Archive for October, 2017

The Reformation: an Anniversary

October 31st, 2017

500th Anniversary of the Beginnings of the Reformation

Today we celebrate an important milestone in the history of Western Christianity. On this day in 1517, an Augustinian friar named Martin Luther posted his famous “95 Theses” to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This set off a much-needed firestorm that has continued to this day. “I have come to set fire upon the earth and how I wish it were already blazing,” says Jesus (Luke 12:49). The flames of the reformation are still burning, bringing regeneration and new life in their wake.

When I first preached in Germany in the 1980s, my Lutheran friends took me to Wittenberg, and we staged a scene of this Franciscan friar nailing my agreement with Martin Luther to the same church door. With irony, we enacted a too-Catholic-God striking me dead.
For the most part, Roman Catholics have viewed the Reformation as the division of Christendom. Yet we should not have been surprised by Luther’s call to reform! Catholics teach that “the church was reformed but always in need of reformation.” Reformation is the perpetual process of conversion that is needed by all individuals and by all institutions. Otherwise people and churches become idols.

Christianity has experienced many periods of dramatic change and upheaval, beginning with the Constantinian privileges and separation from the poor in 313. In the Great Schism of 1054, Christianity split between East and West.

In my opinion, this is the way that history and spirituality move forward. Change is never in a perfectly straight and logical line; it happens through the constant push and pull, death and life, that mirrors the Paschal Mystery: Some seeming Ideal Order is the easiest way to begin.
This is followed by a necessary experience of Disorder, which Christians call “the folly of the cross.” Finally, there is a Reordering, what Christians name the Body of Christ, the Mind of Christ, or Resurrection!

In the Center for Action and Contemplation’s Living School, drawing from the teachings of George Gurdjieff and Cynthia Bourgeault, we call this sacred pattern Holy Affirming > Holy Denying > Holy Reconciling. It is the subtle but powerful work of grace. Without the self-correcting of Holy Denying (Disorder), all persons and groups become idolatrous of themselves and thus corrupt.

At the time of the Reformation, this was true of the Catholic Church. As many Lutherans now recognize, this was soon true of the new Lutheran and Evangelical churches as well. Both Lutherans and Catholics are “reformed but ever in need of reforming.” None of us will ever live up to “the full stature that is Christ” (Ephesians 4:13), though at the same time we are all already in Christ. It took the Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council of 1963-1965 to admit its mistakes and return to a more Scripture-based Christianity.

Now, by the grace of God, we are all beneficiaries of a Holy Reconciling by a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, formally agreed to by the highest theological authorities of the Vatican and the Lutheran Church in 1999. The declaration affirms that Luther was largely right, but both churches split into our own forms of dualistic thinking and remained in our dueling camps for 500 years. One side made an idol out of the Bible (Sola Scriptura!) and the other made an idol out of tradition (placing all confidence in leadership), but they were much the same in their human idolatry of something other than God. We are still learning the dangers of the dualistic concept of “only”!

Now the Reformed churches and many other denominations have affirmed this important and healing Joint Declaration, although the common churchgoer knows little of it. We are ever so slowly growing up together (how else could it be?). The future of Christianity is certainly ecumenical and even interfaith, and thus finally and hopefully “catholic” (universal). How else could Jesus ever be “The Savior of the World” (John 4:42)?

For 500 years we were stuck in Holy Denying of one another’s ideas and practices. But today we celebrate a new Holy Reconciling! There is no point in perpetually restating the initial arguments which have kept us in an endless Holy Affirming. The Risen Christ is forever leading us into a much larger future that is always created by God, where none of us wins or even needs to win. Here only God—Love—wins.

Be forewarned that this Holy Reconciling now sets the stage for the cycle to begin again! All we can do is to be ready and willing and a little less surprised.


The Trial of Faith

By Oswald Chambers

 If you have faith as a mustard seed…nothing will be impossible for you. —Matthew 17:20

Faith by its very nature must be tested and tried. And the real trial of faith is not that we find it difficult to trust God, but that God’s character must be proven as trustworthy in our own minds. Faith being worked out into reality must experience times of unbroken isolation. Never confuse the trial of faith with the ordinary discipline of life, because a great deal of what we call the trial of faith is the inevitable result of being alive. Faith, as the Bible teaches it, is faith in God coming against everything that contradicts Him— a faith that says, “I will remain true to God’s character whatever He may do.” The highest and the greatest expression of faith in the whole Bible is— “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13:15).

We Are Already One

October 30th, 2017


We Are Already One
Monday, October 30, 2017

There was no place in the universe that was separate from the originating power of the universe. Each thing of the universe had its very roots in this realm. —Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry [1]

There is only Christ. He is everything and he is in everything. —Colossians 3:11

Believe it or not, a Roman Catholic priest first proposed the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe. In 1927, Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest, astronomer, and physics professor, suggested that the expanding universe might be traced back to a single point of origin, a singularity. As Ilia Delio describes, “[It] appeared like a little quantum size blip on the screen [creatio ex nihilo] and inflated rapidly like a balloon and since that time, it has been expanding.” [2] I’ll let Delio, a scientist, explain the implications for this cosmology—our story of the universe:

Every human person desires to love and to be loved, to belong to another, because we come from another. We are born social and relational. We yearn to belong, to be part of a larger whole that includes not only friends and family but neighbors, community, trees, flowers, sun, Earth, stars. We are born of nature and are part of nature; that is, we are born into a web of life and are part of a web of life. We cannot know what this means, however, without seeing ourselves within the story of the Big Bang universe. Human life must be traced back to the time when life was deeply one, a Singularity, whereby the intensity of mass-energy exploded into consciousness. Deep in our DNA we belong to the stars, the trees, and the galaxies.

Deep within we long for unity because, at the most fundamental level, we are already one. We belong to one another because we have the same source of love; the love that flows through the trees is the same love that flows through my being. . . . We are deeply connected in this flow of love, beginning on the level of nature where we are the closest of kin because the Earth is our mother. [3]

We began as one and our goal is oneness. Studying evolution, the French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) found that increased complexity and increased consciousness surprisingly lead to greater unity at a much higher level—which we would call love. Unity is not the same as uniformity! With increased complexity, there is actually greater diversity and a greater enjoyment of that very diversity, which is the fruit of love. As Teilhard said, “Everything that rises must converge.” [4] We are in the midst of that convergence today—and seemingly at an accelerated pace—both in terms of good and resistance to the good.

Gateway to Silence:
We live, move, and have our being in love.



By Oswald Chambers

 Without faith it is impossible to please Him… —Hebrews 11:6

Faith in active opposition to common sense is mistaken enthusiasm and narrow-mindedness, and common sense in opposition to faith demonstrates a mistaken reliance on reason as the basis for truth. The life of faith brings the two of these into the proper relationship. Common sense and faith are as different from each other as the natural life is from the spiritual, and as impulsiveness is from inspiration. Nothing that Jesus Christ ever said is common sense, but is revelation sense, and is complete, whereas common sense falls short. Yet faith must be tested and tried before it becomes real in your life. “We know that all things work together for good…” (Romans 8:28) so that no matter what happens, the transforming power of God’s providence transforms perfect faith into reality. Faith always works in a personal way, because the purpose of God is to see that perfect faith is made real in His children.

For every detail of common sense in life, there is a truth God has revealed by which we can prove in our practical experience what we believe God to be. Faith is a tremendously active principle that always puts Jesus Christ first. The life of faith says, “Lord, You have said it, it appears to be irrational, but I’m going to step out boldly, trusting in Your Word” (for example, see Matthew 6:33). Turning intellectual faith into our personal possession is always a fight, not just sometimes. God brings us into particular circumstances to educate our faith, because the nature of faith is to make the object of our faith very real to us. Until we know Jesus, God is merely a concept, and we can’t have faith in Him. But once we hear Jesus say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) we immediately have something that is real, and our faith is limitless. Faith is the entire person in the right relationship with God through the power of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Faith and Science

October 26th, 2017

Richard Rohr
Climate Change

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Science and religion should be natural partners when it comes to caring for our common home. As Christians, we have a clear mandate to steward Creation (see the invitation to “cultivate and care for” the earth in Genesis 2:15). Yet with real perversity, much of Judeo-Christian history has preferred the earlier verse, “fill the Earth and subdue it” (1:28), as license to exploit this world—and even other peoples—in an entirely selfish way. The Catholic Church’s tragic “Doctrine of Discovery” even supported the conquest, oppression, and destruction of indigenous people and their lands. Once we feel free to objectify anything, we are no longer inside the life of the Trinity, which is always and entirely a subject-to- subject way of relating. Yet it is the same Church which teaches us this loving way of relating!
For decades, since the first World Climate Conference in 1979, we have known that the globe is warming due to increased carbon emissions. Pope Francis has affirmed that climate change is real and is primarily “a result of human activity.” [1] Scientists, he says, “speak very clearly.” [2] Oil and gas companies don’t want us to stop using fossil fuels, so they have fabricated their own “science” to deny climate change. [3] The debate has become politicized, and people create their own preferred reality, all evidence to the contrary.
Today we are no longer simply theorizing about, but actually witnessing intensified and more frequent hurricanes, coral reefs dying, glaciers rapidly melting, and sea levels rising. So many people and creatures will suffer and face extinction if we do not quickly change our lifestyle. Let us work together to creatively find solutions, to reduce our carbon footprint, to live more simply and sustainably on this, our only home. Humanity and the earth really will live or die together. The health of the planet and our continued existence depend upon our choices and actions.
Pope Francis urges us:
Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality. If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it. [4]
Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. [5]
To rebuild spirituality “from the bottom up,” we must turn the valuable information of science and theology into transformation, change of heart, mind, and being. I invite you to learn about and connect with the suffering of someone or some place and discern your own part to play in healing our collective brokenness.
Gateway to Silence:
Divine Reality, endlessly knowable


What is a Missionary?

By Oswald Chambers

 Jesus said to them again, “…As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” —
A missionary is someone sent by Jesus Christ just as He was sent by God. The great controlling factor is not the needs of people, but the command of Jesus. The source of our inspiration in our service for God is behind us, not ahead of us. The tendency today is to put the inspiration out in front— to sweep everything together in front of us and make it conform to our definition of success. But in the New Testament the inspiration is put behind us, and is the Lord Jesus Himself. The goal is to be true to Him— to carry out His plans.

Personal attachment to the Lord Jesus and to His perspective is the one thing that must not be overlooked. In missionary work the great danger is that God’s call will be replaced by the needs of the people, to the point that human sympathy for those needs will absolutely overwhelm the meaning of being sent by Jesus. The needs are so enormous, and the conditions so difficult, that every power of the mind falters and fails. We tend to forget that the one great reason underneath all missionary work is not primarily the elevation of the people, their education, nor their needs, but is first and foremost the command of Jesus Christ— “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19).

When looking back on the lives of men and women of God, the tendency is to say, “What wonderfully keen and intelligent wisdom they had, and how perfectly they understood all that God wanted!” But the keen and intelligent mind behind them was the mind of God, not human wisdom at all. We give credit to human wisdom when we should give credit to the divine guidance of God being exhibited through childlike people who were “foolish” enough to trust God’s wisdom and His supernatural equipment.


October 25th, 2017

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The whole creation is eagerly waiting for the full revelation of the children of God. . . . From the beginning until now, the entire creation, as we know, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth. —Romans 8:19-22
In this familiar passage, St. Paul seems to fully assume evolution. It has always seemed completely strange to me that there should be any resistance whatsoever to evolution in Christian theology or practice. Christians should have been the first in line to recognize and cooperate with such a dynamic notion of God. But maybe many do not enjoy a fully relational God—with all that that implies—and have just met an independent “substance” they call God.
It’s hard to imagine why so many still have a very static notion of God with Christianity’s rich wisdom: Trinity; the Indwelling Holy Spirit; Incarnation; salvation; the development of consciousness as seen in Judeo-Christian Scriptures, history, and individual lives. We largely surrendered to a notion of time with the human story ending in Armageddon and Apocalypse, which is complete heresy. Even resurrection was understood as a one-time anomaly concerning only Jesus; few saw it as a portent and promise for all of creation (see 1 Corinthians 15:20–25), as Paul and many of the early Church Fathers clearly did.
I can only assume that this reflects a very limited inner experience of God, which is always and predictably developmental and unfolding. Anyone with an inner life of prayer and a sense of soul knows this to be true. Anybody who has paid any attention to their inner life or read any history books surely recognizes that life and love are always cumulative, diffusive, and expanding. Perhaps it is this change that we fear. For some reason, we seem to think that admitting such love dynamism and, in fact, cooperating with it (see Romans 8:28), is going to compromise our eternal, unchanging notion of God. It’s just the opposite, I think.
If our God is both incarnate and implanted, both Christ and Holy Spirit, then an unfolding inner dynamism in all creation is not only certain, but also moving in a positive direction, with a divine goal that is always set before us. If not, we would have to question the very efficacy, salvation, hope, and victory that the Gospel so generously promises. Foundational hope demands a foundational belief in a world that is still and always unfolding. Personally, I have found that it is almost impossible to heal individuals if the whole cosmic arc is not also a trajectory toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. A popular Christian book in the 1970s, The Late, Great Planet Earth, gave a horrible theological foundation to our present cynical, nihilistic, and angry culture. [1] If the whole thing is going to hell in a handbasket, it is almost impossible to have personal hope or joy.
I believe the truth is we are “children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:36), and we are both burdened and brightened by a cosmic and irrepressible hope. We are both burdened and brightened with the gift of an optimism whose headwaters are not rational or provable, and yet are endlessly knowable to both scientists and mystics, if their hearts and minds are humble. Somehow that is the key.

Gateway to Silence:
Divine Reality, endlessly knowable


Submitting to God’s Purpose
By Oswald Chambers

I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. —1 Corinthians 9:22

A Christian worker has to learn how to be God’s man or woman of great worth and excellence in the midst of a multitude of meager and worthless things. Never protest by saying, “If only I were somewhere else!” All of God’s people are ordinary people who have been made extraordinary by the purpose He has given them. Unless we have the right purpose intellectually in our minds and lovingly in our hearts, we will very quickly be diverted from being useful to God. We are not workers for God by choice. Many people deliberately choose to be workers, but they have no purpose of God’s almighty grace or His mighty Word in them. Paul’s whole heart, mind, and soul were consumed with the great purpose of what Jesus Christ came to do, and he never lost sight of that one thing. We must continually confront ourselves with one central fact— “…Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).
“I chose you…” (John 15:16). Keep these words as a wonderful reminder in your theology. It is not that you have gotten God, but that He has gotten you. God is at work bending, breaking, molding, and doing exactly as He chooses. And why is He doing it? He is doing it for only one purpose— that He may be able to say, “This is My man, and this is My woman.” We have to be in God’s hand so that He can place others on the Rock, Jesus Christ, just as He has placed us.
Never choose to be a worker, but once God has placed His call upon you, woe be to you if you “turn aside…to the right or the left…” (Deuteronomy 28:14). He will do with you what He never did before His call came to you, and He will do with you what He is not doing with other people. Let Him have His way.

The Shape of Reality

October 24th, 2017

The Shape of Reality
Tuesday, October 24, 2017 Richard Rohr

As I shared in my book The Divine Dance, and earlier this year, I believe that the Trinity is the very shape of the universe. Reality—like God’s own self—is a flow of mutual giving and receiving. [1] God as Relationship, or Trinity, can actually allow our scientific and spiritual cosmologies to finally operate as one, because we are inside of a flow instead of a prison.
Spiritual intuitions are almost always on some level correct. Only when we literalize them and make them wooden, mechanical, and fundamentalist do they lose the flow—and the flow is where the life always is. Show me a single example of life where there is not movement, growth, and change. What we could know as a Divine Wave, we have for the most part related to as a static particle god. This demotion made a whole bunch of Christian dogmas appear to be about magic—purely transactional exchanges with a later reward only for an exclusive few. Our “good news” was no longer catholic, or universal, but merely ethnic, cultural, and earthbound.
The “Perennial Tradition” (gathering common and recurring themes in all the world’s wisdom lineages) invariably taught some version of “as above, so below,” as Huston Smith insisted. “God in heaven” was usually seen to mirror any ideal “earth below.” We see echoes of this reciprocal language in the Lord’s Prayer: “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). If we update this language for the quantum era—moving from the “Great Chain of Being” to the “Nested Holarchy of Being,” as the philosopher Ken Wilber puts it [2]—we can also speak of as within, so without. If all reality is a holon and has a fractal character, as physicists tell us, then each part contains and mirrors the whole. If the cosmos as we know it originates from a “Big Bang”—from a “Let it be”—that means that one point explodes with life and gives birth to the many lives. And the original DNA somehow remains intact.
When does this many cease to be one? When did this one ever not contain the many? Never! This is what the relational pattern of the universe is teaching us, from Godhead to geochemistry and everything in between. The shape of the cosmos—quasar to quark—is a reflection of the Trinitarian God.
How do we learn to recognize and participate in this flowing reality? Scientists and mystics alike tell us: Be present! Experiment! Stay curious. This is Contemplation 101. Let go of what you “think” is your mental center—it is normally too small to understand the atom, galaxies, or the energy that births and animates all existence. Such momentous truth can occasionally be caught but it is not easily taught. We relied far too much on verbal education instead of full- bodied transformation. Moses’ burning bush was not an intellectual exercise, nor did Teresa of Ávila’s ecstasies happen in a classroom. We rightly speak of faith as a “gift” as opposed to any reasoned conclusion. You fall into it more than reason toward it.
We’re standing in the middle of an awesome and major Mystery—life itself—and the only appropriate response to this is humility. If we’re resolved that this is where we want to go—into the Mystery, not trying to hold God and reality but to let God and reality hold us—then I think religion is finally in its proper and appropriate place. Anyone who has undergone God is humble; in fact, they are the most humble of all.

Gateway to Silence:
Divine Reality, endlessly knowable


The Proper Perspective
By Oswald Chambers

Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ… —2 Corinthians 2:14

The proper perspective of a servant of God must not simply be as near to the highest as he can get, but it must be the highest. Be careful that you vigorously maintain God’s perspective, and remember that it must be done every day, little by little. Don’t think on a finite level. No outside power can touch the proper perspective.
The proper perspective to maintain is that we are here for only one purpose— to be captives marching in the procession of Christ’s triumphs. We are not on display in God’s showcase— we are here to exhibit only one thing— the “captivity [of our lives] to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). How small all the other perspectives are! For example, the ones that say, “I am standing all alone, battling for Jesus,” or, “I have to maintain the cause of Christ and hold down this fort for Him.” But Paul said, in essence, “I am in the procession of a conqueror, and it doesn’t matter what the difficulties are, for I am always led in triumph.” Is this idea being worked out practically in us? Paul’s secret joy was that God took him as a blatant rebel against Jesus Christ, and made him a captive— and that became his purpose. It was Paul’s joy to be a captive of the Lord, and he had no other interest in heaven or on earth. It is a shameful thing for a Christian to talk about getting the victory. We should belong so completely to the Victor that it is always His victory, and “we are more than conquerors through Him…” (Romans 8:37).
“We are to God the fragrance of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 2:15). We are encompassed with the sweet aroma of Jesus, and wherever we go we are a wonderful refreshment to God.

Faith and Science

October 23rd, 2017

Richard Rohr

Open to Change
Monday, October 23, 2017

God comes into the world in always-surprising ways so that the sincere seeker will always find. Is sincere seeking perhaps the real meaning of walking in darkness and faith? It seems to me that many scientists today are very sincere seekers. In fact, today’s scientists often seem to have more in common with the mystics than do many religious folks who do not seek truth but only assert their dogmas and pre-emptively deny the very possibility of other people’s God-experience.

The common scientific method relies on hypothesis, experiment, trial, and error. We might even call this “practice,” just like many of us have prayer practices. Yes, much of science is limited to the material, but at least the method is more open-ended and sincere than the many religious people who do no living experiments with faith, hope, and love, but just hang on to quotes and doctrines. They lack the personal practices whereby they can test the faithfulness of divine presence and the power of divine love.

Most scientists are willing to move forward with some degree of not-knowing; in fact, this is what calls them forward and motivates them. As new discoveries are affirmed, they remain open to new evidence that would tweak or even change the previous “belief.” Many religious folks insist upon complete “knowing” at the very beginning and then being certain every step of the way, which actually keeps them more “rational” and controlling than most scientists. This is the dead end of most fundamentalist religion, and why it cannot deal with thorny issues in any creative or compassionate way. Now I know why Paul dared to speak of “the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13). Law reigns and discernment is unnecessary, which means there is little growth or change in such people. When you do not grow, you remain an infant.

The scientific mind today often has more openness to mystery than religion does!  For example, it is willing to speak of dark matter, dark holes, chaos theory, fractals (the part replicates the whole), string theory, dark energy, and the atomic structure of all material things, which seems totally counter intuitive. Scientists “believe” in many things like electromagnetism, radioactivity, field theory, and various organisms such as viruses and bacteria before they can actually “prove” they exist. They know them first by their effects, or the evidence, and then argue backward to their existence. Isn’t this how good theologians have often tried to “prove” the existence of God?

Even though the entire world was captivated by the logical cause-and-effect worldview of Newtonian physics for several centuries, such immediately verifiable physics has now yielded to quantum physics, which is not directly visible to the ordinary observer at all—yet ends up explaining much more—without needing to throw out the simple logic of Newtonian physics in the everyday world. True transcendence always includes the previous stages, yet somehow also reshapes and expands them—just like mysticism does with our old doctrines and dogmas.

It feels as if the scientists of each age are often brilliant, seemingly “right,” but precisely because they are also tentative and searching—which creates a practical humility that we often do not see in clergy and “true believers.” A great scientist will move forward with a perpetual “beginner’s mind.”

Thus many scientists end up trusting in the reality of things that are still “invisible” and secret. It keeps them on the search. This feels like faith to me, whereas what many church people want is perfect certitude and clarity before every step forward. This does not create great or strong people.

Gateway to Silence:
Divine Reality, endlessly knowable


Nothing of the Old Life!

By Oswald Chambers

 If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. —2 Corinthians 5:17Nothing of the Old Life!
By Oswald ChambersIf anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. —2 Corinthians 5:17 

Our Lord never tolerates our prejudices— He is directly opposed to them and puts them to death. We tend to think that God has some special interest in our particular prejudices, and are very sure that He will never deal with us as He has to deal with others. We even say to ourselves, “God has to deal with other people in a very strict way, but of course He knows that my prejudices are all right.” But we must learn that God accepts nothing of the old life! Instead of being on the side of our prejudices, He is deliberately removing them from us. It is part of our moral education to see our prejudices put to death by His providence, and to watch how He does it. God pays no respect to anything we bring to Him. There is only one thing God wants of us, and that is our unconditional surrender.
When we are born again, the Holy Spirit begins to work His new creation in us, and there will come a time when there is nothing remaining of the old life. Our old gloomy outlook disappears, as does our old attitude toward things, and “all things are of God” (2 Corinthians 5:18). How are we going to get a life that has no lust, no self-interest, and is not sensitive to the ridicule of others? How will we have the type of love that “is kind…is not provoked, [and] thinks no evil”? (1 Corinthians 13:4-5). The only way is by allowing nothing of the old life to remain, and by having only simple, perfect trust in God— such a trust that we no longer want God’s blessings, but only want God Himself. Have we come to the point where God can withdraw His blessings from us without our trust in Him being affected? Once we truly see God at work, we will never be concerned again about the things that happen, because we are actually trusting in our Father in heaven, whom the world cannot see.



The Work of Contemplation

October 20th, 2017

The Work of Contemplation

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the classic, anonymous text of Christian mysticism, The Cloud of Unknowing.
As I mentioned yesterday, I approach The Cloud in a different way than it is typically understood. While reading a variety of translations of the Middle English is helpful, I find Ira Progoff’s version particularly eye-opening. Progoff brings a very different spiritual and intellectual perspective. More than any editor I know, he understands that The Cloud is not simply speaking about a devotional pathway or even a permanent mystical state, as this text is often assumed to be referring to. Rather the author’s “work” is the systematic restructuring of consciousness so that it is able to perceive from oneness—i.e., without dividing the perceptual field into subject/object or opposites. Progoff realizes that The Cloud is laying out a whole different pathway of knowing from the heart that eventually allows one to perceive holographically—the “whole picture” at once.
We can think about this shift in the familiar terms of computer programming. The Cloud lays out not so much a “system update” to our usual mode of perception but a whole new operating system! Rather than thinking about the spiritual path as moving deeper into an experience or feeling of union with God, The Cloud reveals an entire “restructuring” of our consciousness so that we no longer see through separation and difference.
To introduce the text, Progoff brilliantly summarizes both the overall goal and method laid out in The Cloud:
The normal tendency of consciousness is to move outward toward the environment in terms of sensory contacts, social feelings, ideological beliefs, emotional attachments, and so on. . . . The first requirement of the work described in The Cloud of Unknowing is then to call a halt to this squandering of energy by outward diffusion; and it undertakes to accomplish this by means of disciplined attention to the activities of the mind. [1]

Classical mystical theology similarly emphasizes “recollection” (not to be confused with remembering) as a state of being energetically collected into a greater sense of selfhood. The real work of contemplation is to discover that our normal way of operating—finding our sense of selfhood in differentiation and opposition to those around us (I am me because I am not you)—is full of “energy leaks”! As we learn to move away from identifying ourselves as individuals—separate from the whole—we begin to plug those leaks and instead perceive from a new operating system that sees from the whole. As contemporary mystic Beatrice Bruteau (1930-2014) wrote, “I AM / MAY YOU BE!” [2]

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into love.


Is God’s Will My Will?
By Oswald Chambers

This is the will of God, your sanctification… —1 Thessalonians 4:3
Sanctification is not a question of whether God is willing to sanctify me— is it my will? Am I willing to let God do in me everything that has been made possible through the atonement of the Cross of Christ? Am I willing to let Jesus become sanctification to me, and to let His life be exhibited in my human flesh? (see 1 Corinthians 1:30). Beware of saying, “Oh, I am longing to be sanctified.” No, you are not. Recognize your need, but stop longing and make it a matter of action. Receive Jesus Christ to become sanctification for you by absolute, unquestioning faith, and the great miracle of the atonement of Jesus will become real in you.
All that Jesus made possible becomes mine through the free and loving gift of God on the basis of what Christ accomplished on the cross. And my attitude as a saved and sanctified soul is that of profound, humble holiness (there is no such thing as proud holiness). It is a holiness based on agonizing repentance, a sense of inexpressible shame and degradation, and also on the amazing realization that the love of God demonstrated itself to me while I cared nothing about Him (see Romans 5:8). He completed everything for my salvation and sanctification. No wonder Paul said that nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Sanctification makes me one with Jesus Christ, and in Him one with God, and it is accomplished only through the magnificent atonement of Christ. Never confuse the effect with the cause. The effect in me is obedience, service, and prayer, and is the outcome of inexpressible thanks and adoration for the miraculous sanctification that has been brought about in me because of the atonement through the Cross of Christ.

Knowing From the Whole

October 19th, 2017

Exploring the Mystics with Cynthia Bourgeault

Knowing from the Whole
Thursday, October 19, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault reflects on another significant element within the Christian mystical lineage. The Cloud of Unknowing is a 14th-century spiritual classic written by an anonymous English monk. Perhaps this shows ego in a subservient role. But the writer was also anonymous for practical reasons. Meister Eckhart had just been silenced by the Pope in 1329 for emphasizing independent study, thinking, and experience, to which this author was also committed. It took many generations for the Church to affirm the value of inner, personal experience. Today Centering Prayer—which was drawn from The Cloud of Unknowing—is practiced by many Christians around the world.

The Cloud of Unknowing is a mystical text, and like most mystical texts it can only ultimately be accessed at the level of consciousness from which it was written. “Like attracts like,” as the old hermetic saying goes. The best way to engage a text written from a state of deep contemplative stillness is to match that state as closely as you can in yourself by meditating your way into the text rather than diving in with your analytical mind. In my latest book, The Heart of Centering Prayer, I explore this text from a different angle than how The Cloud is typically interpreted. Traditionally, The Cloud is understood as focusing on mystical marriage where the goal is to direct desire away from earthly objects toward heavenly ones until spiritual union with God can be achieved. This approach, while certainly true of many other mystical texts, misses the subtle shift the author makes. Rather than emphasizing the seemingly obvious subject/object split between lover and beloved, the author invites us into an entirely different way of knowing and experiencing Love.

Consider the following lines from chapter 16, describing Mary Magdalene as a model of the contemplative transformation the author has in mind:

Instead, she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing and she learned to love a thing that she might never see clearly in this life, neither by the light of understanding of her reason nor by a true feeling of sweet love in her affection. [2]

Clearly, the kind of love this author has in mind is of a fundamentally different quality than what we usually mean by love.

The love presented here is not affectivity or feeling, but describes what we would nowadays call nondual perception anchored in the heart. The heart’s energetic bandwidth is intimacy, the capacity to perceive things from the inside by coming into sympathetic resonance with them. In contrast to the mind, which perceives through differentiation (I am me, because I am not you), the heart takes its bearings directly from the whole (the “I” and the “you” drop out), through a process that scientists nowadays describe as “holographic resonance.” Imagine trying to describe that in the 14th century! Ahead of his time, the author gropes for metaphors to describe an entirely different mode of perception and understanding.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.


The Unheeded Secret

By Oswald Chambers

 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.” —John 18:36

We must get rid of the plague of the spirit of this religious age in which we live. In our Lord’s life there was none of the pressure and the rushing of tremendous activity that we regard so highly today, and a disciple is to be like His Master. The central point of the kingdom of Jesus Christ is a personal relationship with Him, not public usefulness to others.

It is not the practical activities that are the strength of this Bible Training College— its entire strength lies in the fact that here you are immersed in the truths of God to soak in them before Him. You have no idea of where or how God is going to engineer your future circumstances, and no knowledge of what stress and strain is going to be placed on you either at home or abroad. And if you waste your time in overactivity, instead of being immersed in the great fundamental truths of God’s redemption, then you will snap when the stress and strain do come. But if this time of soaking before God is being spent in getting rooted and grounded in Him, which may appear to be impractical, then you will remain true to Him whatever happens.

Falling Fearless into Love

October 18th, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The third and most powerful wellspring of hope that Teilhard has to offer us—for those with “eyes to see and hearts to hear”—is the assurance that this slow toiling of the planet toward what he calls the “Omega,” the convergent point of all evolution, is not merely some hypothetical, futuristic theory. Omega is neither abstract nor hypothetical; it is already present, actively permeating the earth with its energy. “I probably would never have dared to consider or form the rational hypothesis of it,” Teilhard writes, “if I had not already found in my consciousness as a believer not only the speculative model for it, but its living reality.” [1]

That “living reality,” is for Teilhard the radiant heart of Christ, which he first met as a child and which continued to grow in him throughout his life as a palpably real and personal presence. Not only his own heart but the entire planet was increasingly enfolded within the experiential realm of “the Christic.”

While the way in which Teilhard incorporates Christ into evolution makes some uncomfortable, in the grand tapestry of Teilhardian seeing, the warp of science and the weft of mysticism are inextricably intertwined. And it is just here, in fact, that Teilhard’s greatest gift to our own troubled times may lie waiting to be tapped.

Teilhard’s felt-sense conviction of the presence of Christ already at work in “the stuff of the universe”—directing the course of evolution from within its very planetary marrow—allowed him to “stay the course” over a lifetime of bearing untold personal suffering for the sake of a world that was already luminously inhabited by Christ.

For Teilhard, faith was never a matter of doctrines and principles. It is first and foremost an action—an “operative” as he calls it. Faith in this way becomes a wager: if the premise is true, you can only live into it through action. Rather than trying to do faith from the “top down,” by first convincing yourself of the logic of the argument in question, begin from the “bottom up,” by acting in alignment with it, and see what happens next!

Perhaps this is what Teilhard means by “harnessing the energy of love.” [2] In our own times, it is surely our best shot—perhaps our only shot—for acting in a way that does not merely compound the darkness. Teilhard’s conviction that faith is not something that we have but something that we do is perhaps the best antidote possible to the despair and distrust that paralyze so much of our postmodern moral resolve. It is a call to step out of the boat onto the ocean of love and discover—all our fear and skepticism to the contrary—that the water really does hold us up.

Gateway to silence:
Fall fearless into love.


The Key to the Missionary’s Devotion By Oswald Chambers

…they went forth for His name’s sake… —3 John 7

Our Lord told us how our love for Him is to exhibit itself when He asked, “Do you love Me?” (John 21:17). And then He said, “Feed My sheep.” In effect, He said, “Identify yourself with My interests in other people,” not, “Identify Me with your interests in other people.” 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 shows us the characteristics of this love— it is actually the love of God expressing itself. The true test of my love for Jesus is a very practical one, and all the rest is sentimental talk.
Faithfulness to Jesus Christ is the supernatural work of redemption that has been performed in me by the Holy Spirit— “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5). And it is that love in me that effectively works through me and comes in contact with everyone I meet. I remain faithful to His name, even though the commonsense view of my life may seemingly deny that, and may appear to be declaring that He has no more power than the morning mist.
The key to the missionary’s devotion is that he is attached to nothing and to no one except our Lord Himself. It does not mean simply being detached from the external things surrounding us. Our Lord was amazingly in touch with the ordinary things of life, but He had an inner detachment except toward God. External detachment is often an actual indication of a secret, growing, inner attachment to the things we stay away from externally.
The duty of a faithful missionary is to concentrate on keeping his soul completely and continually open to the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ. The men and women our Lord sends out on His endeavors are ordinary human people, but people who are controlled by their devotion to Him, which has been brought about through the work of the Holy Spirit.

Don’t Co-Exist. Coalese!

October 17th, 2017

Don’t Co-Exist. Coalesce!
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Guest writer and CAC faculty member Cynthia Bourgeault continues reflecting on the Christian mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

The second hopeful resource that Teilhard brings to our unsettled times is his unshakable conviction that evolutionary progress will unfold its ultimate triumph in the realm of the personal. Our postmodern temperament has a well-ingrained tendency to regard the world through a filter of distrust, in which we inevitably view evolution as “random,” disconnected, and certainly impersonal. However, Teilhard encourages us to see our planetary home as a coherent and increasingly compassionate whole, steadily plying its way along an irreversible evolutionary trajectory.

In the big picture, there is nothing to suggest that evolution has gone off track. But there is plenty to suggest that we are entering a critical new phase in which some old-order survival strategies (read: the “fight or flight” mechanisms that have ruled our survival thus far) are giving way to a new and more intentional sense of mutual interdependence. The transition appears to already be underway. To continue this turning, it’s crucial that we humans make the evolutionary shift from “individuals” to “persons.”

What’s the difference?

We typically use these terms interchangeably, but for Teilhard they denote distinctly different, progressive evolutionary stages. An individual lives as an autonomous unit, subject to the old-order laws of “survival of the fittest” and planetary indifference. A person has come to understand themselves as belonging to greater relational field. They now sense their identity from a sense of wholeness in an entirely different order of coherence: a whole greater than the sum of its parts. In this greater whole both unity and differentiation are preserved; meanwhile the whole begins to be infused by a supremely personal tincture or essence. The universe is no longer random, but a system of relationships to which we all belong and are participating in!

A cautionary note: for Teilhard, oneness does not equate simply to some sentimental proclamation of “fellowship” or “let’s all just get along.”

For Teilhard this process of becoming unified is evident in the evolution of the smallest cell to the orbit of our very planet. In fact, says Teilhard, it’s the very direction of how consciousness evolved in the first place! As more complex forms emerged in unified units on our planet, consciousness was able to emerge with it. From this we can gather that the future of spirituality will not be found in the “enlightenment” of a select number of individuals, but will arrive through us collectively as a new “unit,” in the emergence of what we might call the mystical body of Christ.

The rising scent of our common humanity is already in the air, and as we consciously join hearts across the antiquated boundaries of the nationalities and denominations that once defined our identities, the blue biosphere of our planet Earth is being suffused with the gold and scarlet of our common human heart.

Gateway to Silence:
Fall fearless into Love.


The Key of the Greater Work

By Oswald Chambers

 …I say to you, he who believes in Me,…greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. —John 14:12