nearly impossible to discern what others actually think of you. Moreover, their views of you are variable: subject to each viewer’s spiritual, emotional, and physical condition. The major problem with letting others define you is that it borders on idolatry. Your concern to please others dampens your desire to please Me, your Creator. It is much more real to see yourself through My eyes. My gaze upon you is steady and sure, untainted by sin. Through My eyes you can see yourself as one who is deeply, eternally loved. Rest in My loving gaze, and you will receive deep Peace. Respond to My loving Presence by worshiping Me in spirit and in truth.

HEBREWS 11:6; And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

ROMANS 5:5; And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

JOHN 4:23–24; Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. ²⁴God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

October 10th, 2021 by Dave No comments »

Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation

From the Center for Action and Contemplation

Barbara Holmes, Untitled 2 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

Contemplating Creation

Praise theLordfrom the earth,
Sea monsters and all deeps;
Fire and hail, snow and clouds;
Stormy wind, fulfilling God’s word;
Mountains and all hills;
Fruit trees and all cedars;
Beasts and all cattle;
Creeping things and winged fowl;

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
For God’s name alone is exalted;
God’s glory is above earth and heaven

—Psalm 148: 7–10, 13

This week’s Daily Meditations focus on creation as a source of inspiration for contemplation and action. Fr. Richard shares about how “seeing” or perceiving God in nature forms the basis of an incarnational spirituality: 

Creation spirituality has its origins in Hebrew Scriptures such as Psalms 104 and 148. It is a spirituality that is rooted, first of all, in nature, in experience, and in the world as it is. This rich Hebrew spirituality formed the mind and heart of Jesus of Nazareth.

Maybe we don’t feel the impact of that until we realize how many people think religion has to do with ideas and concepts and formulas from books. That’s how we were trained for years. We went away, not into a world of nature and silence and primal relationships, but into a world of books. Well, that’s not biblical spirituality, and that’s not where religion begins. It begins in observing “what is.” Paul says, “Ever since the creation of the world, the invisible essence of God and his everlasting power have been clearly seen by the mind’s understanding of created things” (Romans 1:20). We know God through the things that God has made. The first foundation of any true religious seeing is, quite simply, learning how to see and love what is. Contemplation is meeting reality in its most simple and direct form unjudged, unexplained, and uncontrolled!

If we don’t know how to love what’s right in front of us, then we don’t know how to see what is. So we must start with a stone! We move from the stone to the plant world and learn how to appreciate growing things and see God in them. In all of the natural world, we see the vestigia Dei, which means the fingerprints or footprints of God. 

Perhaps once we can see God in plants and animals, we might learn to see God in our neighbors. And then we might learn to love the world. And then when all of that loving has taken place, when all of that seeing has happened, when such people come to me and tell me they love Jesus, I’ll believe it! They’re capable of loving Jesus. The soul is prepared. The soul is freed, and it’s learned how to see and how to receive and how to move in and how to move out from itself. Such individuals might well understand how to love God.

The Dance of Life

Father Richard views Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) as a prime example of someone who discovered within himself the universal connectedness of creation. Francis addressed animals and nature as spiritual beings who are part of reality’s harmony. [1] Today, we share wisdom about tuning into creation’s harmony from Sherri Mitchell (Penobscot), an attorney and activist for environmental protection and human rights. 

Every living thing has its own creation song, its own language, and its own story. In order to live harmoniously with the rest of creation, we must be willing to listen to and respect all of the harmonies that are moving around us. . . .

We must tune in to our ability to see beyond the physical reality that surrounds us, and awaken to the vast unseen world that exists. Then we can begin to see beyond sight and to hear beyond sound. We see the underlying structures that support our world, and life begins to take on new shape, new meaning. When we live as multisensory beings, we find that we are able to comprehend the language of every living thing. We hear the voices of the trees, and understand the buzzing of the bees. And we come to realize that it is the interwoven substance of these floating rhythms that holds us in delicate balance with all life. Then, our life and our place in creation begins to make sense in a whole new way. Our vision expands to see the overall order of our path, and our hearing tunes in to a whole new source of information. . . . When we merge our internal rhythms with the rhythms of creation, we develop grace in our movement, and without thought or effort we are able to slide into the perfectly choreographed dance of life.

I remember my first moment of conscious engagement with this dance. . . . It was a warm early-summer day and I was seated in a meditative state in my back yard. . . . As I was sitting there, I noticed a tiny ant crawling across a blade of grass. As I watched the ant move along, his little body began to light up. Then, the blade of grass that he was walking on lit up. As I sat there and watched, the entire area surrounding me began to light up. . . . I sat very still, quietly marveling over this newfound sight, afraid to move and lose it. . . . While I sat there breathing with the world around me, the firm lines of my being began to fade. I felt myself expanding and merging with all that I was observing. There was suddenly no separation between me, the ant, the grass, the trees, and the birds. We were breathing with one breath, beating with the pulse of one heart. I was consumed by this achingly beautiful and complete sense of kinship with the entire creation.

“Ensouled Animals”

October 7th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

Readers of the Daily Meditations may be familiar with the theological and scientific work of Ilia Delio. Today we share a reflection that honors both her Franciscan theology and her personal relationship with a beloved pet.

It is almost a week since our beloved cat, Mango, was put to sleep. . . .

We had rescued Mango a little more than eight years earlier. . . . He liked to sleep in the chapel and often joined us for prayer in the evening. Mango was real presence. And it is his presence that was sorely missed.

Recent questions in ecology and theology have focused on animal life. Do animals have souls? Do animals go to heaven? Without becoming entangled in theological discourse, I want to say quite clearly that Mango was ensouled. His soul was a core constitutive beingness, a particularity of life that was completely unique, with his own personality and mannerisms. To use the language of [Franciscan philosopher] Duns Scotus, Mango revealed a haecceitas, his own “thisness.” Scotus placed a great emphasis on the inherent dignity of each and every thing that exists. . . .

Each living being gives glory to God by its unique, core constitutive being. . . . To be a creature of God is to be brought into relationship in such a way that the divine mystery is expressed in each concrete existence. Soul is the mirror of creaturely relatedness that reflects the vitality of divine Love.

I did not have to wonder whether or not Mango had a soul. I knew it implicitly by the way he listened to me talking or thinking aloud, the way he sat on my office chair waiting for me to finish writing so he could eat, or simply the way he looked at me—eye to eye—in the early morning, at the start of a new day. Soul existence is expressed in the language of love. . . .

Love makes us something; it makes us alive and draws us in to the dynamism of life, sustaining life’s flow despite many layers of sufferings and disappointments. . . . If God is love, then the vitality of love, even the love of a furry creature, is the dynamic presence of God. . . .

Every creature is born out of the love of God, sustained in love, and transformed in love. Every sparrow that falls to the ground is known and loved by God (cf. Matthew 10:29); the Spirit of God is present in love to each creature here and now so that all creaturely life shares in cosmic communion. . . .

As I reflect on Mango’s death, his haecceitas, and the mystery of love, I have no doubt that his core love-energy will endure. His life has been inscribed on mine; the memory of his life is entangled with my own. My heart grieves for Brother Mango, my faithful companion, but I believe we shall be reunited in God’s eternal embrace.

Sarah Young________

ANXIETY IS A RESULT OF envisioning the future without Me. So the best defense against worry is staying in communication with Me. When you turn your thoughts toward Me, you can think much more positively. Remember to listen as well as to speak, making your thoughts a dialogue with Me. If you must consider upcoming events, follow these rules: 1) Do not linger in the future, because anxieties sprout up like mushrooms when you wander there. 2) Remember the promise of My continual Presence; include Me in any imagery that comes to mind. This mental discipline does not come easily because you are accustomed to being god of your fantasies. However, the reality of My Presence with you, now and forevermore, outshines any fantasy you could ever imagine.

LUKE 12:22–26; Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. ²³For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. ²⁴Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! ²⁵Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? ²⁶Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

EPHESIANS 3:20–21; Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, ^21to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 600). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

The Emotional Intelligence of Animals

October 5th, 2021 by JDVaughn No comments »

I wonder what I ought to tell you about the friendship there was between me and a falcon? —Carlo Carretto, I, Francis

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives based on the spirituality of St. Francis of Assisi. In this meditation, Carretto speaks in Francis’ voice, combining Francis’ biography with what he might say to us today.

I was in a certain hermitage, where I had withdrawn to pray in peace.

I noticed that very nearby there was a falcon, with its nest.

We became friends. . . .

Then the falcon undertook to rouse me from my rest at the hour of prayer—at midnight, and again at dawn for Lauds. . . .

He always performed his duty with precision.

Once he even went beyond the call of duty.

He had noticed that I was not feeling well—and so he did not awaken me in the night, but only in the morning for Lauds.

I think God was guiding me by the falcon.

You can go ahead and smile. . . . But it happened to me, and I took pleasure in it all, even going so far as to hold conversations with all manner of creatures, and preach various sermons to them. . . .

I made an effort to make them understand that I was a friend. At first they were astounded and incredulous. But then they believed.

And they drew near.

And they listened to me. . . .

It was as if the dimensions of the Kingdom had been enlarged for me. . . .

It was as if the number of my sisters and brothers had become measurelessly greater. [1]

Science is beginning to confirm the intuitions of mystics throughout the ages, including Francis—that we share kinship with animals. Consider the insights from the fascinating book When Elephants Weep, which explores the emotional lives of animals. Author Jeffrey Masson considers animal relationships that surely transcend mere survival and can even be called love:

Lionesses baby-sit for one another just as house cats sometimes do. . . . Elephants appear to make allowances for other members of their herd. One African herd always traveled slowly because one of its members had never fully recovered from a broken leg suffered as a calf. A park warden reported coming across a herd with a female carrying a small calf several days dead, which she placed on the ground whenever she ate or drank: she traveled very slowly and the rest of the elephants waited for her. . . . There appears to be so little survival value in the behavior of this herd, that perhaps one has to believe that they behaved this way just because they loved their grieving friend who loved her dead baby, and wanted to support her. [2]

[Richard: I think we know so little about our ensouled universe.]

Sarah Young……….

REMEMBER THAT JOY is not dependent on your circumstances. Some of the world’s most miserable people are those whose circumstances seem the most enviable. People who reach the top of the ladder career-wise are often surprised to find emptiness awaiting them. True Joy is a by-product of living in My Presence. Therefore you can experience it in palaces, in prisons . . . anywhere. Do not judge a day as devoid of Joy just because it contains difficulties. Instead, concentrate on staying in communication with Me. Many of the problems that clamor for your attention will resolve themselves. Other matters you must deal with, but I will help you with them. If you make problem solving secondary to the goal of living close to Me, you can find Joy even in your most difficult days.

HABAKKUK 3:17–19; 17Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, ^18yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. ^19The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights

1 CHRONICLES 16:27’ ²⁷Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and joy are in his dwelling place.

Young, Sarah. Jesus Calling Morning and Evening Devotional (Jesus Calling®) (p. 576). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

October 4th, 2021 by Dave No comments »
Image credit: Barbara Holmes, Untitled 10 (detail), 2021, photograph, United States.

Week Forty: Francis and the Animals

Every Creature Is an Epiphany

A person who knew nothing but creatures would never need to attend to any sermons, for every creature is full of God and is a book. —Meister Eckhart, Sermon on Sirach 50:6–7 [1]

In honor of tomorrow’s feast of St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), this week the Daily Meditations team is sharing reflections on Francis’ affinity for the natural world and the animals who inhabit it. Fr. Richard reflects on the legacy of his spiritual father:  

Each and every creature is a unique word of God, with its own message, its own metaphor, its own energetic style, its own way of showing forth goodness, beauty, and participation in the Great Mystery. Each creature has its own glow and its own unique glory. To be a contemplative is to be able to see each epiphany, to enjoy it, protect it, and draw upon it for the common good.

Living close to nature as he did, Francis could see Christ in every animal he encountered. He is quoted as talking to or about rabbits, bees, larks, falcons, lambs, pigs, fish, cicadas, waterfowl, doves, and the famous wolf of Gubbio, to name just a few. Those of you who love dogs know that each one is uniquely gifted by God and blesses our lives in special ways. Their unconditional love, forgiveness, and loyalty show us what God is like. My successive dogs, Peanut Butter, Gubbio, Venus, and now Opie, have enriched my life in many ways.

I really think human beings need someone to love, someone to awaken us to the flow of love and to keep that flow going. I can understand why so many people have adopted pets to ease their isolation during the pandemic! I often wonder if there doesn’t have to be an object (which then becomes a subject) whose goodness, truth, and beauty draw us out of ourselves. That someone doesn’t even have to be human; it can be an animal to whom we give ourselves and through whom we feel ourselves given back. Remember, our English word animal comes from the Latin word for “soul” or anima. Animals are ensouled ones!

I will never forget Venus’ amazing ability to make eye contact with me. She’d come to my bed around 5:30 in the morning, put her head on the side of the bed, and just look at me. And I’d roll over and try to get my eyes open and look back at her. Humans can’t seem to sustain eye contact for long. But dogs just keep gazing at us with their very “soulful” eyes. And I’d wonder: What did she see? What was she thinking? What was it that she genuinely seemed to like in me? They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. I’m convinced these beings that we thought lived at a rudimentary level of consciousness can see the one thing necessary: love! They don’t get lost in labeling and categorizing. Maybe that’s why they can maintain the flow of love—often unconditionally.

Seeing Things as They Truly Are

Richard continues exploring Francis of Assisi’s insights, pointing us beyond the “bird bath” spirituality for which Francis is too often known.  

Francis of Assisi knew that the finite manifests the infinite, and the physical is the doorway to the spiritual. If we can accept this foundational principle we call “incarnation,” then all we need is right here and right now—in this world. This is the way to that! Heaven includes earth and earth includes heaven. There are not sacred and profane things, places, and moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places, and moments—and it is we alone who desecrate them by our lack of insight and reverence. It is one sacred universe, and we are all a part of it. In terms of a spiritual vision, we really cannot get any better or simpler than that.

Franciscan spirituality emphasizes a real equivalence and mutuality between the one who sees and what can be seen. What you see is what you are. There is a symbiosis between the mind and heart of the seer and what they pay attention to. Francis had a unique ability to call others—animals, plants, and elements—“brother” and “sister” because he himself was a little brother. He granted other beings and things mutuality, subjectivity, “personhood,” and dignity because he first honored his own dignity as a son of God. The world of things was a transparent two-way mirror for him, which some of us would call a fully “sacramental” universe.

As Franciscan sister Ilia Delio explains:

Francis came to realize that it is Christ who sanctifies creation and transforms it into the sacrament of God. The intimate link between creation and Incarnation revealed to Francis that the whole of creation is the place to encounter God. As his eyes opened to the holiness of creation, he came to see that there is nothing trivial or worthless. Rather, all created things point beyond themselves to their Creator. . . .

[The Franciscan scholar] Bonaventure [c. 1217‒1274] describes the contemplative vision of Francis as “contuition,” that is, seeing things for what they truly are in God. In his Major Legend, [Bonaventure] writes:

In beautiful things he [Francis] contuited Beauty itself and through the footprints impressed in things he followed his Beloved everywhere, out of them all making for himself a ladder through which he could climb up to lay hold of him who is utterly desirable. . . .  He savored in each and every creature—as in so many rivulets—that fontal Goodness, and . . . sweetly encouraged them to praise the Lord. [1]

These footprints of God impressed on the things of creation enabled Francis to find God wherever he went in the world, and finding God in the things of creation led him to the embrace of Jesus Christ, for Christ is the Word of God made visible in the world. [2]