Archive for September, 2019

Franciscan Way: Part One

September 30th, 2019

Discovering Anew

Sunday, September 29, 2019

St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) was a master of making room for the new and letting go of that which was tired or empty. His first biographer described Francis as always hopeful, always new, always beginning again. [1] Much of Francis’ genius was that he was ready for absolute “newness” from God, and therefore, could also trust fresh and new attitudes in himself. His God was not old, so Francis remained forever young. 

In these two weeks of Daily Meditations, I want to share with you one of the most attractive, appealing, and accessible of all frames and doorways to the divine. It is called the Franciscan way after the man who first exemplified it, Francesco di Bernardone, born in Assisi, Italy.

There are always new vocabularies, fresh symbols, new frames and styles, but Francis must have known, at least intuitively, that there is only one enduring spiritual insight and everything else follows from it: The visible world is an active doorway to the invisible world, and the invisible world is much larger than the visible. I would call this mystical insight “the mystery of incarnation,” or the essential union of the material and the spiritual worlds, or simply “Christ.” [2]

Our outer world and its inner significance must come together for there to be any wholeness—and holiness. The result is deep joy and a resounding sense of coherent beauty. What was personified in the body of Jesus was a manifestation of this one universal truth: Matter is, and has always been, the hiding place for Spirit, forever offering itself to be discovered anew. Perhaps this is exactly what Jesus means when he says, “I am the gate” (John 10:7). Francis and his female companion, Clare (1194–1253), carried this mystery to its full and lovely conclusion. Or, more rightly, they were fully carried by the mystery. They somehow knew that the beyond was not really beyond, but in the depths of here.

One way to understand Francis and Clare is by reading their lives from what has emerged through their imitators and followers—those who discovered and rediscovered what can only be called radical simplification. Here I am thinking of people like Thérèse of Lisieux, Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day, Seraphim of Sarov, Nicholas von der Flüe, Mother Teresa, and, most recently, Pope Francis—to name a few Christian examples. The way of Francis of Assisi cannot be contained inside of formal Franciscanism simply because it is nothing more than the Gospel itself—in very distilled and honest form.

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

One World
Monday, September 30, 2019

I hope to show what Francis of Assisi clearly changed and did differently and what flowed from his unique wholeness. We will see that Francis was at once very traditional and entirely new in the ways of holiness—a paradox. He stood barefoot on the earth and yet touched the heavens. He was grounded in the Church and yet instinctively moved toward the cosmos. He lived happily inside the visible and yet both suffered and rejoiced in what others thought was invisible. Francis was at home in two worlds at the same time, and thus he revealed it was all one world.

Like all saints, he delighted in both his Absolute Littleness and his Absolute Connection in the very same moment. Of course, they totally depend on one another. Francis and Clare died into the life that they loved instead of living in fear of any death that could end their life. They were both so very eager to love, and they somehow knew that dying to the old and unneeded was an essential part of living this love at any depth. Most of us do not seem to know that—and resist all change.

Yet Francis’ holiness, like all holiness, was unique and never a copy or mere imitation. In his “Testament,” he said, “No one showed me what I ought to do,” [1] and then, at the very end of his life, he said, “I have done what is mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours!” [2] What permission, freedom, and space he thus gave to his followers! Bonaventure (1217–1274) echoed that understanding of unique and intimate vocation when he taught, “We are each loved by God in a particular and incomparable way, as in the case of a bride and bridegroom.” [3] Francis and Clare knew that the love God has for each soul is unique and made to order, which is why any “saved” person always feels beloved, chosen, and even “God’s favorite” like so many in the Bible. Divine intimacy is precisely particular and made to order—and thus “intimate.”

Jesus himself, Paul (Jesus’ iconoclastic interpreter), and both Francis and Clare made room for the new by a full willingness to let go of the old. This is quite a rare pattern in the history of formal religion, which is too often a love affair with small and comfortable traditions. Each of these game-changing people had the courage and the clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive, which is how Jesus described the way “a disciple of the reign of God” behaves. He said that such disciples are “householders who bring out from their household things both old and new” (Matthew 13:52). John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” within religion itself—that separates the grain from the chaff (Matthew 3:12)—instead of just presuming that religion is all “grain” and the outsiders are all “chaff.

Summary: Week Thirty-nine


September 22 – September 27, 2019

When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. (Sunday)

God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet. (Monday)

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. (Tuesday)

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. (Wednesday)

Oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held. —Catherine T. Nerney (Thursday)

A heart transformed by this realization of oneness knows that only love “in here,” in me, can spot and enjoy love “out there.” (Friday)

Practice: Childlike Sincerity

James Finley, one of our core faculty members, writes:

We have each had a taste of nondual consciousness: the face of our beloved, a child at play, the sound of running water, the intimacy of darkness in the middle of a sleepless night. Our lives move in and out of nondual consciousness. In these moments, we intuitively use the word God for the infinity of the primordial preciousness with Whom we realize ourselves to be one. In these moments we realize that nothing is missing anywhere and what fools we are to worry so.

As I reflect on this, it dawns on me that the root of sorrow is my estrangement from the intimately realized oneness and preciousness of all things. I’m skimming over the surface of the depths of my life. Yet, I know in my heart that the God-given, godly nature of every breath and heartbeat is hidden in the ever-present depths over which I am skimming in my preoccupations with the day’s demands.

So, the question becomes: how can I learn not to play the cynic, not to break faith with my awakened heart? In my most childlike hour, I have tasted the presence of God that is perpetually manifesting and giving itself to me as my very life. While the value of my life is not dependent upon the degree to which I realize this unitive mystery that is always there, the experiential quality of my life is profoundly related to the degree to which I am learning to live in habitual awareness of and fidelity to the God-given, godly nature of the life that I’m living.

I cannot make moments of nondual consciousness happen. I can only assume the inner stance that offers the least resistance to be overtaken by the grace of nondual consciousness. Two lovers cannot make moments of oceanic oneness happen, but together they can assume the inner stance that allows them to be overtaken by the oceanic oneness that blesses their life.

My spiritual practice is to sit each day in childlike sincerity with an inner stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of myself just the way I am. This is my sense of what nondual consciousness is and the contemplative way of life in which we, with God’s grace, become ever more habitually grounded. [1]

For today’s contemplative practice, sit in a comfortable position with the simple intention to be in the Presence of God. With playful, childlike sincerity, offer the least resistance to being overtaken by the God-given, godly nature of yourself—just the way you are. Abide for five or ten minutes or more in this state.

You might want to open your sitting session with this prayer:

O God, give me a simple heart, free from duplicity and deceit, a heart which goes to You with childlike simplicity. [2]

We Are Already One

September 26th, 2019


We Are Already One
Thursday, September 26, 2019

Thomas Merton (1915–1968) helped many within and beyond Christianity imagine the oneness at the heart of reality. Catherine Nerney, SSJ, director of the Institute for Forgiveness and Reconciliation at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, shares insights she’s gathered from Merton’s writings:

God’s compassion knows no withholding. This God lives in all and all live in God. We belong together; we belong to one another. My personal identification with [Thomas] Merton’s journey to radical oneness is more than a little autobiographical. . . . As a Sister of St. Joseph, the vision of “living and working that all may be one” is in our DNA; it is our mission, the reason we exist.  Something inside me urges me to sniff out this call to unifying love wherever it can be found. In Merton, the scent of the search for oneness is everywhere. . . .

Thomas Merton’s reflective life of contemplation and action found expression in the written word, particularly in his intimate journals, which . . . open up such needed pathways to life in communion, where all are welcomed into God’s compassionate heart, no exceptions, no exclusion. This vision of “the Oneness we already are” was given to Merton, rather than discovered by him. . . .

Many of us have pondered the powerful lines from Merton’s Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, where he shares his experience . . . on a crowded street corner in the midst of an ordinary day: . . .

In Louisville, at the corner of 4th [now Muhammad Ali Blvd.] and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. . . . This changes nothing in the sense and value of my solitude, for it is, in fact, the function of solitude to make one realize such things with a clarity that would be impossible to one completely immersed in other cares. . . . My solitude, however, is not my own. It is because I am one with them that I owe it to them to be alone, and when I am alone, they are not “they” but my own self. There are no strangers. . . . If only we could see each other that way all the time. . . . But this cannot be seen, only believed and “understood” by a peculiar gift. . . . [1]

By the early 1960s, a spiritually mature Merton knew by a contemplative, intuitive grasp that oneness is less a goal toward which life is pressing, as it is a return to the truth in which we have always been held. In October of 1968, just minutes before his death, Merton told a large audience of Asian monks at a Calcutta conference: “My dear brothers, we are already one. But we imagine that we are not. What we have to recover is our original unity. What we have to be is what we are.” [2]


September 25th, 2019

One Life, One Death, One Suffering

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

The Universal Christ is trying to communicate at the deepest intuitive level that there is only One Life, One Death, and One Suffering on this earth. We are all invited to ride the one wave, which is the only wave there is. Call it Reality, if you wish. But we are all in this together.

Consider how a “one-lump” awareness of reality upends so many of our current obsessions. Our arguments about private worthiness; reward and punishment; gender, race, and class distinctions; private possessions—all the things that make us argue and compete are not essential, ontological traits. Weighing, measuring, counting, listing, labeling, and comparing only gets us so far.

Of course, we must recognize and respect our differences. “Colorblindness” is actually harmful in the face of measurable inequities for people of color. Pride parades and other cultural celebrations of identity are valuable expressions for many groups whose voices have been silenced. People with privilege and power like myself are called to move to the bottom and to destroy the illusion of our supremacy. Those who have been marginalized and deemed inferior are invited to reclaim their inherent value and belonging. As Jesus said, “The last will be first and the first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).

The Gospel is about learning to live and die in and with God—all our warts and wounds included and forgiven by an Infinite Love. The true Gospel democratizes the world. We are all saved in spite of our mistakes, in spite of our suffering, and in spite of ourselves. We are all caught up in the cosmic sweep of Divine grace and mercy. And we all must learn to trust the Psalmist’s prayer: “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory” (Psalm 115:1).

The freeing, good news of the Gospel is that God is saving and redeeming the Whole first and foremost, and we are all caught up in this Cosmic Sweep of Divine Love. The parts—you and me and everybody else—are the blessed beneficiaries, the desperate hangers-on, the partly willing participants in the Whole. Paul wrote that our only task is to trust this reality “until God is all in all” (1 Corinthians 15:28). What a different idea of faith! “When Christ is revealed,” Paul writes to the Colossians, “and he is your life—you too will be revealed in all your glory with him” (3:4). Unless and until we can enjoy this, so much of what passes for Christianity will amount to little more than well-disguised narcissism and self-referential politics. We see this phenomenon playing out in the de facto values of people who strongly identify as Christian. Often they are more racist, classist, and sexist than non-Christians. “Others can carry the burden and the pain of injustice, but not my group,” they seem to say.

Corporate Love

September 24th, 2019


Corporate Love
Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Humans throughout history have often had a strong appreciation for and connection with their ancestors. I think the collective notion of oneness is what Christians were trying to verbalize when they made a late addition to the ancient Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in the communion of saints.” They were offering us the idea that the dead are at one with the living, whether they’re our direct ancestors, the saints in glory, or even the so-called souls in purgatory.

Sister Catherine Nerney, SSJ illustrates this idea in her book The Compassion Connection: Recovering Our Original Oneness:

I, who once found life within my mother, was in turn responsible for my mother’s ongoing life in me.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells a beautiful story about an experience he had following his mother’s death which makes this point very powerfully:

The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, “A serious misfortune in my life has arrived.” I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut of my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her, and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk with her as if she had never died. When I woke up it was about two in the morning, and I felt very strongly that I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me. [1]

This kind of mutual interdependence I sense to be true. We live in and through one another. We become ourselves only in and through a process of mutual inter-becoming. It all began in God’s own creative, self-giving love. Much deeper than the inevitability of my [physically] resembling my earthly mother is the reality of my core identity, the core identity of all who bear the same family resemblance, a unique but related face of compassion—the same divine Love has birthed us all. God will never be dead as long as we’re alive. [2]

The whole thing is one, just at different stages, all of it loved corporately by God (and, one hopes, by us). Within this worldview, we are saved not by being privately perfect, but by being “part of the body,” humble links in the great chain of history. This view echoes the biblical concept of a covenant love that was granted to the Jewish people as a whole, and never just to one individual like Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Esther, or David. Similarly, the prophets and Jesus spoke both their judgments and their promises to the collective of the House of Jacob, Moab, Bashan, Gilgal, Capernaum, Bethsaida, Jerusalem (and on and on) much more than they ever did to individuals. Many Christians’ failure to recognize this has led to a major misinterpretation of the entire Bible. 

Love is Universal

September 23rd, 2019

Love Is Universal
Monday, September 23, 2019

Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love. God made both of these, but [God is] not knowable through the first one. To the power of love, however, [God] is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. . . . [God’s] very nature makes love endless and miraculous. God will never stop loving us. Consider this truth, and, if by grace you can make love your own, do. For the experience is eternal joy; its absence is unending suffering. —The Cloud of Unknowing [1]
In the fourteenth century, the inspired, anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught that God in Christ dealt with sin, death, forgiveness, and salvation “all in one lump.” It is a most unusual, even homely, phrase, but for me, this corporate and mystical reading of history contributes to the unitive vision we are seeking, as we try to understand the Universal Christ. Jesus by himself looks like an individual, albeit a divine individual, but the Christ is a compelling image for this “one-lump” view of reality. In the fourteenth century, The Cloud’s author would’ve enjoyed the last remnants of mystical holism before the Reformation and Enlightenment elevated dualistic thinking. The writer reflected the more Eastern church understanding of the resurrection as a universal phenomenon, and not just the lone Jesus rising from the dead and raising his hands as if he just scored a touchdown, as is depicted in most Western art—and even in a giant mosaic that looms over the University of Notre Dame’s football stadium.
I am convinced that the Gospel offers us a holistic, “all in one lump” understanding of things. We also see this idea everywhere in Pauline passages, expressed in different ways: “in that one body he condemned sin” (Romans 8:3); “He experienced death for all humankind” (Hebrews 2:19); he has done suffering and sacrifice “once and for all” (Hebrews 7:28); or the embodiment language of Philippians, where Jesus is said to lead us through the “pattern of sin and death” so we can “take our place in the pattern of resurrection” (3:9-12). And of course, this all emerges from Jesus’ major metaphor of the “Reign of God,” a collective notion which some scholars say is just about all that he talks about. Until we start reading the Jesus story through the collective lens of Christ, I honestly think Christians miss much of his core message and limit its meaning to individual salvation, reward, and punishment. Without a universal and unifying spirituality, society will remain untransformed.
Only surrendering humbly to the radical path of love will result in the discovery that God is not the object of our longing and love, but is the loving itself. As the author of The Cloud teaches, God is the force that is binding, moving, sustaining, and transforming all of humanity and all of creation with every breath and every evolutionary shift on our planet.

The Suffering of God
Sunday, September 22, 2019
I am not alone in my tiredness or sickness or fears, but at one with millions of others from many centuries, and it is all part of life. —Etty Hillesum [1]
Just days before I began writing my book about the Universal Christ, I learned that I would have to put down my fifteen-year-old black Lab because she was suffering from inoperable cancer. Venus had been giving me a knowing and profoundly accepting look for weeks, but I did not know how to read it. Deep down, I did not want to know. After her diagnosis, every time I looked at her, she gazed up at me with those same soft and fully permissive eyes, as if to say, “It is okay. You can let me go. I know it is my time.” But she patiently waited until I, too, was ready.
In the weeks before she died, Venus somehow communicated to me that all sadness, whether cosmic, human, or canine, is one and the same. Somehow, her eyes were all eyes, even God’s eyes, and the sadness she expressed was a divine and universal sadness.
When we carry our small suffering in solidarity with humanity’s one universal longing for deep union, it helps keep us from self-pity or self-preoccupation. We know that we are all in this together. It is just as hard for everybody else, and our healing is bound up in each other’s. Almost all people are carrying a great and secret hurt, even when they don’t know it. This realization softens the space around our overly defended hearts. It makes it hard to be cruel to anyone. It somehow makes us one—in a way that easy comfort and entertainment never can.
Some mystics go so far as to say that individual suffering doesn’t exist at all and that there is only one suffering. It is all the same, and it is all the suffering of God. The image of Jesus on the cross somehow communicates that to the willing soul. A Crucified God is the dramatic symbol of the one suffering that God fully enters into with us—much more than just for us, as many Christians were trained to think.
If suffering, even unjust suffering (and all suffering is unjust), is part of one Great Mystery, then I am willing to carry my little portion. Etty Hillesum (1914–1943), a young, Dutch, Jewish woman who died in Auschwitz, truly believed her suffering was also the suffering of God. She even expressed a deep desire to help God carry some of it:
And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well. Alas, there doesn’t seem to be much You Yourself can do about our circumstances, about our lives. Neither do I hold You responsible. You cannot help us, but we must help You and defend Your dwelling place inside us to the last. [2]
Such freedom and generosity of spirit are almost unimaginable to me. What creates such altruistic and loving people?

Summary: Sunday, September 15—Friday, September 20, 2019
Much of Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now. (Sunday)
Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good. —Ken Butigan (Monday)
Gandhi spoke of making himself zero but seemed to have become instead a kind of cosmic conduit, a channel for some tremendous universal power, an “instrument of peace.” —Eknath Easwaran (Tuesday)
It is urgent to understand Gandhi’s message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. —Eknath Easwaran (Wednesday)
I saw that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for those who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that Sermon which has endeared Jesus to me. —Mahatma Gandhi (Thursday)
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. — Shared by Lilla Watson (Friday)

Practice: Vow of Nonviolence
Years ago, the Center for Action and Contemplation staff, volunteers, and friends were invited to say this vow together. Today I renew my commitment to nonviolence and invite you to make this vow your own as well.
Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven (Matthew 5:9, 43-45).
Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus
by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.
God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. [1]

Cultivating Nonviolence

September 18th, 2019

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, first go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift. —Matthew 5:23-24

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount describes unconditional love in action. Tomorrow we’ll explore Mahatma Gandhi’s appreciation for the Sermon on the Mount. Today Eknath Easwaran continues reflecting on how nonviolence flows from our state of being:

Gandhi’s mission was not really the liberation of India. That was a tremendous achievement, but India was essentially a showcase, a stage for the world to see what nonviolence can accomplish in the highly imperfect world of real life. . . .

In today’s language, Gandhi gave us the basis for a technology of peace. He gave us tools for resolving conflicts of all kinds, which anyone can learn to use. But it is urgent to understand his message that nonviolence is a way of thinking, a way of life, not a tactic, but a way of putting love to work in resolving problems, healing relationships, and generally raising the quality of our lives. We don’t begin on the grand stage he acted on; he did not begin that way himself. He began with his personal relationships, aware that he could not expect to put out the fires of anger and hatred elsewhere if the same fires smoldered in his own home and heart. His nonviolence is not a political weapon or a technique for social change so much as it is an essential art—perhaps the essential art—of civilization.

In other words, nonviolence is a skill, just like learning to read. Love is a skill. The transformation of anger is a skill. All these can be learned. We cannot say we aren’t capable of nonviolence; all we can say is we are not willing to do what is necessary to learn.

Finally, for spiritual seekers of all persuasions, Gandhi showed us that the spiritual life need not mean retiring to a monastery or cave. It can be pursued in the midst of family, community, and a career of selfless service. Even without reference to spirituality, if we look upon the overriding purpose of life as making a lasting contribution to our family and society, Gandhi gave us a higher image for ourselves, a glorification of the innate goodness in the human being, whose joy lies in living for the welfare of all. This is Gandhi’s ultimate message for us, and no sentence of his is more significant than when he says—and remember, this is a man who never let even a word stand if he did not know it to be true from his own experience—“I have not the shadow of a doubt that any man or woman can achieve what I have, if he or she would make the same effort and cultivate the same hope and faith.” [1]


September 16th, 2019

Love Is Our Nature
Sunday, September 15, 2019

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9

Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart. —St. Francis of Assisi [1]

Much of Christianity seems to have forgotten Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence. We’ve relegated visions of a peaceful kingdom to a far distant heaven, hardly believing Jesus could have meant we should turn the other cheek here and now (Matthew 5:39). It took Mohandas Gandhi (1869–1948), a Hindu, to help us apply Jesus’ peace-making in very practical ways. As Gandhi said, “It is a first-class human tragedy that peoples of the earth who claim to believe in the message of Jesus whom they describe as the Prince of Peace show little of that belief in actual practice.” [2] It took Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929–1968), drawing from Gandhi’s work, to bring nonviolence to the forefront of American consciousness in the 1960s.

Nonviolence training has understandably emphasized largely external methods or ways of acting and resisting. These are important and necessary, but we must go even deeper. Unless those methods finally reflect inner attitudes, they will not make a lasting difference. We all have to admit that our secret thoughts are often cruel, attacking, judgmental, and harsh. The ego seems to find its energy precisely by having something to oppose, fix, or change. When the mind can judge something to be inferior, we feel superior. We must recognize our constant tendency toward negating reality, resisting it, opposing it, and attacking it in our minds. This is the universal addiction.

Authentic spirituality is always first about you—about allowing your own heart and mind to be changed. It’s about getting your own who right. Who is it that is doing the perceiving? Is it your illusory, separate, false self; or is it your True Self, who you are in God?

Thomas Keating (1923–2018) wrote:

We’re all like localized vibrations of the infinite goodness of God’s presence. So love is our very nature. Love is our first, middle, and last name. Love is all; not [love as] sentimentality, but love that is self-forgetful and free of self-interest.

This is also marvelously exemplified in Gandhi’s life and work. He never tried to win anything. He just tried to show love; and that’s what ahimsa really means. It’s not just a negative. Nonviolence doesn’t capture its meaning. It means to show love tirelessly, no matter what happens. That’s the meaning of turning the other cheek. Once in a while you have to defend somebody, but it means you’re always willing to suffer first for the cause—that is to say, for communion with your enemies. If you overcome your enemies, you’ve failed. If you make your enemies your partners, God has succeeded. [3]

Learning Nonviolence
Monday, September 16, 2019

This week I’ll share a couple reflections from Ken Butigan and John Dear, two leaders of Campaign Nonviolence, a grassroots movement organized by Pace e Bene. Nonviolent actions are taking place all over the United States and world this week! [1] In the face of gun violence, racism, climate change, poverty, and other injustices, courageous people are turning toward peaceful solutions. Ken Butigan recalls the beginnings of his education in nonviolence at the University of San Diego: 

I learned that Jesus was a maker of peace, an agent of restorative justice, and a proponent of what we might call “responsibility to protect nonviolently,” as in the case of the woman accused of adultery who was about to be executed when Jesus intervened, neither with justified violence or hand-wringing passivity, but instead, at great risk to himself, with a creative and thought-provoking nonviolent action that saved the woman’s life and saved the men from carrying the burden and terror of the guilt of homicide [John 8:3-11]. . . .

In his time of foreign occupation and oppression, Jesus proclaimed a new, nonviolent order rooted in the unconditional love of God. . . . I [heard], as if for the first time, Jesus’ command for us to love our enemies [Matthew 5:44] and for us to offer no violent resistance to one who does evil [Matthew 5:39], and I was forced to reflect deeply on the actions Jesus took to dramatize this call, including urging [his disciple Peter] to put down his sword as the soldiers were arresting him in the garden of Gethsemane [Matthew 26:52]. . . .

Jesus is the revelation and embodiment of our Nonviolent God, whose sun shines on the good and the evil alike [Matthew 5:45]. I would come to learn therefore that nonviolence was ontological, at the heart of God, the God who created the universe and said that it was good [Genesis 1]. . . . Nonviolence is not ineffective, passive, weak, utopian, naïve, unpatriotic, marginal, simplistic, or impractical, but it recognizes evil in the world and responds to it with good.

I would come to learn that that nonviolence is actively confronting violence without violence; creatively engaging conflict; and nurturing just, peaceful, and sustainable alternatives. . . .

In the 1980s, that included taking nonviolent action to build people-power to support an end to the arms race between the US and the Soviet Union, including public support for arms control agreements and a global Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. In the 1980s and 1990s, that meant building people-power to resist and end US policies stoking war in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Later in the 1990s, that meant being part of a local campaign to build people-power to end policies attacking and harassing homeless people. And in the 21st century, that has included building movements using nonviolent action to urge a comprehensive just peace in Iraq and end the official policy of torture.

Considering Butigan’s reflection, consider these questions: What does love in action look like for you? How are you following Jesus as a peace-maker? May nonviolence begin in our hearts and flow through our whole beings.

Summary: Week Thirty-seven

Shadow Work

September 8 – September 13, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. (Sunday)

Carl Jung had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others. (Monday)

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. —Robert A. Johnson (Tuesday)

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. —Robert A. Johnson (Wednesday)

God and religion, I am afraid, have been used to justify most of our violence and to hide from the shadow parts of ourselves that we would rather not admit. (Thursday)

Spiritual maturity is to become aware that we are not the persona (mask) we have been presenting to others. We must become intentional about recognizing and embracing our shadows. Religion’s word for this is quite simply forgiveness. (Friday)

Practice: Pay Attention

The term shadow refers to everything within us that we don’t know about ourselves. It’s often called our disowned self. Jesus called it “the log in your own eye,” which you instead notice as the “splinter in your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5). His advice is absolutely perfect: “Take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye” (7:5).

Human consciousness does not emerge at any depth except through struggling with our shadow. It is in facing our conflicts, criticisms, and contradictions that we grow. It is in the struggle with our shadow self, with failure, or with wounding that we break into higher levels of consciousness. People who learn to expose, name, and still thrive inside the contradictions are prophets.

Psychologist Stanley Milgram (1933–1984), who was significantly influenced by the Holocaust, saw the essence of the problem clearly:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority. [1]

Working to become aware of our shadow so that we can live in greater alignment with our True Self—which is Love—is rewarding yet challenging work. There are many perspectives on how to best accomplish it. One step that is practiced in virtually all approaches involves increasing awareness by introspective, contemplative practice. Here is one very important shadow work practice as taught by leadership coach Scott Jeffrey:

Shining the light of consciousness on the shadow takes effort and continual practice. The more you pay attention to your behavior and emotions, the better chances you have of catching your shadow in the act. We tend to project our disowned parts onto other people.

One of the best ways to identify your shadow is to pay attention to your emotional reactions toward other people. Sure, your colleagues might be aggressive, arrogant, inconsiderate, or impatient, but if you don’t have those same qualities within you, you won’t have a strong reaction to their behavior.

If you’re paying close attention, you can train yourself to notice your shadow when you witness strong negative emotional responses to others. But we rarely have time to work with those emotions on the spot. At the end of the day, it’s helpful to take five or ten minutes to reflect on your interactions with others and your related reactions.

Whatever bothers you in another is likely a disowned part within yourself. Get to know that part, accept it, make it a part of you, and next time, it may not evoke a strong emotional charge when you observe it in another. [2]

Nodding to the Shadow

September 11th, 2019

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

I want to emphasize that the shadow is not inherently evil or wrong; it varies from culture to culture. In the United States today, white dominant culture prizes competition, urgency, individualism, niceness (or avoidance of conflict), and logic. Other values and ways of being, such as cooperation, appropriate self-care, community, and vulnerability, are often seen as inferior. We cause so much harm and lose so much possibility by fearing our differences. By reclaiming our shadow we can tap into greater compassion and creativity. 

Jungian psychotherapist Robert Johnson continues explaining how the shadow functions and how we might work with it:

It is useful to think of the personality as a teeter-totter or see-saw. Our acculturation consists of sorting out our God-given characteristics and putting the acceptable ones on the right [visible] side of the seesaw and the ones that do not conform on the left [shadow side]. It’s an inexorable law that no characteristic can be discarded; it can only be moved to a different point on the seesaw. . . .

Johnson suggests that we should hide the culturally unacceptable parts from society, but not from ourselves. I agree that we must nod to our own shadow, name it for what it is, and give it the recognition it needs so that it won’t unconsciously control us. Likewise, it may not always serve us to keep parts of our shadow—whether seemingly “golden” (has a gift for you) or “dark”—hidden from the public. 

Johnson continues:

The fulcrum, or center point, is the whole (holy) place. . . .

This is one of Jung’s greatest insights: that the ego and the shadow come from the same source and exactly balance each other. To make light is to make shadow; one cannot exist without the other.

To own one’s own shadow is to reach a holy place—an inner center—not attainable in any other way. To fail this is to fail one’s own sainthood and to miss the purpose of life. . . .

To refuse the dark side of one’s nature is to store up or accumulate the darkness; this is later expressed as [depression], psychosomatic illness, or unconsciously inspired accidents. We are presently dealing with the accumulation of a whole society that has worshiped its light side and refused the dark, [1] and this residue appears as war, economic chaos, strikes, racial intolerance [more timely examples: gun violence, imprisoning refugees, and climate change]. . . . We must be whole whether we like it or not; the only choice is whether we will incorporate the shadow consciously and with some dignity or do it through some neurotic behavior. . . .

Any repair of our fractured world must start with individuals who have the insight and courage to own their own shadow. . . . The tendency to see one’s shadow “out there” in one’s neighbor or in another race or culture is the most dangerous aspect of the modern psyche. . . . We all decry war but collectively we move toward it. It is not the monsters of the world who make such chaos but the collective shadow to which every one of us has contributed. [Consider our complicity in centuries of colonialism, capitalism, and nationalism.] . . .

God grant that evolution may proceed quickly enough for each of us to pick up our own dark side, combine it with our hard-earned light, and make something better of it all than the opposition of the two. This would be true holiness. [And, I would add, it can only be done through contemplation.]

Making Holy

September 10th, 2019

Shadow Work

Making Holy
Tuesday, September 10, 2019

The shadow in and of itself is not the problem. The source of our disease and violence is separation from parts of ourselves, from each other, and from God. Mature religion is meant to re-ligio or re-ligament what our egos and survival instincts have put asunder, namely a fundamental wholeness at the heart of everything.

Robert A. Johnson (1921–2018) was an American Jungian analyst, author, and lecturer who studied at the C. G. Jung Institute. Many of Johnson’s insights have shaped my own work. In his book Owning Your Own Shadow, he explains how the shadow begins and how we grow:

We are all born whole and, let us hope, will die whole. But somewhere early on our way, we eat one of the wonderful fruits of the tree of knowledge, things separate into good and evil, and we begin the shadow-making process: we divide our lives. In the cultural process we sort out our God-given characteristics into those that are acceptable to society and those that have to be put away. This is wonderful and necessary, and there would be no civilized behavior without this sorting out of good and evil. But the refused and unacceptable characteristics do not go away; they only collect in the dark corners of our personality. When they have been hidden long enough, they take on a life of their own—the shadow life.

The shadow is that which has not entered adequately into consciousness. It is the despised quarter of our being. It often has an energy potential nearly as great as that of our ego. If it accumulates more energy than our ego, it erupts as an overpowering rage or some indiscretion or an accident that seems to have its own purpose. . . .

It is also astonishing to find that some very good characteristics turn up in the shadow. Generally, the ordinary, mundane characteristics are the norm. Anything less than this goes into the shadow. But anything better also goes into the shadow! Some of the pure gold of our personality is relegated to the shadow because it can find no place in that great leveling process that is culture.

Curiously, people resist the noble aspects of their shadow more strenuously. . . . The gold is related to our higher calling, and this can be hard to accept at certain stages of life. . . .

Wherever we start and whatever culture we spring from, [most of us] will arrive at adulthood with a clearly defined ego and shadow, a system of right and wrong, a teeter-totter with two sides. The religious process consists of restoring the wholeness of the personality. . . .

Generally, the first half of life is devoted to the cultural process—gaining one’s skills, raising a family, disciplining one’s self in a hundred different ways; the second half of life is devoted to restoring the wholeness (making holy) of life. One might complain that this is a senseless round trip except that the wholeness at the end is conscious while it was unconscious and childlike at the beginning.

Shadow Work

September 9th, 2019

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Our shadow self is any part of ourselves or our institutions that we try to hide or deny because it seems socially unacceptable. The church and popular media primarily focus on sexuality and body issues as our “sinful” shadow, but that is far too narrow a definition. The larger and deeper shadow for Western individuals and culture is actually failure itself. Thus, the genius of the Gospel is that it incorporates failure into a new definition of spiritual success. This is why Jesus says that prostitutes and tax collectors are getting into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and religious elders (see Matthew 21:31).

Our success-driven culture scorns failure, powerlessness, and any form of poverty. Yet Jesus begins his Sermon on the Mount by praising “the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3)! Just that should tell us how thoroughly we have missed the point of the Gospel. Nonviolence, weakness, and simplicity are also part of the American shadow self. We avoid the very things that Jesus praises, and we try to project a strong, secure, successful image to ourselves and the world. We reject vulnerability and seek dominance instead, and we elect leaders who falsely promise us the same.

I can see why my spiritual father, St. Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), made a revolutionary and pre-emptive move into the shadow self from which everyone else ran. In effect, Francis said through his lifestyle, “I will delight in powerlessness, humility, poverty, simplicity, and failure.” He lived so close to the bottom of things that there was no place to fall. Even when insulted, he did not take offence. Now that is freedom, or what he called “perfect joy”! [1]

Our shadow is often subconscious, hidden even from our own awareness. It takes effort and life-long practice to look for, find, and embrace what we dismiss, deny, and disdain. After spending so much energy avoiding the very appearance of failure, it will take a major paradigm shift in consciousness to integrate our shadow in Western upwardly mobile cultures. Just know that it is the false self that is sad and humbled by shadow work, because its game is over. The True Self, “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3), is incapable of being humiliated. It only grows from such supposedly humiliating insight.

One of the great surprises on the human journey is that we come to full consciousness precisely by shadowboxing, facing our own contradictions, and making friends with our own mistakes and failings. People who have had no inner struggles are invariably superficial and uninteresting. We tend to endure them more than appreciate them because they have little to communicate and show little curiosity. Shadow work is what I call “falling upward.” Lady Julian of Norwich (1342–1416) put it best of all: “First there is the fall, and then we recover from the fall. And both are the mercy of God!” [2] God hid holiness quite well: the proud will never recognize it, and the humble will fall into it every day—not even realizing it is holiness.

Becoming Who You Are
Monday, September 9, 2019

I have learned much from the Swiss psychotherapist Carl Gustav Jung (1875–1961). Jung brought together practical theology with good psychology. He surely was no enemy of religion; in fact, I would call him a mystic. Late in his life, when asked if he “believed” in God, Jung said, “I could not say I believe. I know! I have had the experience of being gripped by something that is stronger than myself, something that people call God.” [1]

However, Jung felt that Christianity contributed to a discontinuity—an unbridgeable gap—between God and the soul by over-emphasizing external rituals and intellectual belief instead of inner experience and inner transformation. He recognized that Christianity had some helpful theology (for Jung, Jesus Christ served as the central archetype revealing “the hidden, unconscious ground-life of every individual,” . . . and representing “the typical dying and self-transforming God” [2]), but it often had poor psychology and anthropology. Jung was disillusioned by his own father and six uncles, all Swiss Reformed pastors, whom he saw as unhappy and unintegrated. Jung basically said of Christianity: “It’s not working in real life!” [3]

Jung wouldn’t have fit the bill for the classic definition of a saint. He had a number of affairs and for a little while flirted with Nazism. He had a mixed past—don’t we all?—yet his very mistakes usually led him to recognize and heal the shadow self that lurks in our personal unconscious and is then projected outward onto others.

The face we turn toward our own unconscious is the face we turn toward the world. Read that twice! As Jesus said, “The lamp of the body is the eye” (Matthew 6:22). People who accept themselves accept others. People who hate themselves hate others. Only Divine Light gives us permission, freedom, and courage to go all the way down into our depths and meet our shadow.

For Jung, the God archetype is the whole-making function of the soul. It’s that part of you that always wants more, but not in a greedy sense. God is the inner energy within the soul of all things, saying, “Become who you are. Become all that you are. There is still more of you—more to be discovered, forgiven, and loved.” Jungian analytical psychology calls such growth and becoming “individuation,” which I like to think of as moving toward the life wish instead of the death wish. The life wish teaches us not to fragment, splinter, or split, but to integrate and learn from everything; whereas the ego moves toward constriction and separation or “sin.” The God archetype is quite simply love at work calling us toward ever deeper union with our own True Self, with others, and with God.

In the journey toward psychic wholeness, Jung stressed the necessary role of religion or the God archetype in integrating opposites, [4] including the conscious and the unconscious, the One and the many, good (by embracing it) and evil (by forgiving it), masculine and feminine, the small self and the Big Self. By “Self” with a capital “S,” Jung meant the deepest center of the psyche/soul that is in union with the Divine. And, if I understand him, it is shared! It is one and we are all participants, just as many mystics have asserted. I would call it the True Self, the Christ Self, or if you prefer, the Buddha Self, which has learned to consciously abide in union with the Presence within us (John 14:17).

Summary: Week Thirty-six

Cosmology: Part Two

September 1 – September 6, 2019

Evolution brings with it the rise of consciousness, and as consciousness rises, so too does awareness of God. —Ilia Delio (Sunday)

To see evolution as revelatory of the divine Word means that we come to see the various forms and rhythms of nature as reflective of divine qualities. —Ilia Delio (Monday)

For what we know and what we see are only shadows that cannot reflect the fullness of the cosmos or our place in it. —Barbara Holmes (Tuesday)

The universe forms one natural whole, which finally can subsist only by dependence from [Christ]. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Wednesday)

Christ is at the heart of all that moves us. —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Thursday)

The human vocation is to be true co-workers with God and stewards of creation. —Denis Edwards (Friday)

Practice: Contemplating the Cosmos

The universe is not a tragic expression of meaningless chaos, but a marvelous display of an orderly cosmos. —Martin Luther King, Jr. [1]

Dr. Barbara Holmes suggests that the emerging story of the universe might have the power to actually heal:

From the intersection of theology, cosmology, physics, and culture emerges a view of human life that is not divided neatly along categories of race, ethnicity, class, and sexual orientation. Instead, human life on quantum and cosmic levels evinces a oneness that is not dependent on religious hope or social plan. It is an intrinsic element of a universe that is both staggering and healing in its human/divine scope. [2]

Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium, says, “Our molecules are traceable to stars that exploded and spread these elements across the galaxy.” He explains:

[If you] see the universe as something you participate in—as this great unfolding of a cosmic story—that, I think should make you feel large, not small. . . . You will never find people who truly grasp the cosmic perspective . . . leading nations into battle. . . . When you have a cosmic perspective there’s this little speck called Earth and you say, “You’re going to what? You’re on this side of a line in the sand and you want to kill people for what? Oh, to pull oil out of the ground, what? WHAT?” . . . Not enough people in this world, I think, carry a cosmic perspective with them. It could be life-changing. [3]

Science reveals that everything is both matter and energy or spirit, co-inhering as one. This is a Christocentric universe. That realization changes everything. Matter is holy; the material world is our temple where we can worship God simply by loving and respecting matter. The Christ is God’s active power inside the physical world. [4]

How might we begin to experience this cosmic or universal perspective? We might begin by looking to the sky. Here are a few ways to practice growing this cosmic consciousness.

Find a place where you can sit or lie down with a view of a clear night sky. Just look up and let your eyes open to the vastness before you. Notice the light you can see and travel in your imagination to the source of that light and even further. Lose yourself completely in the deep, mysterious, and unimaginably vast universe. [5]

Contemplate the size of the universe:

  • There are at least 200 billion galaxies in our universe.
  • There are at least 100-200 billion planets in our galaxy alone, the Milky Way.
  • That means there are at least 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (one septillion) planets in the universe.
  • And you are a part of it. . . .

Reflect on your life as a whole and consider Barbara Holmes’ words from earlier this week:

Solutions [in our desire for justice] may always be out of reach, but our chances of success are better when our efforts are invested with the humility that comes only with an inward and upward glance, for we are carrying our possibilities within the resonance of starborn and interconnected selves. [6]