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Everything Changes

January 1st, 2019

Everything Changes
Tuesday, January 1, 2019

We’re calling this year’s theme “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” The term “evolution” may be challenging for some Christians who believe that science and the Bible contradict each other. We’ll look more closely at the Bible (and how Jesus interpreted it) next week, and later this year we’ll focus on Creation and science. For now, let’s simply consider how the inner process of change and growth is fundamental to everything, even our bodies. Having undergone several surgeries, cancer, and a heart attack, I’ve been consoled by the way my body takes care of itself over time. The miracle of healing comes from the inside—but with help from doctors and nurses!

In religion, however, many prefer magical, external, one-time transactions instead of the universal pattern of growth and healing—which is always through loss and renewal. This is the way that life perpetuates itself in ever-new forms: through various changes that can feel like death. The pattern disappoints and scares most of us, even many clergy who think death and resurrection is just a doctrinal statement about the lone Jesus.

There is not a single discipline today that does not recognize change, development, growth, and some kind of evolving phenomenon: psychology, cultural anthropology, history, physical sciences, philosophy, social studies, drama, music, on and on. But in theology’s search for the Real Absolute, it imagined a static “unmoved mover,” as Aristotelian philosophy called it, a solid substance sitting above somewhere. Theology has struggled to imagine that once God includes us in the narrative then God is for sure changing! Is that not what the Bible—at its core—is saying? We matter to God and God thus allows us to change the narrative of history . . . and the narrative of God.

Religion tends to prefer and protect the status quo or the supposedly wonderful past, yet what we now see is that religion often simply preserves its own power and privilege. God does not need our protecting. We often worship old things as substitutes for eternal things. Jesus strongly rejects this love of the past and one’s private perfection, and he cleverly quotes Isaiah (29:13) to do it: “In vain do they worship me, teaching merely human precepts as if they were doctrines” (Matthew 15:9). Many of us seem to think that God really is “back there,” in the good ol’ days of old-time religion when God was really God, and everybody was happy and pure. This leaves the present moment empty and hopeless—not to speak of the future.

God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. This is the generative force implanted in all living things, which grow both from within—because they are programmed for it—and from without—by taking in sun, food, and water. Picture YHWH breathing into the soil that became Adam (Genesis 2:7). That is the eternal pattern. God is still breathing into soil every moment!

Evolutionary thinking is actually contemplative thinking because it leaves the full field of the future in God’s hands and agrees to humbly hold the present with what it only tentatively knows for sure. Evolutionary thinking must agree to both knowing and not knowing, at the same time. This is hard for the egoically bound self. It wants to fully know—now—which is never true anyway.

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

December 31st, 2018

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith
Treasures Old and New

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Every disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who draws out from their storage room things both old and new. —Matthew 13:52

As we come to the end of this year, we begin a new theme for the Daily Meditations. Over the next twelve months our focus will be “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” Today’s world faces so many challenges. Christianity is supposed to heal suffering and mend divides, yet it has often exacerbated the problem. Is such a religion even worth saving?

While there are unhelpful and even harmful parts of what has passed for Christianity that we need to move beyond, I believe there are many good, beautiful, and true gems well worth saving—and living. It is of no use to anybody if Christianity is just a museum or an antique shop where we prefer to collect old things for their own sake. Yet we can rediscover many good old things that are perennially valuable. We would be foolish to reject them.

My life and the Center for Action and Contemplation’s work are guided by eight core principles. [1] The first might surprise some of you: The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. We all need a North Star to orient us toward meaning and purpose. As a Christian and Franciscan, for me that is Jesus, who revealed the Eternal Christ. Over the next several weeks we’ll become better acquainted with Jesus, whom Christians believe is the totally inclusive “Child of God” who includes all of us in his cosmic sweep. He is the Includer, and we are the included. We’ll then spend some time looking at Christ, the eternal, ongoing union of human and divine, present in and evolving all of Creation since the beginning of time, who moves that inclusion to everything in the Universe.

Because Christianity is the path I love and know best, I teach primarily through this lens. However, the Center’s fifth principle—We will support true authority, the ability to ‘author’ life in others, regardless of the group—points to the Perennial Tradition. If it’s true, it’s always been true; truth simply shows up in various ages and cultures through different vocabulary and images. Throughout the world’s religions and philosophies, recurring themes point to humanity’s longing for union with Divine Reality. There are many paths to union.

You may ask, why does Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? I’ll return to this when we explore the difference between Jesus and Christ. But for now, I’ll simply say that Jesus is not talking about joining or privileging any group; he is describing the way by which all religions must allow matter and spirit to operate as one, which indeed is the universal way for all people.

As we’ll see, Jesus revealed a God who is in total solidarity with humanity, even and most especially in its suffering. Shane Claiborne writes, “Jesus came to show us what God is like in a way we can touch and follow. Jesus is the lens through which we look at the Bible and the world; everything is fulfilled in Christ. There are plenty of things I still find baffling, . . . but then I look at Christ, and I get a deep assurance that God is good, and gracious, and not so far away.” [2] Let’s be honest: that is all we need to move forward.

————————

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

Ever Ancient, Ever New
Monday, December 31, 2018

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. —Augustine of Hippo (354-430) [1]

Within each of us is a deep desire for union and intimacy with God, with our truest self, and with all of Creation. Because life is hard, and we’re wired for survival, we develop coping mechanisms that separate us from each other and God. Thankfully, God is patient and has many ways to reach us. Jesus is one of the clearest, most visible images of God’s love. His teaching and example model for us what it means to be both human and divine—at the same time. He dismantles our preconceived ideas about who and where God is and is not.

Jesus—and others who followed after him like Paul and Francis and Clare of Assisi—made room for the new by letting go of the old. Jesus had the courage and clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive. John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” that separates the grain from the chaff (see Matthew 3:12). If we don’t winnow, we spend a lot of time protecting “chaff” or non-essentials.

Jesus did not let the old get in the way of the new but revealed what the old was saying all along. Contemporary poet Christian Wiman writes beautifully, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.” [2]

Precisely because Jesus was a “conservative,” in the true sense of the term, he conserved what was worth conserving and did not let accidentals get in the way, which are the very things false conservatives usually idolize. As a result, he looked quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous.

It might surprise you that Jesus could be considered subversive. Christians often think of him as the founder of a new religion. But that was probably the furthest thing from Jesus’ mind. He was a Jew, through and through. While honoring and emphasizing the essential and core elements of his tradition, he just ignored and even undercut most non-essential religious norms and mandates. This is rarer than you might think and is invariably the character of any true reformer. They know they are merely following the constant thread of Spirit.

Image and Likeness: Summary Growing in the Divine Likeness

December 28th, 2018

Richard Rohr

Image and Likeness: Summary
Growing in the Divine Likeness
Friday, December 28, 2018

Today I share more from Tilden Edwards as he emphasizes the importance of lowering the mind into the heart in order to grow in likeness to God.
My interpretation of the early Christian desert elders’ over-encouragement of allowing the mind to sink into the heart is that the mind needs to bathe in the contemplative heart’s more naked availability to the gracious Presence, from whence the mind’s fundamental spiritual insights emerge.
As our spiritual journey proceeds in grace, yearning, and willingness, we find our egos and our thinking, imaging, and subconscious minds, along with our bodily senses, more and more free to be vessels of the communing, loving Light shown us in our contemplative hearts, albeit never completely in this life. . . .
The flow of this liberating, living Light slowly melts away many of the attachments in us that divide us from our true being in God. In our awareness of forgetful, agitated, and willful/sinful times, we become more accepting of the forgiving and encouraging love and image-of-God dignity that is ours as we turn to the gracious Presence. That dignity still lives in our core being right through every physical and mental disability that we might endure in life. . . .
The widespread contemplative re-awakening in recent decades . . . is, I believe, a Spirit-inspired response to the wide scale shrinkage of our identity and capacity to ego, mind, and feelings alone in what has been taught about our human nature in both Western religious bodies and secular culture over the past 500 years. Awareness and cultivation of the contemplative heart as a profound faculty for knowing deep reality has been unrecognized or marginalized. Many . . . yearn for something more than they’ve normally been given in terms of understanding the mutually indwelling intimacy of human and divine nature and the path to its incarnate fullness. It’s an intrinsic God-given longing to realize the hidden divine radiance shining in us and all creation.
The rise of contemplative practice today stems . . . from the desire to grow more fully into who we really are. We need to cultivate spiritual communities . . . where there is mutual support, challenge, and practices to foster the lifetime journey from the image to the likeness of God. . . . Listening and responding together from the contemplative heart in all societal settings can further the maturing of human relationships, purpose, and inclusive societal well-being: the ripening of the communal kin-dom of heaven.

Listening as Divine Likeness

December 27th, 2018

Richard Rohr

Listening as Divine Likeness
Thursday, December 27, 2018

Tilden Edwards is a dear friend, who is also an Episcopal priest and co-founder and Senior Fellow of The Shalem Institute. I’d like to close this year’s theme, Image and Likeness, with portions of an article he wrote for CAC’s journal Oneing:
Some of the early Church Fathers well summarized the nature and purpose of our lives when they said that we are born in the image of God and meant to grow into the full likeness of God. I interpret that to mean that our core nature is a unique shaping of divine Spirit energy, a unique shaping of divine love, freedom, and creativity. . . .
Over time each of us weaves a unique story of responsiveness to the Holy Spirit invitations and divisive spirit temptations of our lives. Each response draws us closer to or further away from consciousness and expression of our true nature in God, the nature of mutually indwelling intimacy. . . . Our responses are personal but not private: they are influenced by and influence the larger human story.
[Here is] a simple schema for noticing from where we are listening and responding at a given time. . . .
Listening from the Little Ego Self
This is the conditioned, coping personality dimension of our nature, our “little” self. It is a gift of God that allows us to enjoy and function in the world. However, when we identify with this dimension of self as our ultimate identity, then we can become dominated by its often fearful, over-securing, control-seeking drives and attachments. . . .
Listening from the Thinking Mind
The mind draws the words we hear and speak through the filter of its learned concepts, categories, images, and values. Our rational and imaginative mind is a great gift of God, including its capacity to recognize and resist our ego’s way of skewing reality. However, if the mind is the ultimate place from which we listen and respond, if we believe its insights bring us fully into the truth, then we have overstepped its capacity. We are in danger of confusing its views with ultimate reality itself. Our concepts then become idols that shrink the great mystery of divine reality to what those concepts can contain, rather than being valuable symbols that point to deep reality beyond the capacity of words and images to fully grasp.
Listening from the Contemplative Heart
When we most deeply listen and respond from a third place in us, our spiritual heart, then we more easily avoid the pitfalls of rational idolatry and ego drives, while at the same time respecting the gifted place of rational-imaginative thought and ego functioning in our lives. Our gifted contemplative heart includes our capacity not only to will and intimately feel, but also to “know” deep reality more holistically, intuitively, and directly than our categorizing, thinking minds. In our heart we are immediately present to what is, just as it is, in the receptive space before our thinking mind begins labeling, interpreting, and judging things, and before our ego fears and grasping become operational.

Trusting the Divine Image and Likeness

December 26th, 2018

Trusting the Divine Image and Likeness
Wednesday, December 26, 2018

In the practical order, we find our Original Goodness, the image of God that we are, when we can discover and own the faith, hope, and love deeply planted within us:

A trust in inner coherence itself. “It all means something!” (Faith)
A trust that this coherence is positive and going somewhere good. (Hope)
A trust that this coherence includes me and even defines me. (Love)

This is the soul’s foundation. That we are capable of such trust and surrender is the objective basis for human goodness and holiness, and it almost needs to be re-chosen day by day lest we continue to slide toward cynicism, victim playing and making, or self-pity. No philosophy or government, no law or reason, can fully promise or offer us this attitude, but the Gospel can and does. Healthy religion shares a compelling and attractive foundation for human goodness and dignity and shows us ways to build on that foundation.

Being created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27) gives everyone an equal and inherent dignity. However, in every age and culture, we have seen regressions toward racism, sexism, homophobia, militarism, ableism, and classism. This pattern tells me that unless we see dignity as being given universally, objectively, and from the beginning by God, we humans will constantly think it is up to us to decide. But this tragic history demonstrates that one group cannot be trusted to portion out worthiness and dignity to another. Our criteria tend to be self-referential and thus highly prejudiced, and the powerless and the disadvantaged always lose out. Even the United States’ aspirational Declaration of Independence—which states that “all men [originally meaning white, property-owning males] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”—has not empowered marginalized groups to apportion those rights equally.

For the planet and for all living beings to move forward, we can rely on nothing less than an inherent original goodness and a universally shared dignity. Only then can we build, because the foundation is strong, and is itself good. Surely this is what Jesus meant when he told us to “dig and dig deep, and build your house on rock” (Luke 6:48). When we start with yes (or a positive vision), we are more likely to proceed with generosity and hope, and we have a much greater chance of ending with an even bigger yes, which we would call “resurrection.”

Saying Yes to the Divine Likeness

December 25th, 2018

Richard Rohr

Saying Yes to the Divine Likeness
Tuesday, December 25, 2018
Christmas Day

My work is to free
myself of myself
so that You can be
born in me.
—Meister Eckhart, paraphrased [1]

The positive being that emerges from you and me [is] the image of God. The problem is that this image has been distorted by the emotional programs for happiness and over-identification with false values or groups so that the purity and power and beauty of who we really are is kind of hidden with layers of false self, both conscious and unconscious. So the spiritual journey aims at that. —Thomas Keating [2]
How do we first see and then practice our unique image of God, our “Original Goodness”? Paul gives us an answer. He says, “There are only three things that last, faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In Catholic theology, we call these three essential attitudes the “theological virtues” because they are a “participation in the very life of God”—given freely by God or “infused” into us at our very conception. In this understanding, faith, hope, and love are far more defining of the human person than the “moral virtues,” the various good behaviors we learn as we grow older. This is why I cannot abandon an orthodox or Catholic worldview. For all of its poor or incomplete formulations, it still offers humanity a foundationally positive anthropology, not just a moral worthiness contest, which is always unstable and insecure.
From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature—indeed they are our very nature (Romans 5:5, 8:14-17). But we have to awaken, allow, and advance this core identity by saying a conscious yes to it and drawing upon it as a reliable and Absolute Source. Image must become likeness.
Our saying “yes” to such implanted faith, hope, and love plays a crucial role in the divine equation; human freedom matters. Mary’s yes seemed to be essential to the event of Incarnation (Luke 1:38). God does not come uninvited. God and grace cannot enter without an opening from our side, or we would be mere robots. God does not want robots, but lovers who freely choose to love in return for love. And toward that supreme end, God seems quite willing to wait, cajole, and entice.

December 24th, 2018

Seeing the Divine Image Everywhere
Sunday, December 23, 2018

We cannot earn God. We cannot prove ourselves worthy of God. Knowing God’s presence is simply a matter of awareness, of enjoying the now, of deepening one’s own presence. There are moments when it happens. Then life makes sense. Once I can see the Mystery here, and trust the Mystery even in this piece of clay that I am, then I can also see it in you. We are eventually able to see the divine image within ourselves, in each other, and in all things. Finally, the seeing is one. How you see anything is how you will see everything.

Jesus pushes seeing to the social edge. Can we see the image of Christ in the least of our brothers and sisters? That is his only description of the final judgment (Matthew 25). Nothing about commandments, nothing about church attendance—simply a matter of our ability to see. Can we see Christ in the “nobodies” who can’t play our game of success? In those who cannot reward us in return? When we see the image of God where we are not accustomed to seeing the image of God, then we see with eyes not our own.

Finally, Jesus says we have to love and recognize the divine image even in our enemies (Matthew 5:44). He teaches what many thought a leader could never demand of his followers: love of the enemy. Logically that makes no sense. Yet soulfully it makes absolute sense, because in terms of the soul, it really is all or nothing. Either we see the divine image in all created things, or we end up not seeing it at all. There is a first epiphany, and gradually the circle keeps moving outward, widening its embrace. It is almost the meaning of life!

The Christian vision is that the whole world is a temple. If that is true, then our enemies are sacred, too. Who else created them but God? The ability to respect the outsider is probably the litmus test of true seeing. And it doesn’t stop with human beings and enemies and the least of the sisters and brothers. It moves to frogs and waters and weeds. Everything becomes enchanting once we have full sight. One God, one world, one truth, one suffering, and one love (see Ephesians 4:4-6). All we can do is participate.

————————
Monday, December 24, 2018
Christmas Eve

The true and essential work of all religion is to help us recognize and recover the divine image in everything. Our job is to mirror things correctly, deeply, and fully until all beings know who they are. A mirror by its nature reflects impartially, equally, effortlessly, spontaneously, and endlessly. It does not produce the image, nor does it filter the image according to its perceptions or preferences. Authentic mirroring can only call forth what is already there.

Consider the very “Mind of Christ” as a mirror. The Christ-mirror fully knows and loves us from all eternity and reflects that image back to us. I cannot logically prove this to you, but I do know that people who live inside of this resonance are both happy and healthy. Those who do not resonate and reciprocate with the inherent dignity of things around them only grow in loneliness and alienation and invariably tend toward violence in some form, if only toward themselves.

Do you then also see the lovely significance of John’s statement: “It is not because you do not know the truth that I write to you, but because you know it already” (1 John 2:21)? He is talking about an implanted knowing in each of us—an inner mirror, if you will. Today, many would just call it “consciousness.” Poets and musicians might call it the “soul.” The prophet Jeremiah called it “the Law written in your heart” (Jeremiah 31:33), while Christians call it the “Indwelling Holy Spirit.”

In that same letter, John puts it quite directly: “My dear people, we are already the children of God, and what we are to be in the future is still to be revealed, and when it is revealed—all we will know is that we are like God, for we shall finally see God as God really is!” (1 John 3:2). And who is this God that we will finally see? It is somehow Being Itself, for God is the one, according to Paul, “in whom we live and move and have our [own] being, as indeed some of your own writers have said, ‘We are all God’s children’” (Acts 17:28).

Our inherent “likeness to God” depends upon the objective connection given by God equally to all creatures, each of whom carries the divine DNA in a unique way. Owen Barfield called this phenomenon “original participation.” [1] I would also call it original blessing, original goodness, or original innocence (unwoundedness).

Whatever you call it, the “image of God” is absolute and unchanging. There is nothing humans can do to increase or decrease it. And it is not ours to decide who has it or does not have it, which has been most of our problem up to now. It is pure and total gift, given equally to all.

Kenosis: Letting Go

December 21st, 2018

Richard Rohr

Kenosis: Letting Go
Friday, December 21, 2018

[Contemplative] practices beckon earthbound bodies toward an expanded receptivity to holiness. . . . Receptivity is not a cognitive exercise but rather the involvement of intellect and senses in a spiritual reunion and oneness with God. . . . [The] contemplative moment is a spiritual event that kisses the cognitive but will not be enslaved to its rigidities. —Barbara Holmes [1]
Over the past two weeks I’ve shared how contemplation is a way (or many ways) of opening our hearts, minds, and bodies to God’s presence. It helps us recognize and surrender our egoic, small self and live into our True Self, made in the image and likeness of God.
Cynthia Bourgeault, one of CAC’s core faculty members, describes the power of contemplative practices such as Centering Prayer to instill in us the mind of Christ.
[Centering Prayer’s] simple but powerful pathway of transformation illumines . . . what it means to “put on the mind of Christ.” . . . The theological basis for Centering Prayer lies in the principle of kenosis, Jesus’s self-emptying love that forms the core of his own self-understanding and life practice. . . .
Saint Paul explains this principle by way of his beautiful hymn in Philippians 2:6-11, prefacing his comments by saying, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus”:
Though his state was that of God,
yet he did not deem equality with God
something he should cling to.
Rather he emptied himself,
and assuming the state of a slave,
he was born in human likeness. . . .
The phrase “emptied himself” in line 4 is the English translation of the Greek verb kenosein, which is where the word kenosis comes from. In context, you’ll see exactly what it means: it’s the opposite of the word “cling” in line 3. Jesus is practicing gentle release. And he continues to practice it in every moment of his life, as the next verse of the hymn makes clear:
He being known as one of us
humbled himself obedient unto death,
even death on a cross.
How beautifully simple—the path of Jesus hidden right there in plain sight! While some Christians are still reluctant to think of Jesus as teaching a path (isn’t it enough simply to be the Son of God?), in fact, the Gospels themselves make clear that he is specifically inviting us to this journey and modeling how to do it. Once you see this, it’s the touchstone throughout all his teaching: Let go! Don’t cling! Don’t hoard! Don’t assert your importance! Don’t fret. “Do not be afraid, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!” (Luke 12:32).
And it’s this same core gesture we practice in Centering Prayer: thought by thought by thought. You could really summarize Centering Prayer as kenosis in meditation form.

Sustaining Awareness

December 20th, 2018

Richard Rohr

Sustaining Awareness
Thursday, December 20, 2018

As we saw yesterday, there are many forms of contemplative practice. CAC faculty member James Finley describes how meditation—another name for contemplation—is simply any practice that opens us up to Presence:
There is something about simply sitting still, quietly attentive to your breathing, that tends to evoke less agitated, less thought-driven modes of meditative awareness. When this shift . . . embodies a sincere desire for God, a new capacity to realize oneness with God begins to emerge. Resting in this awareness offers the least resistance to God. . . .
As our resistance to God’s quiet persistence diminishes, our experience of ourselves as other than Christ dissolves into a meditatively realized oneness with Christ. Little by little, or all at once, we come to that point of blessedness and freedom in which we can say, along with Saint Paul, “For me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). . . .
And this is what has happened to us many times: we are graced with moments of spontaneous meditative experience of God’s presence in the midst of our daily living, only to go on as if no awakening had been granted. . . . But not quite. For the coming and going of our moments of awakening began to graze our hearts with longing. This is what makes us seekers of the inner way—this longing, in which we find ourselves going about with a certain holy discontent, a holy restlessness, a kind of homesickness. . . .
Perhaps by trial and error, with no one to guide us, we find our own way to respond to the unconsummated longings of our awakened heart. We, in effect, discover our own personal ways to meditate. By meditation I mean, in this context, any act habitually entered into with our whole heart as a way of awakening and sustaining a more interior meditative awareness of the present moment. The meditation practice we might find ourselves gravitating toward could be baking bread, tending the roses, or taking long, slow walks to no place in particular. Or we might find ourselves being interiorly drawn to painting or to reading or writing poetry or listening to certain kinds of music. Our meditation practice may be that of being alone, truly alone, without any addictive props or escapes. Or our practice may be that of being with the person in whose presence we awakened to what is most real and vital in our life. . . . We cannot explain it, but when we give ourselves over to these simple acts, we are taken to a deeper place. We become once again more grounded and settled in a meditative awareness of the depth of the life we are living.
We discover we cannot make our moments of spontaneous meditative awakening occur. But even so, we . . . freely [choose] to make ourselves as open and receptive as possible to the graced event of awakening to that meditative sense of oneness with God one with us in life itself.

Connecting to the Eternal

December 19th, 2018

Connecting to the Eternal
Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Barbara Holmes, one of our CONSPIRE 2018 teachers, writes about the beautiful diversity of contemplative practices as paths toward the source of our being:

Although Africana and European Christians share a common contemplative history, there are specific differences in expectation and practice. . . .

[While] European mystics and contemplatives often lived in community, they tended to focus on the individual experience of encountering the divine presence. African American contemplatives turned the “inward journey” into a communal experience. . . . The word contemplation includes but does not require silence or solitude. Instead, contemplative practices can be identified in public prayers, meditative dance movements, and musical cues that move the entire congregation toward a communal listening and entry into communion with a living God. . . .

When the word contemplation comes to mind I think of Thomas Merton. . . . But I also want to talk about Martin Luther King Jr. and his combination of interiority and activism, Howard and Sue Bailey Thurman and their inward journeys. I want to present Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Barbara Jordan, and the unknown black congregations that sustained whole communities without fanfare or notice. Like Christianity, contemplative practices come in many forms. . . .

This is how Howard Thurman describes the embodied locus of contemplation:

There is in every person an inward sea, and in that sea is an island and on that island there is an altar and standing guard before that altar is the “angel with the flaming sword.” Nothing can get by that angel to be placed upon that altar unless it has the mark of your inner authority. Nothing passes . . . unless it be a part of the “fluid area of your consent.” This is your crucial link with the Eternal. [1]

. . . As I see it, the human task is threefold. First, the human spirit must connect to the Eternal by turning toward God’s immanence and ineffability with yearning. Second, each person must explore the inner reality of his or her humanity, facing unmet potential and catastrophic failure with unmitigated honesty and grace. Finally, each one of us must face the unlovable neighbor, the enemy outside of our embrace, and the shadow skulking in the recesses of our own hearts. Only then can we declare God’s perplexing and unlikely peace on earth. These tasks require a knowledge of self and others that only comes from the centering down that Thurman advocates. It is not an escape from the din of daily life; rather, it requires full entry into the fray but on different terms. . . . Always, contemplation requires attentiveness to the Spirit of God. . . .

Contemplation is a spiritual practice that has the potential to heal, instruct, and connect us to the source of our being. Thomas Keating describes the shift in reality structures that may occur during contemplative prayer in this way: “our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience.” [2]