Archive for April, 2020

Reconnecting the Unconscious

April 30th, 2020

Liminal Space

Reconnecting with the Unconscious
Thursday,  April 30, 2020

My friend John Philip Newell is a poet and scholar who believes in the transformative power of Celtic Christian spirituality to support us in our era. The ancient Celts made great use of liminal times and places to integrate the “paired opposites” of which the world seems to be made. Newell writes:

Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world? . . .

Eco-theologian Thomas Berry says the universe is so amazing in its interrelatedness that it must have been dreamt into being. He also says our situation today as an earth community is so desperate—we are so far from knowing how to save ourselves from the ecological degradations we are a part of—that we must dream the way forward. We must summon, from the unconscious, ways of seeing that we know nothing of yet, visions that emerge from deeper within us than our conscious rational minds.

Similarly, the rebirthing of our true depths will involve a reconnection with the unconscious. It will demand a fresh releasing within us of the world of dreams, myths, and the imagination. Whether as individuals or collectively as nations and religious traditions, new beginnings will be born among us when we open to the well of what we do not yet know or what we have forgotten deep within. . . .

Into this liminal realm, between the known and the unknown, we are invited to enter if we are to learn more of the way forward in our lives as individuals and as communities and nations. This is why, in so much Celtic storytelling and legends, lovers meet and worlds conjoin in the twilight. It is the coming together of masculine and the feminine. It is the convergence of the unseen world of those who have gone before us and this present dimension of space and time in which the seen and the physical dominate. It may be a time of encountering messengers from the invisible realms of the universe that are linked inextricably to our realm, but at the same time transcend us in our struggle with unknown forces of darkness within and without. This is also why, in so much Eastern spiritual practice [as well as many in monastic communities in the Christian tradition], the early hours of dawn are viewed as the time of meditation, when night and day are commingling in ways that more readily allow us to move from the known to the unknown and from the nameable to the ineffable.

Liminal Space

April 29th, 2020

The Liminal Paradox
Wednesday,  April 29, 2020

Sheryl Fullerton, an editor and author with whom I have worked for many years, received a cancer diagnosis two years ago which required a difficult surgery. Like many individuals who are on earnest spiritual journeys, she allowed the painful and challenging experience to transform and guide her to greater wisdom. 

When we find ourselves in liminal space, does it matter whether we are pushed or whether we jump? Either way, we are not where or what we were before, nor do we know how or where we will land in our new reality. We are, as the anthropologist Victor Turner (1920–1983) wrote, betwixt and between. In that space—which is mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual—we are destabilized, disoriented. The old touchstones, habits, and comforts are now past, the future unknown. We only wish such a time to be over. We may be impatient to pass through it quickly, with as little distress as possible, even though that is not likely. . . .

But what if we can choose to experience this liminal space and time, this uncomfortable now, as . . . a place and state of creativity, of construction and deconstruction, choice and transformation[?] I wonder whether it is, then, also the realm of the Holy Spirit, our comforter, who does not take away the vastness and possibility of this opened-up threshold time, but invites us to lay down our fears and discomfort to see what else is there, hard as that may be. . . .

One transformation in this liminal time of cancer treatment and recovery was my recognition that the staggering vulnerability I was experiencing was not weakness, not shameful, but the source of what would allow me to survive and, eventually, to thrive. I allowed others to see me—not just my broken, lopsided face, but also my pain, sorrow, disappointment, and discouragement, as well as my gratitude, resilience, joy, and recovery. . . .

Like Jonah in the belly of the sea monster, we are led where we do not want to go—not once, but many times in our lives. Dwelling in unsettling liminal space, whether we are pushed or we jump, we are led to draw on resources and possibilities we may not have tapped before. In the unknown space between here and there, younger and older, past and future, life happens. And, if we attend, we can feel the Holy Spirit moving with us in a way that we may not be aware of in more settled times. In liminal time and space, we can learn to let reality—even in its darkness—be our teacher, rather than living in the illusion that we are creating it on our own. We can enter into the liminal paradox: a disturbing time and space that not only breaks us down, but also offers us the choice to live in it with fierce aliveness, freedom, sacredness, companionship, and awareness of Presence.

Journal. DJR

I was recently encouraged by a Podcaster to Journal during this Liminal Time of Coronavirus. She suggested getting it written down, even if I don’t or can’t analyze what I write. It is a different, unique time, she said, and I can always analyze it later. My thoughts and your thoughts, God are a unique Coronavirus Blend right now in a way that can’t be duplicated in more “normal” times. So here’s a thought:

Last night I called Christian friend… stay in touch and fellowship a bit. A super conservative Trump supporter, he exulted how great it was that our president had withdrawn us from the World Health Organization. In his mind, we shouldn’t be supporting such initiatives, there have been inefficiencies and scandals……

My mind went another direction. I’m sure there are inefficiencies and scandals, but isn’t this our government’s way of helping the poor and sickly of the world, our corporate way of dealing with those photos of the starving children with distended bellies? Why not use our influence to fix the inefficiencies and scandals and continue to help those less fortunate?

Then I realized that our government is not interested in helping “the least of these”. As the Super Power of the planet, we are the only developed country left without some form of universal health care. We don’t even take care of (30 million) of our own people, why would we spend money on the poor in the developing world?

How had the words of Jesus, about taking care of the poor and favoring the marginalized gone right by my Christian friend? I think that labelling initiatives like universal health care as Socialist or Communist and lauding the strength of American Capitalism had allowed him to close his ears and heart to Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.

My friend went on to share how various prophetic voices were agreeing that Corona was God’s judgement on our liberal ways and that the end, or at least some Sodom and Gomorrah type event was imminent.

Again, my mind went another direction. What was it, anyway that brought Fire and Brimstone down on Sodom? No it wasn’t who was sleeping with who. It was that they were rich and were not taking care of the poor! Kind of like America. We don’t take care of our own poor (30 million with no health care) and now we’re stopping care to the rest of our world neighbors. Yes, we may have judgement or at least a Wake Up call coming. Yes, we have lax morality, and we are definitely getting a Wake-Up call, but if we’re to be judged like Sodom, it will be for the same reason. Being Rich and Ignoring the Poor. We are indeed guilty of the “Sin of Sodom”

The part that’s hard for me to understand: It’s mainly my Conservative Christian friends who promote this Sin of Sodom. My Liberal friends and my Secular Friends are the ones who seem to hear Jesus’s Sermon on the mount and want to take care of the poor and marginalized. What’s up?

I’m going to be quiet now and see what adventures you have for me today. Please enlighten me on what is really going on with all this Coronavirus in America and what is mine to do. I love you Jesus

Dark Liminality

April 28th, 2020

Liminal Space

Dark Liminality
Tuesday,  April 28, 2020

When I am in that darkness, I do not remember anything about anything human. —Angela of Foligno (1248–1309)

After working as a physician and bioethicist for decades, Living School alumna and chair of the CAC Board LaVera Crawley became a hospital chaplain and spiritual companion for patients and their families in the liminality that often occurs between life and death. It seems to me that spiritual companionship is an art many of us are learning to practice these days, but we must be willing to be present to those in need, not just physically (or virtually), but with our whole selves. LaVera shares some of the challenges of this spiritual work and how it can be transformative for both parties.

There are likely few situations with the power to reliably propel us beyond the threshold of everyday existence and into the realm of the liminal than the way of the despair of receiving a diagnosis of a serious, life-threatening illness. It can feel like being hit by a brick or like being hurled into the dark abyss. Once there, the territory can be utterly disorienting and terribly frightening. . . .

Few know how to enter the liminal space where their loved one or patient has been forced to go, let alone how to be there should they be brave enough to dare to enter. We are uncomfortable in these kinds of liminal spaces because it is strange and unfamiliar territory, woven with the difficult feelings we’ve been taught to suppress by medicating them away, by bypassing them through platitudes . . . or denying them all together. . . .

It takes willingness, fortitude, knowledge, skill, and a deep trust in Spirit to go into these dark places as both witness and companion.

To be very clear, I am not equating darkness with something bad or negative, any more than I would consider the apophatic way [1] as such. There is deep beauty in the darkness, in the unknowing, in the indescribable, if only we can open ourselves to its purpose. Metaphorically, the dark emotions of grief, fear, and despair can be profound teachers and guides. . . . The primal howl of existential suffering holds within it the lesson that we all must learn at some time in our lives: To heal from our suffering—not merely to ease or palliate it, but to transform it into the source and substance of our growth and wisdom—requires a journey through it. We must listen attentively for whatever message it has for us and, according to [psychotherapist Miriam] Greenspan, find authentic ways to befriend it so that we can surrender to its transmuting power. All spiritual traditions teach some variation of this wisdom. While it may not come naturally to us to respond to suffering in this way, through practice, it can become a learned skill. . . .

The art of spiritual companionship through the realm of the liminal can be learned, whether we are accompanying others or attending to our own souls. The first step requires trusting that, in the course of time, the very healing we seek can emerge by our journeying through liminal space, listening attentively to what the liminal seeks to tell us.

April 27th, 2020

Liminal Space

The Presence of Spirit
Monday,  April 27, 2020

Many things can bring us to the “threshold” of our ordinary ways of thinking and behaving, but even good rituals are merely “stand-ins” until Reality itself, often in the form of great love or great suffering, steps in and changes us forever. My friend Paula D’Arcy, with whom I have taught many times over the years, lost her husband and young daughter in a tragic car accident while she was pregnant with their second child. This story from Paula reveals how liminal moments can occur at any time.

One afternoon, my heart breaking, I began sorting through the clothes my daughter Sarah would never wear. A dress lay across my lap, a little piece of white cotton. It evoked one more moment . . . of bitter tears and confused disbelief. . . . Life was not supposed to turn out this way. . . .

It was such an innocent and common thing—a child’s garment. Yet even as it broke my heart, that dress became an opening; the soft cotton tore at me from within and began to empty me.

You are not the only heartbroken parent in the world, it said. The pain of loss is not yours alone. Disappointment is the human condition. I continued to stare at the cotton and lace, but something had shifted. The dress was somehow connecting me to the texture and mystery of greater things . . .

Without fully understanding why, I began to soften. I saw life’s contour, its density and its brilliance, just as it is, nothing more. . . . I saw how I’d been caught in a script of my own creation and . . . was totally caught up in my own world—my emotions, my wants, and my needs. . . . Now it was simply my time—my turn to know the darkness and discover whether or not I was brave enough to accept the human journey and find a way through. . . .

I slowly began to see that within the cells of every living thing is the same essence—the presence of spirit. The heart of our journey is to awaken to this spirit within. . . .

Hardly anything turns out the way you expected it to, and you’re frequently ready to write life off as too paradoxical and too difficult to endure. Then some indescribable light fights its way through the impenetrable dark—an unpredictable, unimportant, runaway moment that lights up everything you’ve been unable to see until then. That light removes all the shoulds and oughts, all the illusions about fairness. You enter liminal space . . . In that space you take your first script [or what I call your false or separate self], the one that weighs five hundred pounds, the script that was cutting into your heart all along, bleeding you to death but you didn’t realize the wound or its seriousness—and you simply let it go.


  Teresa of Ávila and
John of the Cross
  April 19 – April 24, 2020
    Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th-century Spain.
Our hearts open either because they have been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes us feel like we have nothing more to lose. It often takes us to the edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). 
It was the deeply mutual and loving nature of the “spousal” prayer Teresa entered into with God that led to such bold and faithful action.
For the first time in [John’s] life, he questioned the existence of a God he could no longer feel or remember. He cried out, “Where have you hidden, my Beloved?” Echoing from this cry came an outpouring of love poetry to God. —Mirabai Starr (Wednesday)
John’s core intuition is that the Infinite Love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. —James Finley (Thursday)
Night signifies that which comes upon us and takes us out of our own control; it announces that as the place of resurrection. A God who heals in darkness— this is John’s word of hope in a destabilized world. -Iain Matthew

Made for Infinite Love

April 23rd, 2020

Teresa of Ávila and
John of the Cross

Made for Infinite Love
Thursday,  April 23, 2020

Jim Finley, my friend and fellow teacher at the CAC, began studying the mystics at the Abbey of Gethsemani at age eighteen, with Thomas Merton as his novice master. He remembers when he first read this excerpt from the Prologue to the Ascent of Mount Carmel by St. John of the Cross:

A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it. [1]

Jim describes the effect John’s writing had on him:

Now, I could tell in the first paragraph, I was in deep water, and I could also tell as I kept reading that just a lot of it was going right over my head. But in John’s poetry, and from the very first paragraph of his prose, I sensed that his words were coming from some very deep place inside of him, or really coming from some deep place and [going] through him, and then intimately accessing that deep place in me. There was a certain resonance in realizing he was talking about something that I didn’t understand; but I knew mattered very, very much. And, as I kept reading on in that way, it got clearer and clearer to me. I am now over 76 years old, and I am still reading John of the Cross. He is one of my teachers. . . .

John’s core intuition is that the Infinite Love that is the architect of our hearts has made our hearts in such a way that nothing less than an infinite union with Infinite Love will do. It’s the setup in the beginning. For Infinite Love to create us in the image of itself is for Infinite Love to create us as a capacity to receive the forms of Infinite Love as our destiny. That love is our origin, love is our ground. That Infinite Love creates us as a capacity for love, for love’s sake alone. Love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening. This is the love nature of life.

[Richard again: Throughout these weeks, I have been praying, trying to understand how, as Jim puts it, “love is the fabric of the true nature of everything that’s happening.” How can it be that God’s love is at work and present in the tragedies around the globe right now? But knowing what harrowing circumstances John of the Cross was in when he came to experience the infinite love of God gives me hope and perseverance.] 

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

April 22nd, 2020

Prayer in Captivity
Wednesday,  April 22, 2020

In 1567, when Teresa of Ávila was 52 and deeply involved in her attempts to reform the Carmelite Order and create the Discalced (or “barefoot”) Carmelites, she met the newly ordained John of the Cross. Though he was only 25 years old, Teresa persuaded him to join her cause. In her book St.John of the Cross: Devotions, Prayers, and Living Wisdom, spiritual teacher Mirabai Starr, who has translated many works by both John and Teresa, tells the story of John’s loyalty to their shared mission of reformation: 

Juan de la Cruz was twenty-nine years old and madly in love with God. The great living saint Teresa of Ávila had recognized a rare sanctity and brilliance in this humble young friar and placed him in charge of her first reform convent [in 1572].

Then late one night [when John was thirty-five], threatened by this movement to return the order to the contemplative path embodied by the Desert Fathers and Mothers, the mainstream Carmelites whisked him away and imprisoned him in Toledo.

His cell was a tiny closet that had formerly served as a latrine. There was not enough room to lie down, and the only window was far above his head. . . .

Twice a day the friars took him out and flogged him. [Hard to imagine, isn’t it? But the church was still trapped in retributive justice, which has lasted until our time among a high percentage of Christians, because that is the way the entire world operates. –RR]

“Denounce Teresa!” they demanded. “Renounce the heresy of this so-called reform!”

But he would not betray the dream. The dream of a life of voluntary simplicity, solitude, and silence. A contemplative life based on the Gospel teachings of poverty of spirit and charity of heart. A life of stripping away rather than accumulating. Of relinquishing power and seeking nothing. Of nothing but loving friendship with the divine and loving service to [God’s] creation. . . .

As the months ground by, [John] began to fear that he had been abandoned by the Holy One. For the first time in his life, he questioned the existence of a God he could no longer feel or remember. And, as his soul dried up, he found he could no longer even conceive of this God to whom he had dedicated everything. When he tried to pray, all he encountered was a cavernous emptiness. 

He cried out, “Where have you hidden, my Beloved?”

Echoing from this cry came an outpouring of love poetry to God. He committed each poem to memory and recited them all again and again until they were etched on his heart. His poems became simultaneously a call to and a response from his Beloved. . . .

At last [after nine long months], one dark night, a sympathetic guard turned the other way as the frail friar made his escape. Taking refuge among the sisters in a nearby convent, he fell into an ecstatic state [of love for God], from which he never recovered. 

Contemplation and Action

April 21st, 2020

Teresa of Ávila and
John of the Cross

Contemplation and Action
Tuesday,  April 21, 2020

This is a great favor for those to whom the Lord grants it; the active and the contemplative lives are joined. . . . The will is occupied in its work and contemplation without knowing how. –Teresa of Ávila

Author Tessa Bielecki writes about Teresa of Ávila as an extraordinary example of action and contemplation. In addition to her physical suffering, Teresa also suffered from difficult life circumstances, including the suspicion of church authorities who disapproved of her visions, her Carmelite reforms, and her status as a converso, a member of a Jewish family that had converted to Catholicism (likely under duress).  In her book Holy Daring, Bielecki shows us that it was the deeply mutual and loving nature of the “spousal” prayer Teresa entered into with God that led to such bold and faithful action:

Teresa . . . is not only one of the greatest contemplatives in the Western spiritual tradition, but also one of its greatest activists. Tremendously involved with people and projects, constantly on the go, Teresa still found time to make prayer a priority.

She founded new convents at the rate of one and sometimes two per year. . . . She was an ingenious administrator with a flair for organization, an astute diplomat, and wise in the world of finance, litigation, and contract negotiation. Her financial worries, business deals, and personnel problems certainly challenged her life of prayer, but never spoiled it. . . .

Contemplation and mysticism . . . both mean loving experiential awareness of God: not ideas in the head or on the lips, but personal living experience. In the Teresian tradition, this experience takes a special form which spiritual writer William McNamara calls “spousal prayer”. . . . [It is sometimes called bridal mysticism and is found in the Bible in the Song of Songs.]

Teresa uses the various stages in human courtship to describe the stages of prayer. First we meet [with God], exchange gifts and get acquainted. Eventually we are betrothed, and then finally we marry. True love deepens and grows gradually, over a lifetime. . . .

But the matter does not end here. Another consequence of prayer is far more demanding: generous, self-spending, and exhausting service. . . . The proper relationship between these two consequences is clear in the teachings of Jesus. First, he  says, “Love the Lord your God with all your mind and heart and soul and body.” Espousal. Second, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Service. [see Mark 12:30–31] . . .

As our prayer grows deeper and more authentic, we want to spend ourselves serving God and the world created out of divine love.

To be clear, this type of “spousal” or unitive prayer is not just for single or celibate people; it is available to all of us who are willing to risk surrendering our hearts and lives fully to God.

Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross

April 19th, 2020

Praying in Our Time 
Sunday,  April 19, 2020

As of today, like many of you, I have been in self-isolation for several weeks. Honestly, it is a bit like when I sometimes go on a hermitage during Lent; except now, of course, my prayers are with the innumerable people who are ill with COVID-19 and so many who are grieving loved ones who have died. My heart is heavy for the health care workers, first responders, and other essential workers who continue to put themselves at risk every day. I’m also concerned about the many people now facing financial challenges, or whose marginalization has only been made worse by the virus. This type of prayer leads us to experience solidarity with the suffering.

For all the helpers, including people like yourselves who are doing what you can to meet the needs of loved ones and those who are suffering, I offer this excerpt of a prayer from my friend Mirabai Starr, who is a translator of Teresa of Ávila’s works:

You [Teresa] lived that beautiful balance
Between active service
And quiet contemplation
Teach us to be of use in this troubled world
At the same time that we cultivate
Joyous intimacy
With the Beloved who lives inside us. [1]

I am truly grateful for the people who are living this truth out through their actions in this time of crisis. And there is more we can do, even as most of us stay at home. A few years ago, I wrote, somewhat facetiously, that the Church should close all programs for a year and simply teach people to pray. It seems to me we may unintentionally have just such an opportunity right now, although I sincerely hope it won’t last a year!

In this week’s Daily Meditations, we will meet with two great teachers of prayer, Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) and John of the Cross (1542–1591). Teresa was canonized (declared a saint) in 1622 and named the first woman Doctor of the Church in 1970. A Doctor of the Church is someone whose teaching can be trusted. Teresa is recognized as the Doctor of Prayer. John, known as the Mystical Doctor, was canonized in 1726 and named a Doctor in 1926.

I like to say that Teresa and John were part of the “final supernova” of nondual, mystical consciousness in 16th-century Spain, before it all but disappeared in Europe for five hundred years in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the invention of the printing press. Both Teresa and John wrote detailed accounts of their lives and experiences with God, which makes them very accessible guides.

One of Teresa’s most famous teachings is a poem known as “Teresa’s Bookmark” that was found in her own prayer book after her death:

Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing upset you.
Everything changes.
God alone is unchanging.
With patience all things are possible.
Whoever has God lacks nothing.
God alone is enough. [2]

I hope Teresa’s words will bring you some comfort in this challenging time.  

Gateway to Action & Contemplation:
What word or phrase resonates with or challenges me? What sensations do I notice in my body? What is mine to do?

Prayer for Our Community:
O Great Love, thank you for living and loving in us and through us. May all that we do flow from our deep connection with you and all beings. Help us become a community that vulnerably shares each other’s burdens and the weight of glory. Listen to our hearts’ longings for the healing of our world. [Please add your own intentions.] . . . Knowing you are hearing us better than we are speaking, we offer these prayers in all the holy names of God, amen.

Matthew 11:28-30 The Message (MSG)

28-30 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Courage in Times of Trouble
Monday,  April 20, 2020

Tessa Bieleckiis a Christian hermit in the tradition of the Desert Mothers and Fathers. Co-founder of the Spiritual Life Institute, she was a Carmelite monk and Mother Abbess for almost 40 years, establishing experimental monastic communities of men and women in Arizona, Colorado, Nova Scotia, and Ireland. She has written extensively on the life, spirituality, and enduring legacy of Teresa of Ávila. Bielecki writes that Teresa has much to teach us about suffering:

For over forty years, [Teresa] never spent a single day without physical pain. For most of her life she suffered such nausea that she vomited daily and couldn’t eat until noon. She suffered the little illnesses that afflict us all—colds, headaches, stomachaches, toothaches, and flus. But she also suffered from high fevers, fainting spells, heart trouble, neuritis, tinnitus, her maimed left arm, a three-year paralysis, severe convulsions, a four-day coma, and the influenza that almost killed her in 1580, aged her terribly, and left her palsied for the last two years of her life. . . .  

As a result of her experience, Teresa teaches us that poor health is not an obstacle to spiritual growth but actually enhances it. Why? We learn patience and surrender. We learn how to transcend the body and rise above both sickness and health altogether. . . .

Through this, as in all else, Teresa learned how to let go of her own will and trust in God. She vehemently asserts that we must “determine once and for all to swallow death and the lack of health,” or there will be no hope for us. [Italics mine.] [1]

In a letter to the convent at Seville that she had founded, Teresa writes:

Courage, courage, my daughters. Remember, God gives no one more troubles than [she] is able to bear, and [God] is with those who are in tribulation. [2]

And in a letter to one of her spiritual directors, the Dominican Father Gracián, she reflects:

One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer. [3]

Richard again: Suffering, of course, can lead us in one of two directions. It can make us very bitter and close us down, or it can make us wise, compassionate, and utterly open. Our hearts open either because they have been softened, or perhaps because suffering makes us feel like we have nothing more to lose. It often takes us to the edge of our inner resources where we “fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). 

Let us all pray for the grace of this second path of softening and opening. 

Hope and Suffering

April 17th, 2020

Friday,  April 17, 2020

When we try to live in solidarity with the pain of the world—and do not spend our lives running from it—we will encounter various forms of “crucifixion.” Pain is physical or emotional discomfort, but suffering often comes from our resistance to that pain.  

The soul must walk through such suffering to go higher, further, deeper, or longer. The saints variously called such suffering deaths, nights, darkness, unknowing, spiritual trials, or just doubt itself.  

Necessary suffering allows us to grow, but “in secret” (Mark 4:26–29), which is an amazingly common concept, both in the teachings of Jesus and of many of the mystics. Such growth must largely be hidden because God alone can see it and steer it for our good. If we try too hard to understand it, we will stop the process or steer it in the wrong direction.  

It seems there is a cruciform shape to reality with cross purposes, paradoxes, and conflicting intentions everywhere. Jesus hangs right there amid them, not even perfectly balancing them, but just holding them (see Ephesians 2:13–22). This deserves a major “Wow!” because mere philosophy or even proper theology would never have come to this conclusion.  

The virtue of hope, with great irony, is the fruit of a learned capacity to suffer wisely, calmly, and generously. The ego demands successes to survive; the soul needs only meaning to thrive. Somehow hope provides its own kind of meaning, in a most mysterious way.  

The Gospel gives our suffering both personal and cosmic meaning by connecting our pain to the pain of others and, finally, by connecting us to the very pain of God. Did you ever think of God as suffering? Most people don’t—but Jesus came to change all of that.  

Any form of contemplation is a gradual sinking into this divine fullness where hope lives. Contemplation is living in a unified field that produces in people a deep, largely non-rational, and yet calmly certain hope, which is always a surprise.  

A life of inner union, a contemplative life, is practicing for heaven now. God allows us to bring “on earth what is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10) every time we can allow, receive, and forgive the conflicts of the moment. Such acceptance allows us to sit in some degree of contentment—despite all the warring evidence.  

God alone, it seems to me, can hold together all the seeming opposites and contradictions of life. In and with God, we can do the same. But we are not the Doer.  

Mystical Hope

April 16th, 2020

The Universal Pattern 

Mystical Hope   
Thursday,  April 16, 2020

Hope is the main impulse of life. —Ilia Delio, OSF [1]

Because we are so quickly led to despair, most of us cannot endure suffering for long without some sliver of hope or meaning. However, it is worth asking ourselves about where our hope lies. My friend and colleague Cynthia Bourgeault makes a powerful distinction between what she calls ordinary hope, “tied to outcome . . . . an optimistic feeling . . . because we sense that things will get better in the future” and mystical hope “that is a complete reversal of our usual way of looking at things. Beneath the ‘upbeat’ kind of hope that parts the seas and pulls rabbits out of hats, this other hope weaves its way as a quiet, even ironic counterpoint.” She writes,

We might make the following observations about this other kind of hope, which we will call mystical hope. In contrast to our usual notions of hope:

  1. Mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome, to the future. It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances and conditions.
  2. It has something to do with presence—not a future good outcome, but the immediate experience of being met, held in communion, by something intimately at hand.
  3. It bears fruit within us at the psychological level in the sensations of strength, joy, and satisfaction: an “unbearable lightness of being.” But mysteriously, rather than deriving these gifts from outward expectations being met, it seems to produce them from within. . .

[It] is all too easy to understate and miss that hope is not intended to be an extraordinary infusion, but an abiding state of being. We lose sight of the invitation—and in fact, our responsibility, as stewards of creation—to develop a conscious and permanent connection to this wellspring. We miss the call to become a vessel, to become a chalice into which this divine energy can pour; a lamp through which it can shine. . . .

We ourselves are not the source of that hope; we do not manufacture it. But the source dwells deeply within us and flows to us with an unstinting abundance, so much so that in fact it might be more accurate to say we dwell within it. . . .

The good news is that this deeper current does exist and you actually can find it. . . . For me the journey to the source of hope is ultimately a theological journey: up and over the mountain to the sources of hope in the headwaters of the Christian Mystery. This journey to the wellsprings of hope is not something that will change your life in the short range, in the externals. Rather, it is something that will change your innermost way of seeing. From there, inevitably, the externals will rearrange. . . . 

The journey to the wellsprings of hope is really a journey toward the center, toward the innermost ground of our being where we meet and are met by God.