Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

June 23rd, 2020

Dear Dave,

It is hard to believe, but this month marks 50 years since I was first ordained in my home parish in Topeka, Kansas. It was a beautiful ordination ceremony. I was young and excited; my hair was long (I had hair!), and I wore colorful vestments covered with flowers I’d probably be embarrassed to wear now.

This was during the great years after Vatican II—the inspired spiritual renewal that had put the Gospel back at the center of our lives, just as St. Francis tried to do. 

After the ceremony people were waiting in line to congratulate me, and I was feeling very important and holy. A woman held up the receiving line to tell me a story. I was irritated; as many others were in line. She told me about the history of my parish church, and how it was built on the very spot where the Pentecostal movement began. “You’re going to be used by the Holy Spirit,” she said. I tried to hurry her along, but nevertheless she persisted. And by she, I mean both this particular woman and the Holy Spirit—who has never given up on me.

Five decades later I am humbled to think about how it has all played out. I’ve written more books than I care to admit, prayed alongside amazing leaders and spoken in front of countless wonderful people. Through it all the Spirit has persisted in her work despite my many personal limitations and times I passionately believed my own message while also denying it in practice.

God always uses unworthy instruments so we can never think that it is we who are accomplishing the work. The older I get, the more I think, “God, you were so patient with me! I didn’t do it right and you still did it right, you still used me.” 

2020 has been an unprecedented year—like nothing I have seen before.  I believe we are seeing humanity awaken to a new level of awareness of systemic injustice in the world, the suffering it causes, and of the role each of us play in perpetuating these systems—predominantly by those of us with privilege and power. We would do well to remember that evil can only be substantially overcome by collective good. When one part is hurt, we all share in that pain, and if one part is liberated, we all share in the joy. 

There is a great need right now for unworthy instruments—people who have done the necessary work to ground compassionate action in contemplative, non-dual consciousness. When you experience the reality of your oneness with God and Creation, actions of justice and love will naturally follow. This message has been at the core of what I set out to teach over the last fifty years, and now that I rarely leave my hermitage, these meditations have become my primary means of sharing what God is putting on my heart. It is my hope they have been a source of both healing and encouragement for you.

Twice a year we pause the normal Daily Meditations to ask for your support to continue this work. We understand that the needs in our communities are as high as they have ever been, and we trust your discernment about the right way to help. If you’ve been impacted by the Daily Meditations and are financially able, please consider donating. All contributions are appreciated, as we are committed to keeping these messages free and accessible to people all around the world—now more than ever.

Please take a moment to read our Executive Director Michael’s note below about how you can help and a gift we’d like to share

Tomorrow the Daily Meditations will continue exploring the important theme of Nature and the Cosmos.

Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M.

Dear friends,

On June 13th, 1970, at the age of just 27, Fr. Richard began an incredible life of teaching and service to people all over the world. As a longtime student of Fr. Richard’s, it is an incredible privilege to partner with him and our whole Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC) team each day. 

We believe that a more loving, just, equitable and sustainable world is possible, but a new consciousness is necessary to get there. In the tradition of Jesus, St. Francis, and mystics from every tradition, our goal is to provide spiritual wisdom that supports both inner and outer transformation. Action and Contemplation are inextricable on the spiritual journey, especially during a time of worldwide disruption and pain.

As the CAC’s Executive Director my top priority is ensuring Fr. Richard and our other amazing teachers have the structural support they need to continue sharing their work through these daily meditations and our other programs. Because of our partnership with you, more and more people are being introduced to this wisdom. Thank you—there is no way he could do all of this alone, and there is no way wecould do all of this alone either. 

We do our work in deep respect and awareness of the many other people and organizations playing their part to transform systems of oppression in the great body of Christ. Specifically, we stand in solidarity with activists around the world who are prophetically demanding justice for all Black people who have faced violence, anti-blackness and systemic racism. These are spiritual evils that impoverish us all and they demand our participation in a systemic response. Now more than ever we honor the needs in all of our communities, and we trust your discernment on how best to help. Thank you for any support you are able to offer our mission at this time. 

Please consider making a one-time donation or a recurring gift. Your support allows us to keep these Daily Meditations free and accessible to an ever growing audience around the world. Will you contribute and support the future of this work? If you are able, please consider making your donation a monthly one. Monthly support helps create the stability we need to share this vital message to more people in more ways well into the future.

In gratitude for an online donation of any size we will send you a free digital version of our current edition of ONEING: Liminal Space.

Our hope for this edition is to help us stand on the threshold and see beyond ourselves to the broader and more inclusive world that lies before us. 
On this 50th anniversary of Richard’s Ordination, we honor his life and are deeply grateful to be on this journey together.  
Peace and Every Good,

Michael Poffenberger

Michael Poffenberger
Executive Director, Center for Action & Contemplation
P.S. Please consider making a contribution to the Center for Action and Contemplation (tax-deductible in the United States). We invite donations of any size. You can donate securely online at or send a check (USD only) to CAC, PO Box 12464, Albuquerque, NM 87195. Learn more about charitable giving at Read more of Fr. Richard’s thoughts on the systemic nature of Evil. Email us at if you are considering making a legacy or estate gift. Thank you. 

The Devine Signature

June 22nd, 2020

Cosmology and Nature

The Divine Signature
Monday, June 22, 2020

It seems that for many people accepting the truth of science means rejecting the truth of God. Of course, it’s not an either/or proposition, but the two have been set in opposition for so long we could expect little else. There have been many religious scientists throughout the ages, but their work has often only been appreciated in hindsight. Thankfully, Pope Francis is working to correct that. A growing number of people like author and podcaster Mike McHargue are beginning to articulate how science and faith can be reconciled in our modern age. Here he explains in layperson’s terms how the evolutionary phenomenon we call the “Big Bang” is a reflection of what I would call the Paschal Mystery.

In the beginning, there was a rapid expansion of a Singularity. Around 380,000 years later, there was light. There was also hydrogen and helium and four stable, fundamental forces of physics. Atoms and those forces worked together to birth the first stars from massive clouds of gas, and those stars lived for hundreds of millions of years before they died in explosions that spread their matter across the sky in clouds of gas and dust—now with heavier elements than what existed before.

The forces of physics worked together once again to craft new stars now tightly packed into the first galaxies.

As the cycle repeated, heavier elements formed planets orbiting those stars, emerging from disks of gas and dust like dust bunnies under your bed. In our universe, planets can exist only because a few generations of stars died and were reborn. The rebirth of stellar matter into planets is how our Earth came to be.

This planet, our home, is covered with a film of life unlike any we’ve yet seen anywhere else in the universe. As far as we know today, it is unique. A blue marble floating in the dark.

Earth’s life is fed by a process in which carbon from the air and minerals in the soil are attached together by the energy of photons via photosynthesis in plants. In this process, everything on this planet lives by the constant sacrifice of the nearest star. Every blade of grass, every tree, every bush, every microscopic algae on this planet is a resurrected form of the Sun’s energy. . . .

One day, I will die, and in time my atoms will go back to giving life to something else. Much farther along the arrow of time, our own Sun will explode and spread its essence across the sky. Our Sun’s dust will meet with other stars’ remnants and form new stars and planets of their own. The universe itself exists in an eternal pattern of life, death, and resurrection.

It seems poetically appropriate that the Source of all would have left this divine signature on the fabric of reality. In Jesus, I hope for more than just a God with a face or a uniquely gifted moral teacher. I hope for a resurrection that will one day reach every corner of our universe.

Cosmology and Nature

A Christian Cosmology
Sunday, June 21, 2020

The word cosmology has been used more frequently in recent years, even in religious circles. If cosmology is the study of the origin, processes, and shape of the universe, then it also involves the study of God, the universe’s Creator. I find it utterly enticing, but I also know how threatening it has been to Christian thought as a whole.

Up until Copernicus and Galileo, western cosmology was very linear and largely informed by faith, with little attention to science. With a kind of extended egocentricity, Christians thought the earth was the center of the universe. God dwelled on his throne (and God was considered male), Jesus somehow dwelled beneath God, with heaven, the earth, and hell set below in their fixed places. But after the Copernican revolution, scientists have discovered ever more galaxies, and demonstrated that we humans are not the center of anything. We are just a small part of a much bigger ecosystem and universe. It is a very humbling lesson that we are still adjusting to five hundred years later! From that revolutionary moment, religion and science largely stopped talking to one another and started going in two different directions.

At a minimum, we need a God as big as the still-expanding universe. Otherwise, many earnest people will continue to think of God as a mere add-on to a world that is already awesome. However, I believe our traditional faith has a key to open the door to a new cosmology. That key is the proper understanding of the word Christ.

Christ, as I like to say, is more than Jesus’ last name. Christ is God, and Jesus is the Christ’s historical manifestation in time. Jesus is a Third Someone, not just God and not just human, but God and human together.

If we cannot put these two seeming opposites of the divine and human together in Jesus Christ, we usually cannot put these two together in ourselves, or in the rest of the physical universe. A merely personal God becomes clannish and sentimental, and a merely universal God never leaves the realm of abstract theory and philosophical principles. But when we learn to put them together, Jesus and Christ give us a God who is both personal and universal. Jesus is a map for the time-bound and personal level of life, and Christ is the blueprint for all time and space and life itself.

When cosmology became largely a secular science, a large number of Christians felt free to reject evolution and history. Today, however, we are living in a wonderful time of convergence. We have a chance to bring them together again. As author Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) wrote: “We need a new theology of the cosmos, one that is grounded in the best science of our day . . . so that all the world turns sacred again . . .” [1] I hope this week’s meditations offer you a vision of a cosmology that is scientifically accurate and still entirely suffused with the presence of God.

Love and Justice Are Not Two

June 19th, 2020

Inner and Outer Freedom

Love and Justice Are Not Two
Friday,  June 19, 2020

Love and Justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters. —Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Sensei

I enjoyed getting to know Rev. angel Kyodo williams when she presented at the CONSPIRE conference in 2017. She is one of very few black women Zen Senseis (teachers). Through her Buddhist practice, she seeks to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressors, which is appropriate as we celebrate Juneteenth in the United States today, to recognize the final day of emancipation from slavery in our nation. In this passage she shares her path to becoming an agent of transformative, peaceful social change.

Not long after finding my place as an activist for social justice, I came up against the need for not just reacting to what was happening in the world, which gave me a sense of purpose, but developing a way to look at what was happening, which provided a sense of meaning. I found a second home in cultivating a spiritual life. . . . My formal Zen practice and training were teaching me to find a more restful place that I could abide in within myself despite the chaos and calamity [of] living in an unjust society. . . . It also gave me a way to be in response to sometimes overwhelming situations that could just lead me to a downward spiral of anger and negativity. . . .

The Zen community I eventually became engaged with [the Zen Peacemaker Order] . . .explicitly committed to social action.

I was captivated by the bodhisattva ideal. . . . In their infinite wisdom and boundless compassion, they responded to the cries [of the world]. Even though liberation is available to them, they hold it off until every person can be awakened, too. . . .

I advocated for [a] more balanced approach to fiercely address injustice from a place of empowerment as a warrior—but one that was ultimately committed to peace rather than aggression. This path recognized the clarity and resilience brought about by cultivating one’s inner life. . . . I saw this as a more sustainable path, especially for Black people, whose road to victory in the external landscape would likely be a long one given the deep entrenchment of the forces of oppression set against us.

In response to the events of September 11th, I wrote what became known as the Warrior-Spirit Prayer of Awakening. . . .

May all beings be granted with the strength, determination and wisdom to extinguish anger and reject violence as a way.

May all suffering cease and may I seek, find, and fully realize the love and compassion that already lives within me and allow them to inspire and permeate my every action.

May I exercise the precious gift of choice and the power to change [as] that which makes me uniquely human and is the only true path to liberation.

May I swiftly reach complete, effortless freedom so that my fearless, unhindered action be of benefit to all.

May I lead the life of a warrior.

Structural and Personal Freedom

June 18th, 2020

Thursday,  June 18, 2020

Francis and Clare of Assisi were not so much prophets by what they said as in the radical, system-critiquing way that they lived their lives. They found both their inner and outer freedom by structurally living on the edge of the inside of church and society. Too often people seek either inner freedom or mere outer freedom, but seldom—in my opinion—do people seek and find both. Francis and Clare did.

Their agenda for justice was the most foundational and undercutting of all others: a very simple lifestyle outside the system of production and consumption (the real meaning of the vow of poverty), plus a conscious identification with the marginalized of society (the communion of saints pushed to its outer edge). In this position, you do not “do” acts of peace and justice as much as your life is itself peace and justice. You take your small and sufficient place in the great and grand scheme of God.

By “living on the edge of the inside” I mean building on the solid Tradition (“from the inside”) from a new and creative stance where you cannot be co-opted for purposes of security, possessions, or the illusions of power (“on the edge”). Francis and Clare placed themselves outside the social and ecclesiastical system. Francis was not a priest, nor were Franciscan men to pursue priesthood in the early years of the order. Theirs was not a spirituality of earning or seeking worthiness, career, church status, moral one-upmanship, or divine favor (which they knew they already had).

Within their chosen structural freedom, Francis and Clare also found personal, mental, and emotional freedom. They were free from negativity and ego. Such liberation is full Gospel freedom.

Today, most of us try to find personal and individual freedom even as we remain inside of structural boxes and a system of consumption that we are then unable or unwilling to critique. Our mortgages, luxuries, and privileged lifestyles control our whole future. Whoever is paying our bills and giving us security and status determines what we can and cannot say or even think. Self-serving institutions that give us our security, status, or identity are considered “too big to fail” and are invariably beyond judgment from the vast majority of people. Evil can hide in systems much more readily than in individuals. [1]

When Jesus and John’s Gospel used the term “the world,” they did not mean the earth, creation, or civilization, which Jesus clearly came to love and save (see John 12:47). They were referring to idolatrous systems and institutions that are invariably self-referential and “always passing away” (see 1 Corinthians 7:31). Francis and Clare showed us it is possible to change the system not by negative attacks (which tend to inflate the ego), but simply by quietly moving to the side and doing it better!


June 17th, 2020

Inner and Outer Freedom

Wednesday,  June 17, 2020

For the kinds of freedom and liberation that are needed today, I am going to use the word “emancipation.” Instead of focusing on the mere personal freedoms enjoyed by individual people, emancipation directs our attention to a systemic level of freedom. With the exception of those who are fully emancipated (which are very few indeed), we each live inside of our own smaller security systems of culture, era, political opinion, and even some quiet, subtle agreements of which we may not even be aware.

In the United States, we rightly revel in the fact that we enjoy certain rights and freedoms from restraints (free markets, free speech, the freedom to be secure and to defend ourselves). However, we pay little attention to the fact that these liberties can ultimately only offer us as much freedom as we ourselves have earned from the inside. If we haven’t achieved the inner freedom to love, we are totally dependent on the outer systems which, paradoxically, can never fully guarantee or deliver the very freedoms they promise. Our inability to recognize this has made our so-called freedoms very selective, class-based, often dishonest, and open to bias.

For example, are we really free to imagine that there could be better alternatives to our free-market system? We are likely to be called dangerous or un-American if we dare broach the topic. We believe in free speech, but we know better than to claim that money actually controls our elections, rather than “one person, one vote.” Does our freedom to protect ourselves with gun rights and limitless military spending give us the freedom to use the vast majority of the economic resources of our country for our protection? Even if it means not providing food, healthcare, or education for the same people we say we are securing?

When we place all of our identity in our one country, security system, religion, or ethnic group, we are unable to imagine another way of thinking. Only citizenship in a much larger “Realm of God” can emancipate us from the confinement of certain well-hidden, yet agreed-upon, boxes we have labeled “Freedom.” In fact, because these are foundational and necessary cultural agreements, we do not even recognize them as boxes.

To be fair, such boxes are good, helpful, and even necessary sometimes! These silent agreements allow cultures to function and people to work together. But my job, and the job of Christian wisdom, is to tell you that “We are fellow citizens with the saints and part of God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19), and thus “Our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20). We have been called to live in the biggest box of all, while still working and living practically inside of the smaller boxes of society. That is a necessarily creative and difficult tension, yet it is really the only way we can enjoy all levels of freedom. “In the world, but not of the world” was the historic phrase commonly used by many Christians, whereas today most of us tend to be in the system, of the system, and for the system—without even realizing it!

So, let’s use the word emancipation to describe a deeper, bigger, and scarier level of freedom: inner, outer, personal, economic, structural, and spiritual. Surely this is the task of our entire lifetime.

Inner and Outer Freedom

June 16th, 2020

Freedom to Love
Tuesday,  June 16, 2020

Everything is a manifestation of divine radiance. Love rushes everywhere, in everyone, in everything.  —Paula D’Arcy 

My friend Paula D’Arcy leads and attends retreats where people from many different backgrounds come to face their deepest grief, insecurities, and anger to find the freedom that lies on the other side. She shares one of her own experiences here:   

There is a love which itself has the power to free the human heart. Many remarkable people live in testament to this love, even though they are held in jail cells and prisons, or suffer the harsh conditions imposed by poverty, [racism,] adversity, war, and occupation. The truth of this love is that, if we can be uprooted from our daily preoccupations and taken by direct experience into its presence, then a profound transformation is possible. Whoever arrives at this place looks at the world differently. The distinctions on the surface no longer exist. Here it is possible to suspend our certainties and touch something greater: the Spirit within us. 

In January 2014, I met the fire of that inner heart. The outer circumstances were the ten days I spent at a retreat center in California with thirty other men and women. . . . We were Americans, Mexicans, Israelis, Bedouins, and Palestinians. . . . We all expressed a longing for freedom, while having little idea what that meant, or might demand. We were about to touch the fire of Spirit, embedded not only deep within our own [bodies], but in all life. I recorded our journey through those days, and this telling is excerpted from my journal. . . .  

I don’t want to see that how I participate in the world is often less than love, and that the environment in which we all live is the result of our sense of entitlement and greed. I don’t want to know what freedom demands and what dedication to love and peace may require. Words from the poet Rumi haunt my thoughts: his saying that, in order to live in this world, you have to be truly and completely in love. . . .   

Love does not come as theory. It moves in bodies, in nature, in the ground beneath us and the space between. True Love is not emotional. It is a different nature, waiting in us like a secret seed. The illusion is thinking that, by changing a system, an ideology, or our external circumstances, things will change. No; freedom is . . . realizing that this Love is not a symbol or an ideal; it is a living power. . . .  

And I understood what it could mean if we met the outer world with our inner world. . . .

There is a living love that exceeds our circumstances and our conditioning. That’s the truth we all must find. The profound problems of hatred, judgment, [racism,] and revenge, our jealousies and our violence, will be solved by love, and love alone.

Freedom: An Infinite Possibility of Growth

June 15th, 2020

Inner and Outer Freedom

Freedom: An Infinite Possibility of Growth
Monday, June 15, 2020

The spirituality of CAC faculty member James Finley has been deeply influenced by the writings of Thomas Merton (1915–1968). In this passage, Jim explores the paradoxical wisdom that true freedom does not come from following our own will but in knowing and surrendering to God’s will for us.

Merton quotes Meister Eckhart [1260–1328] as saying, “For God to be is to give being, and for [humanity] to be is to receive being.” [1] Our true self is a received self. At each moment, we exist to the extent we receive existence from God who is existence. . . .

Our deepest freedom rests not in our freedom to do what we want to do but rather in our freedom to become who God wills us to be. This person, this ultimate self God wills us to be, is not a predetermined, static mold to which we must conform. Rather, it is an infinite possibility of growth. It is our true self; that is, a secret self hidden in and one with the divine freedom. In obeying God, in turning to do [God’s] will, we find God willing us to be free. God created us for freedom; that is to say, God created us for [God’s] self.

Phrased differently, we can say that God cannot hear the prayer of someone who does not exist. The [false] self constructed of ideologies and social principles, the self that defines itself and proclaims its own worthiness is most unworthy of the claim to reality before God. Our freedom from the prison of our own illusions comes in realizing that in the end everything is a gift. Above all, we ourselves are gifts that we must first accept before we can become who we are by returning who we are to the Father. This is accomplished in a daily death to self, in a compassionate reaching out to those in need, and in a detached desire for the silent, ineffable surrender of contemplative prayer. It is accomplished in making Jesus’ prayer our own: “Father . . . not my will but yours be done” [Luke 22:42]. . . .

[Thomas Merton identifies] that freedom from the futility of . . . laying hold of God as a possession.

Only when we are able to “let go” of everything within us, all desire to see, to know, to taste, and to experience the presence of God, do we truly become able to experience that presence with the overwhelming conviction and reality that revolutionize our entire inner life. [2]

This letting-go in the moral order is the living out of the Beatitudes. In the order of prayer it is in-depth kenosis, an emptying out of the contents of awareness so that one becomes oneself an empty vessel, a broken vessel, a void that lies open before God and finds itself filled with God’s own life. This gift of God is revealed to be the ground and root of our very existence. It is our own true self.

Inner and Outer Freedom

The Truth Will Set You Free
Sunday, June 14, 2020

Authentic spirituality is always on some level or in some way about letting go. In a consumer society, however, we have little training in how to let go of anything. Rather, more is usually considered better. Jesus said, “the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Once we truly see what traps us and keeps us from freedom, we should see the need to let it go. As Meister Eckhart said, “the spiritual life is more about subtraction than it is addition.” [1] But capitalist societies make everything into addition.

The freedom Jesus promises involves letting go of our small self, our cultural biases, and even our fear of loss and death. Freedom is letting go of wanting more and better things; it is letting go of our need to control and manipulate God and others. It is even letting go of our need to know and our need to be right—which we only discover with maturity. We become ever more free as we let go of our three primary motivations: our need for power and control, our need for safety and security, and our need for affection and esteem. [2]

Healthy spirituality leads us to true liberation by naming what’s real, what’s true, and what works—now and in the long run. This Ultimate Reality, the way things really work, is quite simply described as love. The wise ones recognize that without a certain degree of inner freedom, we cannot and will not truly love. Spirituality is about finding that freedom. Jesus even commanded it (John 13:34)—though I’m not sure that we really can order or demand love—to show us how central it is.

Most of us didn’t grow up thinking of religion as a path of freedom. Instead, we were taught a set of prescriptions, dos and don’ts, musts, oughts, and shoulds—against which we pushed back, like children always do. When we’re young, we think rebellion is the only path to freedom! Some amount of structure is important, but it is first-level growth. Far too much religion stays right there, “milk instead of meat,” as Paul puts it (1 Corinthians 3:2). [3]

Authentic spirituality, as opposed to mere rebellion, is about finding true freedom. It offers us freedom from our smaller selves as a reference point for everything or anything. This is the necessary Copernican Revolution wherein we change reference points. We discover that we are not the center of the universe any more than the Earth is. We no longer feel the need to place our own thoughts and feelings in the center of every conversation or difficulty.

Although we have to start with self at the center to build a necessary “ego structure,” we must then move beyond it. The big and full world does not circle around any one of us. Yet so many refuse to undergo this foundational enlightenment, which leaves them much less free than they want to be.

Public Action and Contemplation

June 12th, 2020

Contemplation and Racism

Public Action and Contemplation
Friday,  June 12, 2020

I was in the seminary when the Civil Rights movement transformed the political and cultural landscape of the United States. While I was more an observer than an active participant, I witnessed the courage and faith of the activists, not yet realizing that contemplation was often its source. Today Dr. Barbara Holmes describes the contemplative dimension present in the marching feet of civil rights activists.   

The civil rights marches of the 1960s were contemplative—sometimes silent, sometimes drenched with song, but always contemplative. This may mean within the context of a desperate quest for justice that while weary feet traversed well-worn streets, hearts leaped into the lap of God. While children were escorted into schools by national guardsmen, the song “Jesus Loves Me” became an anthem of faith in the face of contradictory evidence. You cannot face German shepherds and fire hoses with your own resources; there must be God and stillness at the very center of your being. . . .

Like a spiritual earthquake, the resolve of the marchers affirmed the faith of foremothers and forefathers. Each step was a reclamation of the hope unborn. Each marcher embodied the communal affirmation of already/not yet sacred spaces. . . . The sacred act of walking together toward justice was usually preceded by a pre-march meeting that began with a prayer service, where preaching, singing, and exhortation prepared the people to move toward the hope they all held. This hope was carefully explicated by the leadership as a fulfillment of God’s promises. As a consequence, the movement that spilled from the churches to the streets was a ritual enactment of a communal faith journey toward the basileia [realm] of God. . . .

The end result was that a purportedly Christian nation was forced to view its black citizens as a prototype of the suffering God, absorbing violence into their own bodies without retaliation. By contrast, stalwart defenders of the old order found themselves before God . . . with fire hoses, whips, and ropes in their hands. The crisis created by contemplative justice-seeking guaranteed the eventual end of overt practices of domination, for domination could not withstand the steady gaze of the inner eye of thousands of awakened people.

The killing of George Floyd reminds us that cries for justice and equity continue today; awakened hearts and active bodies are needed to join the cause. Holmes affirms new, creative approaches today in the Movement for Black Lives and other groups led by young people, women, and people of color. I, Richard—like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—believe that “the arc of the universe bends toward justice,” [1] but it depends upon our participation. What is your work to do today to bend the universe a little more towards justice?

Contemplation and Racism

June 11th, 2020

Crisis Contemplation
Thursday,  June 11, 2020

Apart from a few monastic orders, Western Christianity neglected the systematic instruction of contemplative practice for hundreds of years. Yet many people naturally grow into nondual consciousness through great suffering or great love. Barbara Holmes suggests that “crisis contemplation” arose out of necessity during slavery, beginning in the Middle Passage when people were transported across the ocean as human cargo. In times such as this, contemplation becomes the soul’s strategy of survival. 

It was a community of sorts, yet each person lay in their own chrysalis of human waste and anxiety. More often than not, these Africans were strangers to each other by virtue of language, culture, and tribe. Although the names of their deities differed, they shared a common belief in the seen and unseen. The journey was a rite of passage of sorts that stripped captives of their personal control over the situation and forced them to turn to the spirit realm for relief and guidance. . . .

The word contemplation must press beyond the constraints of religious expectations to reach the potential for spiritual centering in the midst of danger. Centering moments accessed in safety are an expected luxury in our era. During slavery, however, crisis contemplation became a refuge, a wellspring of discernment in a suddenly disordered life space, and a geo-spiritual anvil for forging a new identity. This definition of contemplation is dynamic and situational. . . .

As unlikely as it may seem, the contemplative moment can be found at the very center of such ontological crises . . . during the Middle Passage in the holds of slave ships . . . on the auction blocks . . . and in the . . . hush arbors [where slaves worshipped in secret]. Each event is experienced by individuals stunned into multiple realities by shock, journey, and displacement. . . . In the words of Howard Thurman, “when all hope for release in this world seems unrealistic and groundless, the heart turns to a way of escape beyond the present order.” [1] For captured Africans, there was no safety except in common cause and the development of internal and spiritual fortitude. . . .

The only sound that would carry Africans over the bitter waters was the moan. Moans flowed through each wracked body and drew each soul toward the center of contemplation. . . . On the slave ships, the moan became the language of stolen strangers, the sound of unspeakable fears, the precursor to joy yet unknown. . . . One imagines the Spirit moaning as it hovered over the deep during the Genesis account of creation [Genesis 1:2]. Here, the moan stitches horror and survival instincts into a creation narrative. . . . The moan is the birthing sound, the first movement toward a creative response to oppression, the entry into the heart of contemplation through the crucible of crisis.

Indeed, we are hearing the echoing moan of black and brown communities today, crying out “How long, O Lord, must our people suffer?”

Unlearning Racism

June 10th, 2020

Unlearning Racism
Wednesday,  June 10, 2020

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove is an author, minister, and contemplative activist. The interview with CAC’s Daily Meditations editor Mark Longhurst, which we have excerpted here, was published in 2018, but his reflections on freedom from what he calls “slaveholder religion,” contemplation, and action are especially relevant today.

My journey toward freedom from slaveholder religion has been one of unlearning a hyper-individualized piety. [This is what I would call an obsession with our individual salvation project—RR] . . . I’ve had to learn that this is a spiritual version of the myth of the self-made man or woman that [the social systems that privilege] whiteness created.

Jonathan shares about his prayer practices and how the practice of confessing sin helps him dwell in solidarity with the marginalized:

We need relationships of accountability—spaces where we listen to black and brown folks say what actions are hurting them and their communities. Given the power imbalances in our society, confession for white folks really has to be something of a reverse confessional. It’s not the job of people who’ve suffered generational injustice to sit and listen to us. No, we’ve got to position ourselves to sit and listen to them. Then talk to one another about how we can unlearn implicit bias, leverage social privilege for the common good, and follow the leadership of impacted people working for systemic justice. The daily practice of confession is a radical act of listening.

Wilson-Hartgrove finds that communal spirituality and action for justice have helped liberate him from the individualistic, self-made myth of systemic whiteness:

[The] antidote is, in many ways, in the communal contemplative practices of the black-led freedom movement in America. I’m thinking about the prayer practices of song and shout in Pentecostal churches, of call and response in black Baptist preaching. There’s a mantra-like repetition in that experience of worship that is every bit as much contemplation as you find sitting in silence. In fact, it is a silence—a still point of complete simplicity—that’s beyond words. For me, I find that silence in the praise and testimony service at the St. John’s Baptist Church, and I find it singing and marching in the streets with the Poor People’s Campaign.

At the same time, Jonathan cherishes stillness, embodying a true “centering down,” in the words of Howard Thurman, that can take place just about anywhere.

The silence of the early morning is why I wake early. I can’t be myself without it. But as I grow in the life of faith, I feel more and more the connection between that silence and the silence at the center of [a mourning mother’s] cry—the silence of the down beat between the claps in a freedom song. There is a still point in the turning world, and we practice contemplation as we ground ourselves in that place, not apart from action, but in the center of it.