The Dignity of All Things

December 6th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

I prayed for wonders instead of happiness, and You gave them to me.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Ineffable Name of God: Man

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907–1972) is known for his prophetic action and commitment to “radical amazement.” Theologian Bruce Epperly explains: 

Heschel lived out a holistic balance of delight and awe, radical amazement, and prophetic challenge.

At the heart of Heschel’s mystical vision is the experience of radical amazement.… Wonder is essential to both spirituality and theology: “Awe is a sense for the transcendence.… It enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine.” [1]

Wonder leads to the experience of radical amazement at God’s world. Created in the image of God, each of us is amazing. Wonder leads to spirituality and ethics. As Heschel noted, “Just to be is a blessing, just to live is holy. The moment is the marvel.” [2]

Heschel considers the significance of a worldview of radical amazement: 

The world presents itself in two ways to me. The world as a thing I own, the world as a mystery I face. What I own is a trifle, what I face is sublime. I am careful not to waste what I own; I must learn not to miss what I face.

We manipulate what is available on the surface of the world; we must also stand in awe before the mystery of the world. We objectify Being but we also are present at Being in wonder, in radical amazement.

All we have is a sense of awe and radical amazement in the face of a mystery that staggers our ability to sense it….

Awe is more than an emotion; it is a way of understanding, insight into a meaning greater than ourselves. The beginning of awe is wonder, and the beginning of wisdom is awe.

Awe is an intuition for the dignity of all things, a realization that things not only are what they are but also stand, however remotely, for something supreme. Awe is a sense for the … mystery beyond all things. It enables us … to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple; to feel in the rush of the passing the stillness of the eternal. What we cannot comprehend by analysis, we become aware of in awe. 

Faith is not belief, an assent to a proposition; faith is attachment to transcendence, to the meaning beyond the mystery. 

Knowledge is fostered by curiosity; wisdom is fostered by awe. Awe precedes faith; it is the root of faith. We must be guided by awe to be worthy of faith. 

Forfeit your sense of awe, let your conceit diminish your ability to revere, and the universe becomes a market place for you. The loss of awe is the avoidance of insight. A return to reverence is the first prerequisite for a revival of wisdom, for the discovery of the world as an allusion to God. [3]


1. Teaching

An interesting thing happens in the United States when we cross the calendar threshold of Thanksgiving.

We enter the unofficial season of Frenzy.

Beginning with Thanksgiving, we pack this time of year with loud and outgoing festivities: Black Friday, tree lightings, visits to outdoor malls blasting Mariah Carey, the Christmas holiday itself (often filled with people and yearly rituals), and then we cap it with the raucous New Year celebration.

All with the steady drumbeat of “buy-buy-buy” texturing the energetic soundtrack of the season.

But if we pause, we might notice something else happening: nature all around us is constricting and pulling in, protecting and quieting down.

In this context, it makes sense so many of us feel frazzled and anxious during this season of Frenzy. 

Because we, too, are a part of nature, also made cold by the wind and in need of holding ourselves close.

And yet, we’ve manufactured a season of busyness, social obligations, and energetic outflow, disconnecting ourselves from the softness of our animal bodies.

There is a tension in this – in striving to keep pace with the season of Frenzy while our bodies yearn for slow movement, quiet evenings, and the soft glow of warm fires. 

2. Questions

  1. What is this time of year like for you? How does this tension, if present for you, show up in your body?
  2. How were you taught to see yourself as separate and distinct from “the natural world?” What experiences do you have that have broken down or challenged this sense of separateness?

An Awe That Connects

December 5th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

Author Judy Cannato (1949–2011) emphasizes the importance of amazement as the starting point for contemplation.  

In The Silent Cry German theologian Dorothee Sölle [1929–2003] writes “I think that every discovery of the world plunges us into jubilation, a radical amazement that tears apart the veil of triviality.” [1] When the veil is torn apart and our vision is clear there emerges the recognition that all life is connected—a truth not only revealed by modern science but resonant with ancient mystics. We are all one, connected and contained in a Holy Mystery about which, in all its ineffability, we cannot be indifferent.

Sölle maintains that radical amazement is the starting point for contemplation. Often we think of contemplation as a practice that belongs in the realm of the religious, some esoteric advanced stage of prayer that only the spiritually gifted possess. This is not the case…. The nature of contemplation as I describe it here is one that lies well within the capacity of each of us. To use a familiar phrase, contemplation amounts to “taking a long loving look at the real.”…

The contemplative stance that flows out of radical amazement catches us up in love—the Love that is the Creator of all that is, the Holy Mystery that never ceases to amaze, never ceases to lavish love in us, on us, around us.

Cannato names the difficulty we face trying to recognize and hold on to what’s “real”: 

Contemplation is a long loving look at what is real. How often we are fooled by what mimics the real. Indeed, we live in a culture that flaunts the phony and thrives on glittering fabrication. We are so bombarded by the superficial and the trivial that we can lose our bearings and give ourselves over to a way of living that drains us of our humanity. Seduced by the superficial, we lose the very freedom we think all our acquisitions will provide. When we are engaged in the experience and practice of radical amazement, we begin to distinguish between the genuine and the junk. Caught up in contemplative awareness and rooted in love, we begin to break free from cultural confines and embrace the truth that lies at the heart of all reality: We are one.

The invitation to be contemplative is nothing new, but it now carries with it an urgency particular to our time. This call to live contemplatively is offered to everyone. Often we want to relegate such a practice or lifestyle to the “religious” or “spiritual” in our midst, but the simple truth is that we have all been given eyes to see. We simply need to choose to live with vision. What is becoming more apparent by the day is that we must all become contemplatives, not merely in the way we reflect or pray, but in the way we live—awake, alert, engaged, ready to respond in love to the groanings of creation.


“If everything around you seems dark, look again, you may be the light.”…..– Rumi

There have been dark times in my own life in which I wondered if there was any good happening.  This line from Rumi rather pierced me as I read it.  Not necessarily because it affirms that I was the light in those situations, but that I MIGHT be the light.

You might be the light in your situation!

And, if we aren’t yet, then there is always the chance to re-orient and to re-ground and become the very light that we think is needed!

Willing to Be Amazed

December 4th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

The roots of ultimate insights are found…. on the level of wonder and radical amazement, in the depth of awe, in our sensitivity to the mystery.
—Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man

Richard Rohr teaches that awe, wonder, and amazement are foundational spiritual experiences:

I believe the basic, primal, foundational religious intuition is a moment of awe and wonder. We say, “God, that’s beautiful!” Why do we so often say “God!” when we have such moments? I think it’s a recognition that this is a godly moment. We are somehow aware that something is just too good, too right, too much, too timely. When awe and wonder are absent from our life, we build our religion on laws and rituals, trying to manufacture some moment of awe. It works occasionally, I guess.

I think people who live their lives open to awe and wonder have a much greater chance of meeting the Holy than someone who just goes to church but doesn’t live in an open way. We almost domesticate the Holy by making it so commonplace. That’s what I fear happens with the way we ritualize worship. I see people come to church day after day unprepared for anything new or different. Even if something new or different happens, they fit it into their old boxes. Their stance seems to be, “I will not be awestruck.” I don’t think we get very far with that kind of resistance to the new, the Real, and the amazing. That’s probably why God allows most of our great relationships to begin with a kind of infatuation with another person—and I don’t just mean sexual infatuation, but a deep admiration or appreciation. It allows us to take our place as a student and learner. If we never do that, nothing new is going to happen. [1]

I think Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn understood this when he wrote, “the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.” [2] It’s a telling judgment. The Western mind almost refuses to be in awe anymore. It’s only aware of what is wrong, and seemingly incapable of rejoicing in what is still good and true and beautiful. The only way out is through a new imagination and new cosmology, created by positive God-experience. Education, problem-solving, and rigid ideology are all finally inadequate by themselves to create cosmic hope and meaning. Only great religion can do that, which is probably why Jesus spent so much of his ministry trying to reform religion.

Healthy religion gives us a foundational sense of awe. It re-enchants an otherwise empty universe. It gives people a universal reverence toward all things. Only with such reverence do we find confidence and coherence. Only then does the world become a safe home. Then we can see the reflection of the divine image in the human, in the animal, in the entire natural world—which has now become inherently “supernatural.” [3]

We Are What We See

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
—Mary Oliver,
“When Death Comes”

For Father Richard, contemplation teaches us how to see, which deepens our capacity to be amazed.

Moments of awe and wonder are the only solid foundation for the entire religious instinct and journey. Look, for example, at the Exodus narrative: It all begins with a murderer (Moses) on the run from the law, encountering a paradoxical bush that “burns without being consumed.” Struck by awe, Moses takes off his shoes and the very earth beneath his feet becomes “holy ground” (see Exodus 3:2–6) because he has met “Being Itself” (Exodus 3:14). This narrative reveals the classic pattern, repeated in different forms in the varied lives and vocabulary of all the world’s mystics.

I must admit that we are usually blocked against being awestruck, just as we are blocked against great love and great suffering. Early-stage contemplation is largely about identifying and releasing ourselves from these blockages by recognizing the unconscious reservoir of expectations, assumptions, and beliefs in which we are already immersed. If we don’t see what is in our reservoir, we will understand all new things in the same old-patterned way—and nothing new will ever happen. A new idea held by the old self is never really a new idea, whereas even an old idea held by a new self will soon become fresh and refreshing. Contemplation actually fills our reservoir with clear, clean water that allows us to encounter experience free of our old patterns.

Here is the mistake we all make in our encounters with reality—both good and bad. We do not realize that it wasn’t the person or event right in front of us that made us angry or fearful—or excited and energized. At best, that is only partly true. If we had allowed a beautiful hot air balloon in the sky to make us happy, it was because we were already predisposed to happiness. The hot air balloon just occasioned it—and almost anything else would have done the same. Howwe see will largely determine what we see and whether it can give us joy or make us pull back with an emotionally stingy and resistant response. Without denying an objective outer reality, what we are able to see and are predisposed to see in the outer world is a mirror reflection of our own inner world and state of consciousness at that time. Most of the time, we just do not see at all, but rather operate on cruise control.

It seems that we humans are two-way mirrors, reflecting both inner and outer worlds. We project ourselves onto outer things and these very things also reflect back to us our own unfolding identity. Mirroring is the way that contemplatives see, subject to subject rather than subject to object.

Learning from the Mystics:Nicholas of Cusa (#1)Quote of the Week: “God is the Not-Other.”
Nicholas of Cusa was obviously a theologian and a philosopher.  However, one thing that might surprise people is that he frequently wrote on desire.  Yes, desire!  A seemingly taboo topic for a man of the church to focus on, but to be honest, his definition of desire was quite profound! One of his main insights was that hidden within every finite desire is a degree or hint of the infinite desire for God. God is outside of us, though. Beyond us. More than we can comprehend or imagine. God is so far removed that our desire for God can seem impossible.
 So what is a person to do?  If God is outside of us, and every desire is a shadow of our desire for God, does that mean that we are doomed to an existence in which that desire shall always be unfulfilled? This sounds like a living hell, doesn’t it?  Wanting God but never getting God? All this goes to say, that the best of the Christian mystics point us toward a very simple and profound reality that God is actually far closer than we could dare to hope. Every generation has its own Christian mystics who tell of this mystery of closeness with God in their own way, and Nicholas of Cusa says it in this way… “God is the Not-Other.” This means that God is within us. United with us. Inescapably a part of our existence. Intimately close. One with us. There has been much written and preached about in Christian circles about separation from God, and that has likely come at the expense of talking about union with God.  Whole systems of thought and economics of faith are built around maintaining that sense of separation that we feel (or are convinced by others we ought to feel). But what could happen if we had a deep, resolute belief that God has never been anything other than the “Not-Other”? What would Christianity look like today if we were to take seriously that God is “One” with us? Why, I guess, that just might be taking Romans 8:38-39 seriously then, wouldn’t it? “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” It is such an odd thing to think about how this common passage from St. Paul, has still not fully been realized in our theology today.  There are many ways in which modern Christianity has a long way to go before it can fully live into the truths written about in the New Testament. Fortunately, for us, there are these wild and wise figures such as Nicholas of Cusa, who dared to stay faithful to the teachings of the first Apostles, and point the rest of us in the direction of the God who is “Not-Other” than us.

 Heavenly Father, help us to apprehend this truth that you are so deeply a part of our existence that you will never be other than, separate from, or divided against us.  Help us to live within this oneness and to be ministers of this Gospel of reconciliation.  May it be so.  Amen. 

Life Overview of Nicholas of Cusa
 When and Where: Born in 1401, in Kues (modern-day Germany).  Died on August 11, 1464, in Umbria (modern-day Italy). 
Why He is Important: Nicholas of Cusa was a major voice in the Medieval period for theology.  His writings and works are not as well known as others from the Rhineland area of modern-day Germany, but he is a major theologian on the topic of desire and how God is the ultimate fulfillment of every creaturely desire we ever experience.  
Notable Works to Check Out by or about:Nicholas of Cusa: Selected WritingsNicholas of Cusa: A Companion to His Life and Times

Knowing Jesus for Ourselves

December 1st, 2023 by JDVaughn No comments »

In a sermon on Matthew 16:13–20, Father Richard speaks of our universal mandate to live out the gospel in our lives:

On many occasions, Jesus asks his disciples not to tell anyone that he is the Son of God, the Messiah. Why might that be? The only reason I can imagine is that he’s saying every one of us has to come to that knowledge for ourselves. We can’t let someone else do our spiritual homework for us, but many of us do. We Catholics let the pope, bishops, and priests give us all the answers and then we just parrot them back. Has there been any experience of it ourselves? Often, the answer is “usually not.” Many Christians believe what we’re supposed to believe. But here Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” What have you experienced? What have you personally discovered? What knowledge do you have?

This passage is most often used to preach the primacy of the papacy since Jesus tells Peter, “You are the rock upon which I will build my church.” That’s true, but a couple chapters later Jesus says the identical thing to the whole community: “Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven. What you loose on earth, will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Jesus is not only talking about the pope; he’s talking about the people of God, all of us. Peter as the symbolic leader has to do it first, but then we all participate in passing on the message.

People who live their prophetic vocation are those who choose this life of love and transformation:

Without a constant infusion of the Holy Spirit, without a constant desire and trust—Lord, give me your Holy Spirit!—we all close down. We do! It’s the nature of life to circle around the smaller and smaller self, to take fewer and fewer risks, and to never go outside our own comfort zone of people who are just like us. Friends and siblings in Christ, don’t do that! We’re all going to be gone in a few years. We only get one chance to live this life of love. Every day is a lesson in love, learning how not to bind up ourselves and our neighbors, but in fact to free ourselves and others. What Jesus is saying here to Peter and to all of us is that he will back up what we do. We are Jesus’ emissaries. As St. Teresa says, “We are the only hands and feet, the only eyes and ears that Jesus has.” [1] Jesus has handed over the mission and the mystery and the wonder of the realm of God to each of us.

Until we can live every day of our lives motivated by love, rather than by fear or people in authority, this Gospel will not work. It will not change you or me, and it will not change the people around us. Let’s begin anew.


Story From Our Community
My contemplative practice centers on my breath. Each morning, I sit in stillness for what I call, “coming home to myself.” Sometimes, though rarely, I feel a part of the greater whole which evokes great tenderness within me. I don’t know whether to softly cry in surrender to such love or whether to bubble up with a quiet joy. For the last couple of years, I recognize how quiet yet strong I have become. I am content and at peace within myself. More importantly, I can now be amused by people and actions I would have judged harshly before. This is my experience of divinity.

A Liberating Experience

November 30th, 2023 by JDVaughn No comments »

All the strands of my life had come together. Descendant of slave and of slave owner, I had already been called poet, lawyer, teacher, and friend. Now I was empowered to minister the sacrament of One in whom there is no north or south, no black or white, no male or female—only the spirit of love and reconciliation drawing us all toward the goal of human wholeness.
—Pauli Murray, Song in a Weary Throat

Reverend Dr. Pauli Murray (1910–1985) was the first Black woman ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church. Editor Anthony B. Pinn writes:

Growing up, [Pauli] Murray had a sneaking suspicion of the path she would take and the “cosmic” and historical events that might have conditioned her life.… [1]

In Murray’s words, “I came [into the priesthood] because I had no other alternative. I fought death, God, and my own articulated plans—but the Call would give me no peace until I had made the decision.” [2] It was not enough for Murray to discern the calling on her life; she wanted this recognized and acknowledged in ways that she could not produce on her own, ways that might point to the cosmic trail of God working in her personal history….

Shortly after her ordination, she addressed the issue of inclusion with passion, biting humor, and sarcasm. In this way, she pointed to her deep resolve to make social equality a moral and spiritual issue … : “Bearing pain for Christ’s sake does not mean that I shall participate in my own degradation. It means that I must witness to the equality of all humanity before God in words as well as deeds.” [3]

Murray preaches the value of recognizing the universal dignity of the children of God: 

To think of oneself as a child of God is a liberating experience—it is to free oneself from all feelings of inferiority—whether of race, or color, or sex, or age, or economic status, or position in life. When I say that I am a child of God—made in [God’s] image— … I imply that “Black is beautiful,” that White is beautiful, that Red is beautiful, or Yellow is beautiful. I do not need to make special pleading for my sex—male or female or in-between—to bolster self-esteem. When I truly believe that God is my Father and Mother, in short, my Creator, I am bound also to believe that all men, women, and children of whatever race, color, creed, or ethnic origin are my sisters-and-brothers-in-Christ—whether they are Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Black Muslims, members of the Judaic faith, Russian Orthodox, Buddhists, or atheists…. If I am a child of God, a sister-in-Christ, and belong with all of you to the priesthood of all believers, then my job is to love, not hate, to be creative, not destructive, to follow Christ’s cross. This is the lesson of the great prophets down through the ages.... [4]


Story From Our Community

My contemplative practice centers on my breath. Each morning, I sit in stillness for what I call, “coming home to myself.” Sometimes, though rarely, I feel a part of the greater whole which evokes great tenderness within me. I don’t know whether to softly cry in surrender to such love or whether to bubble up with a quiet joy. For the last couple of years, I recognize how quiet yet strong I have become. I am content and at peace within myself. More importantly, I can now be amused by people and actions I would have judged harshly before. This is my experience of divinity.
—Kathy R.

November 29th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

Always in God’s Presence

Why is there a war?… Because I and my neighbor and everyone else do not have enough love. Yet we could fight war and all its excrescences by releasing, each day, the love that is shackled inside us, and giving it a chance to live.
—Etty Hillesum

Richard Rohr has long drawn comfort and wisdom from the writings of the young Jewish woman Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), believing her to be a voice of inspiration for our times. Shortly before her departure for internment at the Westerbork transit camp, Hillesum wrote in her journal:

One thing is becoming increasingly clear to me: that You cannot help us, that we must help You to help ourselves. And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [1]

Etty Hillesum fully accepted the “cruciform nature of reality” and chose to love ever more consciously:

Something has crystallised. I have looked our destruction, our miserable end which has already begun in so many small ways in our daily life, straight in the eye and accepted it into my life, and my love of life has not been diminished. I am not bitter or rebellious, or in any way discouraged. I continue to grow from day to day, even with the likelihood of destruction staring me in the face. I shall no longer flirt with words, for words merely evoke misunderstandings: I have come to terms with life.…

By “coming to terms with life” I mean: the reality of death has become a definite part of my life; my life has, so to speak, been extended by death, by my looking death in the eye and accepting it, by accepting destruction as part of life and no longer wasting my energies on fear of death or the refusal to acknowledge its inevitability. It sounds paradoxical: by excluding death from our life we cannot live a full life, and by admitting death into our life we enlarge and enrich [life]. [2]

Reflecting on Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34 not to worry about tomorrow, Hillesum writes: 

We have to fight them daily … those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies.… The things that have to be done must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God.… Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. [3]

A Quote from St Basil

“This is how you pray continually – not by offering prayers in words, but by joining yourself to God through your whole way of life, so that your life becomes one continuous and uninterrupted prayer.”

– St. Basil the Great, Early Church Father

To pray without ceasing is no easy task.  And, if you only understand prayer as a verbal activity then it can seem even more difficult.  Fortunately, prayer is the way one lives their life in a healthy, holy, and integrated way.  I am still quite fragmented and compartmentalized, and I am working on that, but it is nonetheless refreshing to see that since the very early days of the Church, they had a more gracious and expanded sense of what it means to pray!

Obeying the Call to Love

November 28th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

Carlo Carretto (1910–1988) was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus, a community of contemplatives who lived and worked among the poor in Northern Africa. Carretto reflects on the call that inspired him to give up his comfortable life in Italy: 

When I was forty-four years old, there occurred the most serious call of my life: the call to the contemplative life. I experienced it deeply—in the depth which only faith can provide and where darkness is absolute—where human strength can no longer help.

This time I had to say “yes” without understanding a thing. “Leave everything and come with me into the desert. It is not your acts and deeds that I want; I want your prayer, your love.”…

“Come with me into the desert.” There is something much greater than human action: prayer; and it has a power much stronger than human words: love.

And I went into the desert. [1]

Passing through a desert village on his way to a time of solitude, Carretto met a man named Kada who needed a blanket. Although he had two, Carretto did not share. The next night, Carretto dreamed that he was pinned under a boulder and unable to move, a terrible feeling he described as “purgatory.”

“You will be judged according to your ability to love” this place [in the Sahara] reminds me insistently. And my eyes, burnt by the sun, gaze up into the cloudless sky.

I don’t want to deceive myself any more; indeed I am not able to. The truth is that I did not give my blanket to Kada, for fear of the cold night. And that means that I love my own skin more than my brother’s, while God’s commandment tells me: “Love the life of others as you love your own.”…

God does not hurry over things; time is [God’s], not mine. And I, little creature, a man, have been called to be transformed into God by sharing [God’s] life. And what transforms me is the charity which [God] pours into my heart.

Love transforms me slowly into God.

But sin is still there, resisting this transformation, knowing how to, and actually saying “no” to love.…

To have resisted love, not to have been capable of accepting the demand of this love which said to me, “Give the blanket to your brother,” is so serious that it creates an obstacle between me and God and this is my purgatory. 

What’s the use of saying the Divine Office well, of sharing the Eucharist, if one is not impelled by love?

What’s the use of giving up everything and coming here to the desert and the heat, if only to resist love?…

You will be judged according to your ability to love,” says the great stone under which I spent my purgatory waiting for perfect love to grow within myself, that which Jesus brought to earth for me….

May that day not be far off. [2]

Humility – a poem

by David Tensen | 16 Sep, 2023 | AllPoetry | 0 comments

Perhaps humility feels like this:
to shut my mouth,
quiet my critique,
and make space for sappling and seed
only time away from tallness.

To leave generous gaps
in the canopy of wisdom.
To recall that I too
remain dependent
on the elements and shelter
of neighbours and strangers.

To live with a fragile knowing
that the unavoidable truth is
we all fall and breakdown
only to become a bed
for both friend and foe
to dig their own roots into,
just as we have done.

David Tensen

A Blessing for the Heart Journey

by David Tensen | 21 Feb, 2019 | AllPoetryrecommended links | 4 commentsWm Paul Young and David Tensen

[Preface]. This poem is the opening and close piece in the 2020 collection of poems called The Wrestle. Available here

Today, fellow fallers,
recoverers, rescuers,
winners, losers,
famous and infamous,
I bless you.

The runners and the lame,
the bankrupt and billionaires,
the saints and sinners,
lost and the lonely,
I bless you.

I bless you with knowing
that the journey of a thousand steps
will be paved by
and whatever
it takes to make
you whole.
Because you are human.

I bless you today
with knowing
that the invitation
to face the world
with an unveiled face
may be done at your pace,
or never at all.
Because it’s an invitation.

But know this
that by love and choice
Trinity’s unmasked face
Shines upon you
and is gracious to you.
Trinity lifts up their faces towards you
and offers you peace.
Because you belong.

~ David Tensen
Feb ’19

Featured in picture. The weekend I met Wm Paul Young. Author of The Shack, who went on to play a pivotal role in publishing The Wrestle poetry collection

It All Begins with Union

November 27th, 2023 by Dave No comments »

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 
—Romans 8:38–39

This week we focus on people who call us to act out of loving union with God for the sake of others. Father Richard considers union with God as something that has already taken place, whether we experience it or not: 

We are already in union with God! There is an absolute, eternal union between God and the soul of everything. At the deepest level, we are “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3) and “the whole creation … is being brought into the same glorious freedom as the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The problem is Western religion has not taught us this. For most Christians that I’ve worked with as a priest, God is still separate and “out there.” Most people are still trying to secure God’s approval. Our ego over-emphasizes our individuality and separateness from God and others. We limited God’s redemption to the human species—and not very many individuals within that species! [1]

Daily contemplative prayer helps us rediscover our inherent union and learn how to abide in Presence, trusting that we are already good and safe in God. We don’t have to worry about our little private, separate, insecure self. Jesus taught, I am one with you and you are one with your neighbor and we are all one with God. That’s the gospel! That’s the whole point of Communion or Eucharist; we partake of the bread and wine until they convince us that we are in communion. It seems easier for God to convince bread and wine of their identity than to convince us.

Believe it or not, we’re not here to save our souls. That’s already been done once and for all—in Christ, through Christ, with Christ, and as Christ (see Ephesians 1:3–14). By God’s love, mercy, and grace, we are already the Body of Christ: the one universal body that has existed since the beginning of time. You and I are here for just a few decades, dancing on the stage of life, perhaps taking our autonomous selves far too seriously. That little and clearly imperfect self just cannot believe it could be a child of God. I hope the gospel frees us to live inside of a life that is larger than the one our small selves have imagined. The larger life of the Body of Christ cannot be taken from us. It is the very life of God which cannot be destroyed. [2]

As Thomas Merton wrote in his journal, “We are already one. But we imagine that we are not. And what we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are. [3]

God’s Hand in Mine

I never know today what’s going to happen to me tonight, but I do know as I walk alone, I walk with my hand in God’s hand.
—Fannie Lou Hamer, Freedom Vote Rally, 1963

CAC teacher Barbara Holmes describes the prophetic witness of Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977): 

I have chosen [Fannie Lou Hamer] as a contemplative exemplar because of her spiritual focus and resolve. Her practices spoke to the depth of her contemplative spirit. In the face of catastrophic suffering, Hamer worked, loved, sang, and resisted the powers that be. She was jailed, beaten, and hunted by the enforcers of the social order after registering to vote….

Hamer was centered; she drew power from the example of her parents in their struggle to transcend the impossible situation of their lives. She faced daunting odds, as she was not dealing with an abusive individual but instead the power of federal, state, and local governments and cultural traditions that deemed her to be a nonperson. This designation of non-personhood did not deter her, for her contemplative entry into a deeper “knowing” came through her commitment to nonviolence. Adherence to the spiritual disciplines of civil rights activism required that she love the crucifier, bless the torturer, embrace the jailer, and pray for his or her salvation. She did this and more. [1]

Hamer often grounded her words in Scripture and in her faith that God and God’s justice was with her. 

It’s poison; it’s poison for us not to speak what we know is right. As Christ said from the seventeenth chapter of Acts and the twenty-sixth verse, says: “Has made of one blood all nations, for to dwell on the face of the earth.” Then it’s no different, we just have different colors.

And, brother, you can believe this or not: I been sick of this system as long as I can remember…. I been as hungry—it’s a funny thing since I started working for Christ—it’s kind of like in the twenty-third of Psalms when he says, “Thou prepareth a table before me in the presence of my enemies. Thou anointed my head with oil and my cup runneth over.”

And I have walked through the shadows of death because it was on the tenth of September in ’62 when they shot sixteen times in a house and it wasn’t a foot over the bed where my head was. But that night I wasn’t there—don’t you see what God can do? Quit running around trying to dodge death because this book said, “He that seeketh to save his life, he’s going to lose it anyhow!” [Luke 9:24] …

All we got to do—that’s why I love the song “This Little Light of Mine”—from the fifth chapter of Matthew. He said, “A city that’s set on a hill cannot be hid.” And I don’t mind my light shining; I don’t hide that I’m fighting for freedom because Christ died to set us free. [2]

(From John Chaffee’s Friday Five.)

1.“The reason that a mature or saintly person can be so peaceful, so accepting of self and others, is that there is not much left of the hidden shadow self!– Fr. Richard Rohr, Franciscan Friar“…There is not much left of the hidden shadow self!” That’s the best line of the quote!  There isn’t much “hidden”!  All of us have shadows, issues, and things about ourselves that we are desperately trying not to deal with or acknowledge.  For many of us, we were trained to get rid of our shadow stuff or to deny that it exists at all.  But here, Richard is reminding us that the true solution is that we no longer hide our shadow stuff from even ourselves! Unhealthy religion “dis-integrates” the shadows we all have, and tries to avoid acknowledging them.  Healthy religion, “integrates” the shadows and learns to show grace and mercy.2.“Holiness consists simply in doing God’s will, and being just what God wants us to be.– St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the ChurchLet’s be honest, being “just what God wants us to be” is equally difficult and easy at the same time.3.“Self-care is never a selfish act—it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.– Parker Palmer, Poet and ActivistPerhaps there is a theme going on in my life, a theme that circles back every so many months.  It centers around self-care and the true self.  Currently, I am in an area surrounded by Villanova University, St. Joseph’s University, Haverford College, Bryn Mawr College, and many others, the area can have a vibe of hurry and seeking to impress one another. If we want to have any semblance of goodness in the world, it perhaps begins first with being good to ourselves…  To give ourselves self-care and to live from our true self, not some false self we hope others will love.4.“The closer one approaches to God, the simpler one becomes.– St. Teresa of Avila, Carmelite ReformerHopefully, you don’t mind, but I fully realize that I quote Teresa rather often in these 5 on Friday emails. But she is just so dang good to muse on. 5.“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!  Behold, you were within and I was without; and there I sought you, plunging unformed as I was into the fair things that you have formed and made.  You were with me, and I was not with you.  I was kept far from you by the things that would not have been, were they not in you.  You called and cried aloud, and shattered my deafness; you flashed and blazed like lightning, and routed my blindness.  You cast your fragrance, and I drew breath, yet pant for you; I tasted, yet hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I was on fire for your peace.– St. Augustine of Hippo, Mystic and TheologianThis quote comes from Book 10 of The Confessions.  The first time I read it, I underlined AND highlighted it.  It was so gloriously poetic and powerful, so theological and intimate.  Augustine certainly started out his path as a mystic, and it is quite clear from this. How tragic is it that all of Western theology since has more focused on logic and rhetoric rather than the poeticism of figures like Augustine! Imagine what the world could look like if every one of us could say these words authentically and from our own deep experience!

Bonaventure’s Three Great Truths

November 24th, 2023 by JDVaughn No comments »

Father Richard finds a hopeful vision for the cosmos in the teachings of
13th-century Franciscan theologian Bonaventure.

The lovely symmetry of St. Bonaventure’s theology can be summarized in what Bonaventure himself named as the three great truths that hold everything together for him:

Emanation: We come forth from God bearing the divine image, and thus our inherent identity is grounded in the life of God from the beginning (Genesis 1:26–27).

Exemplarism: Everything, the entire chain of being, and everything in creation is an example and illustration of the one God mystery in space and time (Romans 1:20). No exceptions.  

Consummation: All returns to the Source from which it came (John 14:3). The Omega is the same as the Alpha and this is God’s supreme and final victory.

What a positive and safe world this describes! In Bonaventure’s teachings we have a coherent and grounded meaning the post-modern world no longer enjoys—and yet longs for. Note this is clearly not the later reward/punishment frame that almost totally took over when people did not experience God, but only believed propositions. Most people today are not sure where we came from, who we are, and where we’re going, and many do not even seem to care about the questions.

What if we could recover a view of the world and God that was infused with Bonaventure’s teaching? It would provide a foundation lacking in our often aimless and adrift age. It could hold our lives together during times of despair and cynicism. Is it possible for us to regain such a positive worldview again? Our later limited notion of individual salvation works much better if it is all held together inside of a primary cosmic salvation; the part then replicates the whole. Right now, it feels like we’re all on our own. There is no whole to be a part of!

Bonaventure described the great chain of being both in a historical and linear way—but also in terms of cosmic connectedness along the way. He was following Paul: “In [Christ’s] body lives the fullness of divinity, and in him you will find your own fulfillment,” or “There is only Christ: He is everything and he is in everything” (Colossians 2:9–10, 3:11).

We were created in unity, proceed forward insofar as we are in unity, and return to God’s full gift of final unity, according to Bonaventure. It is grace before, during, and after.

For Bonaventure creation is quite simply the mirror and image of God, and he uses metaphors like footprint, fingerprint, effigy, likeness (vestigia Dei) to make his point. This unitive vision is similar to that of Jesuit priest and scientist Teilhard de Chardin. These two teachers first gave me the confidence to believe and teach that “everything belongs.” Both describe and defend the universal belonging of all creation, and show us that such a cosmic divine victory makes the fear-based preoccupations of later exclusionary and punitive Christianity seem so small and unnecessary.


November 21st, 2023 by Dave No comments »

The Sacred Hoop

At the CAC’s CONSPIRE 2021 conference, Pat McCabe (Weyakpa Najin Win, Woman Stands Shining) of the Diné nation described the medicine wheel as a symbol of the interconnectedness and responsibility of all beings:

In the Lakota spiritual way and teaching, I was presented with something called … the medicine wheel…. It’s a circle and it marks north to south and east to west in the center of it…. There are lots of different ways to look at that. It points to the cardinal directions; and we say that different medicines, different animals, and different spiritual entities lie in each of those four directions. Depending on which Indigenous people you talk to, they’ll name different ones, and it’s all true…. We can also talk about this hoop [or wheel] being divided into four as the four different parts of walking through your life as a human being: as a child, as a young adult, as someone who can bring forth family, and then in your elder years.

Another way that I look at it is that every single living life form has been given a seat on this sacred hoop of life … and that includes us … the five-fingered ones. We also have a seat on that sacred hoop. Every single member has a methodology for upholding its part of the sacred hoop. Every single member must uphold their part of the sacred hoop, or the integrity of the hoop begins to fail. That’s what I believe we’re witnessing right now.

Who is not upholding their part of the sacred hoop? Well, I think it’s us. Looking at it from this vantage point, the thing about this sacred hoop is that it’s really speaking to a very deep level of interrelatedness. I love Thich Nhat Hanh’s word…. interbeing. We’re interbeing and that’s exactly what this hoop is describing.

From this perspective, every member counts and every member has to be given the opportunity to uphold its part of the hoop. Every member has been given a perfect design to do that. The question is, is every member being given what they need in order to enact their perfect design for thriving life, so that they can contribute to keeping the integrity of that hoop intact?

I’m going to say “no.” When we dam rivers, we begin to prevent certain life forms from being able to enact their perfect design for thriving life…. If the salmon can’t live their way, then the whole ecology begins to unravel where they are. There’s this incredible film that shows what happens because wolves were being kept out of Yellowstone National Park here in North America…. [The film] shows what happens when they reintroduce wolves into that habitat, where they had always been. The whole ecology changes [and balances again]…. Every being has to be allowed to enact its perfect design for thriving life or the whole thing begins to unravel.

The following is from John Chaffee who sends out five thoughts on Fridays.

1.“All art is prayer.– Makoto Fujimura, American ArtistI typed up a small commentary of a paragraph about this quote but chose to delete it. It speaks for itself. “All art is prayer.” 2.“God has many that the Church does not, and the Church has many that God does not.– St. Augustine of Hippo, Catholic Mystic and TheologianWe love to draw lines concerning who is “in” and who is “out”, don’t we? Fortunately (or frustratingly) God draws different lines than we might expect. 3.“In Christ we are invited to participate in the reality of God and the reality of the world at the same time, the one not without the other…But I find the reality of the world always already borne, accepted, and reconciled in the reality of God.That is the mystery of the revelation of God in the human being Jesus Christ.– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran Pastor and Theologian(Bonhoeffer says this in his essay, “Christ, Reality, and Good.  Christ, Church and World.”) In my graduate studies at Princeton, I had the opportunity to take a semester-long class devoted to the life, work, and theology of Bonhoeffer.  I chose to write a paper on the middle section of the quote presented here in #3. A main idea that Bonhoeffer noticed in the New Testament was that after Christ, there was no longer a true distinction between one realm/world that was “sacred” and another realm/world that was “profane.”  That dichotomy was faulty and inaccurate.  There is only one reality because of Christ, and it is “reconciled.” For Bonhoeffer as a Lutheran pastor, this realization of a “reconciled world” was an important distinction.  As a result, his ethics and theology were not able to call anyone or anything “sacred” or “profane” but only as “reconciled.” And, it all leads me to wonder… “What could this world look like if we approached everyone and everything as already reconciled?” 4.“A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn’t.– Tom Waits, American MusicianTrue story, I looked up how to play accordions on YouTube and then if I could buy one on Amazon. The next day I happened to see this quote from Tom Waits. I have since not looked at accordions again. 5.“A religion without mystics is philosophy.– Pope FrancisThe mystical tradition/contemplative tradition of Christianity is where the mojo is for me now at this point in my journey.  And, after having experienced the depth, wisdom, and vulnerability of the Christian mystics, I don’t believe I can go back. Perhaps it sounds quaint, but I still believe there can be moments of complete and utter transcendence that evade our human categories. The modern church does a good job of creating scholars, activists, and sincere devotees, and thankfully it feels as though it is learning again the need to teach people their own mystical depths. And I am all in favor of it. 
Have a fantastic weekend! John C