Archive for December, 2019

The Work of Healing

December 31st, 2019

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Up to now, top-down religion has pretty much spoiled the show. We need trained experts, scholars, leaders, and teachers, but the truths of Christianity must be made much more accessible, available, localized, and pastoral. Most people do not need to have encyclopedic knowledge of theology or Scripture. To begin with, why not flatten out the huge and unbiblical distinction between clergy and laity? [1]

While Christian churches do much good, we have one huge pastoral problem that is making Christianity largely ineffective—and largely decorative. Solid orthodox theology is sorely needed (and yes, I am obsessed with it), yet we clearly need good and compassionate pastoral and healing practices ten times more!

It seems to me that we must begin to validate Paul’s original teaching on “many gifts and many ministries” (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Together, these diverse gifts “make a unity in the work of service” (Ephesians 4:12-13, Jerusalem Bible). Individual communities may do this well, but on the whole we need Christian people who are trained in, validated for, and encouraged to make home and hospital visits; do hospice work and jail ministry; support immigrants and refugees; help with soup kitchens or food pantries; counsel couples before, during, and after marriage; share child development resources with families; offer ministries of emotional, sexual, and relational healing; help with financial counseling; build low-cost housing; take care of the elderly; run thrift centers—all of which put Christian people in immediate touch with other people and for which no ordination is needed. Ordination would probably even get in the way. Remember, healing was most of the work Jesus did. This fact is almost too obvious.

My vision of any future church is much flatter and much more inclusive. Either we see Christ in everyone, or we hardly see Christ in anyone. Frankly, my hope for Christianity is that it becomes less “churchy,” less patriarchal, and more concerned with living its mission statement than with endlessly reciting our heavenly vision and philosophy statement—the Nicene Creed—every Sunday. There seem to be very few actionable items in most Christians’ lives beyond attending worship services, which largely creates a closed and self-validating system. 

Simply put, any notion of a future church must be a fully practical church that is concerned about getting the job of love done—and done better and better. Centuries emphasizing art and architecture, music, liturgy, and prescribed roles have their place, but their overemphasis has made us a very top-heavy and decorative church that is constantly concerned with its own in-house salvation.

Summary: An Evolving Faith

December 30th, 2019

Patient Trust
Sunday, December 29, 2019

God keeps creation both good and new—which means always going somewhere even better. God keeps creating things from the inside out, so they are forever evolving, yearning, developing, growing, and changing for the good. 

If we understand the Eternal Christ Mystery as the symbolic Alpha Point for the beginning of what we call “time,” we can see that history and evolution indeed have an intelligence, a plan, and a trajectory from the very start. Christ is both the Divine Radiance at the Beginning Big Bang and the Divine Allure drawing us into a positive future. We are thus bookended in a Personal Love—coming from Love and moving toward an ever more inclusive Love. This is the Christ Omega (see Revelation 1:8).

Christians believe the final goal does have a shape and meaning. Creation began and continues in its “very goodness” (see Genesis 1:31). Everything that arises seems to converge. The biblical symbol of the Universal and Eternal Christ stands at both ends of cosmic time, assuring us that the clear and full trajectory of the world we know is an unfolding of consciousness with “all creation groaning in this one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:22).

The New Testament has a clear sense of history working in a way that is both evolutionary and positive. For example, Jesus’ many parables of the Kingdom lean heavily on the language of growth and development. His common metaphors for growth are seeds, sprouting and ripening grain, weeds and wheat growing together, and the rising of yeast. [1] His parables of the “Reign of God” are almost always about finding, discovering, being surprised, experiencing reversals of expectations, changing roles and status. None of these notions are static; they are always about something new and good coming into being.

Why do I think this is so important? Frankly, because without it we become very impatient with ourselves and others. Humans and history both grow slowly and often move three steps forward, two steps back. We expect people to show up at our doors fully transformed and holy before they can be welcomed in. But growth language says it is appropriate to wait, trusting that change of consciousness, what the Bible calls in Greek metanoeite, can only come with time. This patience ends up being the very shape of love. Without an evolutionary worldview, Christianity does not really understand, much less foster, growth or change. Nor does it know how to respect and support where history is heading. 

A Universal Pattern

Monday, December 30, 2019

Christ is before all things, and in Christ all things hold together. —Colossians 1:17

Anything called “Good News” needs to reveal a universal pattern that can be relied upon, and not just clannish patterns that might be occasionally true. This is probably why Christianity’s break with ethnic Judaism was inevitable, although never intended by either Jesus or Paul, and why by the early second century Christians were already calling themselves “catholics” or “the universals.” They believed God is leading all of history somewhere larger and broader and better for all of humanity. Yet, after Jesus and Paul—except for occasional theologians like Gregory of Nyssa, Athanasius, Maximus the Confessor, and Francis of Assisi—the most widely accepted version of Christianity had little to do with the cosmos, creation, nature, or even history. Our beliefs did not generally talk about the future, except in terms of judgment and apocalypse. This is no way to guide history forward. It is certainly no way to give humanity hope, purpose, direction, or joy.

Christianity puts itself in a limited and precarious position when it is tied to any culture-bound Jesus or an expression of faith that does not include the Eternal Christ. Without a universal story line that offers grace and caring for all of creation, Jesus is kept small and seemingly inept. God’s care must be toward all creatures, or God ends up not being very caring at all, making things like water, trees, animals, and history itself accidental, trivial, or disposable. But grace is not a late arrival, appearing only two thousand years ago when Jesus came, or when a few lucky humans read his words in the Bible. God’s grace cannot be a random problem-solver doled out to the few and the virtuous—or it is hardly grace at all! (See Ephesians 2:7-10 if you want the radical meaning of grace summed up in three succinct verses.)

For me, a true comprehension of the full Christ Mystery is the key to the foundational reform of the Christian religion. Understanding the expansive reality of Christ will move us beyond any attempts to corral or capture God into our exclusive group. As the New Testament dramatically puts it, “Before the world was made, we have been chosen in Christ . . . claimed as God’s own, and chosen from the very beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 11) “so that God could bring everything together, in heaven and on earth, as a plan for the fullness of times” (1:10). If all of this is true, we have a theological basis for a very natural religion that includes everybody. The problem was solved from the beginning. 

Summary: Week Fifty-two


December 22 – December 28, 2019

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. (Sunday)

Divine incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and in all creatures, but each in a unique way. (Monday)

Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. We’re in fact welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history. (Tuesday)

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . . We are all meant to be mothers of God. —Matthew Fox, paraphrasing Meister Eckhart (Wednesday)

An incarnational worldview is the only way we can reconcile our inner worlds with the outer one, unity with diversity, physical with spiritual, individual with corporate, and divine with human. (Thursday)

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. —Beatrice Bruteau (Friday)

Practice: The Meaning of Life

Michael Lerner is an American rabbi of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, a political activist, and the editor of Tikkun, a Jewish interfaith magazine. Rabbi Lerner has shared my work with his audiences, noting the message of love and justice that flows through all the Abrahamic faiths and touches on all the great religious and spiritual traditions. In today’s practice, Rabbi Lerner imagines an education for the future where students would learn to engage in studies that would prepare them for spiritual transformation. In alignment with our consideration of “incarnation,” one of the topics students would explore is “Meaning of Life.” Lerner explains:

In this stream, students would learn about the various ways people have sought to discover a framework of meaning for life. Students would study art and poetry, music and dance, world literature and philosophy, religions and forms of spirituality. They would be encouraged to consider their own paths for finding meaning, and to develop rituals, poetry, music, and dance that fit the lives they are shaping for themselves or as part of ongoing communities of meaning.

Students would also be exposed to the range of human suffering, projects and strategies for ameliorating or reducing suffering, and the range of responses and attempts to give meaning to the suffering and the attempts to be with suffering without giving it any larger meaning. They would also be exposed to the ways people have sought to find meaning through community action, mutual support, and love. Many students will have already had their own exposure to suffering in their families and communities, but the school situation will give them a different a take: an opportunity to reflect on suffering and its meaning. So, too, students will explore experiences of unity, mystical luminosity and joy that are as much dimensions of life as suffering and cruelty.

Finally, students would be encouraged to prepare of a rite of passage that they, together with parents and teachers as advisors, devised for themselves: a kind of “hero’s quest” in which they were initiated into the realities of some aspect of adult life. Adapting from suggestions made by [Zen Roshi] Joan Halifax, I suggest that such a rite of passage would involve going through a process that would include:

  1. Plunging into some (carefully discerned) arena of activity
  2. Allowing oneself to separate from familiar paths and ways of coping so that one can “not know”
  3. Allowing oneself to experience confusion, fear, and disorientation without jumping into denial or easy resolution of conflict
  4. Healing oneself and incorporating into one’s being the knowledge learned as part of this process
  5. Ending with a firm determination to liberate oneself and the world from suffering.

[While] it could be argued that many students have already gone through stages “1” through “3,” few get to “4” or “5.” Commitment to healing oneself and making a commitment to liberation for self, others, and the world is an essential part of spiritual transformation. [1] 

December 27th, 2019


Divine Creativity
Friday, December 27, 2019

Though I did not have the privilege of meeting her personally, Beatrice Bruteau (1930–2014) was a brilliant scholar with a wide-ranging interest in mathematics, religion, science, and philosophy. Through her writing and relationships, she influenced the study of contemplative practice and evolutionary consciousness in significant ways. Enjoy this glimpse into her thoughts on incarnation:

The traditional understanding of the Incarnation is that the Person of Christ subsists in two natures, a divine nature and a human nature. But Christ is only one Person, the divine Person called “the Word.” . . . What would seem to be the [opposites] of Being are held together in the intimate union of a single Person. Without ceasing to be God, the Word becomes human. And without ceasing to be incarnate as a human being, this Person is divine.

It seems impossible, but this is what Christians claim we believe. . . . Indeed, we could never have proposed such a thought to ourselves if we had not sensed its reality in ourselves. We do not pretend to understand the Incarnation in an analytical abstract way. We rather understand it in an experiential way. We know what it means because we resonate with it in our own being. Whatever meaning it has for us comes from the deepest level of our sense of our own reality. . . .

[I want to pause here for just a moment to celebrate what Bruteau is saying: What is true in Jesus is true in us! We never could have claimed this intellectually if we did not sense it intuitively.]

In the case of the cosmos, we can say that God as Creator is incarnate as self-creating universe, including self-creating creatures within that universe, such as, for instance, ourselves as human beings. [Or, as I like to say, God creates things that create themselves.] Creativity itself is what’s evolving in the cosmos, and . . . we are in a position to realize ourselves as incarnate divine creativity. This has two effects. It makes the whole thing intensely meaningful. . . . We are part of this, creative contributors to this. And this is the other effect: we bear some responsibility. We have to take our part in the work. We, for instance, are now in a position to do something about all the suffering. . . . We are agents within the system and can have causal effects on other parts of the system. We have intelligence, we have empathy and capacity to feel for others and to care about them, we even have insight into the Ground [or Spirit] present in every being and calling for an appropriate form of absolute respect.

Because of our inherent dignity as children of God, we are empowered and called, like Jesus was, to create a more loving and compassionate world. Responding to this divine invitation might be the ultimate gift we could offer back to God this Christmas season.

“Mothering” God

December 25th, 2019

Wednesday, December 25, 2019
Christmas, Feast of the Incarnation

Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says, “What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.” We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us. —Meister Eckhart (1260–1327) [1]

You might be a little surprised to hear a celibate medieval friar make such a shocking statement about God giving birth, but his question is a good one for Christians to grapple with. Matthew Fox, a theologian and a personal friend, gives us a more contemporary version of Eckhart’s words and offers this commentary:

What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the Son of God 1400 years ago and I do not give birth to the Son of God in my own person and time and culture? . . . We are all meant to be mothers of God.  

With typical bluntness, Eckhart seems to be asking us to reconsider Christmas. For Eckhart, Christmas is not just about celebrating the birth of Jesus as the son of God; it loses meaning if it doesn’t also celebrate our ongoing birth as [children] of God. Moreover, Mary is not unique. We are all meant to be “other Marys,” or mothers of God. We all birth the Christ in our work and in our being and personhood. This teaching makes for a very unsentimental Christmas but one filled with responsibility. [2]

Responsibility, yes, but also, I might add, joy and possibility. What a privilege it is to be asked by God to manifest, or “incarnate,” God’s very presence on this earth! The full and participatory meaning of Christmas is that this one universal mystery of divine incarnation is also intended for us and continuing in us! It is not just about trusting the truth of the body of Jesus but trusting its extension through the ongoing Body of Christ—which is even an even bigger act of faith, hope, and charity and which alone has the power to change history, society, and all relationships.

That is so much to contemplate, and we have so much to enjoy and experience on this day, I’d like to just stop at that!

Celebrating an Eternal Advent

December 24th, 2019

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

In the first 1200 years of Christianity, the greatest feast was Easter with the high holy days of Holy Week leading up to the celebration of the resurrection of Christ. But in the 13th century, a new person entered the scene: Francis of Assisi felt we didn’t need to wait for God to love us through the cross and resurrection. Francis intuited that the whole thing started with incarnate love, and he popularized what we now take for granted as Christmas, which for many became the greater Christian feast. The Franciscans popularized Christmas. Maybe their intuition was correct.

Francis realized that if God had become flesh—taken on materiality, physicality, humanity—then we didn’t have to wait for Good Friday and Easter to “solve the problem” of human sin; the problem was solved from the beginning. It makes sense that Christmas became the great celebratory feast of Christians because it basically says that it’s good to be human, it’s good to be on this earth, it’s good to be flesh, it’s good to have emotions. We don’t need to be ashamed of any of this. God loves matter and physicality.

With that insight, it’s no wonder Francis went wild over Christmas! (I do, too: my little house is filled with candles at Christmastime.) Francis believed that every tree should be decorated with lights to show their true status as God’s creations! And that’s exactly what we still do 800 years later.

Remember, when we speak of Advent or preparing for Christmas, we’re not just talking about waiting for the little baby Jesus to be born. That already happened 2,000 years ago. In fact, we’re welcoming the Universal Christ, the Cosmic Christ, the Christ that is forever being born in the human soul and into history.

And believe me, we do have to make room, because right now there is no room in the inn for such a mystery. We see things pretty much in their materiality, but we don’t see the light shining through. We don’t see the incarnate spirit that is hidden inside of everything material.

The early Eastern Church, which too few people in the United States and Western Europe are familiar with, made it very clear that the incarnation was a universal principle. Incarnation meant not just that God became Jesus; God said yes to the material universe. God said yes to physicality. Eastern Christianity understands the mystery of incarnation in the universal sense. So it is always Advent. God is forever coming into the world (see John 1:9).

We’re always waiting to see spirit revealing itself through matter. We’re always waiting for matter to become a new form in which spirit is revealed. Whenever that happens, we’re celebrating Christmas. The gifts of incarnation just keep coming. Perhaps this is enlightenment.

Like Knows Like

Monday, December 23, 2019

The official Franciscan motto is Deus Meus et Omnia—“My God and all things.” Once you recognize the Christ as the universal truth of matter and spirit working together as one, then everything is holy and nothing is excluded. Once you surrender to this Christ mystery, this divine incarnation in your oh-so-ordinary self and body, you begin to see it every other ordinary place, too. The principle is this: “Like knows like.” As St. Bonaventure (1217–1274), the philosophical interpreter of St. Francis, wrote: Christ is “the one whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.” [1]

Regrettably, the history of almost every religion begins with one massive misperception: a fatal distinction between the sacred and the profane. Low-level religions put all their emphasis on creating exclusive sacred places, sacred times, and sacred actions. While I fully appreciate how this distinction helps us “pay attention” to the sacred, it unfortunately leaves the majority of life “un-sacred,” which is categorically untrue.  

You don’t have to go to sacred places to pray or wait for holy days for good things to happen. You can pray always, and everything that happens is potentially sacred if you allow it to be. Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything becomes an occasion for good and an occasion for God. “This is the day God has made memorable, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” (Psalm 118:24). Your task is to find the good, the true, and the beautiful in everything, even and most especially the problematic. Trust me on this: The bad is never strong enough to counteract the good.

You can most easily learn this through some form of contemplative practice. In contemplation you learn to trust your Vital Center over all the passing snags and jerks of emotions and obsessive thinking. [2] Once you are anchored in such a strong and loving soul, which is also the Indwelling Spirit, you are no longer pulled to and fro with every passing feeling. You have achieved a peace that nothing else can give you and that no one can take from you (John 14:27).

Divine incarnation took the form of an Indwelling Presence in every human soul and surely all creatures in some way. Angels, animals, trees, water, and, yes, bread and wine seem to fully accept and enjoy their wondrous fate. Ironically, it is only our human freedom that gives us the ability to resist and deny our core identities by refusing to participate in the flow of life through games of negativity, exclusion, or unlove. We even do this to ourselves. If we read the Gospel texts carefully, we will see that the only people Jesus seems to “exclude” are the excluders themselves. Exclusion might be described as the core sin. Don’t waste any time rejecting, eliminating, or punishing anyone or anything else. We are all living en Christo, so everything belongs, including you. The only difference is the degree to which we surrender to this gift of gratuitous inclusion. The objective gift is called image (imago) and the subjective allowing is called likeness (similitudo). Together allowed and received, God’s image and likeness are our human holiness.

en Christo
Sunday, December 22, 2019

Incarnation, the synthesis of matter and spirit, should be the primary and compelling message of Christianity. Through the Christ (en Christo), the seeming gap between God and everything else has been overcome “from the beginning” (Ephesians 1:4, 9). Without some form of incarnation, God remains essentially separate from us and from all of creation. Without incarnation, it is not an enchanted universe but somehow an empty one.

God, who is Infinite Love, incarnates that love as the universe itself. This begins with the “Big Bang” nearly 13.8 billion years ago, which means our human notions of time are largely useless (see 2 Peter 3:8). Then, a mere 2,000 years ago, as Christians believe, God incarnated in personal form as Jesus of Nazareth. Matter and spirit have always been one, of course, ever since God decided to manifest God’s self in the first act of creation (Genesis 1:1-31), but it seems we could only meet this presence in personal form after much longing and desiring. Most indigenous religions also recognized the sacred and even personal nature of all reality, as did my father St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226) who spoke of “Brother Sun and Sister Moon.” Incarnation was always hidden right beneath the surface of things.

Jesus came to reveal the dualism of the spiritual and so-called secular as untrue and incomplete. By his very existence, Jesus modeled for us that these two seemingly different worlds are and always have been one. We just couldn’t imagine it intellectually until God put them together in one body that we could see and touch and love (see Ephesians 2:11-20). In Christ “you also are being built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). What an amazing realization that should shock and delight us!

You are the body of Christ; you are the incarnation, too. Augustine (354–430) said this already in the early fifth century. The sacrament, the bread, is only for the sake of the people, to transform the people, to let them know that they are what they eat. [1]

The final stage of incarnation is resurrection. This is no exceptional miracle only performed once in the body of Jesus. It is the final and fulfilled state of all divine embodiment. Now even physics suggests that matter itself is a manifestation of spirit, a vital force, or what many call consciousness. In fact, I would say that spirit or shared consciousness is the ultimate, substantial, and real thing.

But matter itself also seems to be eternal. It just keeps changing shapes and forms, as scientists, astrophysicists, and biblical writers tell us (Isaiah 65:17 and Revelation 21:1). In the Creed, Christians affirm that we believe in “the resurrection of the body,” not just the soul. The incarnation reveals that human bodies and all of creation are good and blessed and moving toward divine fulfillment (Romans 8:18-30). 

Helping Others

December 19th, 2019

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Step Twelve: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.[1]

Step Twelve tells addicts that they will never really come to appropriate the power and importance of the first eleven steps until and unless they personally take it upon themselves to give it away to other people in need. This necessary reciprocity, a pattern of outflow and inflow, is one that many Christians have never committed to, and the whole religion has suffered because of it. I am convinced that in neglecting the need to serve and to pay back, many Christians lose whatever they might have gained in their private devotions; in fact, they live inside a false peace (pax perniciosa, the Desert Fathers and Mothers called it), which is often a very well-disguised narcissism.

If I have grown at all in my decades of being a priest, it’s in part through this role of being a preacher and teacher. I have had to stand before crowds for years and describe what I thought I believed, and then I often had to ask myself, “Do I really believe that myself?” In my attempt to communicate something, I usually found that I’d only scratched the surface of understanding it myself. In sharing, in giving it away, you really own it for yourself and appreciate its value more fully, beyond what you ever imagined.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says, “Helping others is the foundation stone of your recovery. A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough. You have to act the Good Samaritan every day, if need be. It may mean the loss of many nights’ sleep, great interference with your pleasures, interruptions to your business. It may mean sharing your money and your home, counseling frantic spouses and relatives, innumerable trips to court, hospitals, jails and asylums.” [2] A little later the Big Book says, “Your job now is to be at the place where you may be of maximum helpfulness to others.” [3]

This reminds me of Pope Francis’ description of the Church as a field hospital: “a Church that moves toward those who are ‘wounded,’ who are in need of an attentive ear, understanding, forgiveness, and love.” [4] It does not wait for people in pain to come to us.

Bill Wilson ends his own story with this: “There is, however, a vast amount of fun about it all. I suppose some would be shocked at our seeming worldliness and levity. But just underneath there is deadly earnestness. Faith has to work twenty-four hours a day in and through us, or we perish.” [5]

I have often said that the Twelve-Step programs are the best at helping people achieve sobriety from an addictive substance. But if people do not seriously practice all the steps in their daily lives, especially Step Eleven (prayer and meditation) and Step Twelve (action and service) they will not progress. We can be very grateful for Bill Wilson and his friend Dr. Bob Smith for cooperating with the Spirit and designing a practical program for suffering humanity.

Expressions of Devine Love

December 18th, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part Two

Expressions of Divine Love
Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Step Eleven: Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. [1]

In his book Addiction and Grace, psychiatrist Gerald May (1940–2005)—who was a personal friend of mine and a true holy man—pointed out how addictive behavior uses up good desire and drains away spiritual desire. May was convinced, and I am too after my years as jail chaplain, that many addicts in their younger years were people with spiritual insight and desire. In spiritual direction, addicts will often admit to early youthful moments of “unitive consciousness.” These were moments when it all made sense and we knew we were good, God was good, it was all good. We were in touch with our true source of power, our spiritual desire, the indwelling Holy Spirit.

When this incipient spiritual yearning was frustrated; when we no longer experienced communion, connection, and compassion; when we were instead met with religions’ legalism, exclusivity, and ritualism—there was a great disappointment. Some then try to maintain an experience of communion through substance abuse or a process addiction (for example, shopping or gambling). Timothy McMahan King writes: “Addictions represent finite answers to infinite longings. But adding up the finite over and over will never equal the infinite.” [2] We want to attach to something that will never let us down, something all-powerful, all-nurturing, truly liberating. But of course, with any addiction we need more and more of it because each time we experience the emptiness afterward. It’s never enough to fill the God-sized hole inside of us.

Prayer and meditation allow us to reconnect with our true source of power. Alcoholics Anonymous, the first Twelve-Step program, was developed before Thomas Merton reintroduced contemplation to the modern Western world. Although the “prayer and meditation” described by Bill Wilson and his friends was not exactly the type of contemplative prayer we teach today, it was indeed focused on surrendering to God, seeking God’s will, and relying on God’s power. It was amazing that Wilson used the uncommon word “meditation” in the 1930s, a time when most Western Christians would have thought that was a practice from “Eastern religions.”

Contemplative practice, done over time, actually rewires our brains so that we can detach from our addictive patterns of thinking and feeling and our unworkable programs for happiness. Now many neuroscientists affirm such very real change and call it neuroplasticity: chosen neural pathways gradually grow stronger; unused pathways die away. King again: “Grace points to the possibility of a redemption that is not just recovery but the opportunity to grow deeper and become stronger than we were before.” [3] May described the outcome of contemplative practice: “As attachment ceases to be your motivation, your actions become expressions of divine love.” [4]

Universal Consciousness

December 17th, 2019

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Step Ten: Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.[1]

Wisely, Step Ten does not emphasize a moral inventory, which becomes too self-absorbed and self-critical, but it speaks of a “personal inventory.” In other words, just watch yourself objectively, calmly, and compassionately. You will be able to do this from your new viewing platform and perspective as a child of God. “The Spirit will help you in your weakness” (Romans 8:26). From this most positive and dignified position, you can let go of and even easily “admit your wrongs.” You are being held so strongly and so deeply that you can stop holding onto or defending yourself. God forever sees and loves Christ in you; it is only we who doubt our divine identity as children of God.

Whenever we do anything stupid, cruel, evil, or destructive to ourselves or others, we are at that moment unconscious—unconscious of our identity. If we were fully conscious, we would never be violent, even in our thoughts, toward anyone. Loving people are always highly conscious people. To rely on any substance or habit is to become unconscious.

To be fully conscious would be to love everything on some level and in some way—even our mistakes. To love is to fall into full consciousness, which is contemplative, non-dualistic, and includes everything—even “the last enemy to be destroyed, which is death itself” (see 1 Corinthians 15:26). That is why we must love. Only love is stronger than death.

Didn’t Jesus tell us that we must love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44)? AA says at Step Ten, “we have ceased fighting anything or anyone—even alcohol.” [2] When we can on some level love even our sins and imperfections, which are our “enemies,” we are fully conscious and fully liberated. God, who is Universal Consciousness itself, knows all things, absorbs all things, and forgives all things—for being what they are. Since Jesus commands us to love our enemies, then we know that God must and will do the same. Yet the vast majority of Christians still believe in a punitive God and a pathetic notion of retributive justice, which is totally unworthy of God. This false and toxic image of God normally only recedes if we have an inner life of prayer, which is the next step.

What hope and joy a God of Infinite Love gives us all! Among many other things, it takes away all fear of admitting our wrongs to God, to ourselves, and to others. 

Accountability is Sustainability

December 13th, 2019

Twelve-Step Spirituality: Part One

Accountability Is Sustainability
Friday, December 13, 2019

Step Five: Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. [1]

So confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, and this will cure you. —James 5:16

Both Christianity and the Twelve Steps believe that our sins and failures are the setting for transformation and enlightenment. Grace isn’t a gift for getting it right but for getting it wrong! But as any good therapist will tell you, you cannot heal what you do not acknowledge; and what you do not consciously acknowledge will remain in control of you from within, harming you and those around you, particularly those you love. Step Five sets forth a clear structure of accountability for knowing, speaking, and hearing the full truth so that it does not ultimately destroy the addict or others. But it is not an easy step to take. Both Bill Wilson and Thomas Keating understood the essential role that humility plays in the process of transformation. Keating wrote:

[Humility] is a great subject because it is the most fundamental religious disposition. It undergirds the stages of the spiritual journey. It gets deeper as we go along. Humiliation is the way to humility. So you have to go through the fifth step. . . . You lose the sense of shame and you gain more and more inner freedom. The point may come when you actually love your weaknesses and faults because they keep you humble. The feelings of shame and humiliation give way to a loving acceptance of the truth and a complete trust in God’s infinite mercy. . . . We’re not asking anybody to think that we are good, because now we see that whatever good we have comes from God. We don’t deny that we have this basic goodness, but we acknowledge that we have made a mess of our lives . . . and that God is healing us. Instead of grieving because of our sins, we realize that God has used them for our great benefit. . . .

Humility is the truth. That is to say, humility is the capacity to accept whatever happens, peacefully. Then you can decide whether God is calling you simply to accept the situation, or to do something to improve or correct it. Humility is a constant and permanent disposition that puts one in tune with the universe and with whatever is happening in the present moment. . . .

We know that whatever happens, the love of God is always with us and that [God] will turn even our failures into perfect love. [2]

When we accept what is, letting go of our hope for a different or better past, we are led into a much greater freedom. And as long as there is accountability and forgiveness as part of the process, healing will almost inevitably follow.

The Twelve Steps as Shadow Work

December 12th, 2019

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Step Four: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. [1]

Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” (John 8:32) and I always feel compelled to add, “But first it will make you miserable.” There is no other way to describe the humiliation and grief that comes from seeing your own failures and weaknesses clearly, perhaps for the first time. Only in the presence of Great Love do any of us have the courage to attempt that kind of inventory. Today, Ron H., a beloved staff member here at the Center for Action and Contemplation, shares from his own experience how humility and honesty are needed throughout the Twelve Steps.

About five years into my recovery journey, I got to know a man in Los Angeles named Pepe. Like so many we get to meet in the rooms, he was a compelling character. His stories were spellbinding and masterfully delivered, his wisdom was simple and always rang of truth, and his heart was out there where you could see it, humble, genuine. When he told of how he took his wheelchair-bound teenage son Tony, dying of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, to the river to go fishing, the entire room would hang on every word (no matter how many times we had heard the story). Completely bereft as he watched Tony painfully work to get his line in the water, Pepe began to cry. “Dad,” Tony said, “Why are you crying? There’s nothing wrong with me. It’s just my Earth suit that is having trouble. Nothing is wrong with me.” 

As you meditate for a moment on what must have been the seat of Tony’s identity, as the whole room would do each time Pepe drove home this line, notice the shift in your own heart and body. Pepe would look down for a moment and then bring it humbly and powerfully: 

“This program is a program of truth-telling,” Pepe would sometimes say and then pause to let it sink in. “Because it’s the truth that will set you free. The truth sets us free. The first step? We’ve been lying, distorting, denying, hiding from the truth. The first step is a truth-telling step. We admit who we are. The fourth and fifth steps are a huge exercise in finally telling the whole truth. [2] The tenth step? Learning to tell the truth on the fly, and to call ourselves out and correct it when we didn’t. [3] This program is a truth-telling program. That’s how it turns us into free people.”

That simple and profound description came to me years later when I heard Richard and others talk about Carl Jung’s concept of persona and shadow. Where my “persona” is the me that is presented for the world to see, my “shadow” is the undiscovered or undisclosed me (often unseen even by me). Shadow is a concept much like “denial” in the recovery context. It’s not even necessarily that I see it and deny seeing it, it’s that my mechanisms for protecting myself from seeing certain aspects of myself are so effective that I’m blind to them.